A Memorial To Follies Past & FutureWednesday, October 20, 2010
When I was a late teenager when I lived in Mexico City I was a fan of frontón, or jai-alai. The Frontón (the building where the game was played) was situated at the Plaza de La Revolución. It was named so because before the Mexican revolution of 1910 when the dictator Porfiro Díaz was finally overthrown he had only managed to build the front entrance of the splendid palace he had planned for himself. Most chilangos (Mexico City inhabitants) would readily agree that the Monumento de La Revolucíon Mexicana is one of the ugliest in the country. What saves it for me and for others is the sheer size of it. It is, if anything, a monumentally large monument.
Putting on my best tie and jacket (the Frontón had strict dress rules) I always went to the game hoping they would let me in as I was a minor and since the game involved gambling we minors were barred from entry. I do not remember being turned back. The frontón needed my entry fee.
I lived in Mexico until 1975 when my New Dublin, Ontario born wife Rosemary persuaded me that our family would be better off in Canada where we would be far away from political corruption, corrupt cops, and a terrible postal system.
It is only in the last ten years that I have come to realize that all that I escaped from in Mexico has spread around the world. It is one of the byproducts of globalization.
While gangsters or drug traffickers are not entering Canadian hospitals to shoot patients, as is happening in Northern Mexico, violence in our fair Vancouver is escalating and one might think twice about eating in a restaurant in Richmond or in East Broadway that serves meals with chopsticks. An equally important warning could be given about parking in a shopping mall, or chain restaurant. We could in Canada use the same arguments that the Mexican government gives, about guns that kill coming from the USA.
In my time in Mexico and in Argentina we used to comment that nobody really intelligent would ever want to be a politician. We would further add that the difference between Mexicans/Argentines and Americans was that Mexicans and Argentines expected politicians to be dishonest while Americans were always disappointed when they found out their politicians were not honest. It would seem to me that Canada, or at the very least we in British Columbia can now feel that same disappointment in finding out how dishonest our politicians are.
Mexicans point out that they have lots of patience and tolerance for injustice. It took until 1810 to eject the Spaniards and then it wasn't until 1910 that dictators were history, too. It is now 2010 and violence is again gripping Mexico. Will it take another 100 years for violence to diminish?
I ask the above question because I ask myself how much more do we have to be exposed to the questionable practices of our current British Columbia (hush money is the latest scandal) politicians before we cry, in unison, “ Enough!”
No, this is not a rant in the classic sense. It is about a smaller matter that might be considered insignificant and yet it only proves that my Vancouver of 2010 may be no different from my Mexico City of 1975.
Argentines like to complain about their politicians and bureaucrats and like to use the epithet prepotente (which means a lot more than arrogant and high-handed). What it means is that someone in power exercises it without regard to those below (and not so powerful) simply because they can.
In the last few years I have noticed how more politicians, Crown Corporations, City Hall Planning Committees, have circumvented normal democratic channels to give us more of what we distinctly do not want. I need not go further than the virtual explosion of gambling or the building of laudable bike lanes in which minutes after the authorization had been pushed through, trucks were ripping up pavement and setting up barriers.
The insignificant event of which I write above I wrote something about back in March 31, 2006. You can seek that blog or read below:
When architect Frank Allen's Terry Fox Memorial, at the foot of Robson and Beatty Street, was inaugurated in 1984, it instantly became Vancouver's most hated structure. Could it be too small to reflect Terry Fox's huge feat? Nearby BC Place Stadium also dwarfs the structure. The monument is now mostly forgotten, even though there are many positive aspects to it. I met and photographed Frank Allen a bit later. He stuck to his guns and stayed in town in spite of the terrible and long media campaign against his memorial. Allen had a tidy little office somewhere on West 14th or 15th Avenue, just West of Granville. In the garden he had one of the fibre glass lions, that was the model for the four that grace each of the memorial's corners. I like to think of them as our city lions. There is another lion on the top floor balcony of the Marine Building but that is another story. In the memorial arch walls there are two, 5ft by 18 ft, steel etchings. One is based on the iconic photograph of Terry Fox running and the other is a map of Canada showing his cross country route. I happen to know the artist on whose pointillist style drawings the etchings are based. He is Ian Bateson. Ian has never believed in participating in fashionable or popular projects that might further his career. He believes in following his heart and his principles. As for the gentle Frank Allen I have no idea where he might be.
I took the memorial photograph here in one shot. I used a Pentax MX with a 15mm rectilinear wide angle lens and Kodak Tri-X. The beautiful Maddalena Di Gregorio placed her hand near my lens and I used a tiny flash. I kept the shutter open for 35 seconds at f-5.6. I processed the film in Perfection Micrograin using the technique called extended range night photography.
Today in my Vancouver Sun I read that the Terry Fox Memorial is going to be torn down. The article did not bother to mention the most beautiful double steel etching which was a contribution of my friend designer and illustrator Ian Bateson. Without the map of Terry Fox’s intended journey and the fine pointillist illustration of the brave young man, the monument in itself would have been meaningless.
My friend, architect Abraham Rogatnick, who died last year, rather liked the monument. We spoke often of it. We both liked the projection system that it had (it worked for a few months after it was inaugurated in 1984. Special projectors showed images of British Columbia. We both agreed that the problem with the monument was more the fact that it was not monumentally large enough and it was lost in comparison the huge BC Place Stadium that was so near. We both agreed that walking through the monument, the 18ft height of Bateson’s steel etchings was a thrill.
The Vancouver Sun article by Jeff Lee revealed that Warren Buckley, the president and CEO of PavCo (BC Pavilion Corporation) has informed us (through the Sun, I presume) that the memorial is going to be torn down to facilitate renovation of the Terry Fox Plaza as part of the $563-million revitalization of BC Place. This is what shocked me when I read the piece:
He [Buckley] said he discussed the matter with the Fox family, which agreed to allow the memorial to be removed and replaced with something designed by Coupland, who wrote a 2005 fundraiser book about Terry Fox and had designed a Fox Memorial in Toronto.
By any definition the actions of the BC Pavilion Corporation are a clear case of good old Latin American “prepotencia”. Why ask the citizens of the city? Perhaps the Fox family can also tell us that they have decided that our Vancouver Airport should be called The Terry Fox Memorial Airport and that the new Terry Fox Memorial Airport Logo will be designed by the multitasking, peripatetic typographer Douglas Coupland.
The Monumento de La Revolución has served Mexicans as a reminder of a dictarship of the past and the folly of a man who in his “prepotencia” did as he pleased until Mexicans finally lost their patience. The tearing down of the Terry Fox Memorial to me seems like a future reminder on how democracy in our city and province is in a decline. Luckily it is still safe to be in a Vancouver hospital so I will not be moving back to Mexico in the next while.