Literary Boxer Shorts
Saturday, January 09, 2010
When the British Navy was steaming towards las Malvinas (the Falkland Islands) in late May of 1982 a very smart Vancouver Magazine editor, Malcolm Parry had coaxed a story from me on my experience in the Argentine armed forces (in my case the Argentine Navy). The magazine was out at the newsstands before Thatcher’s fleet had arrived. It ended with an inevitable defeat of the Argentines in June of that year.
I don’t remember most of the conversation but I do remember that Mac called me to his office and told me that if I had one story in me this was going to be the one. I remember his passion in how he coaxed me into writing the story.
The first copy of the issue I saw at the magazine stand, in the first days of May, at Eatons in Burnaby’s Brentwood Mall. The cover portrait of a youngish Argentine sailor (me) stared at me. It had been taken by the peripatetic Mac, I immediately put on my sun glasses.
That first story, how odd that my first written piece would be a cover story was followed by many others and though many may not know this I wrote extensively for Vancouver Magazine, Western Living. In the latter magazine I wrote a monthly garden column for over a year. I wrote for the Straight, for the CBC’s early version of its web arts magazine and I wrote many features for the Vancouver Sun including one where I equated sex with ballet and another about female cellists not being able to play straddling the instrument until the beginning of the 20th century.
While Mac may have been the initiator of my writing career there were two others who helped me on the way.
John Lekich gave me one very important tip even though I knew I could never write the way he does. Lekich has a mastery of elegance, style and knows how to drop adjectives in the right places. The tip would be an obvious one to most except for me. Lekich said that I should mirror the beginning paragraph of anything I wrote with some sort of mentioning of it at the end of the story. It was like wrapping up a story, a way of resolving it all by the end.
Les Wiseman, an associate editor at Vancouver Magazine and a great rock columnist (In One Ear) had more details on the craft of wrting. This was his formula (a formula that has served me well):
1. Write about that which you know.
2. Unless you are Dickens never begin in the beginning but somewhere in the middle and then go back and forth.
3. For profiles get facts on the person and divide them into categories such as quotes from friends, quotes from family, quotes from publications, etc. Make neat piles on the floor and then begin here and there until you finish your profile. The built-in randomness will keep the interest of readers.
4. Do lots of research.
I soon learned that Wiseman had in some indirect way been correct even when I though he was wrong. He had often told me that I could only write about that which you know. But if you combine that concept with the idea of extensive research then you can write about that which you are completely ignorant by interviewing or consulting an expert on the matter. My Vancouver Sun essay on playing the cello involved my talking to two well-known female cello players.
I am most thankful to these three men for having helped me in adding an interesting bifurcating path from my carreer as a photographer. I owe them plenty. But I must point that it hasn't been an entirely one-way path. While Malcolm Parry never did learn anything from me (if he did, he’s not talking) both Lekich and Wiseman are eternally in my gratitude for having introduced them to the unrestraining pleasure of boxer shorts.
Kosher Pickles & The Intimacy Of Two Friends
Friday, January 08, 2010
It was almost a tough choice for my Friday night activity. The unveiling of the new National Broadcast Orchestra (formerly the CBC Radio Orchestra and formerly the Vancouver Orchestra) is playing tonight at the Chan Centre and offering new works by Canadian composers.
My other choice was Early Music Vancouver’s Sonata Project featuring Johann Sebastian Bach's Sonatas from the High Baroque. The performers are Marc Destrubé on baroque violin (formerly the Musical Director of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra) and Alex Weimann on harpsichord (the new Musical Director of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra). In the end musical intimacy in an intimate locale won out. That, plus the fact that the venue, Unity Church, 5840 Oak Street happens to be across the street from Kaplan’s which serves up the best Montreal smoked meat sandwiches in town. Best of all this if a few blocks from my house so my friend Graham Walker and I will walk to dine at Kaplan’s with enough time to cross the street to listen to the pre-concert talk at 7:15. The concert begins at 8.
There is a good possibility that we might run into Marc Destrubé at Kaplan's. But not with Alex Weimann as he is a vegetarian who would starve on a diet of kosher pickles.
Intimacy won out and the first reference point that comes to mind is the 50s “pianoless” quartets of Gerry Mulligan with trumpet player Chet Baker or Art Farmer (my fave). Without the piano, the sax and trumpet solos could not be just that. There was the necessity of a constant accompaniment by the other instrument. When I listen to Gerry Mulligan’s What is there to Say
with Art Farmer they (Art Farmer and Gerry Mulligan) seem to be talking to each with their instruments. They seem to be in my living room and I feel warm with the comfort of being with friends.
It’s not because I happen to have photographed both Destrubé and Weimann and I do know them a bit that tonight’s concert will seem like a Gerry Mulligan/ Art Farmer in my living room concert. It is because these two men, who not only are friends but they, also know their music and have played together lots of times. Like Art Farmer and Gerry Mulligan they cannot hide behind the sound of many other instruments. The concert will be collaboration between friends. I can think of no better collaboration than the sharing of a Bach sonata.
While I think I have a good ear I rarely do hear that harpsichord in the background of a larger baroque orchestra. And when I listen to a solo harpsichord I can really not discern the personal style of the soloist. In short I am not a lover of the harpsichord. The idea of being on a desert island listening, only, to solo harpsichords would drive me into insanity far more quickly than noise did to Vincent Price as Roderick Usher in the 1960 film The House of Usher
But thanks to previous concerts by the Pacific Baroque Orchestra directed by Alex Weimann I am warming up to the instrument.
Adding to the sense of intimacy will be the venue, the church itself. It is an extraordinary church in which little in it reveals that it is a house of prayer. It seems to be more a house of art as I peruse (as I have in past performances here of concerts by Early Music Vancouver) the beautiful Shadbolt prints that adorn the side walls. At any given time I miss, from my past, the baroque altars of Mexican churches with the flickering of candle light. Tonight Shadbolt will be just fine.
With good food digesting in our stomachs Graham Walker and I will be enjoying a concert among friends.Beautiful notes on tonight's concert
Deterioration - The Bad & The Good
Thursday, January 07, 2010
Since I broke my Left elbow a couple of years ago I have not really been able to get the flexibility of the arm back. Putting on a shirt is not easy now as I have found. It is most difficult to hold on to the top button holes of my shirt so I can slip the buttons with the right hand. So this morning, as I was nursing lower back pain and two arthritic pinkies, I was confused when I could not lift my heavy tea mug to my lips with my right hand. I am a dyslexic so for a few seconds I was unsure which elbow I had broken. The confusion over, I found out that my right arm was stiff as my arthritis, or whatever else it is, is spreading.
For years we have had shoe horns that I ignored and threw away. Suddenly I cannot put on a pair of shoes without one.
My physical deterioration began early. By the time I was 7 I could barely bend to touch my toes and only got as far as a bit beyond the knee. The doctors in Argentina said I had short and stiff tendons. I would have massive pain at night behind my knees. Since I am determined to end my days in bed and not in jogging gear everybody tells me “I told you so!” and I avoid most exercise. At age 67 I truly believe that anything past half a century is a bonus.
That’s bad deterioration- now for the good one.
As I was putting away the negatives away from yesterday’s blog featuring Linda Lorenzo and the fan I noticed a contact sheet that had gone through a colour change. Unless you properly wash and remove all traces of fixer from photographic paper, the paper will fade, spot, stain or change colour. This is particularly the case with what we used to call multigrade paper.
Variable contrast photographic paper was not a new thing back in the 50s. What was new was something pioneered by Ilford that was called Ilfospeed. This was paper that was coated with plastic or resin. This meant that the paper dried quickly and did so very flat. Glossy Ilfospeed was really glossy and there was no need to dry it with complicated drying machines.
Blacks were very black which meant that Ilfospeed photographs reproduced beautifully in magazine and nespapers before the advent of scanners and digital cameras made the 8x10 glossy obsolete. Both the normal Ilfospeed and the variable contrast version called Multgrade were papers that were not really archival. This meant that unlike the good paper only (no plastic) photographic paper) these plastic or resin coated papers unless they were washed thoroughly they would stain and change colour with time even if kept in the dark.
That was the case of the contact sheet you see here. The negatives themselves, which I washed for archival permanence, are pristine. These are Kodak b+w Infrared film negatives. Kodak stopped making this beautiful film some years ago and I have a few rolls in my freezer. But I must use them soon as Kodak b+w Infrared film is one of the few things that we know of that deteriorate as those illusive neutrinos pierce our globe unempeded by anything in their path.
I looked at the contact sheet and had an idea. I scanned each individual frame, of the contact sheet, with my Epson scanner. What you see here are some of the better ones which I think are really beautiful. I really did not do much to the scan except take out some of the dust that had attached itself to the contact sheet. One of the pictures is of the negative so that those of you who may be viewing this can see what happened. For me it shows that not all deterioration is of the bad type. Before the advent of my scanner I could have never been able to do this. I could even re-scan this contact sheet at a much larger resolution and have Grant Simmons at DISC produce some of his beautiful giclées. This is something that would be impossible in the normal darkroom. The only way would be for me to copy the contact’s frames with a very good larger format camera and get the best possible sharp colour transparency. And then I would still go to DISC for a colour giclée.
What is amazing as my body deteriorates is to find out that negatives that I would have never printed, since I never had the time to get to the darkroom or they simply did not look good enough somehow now have second life in my hybrid film/digital system.
I guess I can only taunt with glee my colleagues who shoot digital and tell them that their digital deterioration will be much more final and thus more painful. Those images will be, or they will not. In computers there are only zeros and ones. There are no 0.5s. There will not be any wonderful in-betweens.
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
Si la mujer escondía los ojos detrás del abanico, estaba diciendo a su interlocutor que lo quería.
If the woman hid her eyes behind the fan, she was saying to her would-be suitor that she loved him.
Si colocaba el abanico sobre la mejilla izquierda, la respuesta era: No; y si lo posaba sobre la derecha, la respuesta era: Sí.
If she placed the fan on her left cheek, the answer was: No; and if she placed it on the right cheek the answer was: Yes.
Si la mujer se abanicaba con rapidez, significaba que estaba comprometida; y si lo hacía lentamente, le transmitía que estaba casada.
If the woman fanned herself quickly it meant that she was engaged; and if she fanned herself languidly, she indicated that she was married.
The foldable fan was invented in Japan in the 7th century. From there it spread to Europe where it was commercialized. It was particularly important to Spanish culture. From Spain the fan traveled to the Americas. It was and is primarily used by women although in some cultures men use it, too. In the 18th and 19th century the fan was widely mentioned in literature and was an important element in painting.
In Spanish literature of the 19th century and 20th century, especially in Seville and Granada, there are many references to be found on fan lore including the special significance on how women communicated with each other and with would-be lovers with the fan.
Both my grandmother and mother who had been raised in the tropics of Manila were experts with their fans. They could close and open them with a deft flick of the wrist. It made a little noise, a swish that seemed to me magical. Even though I attempted to master the skill (I believe it is an art) I failed. Every once in a while I like to open the two sandalwood chests (and smell the inimitable fragrance that I relate to an exotic past of my family in the orient). The chests (my grandmother called them "my camphor babies") have been part of our family since the early 30s. I like to open the various little cardboard boxes (Spanish or Argentine chocolate boxes and here an Argentine cardboard glove box ) that contain my grandmother and mother’s fans. Some are from Spain and some from the Philippines.
There is a very beautiful one from the Philippines of turtle shell and the cloth material is a delicate but tough fiber called jusi
which is made from Chinese silk. This fan was my great aunt’s, Buenaventura Galvez Puig
. A few years after she died my mother and her younger sister Dolly argued as to who was going to inherit the beautiful fan that had Buenaventura's initials in diamonds and emeralds (you can see where they were on the upper right hand side of the fan). My mother graciously (smart in my opinion) suggested that Dolly could have the jewels and she (my mother) would keep the fan. Dolly immediately pried them out. The fan’s jewels have been long pawned but I (via my mother) still have the fan.
The word for fan in Spanish is abanico
which is a diminutive of abano
which comes from the Portuguese. The verb abanar
in Spanish is used when one is describing, as an example, fanning a fire. But if one fans oneself with a fan (an abanico) the verb is the beautiful sounding abanicar
. Me abanico
(I fan myself). Or, “Amor, abanícame
.” My love, fan me.
The first alternating current electric fans came into use in 1891. Spaniards and Argentines call this “new” and modern development a ventilador
. Mexicans may be a bit more conservative or simply just more romantic as they call electric fans abanicos.
The very Argentine Linda Lorenzo seen here was most competent at flicking her fan open and closing it.
Lady Windermere's Fan
St Isidore's Bed
Tuesday, January 05, 2010
propter quod Angeli vocantur of caelis adnuntiandum hominibus ad mittuntur. Angelus enim Graeca, Latine dicitur Conscientia.
Angels are called because they are sent from heaven to announce to men. It is said in Greek and Latin nuncio angel (sent to announce).
St Isidore from his Etymology V The Angels
A la cena y a la cama sólo una vez se llama. You are called only once to bed and to dine.
Saint Isidore of Seville (570-636) was a bishop and a Doctor of the Church. He wrote just about everything from medicine to a book about the classifications of heaven’s angels. He attempted to catalogue what was then known to man in 20 books called De Los Orígenes
(Of Origins) and he wrote the first encyclopedic dictionary. He divided his Of Origins
into 20 books each on one category:
1. Grammar 2. Rhetoric and Dialectic 3. Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy 4. Medicine 5. Laws and time 6. the books and laws of the church 7. God, angels and men 8. the church and sects 9. languages, races, kingdoms and the armies 10. words in alphabetical order 11. man and monsters 12. animals 13. the universe and its parts, or cosmology 14. the earth and its divisions or geography 15. cities, fields and roads 16. minerals and metals 17. farmers and gardening 18. war and games 19. ships, buildings and clothing 20. Food and its tools.
For our purposes St. Isidore figures here for two very good reasons. He was the first to coin the word in Spanish cama
(bed) from the Latin camba
for a narrow bed used for sleeping or, as the Romans so much enjoyed, for eating.
Because it was St. Isidoro (Spanish for Isidore) who was really the first human to attempt to compile all human knowledge, Spanish scholars have declared him to be the patron saint of the internet. I would offer no objection seeing that this man knew about everything and beds, too. Thanks to him I can justify placing here these delightful pictures of Katheryn and the bed from room 618 at the Marble Arch Hotel.
Eva Perón - Jefa Espiritual De La Nación
Monday, January 04, 2010
In 1951 when I was 9, Eva Perón came to our school to plant a tree. I was dazzled by her blonde hair. While I was close enough to observe most of her features, I was too shy and we were much too controlled by our teachers to dare say anything to a woman that my family loathed.
At the time we were living in Coghlan on Melián Street. Our neighbours were staunch Peronists. In Argentina we have two independence days. One is on the 25 of May and it represents Argentina’s initial separation from Spain in 1810, when the Argentine born Spaniards, the criollos,
refused to accept Napoleon’s brother Joseph as King of Spain. The second date is 9th of July when Argentina formally declared its independence in 1816. In Perón’s time (and 1950- 51 was certainly Peron at his apogee) this resulted in two military desfiles
(parades) complete with Sherman tanks and other obsolete equipment. This meant that both Perón and his wife Evita would shout their speeches and our neighbours would play the radio really loud. I remember listening to Perón ( I couldn’t avoid it as I played a lot in the garden) and that his voice would fade and Evita would take over. My grandmother who never really swore in my presence would only say, “Esa mujer,” “That woman.” I never heard my father say anything about Perón (that I can remember). All I knew is that there would be lengthy periods of time when my father was not at home. My mother would say to me, “Your father is at Villa Devoto (the local jail) because he wrote an article about Perón in the Buenos Aires Herald that Perón did not like." The Herald
was the English language daily my father worked for.
I didn’t know then that my family; on my father’s side were the oligarchy that Evita was attacking. Even today the landed oligarchy, the military and the church are the three most influential powers in Argentina.
On my mother’s side my uncle was married to Sarita Lopez Colodrero. Her aunt Raquel held meetings in her house on Avenida Santa Fe for many years in secret plottings for getting rid of Perón. One of the frequent plotters was General Eduardo Leonardi who finally stepped in and instigated the 1955 coup that eventually made Perón escape in a Paraguayan gunboat to exile. Raquel and her relatives all had extensive land holdings in the Province of Corrientes. I remember listening to them on how Evita was expropriating land to then sell and use the money to give to the poor and to build her charity foundations.
It was about this time that my grandmother told me that a famous Argentine actress Libertad Lamarque (a strange name that translates to liberty marks her) had to go in exile to Mexico (where she became very famous) because she had called a bleach-blond minor actress a puta (whore).
As 9 or 10 year old I really had no opinion on the Perons except that I loathed the wooden toys that Evita gave to all children (including me) on January 6 or día de los reyes
(Three Wise Kings Day).
When Evita died in July of 1952 that I began to learn some things. The radio stations (including LRA, the government owned station that played classical music) played funeral music. It was when I first heard Chopin’s third movement of his Piano Sonata No. 2.
I remember seeing the wake (called a capilla ardiente or flaming chapel by Argentines) and the march (with black horses with tall black plumes) in the propaganda shorts we were subjected to at the movies. And then in the evenings every day for almost a year all radio programs would be interrupted at 20:25 PM and a voice would say, “It is 20:25 the hour when Eva Perón, the spiritual leader of the nation assumed immortality.” Shortly after Perón started tightening his repression of the press and when his masses of descamisados (the shirtless ones) started burning churches, the Catholic Church and the Navy (the real blue bloods of the Argentine armed forces) decided Peron’s time was up. It was then that my grandmother advised my mother that we should leave for Mexico. This we did even though I wanted to stay with my father. I was given no choice (and what did I know I was only 13) we got on a Pan American Grace Airways DC6-B which took us to Santiago, Lima, Panama and Mexico City.
I saw the Madonna film version of Evita and I hated it. A week ago I found at the Vancouver Public Library in the books in Spanish section the DVD film (1996) Eva Perón
directed by Juan Carlos Desanzo. I tried to get my wife and Rebecca interested on Saturday afternoon but after 10 minutes Rebecca complained that the Argentine Spanish was indecipherable and the subtitles just as bad. I turned it off.
I turned it on in the evening and saw it alone. I was hit by nostalgia and an appreciation of how good a well made film can be. This is an excellent film. I was hit by a sadness knowing I know nobody in Vancouver I can share the experience of discovering this film that tells the story of a woman who without my knowing had become part of my life.
The picture you see here I took some years ago of Argentine model Linda Lorenzo that was in the spirit of the elegant Argentine women I remembered from the 50s. I now notice that there is some Eva Perón in it, too. In the other pictures you see the actors Victor Laplace and Esther Goris who play Perón and Evita in the film. The picture with Perón shows Perón propping up the very sick Evita while her nurse is there just in case. A few months later Evita was dead.
Lessons at the End of a Long Hallway
Sunday, January 03, 2010
Lessons at the End of a Long Hallway
by John Lekich
Despite all the fuss over social networking, there is one feeling that being alone with a computer will never accomplish. You could have a thousand friends on Facebook and it will never duplicate the sensation of being surrounded by attractive, intelligent people in a bar that has come to feel like home. Alter this statement slightly – making it attractive, intelligent women - and I would happily go back to the days when the very idea of a mouse sitting on my desk would have sent me running for the nearest exterminator.
Many years ago, Alex and I hosted regular Thursday lunches at a place called the Railway Club. An establishment that – as far as I know – still has the longest bar in Vancouver. Getting from one end of the room to the other was like traveling through a tunnel lined with convivial beer drinkers. Since our regular table sat nestled at the farthest end of the room, the arrival of our dining companions could be seen from many feet away.
Thanks mostly to Alex’s legendary range of friends and associates – we regularly found ourselves in the company of many extraordinary women. I soon discovered that watching the approach of an attractive, smiling woman from the far end of a very long hallway was a bit like observing a mirage. For a second or two, you were never quite sure whether the vision coming your way was real or not. And then the smile would get closer - and closer still. Until that sublime moment when you realized two rather delightful things simultaneously. The smile was not only real but actually meant for you.
As a byproduct of this process, I learned a great deal about women and their wardrobes. In fact, my experience at the Railway Club reinforced an early sartorial theory of mine. Having grown up with four sisters, I quickly understood that women employed the contents of their closet in an entirely different way. While men tended to stick with the singular look they were most comfortable with, women used clothes to express the many different aspects of their personality.
The one exception to this rule seemed to be Katheryn – a Railway Club regular who combined a great long distance smile with the no-nonsense elegance of Katherine Hepburn. I recall her favouring crisply-pressed slacks and a refreshingly direct manner to match. I quickly pegged her as a sartorial pragmatist who had no time to waste on cultivating different looks.
This, of course, is the same Katheryn pictured so alluringly here. (In a manner, I might add, that has nothing to do with slacks or pragmatism of any kind.) The lesson? When it comes to women - and what they choose to wear at any given time - making assumptions can be dangerous.
John Lekich, January 2, 2010