The Cat In The Box
Saturday, February 13, 2010
This blog will have Saturday February 13th as the date but I am writing it today Friday a little past noon. I feel I cannot do anything except anticipate with some dread my drive with Toby at 2:30.
Our 19 year-old cat Toby is going on a one way trip to the SPCA today. I will bring him back in a shoe box and bury him in the garden.
To the end Toby has done his best to be a clean cat. This morning he jumped from our bed and he did his business on a pile of newspapers by the bed. A couple of days before he had rolled down the stairs to reach the kitty litter box in the kitchen. That must have hurt! He has done his best. Last night he wanted to jump off the bed but Rosemary was on the phone and prevented him from doing so. The jump from the bed would have been pain. We had to wash our sheets and Toby himself was a mess. I gave him a warm shampoo bath to clean him up. He did not struggle.
I do believe that Rosemary knows her cat has to go. It will be unpleasant tonight and I will not be able to comfort her. I have always maintained that the quickest cure to a dead cat is a brand new one. I am not sure that we are ready to have another cat. The new cat would have to adapt to our female Plata who is fairly high strung. As our life winds down, having pets at home always puts a pressure on having to find someone to take care of them when we travel, even when it is a two-day stay at Ale’s in Lillooet. But a new cat would help bury some of Rosemary’s grief tonight. I will have a look at the cats at the SPCA. Who knows? Will Toby be the only cat (in a box) as I return home tonight?
Ellen Bry - Olympic Pheromones
Friday, February 12, 2010
It is fascinating how the intention of a meaning can vary with a language. Take for example the Spanish term aguafiestas
. It literally means a person who waters down a party. My guess it has to do with the idea of diluting the booze or unspiking the punch bowl In English the term party pooper is self-evident and I wonder if there is a continuity of connection with the American term, “as funny (or as popular) as a turd in a punch bowl”.
I don’t want to be an aguafiestas
with these 2010 Olympics. Perhaps I will wake up in a few days to experience that spirit our Vancouver Sun
writes about. I certainly don’t want to emulate the spirit of that man that visits Rick Cluff’s Early Edition
on CBC Radio 1 on Mondays. The man in question has trivialized and cheapened Bill Vander Zalm’s famous use of the word fantastic. That indefatigably tedious man should be pushed down the Olympic ski jump at Whistler. Fantastic! I have a feeling that Cluff would help me push. But I will stop here before I am accused of ranting.
I don’t want to be an Olympic party pooper. Even I, hope that Canada, my adopted country, reaches the gold medal final for men’s hockey. Of the other sports I will pass, and I will diverge to a holding pattern around pleasant matters. One that I re-discovered by accident last night was a file called Bry, Ellen.
Knowingly I have never seen this American actress (born in 1951) in any film. I never saw a single episode of the cult TV series St Elsewhere
and I have avoided any TV programs with pointy eared characters that did not feature Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock.
I met Bree only once in 1987 in Whistler. I had gone there with Les Wiseman to report for Vancouver Magazine the goings on of a celebrity ski-a-thon. I don’t think that Wiseman ever did write two lines on any of the 2 or 3 ski-a-thons we attended. He found ways of convincing our editor, Malcolm Parry that this was a worthy pursuit and that we should go. The real reason was that the Whistler organizers promised the presence of Brooke Shields. Wiseman had a thing for her. Shields never did show up so we nursed single malt Scotch and sodas and photographed and interviewed as many other “celebrities” we could find. At the time Wiseman had a column for TV Guide
. I guess some of what he wrote found a home there. In my case the one big break was a TV Guide cover of that other St. Elsewhere star, Bruce Greenwood.
When Wiseman and I met Bree, neither of us knew who she was. Wiseman consulted with a PR man who clued him in. The cluing did not come soon enough as it seems that I went up to Bry and told her, “We are a couple of ignorant Canadians. Who are you?”
I have very little memory of what transpired after that. Wiseman says Bry invited us to a party up in the mountain yet the picture here has her in a very nice low cut dress.
What I do remember is that when she faced my camera (At the time I had the silly notion of using Hollywood lighting which made it difficult for her to move. I was also kind of new at it and had little knowledge of what I was doing.) she was with me and with nobody else. I had a sense of a woman who was spraying me with either real pheromones or she was projecting some mental version of them straight into my brain. I don’t think I have ever felt quite like that and I have photographed my fair share of women clothed and otherwise. I felt seduced and attracted to her. I had a similar experience, but not as pleasantly intense, when I photographed German actress Barbara Sukowa
Today, instead of lingering about the Olympics I will think of Bry and again feel lucky that I am a photographer and not a plumber.
Revolutionary Cola - A Manifesto Of Soft Drinks
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Most of my life I have considered myself a connoiseur of non alcoholic drinks. I don’t drink much of the alcoholic variety. I avoid invitations to most weddings by stipulating, “Unless you serve Moët et Chandon I will not attend.” This ploy failed me once in a most pleasant way! I attended that wedding.
As a little boy I had a fondness for chocolate milk. There was a powdered form called Toddy
that sponsored my favourite radio program, Tarzán, El Rey de la Jungla
. When I was 8, I forced my mother to take me to a parade in downtown Buenos Aires to see Tarzán. I remember he was sitting on the upper part of a convertible back seat and he had a banner across his wide chest (like the ones worn by Miss Universe) that read Tome Toddy
I have a vivid memory when I was 9 of getting of the train in Belgrano with my mother to walk to school. She taught at the American High School and I walked two blocks more to the American Grammar School. On the way there was a little quiosco (a small covered stand) that sold soft drinks and blender juices. My favourite was banana con agua
(water and banana, and the banana had to be slightly green)). On that particular day there was a little sign that read “Nueva y refrescante bebida, Seven-Up
”. I insisted and my mother had to buy me my first ever Seven-Up and it was not quite 8:30 in the morning.
Most of us who recognized the real thing would have never tried that inferior Argentine cola drink called Bidú
. Sipping one of those was as embarrassing as wearing jeans that were not Lees.
Once in Mexico in the mid 50s my favourite soft drink was the no-gas Delaware Punch (pronounced delláwhere ponch, if you wanted the grocery guy to know what you were asking for). I had the strange habit of drinking 3 or 4 of them (one right after the other) using a macaroni as a straw while watching Boston Blackie
on our Zenith TV.
In the early 50s some Mexican politician noticed on a routine trip into the country's interior that there seemed to be lots of very young children walking tipsy in the small towns. He investigated and was told that these towns rarely had good, clean running water so the children drank mild pulque (an un-distilled version of tequila) as this was deemed safer.
The politician reported to the President of Mexico and immediately plans were made to develop a softdrink and beer industry in the country. These businesses would be given tax incentives and government help. By the late 50s there was a dizzying variety of interesting Mexican soft drinks (alas Delaware Punch disappeared) and there was more than coca
(as real Mexicans pronounced Pepsi). It was in these times that the Mexican beer industry came from nothing to become a one of the leaders which such innovations like bottled beer on tap and early versions of the twist cap. There were some small, tubby uncarbonated drinks called Chaparritas El Naranjo
. They came in several flavours but my favourite was mandarina
means short and small in Mexican Spanish. A Spaniard, a Mr. Mundet revolutionized the soft drink industry with a pasteurized apple drink called Sidral Mundet
. And then there were the Jarritos.
Most of us really liked the tamarind flavour one. As a hip teenager I avoided the very Mexican (it was terrible) Mexicola as much as I had avoided that Bidú in Buenos Aires. Mexicola was hyped by Mexican bantamwheight champion Raúl (Ratón) Macías. My mother really liked Squirt
and when I married Rosemary in 1968 she insisted on drinking Squirt, too. One thing we do avoid here in Vancouver, besides now drinking few soft drinks with the exception of ginger ale, is to place a large soft drink bottle on the dinner table. Mexican Coca Cola manufactured a very large glass bottle called a caguama.
Caguama is Mexican Spanish for a very large turtle.
My Yorkshire-born friend, Andrew Taylor lived nearby our Arboledas home in Mexico City. He was a student so he still lived with his parents in the fashionable gated community called Fraccionamiento La Hacienda. His father Colin, was the comptroller for Coca Cola in Mexico. I loved going to visit Andrew because through his father’s connections they were able to serve Twinnings English Breakfast Tea which was much more palatable that my often reused Lipton Tea bags (when I could get them). On one occasion we were invited for dinner. Mrs Taylor was an excellent cook and Colin sat proudly at the head of the table and served us. I chose that precise moment to tell him that Coca Cola was high in phosphoric acid and that many in the automobile industry used his product to remove rust from chrome bumpers. He was not amused
Rosemary and I both agree that our favourite carbonated water is San Pellegrino. We find it slightly more acidic (better!) than Perrier. Every once in a while I surprise her with a Squirt. Hilary is trying to get off her Coca Cola-in-a-can addiction by drinking only one per day. Rebecca loves Dr. Pepper. I still drink my banana blended with lots of ice and water. And yes that banana has to be green.
On September 1998 the Globe & Mail
dispatched me to Langley to photograph Robert Kyle, the president of Bev-Source
a beverage company. They had just launched a family of 6 drinks called Revolution
with Che Guevara on the beautifully painted label. The promotion included T-shirts (I have two of them) and stickums. I have kept three bottles of my original 6 variety. They are as follows:
Sarsaparilla – Rootbeer with attitude
Brainwash Cola – High caffeine cola
Swamp Water – Soda Fountain Blend
While I don’t remember what the other three were I think one of them was a cream soda that had the name Rebel Red. They were good.
If I would tell any of you readers of this blog about the former existence of Revolution Cola, you would probably not believe me. But the pictures here are the proof.
Today Rosemary insisted on my going through my photo files from A to D. I was to read her names of people I might want to send my promotional postcards so that we can do a Lazarus on my photography business. It was during that search that I found the file Che Guevara Cola. There was another for which there is no room today. The file read Catch-It (Kitty Litter). Now I was dispatched by….
Gol olímpico & Pissing Against The Wall
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Since I can remember I was not good at sports. In Buenos Aires I was a so-so player in our gym classes. Since this was Argentina I had no knowledge of baseball or something called American football. We played futbol
, the English brand, cricket and rugby. I was much too small and thin for rugby so I gave it up. My neurons could never rise up to the challenge of understanding the rules of cricket. This left me with futbol
, a sport I never mastered as my two left feet prevented me from ever excelling at it or in that other Argentine endeavour, the tango.
My failure in futbol did not prevent me from playing the favourite street game of the time (I was 8 and 9) called estampitas
. You would buy at the corner grocery store these futbol estampitas which were the size, shape and heft of the cardboard stoppers of the milk bottles of the time. Here in North America they would have been called trading cards. Estampitas had portraits of the players of the Argentine futbol league. On purpose, the makers of the estampitas issued fewer portraits of the stars. We traded. We traded as we could also buy a comic book sized publication on which we could stick the pictures. The goal was to have all the blank circles in the pages full. We traded but more often we played a came which consisted in tossing (very carefully) the estampitas against a wall from a few metres away. The deal was to get your estampita as close to the line between the wall and the sidewalk. If you got it that close you won all the other estampitas thrown by your friends. I had two left feet but a very good right hand.
Because I was half English, raised as a snob by my parents (in picture here taken in January 1948 when I was 5) to snub at anything that was popular with the masses I was never taken to a futbol game by my father. My father looked down on our neighbours who would loudly play the speeches by Perón and Eva Perón during the festivities of 25 de mayo and 9 de Julio. He also looked down and considered it awfully gauche when they would listen to such Argentine classic futbol games as the one between Boca Juniors and River Plate (Club Atlético River Plate). As soon as there was the goal the announcer would prolong the goal into something like, “¡Goooooooooooooooooool, gol de Boca Juniors…!"
When possible, and on the sly, I did listen to some games. I was struck by some of the expressions the Argentine announcers used. These were hans
(for touching the ball with your hands which was an infraction), or penalty
. I also often heard corner
for the corner kick. In those days they infrequently used the acceptable term in Spanish which was mano
. The latter was a penalty shot to goal. Expressions such as backs
were often used.
I smiled at the concept of the name of one the worse teams in the league called Newell’s Old Boys founded in 1903 in the city of Rosario and still around today. They are the Argentine answer to the Cleveland Indians.
It was my Jewish/German friend Mario Hertzberg, who lived across the street, who would clue me in as to who the best teams were and who were the stars. One day he told me about el gol olímpico. This was a goal which was a corner kick (called a corner even in Spanish until in more recent times it was re-named tiro de esquina
). The ball would somehow curve into the goal (or bounce in) without any other player touching the ball.
Which was the first one? Fifteen minutes into an international game between the Argentine National Team and the Uruguyan played on October 2, 1924, Argentine forward Cesáreo Onzari kicked the ball from his corner position and it produced a goal. The Argentine team won the game 2-1. They called it a gol olímpico to make fun of the fact that the Uruguayans were recent Olympic winners (Paris) in futbol.
There were other players who had done this before but until the IFAB (International Football Association Board meeting of 15 June 1924) authorized it for the following season such goals were disallowed. While Onzari is considered the first for the feat because his teammates called it a gol olímpico the very first gol olímpico occurred in Scotland on August 21 and it was kicked by Billy Alston.
The gol olímpico remains a rare occurrence, often accomplished by fluke rather than intent, and with the goalkeeper usually blamed for an error. The only Olympic goal in the World Cup finals was scored for Colombia by Marcos Coll, beating legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin in a 4–4 draw with the Soviet Union in 1962.
One of the few perks of being a conscript in the Argentine navy is that in uniform I could attend any futbol game for free. In that uniform I saw a clásico between Boca (Boca Juniors) and River (River Plate). I arrived late. I remember being in a colectivo (bus) on my way to the game played in the Buenos Aires barrio called La Boca. I could hear a loud roar from the inside of the bus. When the bus stopped at the stadium and I got off I was able to understand what the roar was. Half of the stadium (30,000?) was shouting in unison an insult to the referee. They were shouting "¡hijo de puta, hijo de puta!"(son of a whore!). Once in the stadium I had to stand where those with the cheap tickets stood. This was far from the upper stands called the plateas. One of the singular pleasures of going to football match was to drink a chocolate milk concoction called a Vascolet. Those in the upper areas opted for beer in paper cups. Bottles had been banned years before for obvious reasons. I was not prepared to what followed. The fans in those upper reaches would piss in the empty cups and then throw them down to where we were. I had to jump out of the way many times.
Another time I went to a game between River and Santos of Brazil. At the time (1965) Pelé still wore the dazzling white uniform of that team. I watched him make a goal which for me surpasses any gol olímpico. On his way to the Argentine goal he was met up by two River defenders. He kicked the ball with his heel so that it arched up into the air and in front of him. He ran past the two defenders to receive the ball which he kicked into the goal before it even hit the ground. There were shouts of of !Off side!" The goal was allowed. I was thrilled. As I went down the concrete platform of the River Plate stadium I noticed that the floor was very wet. I then noted that hundreds of men were pissing against the wall and the urine was simply following the dictates of gravity.
I have no doubt that when I read about Scottish or English soccer rowdies (hooligans!) trashing trains after a football match, that Argentines inherited not only a love for the game but also the ancillary rules of misbehaviour of the Sceptered Isle.
A note on rules of Spanish Grammar. In Spanish, nationalities, argentino
, dates, julio
are never capitalized. Thus a goal, an Olympic goal would still be gol olímpico no matter what the IOC or VANOC might opine and dictate.
Forty Two Years Ago
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
Yesterday, Monday, Rosemary requested a specific menu for dinner. On Mondays I pick up Rebecca and Lauren at school at three and I bring them home and cook them a quick lunch. We had quesadillas (I use German Swiss cheese) and made my fresh salsa with tomatoes, cilantro, a serrano chile, Maldon salt and a squeeze of half a lemon. At six I pick up Hilary at work and bring her home and have dinner. Yesterday was different.
Rosemary requested a special menu because it was our 42nd wedding anniversary. We have long ago relinquished the habit of buying presents for each other. Having the family with us is the real delight even though Bruce Stewart (Hilary’s husband always works on Monday) could not come and our eldest daughter Ale has teaching responsibilities in Lillooet.
The menu was roast beef (which I begin on the barbecue and I slather the meat with molasses) with roast potatoes, carrots and onions. I make a special gravy using white wine. Rosemary is in charge of the real treat for everybody which is her excellent Yorkshire Pudding. While the pudding is really good with my gravy Rebecca prefers to eat hers with my homemade cranberry sauce!
After dinner, Hilary and I finished seeing Carlos Saura’s Carmen which we had begun last Monday. I can safely say that this film has ruined for me the desire to ever see the opera again as the film is based more on the original story by Mallarmé than Bizet’s opera. Hilary and I have now seen two of Saura’s Flamenco Trilogy. We saw Amor Brujo and we will finish with Bodas de Sangre (Blood Wedding) next Monday.
I looked through my early photo files to find the pictures of Rosemary with me and with our two girls. The fist picture was taken by my Yorkshire friend, Andrew Taylor at the Nevado de Toluca in the State of Mexico. The mountains in the background are technically not mountains as they are the inside part of the crater of the volcano called Nevado de Toluca. That edge in the background is at 4600 meters. A sinuous dirt road goes up the outer part of the volcano and through a little canyon you are able to drive into the crates where there is a frozen lake called the Lake of the Moon. Some crazy skiers manage to climb the inside of the crater and ski down in a few minutes to then climb back up in what must at least be an hour!
The car was our first car a blue VW beetle. I am wearing an army surplus jacket that I bought in San Francisco in 1967 (this picture is from 1968). I am wearing a red enameled peace symbol. Not seen in the picture is an enormous darned hole in the jacket. It was about the height of my privates. There is no doubt in my mind that the former owner must have had a terrible death or suffered a much diminished manhood. Rosemary’s hair was blonde and straight. To make it straighter she used an iron and placed her hair on an ironing board.
The next picture was a block away from our first house, a little brick house in Arboledas which was on the outskirts of Mexico City. The place of the picture was called the Bebederos as there was a large cement pool where animals from nearby farms or horses drank. The avenue had beautiful eucalypts. I am stiff waiting for the self-timer of my camera to work. That is little Ale perhaps at age 2 so the picture would have been taken in 1970. Rosemary is wearing a beautiful move knit dress that I had bought for her at el Puerto de Liverpool ( a spiffy department store similar to the old Eaton’s). Ale looks to be 2 so the year would be 1970. She is wearing a little dress that my mother had crocheted for her.
In the next picture, also taken at the Bebederos Hilary is 1. I am wearing a metal belt that was in segments linked by black leather. I still have it but, of course it doesn’t fit me.
The last picture is of our little house. I have no memory of the roses. My mother was living with us at the time and she would have hired a gardener to plant them.
We had a pleasant dinner last night. I took the children and my daughter home. On the way I put on Piazzolla’s Buenos Aires- Hora Cero
. Rebecca called it psychedelic. It made me extremely nostalgic for my past. I only lived in Argentina for 11 years and then three more in my 20s. But I felt most Argentine and most Latin. The cold damp of Vancouver left me with melancholy and I again had that feeling of not belonging here. It is my wife and my children that keep put in this gray, green, blue land where the water is always cold.
I will never be able to explain to Rosemary or anybody else that I feel love for all the former women of my life. There weren’t many but I never broke up with any of them. Circumstances of geography separated us and I thought of the what ifs and what would have been the ramifications of my life had I bifurcated in some other direction. As I look at these pictures I know that the direction I did take was the best of all the possible ones.
Cabinet Museums & Toby Sleeps
Monday, February 08, 2010
Dubliners call the Natural History Museum "The Dead Zoo" - and they are dead right. If you love animals, you will have an Ace-Ventura-moment of sheer horror when seeing hundreds of what are effectively corpses, albeit conserved by taxidermists. Now called a "museum of a museum" the display is unmistakable Victorian in character and of the "shoot it, stuff it, show it" school.Ireland Travel
On Thursday I had lunch (he bought) with Tim Bray (a computer language guru who parks his hat via online connections with Sun Microsystems) at Main Street’s Locus Restaurant. We have as I can see three things in common. We are both interested in photography, we both have blogs and we both write into them in a more or less random process. We diverge in that Bray’s ongoing
(he is an amateur typographer who insists that the title of his blog should be in lower case) has upwards of 50,000 daily readers.
While my blog may be random in that I rarely know from one day to the next what the subsequent blog will be, once I choose a theme I stick to it even if I diverge a bit within it. Bray’s method is much more flexible. He rarely dates his postings which he calls fragments. He writes his fragments anytime he wants to, be it during the day or at night. He may write his fragments from Vancouver, from Tokyo or from Bremen. He often writes several of his fragments in one day. I find this method much more flexible when I realize I want to write about several disparate themes in one day. Such was the case on Saturday when we went to the Vancouver Aquarium. On the same day Toby our terminally ill cat seem to waver more so into that direction. We could see him fading. I decided to photograph him in the endearing way he sleeps with his head bent down at an angle in what looks like a complete and satisfying calm.
As Rebecca, Lauren Rosemary and I explored the Vancouver Aquarium on Saturday afternoon I remembered reading an essay in one of the Stephen Jay Gould books I have. The one that came to mind was from Dinosaur In A Haystack – Reflections in Natural History
(19950). One of the essays is called Cabinet Museums : Alive, Alive, Oh!
In it Gould explores the Dublin Museum of Natural History which opened in 1733 and after a royal charter in 1749 from George II, became a museum of the Victorian Age with full and systematic presentation made up of cast ironwork and dark wooden cabinets. In an earlier visit Gould had found the museum full of must and grime. It was an almost abandoned museum that had never quite moved up to Edwardian times. This time around (1993) Gould wrote: “Not one jot of tittle of any exhibit had been altered, but all the surroundings had been meticulously restored to their original conditions – not just accurately by lovingly as well…The glass ceiling has been cleaned, and the light floods through. The dark wood of the cabinets has been repaired and polished and the glass now shines. The elaborate cast ironwork has been scraped and decorated in colorful patterns reminiscent of the “painted lady” Victorian houses of San Francisco. The ensemble now exudes pride in its own countenance – and I fully understood, viscerally, the coherent and admirable theory behind a classical Victorian “cabinet” museum of natural history
Of modern museums Gould writes: “In choosing to construct a dynamic museums of museums, in asserting the old ideal of displaying nature’s full diversity, in restoring their interior space to Victorian intent in harmonizing architecture with organism, the curators of the Dublin have stood against modern trends in museums of science – where fewer specimens, more emphasis on overt pedagogy, and increasing focus on “interactive” display (meaning good and thoughtful rapport of visitor and object when done well, and glitzy, noisy, pushbutton-activated nonsense when done poorly) have become the norm.”
Gould finishes his essay controversially as he cites that word so difficult to defend in the 21st century. The word is elitism.“I must therefore end with a point that may seem outstandingly “politically incorrect,” but worthy of strong defense nonetheless. We too often, and tragically, confuse our legitimate dislike of elitism as imposed limitation with an argument for leveling all concentrated excellence to least common denominator of maximal accessibility. A cabinet museum may never “play” to a majority of children. True majorities, in a TV-dominated and anti-intellectual age, may need sound bites and flashing lights - and I am not against supplying such lures if they draw children into even a transient concern with science. But every classroom has one Sacks [Oliver], Korn [Erik], or one Miller [Jonathan], usually a lonely child with a passionate curiosity about nature, and a zeal that overcomes pressures for conformity. Do not one in fifty deserve their institutions as well – magic places, like cabinet museums, that can spark the rare flame of genius?
Elitism is repulsive when based upon external and artificial limitations like race, gender or social class. Repulsive and utterly false – for that spark of genius is randomly distributed across al the cruel barriers of our social prejudice. We therefore must grant access – and encouragement – to everyone; and must be unceasingly vigilant, and tirelessly attentive, in providing such opportunities to all children. We will have no justice until this kind of equality can be attained. But if only a small minority respond, and these are our best and brightest of all races, classes, and genders, shall we deny them the pinnacle of their soul’s striving because al their colleagues prefer passivity and flashing lights? Let them lift their eyes to hills of books, and at least a few museums that display the full image of nature’s variety. What is wrong with this truly democratic form of elitism?”
My thoughts on Stephen Jay Gould’s defense of the cabinet museum came to mind when I compared the obvious delight of my granddaughters at the Vancouver Aquarium with the failure on our part to engage our two teenage daughters into being interested in the displays of the London Museum, the Prado in Madrid and the Louvre in Paris. This was back around 1984. I failed to interest my daughters in the original manuscript of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
. I could not understand (I do so now) why they were not impressed by the letters from Admiral Horatio Nelson to his paramour Lady Hamilton; there, was his signature after a most un-heroic sounding, “yours, affectionately…”! Fortunately, both girls (grownup now) remember the magic of the special room at the Prado that houses Diego Velázquez’ Las Meninas
In 2003 when we took Rebecca (she was 5) to Washington DC I changed my museum viewing tactics. In my living room I showed Rebecca a 4 Goyas. One David, one Da Vinci, one Winslow Homer ( Right and Left) and Degas’Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. That is all we saw. This worked as Rebecca has not been turned off to the joys of museum going. We subsequently visited museums in Buenos Aires, Guanajuato, Mérida and Morelia to her delight.
I can now add the Vancouver Aquarium to the list of museums that both our granddaughters enjoy.
My suspicions were confirmed when I looked up the origin of the word museum. As I had guessed it does have all to do with the nine muses. The word museum is from the Latin museum
and this word from the Greek μουσεῖον
(museion) which means the house of the muses.
Caliope: Epic Poetry
Erato: Lyric Poetry
Nightingale's Vancouver Aquarium - The Real Thing
Sunday, February 07, 2010
In 1975 when we arrived to Vancouver from Mexico one of the most ubiquitous bumper sticker and car rear window adornments featured a beautifully stylized killer whale in black, white, blue and silver. I immediately purchased my own and took Rosemary and my two daughters Ale and Hilary to the Vancouver Aquarium. In 1975 I smoked cigars and a pipe, thought women in high heel shoes were sexy and bought Playboy
almost on a monthly basis.
The Planetarium was another Vancouver icon which we visited with regularity. I was in love with a city which featured mountains, water, bridges and what seemed to be booming museums. At the Maritime Museum
I was thrilled by a tour of the RCMP ship the St Roch.
I had had enough of baroque churches and Mexican museums that smelled of antiquity. I was ready for the new, the modern. I was ready for Vancouver.
Slowly over the years I gave up smoking, thought high heeled shoes as devices that made women look ungainly and unbalanced and (yes) unsexy. I stopped reading Playboy. I became blind to the mountains, the water and the bridges except on those sunny days after weeks of gray and rain. I must admit (and this may be the real problem behind the low popularity of the Maritime Museum) that I never feel I am near the sea. I don’t hear or see waves nor do I smell the ubiquitous salt air of a port city such as Veracruz where lived for some years. I became a Vancouverite.
Ale and Hilary, Rosemary and I all enjoyed the thrill of the killer whale show at the Vancouver Aquarium. We never thought of them as being caged animals. It is only of late that I have come to understand (and almost sympathize) with the public relations problem that John Nightingale, the director of the Vancouver Aquarium has and seems to have reduced with a good measure of dogged effort on his part.
In some way I am proud (or at the very least find it significant) that my Rebecca “suffered” the pleasure of being splashed by the huge tail of a killer whale at the Vancouver Aquarium. We went to see one of the last shows before the whales were released or sent to other aquariums. The staid presence of the belugas now seems like watching clowns with painted white faces performing in slow motion in comparison to the excitement of the killer whales.
Is it only a matter of time before the pushed-into-a-corner Nightingale will have to defend the dolphin show. My granddaugther Lauren, 7, declared the dolphin show her favourite experience at the aquarium. Considering that, if anything, dolphins may be smarter than orcas and the presence of the two very cute sea otters who must be every much as intelligent as the pacific octopus I see trouble ahead. Will the aquarium some day feature, and, only feature small tropical fish and sea urchins with one or two sharks that people still manage to hate/love but without anthropomorphizing them into cuteness?
As an idealistic 21 year-old I remember believing that all in the world was black or white and could be reduced to either of both extremes. A slightly older and wiser friend told me that the world was mostly gray. Like my wise friend I see few things now as either black or white.
In a couple of early William Gibson novels, Gibson has a father and son entering a mall where the sons asks something like, “Dad what’s that?” and points to a display on a pedestal. The father replies, “That’s a stuffed horse.” It would seem that Gibson is predicting that someday we will no longer have horses and our memory of them will only be refreshed by the presence of a stuffed specimen.
Three years ago Rebecca, Rosemary and I visited Mexico’s largest zoo which is in Morelia in the state of Michoacán in Mexico. Because of its size, most animals seem to have space to move. When Rebecca spotted a raccoon in a small cage she noted that the animal was turning back in forth with the obsessive movement of an animal that is really caged. She grew angry and felt sad for the animal. Moments later we witnessed in a large compound full of African ostriches, two giraffes running one after the other. It was sheer ballet movement. The grace of these animals was a sight to relish, their necks seemed to follow the pattern of sine waves, with a slight out of phase but similar movement from their legs. When they finally stopped running around after what seemed like a long time, we looked at each other and realized we had experienced something unique.
The question I have for which I do not have a black and white answer is: Can we justify having a couple of cute sea otters in an aquarium so that their image for my granddaughters will not only be the image on a computer monitor? Do they have to experience a real zebra to experience a real zebra? I think I would now answer that affirmatively.
At age 12 Rebecca seemed to know more about the fish and sea animals at the aquarium than Rosemary and I did. She knew all about the belugas and their two offspring (even their names). Rebecca noted how rare this was and how lucky we were to have this happen in Vancouver. Her information has come from the net, school textbooks, magazines, good documentaries and a very important and well organized class trip to the aquarioum. Is all that enough?
My initial response is no. You need the real thing. But then the Vancouver Aquarium at the very least has specimens that are living. They are the real thing from the tiny little red frog that wowed Rebecca to the dolphins that delighted Lauren.
Because I was raised as a Roman Catholic, I can assert that up to about 20 years or so ago I would have told anyone that I had no doubt about the relationship that we humans had with the "lower orders". God had put the animals, the fishes (and even those mosquitoes) for us to lord over and to do with them as we saw fit. We were the humans. We have a soul.
It is only in the last few years that more and more of us (or at least this sort of former Roman Catholic) have modified that ever so selfish opinion that we were the kings of the earthly castle to the idea that we are on this planet together, including those pesky slugs and cutworms that eat my hostas.
It was Brother Edwin who told us in our St. Ed’s High School theology class that even if Hitler were deemed to be a monster we still had to respect his humanity simply by the fact that he had been chosen by God to be born as a man. “There is an inherent human dignity in all of us,” Brother Edwin would often tell us. I have now modified that and extend it even to those garden pests. We are all in this together.
It was with all the above contradictions that I gingerly entered the Vancouver Aquarium yesterday. Our guide was Rebecca who pretty well directed us from here to there with a luxury of relevant information on what we saw. She seemed to know a lot about the frogs. I had to remind her that one sight that would be absent was a South American (I believe that it was South American.) baby alligator that we had seen when she was 4 and 5. The alligator was a startling cream, yellow and brown. For close to a year when Rebecca would misbehave I would make or threaten to make phone calls to the señor crocodilo
as Rebecca called the cocodrilo
(Spanish for crocodile). Rebecca smiled and smiled again when she pointed to the entrance to the 4-D film. These are BBC 3-D Planet Earth
documentaries in which you are gently misted with water (when whales splash) or feel vibrations under your seat when certain sea animals discharge electricity, etc. This was a thrilling experience. All in all, the aquarium seemed less a museum, less an aquatic zoo, and more an experience that caught the attention of even the most special-effects-blasé kid. This experience might even push a few of these children into more exploration; an exploration into the real thing, perhaps?
It would seem to me that under the tutelage of John Nightingale, our Vancouver Aquarium is relevant in a most active way and I can only applaud the man who has stayed, through thick and thin, when others would have moved on.