Dilations Into A Runcible Cat
Saturday, February 27, 2010
The following column by my friend Ben Metcalfe (1919-2003) appeared in the January, 1980 issue of Vancouver Magazine
. The wonderful illustration was pointillistically drawn by my friend Ian Bateson (who is very much alive).
Everyone knows that Edward Lear was queer for runcible things, like hats and spoons and cats, but does anyone know what runcible is? I doubt it very much.
The only possible exception could be myself. At least I have tried to find out, not alone for the sake of disinterested scholarship, although scholars are welcome to the pickings, but because I have a runcible cat.
Since Lear implanted it there in the late Nineteenth Century, the word runcible has been entrenched in facetious English usage; if rarely called upon, always available. Yet no one, not even the fastidious H.W. Fowler, nor his successor Sir Ernest Gowens, nor the great Oxford Dictionary itself, has dared to explore it, define it, or at least venture, if ever so roughly, when and how it could be used.
Except that it became suddenly my own ineluctable portion to enquire into its mysteries root and branch, I, too, might have continued mutely to acquiesce in its existence without knowledge of its meaning.
Which, thinking on it, is not precisely true, for it is the very pith of runcible that one knows its meaning without necessarily knowing that one knows it – something, in other words, that can be learned, not taught. Else how, for instance, should I have perceived without instruction that I have a runcible cat? Yet I did.
It was perhaps his contrast with the other one, who is definitely an unruncible cat, if that is the proper word for a cat that is not runcible, although I shall be coming to that problem shortly.
Certainly, everything else being equal, if you happened upon a runcible and an unruncible cat in the same moment, you would know immediately which was which. I know that I would, although I would not go so far as to say the same for hats and spoons.
Our runcible cat’s name is Mr. Smith. At any rate, that is what we call him. If T.S. Eliot was right about cats, and I daresay he was, Mr. Smith has two other names: his real name and the name he calls himself. Mr. Smith, however, is the only name I can vouch for; and he does answer to it in his way.
Our unruncible cat’s name is Hui Neng, after the Sixth Patriarch of he Ch’an Sect (638-713), the famous Dhyana Master of the Tang Dynasty, which has nothing whatsoever to do with his unruncibility but only with the fact that I was given him by an equally unruncible shopkeeper in Chinatown. He, too – I mean Hui Neng – probably has two other names, both secret, and once had a fourth, Candy, given him by his previous proprietor but rejected by myself as utterly inappropriate.
Now, in this short space, I have already extended the word runcible into two derivative forms; i.e. unruncible and unruncibiliy, both admittedly too loose for comfort, so it is imperative that we look into Lear’s original word lest we wallow in misconstruction.
The word runcible itself is apparently an adjective of sorts, though with subtly plausible affinities to an unused (because unknown?) verb, which may or not be runce, or even runc, and, whatever it is, may or may not be transitive; it is of no consequence.
It may be best at this point, too, that I remark that I am merely a writer, neither a grammarian, nor an etymologist, nor a linguist, but merely a writer.
Be that as it may, the deepest one can dig with satisfaction into the roots of the word runcible in the Oxford, or any other dictionary of the English language is runci
, one gets runca
, as in runcation, meaning the act of weeding; and words like runch (a kind of weed); runchie (another word for weeds, used generally by rurigeneous, that is country folk); and after runci, runcle ( a kind of beet). All of which take us nowhere, and leaves cats, if not hats and spoons, far behind.
So back to runci
The first possibility is runcinate, an adjective signifying a surface that is saw-toothed, with lobes curving towards its base, deriving from the Latin runcina
, meaning plane, but apparently often mistaken for a saw.
This characteristic might well occur in spoons, I suppose and (although God know how) also in hats. But while it is more or less true that a cat’s tongue is more or less runcinate, it does not seem quite enough to justify calling the whole cat runcinate, let alone runcible. For would not that make all cats runcible? And is it not the whole point that all cats are not runcible?
Hui Neng would certainly testify to that. And I imagine that Lear would agree. So much for runcinate.
The second, and last, possibility is runcival, meaning several and mutually unrelated things, but interesting at first sound because, if one were to imagine a Spaniard enunciating runcival, one would certainly hear him say runcible, for Spanish-speaking peoples, especially Castillians [sic], cannot, or at any rate do no, sav V, but turn it into B, as in Biba Zapata!
Would that Edward Lear had been even remotely Spanish, and at least half our quest would be done. He was, of course, not.
Neither is it recorded anywhere that he was afflicted by one of those charming impediments not unusual in the speech of the English educated classes, the most common of which turned the R into a W, as in Wichard, or Wonald, or Wuth. Or wuncible? But, of course, that wouldn’t do; and in any case he was, again, not.
Perhaps, where there is plenty of room for speculation, runcival, or rouncival as it was commonly spelled after its first appearance in the Sixteenth Century, wormed its way into Lear’s yeasty mind, fermented there and gave off a more esoteric form.
It is a curious enough word in its own right, thought to derive from the place name, Roncevalles (bramble valley), a tiny, lovely place in the Pyrenees not far from Pamplona. And, while today it means only a large variety of garden pea, it was once used to denote giganticism, robustiousness, a heavy fall or crash, a form of alliterative verse, a witch, and was perhaps the best of all possible nouns for a woman of large build and boisterous or loose manners. Curious indeed, and precisely the word for Judy LaMarsh, but not for our Mr. Smith. And least of all for Hui Neng.
Yet Mr. Smith is undeniably runcible in the precise way that Edward Lear unquestionably meant the word to signify, whether or not it seethed up out of his awareness of runcival.
How so, if he is not pea-like, alliterative or witchy, and not even rarely falls heavily about the place like a big, boisterous woman (although he is big); how so is Mr. Smith or any cat runcible?
It is not because of the word, of that much we can be sure.
Cats do not fit themselves to ready-made words, not runcible cats, that is. As the line comes before the meaning in calligraphy, so does the runcible cat appear before the word.
People and most others – Hui Neng, for example make themselves look like available words; such as beautiful, slim, clever, rich, adorable and popular. Not so a runcible cat.
For a runcible cat there is no word, wherefore he is runcible. It is as simple as that. Or as the scholars say, Q.E.D.
Edward Lear, however, knowing that people need words whether or not they understand their meaning, and being the greatest wordsmith of us all, smithied us a word that clearly means everything and nothing at once.
And he employed it with such aptness as left nothing to doubt. As in…His body is perfectly spherical,
He weareth a runcible hat.
Or…They dined on mince and slices of
Which they ate with a runcible spoon…
Or…He has gone to fish, for his aunt
Runcible Cat with crimson whiskers!
Runcible is as runcible does, of course, notwithstanding the fact that no one knows what it does, and that probably goes for hats and spoons as much as it does for cats, although I do not claim to speak for hats and spoons in this case. Only cats.
Four Men Of Impecable Good Taste
Friday, February 26, 2010
I fell for the first Canadian I ever met. I married Rosemary Healey in Mexico City in 1968. I knew nothing of Canada.
She told me of a man called Pierre Trudeau who was the Canadian Prime Minister and she played me records of Gilles Vigneault. I wasn’t fazed by the first ( I did not understand Rosemary’s hero-worship of the man) nor was I impressed by the singing of the second. My mother had harped for many years about an “ugly French Canadian patois”. The few Canadians I had been exposed to had been the rowdy French kind in Acapulco and Veracruz. My mother had told me, “They are French Canadian,” as an explanation for their loud behaviour.
Then my Yorkshire friend (and godfather of my eldest daughter) Andrew Taylor brought a record album that had a deadpan and depressing looking man on the cover. He sang a melancholic song called Suzanne
and an even more depressing So Long Marianne
. On another day he insisted on playing a record by a woman called Joni Mitchell. I was into Joan Baez and Carole King. I was not interested.
I did not find Canadians in the least exciting with the exception of my lovely wife. I was much too busy admiring her shapely legs and feeling how lucky I was. I was impressed on how she planned to go to the hospital to have our first daughter on a Friday so as to go back to work as soon as possible the next week. When my friends asked my about my wife I would invariably say she is of a “hardy Canadian stock”. Very soon Rosemary wore the financial pants of our family.
One day (before we got married) I took her to lunch to a cocina economica
(a cheap Mexican home-style restaurant with a fixed daily menu) and I was shocked to see her use a toothpick. I had to explain to her that this would be considered uncouth by most of my friends and my mother. She never ever used a toothpick again.
When we finally decided to move up to Vancouver with our two Mexican-born daughters I remember distinctly that my youngest daughter’s godfather, Raul Guerrero Montemayor, a polyglot who had been educated in Switzerland, told me, “I am sure you will do well in Canada but don’t forget that the fact that Canadians are mostly white does not necessarily make them civilized.” He used the more encompassing Spanish term “educado”
which includes culture, manners and education.
It was in Vancouver that through my early introduction to CBC Radio
I found that the correct pronunciation was not New-Found-Land but Newfun-Land. I was hooked to the CBC then.
For many of my years here (well into the early 90s) I felt like a tourist in a beautiful city (in spite of its architecture I would tell my visitors from down south). I did become a Canadian citizen but having been born and raised in Argentina and then in Mexico made it difficult to experience the kind of exuberant feeling displayed these last weeks during our very own Olympics.
Time has warmed me to Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell and I am proud that Trudeau was a Canadian statesman. I enjoyed his deft manipulation of language. But more than anything I admired Trudeau’s intelligence and class. Rosemary was right all the time.
Of late I have been thinking a lot about class and good taste. I cringe at many of the Olympic shenanigans reported by the much too gushy Vancouver Sun. I prefer the understated and not complete (at least not 100%) acceptance of the 2010 Winter Olympics when I listen to Rick Cluff’s Early Edition
on CBC Radio 1
. I have been listening to him daily as I take my Rosemary to her Sprott-Shaw computer classes downtown at 8 A.M.
It was on Monday, listening to the banter between Rick Cluff and Steve Armitage, that I was finally feeling awfully proud about being Canadian. Here are two men with beautiful voices (rare in contemporary radio) discussing with wit, class and intelligence the possible final medal count for Canadians. I lightly object to Cluff’s description and insistence on the term “veteran sportscaster” to define Steve Armitage. I don’t think Armitage needs any such definitions. He is simply a superb sports journalist and not at all like the male, hockey shouter/sportscasters of “our” NBC/CTV Olympic network.
We Canadians may be understated. We may be reluctant to brag and we may be defined by others as being colourless, bland and boring. I am beginning to understand that fallacy.
But I see that my initial opinion upon listening to that Leonard Cohen album back in Mexico may have been a bit much too sophisticated for this now reformed unsophisticated Latin. Canadians grow on you in the same way that Canada has grown on me.
For many years I boasted that I had never ever seen a single complete episode of the Beachcombers. I have always been quick to opine that I loathe TV. Part of the reason is that there is a lot of good television if you look for it and I have always been afraid of TV addiction.
CBC once assigned me to go to Gibson’s Landing to photograph the Beachcombers’ cast. I talked to one of the producers on the phone and made it a point to brag on my ignorance about the show. “I know who Bruno Gerussi is because I have seen him in Super-Valu and McCain’s Pizza TV ads. But clue me in on the others in the cast.” I was truly stupid and ignorant and rude! The man (I don’t remember if it was Marc Strange, Philip Keatley or Hugh Beard) told me on the phone, “I’ll meet you at Molly’s Reach.” I remember saying, “Molly’s Beach?” I had not yet learned to mask my supposed superiority!
Yesterday I attempted to figure out the subtlety of Canadian hockey figuring that the slower version (as compared to the men's) Canadian female team might help. It didn’t and I am still in the dark on this Canadian game. During one of the ads (this was during the Canadian/US final) I channel surfed one up from channel 9 to channel 10 which was showing an old Beachcombers.
This episode involved the determination that a cow was simply meat and that he (Jackson Davies) could dispatch the animal with no problem. Within seconds there was Bruno Gerussi, Pat Johns and Robert Clothier on the scene bringing me back memories of my day at the Reach. I knew who they were because I had photographed them. In one short interval, where Jackson Davies talks to the cow and ends up shooting at a tin can instead was pure and good TV. They were five or six minutes that somehow justified all the bad stuff surrounding it in other channels. It was understated and it went straight to my heart.
I think I am beginning to understand what it is to be Canadian and I am feeling very proud to be one. My wife, would be too polite (and much too classy) to point out how wrong I have been since I first met her in 1968. I am sure that if I had been the one with the toothpick she would have found a more polite and kind way to let me now about my transgression.
In the CBC TV and Radio group picture which I took around 1980 or 81 that’s (from left to right) Phil Reimer, Bill Good Jr. and Steve Armitage on the front row. I took the picture of Bruno Gerussi for a CBC open house. I have many portraits of Jackson Davies. I could not possibly go wrong with that man. This one is but one of the pictures. And I made Leonard Cohen laugh (by telling him to not even smile) so I could erase for ever that cover of his in Songs of Leonard Cohen.
Another Find From My Grandmother's Trunk
Thursday, February 25, 2010
When we Left for Mexico City from Buenos Aires in 1955 my grandmother gave me a small can of aluminum/silver paint and told me to put our initials on the heavy wooden trunks that had been in our family since the 1920s. For her trunk I was to put the initials DIG which stood for Dolores de Irureta Goyena. Through the years and after many moves the trunks are all gone but one. The one that remains still has my unsteady hand letters DIG and it is that trunk that I have been investigating these days. As we say in Spanish, “Cuando el diablo no tiene nada que hacer con el rabo espanta moscas.” This translates to, “When the devil is idle, with his tails he swats flies.” I have been idle with a persistent cough and rheumatism in my elbows and hands.
Yesterday I found the April
envelope with the pictures of the Edwardian or early 20s Latin woman. Today I found the startingly modern (the crop and the angle) photograph of a mysterious undraped woman with her cat.
I am beginning to suspect that my grandfather Don Tirso de Irureta Goyena, a famous man of letters, a defender of the Spanish language and a prosperous lawyer who bought one of the first motorcars in Manila, might have also have had a hidden talent. Could he have been a good amateur photographer? I suspect he might have had an assistant in this venture as he had a Japanese driver. What other tasks did the man have besides driving my grandfather to work?
Why didn’t my grandmother throw these pictures away? At the time, in the late 1910s, they would have been scandalous. This envelope, with the pictures of the woman with the cat had the name Gani y el Gato (Gani and the cat). Who might have Gani been? I guess it will remain a mystery as those who were around at the time are all dead.
I wonder what tomorrow will bring as I examine the contents of my grandmother’s trunk.
April From The Past
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
I found these pictures in an envelope in one of the old chests that used to belong to my grandmother. I have no idea who the woman is nor do I know who took the pictures. One of the pictures looks like an early colour photograph that may have been printed in the early 1920s. I was shocked to find the nudes. I never revealed to my grandmother when she was alive that I was interested in photography. We always talked about art. Both of us painted. She taught me to use pastels. She often told me that the Manila family pictures had been taken by a Japanese photographer. Most of those photographs have a stamp in the back. The ones in the envelope titled April, have no markings that could give me an indication of their provenance.
I have done my best to scan these pictures and make them as clear as I can. It is such a shame that there is nobody alive who can tell me who the lovely Latin looking woman is. Could her name be April?
More from the past
The Cat Out Of The Blog Bag
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
I am not letting the cat out of the blog bag by placing this picture of Rebecca here. A week ago I called her up and asked her if she would like to pose for me in some fashion shots. She was to pick the clothes and then write about them in her very own fashion blog. She liked the idea and immediately said she would do it.
I had a job today to photograph 10 lawyers (a large Canadian tax law firm) today and not having a studio anymore I told my contact at the firm that I was prepared to show up at their office with a portable backdrop. I thought it would be a good idea to try out the setup at home and use Rebecca as my subject. I came up with the idea of the fashion shots and I was going to use a neutral gray backdrop. The idea was to make sure it would work well. I did not do this as I explain belos. But all went well at the tax law firm.
We have lived in our Athlone Street house since 1986 and except for our garden which has appeared in gardening magazines (including the American publication, Better Homes & Gardens) and has been on countless tours (bus loads from different garden clubs, city tours and the last Ballet BC Garden Tour) the house itself has rarely appeared in any of my photos. I decided that I would do Rebecca’s fashion pictures taking advantage of our home which is an eclectic mix of stuff from all over the world. I would take (and did take) pictures of Rebecca using my medium format camera with colour transparency film. The pictures are taken. Now I must wait for Rebecca to write about them.
The pictures here are two Fuji b+w instant prints that will surely look all that much better in colour.
My Olympic Beaver
Monday, February 22, 2010
No matter how much metalworking finesse goes into the construction of a prototype airplane, there is a roughness around the edges, a dimpled aluminum skin and a general lack of finish that is the mark of a hand built machine. Details come later. The esthetics can wait. No need for a racy paint job. Let’s see if this thing will fly.
Still the de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver prototype that Wing Commander Russ Bannock climbed into shortly before 10 A.M. on August 16, 1947, was a handsome airplane in its own way: a sturdy-looking, squared-off, pug nosed fuselage, fronted with a big, flat, no-nonsense radial engine with its bulk set on thick landing-gear struts that gave it the look of a heads-up bulldog ready to leap off the ground. The Immortal Beaver – The World’s Greatest Bush Plane
by Sean Rossiter, 1996, Douglas & McIntyre
This blog has been in my mind for the last week but it finally put itself in front of me when Rebecca on Saturday said that there was a very big squirrel in the garden that just might be eating Rosemary’s bulbs. Just to be cute I told Rebecca that it was not a squirrel but our resident beaver and that it had good teeth. In the presence of her mother Rebecca (12) alluded to other qualities of beavers and I kept my mouth shut being happy that at long last Rebecca has moved on from innuendo jokes on flatulence.
Today Sunday (I am writing Monday’s blog today) I was enjoying my New York Times in bed (on paper, not on a computer monitor screen). I heard a noise and matter-of-factly I told Rosemary, “That’s a de Havilland Beaver.”
With a modified (restricted) air space over Vancouver since a bit before the Olympics began the sounds over our house (we are at 41st and Granville and thus not far from the Vancouver Airport) have radically changed. We no longer hear as many commercial jets. There are three distinct airplane sounds over our house which must be some special corridor. One is the almost unceasing sound of helicopters that must be ferrying officials, politicians, athletes and Olympic guests from the airport or from Richmond Olympic facilities.
Helicopters of the blacker kind made my Strathcona- resident friend Mark Budgen, finally move to Oliver, B.C. for the duration of the games. It seems that these big black helicopters would fly back and forth early mornings over his house and rattle his dishes. The same noises have driven my friend Ian Bateson batty. His design firm Baseline is in the Vancouver Block on Granville and Georgia. Oliver does not beckon as he has to make ends meet and continue his work.
I seem to have better luck. While the helicopters are a pain the sounds of the other two types of aircraft are much to my liking. A pair of F-18s keeps booming around in the mornings and then there is that Beaver. It could be one or many. But I have taken possession of them, and converted them to my one Olympic Beaver.
It occurred to me this morning that Sean Rossiter’s comparison of the Beaver to “a heads-up bulldog ready to leap off the ground” is open to my own re-interpretation.
Casa (short for Casanova) has been at home now for a week. He is Rosemary’s 17 pound cat. Casa (he is as sturdy looking as a de Havilland Beaver) has quickly ingratiated himself with his owner and has quietly finessed himself into an appreciation by my snobbish, female cat Plata. They now sleep at the foot of our bed (on an Eaton’s blue blanket) a mere inches apart. When I go up the stairs to our bedroom to check on Rosemary’s progress with her Word and Powerpoint classes (she works in bed with her laptop) I find the big presence of Casa on the bed a comforting one. The world is just fine if Casa is there and that Beaver flies over my house with an equanimity that comes from having done it since that prototype first flew in 1947. When the Olympics are gone I will miss my Olympic Beaver but I know it (he?) will be flying elsewhere with regularity and dependability. Some things don’t change. Thank God.
Some may wonder about the sounds of airplanes to a discerning ear. Most will readily admit that for better or for worse Harley Davidsons sound different to most other motorcycles. The same difference applies to Beavers. There is a primitive put-putness to the Harley sound that is paralleled by the Beaver. The Harley sounds as if is not tuned. My friend Sean Rossiter (not an expert on motorcycles but indeed on airplanes) explained today Sunday that Harleys have symmetrically oposed cylinders, two of them, and that there is no way to make such an engine purr like Rosemary's Casa. He further explained that the Pratt & Whitney radial engine of a de Havilland Beaver is air cooled. He told me that water cooled airplane engines bring with the cooling an inherent noise supression that is absent with the air cooled radial engine. It is the Beaver's sound that for me is a trademark to its very dependability. It is a handsome low frequency sound that does not beat around the bush. Rossiter told me that our beloved Grumman A-6s were very loud because the engines were turbo jets. It seems that the transition to the more quiet turbofan engines passed me by. "F-18s make a lot noise even though they are turbofans because the pilots are making the noise on purpose to make their presence over our Vancouver skies clearly evident." "Do they make more noise when they switch on the afterburners?" I asked him. "Yes." Some years ago when Rebecca was around 7 I took her to an Abbotsford Air Show. "What is your favourite airplane here?" I asked her. "The F-14 Tomcat, " she replied. I asked her why. "Because it is loud." That my Rebecca chose the very plane that somehow has carried the mantle of that other great Grumman plane the A-6 (the Tomcat is also manufactured by Grumman) made me instantly appreciate her more.
We will have to book a flight in a Beaver, soon.
I'll Remember April - In February
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Rosemary came home from Safeway yesterday with something called rainbow, three cheese, tortellini. We were to have that for supper with the girls and with their mother Hilary.
During the day I took some photographs of Rebecca. I had come up with the idea on Friday on having her bring stuff to wear and for her to write a guest blog on her idea of what fashion is all about. Since of late she has moved from the books section of the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library to the teen section where they have teen magazines I have noticed she likes to read teen fashion magazines.
I photographed her in the park and then making sticky cinnamon buns in the kitchen, a photograph at the piano and a few others. Lauren felt left out. I told her I would photograph her on another day.
I circumvented the problem of what to do with the rainbow, three cheese tortellini, by making a white béchamel sauce to which I added some chopped onion, three tablespoonfuls of ketchup, some white wine, a bit of chicken broth extract and a teaspoonful of Spanish paprika. I thickened the sauce with cream and grated some good Parmesan and old white cheddar. The girls had second helpings. Dinner went smoothly. We had Rebecca’s excellent cinnamon buns for dessert.
Before dinner Rebecca had gone upstairs to put on one of Rosemary’s dresses for a shot. Meanwhile Lauren came down wearing a pink dress. “It almost fits me,”she said. Our Mexican housekeeper Clemen had made the dress for Hilary some 33 years ago. Lauren’s hair was a mess. “If you want me to photograph you, you have to brush your hair.” “I don’t want you to photograph me.” She changed her mind and went up to brush her hair. Rebecca told her, “You look silly with your ears showing.”
I took a couple of transparencies. Lauren looked so cute I decided to shoot a couple of Fuji instant pictures. While my Ektachromes are accurately exposed this Fuji instant picture film is all over the map. The highlights had lost their texture so I had to fix them up. The snaps are pleasant to look at nonetheless.
After dinner I told Hilary that we could either watch Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons in Angel Face
or Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Claudette Colbert and Hedy Lamarr in Boom Town
. That was not to be as Hilary is into speed skating. Even Rosemary was watching. I sadly moved to the living room and put on the 1958 recording of Stan [Getz] Meets Chet [Baker]. I sat down to exquisitely put myself into a melancholy mood. Just a few seconds into I’ll Remember April Lauren came into the living room and danced with a big smile on her face! I was saved from that exquisite melancholy. We scanned both the Fuji prints and here they are!No More Books
The Three Czechs
I find the concept of nationality when associated with Sports a somewhat troubling one. I have watched my Argentine football team lose too many games particularly when they played in Mexico City. The excuse, then, was the city’s altitude. The Mexican sports announcers pointed all kinds of other deficiencies in my Argentines. I began to dislike these announcers that my mother (a fan of football) called buitres (buzzards). What really made my blood boil was when my Argentine players would fall to the ground and which this impartial Argentine thought were vicious Mexican fouls. The buzzards discounted these as obvious examples of Argentines doing what they did best which was to dance the tango. The idea of dancing the tango is associated by Latin Americans as an example of soap opera over-acting.
I left all that behind when I came to Vancouver in 1975 were I was introduced to something called ice hockey on my portable b+w TV. In those days few players wore helmets or at least the one who seemed to be the best, Guy Lafleur didn’t. Even I could see he had style and speed as I watched his longish hair sweep back as he skated. I could never understand the function of the Hammond Organ that kept playing the Mexican Hat Dance.
I explained to my Argentine cousins that Canadians played a game on ice in which they would almost kill an opponent with a stick. An official would come and say, “You have been a bad boy, so go to the penalty box and sit there for a few minutes.” My cousins did not believe me and to this day I find the hockey penalty concept as alien and difficult to comprehend as Canada’s parliamentary democracy.
It was sometime around the mid 80s that my friend Paul Leisz took me to a real live Canucks game and I began to appreciate the sport even if I will never understand the subtleties of the game. It is much too fast for me to understand them.
It was also in the 80s when my good friend Mike Varga (surely the best Canadian CBC hockey and sports cameraman in the business) took me into a CBC command van where I was able to see the Hockey Night in Canada director (like a general in the field) direct his many cameramen on a wall-full of TV monitors. His job seemed to be as difficult and stressful as that of an air-traffic controller.
In the 80s, too I was commanded to follow coach La Forge to Edmonton where his Canucks were playing against Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers. I had been further commanded (by Vancouver Magazine’s Chris Dahl) to take action pictures of the game. My experience in hockey photography was as limited as that of boxing. It was nonexistent. I didn’t know where to stand to take my pictures. Mike Varga was in his special booth and he invited me to join him. There was a plastic or glass wall separating us from the Oiler’s bench. Wayne Gretzky was right there trying to figure where he had seen me. I had taken his picture on his 21st birthday in CBC’s Studio 40 in Vancouver.
My knowledge of hockey has not improved since but that did not prevent me from watching the Canadian team play Switzerland and today against the United States. When convenient I try to tell myself that I am Argentine-born so I should not be concerned if the Canadians (not we) lose. They did lose and I am a tad sad. But being older and wiser I am not going to let the emotions of those games of the Argentine football team back in Mexico City affect my morale. It is only a game I say to myself. It is not important.
As I was thinking about hockey today I had a pang of memory overcoming me when I read about Jágr being the best player in the Czech team that lost (also today) to the Russians. I went to my hocke files and found an envelope in which I had written Canucks – The Three Chekes [sic]. When I looked at the pictures I had printed I remembered a bit. The picture must have been taken either 1990 or 1991 (or perhaps a bit earlier) when Jágr had played with the Pittsburgh Penguins (a fact I did not know but found in Wikipedia. Remember I know nothing about hockey). A sports writer for Vancouver Magazine (one that had the credibility of writing for Saturday Night but I do not now remember his name) had concocted a column that was about the three Czechs who must at one time had played together. I know that the man on the left is Jaromír Jágr but I have no idea who the other two may have been. They must have been Czech players for the Canucks.
But as I look at this picture it grows on me. I notice that I used Ilford HP-5 with my Mamiya RB-67 camera. This was the Ilford equivalent to Kodak’s Tri-X. I must have known that I was not going to get much time to take their pictures (in all I took 8 exposures) so I did not pack lights.
I wonder if such a picture could be taken today? Would there be access? To me it looks like three young men in happier and more innocent times.
I am glad to hear (as I watch Olympic Men’s Hockey) that there is no Hammond organ playing the Mexican Hat Dance.
My friend and sports enthusiast Jack MacDermot has this to day about the photograph:
I'm about 95% sure about this:
It's the 1992-93 Canucks, since that is the season that all three players (if I've properly identified them) played for them, according to the record book.
It could be a year or two earlier if it was training camp or exhibition season because the third player (Slegr) hadn't made the team yet, but had been drafted.
1. My first reaction was "That's Petr Nedved, not Jagr" and upon looking at more pictures online I'm pretty sure that's right.
2. Robert Kron
3. Jiri Slegr (son of former defenceman Jiri Bubla, famously caught in drug deal)
I guess the only way to confirm this would be with someone who knew the team well at that time but that's my best guess.
Hope this helps,
Addendum: The original writer, Brian Preston has this to add to Jack MacDermot's accurate take on the men in the picture:I do remember that day. Slegr was the baby faced
rookie but he did progress into a good pro, and did
go on to win a gold medal with the Czechs at the
Olympics in 1998 I believe. I remember Robert Kron
commenting after you took the shots: "We're
hockey players, not strippers." He was having
second thoughts about it. I never did talk to any of
them later to see what they thought of the photos.
Kron was the older (28 or 30 year old) father figure
to Slegr the new arrival who spoke no english yet
and Nedved was also young and considered very
immature. Win, lose, he didn't particularly care,
hockey was just fun to play. A big goofy kid. Now
they're all finished with the game, and middle aged.
It would be interesting to see what their lives are
like now. Probably all back in the Czech Republic I
And he adds these details:
Funny how a thing you haven't thought about in years can become vivid in the mind again-- I don't remember much of the interview but I do recall Kron told me he became a dad at nineteen and I said Wow, and he said why does everyone say wow here, where I come from that's normal. I remember that because it was in the story I wrote. I find with these old things I wrote nearly twenty years ago I remember exactly what's in the story and not much else-- so the story has replaced the memory, and become the memory. But I do remember watching you work and being impressed with how quickly you got the job done, very unhesitating and confident, which had them responding like players to their coach... you probably could have got them down to their jock straps...