The Globe-Wernicke & Synapses In My Brain
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Memory plays such a strange game of surprise with me. I can never remember the name of Leonard Cohen unless I first think of Leonard Bernstein. In my mind these two men, who may have never met, play constant twins and often travel as one within my synapses. The proper botanical names of my plants fade by the end of November yet they come back in earnest by spring. And then I can still remember the complex smell (Player's Navy Cut, whiskey and cologne) of my father's jackets.
It was Friday night that I was ensconced in my bed comfortably reading one of my last book acquisitions, a bargain priced, but beautifully bound Just Enough Liebling – Classic Work By The Legendary New Yorker Writer
with Introduction by David Remnick (current editor of the New Yorker).
I was reading The Hounds with Sad Voices
(November 16, 1957) when I suddenly got out of bed in a rush and startling Rosemary. I went to one of our 7 stacking lawyer’s bookcases. I could have gone to any of the others but I knew I would find what I was looking for within this particular one. The bookcase in question is to my right as I write this, (see picture here). In it are my best and favourite literary (but not always, so) books. There’s Gore Vidal but Elmore Leonard
. There are many Umberto Ecos, and Charles Pallisers, a couple of John Updikes but also the declining-in-popularity (but not in my books) Anthony Burgess. There’s Hemingway but there’s Ogden Nash
. There is Don De Lillo and John Cheever but also Brian Moore and Edith Iglauer. There’s one William Golding (To The Ends of The Earth – A Sea Trilogy
) but there is also a whole shelf of military non-fiction by the likes of John Keegan that share space with that ultimate war story, Das Boot
by Lothar-Gunther Buchleim.
Underneath in the extra tall shelf I keep my airplanes books including a complete collection of the Bill Sweetman's, Sptifire, Lancaster,
Phantom and by other authors in the same series that feature the Harrier, the Corsair
and the Focke-Wulf Fw-190
. One of the best is Jeffrey Etthell's P-38 Lightning
with fantastic illustrations by Rikyu Watanabe.
I removed the airplane books and behind I found what I was looking for. It was a little bolted sign in something that looks like late 19th Century Bakelite (did they make a white version, or was there such a thing as early white plastic by then?). The sign reads:
The Globe-Wernicke Co. Ltd.
Office Library Furnishers
Going back upstairs I read to Rosemary:
It all reminded me, sadly, of the illustrations in the thirty-volume-or-so set of Maupassant, bound three-quarter green imitation morocco with gold ornaments on the spine, that had been the chief advertisement of sophistication behind the glass of my parents’ Globe-Wernicke sectional bookcases. In those volumes I sought out my first clues to sex, and to this day I retain a prejudice that gentlemen with curved jet-black mustaches and long-tailed coats are wickeder than others, and that ladies with big behinds and small feet are the most irresistible. I had arrived, at last, in my chosen décor, but sixty years too late. Maupassant was a Norman, and my long liaison with Normandy began with in the Globe-Wernicke mahogany sectional bookcases, and probably in a bad translation.
Just Enough Liebling
, Page 217, North Point Press, 2004
I purchased the book case at the end of the 80s. I moved it to where it is today and by then I had all the military and airplane books that fill the bottom shelf. I had seen that Globe-Wernicke sign once. Liebling’s mention of it struck and the synapses in my brain, inexplicably awakened from their age-induced slumber, alerted me to a connection and down the stairs I went to experience a thrill that is still with me.
No More Books
Pathos & Delight
Friday, April 23, 2010
My life as a photographer has gone through some changes that I would have never predicted. It was in Mexico that I had a darkroom that was a bathroom. In our Burnaby home in the 70s and early 80s my darkroom was large and it had its own bathroom. When we moved to our present location I decided I really wanted a comfortable darkroom. Rosemary had obtained from her office two discarded oak library tables. I brought them into the darkroom. The table offered an extremely solid and vibration-free platform for my enlarger. To further reduce vibration I bolted the enlarger to the wall with metal brackets.
Originally I had the plan to install a secondary stereo stystem but I never went past a portable transistor radio. Through he years in our Athlone Street home, plumbing problems have tended to bring in unwanted water into my darkroom. It has been dry now for a while but every time I go into it (a rare occasion now) I feel the pangs of nostalgia for the days when I would rush down to print a particular negative I was excited about.
I have had a request for some prints of writer Paul St Pierre
(a subject of mine some years ago)who called from Langley for a print. Someone else wants prints of writer Elizabeth Smart and architect Arthur Erickson
. It is inevitable that I will have to spruce up (vacuum perhaps?) my darkroom today and print those pictures. As they say these days, money is money even if it isn’t all that much.
My friend Les Wiseman in Victoria has been selling Vancouver punk memorabilia of late and wants me to make an album of pictures of such bands as the Dishrags, the Subhumans, DOA, etc. I wonder if it is worth it to make prints. Few nowadays understand the difference between a photograph printed from a negative on to real and archival photographic paper as opposed to a print churned out by a desk top inkjet printer. Are they willing to pay that much more? I remember that in the 80s I would get phone requests for an 8x10 glossy and I knew that the minimum price I could charge was $50. In some cases I could get away with more. Now when I mention $75 or $100 I never get a call back or a return email. Folks now want to pay $20!
A darkroom with a bottle of Scotch, some good music and a good negative is all American photographer W. Eugene Smith needed to keep him going through the night. In my good years I always replaced that Scotch with a mug of strong tea. I am hoping that this weekend I can feel again that excitement and thrill of bringing to a graphic and tactile reality the idea that resulted from the pressing of the shutter and the magical concept of that virtual image embedded in that undeveloped negative that would see the light of day for a second time.
As I think of this and the emotions that I feel I look behind me as I sit on what is now my virtual darkroom (my Edwardian desk with the computer and the Epson scanner by the side. Behind me is a pair of little black shoes. Lauren brought them a couple of weeks . There are some dresses beside the shoes. They are hand-me-downs from not only her older sister but even a few from her mother Hilary when she was the same age, 7.
I look at the little shoes and I am consumed with a pathos tinged with the delight that I will see Lauren and Rebecca tomorrow Saturday. I have tried to interest Rebecca in my darkroom work. She is repelled by the smell of fixer. To me the acrid acid smell is perfume to memories of my past.
Lauren has become a willing subject for my camera and often wants to get on a chair to look through my big camera as it sits on its tripod.
I wonder what the future will bring to her and will she someday look at my desk and see a desk but look at my library table and see a darkroom. Time will tell while I delight in the sight of the little black shoes.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
The smallish but extremely intimate and refurbished Revue Stage (part of the Arts Club Theatre trio of theatres) across from the Granville Island Stage, was full. This was pleasantly surprising (to me) as the Vancouver Canucks were Playing the Los Angeles Kings yesterday during this première of Anosh Irani’s (left) My Granny The Goldfish.
Let’s get the plot out of the way. Granny (Balinder Johal) leaves her farm near Mumbai to visit her grandson, Nico, in a Vancouver hospital. Her grandson (Shaker Paleja) is a serious hypochondriac who has had a yellowish lump removed from his back. His parents (the mother, Farseen ( Veena Sood) a serious alcoholic and her husband, Dara (David Adams) a supportive one) remain in Mumbai in a contemporary home inside the city’s red light district. A childhood incident has rendered Farseen with a fear and distrust of the Chinese.
Within seconds Rosemary and I were in tears with laughter. If political correctness is important and you are one of those Canadians who do not want to offend you might want to give this play a pass (and be less for it while missing a lot of fun). As soon as the racial (anti Chinese epithets) began to fly I heard a gentleman behind me say to his female companion, “Can they get away with this?” I am glad they can.
I cannot abide with extreme political correctness. Just like Canadian Aboriginals (or is it First Nations Peoples?) can call each other Indians because they are so, but we can’t, is it possible that Indians from India (or is that East Indians?) can call the product of intermarriage between a brown Hindu and a Chinese a Brownese? I believe they can, and as funny as it might sound it just reveals that in spite of it all, in spite of our ignorance of other cultures, in the end we are all much alike. We are alike even if Anosh Irani’s plays (this could be the third of a so-called Mumbai trilogy that began with The Matka King
and Bombay Black
) take us to exotic places (for us) and put us in homes and situations that are exotic (for us) but perfectly normal for our playwright.
Kudos to costume designer Carmen Alatorre for dressing up the four members of the cast in contemporary clothing and with the presence of cellular phones, pictures on the wall and carry-on luggage made them seem almost (but not quite!) like us.
I am a product of another age and I found various parallels in the play with my own childhood upbringing. Like the Mumbai parents of our handsome young hero Nico (named, improbably after the female singer of the inaugural album of the Velvet Underground) I too lived in a household with an alcoholic (my father). The squabbles within the play rang true for me. They are heart-wrenching but Irani has balanced it all with lots of humor and wonderful dialogue. Except for a few four-letters words here and there I think this is a play I might take my 12-year-old granddaughter to. And definitely this is a play a teenager would enjoy.
While the kindly face and wisdom portrayed by Granny (Balinder Johal) reminded me of my own grandmother I found Farseen, the mother very much like my mother (who didn’t drink. Racism is mostly caused by an ignorance of another culture. My mother a Filipina (of Basque and Spanish heritage) was raised in Manila in the early part of the 20th century when the Chinese were already manifesting economic acumen. And more so, as far as my mother was concerned as we were related to an extremely wealthy Filipino/Chinese family, the Roxas. My mother told me stuff about the Chinese that I believed well into my teenage hood. “Alex the Chinese are the Jews of the Orient. Businessmen travel with their coffin which they place under their bed. They are always ready to die and they don’t want to spend extra money on a coffin.” “No, Alex, you cannot have goldfish in the house. According to the Chinese they bring bad luck.”
My mother told me that the Indians (from India) were called Bombais
. She then generalized in a most racist way, “They are hard workers. We call them Bombais
because we cannot call them Hindus. The reason is that Hindu is too close to the Tagalog word for fu--, hindut
It was in Vancouver, in 1975 when I first began to understand people of other cultures and when I discovered that Canadian Indians looked exactly like Mexican Indians and Argentine Indians and that their skin was not yellow. I began to note the difference between the Chinese and the Japanese (for Peruvians their former Japanese/Peruvian president, Fujimori will always be the Chinito). When I am in doubt I can ignorantly say that if I am not sure then they must be Korean!
So the family that Anosh Irani portrays in his play is a family not much different from my own. When Niko desperately says to his Granny, “I want my family to be normal,” She says, “It is.” Irani has written here a play about normal people in normal situations with just that touch of the exotic. That exotic touch does not make this play not be any less universal.
The actors are all superb. All of them could become standup comedians in their own right yet draw tears from us when serious.
I cannot discern the influence of theatrical directors yet (as I am an amateur) but I must assert here that I am a tad disappointed (I am selfish) that my favourite actress (I hate the term actor)Lois Anderson
(right) has decided to direct. I am sure she is a very good director. If this play is so good, she must be partly to blame. But I am glad to see that she will be appearing soon in productions with the Leaky Heaven and with the Western Canada Theatre Company. She can keep directing (my persmission is herby here granted)as long as she keeps acting. I know that soon she will be one of our city's best theatrical directors.
Set designer Amir Ofek found an ingenious solution that transported the audience, back and forth between Mumbai and Vancouver. I will not reveal here how he connected the two places with a Cathay Pacific jet that, unfortunately for Farzeen took her to Hong Kong where she refused to deplane.
My wife Rosemary and I are already looking forward to the Sunday May 2 Revue Stage production of Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craiglist Cantata book
by Bill Richardson and music by Veda Hille.
For those of you who never got to read Anosh Irani’s on-the-scene impression of the Mumbai massacre which he wrote for the editorial page of the New York Times
, it is here
Wilhelmus Nicholaas Theodore Marie "Bill" Vander Zalm's Last Laugh
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Sometime around 1979 a funny man dressed in a funny costume and wearing Dutch wooden shoes came up to me while I was shopping at a nursery on Lougheed Highway in Burnaby. I was looking at a Boston Fern. With a beaming smile, showing lots of white teeth he told me, “If you feed it diluted milk your fern will prosper.”
As I waited out of the CP Rail train station on the foot of Granville I spied a Volvo parked across the street. A man in a neat black leather jacket and nicely polished shoes got out and put money in the parking meter. He had a companion. They crossed the street. When they saw me the man in the leather jacket said, “Hi, Alex.”
This had all begun sometime in 1991 when I received a phone call from Canadian Pacific Limited PR man, Morrie Zeitlin. “Alex, Premier Vander Zalm has a friend from Holland. He is a small time mayor and he is into trains. I want you to give Vander Zalm and his friend a tour of our rail yard.”
At the time the premier was going through a tough time fighting allegations of having mixed politics with personal business with the sale of his Fantasy Gardens to a member of the Philipino/Chinese family Roxas (of which I might add I am related to through my Filipino grandfather Tirso de Irureta Goyena Miranda y Roxas). The whistle blower on the affair was a mad hatted woman called Faye Leung. But Vander Zalm had made another political mistake, a mistake that no politician in recent times should ever make. This is to not waffle on abortion. Instead of waffling Vander Zalm, who was a fervent Roman Catholic opined against it. Abortion was legal in British Columbia.
I was astounded to see our unpopular premier park his own car and not be followed by policemen or security agents. This small-time mentality (even after we were told our city had been discovered and was now world-class because of Expo 86) was one that greatly pleased me. Somehow our city had escaped the entrenched and siege mentality prevalent in the governments of cities in the United States and other parts of the world.
My knowledge of politics in general was limited. I had first met and photographed Vander Zalm in 1984 (the very year he had purchased Fantasy Garden) when he ran for mayor (representing the Non Partisan Association) against Mike Harcourt. I remember chatting with Vander Zalm before the pictures. We talked about pipe smoking as I was one, too. We discussed our preferences. At one time I had smoked Dutch tobacco so we compared notes on our favourite brands.
It was at the Socred Party Nomination Convention in Whistler in 1986 when my knowledge of politics was put to a test by the unlikely command of Rick Staehling, art director of Equity Magazine (an influential provincial business magazine edited by Harvey Southam, who was a scion of the newspaper family fortune). Staehling dispatched me to cover the event. I was flustered and unhappy. I had never done this sort of thing. I was good at lighting individual businessmen or politicians but certainly not comfortable of using exposure sensitive transparency film in situations where I could not control or properly measure the lighting.
Rick Staehling had always been a film buff (he is now, and has been for many years the resident, Friday afternoon, film reviewer for CBC Radio 1) and he had this concept (misguided in my opinion at that time in what I call cross-casting. Staehling defines it as:
In movies and television casting against type--or counter casting--is when an actor is chosen for a type of role they don't ordinarily play. Eternal good guy Tom Cruise turns psychotic hit-man for director Michael Mann in Collateral. Esquire covergirl and Mad Men co-star Christina Hendricks looks like a clueless, red-haired bombshell but is in fact the smartest character on the show. When casting photographers against type, the same strategy applies: assign a fashion shooter to a food story, put a food photographer on portraiture, or a large format stylist on a news story. It's an approach that challenges the best people who often deliver surprising and satisfying photographs. It can also result in some awkward and god-awful work. Which is why it is still probably wisest to use people for what they do best.
My day in the Whistler convention was a puzzling education in parliamentary government for me. If anything, until then my only expertise was in the coup d'état of the Argentine kind and the one party rule of Mexico’s PRI. I could not understand the obvious humiliation of a political candidate having to cross the floor to lend support to the more popular candidate. Watching the gracious Grace McCarthy cross the floor to lend her support to Bill Vander Zalm I could not discern any whiffs of disappointment in her face.
It was at Whistler where I spotted a man I have photographed many times. He came in by a back door. In greeted him in Spanish. Edgar Kaiser smiled at me and went on. There were rumors then that have never dissipated in that he was instrumental in the eventual win by Bill Vander Zalm on the fourth ballot.
While at Whistler I never spotted any soldiers with machine pistols. “How odd, these Canadians are,” I thought.
My difficulties increased as the day wore on and I had to put my one egg (I was one photographer) in one basket. The Vancouver Sun and the Province had assigned several photographers to each of the candidates. I had to choose one. Early that morning I had watched journalist Allan Fotheringham enter the convention centre carrying a brown paper bag. I followed him up the stairs to his desk. He sat down and removed a six-pack and opened a can. I went up to him and greeted him. “Watch Vander Zalm,” was the tip he gave me. I did.
I think that Staehling’s concept in the end bore fruit and I was quite happy with my pictures, but most of all, of the one you see here. It may not be all that sharp but it does show the special relationship that Vander Zalm had and has with his wife.
In 1988 I went to Surrey to photograph the new mayor. I had contributed to his win by taking picures of him in yellow slickers by a red tractor, with a Sikh working in a logging mill, talking to an old lady at a outdoor market, and chatting with a farmer while sharing both sides of a fence. The competion had run campaign portraits of men behind desks wearing shirt and tie. Facing Mr. Bose I asked him to put on his chain of office. With it on, he asked me, "Do you remember two men in particular who also wore it?" I said nothing. He explained one was Bill Vander Zalm and the other Ed McKitka. It was McKitka who had passed a city ordinance regulating how high fro the floor Playboys
had to be placed in corner stores to prevent minors from perusing them. Years later McKitka was caught acused of fondling a young woman in some function.
By 1991 Vander Zalm had resigned in disgrace. In August of 1993 the then editor of Equity Magazine
, Mike Campbell (brother of Premier Gordon Campbell who successfully ran both of his brother’s bid for mayor and then premier) called me to his office. Mike Campbell pretty well always talked to me without beating about the bush. He told me that Vander Zalm had granted Equity
his first interview after his departure from the political arena and that he had stipulated on two conditions. One was that the interview would not be controversial in nature and that the accompanying photograph would be a pleasant one.
The idea that most magazines function with unimpeachable editorial ethics most of the time is something that I believe to be a fallacy. I would have to believe in the tooth fairy. I have seen in the past how Vancouver Magazine publisher (70s, 80s and early 90s) Ron Stern would cajole editor Mac Parry to do this or that while Parry, to my knowledge, mostly always stood his ground.
In my past I have photographed people I didn’t like but whom I photographed to look good because magazines were paying me to do this. Campbell’s request was not special, as far as I was concerned.
But something must have stirred my conscience as after I snapped my portraits of Vander Zalm in a suite of the Wedgewood Hotel I took some pictures (for myself) using b+w film, more dramatic lighting. With the help of a green filter I darkened the features of the man. In this portrait I can read defeat and regret. But to this day I really don’t know which of the portraits is the accurate one.
I photographed Vander Zalm for the last time in November of 1995 for a cover article written by Stuart McNish for Equity
. This was an article which centred mostly on Vander Zalm’s successful venture into business. At the time he had bought Mitsch Nusery, a wholesale, dwarf conifer establishment in Aurora, Oregon.
I spent a half day with Vander Zalm and his wife. She made him up and graciously offered me coffee. I photographed the man inside and outside in his garden. We talked plants. When he talked plants he was a serious man. There were no jokes of any kind and his botanical Latin and Greek was just perfect. He told me that his favourite plant of the moment was Ilex crenata (Japanese Holly) which is an almost indestructible plant that resembles box but it is easier and faster growing in our climate when used for ornamental hedging.
While chatting with Vander Zalm I remembered another time when I had faced a politician that I did not like (but I had never met before). I had to photograph Premier Bill Bennett
and I was not looking forward to meeting the man who seemed brusque and uncomfortable with people. In the confines of his Robson Square office he charmed me and my impression of the man changed.
As I watch Bill Vander Zalm in his present campaign to kill the HST many say he is being opportunistic. I have a friend who thinks that not only will he succeed in his bid but he will also found a new political party. My friend says, “He will not be the leader but he will found it nonetheless.”
I asked my friend to compare our present premier and Vander Zalm on a scale from 1 to 10 on their individual quotient of trust. My friend, hedged his bet and replied, “They are both equally low.” I am not sure I agree. I have a problem suppressing my impressions after having met both men several times. Reading about them in the press is a different situation. I think my personal experience is worth something.
Mike Campbell’s last question to Vander Zalm in that September 1993 Equity was:
Are there any misconceptions about you personally that you would like to set straight?
Bill Vander Zalm’s answer was:
I suppose I will never live down what happened in Fantasy Garden. I wish I could correct that, but I don’t think I ever can. It’s too bad. I think the average business person would have done much of what I did. I regret having done some things the way I did. The perception that Bill Vander Zalm was a one-man show is false. I had the cabinet involved to a greater extent than anytime before or since. We also never got enough credit for our economic programs, particularly the Taxpayer Protection Plan I announced in January 1991.
In later years Mike Campbell with the expert guidance of art director Chris Dahl (and with the advent of Photoshop) produced some Equity
covers that had Vander Zalm shooting himself in the foot. Another featured Glen Clark and Mike Harcourt wearing Nazi brown shirt uniforms.
When I read the continuous scandals of the present BC Liberal government I can only think that Gordon Campbell wouldn’t dare park his car across the CP Train Station and cross the street without escort.
If my friend (the one who hedged his bet) is right it just might be that Bill Vander Zalm, in character, will soon have the last laugh.
The Photos In My Wallet - Not
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
The door bell rang on Monday afternoon when Rosemary and I were working in the back garden. The man delivering a box for me from Cupertino, California had about given up but Rosemary managed to stop him. She handed me the box. Inside was my new iPhone. It took a while before I was able to find the preliminary instruction booklet which was hidden under some beautifully designed black packaging which whose purpose seemed to prevent me from finding its contents. I located a funny looking credit card and I almost missed a little paper-clip looking little metal piece. I scanned the Telus instructions and had no idea what a sim card was.
I was overwhelmed.
At 2 P.M. 2pm Paul Leisz showed up at the front door and he told me, “Let’s get your iPhone working.” Having no faith in my ability to figure out anything more complicated than calculation depth of field charts and correct transparency exposures he dispatched me to make tea. Feeling a bit on the guilty side I decided that I needed to feed him. Since Rosemary was due at any moment I cooked up a very good emmentaler omelet and accompanied it with maple syrup brown beans. I did serve tea later as we had a fresh strawberry drink made with the blender.
Within an hour my iPhone was in working order. It will take me a while to remember not to press on icons and to tap on them. It will take me a while to figure out how to organize my photographs in some sort of orderly file system.
After all, my iPhone is not going to be an iPod. I am not going to use it to help me locate the nearest pizza joint to Scott Road and 237 Avenue. I will not use it to check my stocks. I don’t own any. I will not read the NY Times on it since I get it as hard copy at the front door. My iPhone (for the time being?) will be a phone and a wallet with wallet sized pictures of my grandchildren. I have never ever carried photographs of my family in my wallet.
I have always had a dislike of people who subjected me to pictures (usually terrible) of, “This is my cute Tracy.” These kinds of people were very much like my friend Les Wiseman’s brother who used to work on a BC Ferry. He would often visit his cooler brother at Vancouver Magazine and when I would spot him carrying his briefcase I would try to hide. In that briefcase he would pull out cartoons and jokes cut out from newspapers. He never did show me the pictures in his wallet but I am sure he had many.
The pictures of my granddaughters in my iPhone will share space with sample pictures of the stuff I have done for so many years. For whatever is worth my new gadget will be a small portable portfolio. I just might convince someone to give me a photo job.
Perhaps the whole effort (even though it does use an iPhone) is by now old-fashioned. The new breed of photo-carrying-in-my-wallet person would never do this sort of thing. They would say to me, “Check out my pictures in Flickr and look at the stuff I have in Facebook. Do you do facebook?”
I don’t do facebook. My doppelgänger, Jorge de Irureta Goyena does.facebook
A Lifetime From A Garden Bench
Monday, April 19, 2010
It was about three today and the sun was halfway out in the garden. Rosemary was on the grass working on the flower beds and I was removing chickweed from the rose bed. I sat down on our metal bench (it is quite comfortable) and I called out to Rosemary to sit by me. She came and sat down. We looked at the garden from our vantage point and she told me, “That Abies pinsapo
(a Spanish Fir) has to go but you can keep the Abies lasiocarpa
(Arizona Cork-Bark Fir). The two trees are growing together and they represent a mistake I made in my past thinking that these “dwarf” trees would not grow. Grow they did. Looking at the garden I told Rosemary, “We have made some mistakes in the garden but that Acer griseum
is not one of them. In many ways we were looking at the garden as if had been looking at our life together for 42 years. There have been ups and downs. But I would assert that they have been mostly ups.
The reason for our quiet reflection is that yesterday was my official birthday (the birth certificate one even though my real birthday, the hospital one occurred about a year before). Because my official birthday is on April 18 I can always remember Rosemary’s which is a day after. While like most husbands I tend to forget wedding anniversaries I never forget Rosemary’s birthday. Another advantage of the two close birthdays is that we go together to get our driver’s licenses when they expire. They did so we went together on Friday to get them.
As we sat we silently shared our life together through the garden, a garden we have tended since 1986. Since that date when Rosemary had her kitchen bed and her perennial sunny bed and I had my hosta bed and my rose bed we have come together to understand that the garden is a shared one and thus one. We have our little fights about some plants that we may have purchased in the past that have become aggressive and weed like. The bone of contention has been Rosemary’s Anthriscus sylvestris
‘Ravenswing’ (Cow Parsley). It is a mass of lovely purple fernlike branches that divide, mitosis-like, so rapidly that soon our garden could be all purple.
They should have been moved to the back of the bed or simply removed completely about a month ago. Now, after moving they all collapse and it will take some time before they look good. So for the time being, even though it is our garden, the Anthriscus is hers!
But she gets back at me. As she works in the beds she brushes her legs on my rose canes and she gets her pants caught or her legs scratched. “I hate your roses!” she yells at me. I know better. Come June my roses, our roses, will be glorious and Rosemary will have a little smile of satisfaction.
You would think that a birthday would be a special day. In many ways our birthdays are special because of their simplicity. There is no way I could possibly convince Rosemary to eat out. She has become fussy about food as she becomes “mature” and she praises (very rare for her) my cooking. She likes to stay at home and for me to cook. The special menu today, her choice, was:
1. One can of no-name chicken and rice soup to which I added sliced green onions and red peppers. I always serve this favourite of Rosemary’s with the Argentine custom of offering freshly grated (and very good) Italian Parmesan.
2. A divided, one slice of Safeway bakery artisan sourdough bread, toasted with unsalted cultured butter.
3. President’s Choice Ruby Red Grapefruit Italian Soda.
I took the picture here (with a self-timer) sometime in the end of 1968 in our first apartment on Calle Herodoto in Mexico City. Behind us is the used English pram my mother found in the English daily so we could parade our Ale on Avenida de la Reforma.
More Innocent Times
Sunday, April 18, 2010
I was 7 or 8 and I was rolling down the grassy slopes of a park in Buenos Aires, called Barrancas de Belgrano. I was approached by a bunch of friendly older boys who offered to give me a white balloon. I was very happy to accept it as I have always loved balloons. I took it home and my mother was horrified.
It would seem that even then, in more innocent times, one had to be careful of strangers. I remember that one day I decided to go straight home from school and take the train (I was 8) without waiting for my mother to put me on the train. I had an abono or rail pass so the ticket man on the train did not question me. When I got to my station at Coghlan I calmly got off the train and walked the four blocks home. When my mother arrived later I was given a very nasty paliza (whipping).
When I started blogging in January of 2006 I had no idea of what blogging was all about. I quickly made it a vehicle of the discovery of my everyday life as seen with the help of my then 7 year-old granddaughter Rebecca. Of late I have included Lauren who is now 7 with the idea that my second granddaughter deserves equal time.
My friend and neighbour Robert Freeman warns me that I must never write in my blog my intention of going on a vacation or to reveal any other information that might ease the entry of a housebreaking thief. I take his advice lightly and I mostly ignore it.
My grandmother used to give me the advice, “Piensa mal, y acertarás
.” This translates to, “Think the worst of a person or situation and you will be right.” My mentor and teacher Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. countered it with, “Never expect anything and you will never be disappointed.” I have always opted for Brother Edwin’s idea of trusting people since most people are good, than the counter policy of not trusting anybody at all times.
It was about a year after I started my blog that Rebecca and I went to an Arts Umbrella dance function in Richmond’s Gateway Theatre. Rebecca had twisted her ankle at the last moment so she ended up being a spectator instead of a participant. During the intermission she asked for some money to buy sweets and I waited in the lobby. A pleasant gentleman came up to me and said, “You must be Alex.” I was a bit surprised since I did not know the man from Adam. “How do you know this?” I asked. “I have seen you with Rebecca whom I know from your blog so you must be Alex.”
I must admit that I was a bit shaken but then I realized the man meant no harm. Since then I have been approached by all sorts of people with the same sort of comment. We have gone to the theatre or the ballet and perfect strangers have come up to us and greeted Rebecca as if they knew her.
My blog would not be the blog it is if I could not write about my granddaughters and proudly display my portraits of them. I am fortunate that Rebecca and Lauren’s parents, Hilary and Bruce Stewart are trusting parents who allow me to display my pictures of their children.
But this weekend they drew the line when I asked Hilary (Rebecca and Lauren’s mother) if I could photograph Rebecca’s Quebec City billet (exchange student) Miriam with the two girls backstage after Ballet BC’s matinee performance on Saturday. Hilary was adamantly negative with a, “No way.” I did not proceed with my plan. I explained to Miriam when we were backstage with Connor Gnam that I would not include her in the picture because I had no parental permission. Miriam who is 13 and much older and wiser in many ways than Rebecca looked at me incredulously.
It was when Hilary was 16 that she had her billet, Sylvie Desroches, come from Quebec City to Vancouver. Sylvie stayed with us and I was most impressed by her more adult qualities, just like the ones I discern in Miriam even at age 13. Like Miriam, who is half Italian and half Moroccan, Sylvie was lovely so I photographed her using Hollywood lighting techniques of the 30s to photograph her in our living room sofa. The pictures you see here are the ones where she looks the oldest. There are others where she is more childlike and if I were to post them I would be crucified (perhaps?) by Hilary and others.
I never “posted” (a word or special resonance for the 21st Century) a picture of Sylvie and I never exhibited at any photography show. But I did write a blog about her here
in May 2009.
The world has so changed since Sylvie first came to visit us that I did not even dare ask Hilary if I could photograph Miriam and capture her exotic beauty. I would have loved to photograph her with her billet, Rebecca.
But perhaps in these less innocent times I must heed my grandmother’s advice.