A Tour de Malakoff
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Today was a most satisfying day. In the morning I puttered around the garden. If puttering includes mowing the lawn (inside garden and boulevard garden) then puttering it was. The two granddaughters arrived at one. We drove to White Rock to visit Alec Globe’s open rose and rhododendron garden. Globe, in picture here, had opened the garden for today and tomorrow as a member of the Vancouver Rose Society.
It would seem that roses and rhododendrons are an odd combination but that is not the case, historically. The Island of Rhodes was named so, as the root word rose is Greek for flower. Rhodes means the flowery garden. Some botanical sage with a flaw in nomenclature meant to call rhododendrons as rose trees. Dendron
is the Greek root for tree. While roses and rhodos are not in the least related the flowers of rhododendrons can be as spectacular as roses and quite a few rhododendrons can also be extremely fragrant. In fact Rhododendron decorum
(my garden friend Pamela Frost grew both of her specimens from seed) has white flowers that smell of ripe watermelon.
From the moment we entered Globe’s garden and we faced his huge specimens of Rosa
‘Great Maiden’s Blush’ and of Rosa 'Königin von Dänemark'
both Rebecca and I were not only impressed but hooked. Globe has all kinds of roses that we did not know existed including the so called German pavement roses, which the practical Germans hybridized for use in Autobahnen. These cast iron roses (with equally cast iron rugosa heritage) can take automobile exhaust and city pollution without getting diseases while (believe or not!) producing strong fragrance. Some of them, in the case of Globe’s Rosa
‘Pierrette Pavement’ the scent is of cloves.
But it was one rose that wowed Rebecca and me. It was a Centifolia (also called Provence or Cabbage Roses) with the strange name of Tour de Malakoff. The rose is a vivid magenta flushed deep purple and fading to lilac-grey. I would say that the effect is slightly mottled. And the spent blooms (the one here is semi-spent) were just as interesting as the new ones. And all were fragrant. Rebecca was so excited that when we came home (I had a cut bloom that Globe provided me for the scan you see here) she immediately went on to the net and searched Robin Dening’s Brentwood Bay Nursery rose data base
to look for the rose. Her Eureka was loud enough that I must now organize a little trip to Vancouver Island with Rosemary and the girls to secure this prize.
While Rebecca was looking for the rose I researched the name. It seems that during the Crimean War a French General, Patrice de Mac-Mahon stormed the Russian redoubt of Malakoff (whence the term tower of Malakoff) in Sebastopol in 1854. In a sort of John Paul Jones-type of answer to the question, “Will you surrender?” Mac-Mahon uttered the famous J'y suis, j'y reste ("Here I am, here I stay") and took it.
When I looked info on the rose in my Peter Beales Classic Roses I was curious to the fact that the hybridizers Jean Soupert and Pierre Notting were based in Luxembourg and that their rose had been introduced only two years after Mac-Mahon’s victory in 1854.
When I read Globe’s bio on the Vancouver Rose Society’s web site:
Alec Globe grows roses and rhododendrons in temperate White Rock, south of Vancouver, Canada. His passion for gardens has led to speaking engagements at local garden clubs as well as the Pacific Northwest Garden Show in Seattle. Alec is a recently retired university professor at the University of British Columbia. He enjoys the intellectual pleasures of reading about roses as much as looking for native flora and fauna on his hikes and canoe trips in the Pacific Northwest. Alec is an avid historian on the subject of roses and possesses the largest personal collection of rose books in Canada.
I came to the conclusion that he would have explained all I needed to know about Rosa
‘Tour de Malakoff’ without having to resort to Google!
The Primal Urge - II
Friday, June 11, 2010
Speech is silver: silence is golden: print is dynamite.
Clyde H. Nitkin
A week ago a couple of my photography students at Focal Point said to me, “Watch us Alex.” They then bumped their iPhones together. The app is called Bump and when both phones have it, personal information (information you are prepared to share) is exchanged. One of the students told the other, “Cool I now have your email address and I didn’t know you were allergic to peanuts.”
To read is to strike a blow for culture.
Clyde H. Nitkin
The bumping of the phones took me immediately to a book I had read back in 1961, Brian Aldiss’ The Primal Urge.
Only books stand between us and the cave.
Clyde H. Nitkin
From 1957 until around 1965 I read just about every science fiction book I could find to buy. I had discovered reading not only with the Hardy Boys but also with Tom Corbett – Space Cadet. It was natural that I would drift in the direction of science fiction. Without knowing some of the pulp science fiction books I read were a bit more. At the time (even today) science fiction was a tad lower in rank along with mysteries from lofty literature. But because of the space cover I read Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan
and Gore Vidal’s Messiah
I read too as it was in the science fiction section of Mexico City’s Sanborn’s which were the only places I could find pocket books in English.
Dear God, I would rather be an author than Clyde H. Nitkin.
Clyde H. Nitkin
Brian Aldiss is much alive (86) and he is the recipient of the OBE. This took a while. Even though one of his best friends was Kingsley Amis (I read him, too as Sanborn’s, a chain of American style soup to nuts drugstores categorized him as science fiction) Aldiss never really got much respect. He was a science fiction writer. It would take such writers as J.G. Ballard to jump from the genre to literature or the more recent William Gibson to give science fiction the cachet it had never had.
Only by libraries can man survive
Clyde H. Nitkin
It was Aldiss’ The Primal Urge
that left that seed of comparative recognition when I watched my students bump phones.
In a late 50s or a very “with it” London of 1961 Aldiss’ novel is about the mass installation (by government decree) of penny sized little sensors on every British inhabitant’s forehead. They are called Emotional Registers (E.Rs. for short) that are wired to the brain in such a way as to bypass reason. Our hero, a nerdish Jimmy Solent goes to a cocktail party with his E.R. newly installed and upon being introduced to a beautiful woman he finds that his Norman (another name for the E.R.) begins to glow. The glowing process can be gradual or sudden. I don’t have to explain here what happens when a long married couple wakes up in the morning and Mr. has an urge to only find that the Mrs’ sensor is unlit and will stay unlit until the inevitable divorce becomes a consequence.
Literature is a jealous god: serve it in deeds and words.
Clyde H. Nitkin
The purpose of the E.R. in Aldiss’ novel is to help break the traditional British coldness and lack of emotional involvement:
“…Norman Lights go deeper
[author’s italics] than the thought centres. They register purely on the sensational level. They represent, in fact, the spontaneous as against the calculated. Therein lies the whole beauty of them.”
“I absolutely couldn’t agree more,” the heavy glasses said, “The whole notion of submitting ourselves to this process would be intolerable were it not that it gives us back a precious spontaneity, a freedom
[author’s italics], lost for generations. It is analogous to the inconvenience of contraception: submit to a minor irk and you inherit a major liberty.”
The tragedy of our 21st century (alas that Bump is part of the problem) is that we all know what everybody is doing all of the time through Twitter and Facebook. My friend in Memphis will no longer talk to me on the phone or wish to talk to me on the phone because he can read what I am doing through my daily blog.
When Rebecca goes to middle school (grade 8) she will be given a cell phone. Her parents want to know where she is at all times and want to be able to contact her at all times.
It would seem that the freedom that our gadgets have bestowed upon us have removed from us all the spontaneity that Aldiss’concept of technology could bring to our lives. To know everything, to be informed reduces our capacity for surprise.
Let’s have a coffee. It will probably be Starbucks. Let’s listen to some jazz. It will probably be Miles Davis. Let’s read a book. It will probably be The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Can we ever be surprised? I will know all there is to know about you if we bump.
Melancholy tends to intrude when I write, and thus I can say that I regard, or would regard, the invention and proliferation of androids as a disaster. For a start, I would covet one for myself: less a marriage than a fearful liaison, feeding the ego. Subservient androids might bring you a glass of wine or answer the front door, but they would, above all, serve as status symbols. You could buy them in gold or platinum, like credit cards. This symbolic function of androids is demonstrated in my novel Super-State, where they serve as diamonds have served over the ages, as tokens of wealth and power. My androids are, in fact, a damned nuisance. Since they do not sleep, they would walk about and knock things over; so they are locked up in cupboards at night. There they talk in a flurry of syllogisms.
"What is this 'human condition' they talk about?"
"It's something from which they suffer, like battery failure."
"The human condition can be felt on some of the men."
"It is what we would be like if we lost electric current."
"Their technical term for that is dead."
The Primal Urge I
Brian Aldiss - An Essay
Parnelli Parnes - Sessue Hayakawa
Thursday, June 10, 2010
|iPhone "fixed" & with vignette|
When my Nanaimo photographer friend Gordon Lafleur noted my iPhone portraits of Arts Umbrella dancers here
he sent me a playful email:
Cool photos of the dancers. I-phone pics are pretty cool. But just go out and buy yourself a digital camera and get with the program mate. Canon xs, my camera of choice for my personal work, $399.00, at Walmart.
That is not going to happen while I can still buy and have Ektachrome processed in Vancouver. It is not going to happen while I can find b+w film for my 35mm and medium format cameras. And I will keep printing these negatives in my darkroom while b+w photographic paper is available. And, of course, there is the addicting pleasure of playing with my transparencies, negatives, prints and my Epson scanner.
Still today is a banner day for me as the Georgia Straight has published here
and as hard copy my iPhone portrait of Bard on the Beach
actor Parnelli Parnes in the character (a villainous one) Don John from Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing.
I would like to make the folks at the Straight realize I never had their high standards in jeopardy as I did have a Plan B. It involved my taking portraits of Parnes with real film and my trustworthy medium format Mamiya RB-67. I have been shooting for magazines for too many years (since 1976) for me to take chances, and, in particular in the use of a device I was not entirely sure of.
The original idea was to take a portrait of Parnes in his street clothes. This I did and then have him go through the Bard makeup and costume change (WWI Italian military uniforms) and then snap his picture again. Bard publicist , Cynnamon Schreinert arranged for me to take the pictures last Sunday afternoon in the makeup and costume change tent. This was a tricky operation as the floor there is quite tilted in one direction and I almost fell with my light stand a few times.
Parnes coming in was his friendly self and he reminded me that I had photographed him for the Straight before as one of the Banana Boys (see below). When he emerged in his uniform, with his handsome Oriental looks I thought less of an Italian soldier and more of the Japanese/American actor Sessue Hayakawa who played the scary but ultimately quite human commandant of the concentration camp in the film The Bridge Over the River Kwai
. Parnes’ transformation was impressive.
|iPhone fixed but without vignette|
It was then that I decided that the before and after shot was irrelevant and that the one shot was more than sufficient.
|Ektachrome 100 G|
The original cast of the Banana Boys (left). That’s Parnes at the far right of the picture. I used a ring light with my camera crooked within the ring light’s enclosure for the odd effect.
Two scanned Chiquita Bananas(right).
The incorporation of the scanned bananas using Photoshop layers with the scanned negative from 6.
Much Ado – Don John
Antony – Mardian/Menas
In his fifth season, Parnelli’s Bard highlights include A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure. Other credits include Around the World in 80 Days (Gateway); Tideline (Touchstone/Neworld); The 8th Land (Pi); Stuff Happens and Banana Boys (Firehall); Dog Eat Dog (The Only Animal); Cariboo Magi (Pacific); Peter Pan, Merlin, It’s A Wonderful Life and The Hobbit (Carousel); Coup D'etat (WCT); The Brothers Karamazov, Measure for Measure and Orpheus Descending (Stratford); and My Life Surrounded By Women (KAA Productions). Parnelli is a Firehall Associate Artist, Stratford Conservatory member and a Studio 58 graduate.
Bard On the Beach's Much Ado About Nothing
Another reason to see Much Ado About Nothing
besides Parnelli Parnes has to be the director Dean Paul Gibson
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Tomorrow will be a strange day for me. It will be my first participation in the spreading of the earthly remains of a friend, Abraham Rogatnick.
I have always avoided wakes and most ceremonies to celebrate in death the life of someone. Perhaps my avoidance of these events began in Buenos Aires when I was 8. My neighbour’s son was killed in a Vespa accident. We went to the wake next door and the open coffin revealed a human nose. The rest was reconstituted and bandaged face.
On my first day as a conscript in the Argentine Navy, I was dispatched (even those unranked were ranked by the registration number. Those that preceded me had lower numbers.) to a funeral. I was sent to the Chacarita Cemetery (Perón would ultimately be buried there as it is the people’s cemetery) to stand guard over the open coffin of some retired petty officer I had never met. It was 42 Celcius and I had to take the overpowering scent of gladioli for 12 hours. I am unsure to this day why I did not faint!
I buried my father (a low budget funeral) with the money that I found in his pockets when he died. He had been saving the money so he could bribe some army general into sending me home (Mexico) early from my navy obligations. I could not afford a plot “in perpetuity” so after 7 years I knew they would dig up my father’s remains and cast them who knows where.
When my mother died my friend Raúl helped me buy the coffin but I was so moved by it all that I never went (perhaps I did and I have forgotten) to the burial in the cemetery far out into the State of Mexico. I instructed my aunt Fermina Miranda to inscribe on the headstone what my mother had always told me when she saw me depressed: Sursum corda
(from the Latin Mass) which means lift up your heart.
Since my mother’s funeral I have managed to avoid most others. But since I arrived in Vancouver in 1975 I have managed to photograph so many people of our city and somehow those that run the memorial services, when these people die, decide that my portrait is the one to be used for the sevice. I sometimes wonder if that will be the only talent I will be remembered by, “He photographed them for that ultimate portrait to be remembered by in death.”
When my friend Abraham Rogatnick died last year I was asked by Sam Sullivan and his wife Lynne Zanatta to participate in the organization of his memorial. This was, in the end a most pleasant task as our meetings had good food and beautiful chats about our exchanges and experiences with Rogatnick when he was alive. And I made new friends.
But the spreading of Rogatnick’s ashes tomorrow from a boat in Indian Arm has made me feel a tad depressed and uncertain. What is going to happen?
It brings to mind a book I read when my father died and which I have treasured since then. From the posthumous memoirs, Markings
, of United Nations Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjöld and translated by no less than W.H. Auden there is this:
If even dying is to be made a social function, then, please, grant me the favour of sneaking out on tiptoe without disturbing the party.
More sursum corda
The Architect and the Architect's Ashes
Draped To Kill
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
This week promises to be a good week. The Georgia Straight sent me a congratulatory email upon receiving my digital file portrait of Bard On the Beach actor Parnelli Parnes. Parnes plays the villainous Don John, in Much Ado About Nothing. I did not hasten to tell them that the picture was one of my new iPhone portraits.
Last week I discovered this fact, that IPhones can take decent portraits if one uses decent lighting with Focal Point models, Michael Unger and Bronwen Marsden. So gorgeous was Marsden in her posing and in her demeanour I did not feel too guilty in pulling out my Nikon FM-2 (Kodak Tri-x) with a 50mm F 1.4 lens. Because my class was shooting with the studio flash and I did not want to be intrusive, I used the existing light (the modeling light of the studio soft box) and shot wide open with my Nikon. I liked the pictures even though I could not suggest too many things as the pictures were of my students and not for me to dictate (merely suggest!).
Here is one and I will have to be candid in that I “covered” the offending but delightful nipple with Photoshop’s oddly named (in this case) healing tool
. To get the colour you see I scanned the b+w negative but told my scanner to render it as a colour negative. The scanner automatically fits in the orange/red mask of the colour negative which to me results in an erotically sumptuous flesh tone with an emphasis on that word “flesh”. I have placed the picture in this blog in exactly the way I shot it, upside down. I have told my students, many times, that photographs should be viewed as they are taken and nobody should attempt to turn the picture around. It really is an insult to the photographer’s intentions. You may contort or perhaps turn your monitor upside down if you want. Believe me Marsden will not look any better than she does here. That would be impossible.
My English Mistress
Monday, June 07, 2010
May and then June are just about the best months in the garden. Hostas are fresh and pristinely undamaged by slugs in May and in June the roses surprise me from one day to the next. They are in bud on one day and before I know it, in spite of the rainy weather, they manage to open and beckon when I visit the garden. Some roses are flagrant (besides being fragrant) like some of the women of the night in their tight short skirts and fishnets. One such rose is Westerland which will be all in bloom in a few days. The large orange coloured flowers that smell of synthetic apricot jam are impossible to miss. They are relegated to the lane garden where they will not clash with Rosemary’s elegant perennials, they of the blue or white flowers.
Some roses are a bit shy. One of them is the one here. It was absolutely beautiful about four days ago when it had just opened. It was in a low side cane of the bush and it was hidden by other nearby rose bushes. I almost missed this unromantically named rose (English Rose creator David Austin’s brother-in-law), L D Braithwaite. Today after a unexpected little downpour I noticed that the bloom was now all open and past its prime by rose show experts. But with the water droplets on the petals (the white dots you see in the scan here) it made a nice scan even though I had to be careful that the water droplets did not fall on the glass of my scanner.
There are other deep red or crimson roses in my garden that are much more fragrant than LD Braithwaite, but in spite of it all this rose (a remontant English Rose of old rose character) because it was the first red rose in my garden, I would not part with it ever. I have other roses that grow taller and are easier to grow. LD Braithwaite has never been a vigorous rose. I have to take special care of it. As one of my Mexican friends used to say, good mistresses are difficult and expensive to take care of, but that is why they are good mistresses. I have no experience in such matters but I suspect that my friend may have been right. He would be shocked to find out that my current mistress happens to be a man.
Sunday, June 06, 2010
Any decisions to sell our house (get rid of the stress of finding work in a declining photo market) are all tempered by a remark that Rebecca made about a year ago when I broached the subject of making ends meet one Saturday afternoon at the dinner table. Rebecca poignantly said, “You can’t do that. What are you going to do with the roses?”
As Rebecca becomes a young lady (she will be 13 in three months) I can foresee the day when she will perhaps not want to visit her grandparent’s or her grandparent’s garden. It is for this reason that I try to run a fun line between trying not to allow her to use our computers for large chunks of Saturday time while trying to make it attractive and pleasant for her to come and visit.
On Mondays I pick up the girls at school and bring them over where I feed them a quick lunch. In the late afternoon I pick up their mother and we have a repeat of the usual Saturday night family dinner. I love cooking for them and it gives Hilary, their mother a respite from work and having to go home to cook.
But this will change in September because Rebecca will go to another school, a secondary school, as an 8th grader. I asked her if things would change. She told me, “I will still visit on Mondays. I can take the bus from school.”
But it is obvious that change is in the wind and the idyllic days of watching first (a 4 year-old) Rebecca run into the house and out the kitchen door to the back garden on a glorious sunny day are about over. Over, too are the more recent ones of seeing both the girls run into the house and out the kitchen door to the back garden on a glorious sunny day.
But yesterday it seemed like old times. The girls were playing hide-and-go-seek in the garden. Rebecca was hiding inside and under a huge Hosta
‘Snowden’. I told her to be careful and not to step on the leaves. She was carefull. Lauren showed up and could not find Rebecca. “Make a noise so I can at least know where you might be.” Lauren said. She finally spotted Rebecca’s bright T-shirt poking through the leaves of Hosta
‘Snowden’ (and right next to Hosta
‘Gold Regal’). I hugged Rebecca and told her, “Thank you for playing with your sister even though you are now pretty well a grown up woman. Rebecca smiled and for a moment I thought time had stopped and that we will live in the house and garden and smell the roses forever.
My friend Rich Dal Monte wrote:
Alex: Houses, I have found, are not forever...
there is this