Rebecca's Parallel Education
Saturday, July 03, 2010
I gave Rebecca a little talk about parallel education. I told her that school is very important but there is also something I call parallel education. Learning about roses in the garden and the history behind them is an example of stuff that will someday serve her well.
But regular school has its moments, too. I have told her that every couple of years I drain our garden pond by sucking into a length of hose that is at a lower level (the back garden). The pond drains very nicely. While I will admit that I did learn to read and write (and to count) at school, draining a pond is the most practical information I ever did learn there.
Sometime at the end of this month Rebecca and I will fly to Austin where we will break bread and live for three days at St. Joseph’s Hall which is the home of Brother Edwin Reggio CSC
who taught me theology back in 1959 and a few more and older Brothers of the Holy Cross. We will swim in Barton Springs
and visit the State Capitol
. We will have Shirley Temples at that grand old dame of the 19th century, the Driskill Hotel
. With Brother Edwin and a few of my former classmates we will dine (and particularly enjoy their home-made vanilla bean ice cream) at The County Line
From Austin we will fly to McCallen where we will be picked up by a cowboy (complete with jingling spurs). We will be there for a few days to see how they raise cattle in South Texas. We will eat handmade tortillas and Rebecca will have to spruce up her Spanish as Mike East and his family speak mostly in Spanish.
A bit of the contemplative life at St. Joseph’s Hall (inside the campus of a highly regarded university, St Edward’s University) and a bit of ranch life should give Rebecca a good idea of the wonders and the delights of a parallel education. As for me I will simply enjoy watching her.
The pictures here I took with a new (really old but being sold again) Polaroid 100 Sepia Film which is rated at 1600 ISO. This means that I can take pictures in my garden with my Mamiya on a tripod and using the beautiful low contrast light of a waning afternoon.
Towards The Periphery
Friday, July 02, 2010
There was my mother. It was a while before I noticed my father. It was when I was around 5 or 6 that I saw myself in a mirror and realized I was me. I was an independent entity even if I did not think it in those words. Between my father and mother came my grandmother and soon my father left. My grandmother died and my father died. I was soon surrounded by a cadre of Brothers of the Holy Cross who became my surrogate fathers. They were really good.
I married Rosemary and we had two children. My mother died and we became a core not much different from the one I had shared with my father and mother. The core moved to Vancouver and I was soon surrounded by friends and workmates and very large entity of people I photographed. I would run into them in the street. When you photograph 80 lawyers at Harper Gray Easton it is difficult not to run into one of them here and there. I remember going to see a Tom Clancy film with my daughter Hilary at the Stanley. It was one of the few times I ever went anywhere were I did not run into someone I knew. It would have seemed that most of my lefty friends would not have been caught going to see such a film.
For years I kept my piles of Letts diaries and I had the ritual of transferring names and phone numbers from one year to the next in the waning days of December. It was about 6 or 7 years ago that I started crossing out names. My friends were moving away, dying, or had simply ceased to be my friends. Drifting appart was part of it.
Another thing I noticed is that the phone rang less and if it did it was one of my daughters. I kept telling Rosemary that she really did not need to talk to her daughter for an hour or so. But I noticed, too that the calls were a solace. It proved we existed and that they (our daughters cared).
Today a friend called and told me he was going to pass by. This was most unusual in these days for me. I told him that I would cook thin pancakes for lunch. Rosemary does not like to eat pancakes for lunch. My friend gave me the excuse in enjoying something that I could not really enjoy by myself. He brought me a CD. I asked him, “When you listen to music do you listen to it with someone else?” The answer was that he listened to music by himself. This is something that I now find very hard to do. I listen to music in my head and this way I don’t have to make any appearances.
A student in one of my classes objected to me telling the class that a portfolio has lost some of its importance. My student said, “With my portfolio I have become an intern in a magazine that no longer hires you.” It hit home that my circle had somehow closed in and pushed me out of it. I am in the periphery of things. I watched my Rosemary pull weeds from the boulevard grass and I smiled. At least I share this awful periphery with her. We are in it (or would that be out of it? ) together.
A Small Element Of Persuasion
Thursday, July 01, 2010
Watching two female grandchildren grow seems to be much different than watching two female daughters grow. For one my memory seems to be curiously fuzzy on the details about my daughters. They often remind me of stuff I had no idea about. Hilary (the younger of the two) makes it a point to remind me that I never allowed her to get away with anything and commands me to be much stricter with Rebecca when she uses the computer or watches TV when she visits us. I would argue that since she will soon be 13 she will not want to spend days with old folks. Prohibitions and strictness will just precipitate that in happening sooner.
But it is wonderful that both my granddaughters will be amenable to going for a walk in VanDusen as we did last week. It was there that I took a picture of Rebecca under a tree and the iPhone reacted in a strange way and produced a photograph that makes her complexion look ghostly. On that same day Lauren showed me the wonders of the imagination of a little girl. She made a paper swing for her toy frog and placed it under one of the rhodos. She then hung some other animals and called it her jungle.
In the garden, Rosemary’s cat, Casa has bonded with Lauren and follows her around. While Lauren can barely pick him up, he weighs 18 pounds, she does and Casa does not seem to mind. I caught them napping in the picture here.
When Rosemary found out that Rebecca was going to get a haircut that involved bangs and the straightening of her hair, she was all upset about it. Today I asked Rosemary if she wanted to visit Hilary, Bruce and the kids and have a look. She declined so I went and came back with a slightly fuzzy picture which I took with my iPhone.
As I left Rebecca defiantly told me that when she becomes 18 she will permanently straighten her hair. I can tell Rosemary that she will play no role in any of Rebecca’s decisions, to no avail. Rosemary will keep worrying and fussing.
I will have to get used to Rebecca’s new bangs. After all I cannot play any role in such cosmetic decisions. There are others, far more important, where I feel I can still be a small element of persuasion.
Commies From Mars
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
The Acting School and Bar is a virtual version of my and Miguel Sandoval's long-term strategy: to get out of the business, move to Mexico, and hang out in a wooden bar and bait shop with stuffed marlins tacked to the wall. A sign behind the bar says, BEER TODAY, ACTING LESSONS TOMORROW. But this is yet to be
Alex Cox, Film DirectorI was pretty ignorant about Borges. I started reading and discovered this marvelous writer, of course - extremely highly regarded in Latin America and Spain. In the US and Britain he's often called a "cult" writer, which is depressing - as if great literature were a "cult" instead of a zenith to which all writers should aspire.
Alex Cox, Film Director
It was in 1969 that I purchased Ficciones
by Jorge Luís Borges in Mexico City. Until then I had mostly ignored my Argentine heritage and I had become (after a five-year education in Texas) a quasi-American. I knew more about the American Civil War than of the malones and the eventual and near eradication of most of the Argentine native population in the late 19th century by the armies of General Bartolomé Mitre. Ficciones was a strange book but not too strange as I had until then read at least one hundred science fiction novels and short story compilations. Slowly but surely Borges taught me a bit about myself and my country. He passed on to me a fascination for books, libraries (especially infinite ones) and labyrinths.
The only film I ever saw based on any story by Borges was in 1996. Its director, the English Alex Cox
came to town to promote it. It was called Death and the Compass
. The film was especially spooky as Cox had shot a crucial scene in the by then closed refinery at Azcapotzalco which is in the outskirts of Mexico City. For many years a prevailing wind from the north would come into the Mexico City valley and blow through the oil refinery and cement plants of that area and then suddenly hit the mountains of the south end of the city. There all the pollution would plummet, with the paradox that the wealthiest area of the city (the south) was the most polluted.
The now empty refinery was an eerie location for a film about the secret name for God. The message (on a typewriter, a board, etc) The first
[then second, etc] letter of the Name has been articulated
, repeats through the story.
I remember, vaguely, that at the end of the screening Cox answered questions. I was too stunned to make questions of my own. In fact the only proof that I might have met the man is the file I found today: Alex Cox, Film Director, October 96 and 9 frames taken with my Mamiya RB-67 and a 140mm lens.
It is a shame (as Cox writes above) that Cox is a bit of a cult film director and that one of his finest is in Spanish (El Patrullero)
. In light of all the violence happening in Mexico these days, Cox’s film about a young idealistic police academy graduate who is shipped to Northern Mexico to deal with the corruption (that in 1994 was peace of cake in comparison to that of today) is heartbreaking (and heart warming).
Reading Death and the Compass
in 1969 was an exercise in duty. As an Argentine it was my duty to read Borges. I liked some of the stories in Ficciones
but I was much too young to really understand. I believe it was Cox’s film that set me straight.Alex Cox
On Being Fringed
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
My personal relationship with the British Crown has always been a pleasant one. If anything I would define myself as an almost adoring fan of the queen. In fact when I became a Canadian citizen I swore allegiance to the queen on my father’s copy of the King James Bible.
But after the Islas Malvinas war my views changed a bit. Prince Charles and Lady Diana were scheduled to come to Vancouver and Vancouver Magazine editor, Malcolm Parry dispatched me to get accreditation so I could follow the press pool. I protested to Parry that as an Argie I was not inclined to photograph British royalty nor would I get accreditation if the powers that be found out about my Argentine birth. “Go,” he said, “and you better come back with that accreditation.” So I went with a chip on my shoulder. I showed up a couple of days after the accreditation deadline had passed and I promptly told the people at the accreditation office, “I am an Argie and I don’t particularly love British royalty. I am here to get accreditation for Vancouver Magazine.” They looked at me and signaled to face a camera and get my picture taken. I was out of there in minutes with my press pass. I could not believe it.
In the late 80s Malcolm Parry decided to give me a job at Vancouver Magazine. For years I had been their trusty freelancer and de facto staff photographer. I was given the title of Director of Photography. Suddenly I had power. Photographers and illustrators called me up and paraded their portfolios to me. I was given the power to hire or not. Every once in a while Parry would say, “Don’t assign this job to someone else. I want you to take the pictures.”
For a while the magazine functioned without an art director. I hired the photographers and illustrators and Parry did the layouts. It worked just fine until one day I told Parry that as an editor he needed the time to edit and that he needed to find someone to do the design and the pasteup (a messy part of magazine layout that involved the use of wax and this preceded computer layout which came in the early 90s). He hired Rick Staehling. Staehling called me to his office and told me, “As of today you are history.”
I quickly realized that the power of one day was gone the next and photographers and illustrators no longer tried to court my interest. I was no longer important. It was then that I began to understand a concept that I will call fringing.
As we get older we get fringed. I could not get access to the Queen should she visit Vancouver no matter how hard I tried. Access is denied if you do not have representation. Access is representation.
I remember going on annual report trips and Rosemary would call me to my motel in Prince Albert to tell me that an executive from some company had called who needed photographs. Or she would tell me that BC Hydro wanted me to do a brochure. Now when I get home the answering machine might have a message from my daughter Ale who lives in Lillooet or it might be a Darth Vader-like message from Terasen Gas telling me that they are about to cut my gas if I don’t immediately pay my bill.
It was two years ago that 1500 Ballet BC patrons paraded through my garden (and killed the grass at an important junction) on the annual Ballet BC Garden Tour. I remember John Alleyne looking at me and saying, “You mean, Alex, that this is your garden?” Alleyne is history and Ballet BC is in transition. My garden (or better Rosemary’s and my garden) is now fringed. We might have volunteered it as an open garden for the Vancouver Rose Society this year but we simply did not think about it. A few years have passed since the photographer and writer from Better Homes and Gardens
came to do their story.
I go to the garden every day and smell the roses. I glory at my mature hostas and admire Rosemary’s unusual perennials. Rebecca tells me, “I went around the garden today and I smelled every rose.” So I play the game, “Did you forget Mary Webb?” “Did you overlook Paul Ricard?” There is a loneliness in not being able to share one’s garden. Few call now to ask to see it. Perhaps they are too busy Facebooking or Tweeting.
But there is a relief in not having to get access that one knows one is going to get. There is the relief of not finding it necessary to get access to what is no longer seen as important. Being fringed is, simply, life.
Form Does Not Follow Function
Monday, June 28, 2010
The wife of a friend of mine in Texas reads my blog occasionally and says that many times I am much too dark. She asserts that I should also photograph my grandchildren smiling and not make them look somber. I tried to explain that the difference of approach could be that she is an Anglo and I am partly a Latin. I did not add that I lived in Mexico for many years and that I learned to understand and admire the Mexican approach to death. It is one of acceptance and not avoidance. It is also discussed in your face without euphemisms.
What you see here is a scan of two spent blooms of the English Rose William Shakespeare. It is not a sturdy rose. In fact it was such a bad rose by the perfectionist standards of the hybridizer David Austin that he had the temerity to de-list it and he removed it from the market. A few years later he introduced an improved William Shakespeare 2000. I can attest that the improved rose is much healthier and gives me many more blooms. But there is something about the regular William Shakespeare and its flowers when they are past their peak that attracts me and reminds me of death. Not a death that I must avoid and not think about. These blooms are beautiful in their decay (albeit a dry one). Even though they are spent they retain an intense old rose (fruity) scent.
It was last week that I gave a class at Van Arts and we shot four models in a back alley. The students had to learn how to mix flash (shot through a soft box) with the existing light of the alley. In 2010 parlance my students told me I was teaching them key-shifting. In the old days of the 1960s Peter Gowland would over-blast blondes (in bikinis) frolicking on beaches and we called it sychro-sunlight. Both Gowland’s models and the ones we had last week were young and perfect.
Without wanting to deprecate their looks (they were beautiful) they reminded me of the photographs that have inundated the internet. They are bright, colourful, and so perfect that they do not look real.
Today I went with Rosemary to our Kerrisdale London Drugs. I purchased a pair of Dr. Scholl’s Custom Fit CF-130 orthotic inserts for my shoes. I hope to find relief from the intense pain I have been feeling in my right heel/ankle. As we walked out of the store I spotted a strange young tree in a new house across the street. The tree was a Styrax japonica
which is a lovely tree with small and delicate white flowers that have a fine scent. This specimen had large red rose-like blooms. We crossed the street and I saw that the owner had strung up a garland of fake plastic red roses on the tree.
We ate chicken at Nando’s and out of our window there was a huge late model Mercedes. The man driving it got out. He was wearing a short-sleeved blood red shirt with a black tie. I wondered if he was wearing a Staples uniform. Rosemary told me, “He thinks it is an elegant shirt.” I looked at the car again and explained that it was a design terror. Nothing seemed to work. It was a mishmash.
The plastic roses on the tree, the ugly Mercedes the perfect models in the back alley. They are all signs of the time. We are living in a transition. It is a time when form (beauty) does not follow function.
I will take the somber, the sad, the used up, the past its peak, the dying and the decaying. There is beauty there if you stop to look. Perhaps the reason is that it all defines what I am.
Eagles, Unicorns, Iguanas & A Double Expresso
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Thor and Dorty Froslev had offered me the hospitality of their home and after a delicious dinner I was shown to my comfortable room. It was winter and Branckendale was cold. The room was warm and I slipped into bed. As my mother had often said to me when she had tucked me in bed as a child, “You are snug as a bug in a rug.” I quickly fell asleep. I was awakened by a terrible noise. It seemed to be a dream because a train was headed in my direction and I could not move. The sound of the engine got closer and closer until it was all I could hear and I could no longer think of my plight. I could not hear myself think. The train did arrive and it passed by the room. I slowly began to understand that my room was mere yards from the tracks of the Vancouver/ Whistler BC Rail line! Thor and Dorty Froslev had either forgotten to warn me or had simply showed me a bit of their strange (very serious) humor.
On Friday on our way back to Vancouver as we were approaching Brackendale (a few miles before Squamish) I told Paul, “Sometime in the late 80s I was assigned by the Georgia Straight to photograph Thor Froslev in his Brackendale Art Gallery. I have no idea if he is still alive. Let’s see if he is.”
Paul tried to show off his GPS device and stopped at the entrance into Brackendale to find out where the gallery was. I told him to drive on and we suddenly crossed some tracks. “We are not far,” I told him and that was the case. The gallery, with ancillary buildings that had been there when I had visited the gallery the first time now seemed to have many more. The gallery was closed and there was a beautiful garden (with many plants that looked quite edible) on the side. We entered and I knocked on a glass door. Dorty answered. I told her that my name was Alex and that I was here to see Thor. I told her I had photographed him years before.
Thor appeared and it seemed to me that the 78-year-old man (very much alive) not only remembered who I was but acted as if I had never left. We chatted and Paul kept snapping pictures of us and even brought Dorty into the mix. This led to a very strong and delicious double espresso in the gallery and a protracted tour of the premises that included a new tower, Thor’s metal and woodworking shop, some guest houses that included a young woman sunning herself with an iguana on her stomach, Dorty’s studio where she gives art classes, etc.
We finished the tour in a chapel of many denominations. One corner was Jewish, another Protestant and Catholic, another Buddhist. Behind the altar there was a huge Tiffany stained glass window that had originally been brought from Scotland in 1912 and somehow installed in the building of the then newspaper, Vancouver Star. The building was on Victory Square. The building was subsequently purchased by the Pappas Fur family. I looked up to the ceiling and noticed 6 oars. I asked. Thor explained that both he and his wife Dorty were Danish and that their country was a seafaring one, a tradition that included the Vikings.
That first time I had photographed Thor by the door to the gallery in front of life masks of the notable people who have exhibited, passed by and contributed money to his gallery. There is Suzuki, and Paul Watson and many more people, a great majority that I have photographed. When I mentioned this to Thor he said, “We have all these people in common because we are old.”
As we left I noticed the unicorn and asked him about it. I would have never guessed that it had been built by Jim Cummins, a.k.a. I, Braineater!
We left happy. The only sad element of our visit is that when I got home and went to my files, I did not find, alas! a file under the name of Froslev. Perhaps I misfiled them or even lost them. But then the new picture taken with my iPhone isn’t all that bad.
The Brackendale Art Gallery is a sort of local version of the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. It is a gallery, a lecture hall, a concert venue. They (Thor and Dorty) have special licences to take care of eagles that are hurt or fall from their nests. Thor showed us a room where they take care of the eagles during the season in December and January. Dorty gives art classes and they also feature visiting artists. Brackendale Art Gallery