A Spatula & Pancakes For Lunch
Saturday, July 17, 2010
This afternoon we went to Paul Leisz’s home in Richmond. We invited ourselves so that we could all swim in his great pool. Paul had sun burnt himself the day before and his girlfriend Amy does not like to swim. So they watched us from the shade as we swam. Lauren had just finished this year’s summer swimming lessons and at long last she is not afraid. She jumps on the deep end and somehow between a primitive crawl and a more advanced dog paddle she maneuvers around. Rebecca, who inherited from my mother, swims beautifully, especially when she swims on her back. She likes to have water fights and expects me to dunk her. Paul took this picture of the two of us using my iPhone. The other colour pictures of the girls I took in Paul’s little backyard garden. The light was just right (low contrast) so that I was able to take pleasant pictures of Lauren and Rebecca. When Rosemary saw the picture of Rebecca she warned me about posting it here. I have come to realize that after so many years of being a photographer experience has taught me to be good at what I do. If Rebecca looks sexy it is partially because she is a striking girl but I must add that I also know what I am doing. It is not really a snapshot even though many would point out that with an iPhone that is all it could possibly be.
Knowing when and where to take a picture has to be a talent I have seeing that I am lousy at plumbing, engineering, accounting, etc. That when to take a picture has all to do with observing my subject’s face and knowing when the expression is one that will make the picture.
Amy asked me, when I told her that my blog from the few first postings more than four years ago is really a personal diary, “Why would you want to reveal to others your personal diary?” She may be right except that I would correct her in saying that I write the blog for myself and for my family. But then the story of one’s family can be interesting at times. My handwriting is all but illegible so a written diary would be of no use. And then if you think about it nobody would go into my bedroom or desk, open up that diary and read it. They would wait for my death. For me a blog is the better of those two worlds.
This morning, my friend Graham Walker called to tell me that he was going to pass by with a new plastic spatula that his wife Cathy had bought for me. Some weeks ago while making pancakes (both Graham and I are connoisseurs of pancakes, and in particular the thin almost crepe kind.) I had complained about my old spatula sticking to the thin pancakes I was making. He told Cathy and that explains the fine gift of a new spatula.
Now in our family Rebecca, Lauren and I can eat pancakes any time. Rosemary will tolerate them for breakfast. The idea of having pancakes for lunch is anathema. But when Graham called I had the perfect excuse to go over her head on the lunch menu. Initially the pancakes stuck to the new spatula but as soon as there was a little bit of butter on it, it worked beautifully. Best of all we still had the little small bottles of Peachland fruit syrups given to us by Paul.
In the picture here that’s Graham holding the new utensil. Cathy, thank you so much. If this particular blog is boring or lacking in substance, dear reader, consider that this is a personal diary and my day today was a pleasant one. Nothing really happened and sometimes that is just fine.
Más Sabe El Diablo
Friday, July 16, 2010
I have often repeated here what my grandmother Lolita used to tell me when she gave me advice, “Más sabe el Diablo por Viejo que por Diablo.” In English that would translate to, “The devil knows, not because he is the devil but because he is older.”
|Lauren Stewart & Casi-Casi|
And so when the afternoon was waning today and the two girls were happy playing (Rebecca was relaxing and reading one of the Eclipse series of books and Lauren was climbing trees) I retrieved my camera bag and called the girls to the garden. Rebecca put forward loud protests of having posed for my camera for at least 9 years and that she needed relief. My wife pointed out that Rebecca had not put on any makeup and, besides the girls would be coming tomorrow Saturday and I could photograph them then. I insisted and the protests escalated but I stuck to my guns. I knew that three exposures on the Polaroid Sepia film would result in just what you can see here. These are lovely portraits of two lovely girls on an afternoon in the garden. There is little more than I can say except to point out that my grandmother was always right, and just this time, so was I.
On the upper picture Rebecca poses next to my very large, Hosta
'Yellow River' and the fern is called Onoclea sensibilis
or sensitive fern.
Jack, The No Jack Cowboy
Thursday, July 15, 2010
I remember taking trains in Buenos Aires that would arrive as scheduled at the main terminal, Retiro. The times could be 8:17 or 4:13. It is then my English heritage that has always made me admire Phileas Fogg and I have always made it my duty to show up on time. What this really means is that I tend to show up early, just in case.
Five years ago Rosemary, Rebecca and I went to Buenos Aires and by using the excellent subway system we could arrive at our destinations as planned even though we were living in a hotel that was at the outskirts of downtown Buenos Aires.
Sometimes, this penchant for leaving early, grates on Rosemary’s nerves. Rebecca understands why I like to get to dance and baroque concert performances early. Because they are usually festival seating, she knows I always want to sit in the front row centre. We both enjoy listening to dancers breathe or listening to the overtones of a violin that we get at close proximity.
I tell my photography students that one of the most important necessities if one is to become a successful photographer is to show up on time. This always means, in many situations, to case the joint days before so that one knows what one is getting into. I remember one situation where I did not follow rule. It was a board room meeting at the Vancouver Club. I knew I needed to wear a suit and tie. What I did not plan was to shoot a board room meeting where the members of the board were sitting around a round table that had a large opening in the middle. I had to crawl on my hands and knees and bring my lights and camera under the table (between the feet of the serious men) to take my shots. A reconnoiter on another day would have prepared me for the surprise.
Photographic assignments on nearby islands which have meant I had to take a ferry have for me always been the worst scenario. I have missed a few ferries because of unseasonably busy days or in one case I mistakenly drove to Horseshoe Bay when I needed to go to the terminal at Tsawwassen.
It was sometime in the middle 80s when my Fiat X-19 was out of commission and I had to borrow Rosemary’s four door Honda Civic for a shoot on Salt Spring Island. I arrived at the ferry terminal nice an early. Soon I could see my ferry arriving in the horizon. It was then that I noticed that the left rear tire was flat. Would I have the time to jack up the car and change the tire? I was not sure. I was looking over my situation with puzzlement when a tall man dressed as a cowboy came up to me and said, “Sonny today is your lucky day in spite of your flat tire. Let me help you.” He then proceeded to show me how he could lift the car. With help from other motorists I was able to change the tire without using the jack and I managed to take a few photographs.
Just before the ferry docked the cowboy told me, “You must think that just because the motor is in the front that I would have no problem lifting the back of the car." To my shock and horror he moved to the front of the Honda and lifted one of the front tires with no problem. He then insisted I drive over his boot with my car. “Sonny, it’s simply mind over matter. It does not hurt.” I was too rattled to do so, so another man took up the cowboy’s offer.
Last Saturday afternoon as we were waiting for the Salt Spring ferry I told Rebecca the story. She did not believe me. Coincidentally as I putting away the file today with the pictures of the Auburn that were in last week’s blog I noticed a file called “Honda Being Lifted.”
Not An Old Shoe
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
As a photographer in my teens I photographed everything that moved or did not move. But I soon found out that my interest did not lie with landscapes (I have always opted for buying the postcard) or in “documenting” telephone posts. My interest has always been in people and in their portraiture.
I look at the current crop of photography magazines that advertise $6000 Canons and Nikons that are supposed to do everything. I look at the pictures in the “articles” of these magazines and I see pristine and perfect landscapes. One in particular is a frequent one. This is the mountain, sky lake scene in which the reflection on the lake surface is so perfect you have no idea wherein lies the reflection and wherein the real thing. But rarely do I see portraits. These expensive cameras are directed to folks who document landscapes, plants, flowers, hummingbirds and things. Humanity seems to be left out.
It was sometime in the early 80s that I was given a job to take PR photos for Air Canada by its publicist and marketing manager, Harry Atterton. I will never forget what he told me, “You will photograph lots of airplanes and stuff but I always want the human presence in every picture you take even if it has to be an old shoe.” I never disagreed with Atterton and I became a better photographer for it.
Sometime around 1990 Rosemary dragged me to a meeting of the Vancouver Rose Society held at VanDusen’s Floral Hall. The chairs were uncomfortable and I was forced to watch the projection of at least 100 colour slides (mostly bad ones) of rose close-ups. I could not believe I had been dragged to such a thing and I have always reminded Rosemary of this! That slide projection was a small indicator of what real hell could be.
I have been known to scan every one of my over 90 garden roses and I have scanned thistles, ferns and other flowers. Occasionally I post them here but I am aware that only a rose purist would appreciate the turn of a petal of Tour de Malakoff or the mottled effect on Soleil Brillant or Alain Blanchard. I keep my pictures of roses on this blog to a minimum.
But every once in a while I see something at home particularly in these summer months when light streaks into the living room and I pick up my Nikon FM-2 and take shots of things. I enjoy taking them. The results are always a bit disappointing. The look of the objects on our living room mantel was dazzling, but the resulting slides are so-so. Here they are for your perusal. In that box of slides of objects on our mantel and groupings of roses in the garden there was this snap of Lauren at the Macmillan Bloedel Conservatory. I would think that Harry Atterton, ensconced in a Chateau in France would agree that Lauren is even better than an old shoe.
The Bishop & Rice Pudding
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
As a child I was raised to be a Roman Catholic even though my father was an English non-practicing Anglican. Not only was I given my first communion (I would have worn my first long pants except I was embarrassed and I insisted on cutting the long pants that I had inherited from my cousin Robin Tow who later became Robin Humphrey) but I was also confirmed. At my confirmation the presiding priest, stressed that this sacrament (the other six are Baptism, Holy Communion, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Extreme Unction) made us soldiers of Christ. He explained that it was not physical soldier-go-to-war kind of soldier but someone who would understand one’s faith well enough to explain it to anybody who would ask. It was my duty as a confirmed Catholic to learn and know all I could possibly know about my faith. It was not supposed to be that other kind, or was it, as I remember as a boy singing with my father that song Onward Christian Soldiers
? Perhaps I should not have given that song much thought as it invariably was followed by my father and I singing loudly (in bed) My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.
Suffice to say that I grew up in a Roman Catholic household where my grandmother attended Holy Mass and often said her Rosary and her Novenas. I was sometimes puzzled in how my mother and grandmother would make, what I thought were unholy pacts with St. Anthony. They would promise St. Anthony of Padua, Patron Saint of Lost Objects, a certain amount of money if some precious and lost object were to be found. If it were not found they were brutal about not giving the poor saint any of the promised money!
My grandmother (seen here with me on the day of my First Communion), being of Spanish origin was vocally (but not in a hateful way) anti Jewish. She would often tell me that the Jews had killed Jesus Christ, especially during Holy Week. One of her jokes was to spot some person on the street and whisper in my ear, “That man has the map of Jerusalem on his face.” I found all this unnerving as my best friend, Mario Hertzberg, who lived across the street on Melián was Jewish. Half of his family had been exterminated in German concentration camps.
When I finished 8th grade in Northern Mexico my mother sent me to a Catholic boarding school, St Edward’s High School
in Austin, Texas. My teachers were Brothers of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. This was the same congregation of brothers, priests and nuns that ran the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. The congregation had been founded in the 19th century in Le Mans, France.
In those four years at St. Edward’s I was exposed to the best teachers
I have ever had. I received a solid education full of liberal views and rich in what I call a parallel education. I learned to play the alto saxophone, I learned about humility from some of my teachers who were most humble. I learned about intelligence and how to use it from my teachers who were mostly all brilliant and if not at least very intelligent. They taught me to think and to write and to this day I find that the liberal and Catholic education that I received in Austin has made me competitive in an ever changing world. And from Brother Edwin Reggio, CSC
I learned to be truly a soldier of Christ as he taught me how to defend my faith by giving me a knowledge of it.
It is for this reason that while I condemn the action of priests and brothers that seem to fill pages of newspapers all over the world, I keep remembering that the church is made up of individuals who are fallible and all too human. Even the nasty custom of denial, entrenchment and stonewalling is most human. It is not a defense in my part. I just accept that in the good there will always be the bad.
I remember coming back from my military service in Argentina and going to Mass in Mexico City. I was a bit confused seeing the priest facing us instead of what had been until then the normal Latin rite where the priest had his back to the congregation. But I knew I had to adjust to changing times. At a certain time during this Mass the people around me all began to hug each other and shake hands. I had no idea of what was going on! I must confess here that by stating that I thought the Latin Rite Mass was beautiful because of the Latin (I know the meanings of all words of the Latin Mass) and the mystery of knowing but not quite seeing what that priest was doing, it must make me some sort of right-wing conservative charlatan; I am not!
I may not go to Mass or say too many prayers but I try to live a life of honesty knowing that my mother “damned” me with her statement to me, “Alex, you have many defects, as your mother I know them all, but when you die, someone will put on your tombstone, he died with integrity.”
I would further state that I am not overtly religious. But I love and adore the art of the architecture of cathedrals and the music of Bach, Monteverdi and many others. I love the paintings of Rogier van der Weyden and El Greco. The Brothers of the Holy Cross taught me to understand and appreciate the works of Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine. And I love all the pomp of the ancient rites of the Catholic Church. I guess I must confess that I am in many ways a most Catholic man even though I have an absolute doubt on the existence of a superior being who is concerned about the doings of men and women and who may even intercede at times.
The above is all but a long preamble to introduce Bishop Peter Wilkinson. I first met him a couple of months ago on board the ferry to Victoria, Spirit of Vancouver.
I was indulging in my favourite buffet lounge rice pudding (with lots of cinnamon) when I spotted a friendly face with a clerical collar. I went up to him and asked him if he was a priest and of what congregation. He informed me with a big smile that he was not really a priest as he was a bishop. He was the current bishop of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada, the Right Reverend Peter Wilkinson of Victoria, British Columbia. He was the presiding Bishop of a current and very active movement of rapprochement of several congregations of the Anglican Church with the Roman Catholic Church. “In fact, Bishop," Wilkinson told me, “While I was originally an Anglican priest I am now both that and Roman Catholic.” I parted, after finishing my rice pudding, with a Sursum Corda
to which Bishop Wilkinson countered with a: Habemus ad Dominum. Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro. Dignum et iustum est.
It was a delight to spot Bishop Wilkinson on the ferry back to Vancouver from Victoria this Sunday afternoon. I was quick to introduce him to Rosemary and especially to Rebecca. “Rebecca it is not always that I can introduce you to a Bishop.” While I have yet to read of any confirmation, Bishop Wilkinson advised me that he was now an Archbishop and that he was on his way to a special synod
I hope to meet up with Bishop Wilkinson soon, perhaps over a bowl of creamy rice pudding with lots of cinnamon. Sursum corda.
Other blogs on the Catholic Church
The Littlest Atheist
A Damning Embrace
Spheres & Culture at Celia Duthie's and Nick Hunt's Place
Monday, July 12, 2010
Saturday evening and Sunday morning were wonderful. Rosemary, Rebecca Lauren and I stayed in the Saltspring home of Celia Duthie and Nick Hunt. They live in a one level home to which expert handyman and carpenter (cook, baker, gardener, etc) has added porches, rooms, etc. Celia’s garden is a combination of the beautiful with the practical. She grows her own vegetables. We had dinner and breakfast that consisted of bread, freshly baked by Nick Hunt and food that was all made with vegetables from the garden or of eggs and fish that came from local origin.
While food was excellent (Rebecca even accepted the challenge of eating kippers for breakfast, but Nick reneged on his promise to make them) it was the good company that made my stay. Celia and Nick were visited by friends Rosemary Allenbach (a producer at the CBC of Bill Richardson’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera) and Les Stegenga
who is a zoologist (an expert on gorillas at the Calgary Zoo).
At the dinner table and at breakfast we discussed books, the Burgess Shale, gorillas, opera, gardening, rap, art, architecture, music and in particular the beautiful lanterns that were hanging around the Duthie art gallery which is next to the Duthie home. Seen here is one set by artist Brent Comber
Les timed on his watch Lauren’s sprints around the house while Rebecca played with two of Celia and Nick's black cats, Black & Decker. Rosemary enjoyed the cats, too and the garden. It was good to see her relaxed.
Where else would you find piles of good books and at least two or three copies of the New Yorker in every room (including the bathroom)? Our stay was much too short but it served a generous portion of parallel education for Lauren and Rebecca.
I had been invited by Duthie to photograph the lanterns (all made from wood or metal) that were in the grounds of her Salt Spring Woodworks
. I had been a bit nervous about it as people not objects are my expertise. But as some of my friends pointed out I do have age and experience in spades going for me. The problem involved showing the light within the lanterns while still showing them in situ. If you were to photograph them at night the background would be too dark. If you photographed them during the day you would not see the light within. The trick was to photograph them at sundown and to use film (since film is what I shoot) that was kind to working with extreme contrast. In this case Kodak colour negative film normally used for weddings was the ticket. The exposure of Brent Comber’s two spheres was over three minutes. To the naked eye the sky was black as was the foliage of the trees. The ground was pitch black.
These spheres were my favourites. They seemed to have fallen from outer space and I could imagine them as being little space ships containing strange but wonderful aliens – shades of Michael Crichton’s 1987 novel Sphere.
In the group photograph, from left to right, your friendly blogger, Rosemary Allenbach, Rebecca Stewart (holding Black), Les Stegenga, Celia Duthie, Rosemary Waterhouse-Hayward and sitting, Nick Hunt (looking very much like English archeological artist Frederick Catherwood) and Lauren Stewart. I am sure that there are other pictures were everybody had their eyes open. But this is the only one where I appeared and you can see me squeezing that bulb with my right hand.
Robertson Davies - Trilogia de Deptford
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Just a few days ago I arrived home to find a package that had been mailed from Barcelona. Since I know nobody in that city I was intrigued. I opened it to find a book that featured a scanned image of a contact sheet of pictures I had taken years ago of Robertson Davies. The book was being sent by the Barcelona publisher Editorial Empúries. The novel is a translation into Catalán by Carlos Miró and Ferran Ràfols. It is the first translation of Robertson Davies into Catalán.
The publisher arm of the imprint Empúries is Grup 62 and the art director contacted me some many months ago. They had found the pictures in this
blog. The art director did not understand what a contact sheet was. There is no reason why a young designer used to digital would know about film contacts. She wanted to use my “kaleidoscope” images of Davies. We arrived at a nice tidy sum in Euros. I sent the digital file and the cheque did not arrive.
By strange coincidence I was contacted by Carlos Enrique Folch Bruguera from Madrid. He had Googled some of his relatives called Formen and located my blog. I, too am related to them through my Filipino/Basque
grandfather Don Tirso de Irureta Goyena
. We exchanged emails and I sent him the emails of Forment relatives in Mexico and in the US. I told him of my non-payment problem. It was then that I found out that Enrique’s native language was Catalan and he called and interceded for me. I was paid!
It was so exciting to see my cover and to realize that even though I am Argentine-born here is an example and proof of my Canadian side. I was not born here. But somehow having this cover of a Canadian icon and one more in the fall (a pocket book cover of a biography of Pierre Berton
) is most satisfying.