The Library Of Babel - In Hypertext
Saturday, November 06, 2010
Three Versions of Judas
There seemed a certainty in degradation.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom, CIII
In Asia Minor or in Alexandria, in the second century of our faith, when Basilides disseminated the idea that the cosmos was the reckless or evil improvisation of deficient angels, Nils Runeberg would have directed, with singular intellectual passion, one of the Gnostic conventicles. Dante would have assigned him, perhaps, a fiery grave; his name would extend the list of lesser heresiarchs, along with Satornilus and Carpocrates, some fragments of his preachings, embellished with invective, would survive in the apocryphal Liber adversus omnes haereses or would have perished when the burning of a monastery library devoured the last copy of the Syntagma. Instead God afforded Runeberg the twentieth century and the university town of Lund. There in 1904, he published the first edition of Kristus och Judas and, in 1909 his major book, Den hemlige Fralsaren. (Of the latter there is a German translation, made in 1912 by Emil Schering; it is called Der heimliche Heilland.)
Jorge Luís Borges translated by James E. Irby
The above is the first paragraph from Borges’story, Three Versions of Judas.
Next to my bedroom night table I have a copy of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary
which I use to consult words, place names for which I have no understanding or the names of people I have never heard of. Many of my contemporaries would say I am out to lunch and that I should get modern. They would advise that I purchase a Kindle or an iPad. They would recommend I download Borges’ Ficciones
and then I would be able to look it all up since both the Kindle and the iPad have hypertext possibilities. I doubt that my Canadian Oxford would have been much of help with the Borges first page paragraph.
Few might know that almost all the articles in the on line New York Times
(the exception seems to be those that have been recently uploaded) have a feature in which if you double-click or select any word you get a little question mark bubble. If you click on the bubble you will be taken on to a site where you will be given a definition and explanation.
And then I re-read the “The Library of Babel”
a few nights ago and which could be the image of our universe, as infinite and always starting again. The books of this library are unintelligible, in which the letters are thrown into the pot by chance or perversely repeated. Sometimes in this labyrinth of letters a reasonable sentence can be found.
The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors. The distribution of the galleries is invariable. Twenty shelves, five long shelves per side, cover all the sides except two; their height, which is the distance from floor to ceiling, scarcely exceeds that of a normal bookcase. One of free sides leads to a narrow hallway which opens onto another gallery, identical to the first and all the rest. To the left and to the right of the hallway there are two closets. In the first, one may sleep standing up; in the other, satisfy one’s fecal necessities. Also through here passes a spiral stairway, which sinks abysmally and soars upwards to remote distances. In the hallway there is a mirror which faithfully duplicates all appearances. Men usually infer from this mirror that the Library is not infinite (if it really were, why this illusory duplication? ); I prefer to dream that its polished surfaces represent and promise the infinite…Light is provided by some spherical fruit which bear the name of lamps. There are two, transversally placed, in each hexagon. The light they emit is insufficient, incessant. Like all men of the Library, I have traveled in my youth; I have wandered in search of a book, perhaps the catalogue of catalogues; now that my eyes can hardly decipher what I write, I am preparing to die just a few leagues from the hexagon in which I was born. Once I am dead, there will be no lack of pious hands to throw me over the railing; my grave will be the fathomless air; my body will sink endlessly and decay and dissolve in the wind generated by the fall, which is infinite. I say that the Library is unending. The idealists argue that the hexagonal rooms are a necessary form of absolute space or, at least, of our intuition of space. They reason that a triangular or pentagonal room is inconceivable. (The mystics claim that their ecstacy reveals to them a circular chamber containing a great circular book, whose spine is is continuous and which follows the complete circle of the walls; but their testimony is suspect; their words, obscure. This cyclical book is God.) The Library is a sphere whose exact center is any one of the hexagons and whose circumference is inaccessible…
I have just written the word “infinite”. I have not interpolaed this adjective out of rhetorical habit; I say that it is not illogical to think that the world is infinite. Those who judge it to be limited postulate that in remote places the corridors and stairways and hexagons can conceivably come to an end – which is absurd. Those who imagine it to be without limit forget that the possible number of books does have such a limit. I venture to suggest this solution to the ancient problem. The Library is unlimited and cyclical. If an eternal traveler were to cross in any direction, after centuries he would say that the same volumes were repeated in the same disorder (which, thus repeated, would be an order: the Order). My solitude is gladdened by this elegant hope.
Jorge Luís Borges, The Library of Babel, translated by James E. Irby
The Library of Babel
ends with a footnote written by the narrator or another librarian, which refers to yet another librarian, Letizia Alvarez de Toledo. Those who read Borges know that footnotes and editor’s notes are always from Borges himself:
Letizia Alvarez de Toledo has observed that this vast Library is useless: rigorously speaking, a single volume would be sufficient, a volume of ordinary format, printed in nine or ten point type, containing an infinite number of infinitely thin leaves. (In the early seventeenth century, Cavalieri said that all solid bodies are the superimposition of an infinite number of planes.) The handling of this silky
vade mecum would not be convenient: each apparent page would unfold into other analogous ones; the inconceivable middle page would have no reverse.
What is astounding about Borges is that the man did all his research by sifting through books in countless (but definitely not infinite) libraries. Most of the names in Borges stories are of people, unlikely as that might seem, who really existed. Cavalieri was an Italian mathematician who preceded both Leibnitz and Newton in figuring out what would in the end be infinitesimal and integral calculus. This poor blogger, who did learn the calculus, can attest that the idea of the one book with infinite amount of pages is pure calculus and that is how in the calculus we calculate the volume of an object. We pick a plane and then “move it up and down” through the whole parameters of the shape in question to arrive at that total volume.
If Borges were to be alive today (and not blind) and if he were to Google
himself and go to the Wikipedia
he would then find that right here is that infinite hexagon Library. He would jump from one hypertext to another. He might rest and sleep standing up or go to another room to satisfy his fecal necessities. Borges would never end reading about Borges. Or as Borges himself might have put it, “Which is the real Borges, this one who is reading about Borges or the one that this Borges is reading about?”
In an imperfect world, the imperfect world of the 21st Century I might read the first page of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers
and never get past, “A young man was standing at the main gate, a young man of striking appearance. He was eighteen years of age, tall and lanky, dressed in a blue wollen doublet, faded and threadbare...
" To read but to never finish The Three Musketeers,
to never get to the siege of Maastricht
, that would be truly hell.
The Reverse Strip Of The Novelist
Friday, November 05, 2010
Mario Vargas Llosa published an interesting book of literary criticism in 2003 called Letters to a Young Novelist
. In it I found this:
Writing novels is the equivalent of what professional strippers do when they take off their clothes and exhibit their naked bodies on stage. The novelist performs the same acts in reverse. In constructing the novel, he goes through the motions of getting dressed, hiding the nudity in which he began under heavy, multicolored articles of clothing conjured up out of his imagination. The process is so complex and exacting that many times not even the author is able to identify in the finished product — that exuberant display of his ability to invent imaginary people and worlds — the images lurking in his memory, fixed there by life, which sparked his imagination, spurred him on, and induced him to produce his story.
If someone to ask me what some of the more interesting high marks of my receding and past life have been, I would cite two in particular. Exactly four actresses cried on demand for me in my studio and I was able to capture that on film. Less sad, but somehow as exciting would be the two performances (and I would stress not one, but two!) that I was privy to courtesy of one of the most sensual and beautiful women I ever met in my life. It was a reverse strip by the jazz dancer Jackie Coleman who moonlighted evenings when her gigs at the CBC were in a hiatus as a stripper in the Number 5 Orange. One of her performances was for a private function but the other may have been at the Five. Coleman appeared on stage undraped with a cane back chair and some clothes under her arms. With some brassy music as background she proceeded to get dressed. Coleman had legs that would have made Dietrich cry.
|Jackie Coleman on left with Paul Williams|
When Coleman slipped on her fishnets after some of her unmentionables (or perhaps my memory is spotty here and the sequence was the equally pleasant opposite) there was no act of taking it off that I subsequently did see that will ever compete in excellence.
The Chevrolet Malibu & The Other Edward Kennedy
Thursday, November 04, 2010
It may have been around 1951 when I was nine years old that I showed my friend from across the street, Mario Hertzberg a photograph from a magazine that had a cover with a yellow band around it. The picture showed a large statue of a woman holding a torch and below here there were some men with huge muscles and wide back wearing some sort of space helmets. I told Mario, “In Norteamerica
there is a small island country called Columbia
where they have supermen.” It took me several years to figure out that the photograph was of Columbia University football players in a huddle photographed with a long telephoto lens that compressed distances and showed the Statue of Liberty looming behind them. The magazine was a National Geographic
that had been given to my mother by her friends at the American School who had connections with the American Embassy.
In our games with soldiers I always represented Columbia and I would trounce Mario’s soldiers every time. Paradoxically, perhaps because we Argentines were far away from Norteamerica
we loved everything and anything that was Made In USA while keeping a distance by writing slogans on walls, “Fuera de Korea, Gringos.”
Argentines would throw Molotov Cocktails at the American Embassy and Lincoln Library on Calle Florida every once in a while to prove to the Norteamericanos that we were not completely in bed with them.
A big huge ad in the central train station of Retiro told us that Portland Cement (made in USA) would make the world a firmer and better world. Before Latin Americans thought of smuggling drugs to the US they made a killing by smuggling Levis into Argentina.
By the early 50s I thrived on weekly visits to the Lincoln Library that had rows and rows of beautiful books and they also had a concept, unique to Latin Americans, in which you could take the book home! Can you imagine that!
Perón would brag of the latest Argentine jet fighter the Pulqui II (mostly built from an Italian platform) but we soon to be teenagers lambasted the man with insults, after all you could not buy in Argentina, Argentine made bubble gum. We could build horrific fighter jets but could not fathom the chemical formula of real bubble gum like Bazooka and Fleer’s Double Bubble Gum.
Once my family arrived in Mexico City in the mid 50s my mother purchased a Zenith TV. I would watch Boston Blackie while sipping on my Delaware Punch. I could buy Bazooka and Kellogs Sugar Corn Pops at the local Piggly Wiggly.
By the late 50s I had a short wave radio so that I could listen to Willis Conover’s Voice of America
jazz program. It was there that I discovered the likes of Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan and Duke Ellington.
When we moved to Nueva Rosita, Coahuila and my mother taught in the school for the American engineers of the American Smelting and Refining Company my hero was my fellow classmate Sammy Simpson who apparently had a better radio than I did. He would come to school and give us a play by play account of Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game. Sammy was the first one to come to school who gave us his interpretation of Elvis Presley’s Blue Suede Shoes. I became instantly jealous when Sammy was allowed to drive his dad’s 57 Ford with the snazzy fins. We marveled at one of the engineer’s Packards that had some sort of new fangled suspension. We would jar the back bumper and the car (with a quiet whirr) would move down towards the pavement, then move up and then stabilize. Juan Jaime, the Packard’s owner would come out shouting at us telling us we were going to drain the car’s battery.
The woman who ran the hotel where my mother and I lived (I cannot remember her name) would sometimes drive us over to Eagle Pass in her beautiful 57 Chevy. We would cross the grimy ugly Piedras Negras into a city that had detached houses without fences. Imagine that, no fences! I would buy Revell plastic kits of beautiful American cars and of fighter jets that could fly circles around our puny Argentine Pulqui II. It was in one of those trips to Eagle Pass that I spotted a tall man wearing cowboy boots emerge from the Eagle Pass Hotel. It was John Wayne. Imagine that!
Once I was ensconced at St. Ed’s in Austin, Texas I was finally living in the Promised Land. I became an American and forgot my Argentine heritage. Every year my friend Stephen Burdick and I would visit all the car dealerships sometime around October when the new year’s cars were being brought in. We would demand the beautiful glossy brochures. Our faves were those of the hugely long Lincolns, and complicated Mercury Turnpike Cruisers and the oddly shaped but, still so beautiful, Chevrolet Corvair Monza.
We thought that our more sophisticated classmate Daniel Sherrod was a sissy as he read Road & Track
and told us of fantastic cars called Peugeots, Ferraris and Citroens. The young man was mad. But it was through Daniel that I first found out about the speedy Chaparrals and other American made sports cars.
In my tenth grade Brother Andre, our dormitory prefect would play classical music. But he also had us listen to Amos ‘n’Andy. I was too young to understand the inherent racism of the program. After all, our school was liberal. Proof of it was a classmate, a day student, called Richard Mosby who was black. He was black and sort of talked funny but he seemed normal enough to me. If there was any racism in our school it was directed to some of the Mexicans. The Anglos made fun of them. I avoided the Mexicans so as not to be labeled one.
I then became friends with William Shieffer, and odd day student who was very quiet, studious and drove what we thought was the dumbest and ugliest car in the world, a Nash Metropolitan. I made fun of his car too many times so that finally he wrestled me to the ground and told me that if I did not shut up he was going to pound me. I acceded and when I got up he told me, “The best jazz quartet in the world is playing at the University of Texas this weekend. Do you want to come? And that is how I first heard the Dave Brubeck Quartet and I abandoned my interest in KTBC, Lyndon Johnson’s radio station that played The Ventures, Paul Anka, Brenda Lee and such crap as that song Teen Angel.
I was soon comparing notes with Daniel Sherrod who taught me to correctly pronounce Peugeot. But I did not really abandon those American cars completely even though I admired Sherrod’s father’s Aston Martin DB-4. I just became a bit more sophisticated and Sherrod explained to me the wonders of Shelley Berman and buttermilk.
But no matter how I think about it I realize that in many ways I became an American in Texas and there has been a little bit of the American in me since then. It is still a vivid memory as I watched Kennedy and Nixon square off on their TV debate and the sheer joy of finding out that Kennedy had won.
It was a few years ago that Rosemary and I headed for Seattle. I did not know that Rosemary had packed an orange for our lunch. “No sir, we have no fruits and vegetables.” We were removed from our car. They scraped off our special quick pass on the windshield and while my wife was in tears one man threatened to impound our car. We had to pay a $200 fine. We have not returned to Seattle since.
It was two years ago on a trip to Austin, after all these years that I realized that my pleasant classmates had ideas that were alien to me. I could not discuss gun control, universal medical care and much less anything to do with the interloper at the White House called Obama.
What had happened to my Columbia in all the years that I had not been there? It was a shocker. But once the shock wore off I changed my tack. I stopped talking about guns, medical care and all things liberal. My friends suddenly seemed to be the friends of old.
I feel most depressed in the results of the elections in the US. I would propose a few solutions among them, central in my opinion would be some sort of campaign to buy American, to build American to produce American and to outsource from New York to the folks in Idaho and not in India.
I remember going to a concert of the Dave Brubeck Quartet at the Mexican American Cultural Institute in Mexico City in the early 60s. They were there courtesy of the State Department. The room probably had a few spooks watching us. In 1968 Edward “Duke” Ellington took his band on a tour of Latin America. Perhaps Americans could refurbish their image by repeating these musical and cultural exports.
But things might be looking up. When I opened my November 2010 National Geographic, there was no Statue of Liberty, no American footbal players, but there was that two-page spread, on the immediate inside, of a Chevrolet Malibu. Yes, things are looking up.
Funny Man Donald Adams Of Mimi (Or A Poisoner's Comedy)
Wednesday, November 03, 2010
Today Wednesday, I must confess took me to that Vancouver suburb called Burnaby. To be precise I went to the Shadbolt Centre where the folks of Touchstone Theatre presented some excerpts (in full makeup and costume) of a delicious musical romp called Mimi (Or a Poisoner’s Comedy). The play, will open (after a stint this week, from the 3d to the 7th, at the Shadbolt) at the Firehall Arts Centre on November 10. Mimi (Or a Poisoner’s Comedy) is jointly written: Lyrics and Music by Allen Cole, Book and Lyrics by Melody A. Johnson and Rick Roberts. It is directed by our very own Katrina Dunn
. The actors are Donald Adams
, Greg Armstrong-Morris, Peter Jorgensen, Jennifer Lines
, Linda Quibell, and Sanders Whiting.
Judging by what I saw and heard (the music is ever so sophisticated and grandly played live by the musical director, Steven Greenfield on piano) this play will be a joy of fun and funny, too. The costumes by Farnaz Khaki-Sadigh are sumptuously over the top. The lighting by Gillian Wolpert seemed to work just fine for my iPhone's low tolerance to high contrast!
But I have my own personal reason to want more than the chips that were offered to me today in that preview out in Burnaby. His name is Donald Adams.
After I took his picture he assured me that none of the songs he will sing are of his composition. He further promised that he would not attempt to woo me with his bassoon and that he would just entertain me with his wit. Wit and humour, Donald Adams has in spades. I have never seen a play in which he has disappointed.
In this which promises to be yet again one long, dark and rainy November I cannot think of anything better to do than to spend an evening watching one of the funniest men alive and living in Vancouver. And that’s Donald Adams. But be forewarned he could possibly pick up the bassoon again and that would be bad!
Halloween 2010 - Bah, Humbug!
Tuesday, November 02, 2010
I despise Halloween. I simply do not understand the concept much less the idea that fireworks have anything to do with witches and goblins. Rosemary's cat Casa spent most of Halloween under the bed. He was scared. We watched Robert Wise's, 1963 The Haunting
with that favourite actress of mine Julie Harris (her raspy mezzo-soprano reminds me of Lauren's and I love Harris' freckles and red hair.) and Claire Bloom. We did not have to get up to answer the door too many times.
When we left Mexico in 1975 for Vancouver I had never experienced a traditional American or its Canadian equivalent (is it different?). But I do remember that even then a pre globalization in the form of American cultural encroachment had begun to erode the Mexican concept of death and its celebratory Día de los Muertos
. In fact by then the Mexican government was attempting to eradicate (if slowly) the Mexicn lower class custom of spending el Día de los Muertos
in the family cemetery sharing a picnic over the tombstones of loved ones. These customs were being eroded by street urchins who would come to you and instead of begging as they would have done on the day before (or after) on Halloween they would say, “Deme mi Halloween,” or “Give me my Halloween.” In retrospect I would believe that money was better for those children than sweet candies.
When me arrived in Vancouver and lived for a few years in Burnaby, it seems that it always rained on the day of the witches. My daughters Ale and Hilary would arrive all soaked with huge black garbage bags full of candy. In spite of their booty I felt very sorry for them. They immediately grew angry when I would help myself to some of it.
Rosemary was always in charge of answering the doorbell, and the loud knocking of children clamoring for their treats. To this day I refuse to answer the door and Rosemary does it. I tell her I hate Halloween. And yet I have never been visited by ghosts of Halloweens past!
But this Halloween we had almost no knocks at the door. There were a few children accompanied by their parents and it all seemed too planned to be safe, and so boring.
My sister-in-law, back in Ontario is most frugal yet to my amazement she told me that her house is popular because she hands out real and full size candy bars. This year she told me, “My hair is really short so I am wearing a witch’s hat and an orange plastic cape. I plan to have fun.
As I write this I am helping myself to little packages of yellow M&Ms. There is a pile of empty packages on the floor. The sweetness does not compensate for the depression that my wife and I felt when so few came knocking. It is sad to live in a neighbourhood with few children.
I despise Halloween and I am sure that Casa the cat would concur.
For the top picture I used a Mamiya RB-67 ProSD and a 90mm lens. My exposure was f-11 for 5 seconds with Ektachrome 100G. I used a 2x3 ft soft box attached to a Dynalite. For the picture, left, I used my iPhone 3G
And Frame My Face To All Occasions
Monday, November 01, 2010
|Christopher Gaze as Richard III|
Today’s blog is an imperative. I had plans to put here the results of my granddaughters’ Halloween shoot (zombies) on Saturday afternoon. All began to change with the Saturday NY Times article on Mario Vargas Llosa’s Princeton Lectures and specifically his class on Jorge Luís Borges’ story El Zahir
. That led me to a rush visit to the Vancouver Public Library to secure an English version of El Zahir
as well as an English translation of Alejo Carpentier’s El Concierto Barroco
. I used both books and a third and fourth by Homero Aridjis and José Saramago to punctuate my interest in a literary device especially used by Latin American writers which Vargas Llosa identified as an enumeración
usually is found in Borges’1949 El Aleph
which is a collection of stories written during the five years before that. I do not have El Aleph
(I will have to remedy this oversight quite soon) so I went to the library. They did not have El Aleph
on the shelf but a collection called Labyrinths –Selected Stories and Other Writings
by Jorge Luís Borges (Edited by Donald A. Yates & James E. Irby, A New Directions Book 1964) did have the story.
But I found something else, a short little piece which Borges wrote later in life. This one and others was extra short because of his blindness he had to dictate them from memory. I had never read the particual story I will add below.
I am acutely aware that thanks to facebook
(and earlier by email) we are now subjected and bombarded by:
“I saw this neat video. Check it out.”
“I read this article in the Guardian. It is really relevant.”
“Check out this rant on Obama!”
And so on. With the instant ability to link wit the touch of a button a generation of people are contributing (making, forming, composing) less and “air guitaring” their way as they attach themselves to the more famous and better known. Look at the stuff inserted into facebook on any day and you will know what I mean. Then if you like someone’s contribution you need not write, “Hey Robert I really like this!” All you need is to check the mark “I like this” and it magically appears as thumbs up without the need of putting anything of yourself on line (literally and figuratively).
I am not going to try to see myself as an exception to the “air guitaring” explosion in pointing out that I am not linking here to some site but I am actually copying out a story (and perhaps subject to copyright infringing and instant arrest by the Interpol folks).
But the fact is that when I read Everything and Nothing
by Jorge Luís Borges I was blown away and I found myself wanting to instantly share it with those who might be reading this.
Everything and Nothing
There was no one in him; behind his face (which even through the bad paintings of those times resembles no other) and his words, which were copious, fantastic and stormy, there was only a bit of coldness, a dream dreamt by no one. At first he thought that all people were like him, but the astonishment of a friend to whom he had begun to speak of this emptiness showed him his error and made him feel always that an individual should not differ in outward appearance. Once he thought that in books he would find a cure for his ill and thus he learned the small Latin and less Greek a contemporary would speak of; later he considered that what he sought might well be found in an elemental rite of humanity, and he let himself be initiated by Anne Hathaway one long June afternoon. At the age of twenty-odd years he went to London. Instinctively he had already become proficient in the habit of simulating that he was someone, so that others would not discover his condition as no one; in London he found the profession to which he was predestined, that of the actor, who on a stage plays at being another before a gathering of people who play at taking him for that other person. His histrionic tasks brought him a singular satisfaction, perhaps the first he had ever known; but once the last verse had been acclaimed and the last dead man withdrawn from the stage, the hated flavor of unreality returned to him. He ceased to be Ferrex or Tamerlane and became no one again. Thus hounded, he took to imagining other heroes and other tragic fables. And so, while his flesh fulfilled its destiny as flesh in the taverns and brothels of London, the soul that inhabited him was Caesar, who disregards the augur’s admonition, and Juliet, who abhors the lark, and Macbeth, who converses on the plain with the witches who are also Fates. No one has been so many men as this man, who like the Egyptian Proteus could exhaust all the guises of reality. At times he would have a confession hidden away in some corner of his work, certain that it would not be deciphered; Richard affirms that in his person he plays the part of many and Iago claims with curious words, “I am not what I am.” The fundamental identity of existing, dreaming and acting inspired famous passages of his.
For twenty years he persisted in that controlled hallucination, but one morning he was suddenly gripped by the tedium and the terror of having been so many kings who die by the sword and so many suffering lovers who converge, diverge and melodiously expire. That very day he arranged to sell his theater. Within a week he had returned to his native village, where he recovered the trees and rivers of his childhood and did not relate them to others his muse had celebrated, illustrious with mythological allusions and Latin terms. He had to be someone; he was a retired impresario who had made his fortune and concerned himself with loans, lawsuits and petty usury. It was in this character that he dictated the arid will and testament know to us, from which he deliberately excluded all traces of pathos or literature. His friends from London would visit his retreat and for them he would take up again his role as poet.
History adds that before or after dying he found himself in the presence of God and told Him: “I who have been so many men in vain want to be one and myself.” The voice of the Lord answered from a whirlwind: “Neither am I anyone; I have dreamt the world as you dreamt your work, my Shakespeare, and among the forms in my dream are you, who like myself ar many and no one."
Jorge Luís Borges, translated by James E. Irby
Those Fantastic Fantasticks & Two More
Sunday, October 31, 2010
|Jeff Hyslop & Christopher Gaze|
Last night, Saturday, my granddaughter Rebecca and I went to the last held over performance of the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company’s production of The Fantasticks
directed and choreographed by Max Reimer, with musical direction by Bill Sample.
The cast starred Simon Bradbury, Mark Burgess, Christopher Gaze, Bree Greig, Jeff Hyslop, Steve Maddock, Colin Sheen and Andy Toth.
Since I am of Latin American heritage I harp often here how I dislike musicals or how I don’t understand the concept of people suddenly switching from talk to song. But slowly but surely, thanks to the Playhouse and the Arts Club I have been amending my prejudices. But I must assert that until last night I was proud of the fact I never saw any kind of production of the Fantasticks either on stage or on film.
Rebecca and I entered the Playhouse and we ran into Max Wyman and his wife Susan. I asked Wyman to explain why the Fantasticks was a worthwhile show. Wyman said to Rebecca, “It is a sweet show with no malice that says a lot about human nature. In 1961 when I started my career as a critic I reviewed the London production and I ranted and raved. The show closed in two weeks!”
I then instructed Rebecca to ask Wyman what the little dogwood-like flower with a Maple leaf on its centre pin on his lapel was all about. Rebecca found out, first hand, what the order of Canada was all about!
When the show began I was instantly glued to the mute performance, (it oozed gallons of pathos) of Jeff Hyslop (who plays the mute). As good as all the other performers were featuring the delightful antics of Christopher Gaze and Simon Bradbury (who had both Rebecca and I in stitches every time they were on stage) or the imposing performance and wonderful voice of Steve Maddock our eyes were constantly on the actions, reflections and even motionless moments of Jeff Hyslop.
We liked the show so much that I instantly wondered why some sort of media had not pointed out all of its virtues and virtuosity performances of the likes of Hyslop, Gaze and Bradbury. I almost feel like ranting about it. Had I not attended the last performance I would have immediately purchased tickets for my daughter and wife. I feel that our media has let us down, once again.
I think that this for me proves that this city needs competition in arts reporting. Some would say there are no arts reporting. I would not agree. I would that what passes as arts reporting does not fill in the gaps of information that would push many people to get up from their sofas or the chair facing the computer and go out to see a play, a concert or dance performance.
My Rebecca, like in most other situations where I take her to the theatre, was the only one there under 20. As Wyman would have reiterated, there is so much about human nature in this play that will remain in my granddaughter’s mind and perhaps help her in future situations.
Our conventional Vancouver media sticks to the word conventional like glue. I would have liked to read about Director Max Reimer’s dance heritage and the wonders or perhaps conflicts in both directing and choreographing a play. Another theme I would have been interested to explore was something on funny pairs in film and theatre. When I saw The 39 Steps
, the comic antics of Shawn Macdonald and Davi Marr reminded me of the duo of Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford from Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes
(1938). There was a lot of that feel in the performance by Christopher Gaze and Simon Bradbury.
I spotted Jennifer Gaze (Alex do you know that the harpist in Sample's band is a dentist?") in the audience so I asked her if she could whisk us backstage after the performance so we could meet up with her husband and with Jeff Hyslop.
There was another reason beyond he obvious one of having Rebecca explore the back stage happenings and to meet Hyslop as she has chatted with Gaze many times before.
Our Vancouver is not kind to veterans of the arts. They are nominally pigeon-holed and then forgotten. Christopher Gaze is the Artistic Director of Bard on the Beach
. Some may have forgotten that Gaze happens to be a very good actor, too who won a Jessie Best Supporting Actor Award for his role in Equus
in 2007. With the Royal Hudson, pretty well history in our Province as a tourist magnet one cannot discount the role of Bard on the Beach (and its uniqueness) in attracting out of Province visitors in the summer.
Of Hyslop I will go on a different tack. Some might still remember him as being the principal in the Vancouver production of The Kiss of the Spider Woman
in 1995 for which the picture here is one I took for an article in the Globe & Mail
in July 200 1995.
I first saw Hyslop as a male jazz dancer (a terrific one) in variety shows at the CBC in the late 70s. I had been hired bythe CBC to shoot stills of these shows. Being a normal “manly” latin my eyes were always drawn to the likes of Viktoria Langton and Jackie Coleman. But my eyes would drift towards this uncommonly handsome (and yes, beautiful) young man who reminded me of Michael the Archangel with Mercury on wings. In spite of my primitive Pentaxes and using unorthodox and slow colour negative film I managed to learn to shoot dance at the CBC and I could not have had a better subject than Hyslop.
I knocked on the door that said, Jeff Hyslop and I was asked in. Inside was Hyslop with his gray hair still looking not only like Mercury but perhaps Michael the Archangel with a sad streak sent back to us to try to intercede for us. I introduced him to Rebecca and it was a pleasant occasion for me to realize how lucky I am to live a situation in which I can meet up with people from my past and to notice how the time in-between has faded.
I pointed my iPhone at them and photographed the two old men ( I think I can safely say this without offending either of them). How lucky I am and how unlucky we are in Vancouver not to realize it.