The Hot Black Sands
Saturday, November 27, 2010
I don't use my body to seduce, no. I just stand there.
In this 21st century where you can think of any person, animal, place or thing and realize that there will be a pornographic version of it, I glory in my own realization that pleasant cleavage, nice legs, an arresting face, a nice turn of neck, beautiful hair, can all be much more satisfying than the stuff that demands one check in one’s credit card.
Until recently it was anathema to opine as I did above. If you were to be politically correct you had to talk of other things like a woman’s imagination, her mind, her sense of humour. And even then you were in troubled territory when your opinion might hint that women were in any way different from men.
In the late 70s, 80 and into the 90s I was an avid admirer of the ecdysiast art. I knew many practitioners and even had the opportunity to take their photographs. It was with them that I learned to photograph the undraped female body. Of course I made many mistakes but these women were patient while being demanding. I learned lots.
In the mid 80s I had a show called Homebodies in which I photographed nude women doing stuff in their homes. I got them at the piano, washing dishes in the kitchen, painting the kitchen ceiling with a roller, blow drying their hair in the bedroom, lifting weights in the living room, standing by the fireplace with a pet dog, etc.
I remember that I shared the show with two other photographers whose theme was also the undraped female body. I remember one telling comment that someone wrote in the guestbook, “Thank you Alex for showing their faces.” In the late 80s the feminist movement was very much against the idea of glorifying women by the sum of their physical parts.
When I was going regularly (to my wife’s chagrin) to Wreck Beach in the late 70s there was a young man with very long hair and long fingernails who took photographs of many of the women lying on the beach. He was very polite and he always asked. Most of the women (in an age before the image ubiquity of facebook and Flickr would make them and us all that more cautious) were unconcerned. Yet there were rumours (and I am sure they were only that) that the young man filed his photographs under parts such as legs, breasts and so on…
By the time of the mid 90s my intolerance to cigarette smoke and poor tolerance to the alcohol content of beer made my sojourns to Vancouver strip parlours a rare thing. I occasionally went to the Marble Arch to chat with owner (and my friend) Tony Ricci. There was a Mexican barman called Jorge and I would sit at the bar and he would always serve me soda water which I could never pay even when I tried. We chatted in Spanish. Going to the Marble Arch was a social activity in which I felt much like Humphrey Bogart living the low life of the city. But every once in a while I was invited by a group of city architects and two journalists to share a table at the Arch. One of them smoked lots and I had a hard time. They drank pitchers of beer (but never to stupefaction) and I had my free and bottomless soda water. There was one day, memorable for me in which one of the architects said, “Let’s go. It’s getting late.” One of the other architects said, “Let’s wait to see her tits and then we can go.”
I had heard such statements many times before and they had never affected me as this one did this time around. I was shocked and disgusted and I told myself that I was never going to return to a strip pub. And I haven’t. It had all to do with the crass glorification of a woman’s parts using a crass word I have never liked or used. It seemed (and I may have been wrong) that the mention of the woman’s breasts in some way diminished her humanity.
But consider what I wrote in the first paragraph. Is there room now in our contemporary language to point out that a woman might have nice breasts, beautiful legs and wonderful hips without insulting them? I believe so particularly in this age of blatant internet pornography, the statement, “Let’s wait and see her tits and then we can go,” doesn’t sound that offensive to me anymore.
It was in one of my days at Wreck Beach where I used to admire a voluptuous red haired woman. Her body was unlike any I had ever seen and now in retrospect I can assert that her body was like none I have seen since. I got to know her. Her name was V.R. At the time of my first sighting she had just posed as the first red-haired Canadian Playmate for Playboy. Her voluptuous body was a result of all natural genes that hailed from the Baltic Republics.
Not only did I get to know Ms. R but I had the thrill of being able to photograph her not once but many times. It was with Ms. Reid that I learned more, than with any other woman, how to understand how the body functions in movement and how to capture those moments in movement and in rest that are both attractive and erotic. At all times during our photographic sessions Ms. R showed patience and tolerance for what I did. And thanks to her I got better at it.
One of those sessions involved going to Wreck Beach on an extremely hot summer afternoon. We headed to a place that we all called The Black Sands. These were very close to the back of the Museum of Anthropology and the cliffs had eroded and made the black sand look like lava that poured down a volcano.
Ms. R applied some very heavy makeup and told me it was supposed to be primitive looking. I have to admit that I was a perfect idiot in not understanding her motive. I though that the makeup made a beautiful woman ugly. I said nothing and took several rolls of film including some with Kodak b+w Infrared Film and others with the extremely sharp Kodak Technical Pan Film.
I looked these pictures in detail last night and I was amazed at how good they are. I am unable to place pictures of Ms. R's full body without sacrificing my efforts to not show too much in this blog. I've had to nip and snip here and tuck there to place the pictures here. You will have to believe me that when Ms. R stood on the rocks by the water or lay with black sand all over her on the hot afternoon cliff that she looked much better that Raquel Welch or Ursula Andress ever did. There was a much more primitive (that fantastic makeup!), primal, sexually primal look about her as I saw her then but didn't, but I see now, really, for the first time. I was so lucky and how unlucky you folks are who may feast on Ms. R’s cropped images. You will not appreciate the colour of her hair (well this batch were shot in b+w), the high slope of her generous breasts, the narrowness of her waist and her voluptuous but not too wide hips and those deep set eyes that beckoned like a lighthouse during a storm. Would the ship be wrecked on the rocks or saved just in time? I was too blind then to know of any potential trouble. I just took pictures.
My Perception Of Snow
Friday, November 26, 2010
From the downtown window I watched the snow fall over Holy Rosary Cathedral on Thursday morning and I was momentarily distracted from a sudden financial plight. I watched the snow fall. I began to think about my perception of snow and tried to remember when I had first known of its existence.
|On my way to Watson Lake|
That would have been Christmas 1948 in Buenos Aires. I was six. It would have been before Christmas day since we were decorating a little artificial tree. It was at least 38 degrees Celsius and it was one of those humid Buenos Aires summer evenings. My father took out a can. It said something like Noma Artificial Christmas Tree Snow – Made in USA. My father sprayed the tree with it. That is when I first knew of the existence of that magical white and cold powder.
It was not until 1955 when our airplane landed in Mexico City that I first saw real snow. It was at a distance. In 1955 Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes had yet to write his important novel “La Región Más Transparente”.
Mexico City had little atmospheric pollution and one could see the pristine snow on the two volcanoes, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl
. They would begin to disappear fom view by the late 60s.
It was in 1963 that I climbed Popo with a few students from the University of the Americas and not only did I step on my first snow but I had the chance to pick it up and see for myself.
In 1976 we experienced our first snowstorm in Vancouver. I was overly confident as I damned all those Vancouver drivers who seemed to drive much too slowly and much too cautiously. To avoid the bumper to bumper traffic on East Broadway (we lived in Burnaby) I went by another way which finally brought me to crossing Prince Rupert at Grandview Highway. Prince Rupert was steep here and our VW (Arctic Blue!) began to slide and we slide down the hill to hit a pile of about 35 cars and trucks that had preceded us. A crowd on the sidewalk shouted at to get out quickly. We did and shortly after a huge dump truck came down and totaled our little arctic blue beetle.
It was late 1990 and I had gone to teach photography for a weekend for the Emily Carr College Of Art Outreach Program to a northern community town called Cassiar. To get there I had flown to Watson Lake in the Yukon, rented a car (a Ford Taurus, very important!). After a short stretch of paved highway the highway became a dirt one to Cassiar. This was my second time in Cassiar and the town had deteriorated in every respect including socially. The first time I had feasted on roast beef and homemade bread in the company cafeteria. The town rarely named what it was that they mined. They called it product. I soon found out, after persistent questioning that the product was asbestos. By 1990 the only people buying asbestos were the Japanese who used it for car brake linings. Instead of a nice motel I stayed in the only and most primitive Last Chance. That’s what it was called.
On Sunday night it began to snow heavily. I became nervous. I had an early morning airplane to catch in Watson Lake and an appointment to photograph Ron Johnson (he was running the campaign to put Mike Harcourt as premier of British Columbia. I was to photograph Ron Johnson for Equity Magazine. Chris Dahl has suggested I photograph Johnson making shake and bake chicken in his kitchen.
Early Monday morning the town was blanketed by deep snow. My students told me it was probably intelligent if I did not attempt to drive to Watson Lake. I did anyway.
On my way to Watson Lake no car or truck ever crossed my path. I drove through deep snow by going fast knowing the car’s momentum and front wheel drive might prevail. It did. I got to Watson Lake and I immediately gassed up before returning the car. The folks at the gas station surrounded me to ask me about the driving conditions to Cassiar. I had been the first vehicle to make it. I was most proud!
By the time I got to the airport it was snowing heavily. I asked the airport counter official if my plane coming from Vancouver would be able to land. His answer, “I think it is doubtful. It depends on the pilot.” The plane, to may amazement did land. I was able to discern a streak out the window which was all white. When the airplane door opened I watched a uniformed woman step down. “I didn’t know these small airplanes had stewardesses,” I commented. The man behind the counter told me, “Sir, that’s your pilot and you'd better hope she is able to take off.”
I was the only passenger. I looked out of my window and watched them de-ice the wings. I watched snow plows try to clear the runways. When the plane began to taxi I nervously held on to my arm rests for dear life.
I made it in time to photograph Ron Johnson making shake and bake chicken.
Not only do I now drive with extreme caution when it snows I sometimes opt (as I did today) to take my Number 10 trolley to town.
Death, Dining & Sex
Thursday, November 25, 2010
In 1964 I was living in a pension in Mexico City that was run by a French Family. There was another border. He was US Marine Corps colonel who was studying at the University of the Americas on some sort of G.I. Bill. We became friends in spite of the fact that he made me wake up early to run miles and to do pushups. But he wasn’t an ex boot camp kind of man. He had fought in Laos as an advisor and he had been an early pioneer in using the helicopter in jungle warfare.
He told me a story one day that has stayed with me since and is part of the inspiration for today’s blog post. The Colonel (as I called him) was on patrol with some Montagnards when in a small clearing in the jungle they had to stop because of an arresting sight. Under a tree there was a man on top of a woman (she was on her knees and elbows, he in dog position). He was doing what men will often do, while the woman was coolly munching on an apple.
What amazed the Colonel more than anything was, “Alex apples are not the usual staples in the Laotian highlands.”
In 1976 my wife and two daughters were living in a townhouse on Springer Avenue in Burnaby. What was pleasant about the place (Rosemary hated it because we had no garden) was the fact that there were many children and there was a safe and common play area that was far from any car traffic. Ale and Hilary had friends. In the afternoon they might disappear but they often would return to tell us, “Moira ( a friend of my oldest, Ale) is having dinner so they sent us home.” I thought this odd and whenever my daughter’s friends were playing in our home and when it was near supper we always invited them to stay. I found this custom odd and just as odd as a frequent invitation for after-dinner-drinks. Since I was still not a Canadian citizen I liked to make fun of Rosemary’s Canadian cohorts. To be fair, Rosemary who hails from New Dublin, Ontario found the after-dinner-drink invitations odd, too.
Since those dinner incidents in Burnaby I have made it a habit to watch Vancouverites eat and I always get the impression (a feeling?) that I am looking into a very private moment as they chomp on their Big Mac.
This thing about dinner is further reinforced when you bring into the equation the phone call. More often than not, my caller will start with, “I am not calling at a bad time, am I? You are not yet eating, are you?” A few times I have answered, “No, I am not eating but I happen to be having sex with my wife.” The silence on the other side of the conversation is often deafening.
I have a friend (an ex friend in fact) who repeatedly would say to me, when I would call for a phone chat, that they were about to have supper. I noticed (I can be dense) that I would call at 3, 4, 5, 6,7,8 and it was always suppertime. I got the message and never called again.
I would seem then (and this must be obvious to all) that eating and having sex are two very private human activities.
When I told my friend Ian Bateson earlier today while having lunch on Robson he objected. “Alex what is really private is to defecate.” Having surprised once a female associate editor at Vancouver Magazine
sitting on that place where the king is always alone, I agreed but explained that eating and defecating where quite similar.
But I thought of that one time (one that embarrasses me every time I think about it) sometime around 1973 when I was driving in the always bumper to bumper freeway called the Periférico in Mexico City to my job as a Spanish teacher at the Universidad Iberoamericana. I was concentrating on picking my nose when the car that was slowly but never quite overtaking me on one side honked and there were two men in the front. Both were making like they were picking their nose and then pointing at me and laughing. For miles and miles traffic was the same and these guy were there laughing at me, and I could not get away.
Besides sex and eating there is one more activity that is most private. Some years ago I was driving on a back alley between Manitoba and Quebec (near 1st Avenue). As I approached the busy intersection with Quebec I saw something that made me stop. A gull was thrashing its wings by a wall. I may have been hit by a car or was simply dying of disease or old age. I watch fascinated as it moved its wings and it opened its beak. It was so sad and I felt the loneliness of the bird.
In our Buenos Aires garden in the late 40s I often found little birds that had fallen from their nests. I did not know better so I would pick them up and put them in a little box with some rags and I would attempt to feed the birds milk with a medicine dropper. Invariably the little birds died but not before they would open and close their beaks and flutter their little wings.
As soon as I was old enough (8) to make a slingshot from a bicycle tire inner tube I killed my first bird after repeated attempts. The bird was not quite dead and I felt very sorry for what I had done. I buried it with ceremony and vowed never to kill a creature again.
It was when I was a little older that I went to Corrientes (a province in North Eastern Argentina) with my mother, cousin Wenceslao and my Uncle Tony. We stayed at a large estancia that was the property of Uncle Tony’s wife’s aunt. Uncle Tony would take us to the semi-jungle that was populated by hundreds and hundreds of beautiful green parrots. Uncle Tony said they were a plague and with his .22 rifle he would shoot hundreds of them in my presence. Somehow I was not too affected. My doubts at his cruelty began a few years later.
A year later my parents sent me to a summer camp in the Province of La Pampa. We rode horses and galloped after the South American rhea that we called an avestruz
and the gauchos a ñandú
. The son of the owner of the estancia was young and we all worshiped him. He would take us into the Pampa and with his .22 pistol he would shoot three or four birds (his choice of bird was indiscriminate, perhaps random). He taught us how to remove their feathers and clean their insided. He would then put the birds in a pot and cook them with some polenta. He called his stew, polenta de pajarito (or little bird polenta). I don’t recall any negative ideas on this except that I remember most distinctly that owl meat is tough.
In and around 1989 when we were sort of established in our new home on Athlone Street both Rosemary and I were still amateur gardeners. I was furious to see squirrels eating the bulbs that Rosemary had planted. I went to Three Vets and purchased an air pistol modeled to look like a .357 magnum. The gun came with a short barrel and a long one.
I would then open the kitchen door overlooking the back garden and squirrels would scurry to safety much in the same way as turning on the lights at night in a kitchen in Veracruz where the surrogate squirrels are cockroaches.
I felt that if I took potshots at the squirrels without my glasses I was giving the varmints a sporting chance. But inevitably I did hit one. It leaped into the air when I hit it and plummeted to the ground. I went to where it was and, birdlike it was opening and closing its mouth. I felt sad and ashamed. I buried the little animal with ceremony after the coup de grâce in the head.
When Hilary, my youngest daughter found about my squirrel assassination she told me that if I did it again she would report me to the SPCA.
Yesterday while writing on this monitor I hear a loud thump on the big window that is behind the monitor and overlooks the garden. Was somebody throwing a snow ball? I looked and found a little bird on the overhand. It was still moving. It was so sad and yes so private. Somehow I was intruding as I could not help it in any way (no gun for the coup de grâce as someone broke in to the house years ago and stole my gun). This morning the bird was gone. I wonder if by some miracle it survived the collision.
I wonder if when we eat and when we have sex, if those acts are so private and in many ways similar to death itself.
The funny thing is that I miss when Rosemary’s mother was alive and Rosemary would go back east to visit. I would cook a big stake (no potatoes, no greens, just the stake) and read at the table (what a luxury!) while going at the steak with gusto. And when the steak was gone, I would raise the plate to my mouth and lick all the good stuff. Some things are better done alone.
I have watched my mother die. I buried my father with money that a policeman found in his pocket. I have watched many different animals die. But, what is it about birds that is so especially sad?
Down To (Reduced) A Glimpse Into A Woman's Soul
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Today was a sad day for me as I have been trying to supplement my income by teaching in schools that pay well. There is one in particular that has thwarted my overtures for years. My only conclusion is that I am either unqualified or the opposite. And I will leave it at that.
But that will not prevent me from pursuing something that has been in my mind of late. And this is that I believe that I have knowledge in my head that would be a waste if I were to take it to my grave unshared. But the more I teach the more I realize I may have less to teach now than ever before. This is troubling and discouraging.
On the one hand when I teach photography now it does not seem to be the way it might have been when I did some 20 years ago when I shared my knowledge with eager students in BC’s interior for the Emily Carr College of Art Outreach Program. Classes began with the basics of depth of field, exposure, focal lengths, formats and the like. If one were creative you imparted the so called “rules” of photographic composition. An example is the necessary presence of a diagonal line somewhere within a photograph. This injects movement into the otherwise static photograph which by its very nature (length and width) lacks that third dimension which is depth. To teach this stuff now would result in a quick evacuation of my classroom.
When I first began in Vancouver I attempted to be up-to-date with my equipment and to somehow predict trends, or in the small pond that Vancouver was then (1975), create them. Most of my competition at the time shot 35mm and a few of the wealthier and more innovative photographers got bank loans and purchased the Hasselblad with its generous 6x6 cm format. I decided that if I wanted to compete I needed something bigger. I opted for the Mamiya RB-67
. The 67 nomenclature had all to do with the fact that the format (size and shape of the negative or transparency [slide]) was 6x7 cm. I remember vividly how not long after I opened the glossy box that contained my camera on steroids, I received a call from Vancouver Magazine art director Rick Staehling who said, “Alex, I have a job for you and I would like you to try that monster of a camera you showed me weeks back.”
For anybody who has not looked into the necessary elements of design for magazines they might not know that the 35mm format’s aspect ratio (the relationship between the short and the long of it) is much longer that the usually shorter aspect ratio of magazines. This means that art director/designers will slice off sizeable chunks of a photographer’s picture to accommodate it to a page. If the picture is to appear as a full page vertical bleed (the picture occupies a whole page without any borders) that 35mm vertical will loose the person’s head or feet or other relevant elements of important anatomy.
My Mamiya’s aspect ratio with its 6x7 cm rectangular format fits just right on magazine covers and two page horizontal spreads. My Mamiya has served me well and, I might even assert, that the 6x7 format made me extremely competitive in my magazine photography work.
In that pre digital and pre-photographic-application era from whence I came, being competitive meant trying new things or inventing new things to try. This meant I tried the wrong film and tweaked it to my own purposes. It was in the late 70s that I used Kodak b+w Technical Pan Film with my 35mm camera. The film was so incredibly sharp and grain free that some of my photographs looked like they had been taken with a 4x5 inch camera. I showed Chris Dahl, also an art director at Vancouver Magazine some pictures I had taken with Kodak b+w infrared film so he assigned me to take architecture shots of homes in Shaughnessy with that film. It was Dahl who commanded me to try both front and back projection techniques and even (thank you Rosemary!) one day told me, “Alex you print all your b+w negs. Why don’t you do the same
with colour? I want you to shoot some portraits using colour negative and I want you to custom print them yourself to your own specifications”
I tried ring flashes and Hollywood lighting, small soft boxes, spotlights (Fresnel and optical) projected scenes with metal gobos, etc and etc!
But at the end of the day (at what looks like a twilight of a career) the competitive technique for me is now simply eye contact in my portraits.
I wrote about it recently here
. I called it a glimpse into a man’s soul. It was only yesterday that Vancouver Magazine editor, Gary Ross looked at one of those eye contact pictures of mine and asked me the question, “How do you know when you’ve got it?" Much has been written about Art Masters painting portraits where their subjects’ eyes follow you around the room. I have seen paintings on velvet that do the same. There may be even a scientific formula for achieving that sticky look. Perhaps there is some equivalent scientific explanation for explaining eye contact photographs that haunt and those that don’t.
In the picture of Lauren here that I took with my iPhone I keep instructing Lauren to look into a tiny little black hole that is on the left, upper corner of my phone when I point it at her. And yet the picture here satisfies my requirement that this is a little bit more than a snapshot. It is a portrait. It is a portrait that peers into her soul. Does it?
I answered Gary Ross’s question, “I know I have it because I have been doing it for too long not to know.”
Our Perception Of Colour
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
When I first started as a photographer in 1975 in Vancouver I tried to be ahead of the pack. I tried to learn to do what other photographers I competed with were not doing. I attempted to print my own colour negatives as I considered myself a very good printer of b+w negatives. This attempt failed until my smart wife Rosemary told me one day, “I have signed you up for a colour printing course at Ampro Photo Workshops. And that is how I learned to print colour negatives and slides. My bête noir was a lovely red haired Canadian Pacific stewardess who asked me to take her portraits. It was one of my first attempts at “safe” glamour portraits. While the attempt pleased the stewardess in question I never made any money as I spent days trying to get prints that showed her brilliant red hair and yet at the same time that luminous white skin that people of her kind so often have. I failed not knowing that the real problem was a failure of the Kodak film stock to accommodate what at the time we called the magenta/green shift. This meant that by making the hair redder the skin would develop a blue/cyan/green cast. If I tried to make the skin colour neutral the hair would fade in brilliance. Accurate pictures of red haired people would have to wait for the digital revolution that would usher in what photographers who know call a proper white (or custom) white balance.
But Rosemary’s role in my learning to print colour has especially served me well now when I scan my negatives and slides or try to colour correct my iPhone snaps. The understanding in the balancing of colour in a colour negative is crucial to the correcting of digital pictures be they files from digital cameras or digital files (as is my case) from scanned colour material.
Even the scanning of b+w prints and negatives involves colour. My scanner, unless told otherwise, will scan all b+w material in four colours (cyan/red, yellow/blue and magenta/green plus black density). This means that every picture you see in my blog even when it is supposed to be b+w will have some sort of colour cast that I purposely inject, vary and modify. The colour cast will vary for viewers as not all monitors (in fact few) are ever properly colour calibrated.
An example can be the cast of the three b+w pictures here of Argentine Tango dancer Mariela Franganillo. From the moment I saw her dance when she came to Vancouver in 1997 as part of the traveling troupe Forever Tango I thought she was ht stuff. I could have scanned these two negatives and one of the prints (the one with the filed edges) and given it a warmer red/yellow cast. But here I decided that a cool approach would render the pictures as a cool slow burn! On the other hand you can disagree by having a look at the warm alternative and make up your mind.
|Life Library of Photography - Color|
For those who might want to investigate this phenomenon of colour shifts I would recommend from the still available (if you look in good used book stores) Color from the venerably famous series Life Library of Photography. On page 14 and 15 you will discover (as I am forewarning you!) that blue and cyan can be problematic. Photographic blue is purplish in tint and cyan is a green blue. For me the best definition for cyan is the sky over the North Vancouver mountains in late August when you can see winter coming in its inevitability. It is an icy cold blue. That's cyan. It is because of these strange photographic colours that those who know might tint portraits of our prime minister in a greenish cyan and make us dislike him without us being aware to the why!
The Funky Redhead
Lauren Serves Me Sushi
Monday, November 22, 2010
For a while longer until Lauren and Rebecca’s father changes to a new shift in December we will be getting the two girls on Mondays after school. It is fun. Because the girls now go to different schools (since Rebecca graduated from the 7th to 8th grade) I pick up Lauren and then drive to Oak and 41st where we park and wait for Rebecca to get off the trolley. We usually have a 20 minute wait. One day Lauren asked about every switch in the Malibu and I was hard pressed to explain every one. She definitely has a keener interest in how things work than her older sister. A couple of Mondays ago we tried something new. Since Lauren goes to French Immersion she is a bit spotty with her English reading. So she read me a book in the car. We enjoyed that.
When possible I like to have Lauren for a sleepover. She really enjoys our breakfast in bed the next morning. No matter where Lauren goes she moves toys from the big box, in what used to be our eldest daughter’s room, and they follow her. It is now both girls’ playing room. Of late Rebecca has not been in it- since her favourite toy is Rosemary’s laptop.
Part of the fun of Mondays is that the girls’mother shows up for dinner. Last night we had gnocchi with my special tomato sauce that includes barbecued ground meat, cream and wine. Even the most mundane of pasta will taste better if one uses genuine Reggiano. This is something we do.
For dessert I tried something new. Rosemary sliced some apples and I fried them in butter until they caramelized. I then poured three ounces of calvados ( I bought my first bottle ever of Calvados yesterday Monday!) I lit it and when the flames disappeared I removed the apples and mixed in a cup of whipping cream and three table spoons of berry sugar (slightly more refined than normal white sugar). I then poured the thickened liquid into the apples.
Even Lauren had second helpings. But for me the apples weren’t sweet enough so next time I will try canned or fresh peaches.
Lauren tricked me yesterday. In a basket she made sushi with coloured paper. She offered some to me but I declined telling her I really did not like sushi. She returned a bit later and offered me some pizza. I wolfed it down. Once I had done that she said, “Papi, I tricked you. That was sushi not pizza.” I gagged and almost threw up!
Romance in the Napoleonic Wars & Rebecca Has A Coffee Date
Sunday, November 21, 2010
|The Duke of Wellington by Francisco Goya|
Carolann Rule was one of the most interesting and determined editors I ever dealt with in the early 90s. She was the editor of Western Living
and in those days she actually hired me to write a monthly garden column for her magazine. But she had a problem with my garden photographs. One day she told me, “In Western Living
we like nice and sharp (from here all the way to there) photographs of gardens. And they are always taken with a 4x5 inch camear. Yours are much too subtle. Our readers want to know exactly what they are looking at. You shoot through holes in bushes or around trees and muddle it all up.” In one of my finest hours of complete disregard to manners and subtlety (yes, subtlety!) I told her, “If you had been Shakespeare’s editor his 50 sonnets would have all been the same, ‘Let’s fuck.’” Her expression of shock was priceless.
Every once in a while I like to re-read two historical novels, The Lively Lady
and Captain Caution
by American Kenneth Roberts, or such novels by Daphne Du Maurier as The House on the Strand
, The Scapegoat
and, of late, The King’s General
. There is no sex in any of these novels. What passes as sex all happens between the lines. I find that exotic, erotic, titillating and enthralling. I find it romantic and it was never more evident to me than when I went on a binge, four or five years ago, when I read all of Dorothy Dunnett’s two series of novels called the Lymond Chronicles
, and The House of Niccolò
. There was no sex, and if there was any it was just in the minds or imagination of the protagonists who suffered repeated tribulations of unrequited love.
It is because of the thwarted emotions to be found in these novels that my first love as a young boy was Charles Dickens’ Estella
in Great Expectations
. I was Pip, and the colder, crueler and more remote Estella was, the more I fell for her.
This sort of love does not happen much in modern novels. Carolann Rule could be their editor!
On Sunday night I finished the first (I have read all the rest, 10 in all) of Allan Mallinson’s historical novels featuring Matthew Hervey (in the first he is a lowly coronet, sort a British Cavalry equivalent of an ensign or the lowest of the low of commissioned officers). Hervey is a junior officer of a fictitious 6th Light Dragoons in His Majesty’s cavalry fighting with the Marquess of Wellington (no yet a duke) in the Peninsular Campaign. The book, A Close Run Thing
begins in the last campaign in Toulouse when Napoleon is defeated and sent to exile in Elba and before his return, the 100 Days and his final defeat in Belgium.
Hervey’s unit is sent back to England and they fear that they will be left at best at half-pay or their unit will be disbanded because of the then British Parliament’s frugal ways. Hervey goes home to see his parents in Horningsham (his father is the town vicar) and his sister Elizabeth.
When Hervey arrives Elizabeth tells him that his childhood sweetheart has grown up, that she is beautiful and that she is the ward of an Earl. At this point Hervey suspects he does not have a chance for her affections and more so when he happens to run into maneuvers by a local militia headed by the pompous Mr. Styles, a man with means and a father with a large estate. The woman with him, watching the maneuvers (all ill executed and Hervey would know as he is a consumate soldier and horseman) happens to be Lady Henrietta Lindsay, his childhood ideal. He is left speechless. She makes conversation and asks him:
“And what do you think of our yeomanry’s appearance, Mr Hervey?” she added.
“Very fine, very fine indeed, madam,” he replied. If she had chosen the word “appearance” in order to restore the wretched Syle’s self-esteem (and she had a look that said she might), then he did not wish to risk any discourtesy by a critical remark. In any case, his reply was honest enough if by “appearance” she meant only in their fine uniforms.
“And do you not agree with Miss Austen that there is nothing finer than the volunteers in their regimentals? “
“I do not know Miss Austen, ma’am,” replied Hervey puzzled.
“You do not know of Jane Austen” Her incredulity again had the ring of mock surprise. “Miss Austen is our foremost authoress,” she explained, holding up a small volume. “Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Hervey, published only recently. It tells of how the militia win the hearts of the ladies when they come into the district.”
Hervey confessed that neither had he heard of the title.
“Upon my word, Mr. Hervey! You are not so conceited a regular [ a soldier of a standing army and a veteran] as to disdain the affairs of the volunteers?”she chided.
“No madam,” he stammered back, “not at all. I--”
“Then do permit me to read some,” she interrupted. “Miss Austen is so keen an observer of human nature. Here I have it.” She leafed through several pages until a little smile of triumph overcame her.” “I must first tell you, Mr. Hervey, that the book’s heroines are five sisters of singular intellect and sensibility, but all are enraptured by the presence of the militia officers – just as our own yeomanry steals the hearts of all they meet. Now, here is what she writes: ‘They could talk of nothing but officers; and Mr. Bingley’s large fortune’- Mr. Bingley is a coarse-bred sort, Mr. Hervey, much given to show,” (she smiled but her continuing irony eluded him – how was he to know Bingley’s true character? – and he presumed this to be some sort of rebuke) – “‘Mr. Bingley’s large fortune, which gave animation to their mother, was worthless in their eyes when opposed to the regimentals of an ensign.’”
Hervey felt the deep water into which he had stumbled about to close over him. Here again was the mocking child of the schoolroom, of the fallen tree and the captured hat. The message was clear as it might be” she indeed thought little of his show, and the yeomanry were as close as she chose to come to the profession of soldiering. “Forgive me madam,” he said shaking his head, “but I must be away. It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Even as he spoke he thought the words absurd, but he was angry that she had enabled Styles, this pompous ass of an ornamental officer, to re-inflate himself. But, more, he had made her reacquaintance in such a manner as to be both brash and artless. As he trotted away he knew they would be laughing, and great was his relief when, out of sight beyond the trees, he could spur into a gallop.
In a later “altercation” with Lady Henrietta she says:
“Matthew,” she said with a smile, taking no apparent offence at his actuarial recommendation, “have you since read Pride and Prejudice?”
“Well go and do so!” she laughed. “At least, read that passage carefully when they are all at Meryton, the one I read aloud that day – Chapter Six or Seven, I think it is!”
Some day’s later, Hervey’s sister, Elizabeth makes a short entry into her journal:
August 28th, St. Augustine’s Day
Today Matthew and his serjeant left for Ireland and the house is once again silent. Matthew is grown to manhood yet somehow there is an innocence about him which, though endearing, is cause enough for concern. His serjeant is a fine man, however, and devoted to him, and I think no ill shall befall him while he has such a man to serve with. Of any expectation the we had of Matthew and Henrietta we must no longer speak, for he showed not a moment’s feeling for her, or, rather, no ability to convey and feeling if feeling there were – though hers for him was plain to see.
In a later chapter Hervey finally secures a copy of Miss Austen’s novel and reads chapter six and seven:
He began Chapter Seven, now yawning and struggling hard to keep his eyes from closing: he had had little enough sleep during the crossing, and Miss Austen’s was not a voice that commanded them to remain open.
And then he saw it. There, at the bottom of the first page, veritably leaping from the page! “They could talk of nothing but officers; and Mr. Bingley’s large fortune, the mention of which gave animation to their mother, was worthless in their eyes when opposed to the regimentals of an ensign.” He cursed himself for not having looked up the passage before. It was no riddle. Why had he not seen beyond the here-and-now when first he had heard those words? If Henrietta Lindsay were not apt to regard Styles as an officer –and indeed, how could she? (it was plain to him now) - then the passage made perfect sense. True the militia were no more or less soldiers than the yeomanry; but if she likened this Bingley and his large fortune to Styles and his large fortune, then the approving reference to an ensign (for she must be wholly sensible of the difference in name only from coronet?) must surely mean…
Mallinson’s series featuring Matthew Hervey follow his career from Waterloo, to India and to Africa and even to Canada. This reader learned all about cavalry, and how horses are trained, fed and ridden. He learned of diseases that inflict horses and the difference between a musket and a Baker rifle.
Mallinson was so enamored with the Captain Aubrey/ Dr. Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian that he wondered why there were no equivalents to those nautical novels on land and with horses. Since Mallinson had commanded the 13th/18th Royal Hussars (Queen Mary’s Own) he decided to give it a try. With advice from Patrick O Brian he wrote the first of the series, A Close Run Thing
Because of one of those quirks of changing publishers and having small first runs, Mallinson’s first novel became a rare thing and a first edition fetches $900 these days. Until recently I was not able to find A Close Run Thing
anywhere in any shape or form or condition. I finally found it the Vancouver Public Library. Their one copy entered the system in June of this year. The book was originally published in 1999. The New York Times
has never reviewed any of these magnificent novels. What shame!
The origin of "a close run thing or a “a damn close run thing.” By Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington refers to his victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. The Duke really said, “It has been a damn nice thing-the nearest run thing you ever saw...", where he used nice in the archaic meaning of "careful or precise" and not the modern "attractive or agreeable" or the even more archaic meaning of "foolish”. By it the Duke meant that the battle could have gone either way.
These reminiscences on my part on romance have all to do that my granddaughter Rebecca has her first date, a coffee date with her paramour this week. What I would do to be a fly on the wall! At age 13 there is so much time. Why rush it all? Isn't that what romance is all about?
There is an ancillary connection between the portrait of Wellington and Rebecca. Some years ago we went to the National Gallery in Washington DC and I showed her Goya's portrait. At the time on the opposite wall was David's Napoleon in his Study. I told Rebecca, "This gentleman here defeated that gentleman over there."