Resistentialism & Corrupted, The New Bogeyman
Saturday, January 29, 2011
It is an image that is embedded in my brain. I was driving my VW Beetle on Paseo de la Reforma sometime around 1970. Paseo de la Reforma is one of the most beautiful boulevards in the world. It was built by Emperor Maximilian in the 1860s so that his beautiful wife Carlota could see him come home from work from her perch at the Castillo of Chapultepec. It was this castle (the Halls of Montezuma) that had been stormed by American Marines in the war between Mexico and the US in 1847.
The car in front of me suddenly stopped and I almost rear ended it. A beautiful woman in an extremely tight red dress got out and she opened the hood. I watched her remove one of her also red high heel pumps. She then proceded to bang at the carburetor. My guess is that she had some sort of vacuum lock and the bang dislodged it. She got into her car, started it, and drove away.
I am not sure if the woman in the tight red dress knew what she was doing or if it was just look. I am convinced that the moment you understand what a clutch is and how it works is the moment it is going to begin to slip. It is almost as if ignorance of the workings of an inanimate but quite mechanical object is indeed an example of ignorance is bliss.
My eldest daughter Ale is the only person in my family who is able to assemble anything we might buy at Ikea. She seems to have an innate concept of how things work. This did not prevent her from seizing up the engine of her four door Honda Civic in the late 80s. She had inherited the car from my wife who was now driving a big odd sounding (five cylinders!) Audi. Ale always made sure to fill the windshield washer receptacle confusing that with the radiator which she ignored. When the last of the water of the radiator was gone so was the engine of her Honda. I did not laugh at her because I have problems with machines.
In fact I became aware of the problem that humans have with machines in the late 50s in a Ray Bradbury short story that features a man who is quite unkind with the appliances of his house. While shaving in front of his mirror one day the electric razor goes at him with not too pretty results.
This is now called resistentialim which is the concept that inanimate objects can and sometimes do get back at their human creators and users.
My wife has the talent of turning on electric switches in our home and statistically burning more light bulbs than her husband.
She has an innate distaste for any container, especially the kid-proof medicine ones. She goes after them with force and is never able to open them.
From the very beginning that I learned that the key to successful photography in Vancouver was:
1. To call a client and not insult them and then set up an appointment to photograph them.
2. To show up on time.
3. To produce one useable image.
I realized that showing up on time, was to show up a lot earlier (even another day) to check out the problems of outlets that don’t work (the lounge area of the Vancouver Dance Centre does not have one outlet that works) and other vagaries that would prevent me from snapping a picture. This meant that if camera A did not work I had to have Camera B. If Lens A (a favourite portrait lens) might fail I better make sure t pack a second equivalent one. Being a photographer is like being an engineer at NASSA. You have to have a back up.
If something photographic is going to fail, it will more often than not, happen to me. I have done everything possible to ameliorate resistentialism in my life to almost no avail. I might get paid $500 for a job and spend the same sum fixing something important before a shoot.
As a matter of fact the actual act of getting a job these days brings with it enough resistentialism to break my bank.
A couple of weeks ago I did not know I would get a couple of jobs this past weekend and one tomorrow. So oblivious to that rosy future I sent my 25-year-old Dynalite pack to be repaired in Calgaray. Upon seing my flash pack and the two accompanying flash heads, the repairman wrote, “Your Dynalite does not owe you anything.”
I own three Mamiya RB-67s. Why? Before I even had suspicions of digital camera revolution, one Mamiya was my workhorse, the second was the backup should the first one not work or perhaps be worked on by my repair genius Horst Wenzel. The third Mamiya was for parts should they ever be necessary.
I was not counting that Wenzel would keep my first Mamiya in working order all these years. Yet as I get my equipment ready (I am using a backup to my Dynalites in my Norman 200s which are ten years older than the Dynalite) I am unsure if my two film backs will work properly. Wenzel did not want to cannibalize one of my extra film backs (for the now discontinued 220 film) so he made a new spring for one of my two failing backs. The spring may be much too tight. I am going for a job in which it is conceivable that even though I need only one back, both might fail.
After a successful session with a mezzo-soprano and a soprano on Friday I had the film( Ektachrome) processed and took it home. The deal was to scan it and send one of the better shots to the Georgia Straight by Monday.
Friday night my computer began to loop. It would boot and re-boot. It was then that my friend Paul Leisz (when I frantically called him with my problem) used the bogey-man word for the 21st century. By the end of the 20th we were always resigned to the futility of anger and protest when our bank or service station attendant might begin an explanation with, “Our computers are down…” In fact I am almost sure that many a would-be harp player has plunged to hell because St Peter at the pearly gates might say, “Our Heaven’s Gate automatic lock will not work. The computer is down and even God…” I am almost sure, too, that the heating in Hell always works.
All of the above is but an overture to the on and off (appropriate since the resistentialist happens to be a computer and its peripheral relatives) purgatory that I am living these last days.
John Chan at Powersonic Technology Inc in Richmond (he has saved my ass many times) informed me that the hard drive of my looping computer had a corrupted registry.
There, the new bogey-man word for the 21st century. “ Lady the onboard blue-canine resistor of your BMW is corrupted. We have to order the part and there is nothing we can do for you know.” It is futile to even attempt to fight, protest or even beg for help when the big C word is brought up.
When John Chan brought it up on Saturday noon (how would I scan that transparency by Monday morning? ) the solution became a relatively inexpensive new computer that Chan put together for me from component parts by 6 that afternoon. My friend Paul Leisz helped me (far more accurate, I watched) re-install the necessary programs like Photoshop, etc. I went home Sunday afternoon a happy camper with a brand new computer that I hope will serve me to my grave as the corrupted one was 7 years old.
It was not to be. As soon as I was scanning the transparency my screen went reddish mud. I finished the scanning and used my memory to memory and some parametric guessing to bring it back to what I thought was the right colour.
By 3 in the morning into Monday I was unable to calibrate my monitor. I could not achieve a neutral gray. It all looked dirty pink.
My experience with breaking things has at least brought me a level of objective forensics that I came up with two possible sources of the cyber-resistentialist (I hereby claim the originator of that compound term). It was either a failing 8-year-old Dell/ Trinitron CRT monitor (showing solidarity to the now departed 7 year-old computer) or it was the new video card.
Today Monday (I am writing this Monday evening) I took the monitor to Grant Simmons at DISC. It worked just fine there. The grays were gray. It had to be my computer.
I went to Powersonic but John Chan was not there. Roy ( forgot to ask him for his surname) calibrated my computer while standing up telling me he was unable to get the computer to go to its colour default so he had taken my computer back a few days before I had fiddled with monitor in an attempt to get the monitor calibrated. This worked and the grays were gray – until we turned the computer off and on again. It was back to muddy red. He seemed to solve the problem.
But as soon as I got home I had to re-calibrate. I have done this so many times that I will not sleep tonight calibrating a monitor in my head!
Paul Leisz says that the good folks at Powersonic will have to replace the new video card and he is sure that permanence will soon come to the gray areas of my life.
I am choosing to illustrate this with the picture that is my desktop picture. In the last few days I have stared at it hard as I move from left to right and play with gamma, and density and more of just that after that.
La Clemenza di Tito, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Salieri & Liszt
Friday, January 28, 2011
|Ariel (Ari) Barnes|
Nottingham-born novelist Robert Harris wrote one of my favourite what if
historical novels. In Fatherland
Hitler wins the war and Kennedy becomes president of the United States. Of course the Kennedy is John F. Kennedy’s father Joseph whose pro hitler views he shared with the Duke of Windsor.
In music there is one big what if
(and a slightly smaller one) that would have pretty well eliminated the possibility of Mozart and Beethoven ever becoming the composers they became. Had that happened then Schubert and Brahms would not have been admirers of the former two, and, you get my drift?
That big what if
involves Georg von Reutter the director of music of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. A chance visit by von Reutter in 1740 to Hainburg, not far from Joseph Haydn’s hometown of Rohrau, precipitated the events that could have had severe consequences but, fortunately for all of us, were resolved by Haydn’s father Matthias who besides being the town mayor happened to be an amateur musician.
Haydn was a young choir boy singing for his relative Johann Matthias Frankh who was the Hainburg choirmaster. Frankh arranged for an audition with von Reutter who immediately took the young Haydn to Vienna. By all accounts Haydn had a beautiful voice and, when he was about to reach puberty, von Reutter summoned Papa Mathias Haydn and urged that his son become a castrato. He might have possibly suggested that Haydn’s income as mayor was not a good one and that his son’s sure to be fame would help pay the bills.
We know that did not happen, big what if
, out of the way!
The smaller what if
is begins in January 1791 when Mozart celebrated his 35th birthday. That year he composed two operas at the same time, which he finished before his death on December 5. One of the operas was The Magic Flute,
the other, less famous has a more interesting story. It seems that there was a new Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold II ( aka Peter Leopold Joseph Anton Joachim Pius Gotthard) was to be further crowned as King of Bohemia in Prague. Leopold commissioned Antonio Salieri to compose an opera with a libretto by one Metastasio (aka Pietro Antonio Domenico Trapassi). Metastasio ) had written something on Roman emperor Titus. Salieri was too busy and turned down the Austrian emperor in mid July, who then commissioned Mozart. There were many delays and in the end Mozart composed the opera La Clemenza di Tito
in 18 days. It was inaugurated, on schedule, in the first days of September.
Some dismiss La Clemenza di Tito
as too old-fashioned. I might have agreed except for a marvelous and wondrous opportunity which I experienced last night. I watched the first act of La Clemenza di Tito
at the rehearsal hall of Holy Rosary Cathedral.
My vantage point was on a chair facing Tina the accompanist on piano. For rehearsals that’s generally it, but not this time. Next to Tina was Ari Barnes on cello and next to him, standing when he was directing and sitting when he was playing and directing was Jonathan Darlington on a small Mozart-era replica fortepiano. I wondered why?
Ari Barnes explained that he and Darlington accompanied the recitatives. I wondered how the fortepiano (which does not play as loudly as the modern piano) would be heard at the Queen Elizabeth. Barnes told me that at the QE’s (which with the recent improvements must have better acoustics) the fortepiano might just be miked.
I listened to the wonderful voices of the principal singers which were that much closer than they would be at the QE. Because this opera has women playing men, the women who were men wore pants and the women who played women wore large skirts. All this was not important to me. Here I was listening to a Mozart opera with two instruments (the cello and the fortepiano on the recitatives) and the piano and the cello for the singing parts. This was Mozart at a bare and beautiful minimum.
I was there to observe Hungarian-born and Toronto-based mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó who sings the male role of Sesto, and of her lover in the opera, soprano Wendy Nielsen. I am to photograph them today. I have seen tenor John Tessier (who plays Tito or Emperor Titus here) many times so I enjoyed his rehearsal performance as well. And then there was mezzo-soprano Norine Burgess, who wore pants, sopprano Kathleen, who wore skirts and Brett and base-britone Thomas Goerz. It was all wonderful and more so since I would have never expected to experience any opera as I experienced this one.
The normally elegant VO Musical Director Jonathan Darlington was dressed in an over his jeans (with upturned cuffs) striped shirt. He and Barnes were constantly smiling as they played and even exchanged hushed comments. They were obviously enjoying the experience. All, while Leslie Dala, the choir director read the music and made sure his choir was up to snuff. I could not but admire his handsome Hungarian profile, with much longer hair, Franz Liszt?
To those who will attend a performance of this opera I urge you to listen to the recitatives and then just imagine a couple of the smiles you see here. This opera is that much fun.
In the intimacy of the surroundings I felt like Leopold II himself.
Vancouver Opera's La Clemenza di Tito
opens February 5.
Mud Pies, Escargots & A Sunset - Spring?
Thursday, January 27, 2011
|Begonia rex 'Escargot' |
Yesterday almost felt like an early spring day so Rosemary and I went out into the garden and do some early spring cleanup.
I also used the opportunity to cut our Christmas tree into four separate parts with an electric reciprocating saw. I cut some of the branches with my secateurs so I was then able to get rid of the tree in the green bin which will be picked up by the city next week. There have been some years where the tree has been on the side of the house into mid February.
Every year we have chickweed infesting our rose bed. I spent about an hour removing it all by hand and getting my hands viciously attacked (even if they don’t mean it) by my dormant roses. The most aggressive of my dormant roses is a very large rambler called Albertine. When she blooms in June she has a spread of about 18 feet. One of her canes was looking brown so I cut it off. This sort of drastic action usually results in new canes coming up in the spring. Drastic pruning action can rejuvenate a rose. But Albertine, true to form (and I was too lazy to go inside to get leather gloves) left my hands with many scratches from its very large thorns.
While we were working in the front we could smell the delicious smell of our two sarcococca bushes. The plant has minute small flowers that pack incredible scent for size. Best of all there are not too many other plants that bring fragrance to a late January garden.
By the time we decided to go inside my lungs felt cleaned by the fresh air and my joints while sore seemed to be a bit more flexible.
I could have scanned the flowers of our sarcococca to illustrate this blog. But I have already done that here
. I opted for our strange Begonia rex
‘Escargot’. It has taken us about three years to figure that it grows nicely outside from spring until late fall. We then bring it inside and keep it in our dining room which is the coolest room in the house. There the begonia even flowers, as today’s scan attests to. The leaves are three or four times larger than the one you see here but in order to keep a good balance with the flowers I chose a smaller leaf.
As I write this is it is Thursday and Rosemary and Lauren are out in the garden as is Casa our 18 pound cat. I can see them from here through the window. Lauren is making mud pies by the rose bed. I got angry with her when she entered by the kitchen door to wash her hands. She had not removed her shoes so she left her marks on our white kitchen floor.
As was preparing to "fix up" the iPhone snap I had taken of Lauren making her mudpies I noticed the sunset. I turned off my desk light and took both the image on my monitor and the sunset at the same time. I am not into snapping sunsets but this time I thought it all very special.
Upside Down Logic
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
For years I have been complaining to my daughters that my wife Rosemary has such habits of drinking her decaf coffee in mugs that she leaves around the house, never finished. After a couple of days the 10 mugs we might have are all here and there and the coffee leaves stains that have to be scrubbed. I have been unable to convince Rosemary to try using only one mug. I have one very large blue one in which I drink my tea. Or I might complain how Rosemary makes piles upon piles of papers which she mixes with newspapers. Then when it is all taken to the recycle it has often taken with it some of my hard earned cheques. Then we have to look through piles and piles and if the cheques are not found I have to call my clients to issue a new one.
I think that when one has been married since 1968 it is difficult to make someone change if they haven’t yet. I am absolutely sure that Rosemary calls our daughters to complain about the piles of negatives by the computer in the living room or about the piles of old photographs, negatives and slides which I say, every day that I am going to file. If anything complaining to our daughters is a sort of venting.
But there is one line of logic that escapes me. I am told that I cannot tell or mention to my oldest daughter that she should stop smoking. I am not to correct my granddaughter when she loses her temper and shouts because I do the same thing.
The line of logic is that even if you no longer smoke (I haven’t for something like 14 years), you cannot tell anybody not to do it.
One would stretch this logic to the point of stating that murderers should not tell us not to kill or that reformed criminals should act as advisors and help youth avoid a life of crime. Experience of this sort is to be shunned.
There are many bad habits that began, in some cases relatively recently if you consider our time as bipeds on the planet. It was Christopher Columbus in 1492 who spied on some “Indians” in what he called San Salvador inhaling smoke directly through their noses from some strange longish cylinders of something we now call tobacco leaf. He observed and as an “intelligent” Western European decided this habit could be improved if the mouth were used instead of the nose.
By our conventional logic, even if Columbus’ “Indians” were smoking before Europeans happened upon them, the habit did not exist as such. And we can now predict that the habit will all but be gone in a few more years.
There are some that think that Gutenberg’s invention, another recent one if we look back at the history of our species as bipeds on this planet, is about to be superseded. They maintain that the very act of turning pages will soon be as much a memory as tying shoe laces and having sex with someone we know.
In the 80s, both Kodak and Fujicolor came out with colour negative film and transparency film that had a built-in sun tan. I kid you not as I used to purchase the film. The men in white smock who were doctors on TV and who said they opted for Lucky Strikes also spoke of healthy looking tanned skin.
I remember coming from Mexico in 1975 and going with my wife and daughter to the Stanley Park Zoo. It was there that I saw a family whose skin looked liked translucent pre-Gutenberg parchment. How could these people parade around the park showing off such unhealthy skin is what I was thinking about.
For at least five years I frequented Wreck Beach and acquired a pretty good tan. I did not go to the extreme of twisting my arms so as to sun tan my armpits. It was later in the 80s that we photographers would go to weekend photography seminars at the Four Seasons that were organized by then highfalutin advertising photographer Derik Murray. I always made it a point to sit behind beautiful photographer Heather Dean. She was an expert in taking photographs from helicopters and she had the most perfect suntanned armpits I have ever seen. Since she had become engaged underwater to her beau (who pulled the ring near a reef) on the Cook Islands I was convinced her tan was a perfect and honest one.
My wife is now sporting a painful tan on her chest and we have not even gone to Mexico or enjoyed piña coladas with a straw from a coconut. Her sunburn is the result of 24 sessions of cancer treatment radiation. Her affliction (the cancer is gone), the sun burn, simply reiterates in my mind that the concept of healthy Lucky Strikes and a healthy tan are a thing of the past.
I tell my students that American photographer Paul Outerbridge pioneered in the 1930s a form of colour photography called the color carbro process. Outerbridge’s nudes are a fantastic example of the wonders of the real colour of human skin, especially when it is of that awful-to-me Stanley Park pallor that I noted back in 1975. In fact Outerbridge’s cabro nudes were never improved by anyone, no matter what form of colour film was used until the advent of the modern digital camera with its custom white balance. If I could now I would pursue the redhaired nude, and would even buy a digital camera, if the right kind of redhead came along!
I am sure that few remember that built-in sun tan film that Kodak used to sell. While I tanned my skin to perfection (and I never did use sun block but opted for baby oil!) I will be the first to advise you that this is a bad thing. And I will tell you this, even if while at Wreck Beach I did take my first nudes, and from there, to make that form of photography important to my life.
Deborah, the beautiful woman hanging upside down from a log at Wreck Beach had a perfect tan and beautiful hair. She had an English accent and a very gentle demeanor. I only photographed her once. I hope that like me, touch wood, she has not developed any kind of complications which are the result of having acquired such a healthy tan.
But then you should not be listening to me because, I did smoke and I did sun tan.
Flaming Sambucas, Cheri & Emma Does Not Peel Anymore
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
For many years I was a connoiseur of ecdysiast art. I remember the first practitioner that I ever saw in Vancouver.
I remembered, in fact, many years later when Rosemary and I were eating in my favourite fast (but slow enough for it to be really good) food joint, Nando’s on 41st very close to East Boulevard in Kerrisdale. We sat down after we had ordered (in my case it’s the usual extra hot chicken wings which are generously slathered with South African Piri-Piri). Immediately we listened to two loudish cockney women who were shouting and being shouted at by what sounded like a murder of Dickensian street urchins. We moved, near the entrance to the restaurant. I soon forgot and I went at my 12 wings with gusto.
During the middle of this, the noisy cockneys paraded past us. I recognized one of them. She had been that first ecdysiast I had ever seen at the Drake Hotel sometime around 1977. She had gone by the name of Emma Peel. Emma Peel was no taller than 5ft. She was compact and she had straight black hair and huge black eyes. And because she had such an accent, we connoisseurs called her English Anna.
When an ex-ecdysiast tries to live the normal boring life that most of us live who do not practice H. L. Mencken’s-defined dance profession, she (and a few of them of the male sex, too) they sometimes live in the fear of being discovered in situations or places where their art would rather be in the background.
I decided to say nothing and she passed by. But I changed my mind and called out, “English Anna!
She came back, looked at me and smiled and then said, “How are you Alex? This is my son…”
The boy, who was about 9 asked me, “Why do you call my mother English Anna
?” I fired off my answer quickly, and never embarrassed the ex-ecdysiast, “Because of her accent!”
The second Menckian dancer I saw in Vancouver had the loveliest face, the longest legs (she once in a high step broke her nose with her knee) and the most perfect chest, pale as pale can be, round as round can be and with two little…but I will not continue...
Her name was Cheri and I had the good fortune to photograph her many times. The pictures you see here are from the first time and then the second or third. I had a basement studio in Burnaby with very low ceilings. It was pretty well impossible to get a head to toes shot of anybody. But I was youngish and I did not let that bother me. Because I was a former amateur and not quite a professional, my photographs had a combination of luck, dumb luck, allied to a desire to experiment into the avant-garde which remains in one until one starts making money. As soon as that happens, one becomes conservative and formula-bound.
The pale pictures, I suspect, where E-4 Kodak Color Infrared film which I balanced to more-or -less get a halfway decent skin tone by using an orange filter. The resulting color, in combination with overexposure (I am sure this bit of luck was purely accidental), left me with pictures I absolutely hated until today. With my scanner on my left of my monitor removing the dust that has been embedded into the film emulsion, I see a certain quality which I could never match now with any film at my disposal.
It is tragic that my self-imposed decency code prevents me from showing here Cheri’s magnificent breasts. In fact I actually used two Photoshop tools, the clone stamp and the healing tool to remove the offending bits of perfection.
It may have been a few months before I ran into English Anna that I was having soda water with a bunch of architects and a couple of journalists at the Marble Arch. They were having pitchers of beer. Because I was friends with the nominal owner of the joint, one Tony Ricci
, it meant that my soda water was bottomless (a curious designation in a joint that featured that, plus, topless). While my friends did pay for their pitchers, the Greek man behind the bar always sent us a tray of flaming Sambucas, on the house.
Smoking was still permitted and some of the architects and one of the journalists smoked into my face. As an ex-pipe smoker their smoke offended me. The shine was off for me. I had seen enough ecdysiasts. As far as I was concerned as soon as we all forgot who Mencken was, the profession went down the drain and those up on the stage were simply making the motions. I wanted to leave. One of the men at the table said, “Let’s go as soon as she shows us her tits.
” Somehow in the context of the place this still offended me and I promised to myself I would never return. I never did.
A few months later I stopped at the Number Five
, another joint nominally owned by the Italian. I asked him, “How are things?” “Not too good. But what can I do? I am married, I have children and this is the only thing I know how to do.
” I bid him goodbye and I haven’t seen him since.
The Czar's Daughter
Monday, January 24, 2011
|Anastasia at the Marble Arch|
“Isaac, can you be a little more specific than that?”
“You know the history books. Anastasia was Czar Nicholas’ youngest daughter. Most people think she was killed with the rest of the czar’s family after the revolution. But every five or ten years a woman would show up, swearing she was Anastasia”
“And you met her at the Christys[Christy Mathewson Club].”
“No,” Isaac said. “I knew another Anastasia, when I was a kid on the Lower East Side. She came to our school on winter, out of nowhere. It was during the war. She was a refugee. From Russia, I think. I don’t know how the hell she escaped. But she was living with some uncle or aunt. And she had all this European culture. She’d studied ballet in Moscow or Budapest. She could rattle off French until our teachers were dizzy. She’d read Turgenev and she was thirteen. We were all in love with her. And she played with us, said she was Her Imperial Highness, the Princess Anastasia…Anastasia with torn socks.”
“And what happened?”
“I told you, Sweets. I was crazy about her. Once she took me home to tea. Her aunt was poor as a mouse, but she had a samovar, and we had this black, black tea with strawberry jam in glasses with a silver handle…it was high society.”
“Did you kiss her?”
“I never had the chance. She lasted one winter with these torn socks. And then she was gone…to a different uncle our aunt. But Sweets, she had the whitest skin. You could almost feel the bones on her face, see them move.”
“And you want to find her?”
“What’s her real name?”
Isaac held his check. “Anastasia. That’s what we called her in class.”
The Good Policeman, Jerome Charyn, 1990
Glory Holes & The So 2010 Social Media
Sunday, January 23, 2011
A few months before September 1991, I was called by Argentine-born designer Roberto Dosil. His firm, Praxis Design, was producing a beautiful brochure (one of the most beautiful I have ever seen) which was going to follow the process of the making of a single glass blown vase.
Coast Paper was celebrating 50 years of existence and had commissioned artist Edward Jolda of Andrighetti Glassworks to make 750 vases, one each for every employee of the company.
I was dispatched by Dosil to document the making of the vase. There were two methods available to me. One was to go on different days and, little by little record all the stages of the making of a vase.
For me that would have been cheating. I decided that no matter if I were being paid a rate for so many hours I was going to take my chances and stay for the making of one vase from beginning to end. There was always a possibility that the vase would break somewhere doing the process. I took my chances and Jolda did not break the vase in question that appears from beginning to end in Dosil’s lovely brochure.
The place of work for Jolda was hot and I took the pictures in the height of summer. To record the event I decided a small camera (a Nikon FM-2) was my best bet and I used Ektachrome 800 for the shots. I cheated and for the last shot (the second one here) I brought in the heavy artillery with my Mamiya RB-67 and took it with a bigger transparency. It was at Jolda’s that I found out that the adjustable cavity in which he inserted the work-in-progress was called a glory hole.
Of late these two words have been in my mind on a completely different topic that is not related in the least to vase making.
My thoughts, if I am to state them here in chronological order, must begin sometime in Buenos Aires around 1965.
While riding trains and subways, men, and they were mostly men, would suddenly appear at one end of the car and give us a spiel on some product they were selling. Usually they were the then ubiquitous plastic strips that men inserted on the underside of their dress shirt collars to make the tips stiff. We Argentines called them ballenitas
(or little whales as the original ones had been made of whale bone). I remember that I made it a point, as did just about everyone else, not to look at these salesmen in the eye.
I used the same method when driving my VW beetle in Mexico City in the late 60s. While waiting at a traffic light we were bombarded by fire eaters, little boys selling Chiclets chewing gum and forlorn women, with a baby in arms, offering us lottery tickets. By the time I left Mexico City in 1975, when traffic in the freeways had begun to grind to a halt, there were young women offering oral sex while one drove bumper to bumper.
Again my method was never to look at these people in the eye. I have always used this method with big dogs that are likely to jump up on me to lick me. I have noticed that if you do not look at the dog, the dog will ignore your presence.
By then I felt guilty in making these poor street sellers non persons. I told my wife Rosemary about it who not only did not give me any comfort but she also did not offer any alternative method of dealing with them.
When we arrived in Vancouver I was astounded to find that you could buy gas for your car without having to communicate with anybody. It was really neat that after a long day of work I did not have to answer to anyone the perennial question, “How are you?” or “How can I help you?” It felt liberating not having to talk to anybody. I did not have to say goodbye.
I used to squirm in embarrassment when in those mid 70s I would take my family to a Keg Restaurant for a steak dinner (and that salad bar!) and our waiter would come up to us and in a most friendly manner tell us his name and that he or she would be our waiter for the evening. I was used to the stiff and formal Argentine and Mexican waiters. This was too much!
It was at about this time that Rosemary and I were invited for “after-dinner-drinks”. I was astounded that some people in Vancouver did not bother to cook for their guests and expected them to show up with full stomachs. I came up with the statement that Vancouverites were as cold as their tap water.
On the other hand I longed and did get some satisfaction during the late 90s when I met Argentines Nora Patrich and Juan Manuel Sanchez
. We enjoyed the Argentine habit of drinking mate
from a gourd. The method of pouring hot water into the gourd
(which is full of the mate herb) and then to sip, one person at a time will do this until all liquid is gone and the mate has to be filled again) and passing it around would clash in North America. Several persons using one metal drinking straw (a bombilla) without being able to wipe it or clean it? Not acceptable!
Argentines Nora Patrich and Juan Manuel Sanchez
So for all the years that I have been in Vancouver I have noticed how we seem to withdraw from human contact. Years ago you might take you car to be washed in a place that hired people, at a minimum wage, to cheefully deal with ice cold water as they wiped and cleaned your car. You paid extra for that human touch even if you did not (or I didn’t) look at them in the eye. If you did you might have the obligation of having to tip them and even thank them. Now we have the touchless car washes. They must be better because there is no human involvement. I cannot wait for machine filled ice cream cones instead of the usual hand-filled scoop we enjoy now.
It was in the 80s, during the sexual revolution that preceded the appearance of HIV that Vancouver was all ablaze with a gay life that was in your face and quite gay (to use the original meaning of the word). It was in the late 70s that I had worked for a gay publication called Bi-Line
. It was during that stint that I first heard the word glory hole. I soon learned what they were but always in a hush-hush manner. Sometime in the late 80s a woman, whose name I have forgotten, dressed up as a man and went into a glory hole establishment in San Francisco which was the Mecca for out-of-the-closet gay life. The woman (a sort of 20th century adventurer version or Sir Richard Burton gazing at the Kaaba in 1853) wrote about her experience for either Playboy
. Whichever publication it was, it left me shocked for a long time. Our intrepid reporter did not have the necessary personal equipment to go through the experience but she did explain that men would go into a small stall (in Victorian times these booths existed and the peep holes in them were called glory holes) and insert their male member through the glory hole and someone, on the other end, would do the desired servicing.
What struck me about the glory hole was the paradoxical intimacy that was depersonalized.
That made me think of old Nympho-Marcia. At St. Ed’s High School in Austin, Texas the 9th grade and 10th grade dormitories (50s of us lived sleeping on bunk beds in a huge room with two story high ceilings) had a pay phone outside the door. It didn’t take us long to devise a wire, made from a coat hanger, that we would insert through the coin return. With a deft turn here and there we could use the phone to our heart’s content without spending any money. Marcia would call us on Friday nights. She talked sexy. She would lead us on and promise to meet us in the back row of the film theater down on Congress Avenue. She never did show up. We didn’t know it yet but we were pioneers in what has become known as either phone-chat or phone-sex. We could say things to Marcia (we used to call her obscene names and she would always rise to the occasion as much as we did) that we would not have even dared to even begin to say to our virginal girl friends (those of us, and certainly not me, lucky to have one).
It was also in these years that we would go to the other side of the city, by the University of Texas to have hamburgers in one of our day student’s cars (only day students and not boarders could have a car) and enjoy being served by beautiful waitresses in roller skates.
It was at St. Ed’s that in living in a dormitory for two years and then in rooms with three other and then one fellow classmate that I learned to stick my head out of the shell and become social. This has been and acquired pleasure that I have not ever let go of even though I find that it has become more difficult and perhaps even endangered in my contemporary times of 2011.
My friend Tim Bray an Android guru and a guru of XML and other goodies I have no concept of, has recently Tweeted: The term “social media” is so 2010.
I felt like commenting (but I rarely do in Twitter), “How about anti-social media?”
Whatever bitter cynicism might have been conveyed by my comment, it would not have been given the time of day by anybody. There is no way it would have become “viral”.
If I have a Twitter account my excuse, I believe, is a valid one. It gives me the opportunity to study and watch how my world is changing. I am on facebook (and do remember that facebook is not to be capitalized!) for the same reason. My sole method for staying in facebook is by placing a short sentence in Spanish (why not?) to announce some aspect that has a connection with that day’s blog. I might just insert in my facebook status when I finish this blog: El agujero de la gloria y lo impersonal
So much has been written about the impersonal nature of facebook and all those other so 2010 social networks. There is nothing that I can add here that I feel is fresh insight except my equating the concept of the depersonalized intimacy of the glory hole as a metaphor for what is happening to our world right now.
On Friday night I took my granddaughter Rebecca to Bishop’s. We were greeted by the hostess, the Portuguese maître d, by our server and we had many conversations with John Bishop himself. We talked on how Spanish manzanilla
fino is called that because of its colour that is similar to manzanilla
or chamomile tea. We talked on how Seville oranges
are loaded off the village of Burriana on to ships headed for Scotland. We chatted with our neighbouring table. It seems that they were Rebecca’s mother’s bosses at work. I hear a woman at another table say El País
. I knew that made her a Spaniard so I got up and enquired if she read the column by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
in the venerable Spanish newspaper. She asserted that she did. When we left., Bishop, the waitress, the hostess and the Portuguese maître d bid us goodbye.
I thought that if I could I would go back to those days in Burnaby when my wife and two daughters painted the town red at the salad bar at The Keg. Would the waiter still talk to us in that easy and warm manner that I now so appreciate?
In this 2010 I do see some hope of remaining truly social and personal even though the names at the end of my hard-copy 2011 diary are reduced to a few of the many people I knew. Few will answer the phone if I call them. They all have Call Display. They know I talk too much. They are waiting for, they hope, for Twitterized phones that will go dead after 140 characters.”Why don’t you learn to text message?” they just might tell me if they indeed do answer the phone.
Another possibility is a phone version of the send-to-everybody Christmas/New Year’s form status e-mail.
“Hi Ian, John, Robert, Sally, etc (a special phone app would only mention in my voice that person’s and only that person’s name) I am well I hope you are well, too. I have psoriatic arthritis but I don’t have skin rashes. I do have inflamed pinkies and my doctor, Doctor Verdejo, says I don’t have gout. I am disappointed as I was going to buy a case of claret and enjoy the positive reasons for having gout. Goodbye.”
But that would not wash as we have (those of us who still have land lines have answering machines) voice mail and that, too will soon be Twitterized.
It reminds me of a conversation I once had with Western Living’s
editor Carol-Ann Rule. She was explaining to me how she and her art director did not like my garden photography. “It is too indirect. It has too many corners which are out of focus or where you shoot through bushes. We like garden photos that are sharp from one end to the other. We don’t like to guess at what we are looking at. We want to know exactly what it is we are looking at.” I remember answering (and I have to admit that while Miss Rule was shocked, she took it), "If you had been William Shakespeare’s editor, his 154 Sonnets would have been reduced to one and it would have had a single line, “Let’s fuck.”
But first you have to look at them in the eyes. You never could in San Francisco's glory hole days.