Me Tarzan, You Jane, A Perfect Saturday Afternoon
Saturday, August 20, 2011
Saturday was not a day that Rosemary looked forward to. Rebecca is no longer the smiling child of a rosy past who would run into the house and out the kitchen door to see what roses would be in bloom. At 14 she is interested in other things. She is confrontational and sometimes quite rude.
This time we knew that there would be one element not in play. She would not pursue the use of any of our home computers nor would she use her iTouch or her cellular phone. Her parents had grounded her from use of any of these items until further notice.
A pleasant Rebecca with smiling younger sister Lauren in tow knocked at the door a bit after noon. Lauren went out in search of Rosemary’s cat Casi-Casi (the cat and Lauren are good friends) and Rebecca, after raiding the ice box sat in the living room too look (and I noticed read) two of her favourite photography books, Hurrell – Hollywood
and Sleeping Beauty – Memorial Photography in America
by Stanley B. Burns , M.D.
After a while Rosemary and Rebecca went to Staples to shop for school supplies while Lauren, by her own volition decided to mop the kitchen floor while I saw to that evening’s menu, chilled cucumber soup and cheese fondue (I cut up the three cheeses, Gruyere, Appenzeller, and Emmental). I made sure my iced tea was ready to go while checking the oven as I had to turn it off and let Rosemary’s Pavlova sit.
Rebecca returned happy and polite and I even persuaded her to pose for me in the garden with her new Ximena Sariñana T-shirt. She balked a bit when I took her out again to photograph her by the extremely blue Hydrangea macrophylla
‘Blaumeise’. She protested about the bugs that converged upon her. She was wearing her now perennial shorts and refuses to use Off because of the noxious chemicals that would cause any number of lethal malaises.
Dinner was just about perfect except that Lauren, Rebecca and even Rosemary were not too keen on my chilled cucumber soup (recipe from my mother’s Joy of Cooking). The fondue was perfect as was Rosemary’s Pavlova in which we had the option of either piling dulce de leche or raspberries on the whipped cream. Gallons of iced tea were consumed (to the peril of a sleepless night I would have predicted). We then retired to the den to watch Johnny Weissmuller
and Maureen O’Sullivan in the 1932 Tarzan, The Ape Man
At first Lauren was bored but as soon as rampaging lions and hippos came into the scene she was hooked. I noticed how in spite of her screaming in the presence of apes, Maureen O’Sullivan’s Jane was a 21st century feminist who knew what she wanted from the very beginning. Perhaps because of my age and having seen the film for the first time sometime around 1948 I was not bothered by the ape-skinned pseudo apes that made Rebecca laugh. Is reality in film now to be so seamless that imagination no longer plays a role?
Perhaps in anticipation of the tension that never happened, Rosemary told me, once the girls were gone, “I am exhausted.”
I was not. I even felt happy that I had been able to converse with Rebecca and give her the advice that if she played ball and smiled she would be able to iTouch, phone (text) and work with the computer without being grounded. I think she may have seen the light and perhaps Saturdays will be pleasant again, as in the past and, yes, today.
Ximena Sariñana At The Commodore
Friday, August 19, 2011
Tonight my daughter Hilary and I went to the Commodore Ballroom on Granville for a concert. We arrived at 8 and there was a long lineup that twisted around to Smythe Street. In all the years that I ever went to the Commodore I never lined up. Vancouver Magazine
rock column writer (In One Ear) Les Wiseman and I were always escorted in through any crowds and we had access to back stage.
This experience with Hilary was a first for me but that did not prevent us from enjoying ourselves. The main reason is that before I ever met Les Wiseman I was a snob. Once I had I became a popular music snob, courtesy of the best teacher in the business, I learned to be choosy of the popular bands I listened to. For example Wiseman once told me, “If you have to like one heavy metal band it has to be Motorhead
.” Wiseman knew his bands and he had an uncanny talent (before the existence of the internet) to spot trends and know which bands were good and which weren’t.
As snobs (and consider we never ever had to pay to get into the Commodore) we would go to listen to and interview warm-up bands and leave right after they played, avoiding completely the main act.
| Mary Joe Kopechne, Buck Cherry, Ian Noble & Randy Carpenter|
Hilary and I did just that tonight. The headline act was some Australian called Sia. We didn’t stay for her or for the act between her and Ximena Sariñana, the singer we were there to see and hear.
My friend Les Wiseman would have understood and immediately discerned that Mexican-born Sarineña is unique in a field of young women who mostly sound alike and wear a minimum amount of clothing for effect. Sariñana’s musical partner, a handsome young man ended up being her brother Sebastián. Even that was refreshing.
|Ximena Sariñana at the Commodore|
On our way out I noticed that T-shirts were being sold. I bought one for Rebecca. The person who sold it to me was Randy Carpenter. I had not seen him for at least 15 years. For him and for me the Commodore has changed. But briefly, as we shock hands, everything was as it was once.
Excitement In Spite Of Redundancy
Thursday, August 18, 2011
|Lauren Elizabeth Stewart, Hydrangea serrata 'Bluebird' |
This may be a subject I have covered before. Yet if I insist it is somehow related to apologizing to my dentist today for having not shown up yesterday for my appointment. He was able to see me today.
I told him (he goes by the nickname of Dental Ben), “I am very sorry for having missed my appointment but I have a very good reason for forgetting. I am attempting to cope with a rapid transition from unemployment to retirement. The British have a very good word for it, redundant.
I am that or perhaps obsolete. I have a problem figuring out what day of the week it is or the time of day. I do not have any kind of schedule. Mondays are Fridays and Fridays could be Wednesdays or Sundays.” Dental Ben smiled at me (he does have a beautiful smile and perfect teeth), and said, “That cannot be true, can it?”
|Nikon FM 35mm lens|
I knew I could not persist with my explanations as he would have wiped that smile away. I wanted to tell him that I wanted to feel useful and that I believe that I am a better photographer today than I was ten or 20 years ago. I think I may have some of my better years in front of me.
My memory is vivid on my obsession with having the right equipment when I began my career in Vancouver in 1975. With so much competition I tried to hone my edge by learning new techniques and went even as far as purchasing a camera (a Mamiya RB-67) when just about everybody was shooting 35mm cameras. My new camera shot a big 6x7cm negative or transparency.
I learned to print colour in my darkroom and I learned a multiple filtering technique with my multigrade b+w photographic paper. I could achieve from one negative a level of shadow detail and softness while not losing the edge of higher contrast. Such a technique is obsolete with the digital process. I can scan a negative (be it colour or b+w ) or a slide and using the Shadow/Highlight tool of Photoshop achieve even better results of showing shadow detail but keeping the picture lively with some contrast.
With lights of all kinds (softboxes, umbrellas, grids, Fresnel and optical spotlights and ringlights) I took pictures in all types of styles. I explored classical Hollywood portraits of the 30s and 40s and dabbled in the effects of film noir using gobos with which I projected Venetian blinds, stars and gothic windows.
I went in every direction until I finally settled on the simple which was one light (a 2x3ft softbox) and got close to my subjects using a moderate wide angle lens. The effect was almost an in-your-face immediacy. When I had my studio I worked with this technique plus I used a gray wall. Depending on where I placed my subject the background became black or several shades of gray. And I settled for that, concentrating on getting something out of my subjects and avoiding special effects and techniques.
Now with redundancy and having no stress to be ahead of the photographic pack I find that I am experimenting as if I were back in 1975.
For many years I had no respect for photographers who used colour negative. Colour negative film enabled photographers to be spotty and loose with exposure as the negative could always produce some sort of salvageable result. I opted for the demanding precise exposure slide film. If you were not accurate it would not produce a useable image.
I began to waver when I found out that National Geographic
photographers when going to places that they could not return (the North Pole, Mount Everest) they would shoot the usual Ektachromes and Kodachromes but, just in case/you never know, they loaded a mechanical (not needing batteries to function) Nikon FM-2 (I own three of them) with colour negative film.
The clincher that made me change my mind and lower my up-in-the-air nose at colour negative film was seeing colour negative prints at MOMA in New York.
Some months ago a friend and model, Anita called me up and said, “I have some film in my fridge. It’s been there for years. Do you want it?” The film she gave me was a no-name 800 ISO colour negative that was probably manufactured by the now defunct Konica Company. To make it all worse the 35mm rolls where 24 exposure rolls. I have never ever used that sort of thing.
|Lauren Elizabeth Stewart & Kirengeshoma palmata |
With this film I have taken some interesting pictures in which one could say that I have used the wrong film for the right situation. I took some pictures of my granddaughters at the Grand Canyon
. Why would anybody use very fast film with the resulting loss of sharpness, detail and gain of contrast? The results sort of speak for themselves. They look a bit like faded and then slightly restored Technicolor.
I photographed the wonderful Bronwen Marsden
in her dark home, early morning. The results excite me and I want to do more.
When we returned from our drive to Texas, a couple of days later my daughter and granddaughters came for dinner. Lauren showed up with her pink dress and a pink necklace. She had lipstick on. I still had an unfinished roll of the no-name film in my Nikon so I picked up Lauren and plunked her in the middle of Rosemary’s kitchen bed where have a brilliant blue hydrangea. I also took some snaps by a Kirengeshoma palmata.
If you study these pictures in which I am unable to completely colour correct you might just figure out why I feel young again and even useful?
Born On Sunday You Will Never Know Want
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Born on Monday, fair in the face;
Born on Tuesday, full of God’s grace;
Born on Wednesday, sour and sad;
Born on Thursday, merry and glad;
Born on Friday, worthily given;
Born on Saturday, work hard for your living;
Born on Sunday, you will never know want.
Birthdays have always been a day of stress for me. As a little boy it meant that my mother was going to give me a garden party and my father would have to make a piñata. I never did ask my mother why piñatas as it was an unknown custom in our Buenos Aires. There would be a “put the tail on the burro” and bag races. Because my birthday is August 31st this guaranteed almost always a windy and rainy day. August 30th was the feast day of the Peruvian saint, Santa Rosa de Lima. The almost certain storm near that date was called Santa Rosa’s Storm. Then there was the birthday cake and I must confess that I have never liked birthday cakes or cakes and general. And then, worst of all there was Monica who was in my school class. She usually broke the piñata, won the games and then would also break my new toys.
I hated birthdays. The paradox is that because I hate birthdays I never tell anybody about it. And then I become quite hurt when nobody remembers.
But I do remember my youth enough to understand how important a birthday really was. The transition from 8 to 9 seemed to be a significant one. I think it had to do with my preference for that odd number and in odd numbers in general. Because in Spanish we do not have the concept of the teenager associated to numbers that end in teen, and simply call it the adolescent years, there was for me no barrier to cross between age 12 and 13. I remember that 15 was an important year and that 14 was a nondescript and blah year.
Becoming a man seemed to have nothing to do with age be it legal or otherwise. I would visit my mother in the late 60s (in 1967 I was 25) when she lived in Veracruz. I would arrive late Friday night in my VW Beetle. In the morning I would hear her say to our housekeeper, “Prepare, por favor el desayuno para el joven.” This translates to, “Please prepare breakfast for the young one.”
A few months later I arrived with my soon-to-be wife, Rosemary and I overheard on that Saturday morning, “Prepare, por favor el desayuno del señor.”
One of the few pleasant aspects of my birthday was that my grandmother, Dolores Reyes de Irureta Goyena
would always remind me that we were both Virgos and because we were both artistic this meant we were kindrid spririts. It meant that while my grandmother was alive I was always spoiled by her and my transgressions were dismissed by statements like, “Because Alex is artistic you have to allow for this.” And almost always my grandmother would take me to the movies to see my favourite cowboy and war films.
Today Rebecca will turn 14. We are not Virgos so my history with my grandmother does not seem like it will repeat itself even though, if I could, I would shower Rebecca with absolutely anything she would want. She doesn't like Westerns or war films.
I went to town yesterday to buy Rebecca a new CD. It was to be the brand new release by the Mexican singer (sort of folk singer) Ximena Sariñana. I first heard about this 24-year-old singer actress three weeks ago when the NY Times had an all page feature on her. It seemed that this acting pro (since she was 8) and who released her first CD in 2008 recently moved to Los Angeles with the express purpose of producing a record where she sings in English. The CD was released two weeks ago.
Alas nobody at the HMV store on Burrard and Robson had ever heard of Sariñana. I had a hard time explaining the ñ in her name. In the end, nobody in town had the CD. Yet, would you believe that she will be the opening act (who follows her I could not give a damn) this Friday at the Commodore? And, of course Rebecca cannot go as she is not 19! I will take her mother.
Since there was no CD and my whole purpose was to wean her away from the usual whining and scantily dressed suspects with an artist who shows some degree of quiet sophistication, I decided to go to Chapters to see what I could find there.
After an hour I purchased three books with hope. I know hope is all it is. Just a few weeks ago Rebecca uttered in my presence, “Reading is stupid,” and she left me uncharacteristically speechless. I know that in my youth I was given books that I did not immediately read but that in the end I did. I can hope for that.
One of the books is about manners. Rebecca’s mother told me on the phone when I explained my purchases, “She will not read that one on pure principle.” Another book is a highly regarded teen novel which if she likes it there are two more. And the third book, I bought on a lark. The cartoons are cute and some are much too esoteric for a 14-year-old. But if she keeps the book she will understand one day the significance of the two identical twin “Roman soldier types” standing by a framed picture of a wolf with the word Mater underneath.
For this Saturday I will prepare for Rebecca her favourite cheese fondue and Rosemary will make a Pavlova with whipped cream and dulce de leche. I will make a large batch of my special iced tea.
I was born on a Monday and Rebecca on a Sunday. We have even less in common. But one thing I do know is that birthdays are special for those of us who love someone who is having one. Giving them something unique and from the heart and telling them that we love them are what make birthdays, birthdays, cakes or no cakes.
Exhilarating & A Trifle Breath-taking
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
On Sunday I went to the 49th version of the Abbotsford Air Show with my friends Sean Rossiter
and Graham Walker
. Rossiter has always been most interested in airplanes and he has written books on test pilots, the De Havilland Beaver and the De Havilland Twin Otter. And when not writing Rossiter can be busy assembling plastic model airplanes. Walker is a graphic designer and (rare in this day and age) an excellent typographer. My guess is that his interest in airplanes has more to do with their shapes and their logos as studies in design.
As for me, I am from that diminishing generation that cannot take for granted the miracle of seeing a heavy piece of metal flying and will look up into the sky whenever the sound of an airplane drowns out that of automobile traffic on nearby Granville Street.
I have a relatively vast collection of books on aviation and there is one that I have a special fondness for. It is called Flying the World’s Great Aircraft
with an introduction by Jeffrey Quill OBE, AFC and edited by Anthony Robinson (1979 Orbis Publishing, London).
This book magically puts me in the pilot’s seat and I am able to fly these wondrous planes without feeling the results of my terrible motion sickness which since I can remember made me eschew even the school swings.
At the Abbotsford Air Show (I plan to write perhaps one or more blogs on it) I took some snaps of an airplane that many would not find interesting. It is not ugly and brutal like an A-10 or huge like one of the battle gray air transports on the tarmac. The plane does not have the cachet of a Merlin Rolls Royce-powered WWII-vintage Supermarine Spitfire or the beauty of a P-51 Mustang that in being able to accompany all the way, the heavy bombers that bombed industrial (and not so industrial) cities of Germany spelled the end of Hitler’s regime.
The North American F-86 Sabre jet (RCAF F-86 Sabre 5 (Canadair Serial Number 23314) in the show was parked almost ignominiously on one end of the tarmac. I approached it and found it difficult to photograph without stray persons hovering around it. I tried and in the end the picture here has someone’s blowing hair on the top left (and I rather like it!).
When it flew it was without the noise of a CF-18. It seemed unmanly and graceful and one could almost forget that this was the only airplane that matched the MiG-15 during the Korean War.
Watching it fly, so gracefully I remembered what I had read in my Flying the World’s Great Aircraft
in a section of the first British jet, the Gloster Meteor:
To a pilot, accustomed to the noise and clatter of a Spitfire, Tempest or Mustang, the dawn of silent, vibration-free flight was exhilarating, not to say a trifle breath-taking. However, to offset the speed with which cockpit checks had now to be performed, particularly in the circuit prior to landing, the simplification of engine controls reduced the work of the pilot considerably. Gone were the aggravating propeller pitch controls and the torque-induced swing on the take-off and landing. Landing was no longer the delicate balancing between flare-out and stall and it was no longer necessary to take care to avoid nose-over through too-harsh braking. It was little wonder that during the twilight period between 1945 and 1952, when jet aircraft were replacing the old propeller aircraft, Mosquito and Tempest pilots looked disdainfully upon the new generation and talked despairingly of the older aircraft still ‘sorting the men from the boys’.
Lt. Col. Bruce Hinton, commander of the 336th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, was the first F-86 pilot to score a MiG-15 kill. On Dec. 17, 1950, Hinton led a flight of four F-86s over northwestern North Korea. To trick the communists, the Sabre pilots flew at the same altitude and speed as F-80s typically did on missions, and they used F-80 call signs.
Hinton spotted four MiGs at a lower altitude, and he led his flight in an attack. After pouring a burst of machine gun fire into one of the MiGs, it went down in flames. In April 1951, Hinton shot down a second MiG.
From Flying the World’s Greatest Aircraft here is Lt. Col Bruce Hinton's account of that first MiG kill:
“I decided to watch the MiG leader but work on No 2, who suddenly popped his speed brakes then retracted them immediately. That momentary drag increased my closure rate and I put my pipper on his tailpipe. My airplane abruptly began a violent twisting and bouncing in his jet wash, so I slid off to the inside slightly, clearing the turbulence. Rangedown to about 800 feet. I pressed my trigger for a good long burst into his engine. Pieces flew out, smoke filled the tailpie, and the flame lengthened out the opening. He lost airspeed at once and I put my speed brakes, throttled to idle and moved in closer to him. We hung there in the sky, turning left, with my airplane tight against his underside in a show formation. We were about 5 feet apart and I got a good close view of his MiG. It was a beautiful, sports car of a fighter. The silver aluminum of pure metal was clean and gleaming…He rolled on his back and dived, trailing smoke and flame, crashing into the snow covered earth below. There was no parachute.”
Hawk One Sabre
The Urbane & The Urban
Monday, August 15, 2011
|Mark Budgen and friend in Lima, Peru|
Guest Blog by new Oliver, BC resident Mark Budgen
The proprietor of this blog has asked me to explain why it is that he would now have to drive six hours in his Chevrolet Malibu to lunch at my house rather than the ten minutes it used to take in his Maserati. This has nothing to do with his change of vehicles but of my location, a move he maintains not to understand. I now live in the hilly, semi-arid confines of the South Okanagan Valley of British Columbia
to which I moved after spending over twenty years in the Queen Anne streetscapes of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood, Strathcona
Let me explain. Alex is both urbane and urban. He exhibits a distaste for all things rural except the books of W.H. Hudson
and, for some reason, Texas ranches. I have been with him on assignments in Buenos Aires and Lima. He had no interest in accompanying me outside those cities to either the flat Pampas (although he did, I seem to remember, visit a semi-urban estancia or quinta on his own) or the high Andes. I did manage to convince him that the beaches of the posh Uruguayan resort of Punta del Este posed no danger. My assertions had no credibility for him because his stomach objected (never mind that the cause was an ill-chosen salad in a most metropolitan Montevideo parrilla).
As readers of this blog well know, Alex’s urbanity is unique. His Anglo-Argentine/Filipino heritage, augmented with dollops of wisdom and strange facts acquired from his sojourns in various Western Hemisphere locales, has given him a worldly air and a well-cultivated and wry humour. He has introduced me to the delightful custom of pouring a shot of fino or amontillado sherry into soups. He alerted me to Tanzanian Organic Tea, a morning kickstarter that makes any other breakfast tea seem soporific. Without Alex’s boyish passion for swashbucklers, I would never have read Arturo Pérez-Reverte
. I’ve also learned (but from his Argentine relatives) that a photographic subject saying “Waterhouse” with an Argentine-Castilian enunciation will produce the most beatific smile. My own list can go on and on and there must be many others equally indebted.
It seems though that I cannot repay Alex as long as I live in rural parts. He does not believe that I still have a supply of Maldon salt
(actually readily replenished from a local Whole Foods). He does not believe that the Azorean São Jorge cheese
that he enjoys is available in a local supermarket in strong and mild flavours. He exhibits no interest in sampling the Okanagan’s red and white wines
that are coming close to or equalling the quality of many imported Argentine wines. This rose and hosta expert refuses to come and give his advice on the varieties in my garden.
Why, he asks, would I forsake urban hustle and bustle for rural emptiness and quietude? Why would a flâneur
forsake city sidewalks for country paths? The answer is easy. I wanted more space so I could hang all my pictures and shelve all my books (easily achieved since I disposed of 6,000 before leaving the city). I needed a larger office. My arthritis requested a drier climate. I spent my childhood on a farm and I’ve regretted not experiencing the smells, sounds and cycles of country life for too long.
What do I miss? Chats and hugs with my daughter at university, most of all (texting is no substitute). Bookstores to browse through (but not such a wrench since Duthie’s
disappeared). The seawall walk around Stanley Park. The park in front of my Strathcona apartment which provided a ceaseless video through my front window of urban activity: Chinese seniors doing tai chi at dawn, children playing, students playing co-ed soccer, dog walkers talking, urban campers sleeping, drug users either high or passed out.
Compared to all that activity my current front window is still. The most excitement is an occasional deer eating my roses and delphiniums. There are cougars, bears and rattlesnakes in the hills above but I’ve not seen them so they may as well be a rural myth. What is not a myth is the excellent coffee and ice cream in the gelateria
five minutes down the hill. There is delicious locally produced honey. There is all the fresh produce and fruit from the orchards and farms around. There is a small concert series, a winter series of foreign films in the local movie house, flourishing groups of artists, gourmet restaurants attached to wineries, amateur theatre of a high calibre and more.
Alex, what’s so hard about rural life that you won’t even come for lunch? Oh, and I also have a Brazilian hammock or a spare bed for a siesta.
In Praise Of A Jewish Mother
Sunday, August 14, 2011
The Jewish mother or wife stereotype is a common stereotype and stock character used by Jewish comedians and authors whenever they discuss actual or fictional situations involving their mothers or other mother-like figures in their lives. The stereotype generally involves a nagging, overprotective, manipulative, controlling, smothering, and overbearing mother or wife, one who persists in interfering in her children's lives long after they have become adults. Lisa Aronson Fontes describes the stereotype as one of "endless caretaking and boundless self-sacrifice" by a mother who demonstrates her love by "constant overfeeding and unremitting solicitude about every aspect of her children's and husband's welfare".
|Rosemary, my mother & Ale|
If I had been given a choice, except for once, I would have chosen nothing.
Let me explain. In 1953 my grandmother who worked for the Philippine Legation in Buenos Aires was assigned to Mexico City. My mother was struggling as a single mom (my father had voluntarily left a few years ago because of his alcoholism) to give me an education while the political situation in Argentina was fanning itself into a soon to come explosion.
My grandmother had a knack of knowing when to leave a country. She had left the Philippines in the early 20s as a young widow with three children and with no opportunity for employment in Manila. She did well in New York City but saw the stock market crash coming and moved the family back to Manila. In Manila in 1938 she sensed the winds of war and immigrated to Argentina.
In my presence my grandmother raised the subject of having us follow her to Mexico. I tearfully objected and I remember most vividly saying, “I want to stay with my father. We cannot leave him behind.” My grandmother countered rhetorically, “If you want to stay with your father you can.” This was not to be and the choice was made by my mother. She had to hire a lawyer to deal with the paper work of spiriting my out of Argentina without my father’s permission.
Once in Mexico City, my mother did not contest the American School’s putting me back one year into the 5th grade. The school explained that the educational systems of Argentina and Mexico were not exactly compatible. I fought this and I was ashamed but I now understand that the decision by the school was a sound one and I had a bit more time to adapt to the language change from Argentine Spanish to Mexican Spanish.
My involvement with the American system of education was put to a test when I finished the 8th grade in Nueva Rosita, Coahuila, Mexico. My mother had been my teacher in a two-room school. She had two choices to have me continue in the Mexican educational system (I would have lost at least a year because of those compatibility problems or an impossibility of transferring my credits) or to send me to the nearest school in the American system. The closest was an expensive Catholic boarding school, St. Edward’s High School, in Austin, Texas. I was not given a choice and I was sent summarily to Austin where I languished in self-pity and homesickness for a few months. Until then I had been a student who had enough intelligence to get by without really trying. I was a mediocre good student. At St. Ed’s I was forced to have study halls and a study hall was imposed on us every evening. I learned to study and soon I was one of the best students in my class.
I had the choice of taking Latin or Spanish. I was lazy like most teenagers of my generation so I chose Spanish thinking I could get by without trying much. I was wrong about this twice over. In Latin I would have learned another language, in my Spanish class only my practical Spanish (I could speak it and write it) helped a tad. I had to learn the Spanish grammar and this was not easy. I now understand that learning grammatical Spanish has served me well to help me deal with the minutiae of differences between English and Spanish which have always fascinated me.
In short I chose the right decision by sheer accident.
In 1974 Rosemary and I were in a dead end job teaching English to Mexican executives in large American companies. On the side we were making some extra money teaching at an American private school. Rosemary then made a decision. She said that we would move to Canada where we would find better possibilities for us and better educational opportunities for our young daughters. I was not really given the choice. Rosemary then further informed me that we would not spend money buying a car in Canada. We would ship our belongings with a moving company but we would drive our VW beetle to Vancouver. She chose Vancouver (she was from New Dublin, Ontario) telling me that I would not be able to cope with snow in Toronto.
Once in Vancouver Rosemary made sure our daughters learned to swim and skate and plunked them into French immersion. When Ale’s English began to deteriorate she took her out of her Mallardville high school and placed her into the expensive York House. Our daughter rebelled but was not given a choice. I told Rosemary that to be competitive as a photographer in Vancouver I had to learn to print colour negatives. I procrastinated for a year. One day Rosemary told me," You are signed up this coming Monday at Ampro Photo Workshops. You are going to learn to colour print." And I did.
Both girls had ballet lessons at the Vancouver School of Music and Ale also had classical guitar lessons. Their ballet teacher was aggressive, shouted a lot and only dealt with the girls that had obvious talent. Hilary was allowed to quit. Ale wanted to quit both ballet and ther guitar. I put my foot down and told her she could only quit one of her classes.
Ale went to UBC to get a BA and a B Ed. At one point she wanted to quit and Rosemary told her she could only quit one of them. Ale graduated with a B Ed and if she had only gone for one more semester she would have finished her BA.
To this day Ale thanks us about having forced her to stay with her guitar as she learned to sight read very well and can even manage the piano at school in Lillooet where she teaches. She is glad that Rosemary forced her to stay on with the B Ed. She has a good job, with good benefits. She is happy.
The other daughter had problems in school with physics, math and chemistry and could not follow her career calling which would have been that of a nutritionist in a hospital. Instead she finished a BA with a Spanish major at Simon Fraser and has repeatedly told us that Rosemary forced her to do something she did not want to do.
Now she is beginning to explore her Spanish routes (she and her sister were born in Mexico City) and I know that soon she will be reading in Spanish.
In this 21st century it seems that my wife and I are at odds with the prevailing idea that children must be given a choice.
With some sacrifice we financed piano classes and ballet/dance classes at Arts Umbrella for Rebecca. She finally gave up the piano. The head of Arts Umbrella, noting an obvious talent offered Rebecca a year’s scholarship. This was rejected by her parents as they asserted that Rebecca did not want to become a dancer.
From my mother Rebecca inherited a talent for swimming. We paid for these classes until Rebecca could swim with style in spades. At that point her parents commented that now that she would not drown, she could quit, as she was never going to be life guard or a professional swimmer.
After having not done too well in riding a beautiful cutting horse in south Texas last year Rosemary convinced (it was strong convincing on her part) Rebecca to take horse whispering classes in Southlands. With lots of confidence she was able to ride the same cutting horse this year but after five minutes told the surprised owner of the horse (my friend Mike East) that she was through. That was the end of her riding career. I would guess that she thinks she would never want to be a professional rider.
My stylist for many years, Maureen Willick told me a few years ago that Rebecca had lots of beauty and presence to make a killing in TV and billboard model advertising. Willick pointed me into the right direction and for a few months Rebecca was making very good money. But her parents did not want her to grow up in the modeling atmosphere and wanted her to grow up normally. The modeling was abandoned.
It was last year that Rebecca wanted to join her school’s volleyball team. She soon found out she was competing against girls and boys who had played it enough years that they had skills that the school did not think worth imparting to my granddaughter.
I can see how it is and I wonder how my mother would have coped. If you somehow want to play tennis competitively you have to start at age 8, ditto for ballet or gymnastics or swimming. If you do not want to be a professional pianist there is no reason to start piano classes. They would be a waste of time even if one considers that learning to read music is a way of developing one’s mind.
The story is going to be repeated with the younger granddaughter. She can barely skate. Classed are being offered on Sundays that involve 30 minute classes with free skating. Rosemary called up Hilary to ask her if this was a good idea. Her answer was the predictable one, “Ask Lauren.” She was asked. Her answer,” I skate well enough. I don’t want any classes.”
My wife is the perfect Jewish mother even though she isn’t Jewish. To this day I wonder what would have happened to my life had I indeed been able to choose to remain in Buenos Aires with my father. For one I would not be writing this. And I do know that if a child is given the choice of choosing, the utlimate choice will be not to.