Independence As It Slips Away
Saturday, September 17, 2011
|Alex & Mosca 1992|
Just a few days before my female cat Plata went AWOL
for 24 hours I was looking at her with affection. I was also glancing at Rosemary’s male Casi and realizing how much those cats depend on us in spite of the fact that cats are known to be independent (self sufficient?). They depend on us for food and water although the latter they can get from our garden pond. They depend on us for their precise status quo/routine. They come to our bed in the evening (and even sleep on it during the day). Plata is extremely affectionate (only when she wants to) and in the evening she will lie by the side of my back and in the morning she will be on me applying (I believe with purposeful intelligence) pressure on my bladder for me to get up and feed her. I have no doubt that Casi is in on this and they plot to get us up early so they can be fed and go out to explore in the garden.
During those sad 24 hours it occurred to me that having one cat less that depended on us meant that it would be easier to take care of Casi if we were to go for a week to Mexico or elsewhere. It means that we would not have to impose the burden (and depend on her) on my younger daughter Hilary to come and get the cat out in the morning and then have her husband Bruce bring him in, in the evening. We could simply board the cat at the SPCA or equivalent cat motel.
Thinking about this dependency thing brought me to a hitherto unknown territory with what seemed a bolt of lightning.
As a child I depended on my parents but as soon as I could I went on my own. And yet that independence I sought was not entirely so. In the early 70s Rosemary and I were going through financial straights in our new home in the outskirts of Mexico City. My mother was staying with us and she loved her upright piano on which she played Chopin, Mozart and Beethoven. She offered to sell her piano to get us out of the fix. I saw no other way out so we reluctantly accepted her offer only to bitterly regret years later (after she died) on how cruel we had been and how large her selfless sacrifice had been.
When she died we had to pay for the funeral. Again we had little money in the bank. Rosemary’s parents offered to pay and they did. I felt embarrassed but grateful at the same time.
In all these years I have treasured our perceived independence, particularly the financial one. But since I want to be honest here, I must credit my wife Rosemary for being the one who is singly responsible for this independence. She is the one that took the risks (brought us to Canada, made us buy a house we really could not afford in the beginning) and brought us were we are today. We are hard-pressed to fix our house and arthritis will eventually take me out from garden work. We will have to sell. No matter if the market is up or down we will then have sufficient money to live, I hope without depending on anybody else.
But it is Plata’s 24-hour disappearance that brought me to realize that an individual’s life most often follows the path from being dependent, to being independent and having people and animals that depend on the individual. As we get older those that depend on us become independent and at the end of the day those two cats are our only dependents (and the plants of our garden). I depend on Rosemary and she depends on me (to open jars and medicine bottles). When one of us is gone will the cats be the only ones left that will need either of us to be around?
The bolt of lightning that hit me was that when we no longer have someone that depends on us, our perceived independence will quickly slip away and we will then depend on someone else. And that can be demoralizing, heart wrenching and embarrassing. Is there any other way?
Friday, September 16, 2011
|Josh Martin - Dancer - 2008|
I feel quite up and up. My dead cat came back very much alive and I bask in the knowledge that I had a couple of jobs from the Straight this week. Like my cat I am still much alive. But the mild euphoria is tinged with some regret of what could have been.
I have, for some years, been engaged by the folks on West Broadway to photograph every year the principals for the fall arts preview. In recent years they added comics to their list of visual artists, dancers, actor/directors, and musicians. Two thousand and eight was the last year I was able to take individual photographs of each dancer, musician, etc. This means that I could emphasize the actors’ or dancers’ individual sensibility and style. I attempted to bring to all the individual shots some sort of theme. In 2008 the theme was the colour red.
|Charlie Gallant - Actor - 2008|
The next year brought a new cost cutting approach which has been the rule since. I have to photograph these people as pairs. The dancers, the comics, etc are photographed together. Many times they do not even know each other. It is a tough job to somehow combined the idea of what they do while in some way maintaining a sense of the individual. It is this that dampened my almost happy mood of these past days. The pictures do not entirely work. The theme was a Vancouver location. Thus the dancers were on the roof of the Scotia Vancouver Dance Centre, the musicians by the Orpheum, the comics at City Hall (looking for UFOs), the visual artists at the Morris and Helen Belkin Gallery and the actors at Havana's table 9.
The purpose of this blog is to reveal and instruct on the thought process that I arrived at. Perhaps some of you readers might have found a better method.
The technical side of thing is as follows. In all, I used a Mamiya RB-67 Pro-SD with Ektachrome 100G. In all I used a 2x3 foot softbox with a flash shooting through it. For the comics, the musicians and the visual artist I used a battery pack Norman 200-B
which I purchased in 1977. For the dancers and the actors I used a somewhat newer (25 years old) Dynalite power pack with a Dynalite head.
For the photos except the comics and the dancers and the musicians I used a 90mm lens. For the comics, musicians and dancers it was a 50mm wide angle.
|Meredith Kalaman & Daniel Marshalsay - Dancers - 2011 |
|Kevin Bennett & Anita Rochon actor/directors - 2011|
|Kathleen Allan and Iman Habibi - Musicians - 2011|
|Andrew Barber & Adam Pateman - Comedians - 2011|
|Raymond Boisjoly & Rebecca Chaperon - Visual Artists -2011 |
A Happy Ending To Summer's End
Thursday, September 15, 2011
|Summer's End - 2005|
Yesterday, Wednesday caught me in the euphoria of being on the top of a bell curve. I had such a moment with my friend John Armstrong
some ten or more years ago. We were navigating the Hemlock ramp north into the Granville Street Bridge at a considerable and most illegal speed in my Maserati Biturbo
. I remember telling Armstrong, “When this car runs well there is nothing better!” I spoke much too soon as within hours the car developed a very loud transmission clunk. These clunks are tenacious, they never go away. They get worse.
I was telling myself yesterday (when I was up on that bell) that I had just received an important call that almost (not quite) means that I will be taking all the official portraits of soon to be anointed federal leader.
At age 69 that anyone would even consider calling me for such a job felt amazing as was the fact that I had not only taken the five pictures for today’s Fall Arts Preview in the Georgia Straight
, but they had also called this arthritic invalid to take two other pictures, one of which was a fun (fun in the end, read on to find out) session in my living room studio with Vancouver Poet Laureate Brad Cran.
I had not seen my beautiful “snow leopard” female cat Plata since 11:30. By the time the sun began to go I had a gut feeling that she was never going to return. In spite of my melancholy I was thinking about the curious fact that cats can be kidnapped but never catnapped. I thought this was the case or perhaps it had been a marauding coyote from VanDusen. By last night Plata had not returned.
I (my wife is in Lillooet) have had this experience before. You go out to the back door and strike a cat food can with a spoon. You search in the bushes with a flashlight, expecting at any moment (as I did once) to find the cat eviscerated by a raccoon. I got into bed and thought of Plata and all her cute quirks and I was not even so angry anymore of her persistent attempts to keep possession of one of our better Indian rugs by peeing on it. I had finally found a way of preventing this.
Plata walks with me around the block, just like a dog. When I arrive in the Malibu she goes out to the street. I place my hand at waist level and she jumps to lick my hand. She likes to sleep on towels. Rosemary has one by her computer in her “oficina”
. There is a towel on one of our bathroom sinks. She sleeps on that. And when we take tub baths Plata sits on the edge. At night she sleeps on my legs or behind my pillow. Luckily I am not allergic to cats.
|Plata on my breakfast tray on fridge|
In the morning, because she wants to be fed, she jumps off and rustles the newspapers or bites the edges of notebooks or any pocket book that my be around. If that does not get action she scratches the corner of our mattress.
When I watch films on TCM she likes to sit on my lap. She had a fondness (understandable) for John Wayne movies directed by John Ford.
|Plata in La Oficina|
But she was gone. Every hour I would get up and call her name at the front door and then the back door. I was coldly making up my mind that this time around I was not going to put posters on telephone posts or call all the pet hospitals and SPCA. If she was gone she was gone.
My melancholy was compounded by a family problem I will not elaborate here. The problem was big enough that my heart had split one side in the direction of Plata and the other on my disappointing relative.
I did not sleep a wink. Not quite. I had a dream - a very real dream. Plata appeared and told me,” I went away for a while because I wanted my own space. I needed that. But I am back now.” The dream was cheerful but I woke up and knew it was all a sham.
By the time Poet Laureate Brad Cran appeared in the morning for his portrait session I told him all my troubles and of my dark melancholia. I asked him if he could write a poem on demand. “Impossible,” he told me.” "I am one of those laboring poets. I take my time.”
After a successful session we sat in the living room where I persisted in telling him of my ills. He surprised me, “ I have just written your poem in my head. Where is your computer? I will write this on one condition. That is that you do not read it until I am gone. If it needs further work, don’t ask. It would take me a year.” He left. I read the poem
and cried. If anything, after such a terrible evening/day this was at least a palpable and beautiful gesture that I will never forget.
A few hours later I heard a meow and opened Ale’s closet in her old room. Plata jumped out all hungry. Life is almost grand. Isn’t it?
A September Morning
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
|Brad Cran, 2000, Alex W-H|
Guest Blog by Vancouver Poet Laureate Brad Cran
A September Morning
For Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
Now the rain finally comes
and with it family disappointment
and a Melancholy dream.
When I wake it is still true.
The cat must be dead.
Brad Cran, September 15, 2011, 10:35 AM
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Much has been written about not judging books by their cover. And yet by now most people will avoid (at least this blogger) blood-red books displaying swastikas on their cover or a slew of books sporting the “Norwegian Style” which are the books that mimic the look of Stieg Larsson's novels.
But it was a book cover that sparked my interest last March when I visited the new fiction section of the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library. I was instantly curious to the contents of book in which its cover title was displayed vertically so I had to twist my head to read The Vaults
by Toby Ball (fully horizontal).
I took the book home and read it that evening. I was amazed at the atmosphere of the book which this unliterary blogger might just call style. It was different.
As a successful magazine in photographer in Vancouver since 1975 I can attribute much of my success in that my photographs have a clearly identifiable style. It is a style that is my own. I recognize in The
Vaults such a style, a unique one. In this day and age of Flickr and digitally extruded photographs it is almost impossible to find photographs where you might be able to identify the photographer. So many photographs look the same.
Thus in fiction there I see an emphasis on plots and complex characters and in many cases unlikely events that most of the time end in a most likely manner. For style I look to José Saramago (whose events are most unlikely!) Andrea Camilleri, John le Carré and now Toby Ball.
I remember reading Robert Harris’s Fatherland
in 1992 which was an alternative history novel in which Kennedy was the president of the United States. The wowing wrinkle was that the Kennedy in question was John Kennedy’s father and Hitler had won the war. The ubiquity of four door VW beetle taxis and that the Lufthansa airliners at La Guardia were Junkers kept me reading and the book made me a fan of Robert Harris to this day.
I can say the same with Ball’s The Vaults
. The city, never given a name and perhaps set in the 30s is reminiscent of a decaying Detroit in the 80s and 90s. It is believable and real. This city is washed with characters amongst which, the journalist (a kind of journalist that is becoming extinct in our present time of citizen journalism) Frank Frinks is full of idealism but happens to be addicted to pot. The city houses blacks called negroes who live in separate sections of the city. The mayor is corrupt and blames the Communists for his troubles. Anybody trying to organize labor to improve wages and working conditions is persecuted as commie. There are shades in this novel that point to similarities to the state of New Jersey and its present governor!
Toby Ball has written a sequel, Scorch City (St. Martin's Press, August 2011 ISBN: 978-0-312-58083-4, ISBN10: 0-312-58083-5,
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches, 384 pages) with Frank Frinks still smoking pot 15 years later. I have read the first three chapters sent to me courtesy of the author. I am in a hurry to write here that The Vaults are alive and well and live in Scorch City!
The first paragraph reads:
Moses Winston had learned from years of being a stranger everywhere he went – such was the life of an itinerant musician – how to recognize trouble and how to avoid it without backing down. It never did him any good scrapping in a place he wasn’t known. So as he walked through the smoky shantytown alleys, breathing fumes from the tar roofs baking in the sun, he kept his head up and his eyes on nothing in particular, save the occasional passing woman who, even today, earned his glance. This day, of all days was one to stay out of trouble.
Soon we find out what the trouble is. A dead white woman has been found on rocks on the wrong side of a river that divides the negro shantytown from the city. Frink is summoned by one of the black leaders to see if in some way the police can be persuaded to investigate the death (we do not yet know the circumstances of her death) as if the body had been found on the white side of the dividing river.
That is more than enough to inform anybody reading this blog that Scorch City
will keep you reading in much the same way as The Vaults did.
The names of the protagonists were one of the many delights of The Vaults
. I enquired with the author via email who explained:
I’m often asked about the names that I use in The Vaults (and will use in my next book, Scorch City, due in August). I saw picking names for the characters as part of the effort to create the city where The Vaults is set – a dystopian, multi-ethnic, 1930s American city where corruption is rampant. I wanted the names to convey a variety of European ethnicities. Where do they come from? The quick answer is that if you follow international soccer, most of the last names will be familiar to you: Frings, Henry, Bernal, Puskis (changed from Puskus), Van Vossen, Altabelli, Pesotto, etc. National team rosters are a great resource for last names, some so good that they seemed too good to use – Morpheo, for instance.
A few others had different origins. Feral Basu, for instance, started as Feral Singh. The idea was to have a character with a nickname that indicates the fear he invokes in his acquaintances but also conveys a mistaken sense of savagery. Feral is very dignified despite his capacity for violence. I changed his last name from Singh to Basu. Both are Indian last names, but Basu seemed like it would be harder to definitively place (the mayor can’t figure out his ethnic background).
And Toby Ball has now informed me further on the naming of names:
Scorch City continues the practice of using soccer player's names, with Wome, Westermann, and Grip springing immediately to mind. I've been working so much on the third book that Scorch City seems like a distant memory at times.
Those of us who may be fans of The Vaults
and soon to be fans of Scorch City
only hope that Toby Ball take care of himself and finish that third novel. We will be waiting.
The Vaults a Borgesian novel
Monday, September 12, 2011
When I frequented the concerts of Art Bergmann
. I always made sure to show up early so that I could be up by the edge of the stage so I could watch Bergmann perform and play that guitar like nobody can play the guitar. There was another person who seldom missed those concerts. He was the man who was Bergmann’s drug dealer (in those days of the 80s Bergmann was a heavy user). I could see him play air guitar and he would purse up his lips to look cool. I always had the impulse of going up to him and slamming him with a punch. I could almost imagine Bergmann’s energy being sucked by this man who took and took but seemed to be unable to give anything back except to feed Bergmann’s addiction. His profits from his drug deals took him to many a vacation to Mexico and the sun.
Bergmann is much in my thoughts these days as I photographed him a couple of years ago when he came to town for a rare concert in which because of severe arthritis he was unable to play his magical guitar.
I had yet been hit by my own brand of arthritis, something called psoriatic arthritis which is making my hands painful as well as my elbows, wrists and arms. On some days I start the Malibu with my left hand as my right hand is so painful I am unable to turn the key in the ignition.
Fortunately I can still use a camera unlike Bergmann and his guitar or to the topic on hand Jane Rule and her hands with which she wrote fantastically luminous prose. In fact, as I have written here before I photographed her in 1991 when she announced she could no longer write because of her severe arthritis. That she lived on until 2007 seems to me some sort of hell on earth for a woman like Jane Rule.
While the tone of all this might sound grim I am going to key in a paragraph from her autobiography,
Taking My Life
I almost feel guilty and embarrassed in doing so. Because, as they say in Spanish (saludando con el sombrero ajeno
), I am greeting you with someone else’s hat. If any of you readers just happen to cruise Twitter or facebook you will find that a high percentage of social networkers produce very little, manufacture very little, and create little. They limit their postings to mostly reading, either hard copy, a film, an on line magazine or paper or a video on YouTube and they then tell you, “Check this out!” Those who might go to these links, urged by their social network friend, might then, without any effort on their part “like it”. When those companies that produce the content (at great expense and the use of specially trained talent) cease to exist what will we link to? Will we then make stuff?
Looking back at the young man with his air guitar, it seems to me that he did a pretty good job. He looked pretty good. He was graceful and there was passion and energy in his air guitaring. I wouldn't be surprised if he might just post a video of him playing his ghostly guitar.
And here is that Jane Rule paragraph:
I remember remembering when I was born. My practical young mother said nobody could. But I did remember dreaming and dreaming and that first waking to the hard light. By the time she read me Mary Poppins
, I realized that I, like most people, had forgotten not just my birth but apparently the language of birds, the ability to fly, to walk into the landscape of pictures and to be home among the stars. Just that one sensation remained – the painful brightness. It was not enough to make me into Mary Poppins
, but my memory became for me the earliest self-discipline I had. I couldn’t, after I learned to write, keep a diary, just as I couldn’t later take notes in lectures. Writing anything down seemed a way of forgetting it. I wanted to memorize my life so that whatever experience taught I would not forget. The difficulty, of course, is that what may seem to be static interference could be instead the very melody of life, the dismissed clutter, the real furniture of the soul. The fear of such loss, even our starkest nightmares, are consolation, for they store and restore us things we have not chosen to recall.
When I thought how I would illustrate this posting I thought immediately of a photograph I took last year that I had filed as Gothic St. Ed’s. Every time I have gone to Austin and stayed on campus (I have done this three times recently) I have managed to find the time to walk alone around Old Main in the evening. The place seems to open my memory banks and stuff I did not know I had in me comes out to delight me or to scare me. After having read this Rule paragraph I must return and see if I, too, can discern that hard light that marked my birth.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
All above photos of Lauren Elizabeth Stewart, 9, were taken September 10, 2011.
What is there to say?
|Lauren & the sailor dress at 4|