Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Years - Virginia Woolf

Centre, Alexandra Waterhouse-Hayward, Arboledas Edo. de México

A friend today mentioned that her favourite author was Virginia Woolf and by sheer coincidence I was reading my mother’s copy of The Years, a 1937 edition by Harcourt, Brace & Company. The book may have been rejected by the library of the American Grammar and High School on Freyre Street in Buenos Aires. Since only the rubber stamp of the school library is visible while the library card holder was taken out I must surmise that my mother who taught at the high school did not pinch it but bought it in a school bazaar. The book was owned by a D.H. Stillman. Her name is on the front, with the date of 1937. She also wrote Manila, which she crossed out then corrected with Shanghai. On the back inside cover there is a seal that reads: Chinese American Publishing Co. – The American Book Shop, 160 Nanking Road, Shanghai.

What is particularly beautiful about this novel is the description of the weather which appears at the beginning of each chapter headed by a year. It begins with 1880 and finishes with Present Day (mid 1930’s).

Today’s blog will meander a bit and will ultimately edge into randomness.

Today (I write this yesterday, Friday) was a fine sunny day. There was no melancholy in the sky and in the cold but dry briskness I managed to work in the garden with Rosemary under the watch of her cat, Casi-Casi.

Of all of Woolf's weather descriptions my favourite does not apply at all.


It was March and the wind was blowing. But it was not “blowing.” It was scraping, scourging. It was so cruel. So unbecoming. Not merely did it bleach faces and raise red spots on noses; it tweaked up skirts; showed stout legs; made trousers reveal skeleton shins. There was no roundness, no fruit in it. Rather it was like the curve of scythe which cuts, not corn, usefully; but destroys, reveling in sheer sterility. With one blast it blew out colour – even a Rembrandt in the National Gallery, even a solid ruby in a Bond Street window: one blast and they were gone. Had it any breeding place it was in the Isle of Dogs among tin cans lying beside a workhouse drab on the banks of a polluted city. It tossed up rotten leaves, gave them another span of degraded existence; scorned, derided them, yet had nothing to put in the place of the scorned, the derided. Down they fell. Uncreative, unproductive, yelling its joy in destruction, its power to peel off the bark, the bloom, and show the bare bone, it paled every window; drove old gentlemen further and further into the leather-smelling recesses of clubs; and old ladies to sit eyeless, leather cheeked, joyless among the tassels and antimacassars of their bedrooms and kitchens. Triumphing in its wantonness it emptied the streets; swept flesh before it; and coming smack against a dust cart standing outside the Army and Navy Stores, scattered along the pavement litter of old envelopes; twists of hair; papers already blood smeared, yellow smeared, smudges with print and sent them scudding to plaster legs, lamp posts, pillar boxes, and fold themselves frantically against area railings.

It was a sunny day but after a short hour in the garden my cough began and so I came inside to look over two big thick photo files called Mexico and Mexico 1975 (we moved to Vancouver on that date).

The pictures here do not seem to hold a pattern except that they all came from two contact sheets in b+w 35 film. That they exist and that I could scan them (they are in excellent shape) is a miracle. That miracle is because I washed (to remove any vestiges of fixer) those processed negatives for hours in Mexico City or in Arboledas, Estado de México where we lived for four years until 1975. Some of the pictures are of a long forgotten performance in an Arboledas school in which my eldest daughter Ale, who was around 6 danced ballet.

I told Rosemary about today’s blog and in particular showed her the picture of her with Hilary (three years old) on her lap. She said, “They are boring. Who would want to see it?” I explained that this marks the 8th year of my blog and that by now I should know what I am doing? What am I doing? I am writing this blog for myself, to please myself. I am the publisher, editor, art director, only photographer and I can put up whatever photograph I like and want. Rosemary was silent. And unlike Virginia Woolf’s March there was no wind to mask the silence. And yet, The Years ends: The sun had risen , and the sky above the houses wore an air of extraordinary  beauty, simplicity and peace. That's the kind of day Friday, a January day was.

Note Rosemary's legs & that's Hilary on her lap.

Hilary sleeping on the floor in Arboledas. The Chapultepec Park train

Ale in our Arboledas home, circa 1973

Jean Glasser, first violinist of he University of Mexico Symphony, yours truly and Hilary

I have no idea who they are. By 1974 I was taking pictures
of wealthy Mexican families
I took this at Ale's ballet performance

Portrait taken by Raúl Guerrero Montemayor