The Robe At The Gran Rex
Saturday, February 09, 2013
In 1953 I was 11 years old. My parents took me to the Gran Rex on Corrientes for the premiere of the first CinemaScope film, Henry Koster’s The Robe
. It featured Jean Simmons ( I fell in love with her that evening) a very young and unknown Richard Burton, a saintly and very tall Michael Rennie who played St. Peter. Not noticed by yours truly until today, was that my hero from Have Gun – Will Travel,
Richard Boone is the man in the film who washes his hands many times. Boone plays Pontius Pilate.
In those days the Gran Rex was Buenos Aires finest (and still is). It was designed by a famous Argentine architect, Alberto Prebisch and built in 1937. In the 50s all films featured an “acto vivo” or live act. The live act that evening was for me a boring thin looking singer called Frank Sinatra.
The film has a section in which Burton (playing Tribune Marcellus Gallio, a converted Christian) is with his former slave, the wounded Demetrius, (played by a teary Victor Mature) on a wagon being pulled by handsome white horses. They are being pursued by Caligula’s Praetorian Guard. To us as those horses ran in our direction on that huge wide screen, this was as close to real 3-D as anything we had ever seen before.
|Cine Gran Rex|
The best part of the film is the over-the-top performance of Jay Robinson as Caligula. To me he was scary and hateful. The ending was sublime for me.
If there is one lasting effect of that film in me it is the colour of Jesus’s robe which affects Tribune Marcellus’s sanity. He feels guilt for having been the commanding officer at the crucifixion. The robe is red.
Today Rosemary and I watched the film and when we saw a close-up of the robe and Jean Simmons rubs her hands over it I knew my memory had not deceived me.
How was I to know that all these years later that my mother’s red Mexican rebozo
was the exact same colour and as homespun as the one of the film? I suspected it but today it was confirmed.
Many would say that The Robe is one of many typical Hollywood Roman/swords/Biblical extravaganza in the tradition of Cecil B. DeMille’s with a cast of thousands.
I had not seen The Robe since 1953 and I would say, that some stuff is over the top but I must also state that as I watch my 15 year-old granddaughter self destruct (it is temporary I say to myself) I think that part of the problem is that now the only dream world or fantasy world of a child is Harry Potter and Tolkien. There is no religion, no belief. In fact it was not too long ago that my granddaughter ticked atheism as her belief in facebook.
The message in The Robe may be over sanctified Christianity, but until something else can be found to help the young dream, I don’t see a life without some belief in any organized religion as one that will help a young person grow in a correct path.
But then there is always the possibility of lightning and thunder on a road much like St. Paul’s. It is never too late, not even for a tax collector.
Friday, February 08, 2013
was a dummy.
Bach's Suite For Cello In D Minor Revisited
Thursday, February 07, 2013
Today I went to see my urologist Ercole Franco Leone. I arrived early with one purpose which was to look through the pile of magazines in the reception room. I hoped to find the latest copy of the Malahat Review.
Why was I looking for it? Read here
But there was no Malahat Review
and I contented myself with reading, a Vancouver Public Library book that I had brought, The Bookseller – The First Hugo Martson Novel
by Mark Pryor. It is a terrific tale about the American Embassy in Paris security head, Hugo Marston who gets involved with a countess’s daughter and a kidnapped bouquiniste [look it up!].
Dr. Leone is the kind of doctor who could have an ancillary career as a person able to expertly talk down someone about to jump from a high bridge. In fact I would buy a used car from him. But the idea of shaking on it is not all that pleasant a thought, after all this man is an urologist who mainly sees older men who have problems with their prostate. I will not go any further and I am sure you can all figure it out.
I explained to Dr. Leone (who was amused) that I had owned a brand new Volkswagen Beetle in the early 70s in Mexico City. I had it serviced at one of the many VW dealerships of the city that were always fronted by a tall German in a white doctor’s coat (with a demeanor similar to Dr. Leone’s) who would give me the keys to my car after it had been serviced. He would proudly show me a perforated IBM style computer sheet (VW was early in the use of computerized engine diagnostic) that had a graph with four parabolas. They all shot up. I knew that eventually one or two would begin to plummet. This was a sign of the lowering of cylinder compression which to anybody who might know just a bit about car mechanics is the sorry lapse into what ends up as an expensive ring job.
I told Dr. Leone that I felt like an old VW and that all four cylinders were now in plummeting mode and that I could not expect a ring job or the equivalent of an n engine rebuild. I told him I was prepared to live with my decline as long as he kept the plumbing in some sort of working order. It seems that this is a possibility. I will not suffer the fate of my idol English writer J.G. Ballard who died of prostate cancer not too long ago. But that pesky prostate will surround that little tube that leads to my you know what and it will pinch it and pressure (a ring job?) will diminish.
Up until now the idea of visiting the powder room three or four times at night is a pleasant experience. I am able to go back to sleep no problem. One of the pleasures of sleeping is certainly not sleeping. If you never wake up the pleasure is not there. Some people call that concept rest in perpetuity.
In my situation I get that nice about to fall asleep feeling many times and then I do wake up. But expect that soon I might not be able to return to sleep every time. I told Dr. Leone of this concern.
I left his office with my dignity ever so slightly diminished by the complete examination. I knew I would want to get home as soon as I could. I wanted to re-read Lorna Crozier’s poem from that Malahat Review:
On Bach's Cello Suite NoO. 2 In D Minor
Lacking the violin’s higher reasoning,
its closeness to the mind, the cello
without touching, knows the lower body
best, the shame and glory of the belly,
the bowels, the inner thighs,
the sweat and stain of things, holy and otherwise,
—this, the cello’s music, the dark vibratos,
the pitch and muscle of their sounds.
Wednesday, February 06, 2013
In 1995 I traveled to Chiapas, Mexico on assignment for Soldier of Fortune Ma
gazine. The story was that there was a contingent of “irregulars” who happened to all be from Burnaby, BC which was fighting in Chiapas with Subcomandante Marcos and his Zapatista Army of National Liberation to help free the state from the repressive state government of Norberto Ochoa. The story for some reason never did run. The writer who used the pen name Buzz Ware disappeared and was never seen again. I guess that looking back at this I should feel awfully lucky to have survived intact. I have never seen any of these boys in Vancouver so I cannot speculate as to what might have happened to them.
A money order arrived for me for $1000 in an envelope with no return address. The stamp was a Nicaraguan stamp. The cheque was from the Banco de Londres y México.
My First Time
Tuesday, February 05, 2013
|Kraft peanut butter|
Not too long ago I was listening to a Beethoven piano bagatelle on CBC Radio while driving in the city. It was so beautiful that I had to stop to listen to it. By then (not that long ago) I had an early non-digital cellular phone. I called up VSO pianist Linda Lee Thomas
to tell her of my experience. Her husband Jon Washburn answered the phone and his comment to my wonder at the bagatelle was a, “To listen to something like that for the first time,” which he expressed with the longing of a paradise lost.
I remember many of my first times. Today’s came from Rosemary saying, “I am hungry, I think I am going to have some peanut butter
. That will satisfy my craving for something salty.”
Memory has compressed what may have been four separate events into two and they all happened in Buenos Aires between 1949 (I was 7) and 1951.
My mother was a teacher at the Buenos Aires American Grammar and High School. Her students were the children of parents who headed big American companies (General Motors, Ford, etc) or were from the American Embassy. This meant that she often brought goodies given to her by her students or from functions at school.
One day she came home and had me try a white bread sandwich with something she called peanut butter. Another day it was a salty cracker with poppy seeds. Another day she brought some boxes of Lime Jell-O. To this day Lime Jell-O in all its artificiality is my fave.
Another day she sent our housekeeper Mercedes to purchase (I had never heard of the word before) something she pronounced as ketchup but she pronounced it in Spanish catsup
so Mercedes would be understood at the corner almacén.
I was 20 and in the Argentine Navy when my Irish secretary (I was a conscript but my position as aid and translator to the Senior US Naval Advisor meant I had a secretary who typed all my hand-written translations) offered me some La Vascongada brand peach yoghurt. I told her I refused to eat anything that involved rotten milk. She insisted with her big blue eyes so I relented.
Since that that day I have made for lost time and I have yoghurt almost every day. Peach Yoplait is my favourite.
I was 17 when I consumed my first half bottle of Bourbon. The owner of the bottle returned to our boarding school room to find it empty on the floor and me in a drunken stupor on my bed. He kicked and kicked me while screaming, “You drank all of my Bourbon.” Since then (and I am 70) I have not been drunk more than three or four times.
My first time at sex happened when I was almost 20. I was much too stupid or nerdish to understand the motives or desires of women. One in particular was both Jewish and black, "My name is Benjamin but you can call me Benji." To have a black and Jewish girl friend in Mexico City meant that people stared and stared.
I was about to leave Mexico City to Buenos Aires when an Argentine woman friend of mine, in strictest confidence, told me that the black and Jewish woman had terminal leukemia. It was in my power to make her happy…
The short of that story is that at least two years later I kept receiving in Buenos Aires my monthly Downbeat Magazine
. The black and Jewish girl had given me a subscription. The subscription stopped after three years. Was I told a lie or was it all a soap opera plot? I will never know. But I do remember that one interview in Downbeat when Miles Davis in the interview uttered an obscenity which had to be written with a first letter and then with .... In that interview Davis was asked why he sometimes played with his back to the audience. His answer was something like, "If you had to look at some of the .... faces you would do the same."
For about a year in 1958 I worked very hard doing odd jobs in my boarding school in Austin, Texas. When I finally had amassed $100 I sent a money order to Olden Camera Supply in New York City. A few weeks later, Brother Emmett Strohmeyer, C.S.C.
, who was in charge of the school store told me I had a package. When I removed the brown wrapping paper, I had before me a, beautiful and very glossy blue box. Written on it on it was: Pentacon-F Dresden, 50mm Zeiss Tessar f-2.8. This was my first real camera. It was a new-fangled camera called a single lens reflex.
I can report here (and I don’t want to get too personal) that the wonder and excitement of that first time, the opening of that box and the lifting of that wonderful camera has not diminished with time.
Longing For Other Latitudes
Monday, February 04, 2013
In the summer of 2011 I went to school reunion in Austin. At Holy Mass (my school is Roman Catholic) Father Rick Wilkinson, C.S.C. gave one of his always unforgettable sermons. He began this particular one that had all to do with sin: “There is a Greek proverb that says, ‘It is impossible for a man to hide two things. One, that he is in love, the other that he is drunk.’”
In fact I sometimes think that a well-studied first impression of a person we just met can be fairly accurate.
In my photography classes at Focal Point (which sadly closed as far as my pocketbook is concerned a few months ago) I used to break the ice in our studio sessions where we had a nude model with the following question to the model, “I divide mankind into two. There are those who throw dishes in the kitchen and those who don’t. I think you are of the first category.”
More often that not my guess was the correct one, considering that statistically, I had a 50/50 chance.
One easy one is to divide those you know or might know into those who studied ballet and those who didn’t.
Some years ago I had the tough looking (but not so tough) Bif Naked in my studio and I asked her to put her hand on the top of the head. She did. I asked her, “You studied ballet.”
She said in return, “How did you know?”
I recently photographed poet George McWhirter
who taught literature at UBC to many of my more literary friends or wrote introductions to the books of some of my poet friends. McWhirter was also Vancouver’s first Poet Laureate (followed by Brad Cran and then Evelyn Lau). As poets will he kindly gave me a book of his (poets aim to spread the word thusly) poetry. It is called The Book of Contradictions.
I was first struck by the cover illustration. It looked familiar (that moustache). I checked the credits which read:
The author is grateful for the use of the image “Rainbow Room” by Abel Quezada.
I am sure that the illustration of the restaurant at the top of Rockefeller Centre must have first appeared in the New Yorker. You will find some of Abel Quezada’s illustrations here
If I am given a book, even a book of poetry, I read it. What really floored me was McWhirter’s introduction to the fourth (of five) sections, one called: ¡And how is the weather in Vancouver, darling?¡
The introduction reads:
An Exchange in Verse
For Other Latitudes
I rest my case (the point made somewhere above) and I can only add that Art Bergmann
(be patient and scroll to the bottom) might have added to McWhirter’s lovely introductory to the verse/verse:
“Let’s go to fucking Hawaii!”
I shall give poet George McWhirter the last word.
Pissing On A Pseudotsuga menziesii
Sunday, February 03, 2013
I had a respite from the melancholy of isolation I feel these days. I can assert that the rainy and gloomy weather is not the culprit.
Argentines (and I was born there) have been known to be professional pessimists. Anybody from any other country who knows Argentines will know by experience to never ask, “How are you feeling?” This is a question that if enough Argentines answer on facebook (note that it has to be in lower case), It might provoke a mass suicide.
If you happen to ask an Argentine how they are feeling you will get a litany of complaints beginning with problems with the liver, the stomach, winter chilblains, and arthritis pain. From there the complaints will gravitate to the extreme weather, be it hot and humid to cold and humid. Thence the person will shift to politics and how all politicians are thieves.
Other Latin Americans call the fake hurt ankle performances of Argentine football players “un tango” or a tango. Argentine tangos, with their over-the-top lyrics preceded telenovelas and soap operas before radio or TV was invented.
We Argentines are prone to melancholy. Never ask an Argentine that facebook question unless you want to be bored to death.
I hope that few of you might have gotten this far because here is where I am going to reveal with lots of Argentine seriousness that I simply no longer give a damn about Vancouver. My friend, Budgen
who left for a self-exile in Oliver, BC told me today that he understands and that he lost interest in our city when the deplorable and ugly development (I agree), Larry Beasely’s babies, began in Northern False Creek.
In the 70s and 80s as part of the hanger oners of Mac Parry’s Vancouver Magazine
first on Hornby Street and then on Davie and Richard I could feel, see and hear the pulse of our city. Prostitutes, politicians, sports people, writers, strippers, hoods, poets, artists, photographers, journalists, hobos, etc all passed through the magazine and sat facing Parry’s desk.
Parry made fun of the magazine under his floor (Western Living
was on the ground floor, Vancouver Magazine on the second) as one featuring empty bathrooms. As soon as he became editor of the magazine he ran poetry by the likes of Peter Trower whose idea of a bathroom might have meant pissing against a Pseudotsuga menziesii
In the 80s and 90s I would go to the Marble Arch and sit by Jorge the man behind the bar. He would ask in Spanish, “The usual?” and I would nod. He would then plunk a glass of soda water. I felt like Humphrey Bogart on the wagon. I could listen to a couple of Satan’s Angels (then Hell’s Angels) and Jorge would whisper in my ear, “Those are the guys who did in…”
There were some days where I would call up my friend in homicide (previously a detective in sex/drugs) and we would chat at a Blenz over Earl Gray tea.
One unforgettable Christmas Eve I was threatened by a punk who wanted me to return negatives that I had taken of his girlfriend who had been a well known stripper. I called the cops. They came to me weeks later to inform me that the punk would not be bothering me anymore. The policeman told me, “It seems you have an influential friend as he has taken care of it.”
Heads of the Provincial and Federal NDP came to my studio for portraits and campaign posters. A Bill Tieleman circled behind me with his cellular as I did my best not to show Glen Clark’s bald spot as he posed in my studio.
I felt the pulse of the city and sometimes as when I listened to Arthur Erickson’s voice as I adjusted my lights I felt that the city’s pulse sometimes went through my studio after lingering for a while.
A few years ago the current mayor of Vancouver posed for me and I arranged for him to take a self-portrait. The idea was that a good magazine at the time (now gone) was going to run the picture and the photo credit would have been the mayor’s. The cover never happened and I no longer know anybody at City Hall.
And I must assert that I don’t care.
At one time I appreciated and respected my Vancouver Courier. That is no more. We keep our issues not because we might have a pet budgie or a parrot but because my granddaughters have a pet Guinea pig. This publication like most of my city newspaper has stuff I have not interest in reading.
I used to discuss heatedly with my friend Abraham Rogatnick the awful plans (we thought) to move the Vancouver Art Gallery. I no longer feel anger on the present plans. I feel next to no dismay in learning that our main branch Post Office has been sold.
I find that the banality of facebook has spread to articles in our media about dog poop in our parks or arguments over bike lanes.
In a recent trip to Mexico City I noticed that the city (a city that until recently was next to Delhi as a place you did not want to visit) has bike program (about $15 a year means you can get a bike at the many bike stations) and there are even bike lanes and prone bicycle taxis. I admired the new architecture of the city where any of our Vancouver condos would stick out as eye sores, almost as much as Mexico City’s shanty towns would do so here.
Perhaps this disinterest and melancholy will be somewhat dissipated when I smell my roses in my spring garden. Until then I don’t want to read about dog poop or about a new Peter Wall Centre hither and dither. And the black or not so black glass of one of his buildings means even less than those dog poop droppings.