Clearing The Deck
Saturday, July 13, 2013
My friend Raúl Guerrero Montemayor who died this January was 87 years old. He was
the man I often went for advice. One reason is that he always gave me the
advice I wanted. “You want to buy this? You think it is going to make you
happy? Then buy it!”
|Alex & Jorge Wenceslao de Irureta Goyena|
Brother Edwin Reggio,
C.S.C. was 85 when he died in March. I had seen him a month before. He was
losing his brilliant mind but did give me good advice on how to deal with m
15-year-old granddaughter. Another friend, architect Abraham left my world four
years ago. I can no longer chat with him about everything and anything (a
talent that architects have).
I have now come to the
realization that it is absolutely silly for me to seek the advice and counsel
of those older than I am. There are few of those and it is certainly a folly to
look at myself into a mirror and say, “Alex what advice do you have for
friend Andrew Taylor is going to be 69 this coming month. I called him up on
Skype yesterday and told him of my problem. His answer was a most practical one
that I had not considered, “Have you attempted to converse with those who are
younger than you?”
I called up (also on
Skype) my godmother/first cousin Inesita O’Reilly Kuker yesterday, too. I told
her I was going to be present at her 90th birthday on October 2 in Buenos Aires. I told her
I was in that part of my life where I had a strong urge to tie up loose ends.
While Inesita’s English is perfect she had never heard of this expression. The
strict translation is, “Atar cabos sueltos” (in which cabos is a nautical term
for rope) did not ring a bell so we jointly came up with the term “Despejar el
altillo” which translates to “clear or empty the attic.” I like the American
via British term to “clear the deck”. Before a battle on a wooden ship-of
the-line the decks had to be cleared for action. In the American use when a
damaged airplane was to attempt landing on an aircraft carrier the decks had to
cleared of any other airplanes and debris.
I explained to Inesita
that when I left Buenos Aires
after my military service, her son Georgito and his then girlfriend (and now
wife) Bebi where at the dock. Bebi a few years ago had a brain clot and she has
lost her ability to talk and now occupies a wheelchair. I told Inesita that I
had to look at her in the eye and try to sense some recognition. This is part
of tying up the loose ends of my life.
|Inesita O'Reilly Kuker|
Inesita understood and
she is looking forward to having tea and sandwiches at La Esmeralda, a confitería
not far from her apartment. It is on Juramento and when I was a child my mother
would buy my birthday cake there.
Up until now I have
not been able to find my first cousin, on my mother’s side, Jorge Wenceslao de
Irureta Goyena. He does not answer his phone. But I must see him as the last
time was 50 years ago. We used to have passionate arguments in which I favoured
the music of Astor Piazzolla and Wency would opine that this was not tango as
you could not even dance to it.
I have two other first
cousins. One is the very dour Diane who seems to be bitter that she never was
able to realize her dream of becoming a ballerina and Elizabeth the once
redhead who when I was 20 and I faced her at a corner café I fell madly in love
There is a strong
feeling of isolation for me now as I understand that what is left of my life I
have to almost embark on my own (Rosemary, lucky for me is with me). And of
course we must all understand that this isolation finally is resolved by the
inescapable fact that we die alone.
Of my blog and of fading and renewing friendship
That Elmore Leonard Girl
Friday, July 12, 2013
It was less than a fifteen-minute walk to
Joyce’s apartment on Meridian,
five blocks from the beach. This evening, though, Harry felt he should drive,
not be walking along the streets at night. His car was in a lot on Thirteenth,
behind the hotel: his ‘84 Eldorado he’d have to do something with before he
left. Maybe sign it to Joyce. She didn’t do too bad as a catalog model, but it
was seasonal and she had to work in between jobs as a cocktail waitress. In one
catalogue she’d be a young matron in sportswear; in the next, a swinger in a
gauzy lingerie, garter belts, her hair all curly. Harry would open a catalog thinking,
Okay, which model would you most like to jump? He told Joyce, kidding, to which
one nine times out of ten he would pick. Her. He told her thinking she’d say he
was sweet, but all she did was to look at him funny.
Pronto, Elmore Leonard
My novelist, composer, actor friend, John
MacLachlan Gray has suggested that the pictures of the Raymond Chandler blonde, Colleen Hughes, are more Elmore Leonard and less Raymond Chandler. MacLachlan
Gray could be right. I differ in only that I see all of the Chandler women in black and white and
Leonard’s in colour. This colour somehow has to be lurid and or grainy. I have
such a candidate in Alexandria aka Lisa Prentiss
who hails from Washington
State. She likes to wear
bright red lipstick and is a brunette (no Zulu blonde). Could she be an Elmore
Leonard girl? Would MacLachlan Gray be persuaded to write an essay on the
|John MacLachlan Gray|
|Elmore Leonard, crow painting by Judith Currelly|
Measure For Measure - A Twofer & Nun Nicer
Thursday, July 11, 2013
Yesterday evening my wife Rosemary and I attended the opening of Bard on the Beach’s production of William Shakespeare’s Measure
For those who read Harold Bloom on Shakespeare or
do some digging around before seeing a Shakespeare play you might then know that
the title of this complex play comes from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Saint Matthew wrote in 7.2 of the King
For with what judgment
you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be
measured back to you.
Saint Luke, the physician, was a tad
more poetic in 6.38:
Give, and it shall be
given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running
over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete
withal it shall be measured to you again.
performance, Bard on the Beach Artistic Director Christopher Gaze stood up on a platform and
gave his own version of the Sermon on the Mount
(not really!) and explained briefly (the talks are called In a Nutshell)
the mechanics of Measure for Measure. For those new into Shakespeare, these
little talks are wonderful. And if not new suffice to note here that Gaze could read a shopping list and make it sound like Shakespeare.
Gaze call this play one of Shakespeare’s Problem Plays because of their
complexity. While Measure for Measure is indeed a comedy and very funny in many
parts the idea of a man (my take) The Duke, played by Andrew Wheeler at his most
Hestonian Moses mode, playing God with his subjects is not all that funny.
It is for that reason
that I consider this Bard on the Beach production of Measure for Measure a twofer. For the
price of one admission ticket you get two plays. One is a serious intellectual
pursuit that will set you thinking and the other an extremely funny, lively
musical in which Lois Anderson is the Queen of the Night.
Actor and Director (so
many of Bard players are both and not only that many are also musicians) John
Murphy has a love for jazz so he switched Shakespeare’s location for the play
from Vienna to New Orleans and with Anthony Pavlic he composed music influenced
by blues and Dixieland. One song which Murphy told me is simply called
Isabella’s Song (sung by Isabella, Sereana Malani) is a killer song which I
would have sworn was a long lost Gershwin. What helped Isabella’s Song and
every entry of Searana Malani to the set, were the two costumes (one white, one
pink) designed by Costume Designer Mara Gottler who would make of us all as
Never could the
With all her double
vigour, art and nature,
Once stir my temper:
but this virtuous maid
Subdues me quite.
The musicians in this
production are also actors or perhaps you might want to reverse that. Anton
Lipovesky, Lucio, (a composer in his own right) played a mean banjo, Benjamin
Elliott, Froth/Bernardine, was great sitting or standing on the upright piano
and not bad with the accordion (I hate this instrument). It was nice to see
Dustin Freeland on a tuba (how often do you get to hear this instrument in a
small ensemble?), Chris Cochrane on clarinet and Luc Roderique (who plays the
soon to lose his head Claudio, was pretty good on the snare drum and playing it
But the star of the
band has to be Bonnie Northgraves on trumpet. With my eyes closed (when was not
distracted by her thighs and fishnets) she sounded like Herb Albert channeling
a trumpet player from the Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán. Northgraves in
combination with the whorish shenanigans of an over-the-top Lois Anderson
playing Mistress Overdone was enough to help me remember that I was watching a
comedy and not the tragedy that this play almost is.
To add to this fun was
the impervious-to-anything Dustin Freeland who plays the Provost, fine foil to the-about-to-burst-red-in-the-face-cop Elbow, Chris Cochrane and, most certainly,
David Marr who in this year’s Arts Club Theatre production of My Turquoise
Years proved that he was not only a very serious actor, but a funny one, too. I
always thought that David Mackay who plays Angelo (has a preference for novices
in sex, the character, not the actor) was the funny man and Marr the serious one. Have they made a pact to
switch career paths?
I can never get enough
of Bernard Cuffling playing a not-yet-winged angel. In Measure for Measure he
portrays the sympathy of an angel. He may be the only actor on stage that may
truly believe the words of Matthew in that Sermon on the Mount:
For I say unto
you, That except your righteousness
shall exceed the
righteousness of the scribes and
shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
So then, it is clear
that Christ is not speaking about imputed righteousness in verse 20. Rather, He
is teaching us that if we are to enter the kingdom of God,
This means that we must obey the Word of God more than the scribes and
Pharisees. The scribes and Pharisees were scrupulous in tithing, for example,
and the Lord commended them for doing so. But at the same time, He charged them
for ignoring the weightier matters of the Law: judgement, mercy, faith, and
love of God (Mt 23:23; Lk 11:42). And that is precisely (my take) on Andrew
Wheeler’s performance as the Duke. Both he and Escalus, Bernard Cuffling tries
to find a way out of the conundrum of how to not execute the hapless Claudio.
It is here, after
having see Bernard Cuffling in one of the last acts appear before The Duke
wearing a beautiful white tutu and wondering why throughout the play the cast
randomly wears costumes and masks.
Bard on the Beach
publicist, Cynnamon Schreinert (as efficient as she is) answered my query, most
kindly, about Cuffling’s skirt that there was a reference to all hallow’s even
in the beginning of the play. She could have been less patient and simply told
me to read the extensive notes of the excellent Bard On the Beach programme.
This is it and it
happens in Act II, Scene I:
Sir, but you shall come to it, by your
leave. And, I beseech you, look into Master
here, sir; a man of four-score pound a
father died at Hallowmas: was't not at
Director John Murphy
put the play in New Orleans.
Costume Designer, Mara Gottler, with a keen, not entirely justified (and who would care?) leap and
perhaps in cahoots with Murphy had the events of the play happen around and during the
evening of Halloween. This gave her a nice excuse to design costumes that went
from over the top to serious and that constant shift added to my pleasure of
the two plays that the one play is. Measure for Measure entertained me and it
made me laugh. On the serious side I felt I went home with lots to digest. The
best of both worlds indeed was both.
The Dimpled Kitchen
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
One of my first memories of a kitchen is
the one we had in Buenos Aires
in the late 40s. We used the big black stove to warm the kitchen in those very
cold and damp Buenos Aires
winters. The rest of our house was heated with a couple of upright and very red
kerosene stoves. We always had a pot of hot water with lemon verbena leaves to
disguise the awful kerosene smell. Bedtime during the winter meant that
Mercedes, our live in cook would put bricks inside the black stove’s oven. She
would carefully wrap the bricks and place them in our bed.
I know that my father made his excellent
iced tea in that kitchen and when he cooked I would know we would eat well. Except
of course the time when he concocted something with cow brains. I threw my
plate under the table. I received a terrible spanking but I never did eat them.
Kitchens, and in particular that Buenos Aires one, are
about warmth and pleasant smells. On Tuesdays Mercedes made breaded veal
cutlets (milanesas) and mashed potatoes. That was my favourite meal with the
possible exception of her carrot soufflé. Her sister, Enilse, who sometimes spent the night with us liked to make
a beaten Nescafe. She would add , slowly, drops of water to the dried coffee in
a small bowl and beat it slowly but vigorously with a spoon while adding sugar.
After a while, if you poured boiling water into individual servings of this
mixture, you got something very frothy and delicious. This was a fave of my
father’s friend, Argentine writer Julio Cortázar. I remember both my father and
Cortázar chatting by the stove while Enilse beat her mixture. Without fail
Cortázar would run out of cigarettes and I would be dispatched to buy a pack of
the corner almacén.
It was in this
kitchen, the Buenos Aires
kitchen when I remember my mother telling Mercedes to buy something called,
catsoup. My mother pronounced it like that so Mercedes could ask for it at the
almacén. In that kitchen I had my first bowl of American Jell-O (lime flavour),
my first peanut butter sandwich and a strange bread that had poppy seeds. All
this was brought by my mother who had friends at the American Embassy.
This kitchen was were
I did my homework and I often heard my mother giving Mercedes her shopping
My next memory of a
kitchen is the one in the house we bought in Arboledas, Estado de Mexico in
1971. Rosemary and I moved in with our daughter Ale and later the next year
Hilary was born. My mother lived with us and she liked to tinker in the
kitchen. Next to the kitchen there was a small room that I converted into a
shop and its bathroom was my first darkroom.
My memory of this
Arboledas kitchen (the first house we ever owned) is an unpleasant one. Under
the sink we stored cleaning materials. We had a bottle of upholstery cleaner
(carbon tetrachloride). I arrived one day to find out Ale had swallowed the
whole bottle. Luckily the doctor around the corner knew what to do. I had
initially called our family doctor who had advised me to induce vomiting and
take Ale to the hospital. In the back of my mind there was a memory of
something I had learned when I was a Boy Scout. You never induced vomiting when
the poison was a corrosive. I put Ale in the tub, ran cold water on her face
and took her quickly to the neighbourhood doctor. He pumped her stomach and
told me that my action had save my daughter’s life.
In Vancouver kitchens loom big mostly as kitchen
parties. I am sensitive to smell and I happen to loathe the smell of pot. You
must understand then that I hate kitchen parties.
I like our kitchen on Athlone Street,
although if I had my way (money) I would install two ovens. It is impossible
for Rosemary to make her very good Yorkshire pudding while I roast the meat.
We have a round and
very heavy Mexican table in the kitchen. We never eat at it. The table is where
we keep our tender plants in the winter. We used to eat at our dinner table (a
large Victorian crank table) in the dining room but of late Rosemary and I have
been enjoying food on plates on our laps in the den (no TV trays for us) while
we watch Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.
Perhaps my only other
memory of a kitchen is this one of a beautiful woman with a shapely body,
standing in her kitchen and showing off her dimples.
Lauren In Blue Sequins Smiles
Tuesday, July 09, 2013
By special request Lauren and I had an exchange. She chose the menu for last Saturday’s evening meal in exchange for posing for me in this year’s Art’s Umbrella outfit from the final show until this coming September when her classes begin.
Rebecca did her makeup before Lauren arrived who told me that I would have to wait some minutes before she posed. There was some bickering on how many pictures I was going to take. In the end I shot 10 medium format transparencies and 10 b+ws plus a few Fuji Instants.
When Rosemary looked at the pictures she told me that my idea of taking unsmiling shots should be shelved. I did take one with a slight smile.
Lauren, who notices everything, asked me why I wasn’t using the other light. By the other light she meant the beauty dish and not the softbox for this session. Perhaps next time she will give me more time to take more pictures. Who knows what I will have to give up (food?) in order to get my wish.
I am old enough to remember that when I was 8 I put some sequins in my mouth and they disolved as they used to be made of gelatin.
Malibu Noir Revisited
Monday, July 08, 2013
Of late, perhaps this last year I have developed a technique that few of my contemporaries seem to understand.
|Pentax MX, 20mm Fuji Superia 800|
I first had inkling three years ago when I was at the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The light was fading quickly and in my possession I had:
1. Pentax MX with a 20mm wide angle and colour slide film.
2. A Nikon FM-2 with Slide film and various lenses including a fisheye.
3. A Nikon FM-2 with b+w film and various lenses.
4. One Mamiya RB-67 Pro-SD with two backs, one loaded with b+w film and the other with colour slide.
5. A Noblex swivel panoramic camera I which I had to decide if I wanted to load it with b+w or colour slide.
Next to me was a photographer with one very expensive Canon DSLR.
I felt silly and I almost believe that the man with the Canon thought I was a fool.
|Nikon FM-2 24mm lens, Fuji Superia 800|
My argument, one that I cannot seem to explain to anybody is that even though a shot taken with a digital camera can be interpreted later as colour or b+w, it can be cropped, it can be given more contrast plus there are all kinds of other option, the photographer is still working on one image.
In my case I have many similar shots but no identical ones. Is this good or bad? I think this is good. I am not sure that in any shooting situation there has to be a definitive one.
To illustrate my side of the story I am going to reproduce here three different shots of Bronwen Marsden in my Chevrolet Malibu.
|Nikon FM-2 Kodak T-Max 400 pushed to 800 ISO|
One was taken with a Pentax MX for which I have a beautifully corrected 20mm wide angle. The film was Fuji Superia 800 ISO colour negative film.
The second picture was with one of my Nikon FM-2s, a 24mm wide angle and the same Fuji Superia 800.
The third shot I took with a Nikon FM-2, the 22mm lens and Kodak T-Max 400 ISO film pushed to 800.
This last shot I reinterpreted with the shadow/highlight tool of Photoshop. I can do the same thing with the negative in the darkroom.
Which is the best one? Is there a definitive one?
Corazón, My Rapid Heart & Harper's Heart
Sunday, July 07, 2013
Doctor Andrew S. Campbell, a most handsome and youngish cardiologist at emergency looked at me with a smile and told me, “You either had an atrial heart flutter or a superventricular tachycardia. I will not tell you not to garden but I advise you to take a baby Aspirin every day until you see the cardiologist I am going to refer you to.”
The concept of the existence of something called the heart first came into my life when I was 8. It was then that Manrique, a plain closed policeman friend of my father’s gave me as a gift a book that was very popular in Buenos Aires at the time. This was Corazón
by the Italian writer Edmundo de Amicis (1846-1908). The book, by a man who graduated from a military academy was written expressly for boys ages 9 to 13 and it was the staple of books read out loud in Perón’s school system in the later 40s and 50s.
I have read Corazón several times. From the very beginning Manrique was one of my heroes as I was impressed by the bulge in his suit jacket that I knew contained a .45. The beautiful cover of the book is long deteriorated into dust and what's left of it is a flaky mess that I have to treat with kindness.
On my father’s side most that died, succumbed from stomach problems caused by the Hayward tendency to drink. My father had a heart attack on Calle Monroe in Coghlan, across the street from the Hospital Pirovano. He was taken to the hospital by a friend, a police sergeant (in uniform) and was declared dead on arrival.
On my mother’s side the only man with a heart ailment was my grandfather Don Tirso de Irureta Goyena. Shortly after climbing the Philippines’s tallest volcano, the Mayón, he died of a heart attack as a young man in his early 40s.
I have never had blood pressure problems nor have I ever been concerned about measuring my blood pressure. But today I was flat on my back at emergency with all kinds of stickers on my chest while an EKG was being read and a Hungarian-born nurse called Lorend filled me intravenously with a substance called Diltiazem.
After working in the garden most of the afternoon I lifted a heavy bag of dirt which did me in. I told Rosemary, my arms are numb, I am short of breath and my chest feels tight. I am going to lie down. While in bed I realized that my best course was to go to emergency. I drove myself there with Rosemary beside me.
Once Rosemary had convinced me (I had asked her) if I was still insured even though our premiums have been increased because of our age, that dead I was worth $500,000 I drove uncomfortably but calm to emergency.. I was wondering what it would be like once the juice was turned off. I wasn’t scared. I was curious.
I was told to remove all my clothing except my underwear and to to lie down in a wheeled bed. In short order I was surrounded by 8 very friendly people of which, as far as I can tell only two were born in Canada. My radiologist was half Italian and half Filipino. Sonya who carted me around in my wheeled bed was Russian. Another nurse was Afghan. When I asked him if he were a Pashtun he told me that he was formerly an Afghan but was now Canadian. All were young, smart and efficient. When I told Lorend that I knew a word in Hungarian, "curva" he choked even though I explained that in Spanish it means curve. He asked me if I had experienced curvas. I denied all knowledge of them but brought up the subject that Hungarian insults seem to involve the placing of either a male horse or camel into the equation. Lorend choked again.
Lorend, my Hungarian nurse said, after checking my EKG, "You have converted." Upon enquiry I was informed that this is a medical term that indicates that my heart had gone from an uncommonly fast rate to a normal one in short order and that probably I would be going home.
And that was the case.
But this cannot end here. My friend, writer John Lekich says that when possible you must finish anything your write with a citation to the beginning, so I must return to the heart.
A week ago I went to see my ophthalmologist, Dr. Simon J. Warner. As he was examining my eyes I related to him that in Spanish we have a saying, "Ojo que no ve, corazón que no siente." This translates exactly to, "The eye that does not see, the heart that does not feel." I asked Dr. Warner if there was an equivalent in English. With little pause, he answered, "Prime Minister Harper."