August 31, 1942 - August 31, 2013
Saturday, August 31, 2013
|Aunt Inez & George Alexander, 1942|
Twelve months before my first birthday, I
was present for an occasion for which I had no choice. I have no memory of it. My
mother says I took a long time and that she had a painful delivery. It also
seems that she had to try very hard for a few years before I came along.
From my album I have found what seems to be
my earliest picture. I am being held by my father’s oldest sister, Aunt Inez. She
had divorced her first husband, Ralph Barber and married a man from Mendoza called Alejandro Ariosa.
In those strange circumstances that devout Roman
Catholicism brings to such events as births, my Aunt Inez who wanted to be my godmother, could not because she was divorced. So it lay on her daughter Inesita, 19, a
Catholic free of all legal sin to be my godmother. While Inez could not hold me
in the baptismal font, her husband Alejandro did (he was not divorced) and that
is why my middle name is Alejandro.
Shortly after my birth my surrogate
godmother, Inez gave me a Mappin and Webb birth spoon and a very large sterling
silver medal with St. Rose of Lima
on the front and on the back it says George Alexander, August 31, 1942.
Alas today I looked everywhere for that
medal but I did not find it. Until I was 8 or 9 that medal hung in a hook over
I grieve at its temporary loss but on
second thought, once dead, if anybody found the medal in my belongings it would
be devoid of any significance to them.
Of late, depressed as I usually get around
my birthday (I miss al those of my past who are now all dead), I have been
thinking that as one nears death, one’s belongings should be given away or
thrown away. I believe that death and memory go hand in hand. That medal brings
to me instantly the voice, a mezzo voice of my Aunt Inez and the smell of the
rain coming down on or near my birthday, that ever so famous Tormenta de Santa Rosa.
The second picture here, of a very young me,
is one that comes with absolutely no memory attached. On its back there is the
seal of the photographer called Muska whose address is Bartolomé Mitre 1970.
The third picture in that odd deck chair is
dated simply in white ink by my mother, Buenos
Aires, 1943. Who could have guessed that the anonymous
photographer used Dupont film?
The fourth photograph dated August 1944 is
significant in that I remember vividly the gate and the yellow colour of the
tiles of the sidewalk in the Buenos
Aires suburb of Martínez. It would seem that the first
signs of self-awareness where latent.
It wasn’t until around 1948 when I was 6
that I went into my mother’s armoire to purloin candy corn that she had
obtained from the American Embassy. She would hand me a few at a time every
day. I wanted more. I opened the armoire and helped myself to the whole cellophane
bag. The armoire had a full-length mirror on the inside of the door. I stopped
to stare at myself. I remember as if were today that I looked and thought, “That
is me. I am me. I am me and nobody else.” Consciousness was not latent on that
day. I was now fully functional, for better or for worse.
And lastly here is my perennial birthday
picture except that this one was not taken on the 31st but on Wednesday
the 28 which was the day I had to return the black box (silver, not black at
all but it was inside a black cloth pouch) that had monitored my heart beat for
24 hours. I had to return it to my cardiologist. I thought it fun to shoot it
with my new Fuji X-E1.
St Rose of LIma, A Storm & Perhaps An Omen
Friday, August 30, 2013
|My birth spoon given to me by my Aunt Inez. |
It was 11:30 on the evening of August 29.
My wife and her cat Cas-Casi were asleep. I had noticed rapid flickers and
looked out of the window which faces north. My cat Plata had also noticed. We
both watched the electrical storm that unleashed its thunder and then a torrent
of rain and wind by the time it had become August 30th.
As things go with Argentines that date and
days before or after have lots of significance. In 1586 Isabel Flores y de
Oliva was born in Lima, Peru. Her father Gaspar Flores was
a harquebusier in the Imperial Spanish Army. I like to mention her father so I
can then inform you that a harquebus was an early musket, a single shot that
was so heavy that it had to be mounted on what I would now call a monopod. In
fact the three musketeers (and that fourth one) may have not only been great
swordsmen but also handy with their muskets.
Isabel Flores was nicknamed, early on, Rosa because one of her family servantsp swore that her
face once transformed into that of a bright red rose. For our purposes all we
need to know is that Rosa died August 24,
1617. She was canonized by Pope Clement X. St. Rose of Lima
was the first Americas
At around the last days of August Buenos Aires experiences a nasty storm called la Tormenta
de Santa Rosa. August
30th is her feast day.
That storm had a noted significance in my
life as my mother insisted in celebrating my birthday, August 31st
with a garden party (piñatas,
three-legged races, pinning the tail on the donkey, etc). My birthdays suffered a constant re-scheduling because of the
blessed saint’s storm.
I can inform you that as I write this
(September 1) it is unseasonably hot in Buenos
Aires but there is no sign of relief and the storm may
have skipped 2013.
I would like to think that the storm did
occur and that it did so here in Vancouver. I am perplexed in wondering if that
electrical storm is a foreboding or simply an omen of good things to come.
Shooting Under Stress & Who's The Boss?
Thursday, August 29, 2013
|Lauren Stewart - Fuji X-E1 set for 3200 ISO|
I cannot really give you much more
information as it is one of the rules, which if not written down, do make
sense. A local publication has hired me to take five photographs for a fall
arts preview. I have been doing this every year now for almost a decade. It
escapes me why this publication would not search for younger photographers out
there but instead they may have fallen into a quaint idea of how a routine, the
same guy, every year, can seem pleasant.
For me it is pleasant because it means I
will get paid to take photographs. In this 21st century it would
seem to me that getting paid for photographs was an accident, become routine of
the 20th century.
So I am indeed surprised but also working
with an element of stress. Stress while working in a photographic job is
something that I could never ever lose. I came to the conclusion, some years
ago, that if I were not stressed it meant I was making the motions of being a
photographer and that I was so sure of myself that I was due for one of those
situations (there are many) like shooting an assignment without film in the camera.
Being on edge keeps one on one’s toes.
I remember how some 30 years ago, Vancouver
Magazine editor, Malcolm Parry looked at some pictures I had taken for his
Vancouver Magazine and he threw a wide angle lens at me shouting, “Alex you are
making the motions. Go back and take some decent pictures.” I did and I never
ever lost that stress while working at a job. It was almost comforting to feel
This time around I have several reasons for
stress. One is that I have not received a magazine assignment in many months. Two
(and I have yet to reveal to those who have hired me) I am doing what is
verboten in professional photography. This is to shoot an assignment with a
piece of untried equipment. To be fair I have kept my usual equipment in the
trunk of my car, just in case, but up to know I have been using my Fuji X-E1 for
the job. I feel that with some portraits I have taken of my granddaughter
Lauren in which I fired a studio flash with the Fuji that I am safe. To prove a point to
myself I believe that these pictures taken with the Fuji camera look exactly like the ones where
I use a medium format Mamiya RB-67 Pro-SD.
And there is more. When I shoot film I am
frugal. A typical portrait assignment will have me shooting one roll of 120
slide film. That represents 10 exposures.
So far, in shooting the first two portraits
I have taken for one 5 exposures and for the other 8. I’ll be damned if I will
let my digital wonder dictate to me how to shoot my assignments!
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
I was driving home from having left my
Rosemary at UBC Botanical Garden today Wednesday when I
noticed that the SUV (a smallish one) was a Highlander, a Toyota Highlander. My
thoughts took me to a starry night in 1950 when I was on my back on a flatbed
truck, a Studebaker.
My first cousin, Jorge Wenceslao de Irureta Goyena, his
mother Sarita, his father (my Uncle Tony) my mother and I had traveled from Buenos Aires to Goya, in the
province of Corrientes in a stern paddle wheeler on the Paraná River. After a while, since I was 8 I became
bored of watching the jacarés (caimans) swimming in the murky muddy waters of
the river. We had arrived at the capital of Corrientes, Goya and from there a man had
picked us up, in the evening in his Studebaker to take us to Sarita’s aunt’s
estancia, Santa Teresita somewhere in the interior.
Such is the sky of the
Southern Hemisphere and being on a truck on a dirt road with no cars that the
sweep of the Milky Way was like the huge tail of a monstrous comet spanning the
sky from one end to the other. And prominent in that sky was the Southern Cross.it was less a cross and more the hilt of King Artur's sword Excalibur to the mind of the boy that I was.
A few years later, six
to be exact my mother and I got in a Raymond Loewy designed Studebaker. Its
proud owner was giving my mother and me a lift to the Colegio Americano in
Tacubaya, in Mexico City.
My mother taught there and I was in the 6th grade. I made it a point
to tell our driver that his car looked like an ugly Italian shoe.
|Wenceslao, Sarita, Alex|
Not too long after I
became thoroughly immersed in the culture of American cars. I made it a point
to look into the windows of cars to see how far their speedometers went in that
upper register. Speed and horsepower were in my estimation of what made a car
In was in the latter
half of the 50s that Studebaker introduced the Scotsman which was a paired down
Studebaker Champion in which you could find no chrome except the bumpers but
you had the choice of painted ones. I thought this was a terrible idea not
understanding that Studebaker/Packard was trying to do anything to sell cars. They
were simply ahead of the times.
When my mother moved
to teach at the ASARCO (American Smelting and Refining Company) town in
Nueva Rosita, Coahuila we lived at the American Hotel which was in front of the
bowling alley (I learned to bowl very well). One of the company engineers,
unmarried, so he also stayed that the American Hotel, had a Packard Clipper. It
had an interesting feature, a self levelling (but very electric) suspension. We
(with my friends) we would sit on the rear bumper and the car would buzz down,
and then buzz up. If its owner was around he would shout at us telling us that
we would drain the car’s battery.
If there is any logic
in this blog is has all to do on how a Toyota
with a vaguely Scottish name took me to the Studebaker Scotsman and from there
to that wondrous Milky Way sky in Corrientes
as I day dreamed my way home.
La Cuarentona Fulfills Her Years
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
|Rosemary, Lauren, Ale, Rebecca & Hilary|
It had to happen inevitably. My two
daughters are cuarentonas. Hilary is 42 and Alexandra was 45 today.
The Spanish term cuarentona (also
sometimes, but rarely used, to describe men of that uncertain age) and the even
worse one cincuentona are often used when citing the age of a famous actress.
We who speak Spanish have yet to adopt the North American and most politically
correct actor, or such terms as server, fisher and sex worker. In fact cars are
feminine, la máquina and sexo is
firmly in the male gender. Women would be classified as sexo femenino with even
the latter femenino being grammatically in the male gender, too.
My two cuarentonas, my
wife and my two granddaughters were there at the table with only my son-in-law
Bruce Stewart and me to represent the dominant sex.
I was particularly
happy to see my two daughters beautifully made up and well dressed and beaming
at me across the table. Ale and Hilary were obviously experiencing what I call
the Brother Edwin effect. This has to do with the fact that as people get older
the differences of three and four years which can be a gulf in our youth or
early teens, they, the differences diminish and disappear. Both my daughters
used to differ and quarrel and now they are on the same page.
not all Spanish terms relating to sex and age are defamatory or deprecatory.
Consider a cumpleaños or birthday.
In English the word birthday is a
mathematical term that measures where you stand or are about to die in
reference to your first lungful of air.
In Spanish years, años is preceded by the
verb cumplir which my on-line RAE (Real Academia Española) gives as its first
Ejecutar, llevar a efecto. Cumplir un deber, una orden, un encargo, un deseo,
The word promise can
be discerned there. Consider then that cumpleaños means literally to fulfill a
promise in years.
Since I take that
meaning, that wonderful meaning at face value I can assert that today, August
27, 2013, my daughter Ale has achieved much in her life. She seems content and
happy (difficult to be both in my estimation).
Of this I am proud and
I believe that my taciturn wife Rosemary would agree, too.
A Memory Bank In The Making - The Virgin Suicides
Sunday, August 25, 2013
There is no doubt in my mind that Rosemary and I stay on in our house on Athlone Street because the house will be part of the future memories of our two daughters and two granddaughters.
I fondly remember Ale, our oldest daughter, when she was going to UBC how she would type ever so fast on the keyboard of our IBM which was in our basement. She would then print her term papers on that paper that had perforations on the side. I had, over my Rosemary’s objection relegated our TV set to the cold and musty basement. I didn’t want to make it too pleasant for my family to watch TV. Rosemary wanted a TV in our bedroom and I told her, “It’s either your husband or the TV set. Which one will it be?” Fortunately for me the TV was not her option. It became so, months later, when she was operated on her feet and was bed-bound for a month. I brought the TV set up to the bedroom.
A few days later I put Hitchcock’s Vertigo on the VHS recorder and left Rosemary with her black cat Mosca who was lounging at the foot of the bed.
I went for a job and when I returned everything seemed to be normal except that, suddenly, Rosemary screamed, “Mosca hasn’t moved since you left. He’s dead.” Mosca must have died as soon as the film began because he was stiff as a board. I buried Mosca in the garden and the TV set returned to the basement. A few years later I relented and placed it in our den.
I fondly remember taking a portrait of Ale’s sister Hilary in a beautiful long dress before she left for her prom. I took her picture by a Lawson Cypress that is long gone from root rot. The memory of Hilary so excited about her graduation and dance has lingered in me since.
The garden, when the granddaughters were younger, was the place that when they arrived they would run through the house and out the kitchen door and they would romp in the grass which I have always kept very green and nicely mowed. The garden is the place where Rebecca’s interest in roses began. The garden is the place where Lauren gently pets Rosemary’s cat Casi-Casi who has never hissed or scratched her. The garden is where the pond with the fish that Lauren named just a couple of months ago swim and she so eagerly feeds when she’s here.
The garden will be a place of memory for whoever survives Rosemary or yours truly. Whoever dies first will be left with a garden of plants in which each one will have my face or hers.
So we stay on Athlone Street, in the Tudor Revival house on the corner with the large garden because every day shared with our family will become a future memory. Every day is putting some Prussian blue or Mexican ochre on a canvas that will someday have rosy areas and dark stormy ones. It will be a canvas of Rosemary and Alex the grandparents of two little girls not so little anymore.
Rebecca Anne Stewart and Lauren Elizabeth Stewart will remember us fondly, I hope, and forget our instructions to behave or to do this or that. Perhaps they will remember my food and how Rosemary always makes sure that the fridge is full of the goodies they all love.
Today I invited Rebecca, who is now 16 to watch Sofia Coppola’s 1993 film, The Virgin Suicides.
Rebecca is not eating very well these days so Rosemary prepared a dish with green melon and dark, ripe cherries. Rebecca and her grandfather sipped on a mate. All was well. The film was perfect. We both fell for Kirsten Dunst. I will have to invite Rebecca again to see my fave Kirsten Dunst film, Melancholia. I took Rebecca home.
As I drove back to our corner house on Athlone Street I felt good. The day had finished just right. More memories have slipped into the memory bank of my Rebecca who will one day, I hope make me proud. If I am not around it will be irrelevant.