In Praise Of The Polka Dot
Friday, November 15, 2013
I have always had a fascination for the
polka dot. I think I may have a very personal reason.
According to my mother before I was born
she suffered a few electric shocks while ironing. She says this is the reason I
was born with a lunar (Spanish not only for polka dot but also for a round
birth mark). My birthmark was very small and it was behind my right ear on the
By the time I was ten in was the size of a
quarter and I was always embarrassed when people asked me what it was.
When we arrived in Mexico in 1954
my mother had my birthmark removed. The lab found that it was not cancerous but
I have to say that my birthmark, shown to the both of us in a jar resembled a
jelly fish with red tentacles. After that I spent years explaining to people
who noticed my ugly and very large scar that I had been pushed through a plate
I was saved from further mortification
(after those awful years of military crew cuts in the Argentine Navy) by the Haight-Ashbury crowd. By then I wore my hair
If that connection between my appreciation
with the polka dot and my birthmark is tenuous you are right. My real delight in
those black circles in white background (the only polka dot pattern I recognize
as legitimate) comes from having seen sometime in the early 60s John Huston’s
The Misfits with Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Elli Wallach,
Thelma Ritter and (especially!) that church lady played by Estelle Winwood. This
film has the most erotic moments of any film I have ever seen. Monroe in a very tight fitting polka dot
dress plays paddle ball in a bar. As she paddles those polka dots do not stay
in their place.
What is astounding is that many years later
in the 90s I photographed the stills photographer of that film, Elliott Erwitt.
I asked him, “What did you think of Monroe’s
polka dot dress? He floored me with, “What dress?”
My love of the polka dot dress does not
extend to the polka of any kind, be it Swiss or that terrible polka that is
performed and danced in Northern Mexico. And I
hate that ancillary instrument to all polkas, the accordion.
The above is but mere justification to
place here pictures of Kelly in her polka dot dress. In 1989 after a screening
of the execrable Vancouver production of Flesh
Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders I had drinks with singer/songwriter Art
Bergmann at the Number 5 Orange Bar on Powell and Main.
We had a mutual friend Michael Metcalf who
was a PA and had a bit part playing a real turd. His character's name was Chief
Diareah. To get rid of him and his evil associates, Bill and Mary Turd and
Little Poop they were fed Exlax.
We quickly ran out of money and when our sassy, but attractive waitress asked
us if we wanted more beer I told her we had no more money.
She was wearing a white dress with black polka dots that was tight in the right
places. Kelly’s, that was the name of our waitress, had a life all of its own.
The polka dots resembled the physics experiment where you draw dots on a
balloon and then blow it large
With a sneer she asked us, "Go into your pockets and bring out what you've
got." We pulled out quarters, dimes and nickels. Triumphantly she picked
it all up and said, "Just enough for a pint. You boys can share it,"
and plunked it in the middle of our table.
I did get Kelly to come to my studio and pose for me in her polka dot dress. At
the time, 1990 I was obsessed with the idea of taking pictures of women, upside
down and hanging from my studio couch (a $100 bargain from a retiring
psychiatrist who even included the delivery for the price.)
I believe that the truly sophisticated would never think of turning such a
picture in the other direction! Pictures that are taken upside down should be
seen that way.
No Treasure Hunt At Chapters
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Thursday I had lunch with my friend Ian
Bateson at the Vancouver Art Gallery Café. From there we spent over an hour browsing three floors of books at
the big box Chapters. That first floor has fewer books as they compete with all
sort of non-reading matter like Teddy bears, Christmas ornaments and barbecue
tools for the man of your life.
Bateson who is now
becoming a full-fledged artist spent most of his time in the arts books while I
was in the nearby remainders corners. At one time I would have spent at least
$100 in cheap books but now those exciting moments are in my past. I have not
really purchased new books now for about three years except when I want to give
a book as a gift. Not a few minutes ago from writing this I put a hold on
Martin Cruz Smith’s latest Tatiana. Several copies will soon arrive and I will
be notified via email that mine is waiting for me at my Oakridge Branch.
I could not explain to
Bateson the paradox of thinking that books are obsolete while being surrounded
by them at Chapters. But that feeling remains.
Last night (a
Saturday) after reading the Sunday NY Times (the Book Review Magazine and the
section called Sunday Review) that comes crashing at the door at around 9pm I
opened with delight the latest Andrea Camilleri, Treasure Hunt. It is the 16th,
translated into English, Inspector Montalbano. This book was not available at
Chapters (too esoteric for the mass consumption store, perhaps?). Getting it so
soon (delivered to my nearby branch) is very definitely one of the many advantages
of living in Vancouver and in Canada.
The Exquisite Lethargy & Melancholy Of Fiacca
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Mrs Squeers stood at
one of the desks, presiding over an immense basin of brimstone and treacle, of
which delicious compound she administered a large instalment to each boy in
succession: using for the purpose a common wooden spoon, which might have been
originally manufactured for some gigantic top, and which widened every young
gentleman's mouth considerably: they being all obliged, under heavy corporal
penalties, to take in the whole of the bowl at a gasp.
Chapter 8 from
Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
My granddaughter Lauren Stewart, 11, and I attended the opening performance this Wednesday 13th of the Art Club’s
production (directed by Bill Millerd) of Mary Poppins at the Stanley Industrial
Alliance Stage. Thirty minutes before the show began she asked me to repeat after her a very long word. “Papi can you
say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious ?” To me this was a complete non sequitur.
I saw no connection with us being comfortably seated in the busy lobby. Unable to respond adequately I said, “Lauren, Mississippi
is a very long word, can you spell it?”
The above has this one explanation. The
closest I ever got to see the film Mary Poppins was my occasional viewing in
1961 of a few Dick Van Dyke shows on TV while I was studying in Austin, Texas.
In fact three weeks ago when I had planned attending Mary Poppins I asked my
wife Rosemary if Christopher Plummer had been in the original film. She
corrected me and told me that was The Sound of Music, another film I have never
I believe, then that I might have been the
only person at Wednesday’s performance of Mary Poppins who knew nothing of it
or of its connections to Lauren’s repetition of the nonsense word. I asked
Lauren if Mary Poppins had elephants, cows or camels. She said that only
horses. I asked her if Mary Poppins had a boy friend. Her answer was that it
was impossible as she lived on a cloud and could fly. My statement that her
boyfriend could also live on a cloud and know how to fly was ignored.
And so the two of us spent a most pleasant
evening in which a big chunk of that pleasure came from my watching Lauren’s
Since most of you who might be reading here
at this point know more about Mary Poppins than this blogger, I will not waste time explaining the
plot. I will not spend time praising the superb acting, the wonderful music
played by the orchestra headed by Bruce Kellet or even mention Millerd’s just
But as a total neophyte to the books by
P.L.Travers, the 1964 and or the Broadway musical I did notice a few things that especially
caught my eye.
Contemporary films with perfect special
effects can only be topped by even “more perfect” special effects which are so seamless
that most children take them all for granted and instantly become bored. Not so
with the special effects of this Mary Poppins. The wires are there to be seen
and yet we all gasped somewhere towards the end when Mary Poppins (played by
Sara-Jeanne Hosie and more of her later!) flies from the stage to the very back
of the theatre. In the collapsing kitchen scene the chaos that is instantly
corrected by Mary Poppins snapping her fingers is another delight and kudos to
Chris Stolz who is listed in the program as Magic Consultant. Mary Poppins’s
bottomless carpet bag is another pleasure. Everything except white rabbits
seemed to be trapped inside.
All in all Mary Poppins at the Stanley is a perfect
holiday play that should be full of delighted children.
And yet there is much more there for an
adult with watchful eyes.
The first scene at the bank has a dance
number that features some women wearing very tight (as in very tight) white
shirts with black ties, that made me wonder what exactly was worn by women in
Edwardian times (here around 1910). While Millerd intelligently axed the idea
that Winifred Banks (Caitriona Murphy) being a suffragette, this dance number
choreographed by Valerie Easton had me anticipating the sudden removal of tight
shirts and the burning (perhaps?) of whatever exotic Edwardian underpinnings
lay beneath. That other wonderful dance number, Step in Time almost convinced
me that I should like tap dancing!
It is here that I must come clean and
explain that after a 45 year marriage to my Rosemary it is clear to her that
should an opening suddenly appear in which I could conceivably have an affair
with Charlotte Rampling or Molly Parker I would leave her on the spot. Rosemary
knows this. Statistically this is unlikely. I must now add another woman to
that short list. And this woman is Sara-Jeanne Hosie. I wrote about her here
and here. Her performance as Mary Poppins cemented this awareness. Perhaps it
is all because of my recent viewing of Venus in Fur (Arts Club – Granville Stage)
with Lindsey Angell. Suddenly Hosie showing off her shoes in that delightful
song (dropped from the original movie) Practically Perfect, and noticing her
business-like outfit with a “well fitting” blouse it seemed like Millerd and company have
seen fit to give us a Mary Poppins to delight not only the children in the
audience but adults, too!
When I found out that Sara-Jeanne Hosie had
moved to Toronto
I moped for weeks. It is nice to see her back if only for a while. We are lucky
One last thing: Scott Walters as Bert was
perfect and his accent was perfect, too. Van Dyke would agree.
Then & Now
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
|Then - Arboledas, Estado de Mexico circa 1972|
Rosemary and I have had daily breakfast in
bed for 15 years which was about when we first became subscribed to the New
York Times. We alternate as to who prepares it but recently we have been doing
it together. We have a nice whicker tray we purchased at Eaton’s all those years ago. The tray has
been getting heavier for two reasons.
|Then - Rosa 'Brother Cadfael' August 2006|
One we are getting older so the tray seems
heavier. The other is that the tray has a superfluity of vitamin bottles mostly
of the “natural” kind. There is zinc for this and magnesium for that.
Coming up the stairs with tray in hand is
becoming tougher. My knees are buckling and my arthritis has of late affected
my right knee.
But breakfast in bed with the NY Times and
our Vancouver Sun is still the best time of the day. I do not feel in the least
guilty about staying in bed to thoroughly read the Times. Rosemary is not quite
there and sometimes she writes on her to-do notebook for the day.
It doesn’t take much intelligence to figure
out that breakfast in bed might have to eventually be modified unless we can arrange
for the building of a dumb waiter.
|Today - Rosa 'Brother Cadfael' |
Today I brought in what was left of Rosa ‘Brother
Cadfael’ (a delightful English Rose). I looked at it and before I scanned it
(and I must report that the scan is quite beautiful) I thought that the rose
represents me (I will not besmirch the youthful looks of my wife here). I am
not yet in W.H. Auden territory (as in facial territory) yet but I am getting
|November 1, 2013|
Pollarding The Hawthorn
Monday, November 11, 2013
Knowing it is going to rain for the next
five days Rosemary and I ventured into the garden. The toughest job (and
dangerous) is to pollard our very old English Hawthorn. This requires me to be
on an unsteady ladder (tembleque is a very appropriate Spanish word) and snip
with my secateurs the long branches that stick upwards. No matter how careful I
am I manage always to have bleeding fingers. Luckily today I did not hit my
head against any of the very spiky thorns. And I do wear my glasses.
|Rebecca Stewart & Hawthorn|
It was a few years ago when I defied
gravity thanks to the hawthorn. I was pruning it but I had not asked for help
from Rosemary. I was alone on the ladder. The ladder slipped and fell. But
something strange happened. I swear my body in mid air waited for the ladder to
fall before I plummeted on it. I fell on my side and I knew I had done damage
to my ribs. I could hardly breathe. A neighbour heard me and called an
ambulance. The ambulance came and took me to UBC’s Emergency where I was
patched up. From there I phoned Rosemary (who was extremely surprised) to come
and pick me up.
In my fall scan I have some spent
sunflowers, an ordinary hydrangea, a leaf from my Acer griseum and two roses.
The white one is English Rose, Rosa ‘Crocus Rose’ and the second one is English
Rose, Rosa ‘Eglantine’.
El Malecón De Cozumel
Sunday, November 10, 2013
It is not often that I photograph things. When I see a wonderful landscape I resist taking a picture and opt for buying the poscard. But this scene in the malecón (a beautiful Spanish word that means both a breakwater or a seaside boulevard) of Cozumel many years ago caught my eye and I took two photographs which seem to be just about identical. I used a very sharp contrasty film called Kodak Technical Pan film. I may have used a Nikon FM-2 with a 35mm lens.