A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.




 

Wong & Huisman Inject New Steam Into Vancouver Art
Saturday, February 15, 2014



 
Paul Wong & his neon plus sign hash tag



Two of my favourite pieces of art were painted in the 19th century by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes and by J.M.W. Turner. The former’s is his wonderful portrait of the Duke of Wellington which for me evokes a real man of flesh in blood as opposed to the wooden hero of history. The latter is his The Fighting Temeraire.

I wrote of the significance of Turner’s painting and how well it was used as a prop in the James bond film Skyfall. Read it here.

At my age of 70 I feel like that tired old wooden ship being towed to its breaking up by the latest gadget of the time, a steam driven tug boat.

The Winsor Gallery

For most of my years in Vancouver I have been a magazine photographer but I did “dabble” as an artist until framing, matting and un-brisk sales of my “so called” art convinced me finally that fame and fortune will first be preceded by my death.

There may be a whiff of a bitterness reminiscent of a little speech I heard Fred Herzog make at the opening of his first show at the Vancouver Art Gallery. He thanked the gallery and all those concerned but interjected that it would all have been better if they had discovered him when he was younger and in better health.


But I am happy to report that thanks to an artist talk today by Paul Wong (the show is called #PaulWong14) at the newly located Winsor Gallery I am  much more excited about art and of my own photography.

When I first went to Wong’s opening I liked his stuff on the wall but had no concept of what it was all about. As a product (that’s me) of the age of wooden ships (not quite but you get the idea) I have been unable to understand the purpose, or the art, of conceptual art. I remember going to a show on what used to be a tiny gallery row on Cordova near the now gone Classical Joint that featured a row of old shoes on a floor corner which had tubes on the wall dripping water into the shoes. I felt, I remember, like going to the gallery representatives and telling that I wanted one of those for my living room. 


 I read in my NY Times the difficulty that the big art dealers have in selling works by Jeff Koons that are sculptures made of balloons. I always thought that art had to have an important element of permanence.

In short I did not get the message from art that had a message to convey.

But when I heard Wong explain his complex art (complex, particularly in the size of the digital files involved) in which he mostly uses iPhones I began to see the light. Wong told us how his art (and when he says “my art” there is not an ounce of pretension!) it has all to do with making us (helping us) aware on how the ever more quick and frightening interjection of new media (with their gadgets) intrudes into our life.

Any of Wong’s works in my living room might induce an epileptic fit and in my bedroom it would cause insomnia fringing towards insanity. But seen in the large and clean space that is the new Winsor it all made sense. I left feeling I had read a good novel or seen a fine film - good novels, and films reveal, inspire, trouble, affect, challenge and certainly not bore. And Paul Wong’s video art is all that. And what helped me realize this was Wong's intimate, intelligent and personal explanation of his facts.

Enlightened somewhat (in what was a gray and dullish rainy day) my friend Ian Bateson (a recently self-avowed artist, who was just that, most of his life, while being distracted by being a good graphic designer) and I decided to see Katie Huisman’s show, Physical Attraction at the Initial Gallery (where the Monty Clark Gallery used to be).


I must clarify that this was my second time at Huisman’s show. I had attended the opening on Thursday. The show features the portraits of 50 couples in which through skillful use of Photoshop Huisman combines the face of one with the other to form a composite portrait that dramatically reveals that many of us seek in a partner someone that looks like us. 



I hears a few of my somewhat retired colleagues of the "Fighting Temeraire type" talking in a “so what” sort of mode. I heard one even ask,” How was life before Photoshop?”

And yet photographers have always been the first to break rules and use the latest equipment they can find. My own primitive use of Photoshop's tool called layers tells me that Huisman spent many hours working on her exhibition. Curiously whatever varnish she used on her portraits made a few stand out as if they were in 3-D! 



Physical Attraction at the Initial Gallery


The original use of electronic flash (perfected by Harold Eugene Edgerton) was to mount it on a reconnaissance version of the B-24 Liberator bomber an fly it at night over the French coast so as to find a suitable landing spot for the allied invading armies in WW-II. Obviously photographers found plenty of other used for this device.

And these old timer colleagues of mine might just not remember that Huisman’s technique was anticipated by Philippe Halsman (curious how close Halsman is to Huisman!) in 1967 in his Marilyn Being Mao. Halsman was a good friend of Salvador Dalí who asked him if he could think of a way to make Marilyn look like Chairman Mao. Halsman was stimulated by the challenge, and he carefully scaled one of his famous portraits of Marilyn with a close-up of the Chinese leader.


Mao Marilyn - Philippe Halsman 1967
 I also heard a few people at the show comment that the pictures looked like driver’s license mug shots.

That is certainly not true. The pictures are sharp and detailed. Huisman used two lights on either side of her subjects so as to purposely remove and kind of drama or depth to the portraits.

It is my feeling that it may be just as difficult to dislodge an emotion from a sitter as it is to keep that sitter free of all emotion. I believe that Huisman most skilfully, either by instinct or by a clear purpose, took the portraits as they are.

I went home happy that as I am being towed away to break up, Wong soldiers on (after all he is only 60) and Huisman will inject new steam into what I thought was a moribund art, the art of photography.










Mavis Gallant - 11 August 1922 – 18 February 2014
Friday, February 14, 2014


Lauren Elizabeth Stewart,  9

“Unconsciously, everyone under the age of 10 knows everything. Under-ten can come into a room and sense at once everything felt, kept silent, held back in the way of love, hate and desire, though he may not have the right words for such sentiments. It is part of the clairvoyant immunity to hypocrisy we are born with and that vanishes just before puberty.”

The Doctor, Mavis Gallant, The New Yorker, June 20 1977


Nikon FM-2 50mm lens, President's Choice No Name Colour Negative 800 ISO

 



Carmen Alatorre - Costume Designer - Diseñadora De Vestuario
Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Mother's Red Shawl - El Rebozo Colorado
Carmen Alatorre - Costume Designer - Diseñadora de Vestuario





In English

I left Alex’s home Studio steeped in the familiar. When I arrived he proposed to me in his perfect Spanish to sit down and chat before taking my photograph “cold turkey.” “How would you say that in Mexico?” he asked. I giggled and answered “De sopetón,” while thinking of my best friend who is constantly reminding me that my Mexican Spanish is a relic of the 90s.

Alex’s house, a Vancouver house from the outside, both in structure and façade could easily be one from la Colonia Mixcoac in Mexico City. It is reminiscent of those houses upholstered in books of Latin American literature, the rooms filled with the verve of stories read, persons and objects photographed, illustrations  from Toledo and wooden chests from Olinalá.

The red rebozo was neatly folded inside that chest made from wood from the State of Guerrero. Its fragrance of pure Mexico. Alex told me that his mother took the rebozo from Mexico to Argentina in the early 50s.

With the rebozo in my hands, that incorrigible searcher of the past in Mexico, recognized herself in its texture and smell. And she found herself with that part of myself that had already become a theatrical costume designer in Canada in the second quarter slice of her life. It was the smell of the Mexico that my grandmother lived that attached itself to that more or less recent duality of mine. I am Mexican and Canadian.  

In these last years, as a costume designer, my mind has been trained automatically to analyze materials, textures and the approximate age of these vestments. In this case my analysis came with a nostalgia of belonging.

Recently I have designed the costumes for that well known play whose title in Spanish is “El chofer de la Señora Daisy, is being performed by the Arts Club Theatre Company. In spite of those cultural and geographic differences the project brought me a nostalgia similar and related to the recent death of my grandmother. Studying the fashion of elderly ladies from 1948 to 1973, naturally took me to study her photographs and I wondered how this play would be adapted to that system of caste and racism that has permeated my country of origin for so many centuries.

I have my doubts that such a project, a Mexican Driving Miss Daisy, would see the light of day but I am still most grateful of the coincidence and opportunity in this little voyage to my interior self.


 In Spanish


Salí de la casa-estudio de Alex permeada de una sensación de familiaridad. En su perfecto español, al llegar me propuso sentarnos a platicar un poco antes de tomar la foto a la “cold turkey”. ¿Cómo  se decía en México? Me preguntó. “De sopetón”, contesté con risitas y teniendo a mi mejor amiga en mente, quien me recuerda seguido que mi español mexicano es una reliquia de los años noventa.

La casa de Alex, si bien bastante vancouverita en estructura y fachada, podría ser perfectamente una casa de la Colonia Mixcoac en la Ciudad de México en su interior. De aquellas casas tapizadas de libros de literatura latinoamericana, los cuartos llenos del brío de historias leídas, personas y objetos fotografiados, dibujos Toledanos, y cofres de Olinalá.

El rebozo colorado estaba perfectamente doblado dentro de un baúl de esta madera proveniente de Guerrero. Puro olor a México. Me cuenta Alex que su mamá lo llevo desde allá a Argentina en los años cincuenta.

Al tener el rebozo en mis manos, aquella buscadora empedernida del pasado en México, se reconoció en su textura y olor. Y tuvo un encuentro con la yo que se formó como vestuarista de teatro en Canadá durante la segunda cuarta parte de su vida. El olor al México que vivió mi abuela, hizo alquimia con mi mas ó menos reciente mexicaneidad-canadiense.

En los últimos años, mi trabajo como diseñadora de vestuario, ha entrenado a mi mente a analizar de manera automática materiales, texturas, y fechas aproximadas de cualquier vestimenta. En este caso, el análisis vino acompañado de una gran nostalgia y sentido de pertenencia.

Hace poco diseñé el vestuario para aquella conocida obra que se tituló en español “El chofer de la Señora Daisy”, puesta en escena por Arts Club Theatre Company. A pesar de la diferencias culturales y geográficas, el proyecto me trajo una nostalgia similar relacionada con la reciente muerte de mi abuela. El estudio de la moda en mujeres mayores desde 1948 hasta 1973, naturalmente me obligó a revisar sus fotos y me hizo preguntarme como sería esta historia adaptada al sistema de castas y el racismo que ha permeado mi país de origen por tantos siglos.

Dudo mucho que tal proyecto se pueda realizar, pero de igual forma agradezco inmensamente la coincidencia y la oportunidad de este pequeño viaje a mi interior.



Roberto Baschetti Sociólogo, Investigador Histórico - Amigo

Jennifer Froese Youth Worker

Rachel Cairns Actor

Jennifer Landels Espadachina

Judith Currelly Pilot- Artist

Jim Erickson Set Decorator

Alexandra Hill Soprano

Georgina Elizabeth Isles Figure Model

Emma Middleton Actor

Mark Pryor Author/Lawyer/Assistant DA Travis County TX

Brother Edwin Charles Reggio, CSC Mentor & Teacher

Veronica Vex Burlesque Dancer

George McWhirter Poet

Raúl Guerrero Montemayor Padre-Compadre

Alexandra Waterhouse-Hayward Maestra

Shirley Gnome Singer/Provocateur

Yeva & Thoenn Glover Dancers/Choreographers

JJ Lee Writer

Jacqueline Model

Cathy Marsden Psychiatrist

André De Mondo Wanderer

Colin MacDonald Saxophonist/Composer

Nina Gouveia Yoga Instructor

Stacey Hutton Excercise Physiologist

Colleen Wheeler Actor

Sarah Rodgers Actor, Director,Mother


Tim Turner- Real Estate Agent 

Kiera Hill Dancer

Johnna Wright & Sascha Director/Mother - Son/Dreamer

Decker & Nick Hunt Cat & 19th century amateur

George Bowering Poet

Celia Duthie Gallerist

Linda Lorenzo Mother

Katheryn Petersen Accordionist

Stefanie Denz Artist

Ivette Hernández Actress

Byron Chief-Moon Actor/Dancer

Colin Horricks Doctor

Ian Mulgrew Vancouver Sun Columnist

Jocelyn Morlock Composer

Corinne McConchie Librarian

Rachel Ditor Dramaturg

Patrick Reid Statesman, Flag Designer

Michael Varga CBC Cameraman

Bronwen Marsden Playwright/Actress/Director

David Baines Vancouver Sun Columnist

Alex Waterhouse-Hayward Photographer

Lauren Elizabeth Stewart Student

Sandrine Cassini Dancer/Choreographer

Meredith Kalaman Dancer/Choreographer

Juliya Kate Dominatrix



Kharkov, Kursk, Balaclava, Yalta & Sevastopol
Wednesday, February 12, 2014




The Valley of the Shadow of Death - Roger Fenton 1855


It is strange that with Ukraine so much in the news and with several mentions of Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych  attempting refuge in Balaclava, Kharkiv (very near the Russian city of Kursk) and Sevastopol, very near Yalta, that nobody has written about the connection of these places to history. There has not even been a mention of that war, the Crimean which was really the first war to be photographed. It was photographed by photographer Roger Fenton who also photographed the British Royal Family. It was Roger Fenton’s much discussed photograph (did he add spent shells to make the picture more photogenic?) The Valley of the Shadow of Death that first gave a glimpse to the average person of the destructive power of modern warfare. Or perhaps it tell us of what we now call the fog of war.

The original minus canon balls?

 Forgotten in the dispatches from Ukraine is the fact that this country has no real mountains and legions, armies and barbarians have moved back in forth, east to west and west to east, through it for hundreds if not thousands of years.


Yalta, February 1945
 

Forgotten, too is that great Third Battle of Kharkov, Feb 20 - March 18, 1943 in which Hitler picked his best general, Erich von Manstein to make sure this third battle would be a success. After a huge fight with guerrillas and snipers in the city the Germans finally won. The victory made them over-indulgent in their hopes for victory which lead to the largest tank battle of all time in the nearby Russian city of Kursk,m July/August 1943. The Germans lost thousands of tanks which they could not replace as quickly as the Russians did. The Russians had wisely moved their tank factories east, far away from the range of German bombers while allies did their job of bombing German war industry into submission. Forgotten, too is the fact that von Manstein was made a Field Marshall by Hitler when he decisively (before Khakov) defeated the Russinans in 7 June, July 4, 1942 at Sevastopol.

Eric von Manstein




Grace Symmetry - Swirls Of Excitement
Tuesday, February 11, 2014



 
Centre, Darren Devaney


Many of us who live in Vancouver do not understand that in spite of pitiful funding of the arts we somehow manage to have a most exciting city full of stuff that bigger cities only dream of.

My birthplace of Buenos Aires features lots of theatre, ballet, opera, art and music. But in a recent perusal of BA newspapers  while there this past September I saw lots of 19th century ballet and symphonic music. There was nothing new, nothing 20th or 21st century. And worse of all they have few libraries where you can check out a book and take it home!

My guess is that it has been some years since porteños last heard Olivier Messiaen’s exquisite Quartet for the End of Time . Vancouver’s Turning Point Ensemble played it three years ago and they keep presenting concerts with music that is rarely heard on the radio or in concert halls. And consider that Vancouver’s  Microcosmos String Quartet has been playing in 2013 and in this year all three Benjamin Britten Quartets, and Bella Bartok’s 6 String Quartets.
  
And if you think that our VSO is somehow stuck in the 19th century you are wrong. Only recently they had a four day extravaganza, a first ever New Music Festival.


 

Next week, on the 20th, 21st and 22nd, the Turning Point Ensemble is joining forces  with
These evenings of modern dance will feature three living composers, Lera Auerbach, John King and our very own Owen (sorry about that alliteration) Underhill who is also the director of the Turning Point Ensemble.


 Vancouver’s choreographer Wen Wei Wang's piece In Motion has as music Underhill’s Geometry of Motion. The piece does feature pointe shoes if you think it might be a barefoot kind of evening. The musical group here is a smaller one and there is a wonderful section Brenda Fedoruk on stage playing her flute while a solo dancer (on Tuesday at the rehearsal it was Alexis Fletcher) whirls around her.

Kevin O’Day’s Here & There (from Detroit via Germany so he told me) will be danced to John King’s time-vectors/still points features most of Ballet BC’s dancers and a large segment of Turning Point Ensemble’s musicians.

Lastly choreographer/dancer (a most exciting one) Medhi Walerski’s piece, Prelude is unusual and the music for violin and piano by Lera Auerbach features sweet music which might sit well after the ballistics of John King (Turning Point pianist Jane Hayes came as close to demolishing the Steinway in the first rehearsal this Tuesday). 

If you didn’t know, one of the most innovative dance groups in the world is the Netherlands Dance Theatre. That Emily Molnar has the connections to lure Walerski from his post there says a lot of the quality and direction of Ballet BC and a growing standing in the world of dance, Vancouver style. I will not reveal more but say that a very long black string is attached in this work.

If by now you are wondering how I know some of the stuff mentioned above I have to boast that I was lucky enough to have my request to take pictures of the first rehearsal accepted by Emily Molnar’s Ballet BC and Jeremy Berkman, trombonist and co-Artistic Director had no objections which he conveyed to me with a warm smile. 



This means I spent a whole day walking around musicians, standing a mere two feet behind Owen Underhill while he was directing, watching Hayes’s piano shake the foundations of the hall (the Arts Umbrella Studio on 7th Avenue) but best of all watching Ballet BC dancers warm up. Some used odd artifacts. One dancer rolled her upper thighs and legs on a tennis ball while another on a small red rubber ball. Most of the dancers with imposing leg muscles even managed to look cute in their special foot cozies.

I wondered why these dancers were so silent and serious looking. One dancer informed me that they were thinking about what they had to do and that kept them very busy.




There was one quiet spoken man, Sylvain Senez (Ballet BC's rehearsal director) who seemed to be the WD-40 of the day. He smoothed out the differences between the dancers and the musicians, proving that the French indeed are still masters of diplomacy.

As it was explained to me, dancers count steps and those steps that they count don’t always have anything to do with the music. Of this I know a bit as in Argentine Tango, the man can stop on the dance floor whenever he likes for whatever reason he might have or feel. In Argentine Tango the man not the music is in charge.



It would seem then that when a musical group accompanies a dance troupe, the dancers are in charge and the musical director has to adapt. I was there when Underhill pointed out to his orchestra that there were triplets on several pages of the music in which the musicians (with the exception of the violins, so I heard) had to play them staccato as the dances would appreciate them as cues.

During the rehearsal some very young Arts Umbrella dancers, accompanied by their teacher, Margaret Reader-Martin sat down at the edge of the dance floor to watch. As soon as Emily Molnar noticed she went up to them and went on her knees (she can be intimidating as she is about 6ft tall) and introduced herself to them. Molnar knows that sooner or later quite a few of those young girls and boys will find their way to Ballet BC in their late teens. In fact Ballet BC has five dancers that are Arts Umbrella alumni and three of their apprentices are from there, too.




I noticed that the students (Ballet 3A) were not in the least intimidated by the music that while not in the least like Tchaikovsky was not Bella Bartok either. When you listen to modern and new music danced somehow what you think is chaos is not in the least that. If you have a good ear watch for the sound of an unusual instrument not seen too often, this is Caroline Gauthiere’s bass clarinet. Another unusual instrument in Underhill’s Geometry of Harmony as you will hear a vibraphone, played by percussionist Martin Fiks. Underhill’s choice is to have the vibraphone not plugged into the wall for less of a tremolo effect.

While it is exciting to be present at an opening performance of a brand new work of dance (three of them! Strictly speaking two as Wen Wei Wang’s was first premiered by Ballet BC in April 2011) it cannot compare to being so close that you can hear the dancers breathe and the whispering of the choreographers when they gently nudge dancers to try it again in a different way.

 Not usually known is that dance like film (of the moving picture kind) has a ritual and a set of rules. One of them is awfully expensive. When you commission a new work or obtain permission to perform it, it is clear that you have to pay the choreographer and the composer. You have to pay royalties. Even lesser known is that the choreographer (or a representative) must be present at rehearsals and at performances. This means, if the choreographer is from abroad, airplane tickets, hotel accommodations, etc.

It is my guess that Emily Molnar, Ballet BC, Turning Point Ensemble must be most careful on how money is spent. This sort of dance performance is not run of the mill stuff danced with recorded music.

There is only one way to support this sort of thing in our really fun city. And that is to go to these performances and nurture an exciting dance company and a little musical group that could and certainly can.




Together Ballet BC and Turning Point Ensemble will dazzle you with Grace Symmetry.

But I cannot quit here without telling you that I am a fan of a dancer who wowed me in Medhi Walerski’s Prelude. This is Edmonton born Darren Devaney whose spare body seems to soar while injecting a peculiar style of lively humour that made me want to watch him all the time. And if that were not enough, Devaney's partner in this work is the superb Rachel Meyer (she of the little red ball).




The pictures you see here I call dance swirls. I used a Fuji X-E1 rated at 3200 ISO b+w and the bulk of them were taken with shutters speeds that fluctuated around 1/15th, 1/8 and 14 of a second. 


















Dances For A Small Stage Taps Jim Hibbard
Monday, February 10, 2014





One of my fave dance performances every year is Movent’s Dances for a Small Stage which is celebrating its 30th incarnation from February 13 to February 15 (at the Ukrainian Centre, 154 East 10th Avenue). In charge of it all is Julie-anne Saroyan and ably assisted and co-curated by that delightful Arts Umbrella alumnus, Karissa Barry. For more info here

The setup formula is a small and intimate venue where you can watch dance and drink to your heart’s delight. But if you are going to go through the 10 different performances, as your attorney I suggest you imbibe with restraint as the end of the evening you do not want to miss Noam Gagnon with James Fagan Tait & Patti Allen. 

Since I cannot tell you how good some of the other acts will be (you must trust the Saroyan/Barry curations) I can inform you that you do not want to miss that other Arts Umbrella alumnus, Lina Fitzner who will be joined by Corbin Murdoch.

At today’s rehearsal I did see Kirsten Wicklund’s act in which she re-makes the idea of working within the limitations of a small stage by partially dancing on a minute raised box.

But I will be up front by telling you that the real reason I went to today’s rehearsal was to see Jim Hibbard.


Hibbard in his career as a dancer has appeared in five Elvis films (choreographed one of them) and has danced in such films as Hello Dolly, Gypsy and Finnian’s Rainbow.

In his youth, Hibbard was inspired by watching Gene Kelly in movies and decided to be a dancer. Little did he know that he would end up dancing with Kelly and with Astaire, too.

I knew none of these facts when I first met Hibbard at the CBC in 1976. I was the stills photographer.  He was the choreographer and leader of a jazz dancing group that performed for the many musical variety shows that were produced by the CBC in the mid to late 70s and early 80s. In fact one of the young women of his group happened to be the daughter of our Vancouver Police Chief. Another, Valery Easton is now the choreographer of most of the musicals of the Arts Club Theatre Company.

I did not know of Hibbard’s career in film. All I knew was that he was a very good dancer, a warm person with a beautiful radio voice  and who gave me the best advice I ever received from anybody on how to photograph dance.

Shoot dancers from the floor, nice and low. If you can dig a hole into the floor, all the better. 


 It was my surprise to find out that the 70-year-old dancer was not choreographing some young dancer. No. He was the act. Hibbard dances, with his tap dance shoes, to Van Morrison’s Moondance.

I was perplexed that during his lively performance he had a red wash cloth in his left hand.

I enquired as both John Murphy (he is the Emcee) and I were curious.

It seems that during the making of Hello Dolly, Hibbard found himself sweating a lot (“I sweat when I watch someone move,” he told us) he was approached by Louis Armstrong who told him, “I recommend you use a hanky like I do.”

And so he did.









Jim Hibbard, far right



First Paragraphs & Autobiographical Novels
Sunday, February 09, 2014


Buenos Aires, September 2013

El aspecto del cielo sobre el puerto era el de un televisor sintonizado en un canal muerto.
Neuromante, William Gibson

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
Neuromancer, William Gibson


As first paragraphs go that one is pretty good. Many times when I am about to select a book at a bookstore or a library I look for that first paragraph. If it is not a mystery novel, I sometimes go to the last page.

One of my favorite first lines is from the Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant. When I read it in the volume given to me by a librarian at the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library I realized why I had wanted to read the memoirs for such a long time.

My family is American, and has been for generations, in all its branches, direct and collateral.


Sometimes I read a first line in a book and Spanish, I am wowed and then I wonder how it would translate.

This happened recently when I read Tomás Eloy Martínez’s fantastic 1995, Santa Evita which I located in the Spanish section of the VPL. I soon read the English translation as I found Santa Evita in English at the McGill Branch of the Burnaby Public Library. Here are the two in Spanish and, in English as translated by Helen Lane:

Al despertar de un desmayo que duró más de tres días, Evita tuvo al fin la certeza de que iba a morir. Se le habían disipado ya las atroces punzadas en el vientre y el cuerpo estaba de nuevo limpio, a solas consigo mismo, en una beatitud sin tiempo y sin lugar. Sólo la idea de la muerte no le dejaba de doler. Lo peor de la muerte era la blancura, el vacío, la soledad del otro lado: el cuerpo huyendo como un caballo a galope.

On coming out of a faint that lasted more than three days, Evita was certain at last that she was going to die. The terrible pains in her abdomen had gone away, and her body was clean again, alone with itself, in a bliss without time or place. Only the idea of death still hurt her. The worst part about death was not that it occurred. The worst part about death was the whiteness, the emptiness, the loneliness of the other side: one body racing off like a galloping steed.


The above first paragraphs are from what I see as a curious, new and most interesting trend. This is to write a novel in the first person that reads as an autobiography even if it is not. Tomás Eloy Martínez magically intrudes on Evita’s words in the second chapter:

In this novel peopled by real characters, the only ones I never met, were Evita and the Colonel [not Perón but a very Prussian like Colonel Moori Koenig of the Argentine Intelligence Service]. I saw Evita from a distance, in Tucumán, one morning on a national holiday. as for Colonel Moori Koenig, I found a couple of photos and a few traces of him. The newspapers of the period mention him openly and, often, disparagingly. It took me months to meet his widow, who lived in an austere apartment on the calle Arenales and who agreed to see me only after putting me off time and time again.

This trend now includes Jerome Charyn’s lovely (in first person) The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson – A Novel.

Joyce Carol Oates in a review of Charyn’s novel in the New York Review of Books writes of this trend:

Of literary sleights of hand none is more exhilarating for the writer, as none is likely to be riskier, than the appropriation of another—classic—writer’s voice. In recent years there has emerged a company of remarkably imaginative, sympathetic, and diverse fictional portraits of literary predecessors: Michael Cunningham’s The Hours (Virginia Woolf); Colm Tóibín’s The Master (Henry James); Jay Parini’s The Last Station (Tolstoy); Edmund White’s Hotel de Dream (Stephen Crane, with appearances by Henry James and Joseph Conrad); Sheila Kohler’s Becoming Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë, with sisters Emily and Anne).

Jerome Charyn’s introduction to The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson – A Novel is most interesting and inspiring:


She was the first poet I had ever read, and I was hooked and hypnotized from the start, because in her writing she broke every rule. Words had their own chain reaction, their own fire. She could stun, delight, and kill “with Dirks of Melody.” I never quite recovered from reading her. I, too, wanted to create “ [a]perfect – paralyzing Bliss,” to have my sentences explode “ like a Maelstrom, with a notch.”




Because of Charyn’s enthusiasm and skill I am looking forward to reading shortly his new novel, a first person “autobiography’ on Lincoln, I Am Abraham.

The first paragraph of another first person “autobiography” on Evita by the well regarded Argentine novelist Marcos Aguinis, La Furia de Evita, 2013 reads as follows (I will have to translate it into English)

Ya no temo decir lo que quiera. Tampoco hablar en contra de mí. Sacar la cabeza de las aguas limpias y las aguas sucias en las que nadé, rodeada de peces de colores y cocodrilos hambrientos. Necesito compartir una montaña de dulces y basura. Es lo que voy a hacer con este libro.
La Furia De Evita, Marcos Aguinis, 2013

I am no longer afraid of saying anything I may want to say. Nor to speak against myself. To come to the surface of the clean waters and the dirty waters in which I swam, surrounded by multicoloured fish and hungry crocodiles. I need to share a mountain of sweets and garbage. That is what I am going to do with this book.
La Furia de Evita, Marcos Aguinis, 2013
My translation

I think I could go on and on with this. I will not but I will linger with one of my favourite Cuban novelists that I read in Spanish and or in English, depending what I can find at our VPL. Carlos Padilla (formerly in some books, Carlos Padilla Fuentes) writes of a contemporary Havana in which he masks in a most subtle way the shortages of Castro’s regime. His protagonist in the novels that most interest me is a police detective called Mario Conde. I would describe the man as a Cuban Marlowe, not a private dectective, but a policeman who suffers that existential angst that Chandler injected into his novels. Conde is a sort of tropical Marlowe. His novels have different titles to those in Spanish. Four of them are listed as the Havana Quartet, Havana Black, Havana Blue, Havana Red and Havana Gold. The latter is Spanish is Vientos de Cuaresma which would translate as Lenten Winds. I find the first paragraph interesting as it mimics Chandler’s Santa Ana wind.


There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge. 
Raymond Chandler, Red Wind

Here is Padura’s first paragraph from Havana Gold:

It was Ash Wednesday and, eternally punctual, a parched choking wind swept through the barrio stirring up filth and sorrow, as if sent straight from the desert to recall the Messiah’s sacrifice. Sand from quarries and ancient hatreds stuck to rancour and fear and the rubbish overflowing from bins; the last dry leaves of winter scattered, coated with the stench of the tannery, and the birds of spring vanished as if anticipating an earthquake. The dust cloud smothered the evening light and each act of breathing required a conscious, painful effort.
Havana Gold, Leonardo Padura
Translated by Peter Bush

 I would like to point out here that whatever merit you might see or not  see in the above it is all possible thanks to our well stocked Lower Mainland libraries.






     

Previous Posts
Abraham Darby - Three Men & an Over the Top Rose

Doctor Pat McGeer - The Basketball Player

The State of Being Alone

Red

Grace & Elegance

I hoed and trenched and weeded

Performances That Have Melted Into Thin Air

Love Is Doing - Rosemary Does

Resistentialism & Free Will

La Belle Sultane



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3/5/17 - 3/12/17

3/12/17 - 3/19/17

3/19/17 - 3/26/17

3/26/17 - 4/2/17

4/2/17 - 4/9/17

4/9/17 - 4/16/17

4/16/17 - 4/23/17

4/23/17 - 4/30/17

4/30/17 - 5/7/17

5/7/17 - 5/14/17

5/14/17 - 5/21/17

5/21/17 - 5/28/17

5/28/17 - 6/4/17

6/4/17 - 6/11/17

6/11/17 - 6/18/17

6/18/17 - 6/25/17