Wong & Huisman Inject New Steam Into Vancouver Art
Saturday, February 15, 2014
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.
|Paul Wong & his neon plus sign hash tag |
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
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
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
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
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.
I also heard a few
people at the show comment that the pictures looked like driver’s license mug
|Mao Marilyn - Philippe Halsman 1967|
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
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
“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
|Lauren Elizabeth Stewart, 9 |
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
mucho que tal proyecto se pueda realizar, pero de igual forma agradezco
inmensamente la coincidencia y la oportunidad de este pequeño viaje a mi
Sociólogo, Investigador Histórico - Amigo
Jennifer Froese Youth Worker
Georgina Elizabeth Isles
Author/Lawyer/Assistant DA Travis County TX
Brother Edwin Charles Reggio, CSC
Mentor & Teacher
Raúl Guerrero Montemayor
Yeva & Thoenn Glover
André De Mondo
Johnna Wright & Sascha
Director/Mother - Son/Dreamer
Decker & Nick Hunt
Cat & 19th century amateur
Vancouver Sun Columnist
Statesman, Flag Designer
Vancouver Sun Columnist
Lauren Elizabeth Stewart
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, 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 Russians 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
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
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
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,
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
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
del cielo sobre el puerto era el de un televisor sintonizado en un canal muerto.
|Buenos Aires, September 2013|
The sky above the port was the color of
television, tuned to a dead channel.
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.
family is American, and has been for generations, in all its branches, direct
Sometimes I read a first line in a book in
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 Vancouver Public Library. 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:
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
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.
Joyce Carol Oates in a
review of Charyn’s novel in the New York Review of Books writes of this trend:
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
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
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
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
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
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.