Alastair Reid - March 22, 1926 - September 21, 2014
Saturday, September 27, 2014
|Gaticuchi Waterhouse-Hayward - 1976 - 1991|
Curiosity - Alastair Reid
may have killed the cat; more likely
the cat was just unlucky, or else curious
to see what death was like, having no cause
to go on licking paws, or fathering
litter on litter of kittens, predictably.
Nevertheless, to be curious
is dangerous enough. To distrust
what is always said, what seems
to ask odd questions, interfere in dreams,
leave home, smell rats, have hunches
do not endear cats to those doggy circles
where well-smelt baskets, suitable wives,
are the order of things, and where prevails
much wagging of incurious heads and tails.
Face it. Curiosity
will not cause us to die--
only lack of it will.
Never to want to see
the other side of the hill
or that improbable country
where living is an idyll
(although a probable hell)
would kill us all.
Only the curious
have, if they live, a tale
worth telling at all.
Dogs say cats love too much, are
are changeable, marry too many wives,
desert their children, chill all dinner
with tales of their nine lives.
Well, they are lucky. Let them be
nine-lived and contradictory,
curious enough to change, prepared to pay
the cat price, which is to die
and die again and again,
each time with no less pain.
A cat minority of one
is all that can be counted on
to tell the truth. And what cats have to
on each return from hell
is this: that dying is what the living do,
that dying is what the loving do,
and that dead dogs are those who do not
that dying is what, to live, each has to do.
The 20th Century Over Lunch (Two Deluxe Pizzas)
Friday, September 26, 2014
|Horst Wenzel & Guy Berthiaume|
In 1950 ice was
delivered to our house once a week by a man in a horse drawn carriage. A
modified covered carriage with car tires and also drawn by horse brought us our
milk, butter and cream. In the second grade I have a lasting memory of having
our class taken by a man with a large camera on a tripod. The light was
literally a flash in the pan. It was magnesium.
My first contact with
a TV was in the house of the daughter of the head of GM in Argentina. I
did not have a phone at home until I was 14.
I was a passenger,
many times in Douglas DC-3s, DC-6s and a Lockheed Constellation.
People were taken to
the cemetery in beautiful black enameled carrozas (in Argentina we called them pompas fúnebres) drawn by four horses. The
men, four of them had black top hats and I could spy the coffin through
beautiful glass with beveled edges. My house was a block away from a big
hospital. The carroza passed empty in one direction and full on the other. The
horses clopped on the cobblestones and I remember those black plumes over their
The above is ample
proof that I am a product and a man of the last century. I am now in the wrong
end of a confusing segment of my life.
I am not ready to put
my head into the ground like an African ostrich.
Sometimes the 20th
century returns in little fun occasions. One such occasion happened on
At one o’clock I met
up with Horst Wenzel and Guy Berthiaume for lunch (two deluxe pizzas) at Bean
Brothers in our nearby Kerrisdale village on 41st Avenue. Both Horst
Wenzel, 75, and I, 72 brought show and tells. Guy Berthiaume, 69, brought his
French Canadian charm.
Wenzel repairs cameras
with a skill that it so much in demand and lacking in so many countries that he
has more work than he can handle. He keeps my mechanical cameras operational.
Berthiaume until not too long ago was the most pleasant and patient counter man
at Kerrisdale Cameras (still there across Bean Brothers). He gave me good
advice and sold me some good equipment.
What I did not know is
that people like Berthiaume and Wenzel have, because of an obvious accessibility,
a penchant for collecting cameras that soon enough become a problem with
dusting wives (remember that since these men are from my century a dusting wife
is not an anachronism).
We talked solid about
minute differences between camera A and camera B. I brought several cameras
including the two you see here. One is a Leica IIIF the other a Russian swivel
lens panoramic called a Horizont. Wenzel is now doing extra money painting cameras (Leicas) from all over the world in brilliant colours including one to replicate the colours of the American flag.
Such was the pleasure
of our long chat that we have decided to bring back the 20th century
once a month.
¿Por qué nací entre espejos?
Thursday, September 25, 2014
García Lorca, Canción del naranjo seco (a Carmen Morales) -1921
nací entre espejos?
El día me
Y la noche
vivir sin verme.
hojas y mis
de verme sin toronjas.
Cut loose my shadow,
Free me from this
Of seeing myself
Why was I born among
Day revolves around me
And night copies me
In all its stars.
I want to live without
I will dream that
Ants and hawks
Are my leaves and
Cut loose my shadow
Free me from this
Of seeing myself
Exhalar El Fantasma
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
To give up the ghost
Is the task of the
to drink memories
is the role of the
translated by George McWhirter from Poems for the Double
Five years ago my
friend Abraham Jedidiah Rogatnick died. A year before he had given me his Mexican papier-mâché
skeleton telling me, “I am going to die soon so you can have him.” I instantly
gave him the name Pancho el Equeleto and sat him in a lovely antique chair in
the corner of our dining room. Pancho holds court for all our meals.
Since I lived in Mexico for many
years death (and particularly since I am 72) is in my thoughts every day.
Mexicans know about death, they face it and rarely use euphemisms when talking
about it. I would say that Abraham Jedidiah Rogatnick was an honourary Mexican.
Few, I believe would
be comfortable listening to me read Ambrose Bierce’s Parker Adderson
Philosopher by his bedside. He died four days later. We discussed the idea that
even if we knew death were coming we would never be prepared if it came
suddenly and in the present (the theme of Bierce’s story). We decided that if
someone were to press a gun to our temple, only then would we know if we would
face death with equanimity.
At the dinner table on
Saturdays (Pancho presiding) when Hilary and our younger granddaughter Lauren,
12, are at the table I often mention my soon to depart on that one way voyage.
Rosemary objects and Hilary says I should not be talking like that in front of
Lauren looks at me impassively
and either suspects I am joking but won’t tell or she considers it all quite
normal. I like that in her. This is why I like this Fuji Instant print so much.
This is the perfect Lauren expression similar to her sister Rebecca’s. From
early age they know I don’t ever ask them to smile for my camera. I like these
When Lauren was a
little girl she was a fussy eater and she would tell us at the table, “Don’t
Lauren now sits on the
other side of the table and stares at me much like in this picture. As a joke I
tell her, “Don’t see me!”
es tarea de
es oficio de muertos
Aridjis – Los Poemas del Doble
Missing The Living
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Desterrar a país extranjero. U. t. c. prnl.
Sometimes a particular
language does not have the word that fits a feeling. I can say I miss my
friend, architect Abraham Rogatnick who died five years ago. That word “miss”
is not sufficient. Consider its Spanish equivalent “extrañar” defined by my on-line (the best on-line dictionary around, in my opinion) Diccionario
de la lengua española - Real Academia Española. You may note that the
root comes from the Latin and that it means to banish someone to a foreign
country. The Spanish word to banish is desterrar (literally to remove a person
from his land and forcibly send him to a foreign one).
If I say, “Extraño a
Abraham Rogatnick,” it is far more heart wrenching than to, “I miss Abraham.”
As many of my
contemporaries have become enamoured with taking pictures (sunsets and city
skylines) with their iPhones and publishing them in social media as square instagrams,
as a photographer I feel isolated and alienated (enajenado, alienāre). Those days in the 70s and 80s when I was thrilled by photographs that pushed boundaries in Saturday Night (a magazine) are but a memory.
I miss that life of
magazines, cameras, art directors and waiting to see my cover next week or next
month. It was always a fresh thrill. I miss talking shop. What is a Canon Pellix? How does it compare to a
Beseler Topcon? Should I use Agfa Rodinal or Kodak HC-110 to process my Kodak
Tri-X? When your studio lights exploded where you saved by a humble Norman 200B?
I smell sweet savours
The Spanish equivalent
of “to miss” does add the idea of not only missing something but being out of
the realm of that which you miss. It is somehow a double whammy.
I miss my rapidly
diminishing family, mentors and friends. I have written before that I never
broke up with former girlfriends. One dumped me in the modern parlance. I miss them for I still love them. The one who dumped me died of
cancer a few years ago. On a trip to Buenos
Aires, years before that (I was married,
she was divorced) I rang the bell to her apartment. She opened the door and
said, bluntly, “Aren’t you going to kiss me?”
I miss the smells of
the Argentine trains and subways. It’s that rust from wheel brakes mixed with
human urine. I miss the smell of meat being roasted in the business district of
Buenos Aires, and the smell of nixtamal wafting from the many tortilla
factories in Mexico City. I miss the smell of sewers and brine on the malecón in my mother's Veracruz. I miss her scent, Chanel No 5 or Joy. I miss the abrasion of my father's shaved face when he kissed me.
In Vancouver I love to go into Leo’s Cameras on Granville Street. The
place is familiar to me as what camera shops used to look like and smell like. When
cameras where made of metal, there was a particularly unique scent to them.I can smell that at Leo's. Leo's still sells hefty, heavy metal cameras alongside the less interesting DSLR clunkers with no soul.
I often go to our back
lane in summer to smell Rosemary’s sweet peas. I miss in my memory their smell in the now quaint gardens of my youth.
But of late I have
come to miss (extraño) friends who are not dead. They are alive in a twilight
zone. Sometimes there are moments of lucidity, but they are few and far between.
I miss my Halifax-born, 1946, friend,
journalist, Sean Rossiter who is suffering from an advanced case
of Parkinson’s. I was told today by our mutual friend, architect Alan James
that Rossiter is now in a full care facility. James asked him, “Do you want
Alex to visit you?” In a rare lucidity he immediately answered, “Yes.”
It was while watching
the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC (Rosemary and are glued to her program from 6
to 7 every afternoon) that on a US Navy Video on operations from the aircraft
carrier USS George H. W. Bush I noted the F-18s taking off. Rossiter would have
immediately told me of the variant. Both he and I would have also spotted that
ungainly (more so than the exquisite to us Grumman A6-B Intruder) Northrop/Grumman
EA-6B Prowler about to take off on its mission to jam enemy radar attached to
surface to air missile sites. We would both have told you (if you were to ask)
that this plane is rarely equipped with armament and that its role is to prevent
US fighter jets from being shot down.
I miss talking
airplanes with Rossiter. I miss his dry almost unemotional take on our city
politics which made him necessary reading for our city’s politicians when he
was writing his Vancouver Magazine column 12 & Cambie. I miss tolerating
his smoking and his controlled beer drinking at strip parlours like the Marble
Arch and Number 5 Orange.
I even miss talking
hockey with him even though I am not a hockey fan. Hockey (as I am an
Argentine-born man is an alienating sort-of-thing) is not something I enjoy.
I miss Rossiter using
that word unique to him when he liked something, “It’s sensational.”
I miss Rossiter
because he represents an era when our city awakened itself to politics and
waited from one day to the next what was going to be on the front page of a
city newspaper, a paper and ink newspaper or a magazine, put together with
staples, on a newsstand.
I miss Rossiter because we both admired our city architecture and its architects. I photographed Arthur Erickson many times to illustrate the many articles Rossiter wrote about him.
|Abbotsford Air Show 2011|
Best of all I miss
going with Rossiter to air shows, particularly the one on Whidbey Island Naval
Air Station where we could feast our eyes on that beautiful Grumman A-6B
Intruder. Both of us knew of its capabilities for destruction, but there was a
beauty (reminiscent in that ungainly EA-6b Prowler) of the plane as a pure
object much as in being able to relish in the shape of a Trojan or Roman
An Ancillary Education
Monday, September 22, 2014
|Angela Grossmann & Lauren Stewart|
There used to be the
3Rs, reading, riting and rithmetic. If you added memorization of facts this was
all deemed as what you needed in a good education. My parents (and my
grandmother) knew better. I received from them much more than that. I sometimes
wonder why my parents would have taken me (I was 8) to a theatre in the round
version of Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo. It must have left a lasting impression as
I have loved the theatre since.
Since my granddaughter
Rebecca (17) and Lauren (12) were born, both Rosemary and I have done our best
to give these two girls as much ancillary education as we could. For some years
their parents disliked our use of the term culture and how the girls need just
that. Theatre, concerts and dance had to be packaged in other ways if we were
to convince the parents of the viability of this out-of-school education.
Of late I have taken
Lauren to town twice. I want to show her something of the city she was born in.
She knows little of it. I first wrote about our last Monday outing here.
|Lauren & Len Brown|
Now I will write of
the second Monday.
I took her to see Engine
No. 374 which is displayed at what was originally the Drake Street Roundhouse. Not
to long ago when that roundhouse was still active I photographed the Royal
Hudson being repaired there for the CPR. Engine No. 374 was the first
locomotive to arrive to Vancouver,
May 23, 1887. But it was not the first in our area. Its sister engine, Engine
No. 371 brought the first Canadian Pacific Railway train to cross Canada
into Port Moody. No. 374 was built by the CPR in 1886.
Lauren was not all
that excited even though Scottish Driver Len Brown gave her a personal tour of
Lauren asked me what
else we were going to do as she wanted to go home soon. “I am 12, and I can
legally be left alone at home. I want to put Aengus (her cat) outside.” I told
her our next destination was a surprise. She wanted to know what it was so I
said, “If I tell you it won’t be a surprise.” I parked at a back alley (I have
municipal plates) near Cordova and Richards. We walked to Brioche, a fine
little eatery/coffee shop that has very good desserts. We shared a huge pear
and apple torte. Lining up at the till I spotted my favourite female Vancouver artist, Angela
Grossmann. With that delightful smile of hers and that warm and wonderful
cockney accent she sat down. I enquired as to where here studio was. She told
me it was nearby. I asked her if she would invite us to visit her. She told us
she would go back to her studio and prepare some of her stuff to show Lauren. We
visited and after a few minutes Grossman indicated that Lauren was getting
bored and that I should take her to our next surprise.
Our next surprise, a
mere three blocks (“When are we going home?”) was a place where I told her we
would see a million books. The place in question is the lesser known basement
of MacLeod’s Books. Don Stewart, the proprietor was not in. My guess was that
he was out to buy someone’s library. Two Albanian sisters from Portland were curious
about the basement so we all went down.
From MacLeod’s I took
Lauren to the Paper Hound. Lauren wasn’t all that excited but owner
Rod Clarke picked a charming book about a nanny in Australia who is hired to take care
a large family full of naughty children. Perhaps Lauren will read it.
By the time we left
Lauren was reminding me of my own nagging wife. “Are you taking me home now?” I
told her we were going to one more place. This was a place where they had sword
fights and displayed armour, broad swords, long swords, rapiers and foils. “It’s
called Academy Duello and your father visits the place frequently.”
Academy Duello was a
downer for Lauren so we walked back to the Malibu parked in the back alley. This
particular back alley has lots of huge murals. One of them was behind a dumpster.
Lauren refused my request to place her on it. It looked clean to me but she said it was
dirty. She may have been right. I could smell the urine. So I picked her up and
put her on the Malibu’s
trunk for the snap.
I was informed that we
would skip the next Monday in town but in the one after that I would take her
to the revolving tower on top of whatever the building that was once Sears is
I have not given up
yet. I should know better. At 12 when I was showing as much interest as Lauren is showing now my grandmother used to say, "Alex está en la edad del pavo." (Alex is in his turkey period."
|Hilary and Rod Clarke at the Paper Hound|
Imaginary Worlds - Hubcaps & Tail Lights
Sunday, September 21, 2014
Some time ago I found
a wonderful reference to one big difference between the web and
magazines/newspapers. It was something like this, “Space in magazines is
limited, and on the web the real estate is infinite.”
What that means to
this blogger is that I can write to whatever length I want and since I am my
own editor I can ignore what a real editor would say to me if he (No he/she, I am a
stickler for my 1979 third edition of William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White – The Elements
of Style) were to edit what follows with, “Get to the point.”
|Jonathan Bernard tuning the tronbong|
On Friday I attended
with my friend Graham Walker (since both of us are into shoes we noticed two
salient facts. One, the only male musician not wearing black shoes was cellist
Ariel Barnes. His brown shoes looked expensive. Lan Tung, playing an erhus and a gaohu, wore beautiful, blue, classic, silk Chinese slippers in the first half
but for the second she wore what looked like patent-leather sandals with
low heels) a Turning Point Ensemble concert, Imaginary Worlds at the just right
(and less claustrophobic venue to that black box in the bowels of Simon Fraser
University’s downtown campus) Vancouver Playhouse.
With the exception of
Johan Strauss’ Emperor Waltz nothing in the program woke up my memory banks. It was
all new. I did not know what to expect.
Everybody in Vancouver must know that
VSO Artistic Director (née the conductor) Bramwell Tovey is warm and likes to
palaver. We all love him for it and he is even more appreciated in New York City for his
summer concert series there with the NY Philharmonic.
Fewer might know that
Turning Point Conductor Owen Underhill is much shier but also much sweeter than
the Artistic Director. In fact I would say that Underhill is as sweet as a man
can be and when he told us before the concert that the Arnold Schoenberg-arranged
Strauss Kaiserwalzer would take us back to another era, he was absolutely
But he would never
have suspected that I did not go back to Vienna.
I have never been there. I went to the Mexico
City movie house el Cine Roble where in 1956 I saw Grace
Kelly, Alec Guinness, Louis Jordan and Agnes Moorhead in Charles Vidor’s The
I know that the music
of the film was composed by one Bronislau Kaper. But in spite of that fact I have
always thought (but erred) that Grace Kelly and Louis Jordan dance to a waltz and
that the waltz had to be the Emperor Waltz.
Ensemble, with that first song took me back to a time when I had an unabashed infatuation
for Grace Kelly (and particularly her neck). When the film came out her
marriage to that Monaco
interloper was a done deal. I was devastated so I finished a huge bag of
pistachios. I was so sick that I did not eat them again until two years ago.
The musicians playing
the waltz were all smiles. They were having lots of fun while I was melancholic and morose.
The rest of the
program was one surprise after another. Would-be music fans usually avoid new music,
or contemporary music. They cite its remoteness or some sort of inherent
atonality or dissonance.They like their tried and true. They like their four seasons of entertainment and culture without storms.
I would tell these
people that some music has to be seen and heard. If you are not an opera buff
listening to a CD of Il Trovatore with Plácido Domingo is going to do
nothing for you. But, if like me, you heard Domingo back at the Bellas Artes in Mexico City in the early
70s you could learn to appreciate opera.
The same applies to
new music, particularly the kind that Turning Point Ensemble plays. Their
smiles, and their passion quickly overpower you like a virulent flu.
Two pieces, Hua Yan-Jun’s
Er Quan, arranged by Mark Armanini and Armanini’s
Gallop both played by Lan Tung on a lower register erhu and a gaohu (the latter piece with
soloist percussionist Jonathan Bernard) revealed to me the warmth of an ancient
Chinese instrument that I used to find unpalatable. Seeing it being played made
that difference. I am now a fan of the instrument and if you look closely (you
must be up close, as we were on the front row) you will note that the sound box
at the bottom of the long neck gets its sound from the vibration of a stretched
Of late there have
been several articles in our Vancouver
Sun that have helped to separate and antagonize the oriental community and
those of us who are not part of it. Mark Armanini is single handedly doing the very
opposite. Rudyard Kipling wrote in 1892:
"Oh, East is East, and West is
West, and never the twain shall meet.”
Through his music Armanini is fighting
back. I can only recall former Lieutenant Governor David Lam as someone who wanted to help join the communities.
Claude Vivier’s Et je
recerrai cette ville étrange (1981) was a fresh composition by a Canadian
composer that this blogging idiot had never heard of. From the program notes I
read that the piece was entirely monodic. This means that every musician was
playing the same exact melody. And yet, I would have never known. It was
False Ceiling (2012)
by Tajic-Swedish-Canadian composer Farangis Nurulla-Khoja born in Dushanbe (Tajikistan)
was a tad more difficult to understand but I soon found that understanding is
not all that important. The piece featured solo violinist Mary Sokol Brown and
percussionist Brian Nesselroad. The dramatic lighting of just these two in a darkened
Playhouse stage added to the drama of the moment. I wish I had brought my
12-year-old granddaughter Lauren who is studying the violin. She would have
been amazed at the sounds and noises that Sokol Brown got out of her violin. It
was also fascinating how Nesselroad balanced playing the vibraphone, the various
percussion instruments while turning his extra wide sheet music and doing his utmost
not to drop it when he shifted it to one side. The rustling noise of the
falling music might have ruined it all!
The second composition
by Farangis Nurulla-Khoja, a world premiere commissioned by Turning Point
Ensemble, Le jour ma nuit, had an interesting premise which I state here from
It is an attempt to
create a labyrinth of time and memory through subtle transformations of timbre
and gesture, and the mixing of particular sonorities with ragged rhythms. Sensa
misura (without metre) sections in the piece continue for a while, eventually
drawing the listener into the complexity of the sound through slight
imperfections. This trance-like listening state aims to erase one’s conscious
memory of preceding details in the piece, leaving behind only a disturbing
The above reminds me
of some of the poems of former Canadian Poet Laureate George Bowering who uses
many methods (none involving drugs) to find ways of writing randomly.
The last composition
Gougalon (Scenes from a Street Theatre) (2009-2011) by composer Unsuk Chin a
South Korean composer (and since most of you, as I, don’t have a clue about
that first name Unsuk, I must reveal here that the composer is a woman and that
she has a fine and very dry sense of humour. Consider the six titles of her
1. Prologue –Dramatic Opening
of the Curtain
2. Lament of the Bald
3. The Grinning
Fortuneteller with the False Teeth
4. Episode between
Bottles and Cans
5. Dance Around the
6. The Hunt for the
Watching all those
musicians (pretty well most of Turning Point Ensemble including Peggy Lee on
cello but not the bass trombonist Sharman King) with big smiles and noting what the composer
Gougalon does not
refer directly to the dilettante and shabby music of that street theatre. The
memories described above merely provide a framework, just as the movement
headings are not intended to be illustrative. [!]
I cannot stop here
without first mentioning that my favourite Vancouver pianist, that percussive Jane Hays
with lovely big hair, in Claude Vivier’s composition tackled simultaneously
the piano, with her left hand, and the celeste with her right. At the interval
I asked her about it. It seems that the score lists two players but this was
purely done to save money. Then she added (and I had not noticed) that with her
left foot she handled the piano pedals and with the right the celeste!
In Gougalon, Hayes was
helped by bassoonist Ingrid Chiang who can also play a mean piano. The piano
was a special Tom Lee Music instrument that had screws and other stuff attached
which Hayes scratched and banged while the bassoonist took care of the ivories.
All in all a concert
to savour in one’s memory. As I left I spotted Turning Point Ensemble’s bass
trombonist, Sharman King/ I mentioned what a pity that the concert was played once and
probably the program would never be played again. It was then that inspiration
If a miracle happens
more than once it isn’t one.
Addendum: Vancouver's all powerful union of percussionists Bang Chapter II would have objected in seeing so many string, wind and brass musicians also shaking maracas, etc. Permission was requested and granted so there were no pickets outside the Vancouver Playhouse.