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


In Summers Heate And Mid-time Of The Day
Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturday started grim, cold, rainy and definitely fall. A walk in the garden and seeing collapsing hostas and decaying perennials did not spruce up my feeling of melancholy. Rosemary’s brilliant blue aconitums in their blueness did not revive my spirits. Then I saw this one bloom of the English Rose, Rosa ‘Christopher Marlowe’. I brought it in and scanned it and thought of this poem which harks back to a summer gone, but in my memory.

Rosa 'Christopher Marlowe'

‘In summers heate and mid-time of the day’
(1582) Christopher Marlowe

In summers heate and mid-time of the day
To rest my limbes upon a bed I lay,
One window shut, the other open stood,
Which gave such light as twinkles in a wood,
Like twilight glimpse at setting of the Sunne,
Or night being past, and yet not day begunne.
Such light to shamefast maidens must be showne,
Where they may sport, and seeme to be unknowne.
Then came Corinna in a long loose gowne,
Her white neck hid with tresses hanging downe,
Resembling fayre Semiramis going to bed,
Or Layis of a thousand lovers sped.
I snatcht her gowne: being thin, the harme was small,
Yet strived she to be covered therewithall.
And striving thus as one that would be cast,
Betrayde her selfe, and yeelded at the last.
Starke naked as she stood before mine eye,
Not one wen in her body could I spie.
What armes and shoulders did I touch and see,
How apt her breasts were to be prest by me.
How smooth a belly under her wast saw I,
How large a legge, and what a lustie thigh?
To leave the rest, all liked me passing well,
I clinged her naked body, downe she fell,
Judge you the rest, being tirde she bad me kisse;
Jove send me more such after-noones as this.

Sullenly & Silently Over The Fragments Of The House
Friday, October 17, 2014

From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast. The storm was still abroad in all its wrath as I found myself crossing the old causeway. Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could have issued; for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me. The radiance was that of the full, setting, and blood-red-moon, which now shone vividly through that once barely- discernible fissure, of which I have before spoken as extending from the roof of the building, in a zigzag direction to the base. While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened - there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind - the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight - there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters - and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the "House of Usher."
Edgar Allan Poe - September 1839

Abies koreana and house in wait for the excavator

In a few days we will wake up (if we are asleep at 8 am) to the noise of a house in death throws. An excavator will run over a house around the block from my house. Everything inside will be crushed and become landfill. To me that horrible crunching racket is no different from the one my mother made in her death bed in our home in Arboledas, Estado de México in 1973. She breathed in. She was silent. It is one of those events that Rosemary and I have bonded with. She was there.

These days I keep dipping into Jorge Luís Borges – La Obra Poética 1923/1977. There are poems about my Buenos Aires where Borges mentions long zaguanes (narrow courtyards) potted plants, metal gates as entry to a garden, the noise of the Pampero wind, in a home that was his home as a young boy. He returns and writes on the time it takes for the objects in the house and the trees in the garden to recognize him.


It opens, the gate to the garden

with the docility of a page

that frequent devotion questions

and inside, my gaze

has no need to fix on objects

that already exist, exact, in memory.

I know the customs and souls

and that dialect of allusions

that every human gathering goes weaving.

I’ve no need to speak

nor claim false privilege;

they know me well who surround me here,

know well my afflictions and weakness.

This is to reach the highest thing,

that Heaven perhaps will grant us:

not admiration or victory

but simply to be accepted

as part of an undeniable Reality,

like stones and trees.
Jorge Luís Borges 

My mother & her wisteria
These days those poems take me back to my own roots. I can smell my mother’s wisteria and hear the noise of the portón (the metal door to our house at the end of our long garden) when my father returned from a day at the Buenos Aires Herald. I can imagine the rattles of the horse-driven carriages of the milkman, the iceman, the funeral carriages, on the cobblestones of Melían. 

A Haydée Lange

Se abre la verja del jardín

con la docilidad de la página

que una frecuente devoción interroga

y adentro las miradas

no precisan fijarse en los objetos

que ya están cabalmente en la memoria.

Conozco las costumbres y las almas

y ese dialecto de alusiones

que toda agrupación humana va urdiendo.

No necesito hablar

ni mentir privilegios;

bien me conocen quienes aquí me rodean,

bien saben mis congojas y mi flaqueza.

Eso es alcanzar lo más alto,

lo que tal vez nos dará el Cielo:

no admiraciones ni victorias

sino sencillamente ser admitidos

como parte de una Realidad innegable,

como las piedras y los árboles.

Jorge Luis Borges
Fervor de Buenos Aires (1923)

I remember the night when my mother with candle in one hand and scissors in the other went hunting for slugs. She was too close to one of our two palm trees and it caught fire, The flames shot up to the top. The bomberos arrived and put out the fire. The palm tree survived. This was in 1950. 

Melián 2770, Ruben Derlis, Rosemary, Rebecca & paramour - Buenos Aires 2004

In 2004 I returned with Rosemary, Rebecca, Rubén Derlis and his paramour to Melián 2770. The house was still there but the owner when he opened the door did not let me in. The palm trees were gone and there was a garage on the left side of the property. The portón was the same one that I had helped my father paint in 1949. It had the addition of a brass door knob.

It is not remarkable, in the case of Buenos Aires that a house that was built in the 1920s would still be around 84 years later. Like Borges I could imagine my youth and playing with my friend out in the street and in the garden. Most of my barrio was almost the same but the corner grocery store was gone. The boliche (store) on the other corner was also gone. It was there where my father’s friend Julio Cortázar (when he visited) would send me to buy him a pack of Arizonas.

Rosemary and I purchased our first house in Arboledas, Estado de México in 1972 with help from my mother. It was a brand new house in a brand new development in the outskirts of Mexico City. I was most proud of it.

I invited my friend Raúl Guerrero Montemayor, who worked for a posh real estate company, for dinner one day. He told me, “Your house is not a detached house.” It was then that in my ignorant simplicity i first noted that fact.

In 1975 we moved to Vancouver and rented a town house in Burnaby. We were on a corner so it was attached only on one side. We were given the chance to purchase it. We did. Rosemary wanted a house with a garden. She wanted a house that was not attached. In 1986 we moved to our present location on a corner lot in Kerrisdale. It has a garden. We live on a street, Athlone that is only two blocks long. It has 40 houses. In 1986 all of them were either Georgian or Mock Tudors with laurel hedges or none at all. Some like ours had a white picket fence (in our house it’s on the long side as the front is a laurel hedge).

By the beginning of the 90s there was an uncertainty on the final political outcome of Hong Kong when the British handed it back to mainland China.

Ned Pratt on Athlone Street - Our house on left corner and Mrs. Allm's

By 1992 houses on our area slowly were being demolished and replaced by what the populace and the media called monster homes. Attempts were made by the city to regulate the look of these houses. These attempts all failed.

Georgia Straight, October 1 1993
Around this time, in 1993, I invited noted Vancouver architect Ned Pratt for a walk in my neighbourhood. I suggested he write a story for the Georgia Straight on possible remedies that he might suggest. I took this picture of Pratt by a lot on Athlone. On the left is a new house that replaced a Mock Tudor. On the extreme left is our house. Pratt envisioned putting restrictions on the airspace over houses and developing a style that adapted the American Cape Cod cottage. That of course never happened. An article, a fine one by Kerry Mc.Phedran became a cover for the Georgia Straight. Ned Pratt told me, “I am non compos mentis, so I will suggest working on this project with two young architects Marko Simcit and James Boldt.

As I write this, Athlone now has only 8 of those 40 houses left. I am inundated daily by phone calls and knocks on the door by people in the business of buying houses, sight unseen, simply by the location. As you might imagine a corner lot is special.

Even though we (especially my money savvy wife) have always felt that a house is a home and not an investment, time has made it obvious that our home was an intelligent investment.

Back in 1973 we used to make fun of the nouveau riche in Mexico who built large houses near our development that was called Tecamachalco. The people who lived in these houses had their lampshades covered in cellophane and their Formica tables protected with plate glass. They drove brand new cars with clear plastic covers that protected the upholstery and had the quaint habit of placing crochet doilies on their car seat backs.

But when we came to Canada we wanted a new house. We could not afford one so we settled on the one on Springer Avenue. The first thing I did (really stupid) upon arriving was to buy a brand new Fiat X-19. I wanted something shiny that was not a Volkswagen Beetle. I remember fondly the day Rosemary came home with a brand new Audi.

By 1987 the shine on shiny things was off and I was making trips to Maple Ridge and Cloverdale to buy antique furniture. In that sort of wisdom that comes with age I was beginning to appreciate what was not new.

My neighbourhood has four kinds of houses. The first are the few that remain that may have been built like mine in the mid 30s. The second are that first generation homes built by developers (dishonest in my opinion and who used shoddy materials) for the immigrating Hong Kong families. They were ugly then they are uglier now. When they go on the market they are immediately torn down.

The third generation was an improvement over that first wave of houses for immigrants. In these, to my symmetrical delight, Scottish or English masons built stone walls and fences for the Chinese owners. The table was suddenly turned. These houses have heated floors and are generally made of good materials.

The fourth generation of houses are all straight lines and much in vogue now is wood siding that is a mid/orange/brown and I wonder how they will look years from now. They have lots of concrete and have elaborate concrete stairs that go to large basements. One a block from our house has an elevator.

A gentleman who lives nearby is a successful real estate man with four adult sons, two dogs, 8 cars, one trailer and one motorcycle. Obviously the four-car garage that is the width of the house can not accommodate all of those cars. In fact our street has many autos parked on the street as the families that live on Athlone have many children with their own cars.

Building regulations stipulate that if a house to be demolished is going to have a garage for three cars any big tree on that end of the property can go. These trees are going fast. One advantage for us is that we are getting a bit more light and sun into our shady garden.

Twelve years ago a family, two children and one dog, from Toronto (a Saturday Evening Post Magazine kind of family) moved to Vancouver. The father had a very good job for a local communications company. He was paid to come and funds were made available for him to buy a house across the lane from us. It’s one of those houses that was perhaps built around 1945. The family did not have a Dalmatian; it was a Labrador Retriever that went blind two years ago. The children, one boy and one girl grew up normally (abnormal these days). They went to nearby public schools and the boy practiced slapping hockey pucks at a net on our lane. They had a cottage in a nearby island. The mother liked to garden and hired a landscaper to get her good plants and trees. She has on her property several rare trees including one Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’. For those who know they would say that is one “choice” tree. 

My walking-stick, small change, key-ring,

The docile lock and the belated

Notes my few days left will grant

No time to read, the cards, the table,

A book, in its pages, that pressed

Violet, the leavings of an afternoon

Doubtless unforgettable, forgotten,

The reddened mirror facing to the west

Where burns illusory dawn. Many things,

Files, sills, atlases, wine-glasses, nails,

Which serve us, like unspeaking slaves,

So blind and so mysteriously secret!

They’ll long outlast our oblivion;

And never know that we are gone.
Jorge Luís Borges

About 6 years ago I gave her one of my three Abies koreana (Korean Fir) which I bought at the UBC plant sale years before. All three were about 6 ft high by this time. They have beautiful erect cones that turn purple. The Abies on her property is now about 18 ft high. If the tree service I have alerted on the possible availability of these trees does not come in soon to ask the developer for permission to remove them, they with the house, and good appliances inside (one bicycle) will become landfill. 

Las Cosas
El bastón, las monedas, el llavero,

La dócil cerradura, las tardías

Notas que no leerán los pocos días

Que me quedan, los naipes y el tablero,

Un libro y en sus páginas la ajada

Violeta, monumento de una tarde

Sin duda inolvidable y ya olvidada,

El rojo espejo occidental en que arde

Una ilusoria aurora. ¡Cuántas cosas,

Láminas, umbrales, atlas, copas, clavos,

Nos sirven como tácitos esclavos,

Ciegas y extrañamente sigilosas!

Durarán más allá de nuestro olvido;

No sabrán nunca que nos hemos ido.

Jorge Luis Borges


I am not alone in wanting to keep photographs of my family, items of clothing, a Spanish fan, my daughter’s baby dresses and other such things. Objects can carry the remnants of a person’s soul as the soul once was. Our garden is full of plants, shrubs and trees that Rosemary and I liberated in the middle of the night from doomed houses nearby. I can look at a plant, a Spriraea japonica and think of where it came from. I came from Mrs. Alm’s garden across the street. In the middle of hot summer afternoons when her siesta was interrupted by noisy quarreling crows she would come out and clap her hands in a futile attempt to shoo them away. Some of the trees in our garden, where there when we arrived. I can imagine the former owner of our house, Mrs. Young planting them as seedlings with the hope that they would grow and in some away affect favorably her future in her Athlone home.

Our house & laurel hedge on left - right where Mrs. Alm's house used to be

As I look at the derelict and empty house across the lane, its grass untidy as it never ever was before I can imagine the mother briskly walking with her dog to the nearby elementary school (when her children were young) to pick them up and bring them home for what would have been a nice dinner.

Like my Mexican poet friend, Homero Aridjis I believe in the presence of ghosts that are there, invisible as they may be, haunting the derelict house. They clamor silently for us to remember that they were once there corporeally and not to forget them, at least for a while. 

These ghosts can affect the fortunes of those who might live there in a new house built over what once was a home. I can understand the idea of immigrants coming to a new country and wanting to begin anew in a new home with new things. I suppose that belief is simply the other side of my coin of knowing that indeed houses can die. Even when the house is demolished, all trees are removed, 9 bathrooms installed (where Mrs. Alm’s house once stood) I can still imagine, when I look across the boulevard, if not actually hear her hands clapping on a lazy and hot summer afternoon. 

Carmen Aguirre - A Pasionaria
Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tonight I went to a show (a very good show) that was intentionally misnamed. It was a monologue called Blue Box by Chilean-born, actress, writer, director and Studio 58 graduate, Carmen Aguirre. It was falsely misnamed as Aguirre told us, in the first few seconds, that no show in Vancouver could prosper and or be advertized if it were called Blue Cunt. Directing the proceedings was Brian Quirt. The set and lighting  was by minimalist Itai Erdal. My Latino friend Carmen Alatorre made sure that Aguirre's outfit was tight where it counted.

In my experience in having taught nude photography classes in Vancouver for man years I know that there is only one other word, besides the c-word with the power, if not to insult, but to shock and that’s scrotum.

Blue Box is the true story of a woman's (it kind of begins when Aguirre was around 20) experience as a courier for a cell of Chileans in Argentina crossing with documents, etc over the tough border, the Andes, either at checkpoints or by low flying airplanes. The latter was a most dangerous endeavour. In those late 80s these cells were parts of an organization attempting to bring down the repressive regime of  Augusto Pinochet.

Blue Box is the true story of a woman in search of something that combines true love and good sex. In her "Latino Vision Man" she finds that latter and is left hanging with a heart that beats as if a hummingbird were inside it.Aguirre survives that tragedy to soldier on not with hope, but with faith.

I happen to know Carmen Aguirre. Those of us who know her call her Carmencita to differentiate her from her mother Carmen. Carmencita is a rare specimen in Vancouver. She shows, outwardly a passion that you know, when you meet her, that is brimming from her inside.You might have to meet Carmen herself to explain the definitive difference between a hot babe and a mujer caliente.

To many an Anglo Saxon Canadian (or someone from that culture) to show passion and not a stiff upper lip is a travesty of what it is to be a Canadian. We are supposed to be centered and blasé.

I believe that the above paragraph might offend in its blanket inclusion of so many. But as a former Latin American who swore allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II and now a proud bearer of a Canadian passport, I find Vancouver cold beyond the balmy winter weather it is supposed to be known for.

Aguirre with her almost perfect accent and diction in English is still from a culture where passion iis not kept or hidden.

As I watched Aguirre on stage, a most attractive Aguirre on stage, I thought of a woman, not as attractive, but with a name that in many ways Aguirre mimics with her actions.

A famous rallying cry for the ill fated Republicans in the Spanish Civil War was Dolores Ibárruri Gómez called La Pasionaria (Passion Flower). She was the head of the Spanish Communist Party for many years until she died in 1978.

Aguirre is probably not as left-leaning as La Pasionaria in her beliefs, but when you hear her speak about her inability to share a married life with a young man who is also her comrade of arms you could almost bet that at any moment she would have uttered this quote by La Passionaria:

It is better to be the widow of a hero than the wife of a coward.

Blue Box has many serious scary moments that are sugared by the fact that Aguirre not only has passion in spades but she is also extremely funny.

She has a way of looking at you straight in the face and saying things that would make almost any Vancouverite man (I cannot speak for women) blush in shock. I remember once when she brought a troupe of her Latin American actors to my studio for a photo session. I do not remember how it all began. It did end with Aguirre pointing at her actors and saying, “Size does matter.”

After the show, it seems it was her birthday today, Arts Club Theatre Company Bill Millerd presented her with a small cake with one lit candle. I did not dare (perhaps I have been in Vancouver too long) ask her if her box had cobwebs on it. According to Aguirre this is an affliction that affects many women in our parts. I have no doubt that if Aguirre were given a chance her Vision Man would come to the rescue.

Blue Box continues until November 1.

Isabel Allende At Age 18
Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Isabel Allende - 1960

I was born on August 31st 1942 and Isabel Allende on August 2, 1942. I met Allende once in the coffee shop of the Hotel Vancouver some years ago. What struck me about her was her simplicity and that I just might one day go shopping in a Los Angeles supermarket and run into her at the produce department. There was this look of an ordinary woman. But I was wrong.

In my trip to Buenos Aires in September 2013 I found an old Peruvian magazine, Caretas, with an extensive biography of Allende that was full of photographs of her as a younger woman. In fact we know that Allende was born in Lima, Peru.

It was my feeling when I met her at the Hotel Vancouver that she had had a recent encounter with a surgeon. That’s what led me astray.

Carmen Aguirre & Isabel Allende

Allende as a younger woman was a standout. My Spanish grandmother would have said, “Un cromo.”

The picture you see here had the date 1960 and the news print made it look more yellow than it would have been originally. The photo credit was for a man called Willoughby Blew so I suspect that Allende might have posed for an English photographer based in Santiago who specialized in upper crust families and families of the diplomatic corps. She and her mother her parents returned to Santiago in 1953. What is startling is that Allende would have had the gumption to pose in such a way with stockings and garters. 

My suspicion is that the young Allende had been exposed to a most interesting and earlier Chilean poet called Teresa Wilms Montt. There would have been a family connection for this interest. When Tomás Allende (Isabel Allende's father disappeared in 1945) the family moved back to Santiago from Lima in 1953 and Francisca, Isabel's mother had remarried. Francisca's new man was a diplomat called Ramón Huidobro. It would be a patent coincidence that the man who liberated Teresa Wilms Montt from a nunnery/insane asylum she had been confined to in 1916 would not be in some way related to Isabel Allende's foster father. Both Huidobros came from an aristocratic landed family founded by one Vicente García Huidobro Morandé.

Teresa Wilms Montt

Carmen Aguirre - A Chilean Bombshell
Monday, October 13, 2014

In the next few days before Carmen Aguirre's Blue Box opens on Wednesday at the Art Club Theatre Company's Granville Island Stage, I will be posting in this one blog more pictures and the stories behind them. I will do so, so that this picture and the story will be below the new one. I am going to have some fun.

Crop of photograph of Carmen Aguirre - a human canvas painting by Nora Patrich

Donald Adams, Carmen Aguirre & Ty Olsson in Donna Flor & Her Two Husbands

Carmen Aguirre That Fourth Musketeer

I call them the Three Musketeers because there are four of them. In the late 90s Jonathon Young, Kevin Kerr, Kim Collier and Carmen Aguirre met while studying drama at Antony Holland’s Studio 58. A perusal of their graduates in the Studio 58 website will indicate how important it has been to the well being of Vancouver and (yes) Canada’s theatre scene.

The Three Musketeers (all four of them) conspired in the year 2000 to bring to the Vancouver stage a play version in English of Brazilian novelist Jorge Amado’s Donna Flor and Her Two Husbands.

Contributing to the adaptation of that novel were also David Hudgins with Bill Dow as Dramaturge and with additional dramaturgy by Glynis Leyshon. The play directed by the Three Musketeers, (only three of them) Kerr, Young and Collier won the prestigious (as in good money) Alcan Performing Arts Award for British Columbia for 2001.

 There were two important directions that this play forged for Vancouver theatre (and Canada). The most obvious one is that it launched the Electric Theatre Company as one of the most daring theatrical companies in Canada. Since 2002 the Electrical Theatre Company has been pushing all kinds of boundaries in a city that tends to like its stuff to be comfortably the same.

The second important direction, one that only this Latin would notice is that Donna Flor with the electric presence of actor Ty Olsson (also a graduate of Studio 58) brought an almost normality to the idea that you might go to see a play (but usually at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre) in which not only would you be exposed to female nudity (Aguirre took it all off for the latter part of the play) but also to full frontal (and all sides) of the male with all the dangling parts. The crux of Donna Flor is that her lazy husband (great in bed) dies, Donna Flor re-marries a bassoon playing pharmacist (the hilarious and extremely funny Donald Adams). This second husband is boring and not great in bed. First husband appears as ghost (extremely naked) and is only seen by Donna Flor. The result is that from beginning to end this play had Olsson not wearing anything. The play led to the 120 Songs For the Marquis de Sade, 2002 (also an Alcan winner) with nude male simulated sex a mere two feet from my nose in my front seat place and to Chick Snipper’s (Movement department of Studio 58) Slab, 2003, with three dancers who chucked all their clothes within minutes of the beginning.

For me Aguirre’s Blue Box this coming Wednesday at the Arts Club Theatre’s Granville Island Review Stage represents and almost final culmination of that movement of young actors and directors of Studio 58 in the 90s and I only wonder what’s next. One bet I would never lose is that The Three Musketeers (all four of them) will surely be involved.

Donald Adams & Carmen Aguirre

 July 29, 2006 - Carmen Aguirre & a yet Unborn Santiago

A week before July 29, 2006 I received a phone call from Carmen Aguirre telling me she was in an advanced state of pregnancy and that she wanted me to take some photographs.

I absolutely despise those inevitable and obligatory photographic transitions of our life, our birth, our First Communion, in Argentina being humiliated and having our shirt tie snipped at a stag, that wedding, the cutting of that greasy white cake, and the pregnant shot of a woman holding her big stomach with her hands, in a jutting profile. Worse still are the photographs with the male partner listening avidly for the rustle of limbs within. Ugh! Curiously that end of life ritual, the portrait at death has suffered proliferation between the 19th and the 20th century to our day.

Carmen Aguirre is a modern woman with taste. By taste I mean that she avoids the obvious and the cliché. When she posed for me with the yet unborn Santiago, she never placed her hands over her stomach. These are photographs that will not see the light of day here. She brought a shopping bag with the Virgin of Guadalupe and a fan and I took these pictures. She did lastly pose on my vintage psychiatric couch wearing fishnets on her lovely legs.

The End of the Game - Julio Cortázar & Carmen Aguirre 

Carmen Aguirre & Juan Manuel Sánchez mural

Theatre and dance are ephemeral particularly if one performance is the only one before an oblivion of memory sets in. This is especially so in our Vancouver.

Consider that in 2002 I went to a Studio 58 performance at Langara. It was an adaptation of a lovely Julio Cortázar short story Final del Juego (the End of the Game) into a play in English by Studio 58 graduate Carmen Aguirre. The only record I have been able to find, and that my memory is not my faulty imagination, is my own blog postings.

The End of the Game is an Argentine Gothic story reminiscent of Edith Nesbit’s  The Railway Children. As an Argentine I was thrilled to have been witnessing such a play inside a little experimental theatre.

In many ways Carmen Aguirre, as an actress (I am old-fashioned), as a director and as a writer has brought to Vancouver an awareness of the machinations of our large Latino population.

Alas since our city has become so expensive immigration from Latin America has waned and it has been replaced by immigration of affluent cultures. If you want to buy good corn tortillas, chillies for Mexican cooking, Argentine dulce de leche you are more likely to find it all in Bellingham. Our Latino  culture seems to be fading.

It is my hope that Aguirre’s Blue Box opening this Wednesday at the Art Club Theatre’s Granville Island Review Stage will help re-discover a heritage in Vancouver that some of us call our own.

Las Meninas - Robson & Granville
Las Meninas - Robson & Granville

In the mid 80s my family (wife and two at the time terrible teeny bopper daughters) and I went to England, France in Spain. One of the highlights for me was visiting the Prado Museum in Madrid my grandmother had so often talked to me about. She had told me about a special painting by Diego de Velázquez. It was called Las Meninas. At the Prado they had a special room just for this painting that the Spaniards say is the best painting ever painted by anyone. I was transfixed and then charmed. Only now could I add that in Las Meninas, Diego de Velázquez decided to paint a selfie. 

Las Meninas - Diego de Velázaquez

Most of my photographic life I have been obsessed with mirrors much as my favourite writer, Jorge Luís Borges was. For years I did my best to never include my image in any mirror. It all stopped in 2005 when Argentine artists Nora Patrich, Juan Manuel Sánchez embarked on a project where they would body paint some of our favourite subjects.

This was not body painting as you know it. I despise body painting. I deplore how body painters paint skirts and bras on nude women or apply flowers. Ugh! Sánchez and Patrich painted Carmen Aguirre and Patrich’s daughter Itzel in the same way they would paint a woman’s figure on a canvas. Sánchez painted Itzel and Patrich painted Aguirre. The project ultimately incorporated two more models and it was all filmed by Argentine video artist Julia Iriarte.

Las Meninas - Robson & Granville - Carmen Aguirre, Alex (mirror) Nora Patrich, Itzel, Juan Manuel Sánchez & Julia Iriarte

During the process of the painting I saw something that suddenly made me jump in excitement. I told everybody not to move and I took a colour Polaroid. I looked at it and became even more excited. I then used good transparency and took four shots. You can see the Polaroid and the subsequent Fujichrome film picture here. I have called this picture Las Meninas – Robson & Granville (where my studio once was) since. And since I took this picture I have done my best when taking pictures of people with mirrors to include myself in at least one of them.

In all of the pictures of the painted women, it was Aguirre who in an uncharacteristic sombre mood added to the idea that she was a creation from one of Sánchez’s paintings who had stepped out into my studio.  I sometimes forget that Carmen Aguirre is an actress so she can do anything.

 Carmen Aguirre - 13th Duchess of Alba

In the year 2000 Juan Manuel Sánchez, Nora Patrich (two Argentine artist friends of mine) and I went to see Carlos Saura’s Goya en Burdeos (Goya in Bordeaux) at the Fifth Avenue Cinema. We thought the film was so terrific that we went to see it again and this time I brought along Rosemary. This film has remained in my top ten since.

Sánchez, Patrich and I were so inspired that we decided in January 2001 (I took this picture on January 5) that in some way we could incorporate something from the film that would get Carmen Aguirre to come into my studio and at the same time shed her clothes.

The idea was to make her into Goya’s patron (and some say lover who posed for Goya for his famous Maja Desnuda) the 13th Duchess of Alba. Patrich brought a large black mantilla from Seville that women in Spain use to go to Mass.

Sánchez and Patrich sketched while I took some photographs. This one is demure but beautiful. 

Duquesa de Alba de blanco
Francisco Goya y Lucientes - 1975

This was the Duchess of Alba’s complete name:

Doña María del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva Álvarez de Toledo y Silva Bazán, décimo tercera duquesa de Alba de Tormes, décima primera duquesa de Huéscar, sexta duquesa de Montoro, octava condesa-duquesa de Olivares, décimo primera marquesa del Carpio, décimo tercera marquesa de Coria, novena marquesa de Eliche, décimo segunda marquesa de Villanueva del Río, sexta marquesa de Tarazona, marquesa de Flechilla y Jarandilla, décimo primera condesa de Monterrey, décimo cuarta condesa de Lerín, décimo tercera condesa de Oropesa, décimo cuarta Condestablesa de Navarra, décimo segunda condesa de Galve, décimo cuarta condesa de Osorno, de jure duquesa de Galisteo, décimo primera condesa de Ayala, novena condesa de Fuentes de Valdepero, condesa de Alcaudete, condesa de Deleitosa, señora del estado de Valdecorneja, señora de las baronías de Dicastillo, San Martín, Curton y Guissens

A Win by a Nose

Carmen Aguirre & Isabel Allende

Friday, November 07, 2008

Tonight Rebecca and I had a feast at Opera Sushi and watched the end of La Traviata on a TV monitor from Convent Garden directed by Sir Georg Solti and sung by Frank Lopardo and Angela Gheorghiu. We picked up our tickets for Cyrano de Bergerac at the Stanley. We were early so we went to a nearby Starbucks. Rebecca had a large cookie which she did not finish. As we entered the Stanley the woman at the door indicated we could not enter with outside food. I convinced her that my 11-year-old granddaughter was going to rapidly finish it inside.

Another woman made the couple who were sitting by our side leave. They were munching on what looked like excellent ham and sprout sandwiches. I explained to Rebecca that running a theatre company is expensive and that the in-house bar could not make ends meet if people brought in food and drink.

I asked the floor manager if we could visit Carmen Aguirre, backstage, after the end of the play. "My granddaughter has a wish to see what it's like back stage," I told him. He answered unequivically that this was impossible and that we should wait at the lobby. This we did. Carmen Aguirre came out and greeted us. Rebecca told her how she had enjoyed the play.

As we left Rebecca said, "Isn't she pretty? Tell me again about Carmen and Isabel Allende and how you asked her to close her eyes when you photographed her with Isabel Allende"

In spite of the cookie police and in spite of a man who simply could not understand how wonderful it would have been for a young girl (the only one there tonight) to meet, backstage, a nun and a man with a long nose, Rebecca told me, "I love the theatre."

¿Qué pasa with la raza, eh?

Carmen Aguirre & Oparín Ortiz - March 1999

Sometime in October/November 1998 Argentine artist Juan Manuel Sánchez and I parked on a back alley near Commercial Drive and First Avenue. We were going to our favourite hangout, Café Calabria to disassemble the world of art. As we walked on we heard loud party music. The house on that lane had its back door open. There was a party going on. I saw a beautiful woman with long legs and very short dress. I pointed her out to Sánchez who told me in Spanish, “That’s Carmencita, you know her mother Carmen Aguirre.”

Somehow I had met Carmencita’s mother Carmen Aguirre at Sanchez’s and his wife Nora Patrich’s house. She was a short woman with a big smile who I was told was a poet and a former member of a cell that had attempted for years to undermine the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in her homeland Chile. I was not to find out until 2012 when I read her daughter’s Something Fierce – Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter that General Pinochet would have defined Carmen Aguirre, mother, as a terrorist.

Since I had shown interest in meeting Carmencita, Patrich and Sánchez invited me to a something called The Opus Series – Women, Art & Society which was held on February 19th at the Stanley Theatre. There were two presentations. The first one was by Marcia Tucker, the second by Carmen Aguirre who appeared in a solo performance of Susan Astley and Steve Petch’s Tribute to Frida Kahlo.

My mother, grandmother and I had moved from Buenos Aires to Mexico City in 1954. By then Kahlo had died. My mother and grandmother attended parties of the artistic circles in Mexico because my grandmother was a diplomat in the Filipino Embassy. I did meet a big fat man with a hat, in a white guayabera. I was told he was Diego Rivera. I was 13 so it didn’t register. I was more impressed by a mysterious woman, Nicte-Há who said she was a Mayan princess.

But in the Stanley Theatre, Carmen Aguirre was channelling Frida Kahlo. She looked like her and even though the monologue was in English it was wonderful to hear a perfect Spanish when Spanish words were needed. I have always regretted not to have photographed Aguirre as Kahlo.

By early March 1999 the Georgia Straight dispatched me to the Firehall Theatre to photograph Carmen Aguirre in an advance piece by Colin Tomas on her “Latino” play ¿Qué Pasa With La Raza, eh? I watched part of the rehearsal and I was particularly impressed by a very funny Guatemalan youth called Oparín Ortiz. His performance was so good that it relieved my pressure of having to stare at Aguirre’s beautiful legs or look into that face with those big black eyes and not to mention that when she talks to you she has a perfect diction that commands attention.

As I left, after I had taken my pictures I was overcome by a conflict between my Latin (Argentine) side and my Anglo Saxon (English) side. The latter dictated I should buy a red Miata and experience a mid-life crisis. The former that I should that moment dump my Rosemary. The conflict was instantly resolved by English reasoning and a lessening of my Latin passion. And that was it.

For a while I laughed lots watching and meeting up with Oparín who in my crazy dyslexia I called Odilón and more often that deteriorated (I did not do it willingly) to Orinón (one who pees lots). Aguirre would laugh and her laugh always helped keep me in check. 

El espejo & Carmen Aguirre's search of Vision Man

El Espejo - Carmen Aguirre's Search Of Vision Man
Sunday, October 12, 2014

With Celso Machado, in Nora Patrich's living room and her painting behind

This coming Wednesday Rosemary and I will be attending the opening of Carmen Aguirre’s solo performance work, Blue Box presented by the Arts Club Theatre Company at the Granville Island Review Stage. In these days before that exciting prospect I will post an extensive blog with lots of stuff about this woman whom I know better than many people might suspect. She, Argentine artists Nora Patrich and Juan Manuel Sánchez and I sat at Patrich's kitchen many times, sipping an Argentine mate to discuss politics and the arts. Patrich and former husband Sánchez now, separated live in separate houses in Buenos Aires). Patrich shares a similar background with Aguirre. Patrich’s first husband became a desaparecido during the military repression in Argentina in the late 70s. Both women, are as passionately warm as can be in a city that to me with its cyan blue skies and cold tap-water are mimicked in coldness by its inhabitants. Sánchez and I often discussed that we were penguins living in the arctic.

While looking through my thick Aguirre files I found two sheets with two poems in Spanish. I assumed that Aguirre had written them 10 or more years ago. I called her, and at first she had no memory of them. Then she confessed she had written them about the mysterious “Vision Man” that is central to her Blue Box. She chased the man for years with no, it would seem, resolution. I have placed the poems here and I have chosen not to translate them. It is interesting to add that Aguirre never retained a copy of the poems.

As for any who might wonder how Blue Box would translate into Spanish (and particularly my Argentine Spanish) it is La Cajetilla Azul. A further investigation would lead you to figuring exactly why Linnaeus identified and named the sexual organs of a clam as he did. 

In the poem below, Woman, Aguirre writes:  Su boca no puede pronunciar rrrs. That Vision Man is unable to pronounce his rs is a hint that he might hail from Puerto Rico. They pronounce their place of origin as Pueltolico and call themselves pueltoliqueños.

Carmen Aguirre - Chilean Bomshell

El Espejo


Hay un crucifijo colgado en su auto

Los parlantes sintonizan la melodía de un merengue

Ella usa pantalones de culebra

Una cadenita en la cintura y no tiene calzones

Toco los tambores sobre sus piernas

Miro a un barco moverse en el horizonte

Una estrella fugaz aterriza en las montañas

Beso la cara que se parece a la mía

Ella pertenece a la raza bronce

Como yo

Ella está arraigada en las Américas

Norte y Sur

Como yo

Tiene un crucifijo en su auto, dice que no es católica

Se mueve al son del merengue

Yo acompaño el ritmo de sus caderas

Su piel es de mi color

Sus labios llenos como los míos

Ella pertenece a la raza bronce

Como todos los míos

Entro su cuerpo de canela

Me reconozco en ella

Huele a un buen café negro

El crucifijo baila

Y aunque no somos católicos

Este es el momento más religioso de mis recuerdos


El tiene una chaqueta de cuero negra

Aroma dulce de colonia

En sus dedos dos anillos de plata

Se mueve con el merengue

Siento que ha llegado a mi casa

Suelto mi cinturón de seguridad

Huelo la tranquilidad de la noche

El verde pasto brilla en la luz de la luna

Sus pómulos son como los míos

Me toma en sus brazos

Este hombre de tercera generación

El pertenece a la raza de bronce

Aunque el sur no lo conoce, sólo por conversación

Su boca no puede pronunciar rrrs

Pero su ritmo es como el mío

Brilla la oscuridad como el ambar

Su pasión tan grande como la mía

Es un hombre de tercera generación

Yo soy apenas de la primera

Sus ojos viajan hacia mí

Y yo siento que por fin

he llegado a mi casa, como el sol de la primavera


Previous Posts
Those Underappreciated Spring Rhododendrons

Cassini's Swan Dive & Cassini the Swan

La Modestine Stands Up & Sits Down

Equisetum - Clarinets & Logarithms

Vertical Influences - Patín del Diablo

Pontius Pilate's Wife & Brigid Bazlen

Pascua 2017

To know if any Human eyes were near - Emily Dickin...

How To Be - Edgy

Alan Jacques - Photographer

1/15/06 - 1/22/06

1/22/06 - 1/29/06

1/29/06 - 2/5/06

2/5/06 - 2/12/06

2/12/06 - 2/19/06

2/19/06 - 2/26/06

2/26/06 - 3/5/06

3/5/06 - 3/12/06

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10/26/08 - 11/2/08

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11/30/08 - 12/7/08

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12/21/08 - 12/28/08

12/28/08 - 1/4/09

1/4/09 - 1/11/09

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1/18/09 - 1/25/09

1/25/09 - 2/1/09

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2/15/09 - 2/22/09

2/22/09 - 3/1/09

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3/22/09 - 3/29/09

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6/21/09 - 6/28/09

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10/25/09 - 11/1/09

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11/15/09 - 11/22/09

11/22/09 - 11/29/09

11/29/09 - 12/6/09

12/6/09 - 12/13/09

12/13/09 - 12/20/09

12/20/09 - 12/27/09

12/27/09 - 1/3/10

1/3/10 - 1/10/10

1/10/10 - 1/17/10

1/17/10 - 1/24/10

1/24/10 - 1/31/10

1/31/10 - 2/7/10

2/7/10 - 2/14/10

2/14/10 - 2/21/10

2/21/10 - 2/28/10

2/28/10 - 3/7/10

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3/21/10 - 3/28/10

3/28/10 - 4/4/10

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8/22/10 - 8/29/10

8/29/10 - 9/5/10

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9/19/10 - 9/26/10

9/26/10 - 10/3/10

10/3/10 - 10/10/10

10/10/10 - 10/17/10

10/17/10 - 10/24/10

10/24/10 - 10/31/10

10/31/10 - 11/7/10

11/7/10 - 11/14/10

11/14/10 - 11/21/10

11/21/10 - 11/28/10

11/28/10 - 12/5/10

12/5/10 - 12/12/10

12/12/10 - 12/19/10

12/19/10 - 12/26/10

12/26/10 - 1/2/11

1/2/11 - 1/9/11

1/9/11 - 1/16/11

1/16/11 - 1/23/11

1/23/11 - 1/30/11

1/30/11 - 2/6/11

2/6/11 - 2/13/11

2/13/11 - 2/20/11

2/20/11 - 2/27/11

2/27/11 - 3/6/11

3/6/11 - 3/13/11

3/13/11 - 3/20/11

3/20/11 - 3/27/11

3/27/11 - 4/3/11

4/3/11 - 4/10/11

4/10/11 - 4/17/11

4/17/11 - 4/24/11

4/24/11 - 5/1/11

5/1/11 - 5/8/11

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5/22/11 - 5/29/11

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8/7/11 - 8/14/11

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8/21/11 - 8/28/11

8/28/11 - 9/4/11

9/4/11 - 9/11/11

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9/18/11 - 9/25/11

9/25/11 - 10/2/11

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10/9/11 - 10/16/11

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10/30/11 - 11/6/11

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11/20/11 - 11/27/11

11/27/11 - 12/4/11

12/4/11 - 12/11/11

12/11/11 - 12/18/11

12/18/11 - 12/25/11

12/25/11 - 1/1/12

1/1/12 - 1/8/12

1/8/12 - 1/15/12

1/15/12 - 1/22/12

1/22/12 - 1/29/12

1/29/12 - 2/5/12

2/5/12 - 2/12/12

2/12/12 - 2/19/12

2/19/12 - 2/26/12

2/26/12 - 3/4/12

3/4/12 - 3/11/12

3/11/12 - 3/18/12

3/18/12 - 3/25/12

3/25/12 - 4/1/12

4/1/12 - 4/8/12

4/8/12 - 4/15/12

4/15/12 - 4/22/12

4/22/12 - 4/29/12

4/29/12 - 5/6/12

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5/20/12 - 5/27/12

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6/17/12 - 6/24/12

6/24/12 - 7/1/12

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9/23/12 - 9/30/12

9/30/12 - 10/7/12

10/7/12 - 10/14/12

10/14/12 - 10/21/12

10/21/12 - 10/28/12

10/28/12 - 11/4/12

11/4/12 - 11/11/12

11/11/12 - 11/18/12

11/18/12 - 11/25/12

11/25/12 - 12/2/12

12/2/12 - 12/9/12

12/9/12 - 12/16/12

12/16/12 - 12/23/12

12/23/12 - 12/30/12

12/30/12 - 1/6/13

1/6/13 - 1/13/13

1/13/13 - 1/20/13

1/20/13 - 1/27/13

1/27/13 - 2/3/13

2/3/13 - 2/10/13

2/10/13 - 2/17/13

2/17/13 - 2/24/13

2/24/13 - 3/3/13

3/3/13 - 3/10/13

3/10/13 - 3/17/13

3/17/13 - 3/24/13

3/24/13 - 3/31/13

3/31/13 - 4/7/13

4/7/13 - 4/14/13

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4/21/13 - 4/28/13

4/28/13 - 5/5/13

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7/21/13 - 7/28/13

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9/22/13 - 9/29/13

9/29/13 - 10/6/13

10/6/13 - 10/13/13

10/13/13 - 10/20/13

10/20/13 - 10/27/13

10/27/13 - 11/3/13

11/3/13 - 11/10/13

11/10/13 - 11/17/13

11/17/13 - 11/24/13

11/24/13 - 12/1/13

12/1/13 - 12/8/13

12/8/13 - 12/15/13

12/15/13 - 12/22/13

12/22/13 - 12/29/13

12/29/13 - 1/5/14

1/5/14 - 1/12/14

1/12/14 - 1/19/14

1/19/14 - 1/26/14

1/26/14 - 2/2/14

2/2/14 - 2/9/14

2/9/14 - 2/16/14

2/16/14 - 2/23/14

2/23/14 - 3/2/14

3/2/14 - 3/9/14

3/9/14 - 3/16/14

3/16/14 - 3/23/14

3/23/14 - 3/30/14

3/30/14 - 4/6/14

4/6/14 - 4/13/14

4/13/14 - 4/20/14

4/20/14 - 4/27/14

4/27/14 - 5/4/14

5/4/14 - 5/11/14

5/11/14 - 5/18/14

5/18/14 - 5/25/14

5/25/14 - 6/1/14

6/1/14 - 6/8/14

6/8/14 - 6/15/14

6/15/14 - 6/22/14

6/22/14 - 6/29/14

6/29/14 - 7/6/14

7/6/14 - 7/13/14

7/13/14 - 7/20/14

7/20/14 - 7/27/14

7/27/14 - 8/3/14

8/3/14 - 8/10/14

8/10/14 - 8/17/14

8/17/14 - 8/24/14

8/24/14 - 8/31/14

8/31/14 - 9/7/14

9/7/14 - 9/14/14

9/14/14 - 9/21/14

9/21/14 - 9/28/14

9/28/14 - 10/5/14

10/5/14 - 10/12/14

10/12/14 - 10/19/14

10/19/14 - 10/26/14

10/26/14 - 11/2/14

11/2/14 - 11/9/14

11/9/14 - 11/16/14

11/16/14 - 11/23/14

11/23/14 - 11/30/14

11/30/14 - 12/7/14

12/7/14 - 12/14/14

12/14/14 - 12/21/14

12/21/14 - 12/28/14

12/28/14 - 1/4/15

1/4/15 - 1/11/15

1/11/15 - 1/18/15

1/18/15 - 1/25/15

1/25/15 - 2/1/15

2/1/15 - 2/8/15

2/8/15 - 2/15/15

2/15/15 - 2/22/15

2/22/15 - 3/1/15

3/1/15 - 3/8/15

3/8/15 - 3/15/15

3/15/15 - 3/22/15

3/22/15 - 3/29/15

3/29/15 - 4/5/15

4/5/15 - 4/12/15

4/12/15 - 4/19/15

4/19/15 - 4/26/15

4/26/15 - 5/3/15

5/3/15 - 5/10/15

5/10/15 - 5/17/15

5/17/15 - 5/24/15

5/24/15 - 5/31/15

5/31/15 - 6/7/15

6/7/15 - 6/14/15

6/14/15 - 6/21/15

6/21/15 - 6/28/15

6/28/15 - 7/5/15

7/5/15 - 7/12/15

7/12/15 - 7/19/15

7/19/15 - 7/26/15

7/26/15 - 8/2/15

8/2/15 - 8/9/15

8/9/15 - 8/16/15

8/16/15 - 8/23/15

8/23/15 - 8/30/15

8/30/15 - 9/6/15

9/6/15 - 9/13/15

9/13/15 - 9/20/15

9/20/15 - 9/27/15

9/27/15 - 10/4/15

10/4/15 - 10/11/15

10/18/15 - 10/25/15

10/25/15 - 11/1/15

11/1/15 - 11/8/15

11/8/15 - 11/15/15

11/15/15 - 11/22/15

11/22/15 - 11/29/15

11/29/15 - 12/6/15

12/6/15 - 12/13/15

12/13/15 - 12/20/15

12/20/15 - 12/27/15

12/27/15 - 1/3/16

1/3/16 - 1/10/16

1/10/16 - 1/17/16

1/31/16 - 2/7/16

2/7/16 - 2/14/16

2/14/16 - 2/21/16

2/21/16 - 2/28/16

2/28/16 - 3/6/16

3/6/16 - 3/13/16

3/13/16 - 3/20/16

3/20/16 - 3/27/16

3/27/16 - 4/3/16

4/3/16 - 4/10/16

4/10/16 - 4/17/16

4/17/16 - 4/24/16

4/24/16 - 5/1/16

5/1/16 - 5/8/16

5/8/16 - 5/15/16

5/15/16 - 5/22/16

5/22/16 - 5/29/16

5/29/16 - 6/5/16

6/5/16 - 6/12/16

6/12/16 - 6/19/16

6/19/16 - 6/26/16

6/26/16 - 7/3/16

7/3/16 - 7/10/16

7/10/16 - 7/17/16

7/17/16 - 7/24/16

7/24/16 - 7/31/16

7/31/16 - 8/7/16

8/7/16 - 8/14/16

8/14/16 - 8/21/16

8/21/16 - 8/28/16

8/28/16 - 9/4/16

9/4/16 - 9/11/16

9/11/16 - 9/18/16

9/18/16 - 9/25/16

9/25/16 - 10/2/16

10/2/16 - 10/9/16

10/9/16 - 10/16/16

10/16/16 - 10/23/16

10/23/16 - 10/30/16

10/30/16 - 11/6/16

11/6/16 - 11/13/16

11/13/16 - 11/20/16

11/20/16 - 11/27/16

11/27/16 - 12/4/16

12/4/16 - 12/11/16

12/11/16 - 12/18/16

12/18/16 - 12/25/16

12/25/16 - 1/1/17

1/1/17 - 1/8/17

1/8/17 - 1/15/17

1/15/17 - 1/22/17

1/22/17 - 1/29/17

1/29/17 - 2/5/17

2/5/17 - 2/12/17

2/12/17 - 2/19/17

2/19/17 - 2/26/17

2/26/17 - 3/5/17

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