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
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.
|My mother & her wisteria|
Se abre la
verja del jardín
docilidad de la página
frecuente devoción interroga
fijarse en los objetos
están cabalmente en la memoria.
costumbres y las almas
dialecto de alusiones
agrupación humana va urdiendo.
conocen quienes aquí me rodean,
mis congojas y mi flaqueza.
alcanzar lo más alto,
lo que tal
vez nos dará el Cielo:
admiraciones ni victorias
sencillamente ser admitidos
de una Realidad innegable,
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.
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.
|Georgia Straight, October 1 1993|
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
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
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.
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.
small change, key-ring,
The docile lock and
Notes my few days left
No time to read, the
cards, the table,
A book, in its pages,
Violet, the leavings
of an afternoon
The reddened mirror
facing to the west
Where burns illusory
dawn. Many things,
Files, sills, atlases,
Which serve us, like
So blind and so
They’ll long outlast
And never know that we
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 monedas, el llavero,
cerradura, las tardías
no leerán los pocos días
quedan, los naipes y el tablero,
Un libro y
en sus páginas la ajada
monumento de una tarde
inolvidable y ya olvidada,
espejo occidental en que arde
ilusoria aurora. ¡Cuántas cosas,
umbrales, atlas, copas, clavos,
como tácitos esclavos,
allá de nuestro olvido;
nunca que nos hemos ido.
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.
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.
|Our house & laurel hedge on left - right where Mrs. Alm's house used to be|
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
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
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,
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
|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
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
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
July 29, 2006 - Carmen Aguirre & a yet Unborn Santiago
|Donald Adams & Carmen Aguirre|
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
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.
|Carmen Aguirre & Juan Manuel Sánchez mural|
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
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
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 - Robson & Granville|
|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
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
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:
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
Friday, November 07, 2008
|Carmen Aguirre & Isabel Allende|
Tonight Rebecca and I had a feast at Opera Sushi
and watched the end of La Traviata
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"
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."
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
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
crucifijo colgado en su auto
parlantes sintonizan la melodía de un merengue
pantalones de culebra
cadenita en la cintura y no tiene calzones
tambores sobre sus piernas
Miro a un
barco moverse en el horizonte
estrella fugaz aterriza en las montañas
cara que se parece a la mía
pertenece a la raza bronce
arraigada en las Américas
Norte y Sur
crucifijo en su auto, dice que no es católica
Se mueve al
son del merengue
el ritmo de sus caderas
Su piel es
de mi color
llenos como los míos
pertenece a la raza bronce
cuerpo de canela
reconozco en ella
Huele a un
buen café negro
Y aunque no
Este es el
momento más religioso de mis recuerdos
una chaqueta de cuero negra
dedos dos anillos de plata
con el merengue
ha llegado a mi casa
cinturón de seguridad
tranquilidad de la noche
pasto brilla en la luz de la luna
son como los míos
Me toma en
de tercera generación
pertenece a la raza de bronce
sur no lo conoce, sólo por conversación
Su boca no
puede pronunciar rrrs
ritmo es como el mío
oscuridad como el ambar
tan grande como la mía
hombre de tercera generación
apenas de la primera
viajan hacia mí
Y yo siento
que por fin
a mi casa, como el sol de la primavera