A Lovely Un-Christmas With Mary Poppins & An Angel
Friday, December 05, 2014
Vancouverites for a
long time were creatures of habit. You drank your coffee at Murchie’s, bought
your books at Duthie’s, went to Stanley Park, bought your umbrellas at the
Umbrella Shop and for Christmas you went to a Nutcracker and made sure you
witnessed and sang along one Messiah. And of course you had to take in It’s a
Wonderful Life at the Stanley
and rent the 1951 A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge.
Things may be changing
perhaps with the demise of family-owned businesses not being able to compete
with the American Big Box. Some changes are not of that ilk.
Consider that a couple
of weeks back I went to the Art Club Theatre’s anti-Christmas (but very
definitely with that Christmas spirit) A Twisted Christmas Carol at the
Granville Island Review Stage.
Second in this trend
that I call the Alternative Vancouver Christmas was Saturday’s Arts Umbrella
Dance Company’s Mixed Nuts. With an occasional nod to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Mixed Nuts was to The Nutcracker what A Twisted Christmas Carol was to Charles
The last Nutcracker I
ever saw (with both my granddaughters) was some years ago. We went because the
Sugar Plum Fairy was the inimitable Sandrine Cassini who at the time was
dancing (briefly) with the Alberta Ballet. I will have to be still alive and
sentient in some far away future to take my great-grandchildren (none yet,
thank God) to another Nutcracker.
There are two more
anti-Christmas (but very Christmas events to add to the list. One of them is the Sunday, December 21 Early Music Vancouver presentation at the Chan of J.S.
Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (whew! no Messiah chorus for me this year) just Bach
The other event I went
to last week with my 12 year-old granddaughter Lauren. It was the opening night
of the Arts Club Theatre presentation of the Broadway play Mary Poppins, Directed by Bill Millerd at the
Stanley Industrial Alliance Theatre.
Both of us had enjoyed
this production last year (virtually the same as all the actors came back)
staring the phenomenal Sara-Jeanne Hosie as Mary Poppins.
Since I knew I would
want to write here about our experience I searched for a handle. I found it
quickly thanks to Lauren. She wanted to know (and guessed at some) how the
magic tricks like pulling a long floor lamp from a carpetbag on a bed could be
While attempting to
write an essay for the Vancouver Sun’s Religion/Spiritual writer Douglas Todd
on the spirituality of J.S. Bach I found that in the past century and most of
the others an organized (and then) most important Christian religion, not to
mention the miracles that God performs in the Old Testament for the Israelites,
there was an idea of unexplained magic, the miracle.
By the late 1960’s
(with a nod to Cecil B. DeMille who managed to successfully part the Red Sea in his 1956 film The Ten Commandments) special
effects in film had taken care of making the idea of pulling razor blades or a
rabbit from a hat boring. Magic was dead and is more so this century. Not a
couple of days ago I read how the plague of frogs was digitally (partially) accomplished
in this year’s soon-to-be released Ridley Scott blockbuster Exodus – Gods and
Kings. It would seem that special effects become boring until more elaborate
and complicated ones are found.
While I am not
advocating we all go en masse to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, there seems we
have lost our ability to wonder about the impossible and the magic of it.
Without angels, and
Christmas trees, Mary Poppins deftly brings back that spirit of magic, that
spirit of Christmas to this season.
But I must mention an occurrence
that charmed my Lauren. As we were about to leave the Stanley, a gentle tall man came down the
stairs from the balcony. I stopped him and told him, “This is my granddaughter Lauren.
I am going to ask you a question and I want you to answer it truthfully. Are
you an angel?” With a smile on his face and with that marvellous voice of his,
Bernard Cuffling looked at Lauren and said, “Indeed I am. And will be more of
one this coming year.”
It would seem that
Lauren and I have our Christmas play all planned for 2015. It will be It’s a
Wonderful Life. After a couple of off years this will be a fresh new start for
another Vancouver institution at the Stanley?
A Victory Ship, A Bourbon & A Jukebox - On Christmas Eve
Thursday, December 04, 2014
The year 1966 was one
of the saddest of my life and it culminated with the loneliest Christmas Eve I
have ever experienced.
It was sometime around
July of that year in the middle of a bleak and humid Buenos Aires winter when I
attempted to call up my girlfriend Susy for solace. She answered the phone and
told me (here it is a recollection and I don’t remember her exact words), “This
is the last time we will ever talk and I will never see you again. Do not try
to reach me. You're an uncouth and uneducated sailor. I now have a new friend. He is older and plays
the violin for the Teatro Colón.” And that was that. I went into my room at a
pension run by a retired German submariner from WWII and cried. To make it
worse I put All Blues (Miles Davis – Kind of Blue) on my record player and went
into a lower plane of depression. But since I was 23, youth took over and as
soon as spring (the jacarandas turned brilliant blue) arrived I knew I would be
soon returning to my home in Veracruz,
Sometime in the end of
November I boarded the Argentine Merchant Marine ship, Río Aguapey as its only
passenger. I made friends with a couple of young junior officers. They, the
daily lunch and dinner of steak with my personal bottle of Argentine wine
helped to alleviate my pain and forget Susy. In my cabin, when I was not taking
photographs of every evening’s sunset, I read Oswald Spengler.
Christmas Eve we
docked in New Orleans
and I decided to take a walk on Bourbon
Street in the French Quarter. I heard lots of
Dixieland sound coming out from many bars and clubs. Since I was a connoisseur (I
thought so) of cool jazz this music was not my cup of tea. I opted for one of
those places that had strippers. I had never ever seen one (I made up for lost
time when I moved to Vancouver in 1975). I sat on the front row (not yet
knowing that it would soon be called genecology row in Vancouver) and ordered bourbon. I stupidly
thought this was the drink to order. Since I do not like spirits, sipping the
stuff burned my throat. A bored looking woman appeared. She went to a jukebox
on the side of the stage and plugged it in. She pressed a few keys and began to
dance. All I can remember it that I was thoroughly bored, depressed and I left
as soon as she finished. Before she left the stage she unplugged the jukebox.
I went back to my
ship. Most were asleep. I climbed into
my bunk and felt saddened by the experience. New Orleans had been my first return to the
United Sates in about four years. I did not like the US
that I had found in New Orleans.
It seemed to be a Christmas Eve unshared.
In the late 80s I returned to Buenos Aires. I called up Susy. She was divorced. I rang the bell. She opened the door and staring at me said, "Aren't you going to kiss me?"
A Twisted Christmas Carol Stands-up To Scrutiny
Wednesday, December 03, 2014
|The Ghost of Christmas Past haunts Granville Island|
Before I rant and rave
(mostly the second) about the Arts Club Theatre production of Rock Paper
Scissors “alternative to Charles Dickens” A Twisted Christmas Carol directed by
John Murphy at the Granville Island Review Stage let me set the record straight
that as a Latin American-born (Argentine) man I do not understand the concept
of paying money to go into a club to listen to people making jokes about
Surrey. I simply almost loathe the concept of stand-up comedy.
But the Arts Club
Theatre Company introduced me to the humour of Ryan Beil and I had to accept
the fact that I was beginning to slide towards liking this sort of humour. There is not doubt now.
A Twisted Christmas
Carol, which somehow keeps to the general plot of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol,
is lightly scripted and allows the audience to vary many of the twists and
turns of this hilariously funny play/experience. On opening day I went with my
younger daughter Hilary Stewart. Thanks to her I was clued in to elements that
would have gone over my head like music from films such as Halloween and
actions that mimicked Jaws and Friday the 13th. On opening night
(last night Wednesday) we the audience determined that Scrooge and his dead
partner Jacob Marley headed a Gymnastics Studio. On other nights it might be a
plumbing company, or who knows, a uranium exploration company?
Within the Dickens
plot, nicely narrated by a very English Kirk Smith playing Charles Dickens the
other actors, Diana Francis, Jeff Gladstone, Gary Jones and Bill Pozzobon (very
good, very funny, superb Shakespearean voice and with a surname that suggests
he might have an ancestry as a Dickens character) through their stand-up comedy
expertise, were able to rise up to the crazy demand of the spectators.
In a season where if I
listen to Marilyn Monroe sing Santa Baby one more time (the last time yesterday
at the Tea House in Stanley Park) I will go mad (and taken away in a straight jacket) before Christmas falls upon us,
it is refreshing to witness a play that
is not traditional in the strict meaning of that word. It’s a Wonderful Life,
like the Nutcracker I can skip until I have great-grandchildren that I can
expose to that sort of thing. And that is why A Twisted Christmas Carol did its
thing for me which was to make me laugh and look forward to the season without
tiring me out without “chestnuts ‘n stuff.”
|The cast of A Twisted Christmas Carol -Kirk Smith, Jeff Gladstone, Bill Pozzobon, Gary Jones & Diana Francis|
While looking through
some of my books I found a beautiful copy of A Christmas Carol by Charles
Dickens illustrated by Arthur Rackham. I opened it and noticed the book plate “This
book belongs to Hilary Waterhouse-Hayward”. I gave this book to Hilary when she
was 7 in the late 70s.
I further noticed the
I have endeavoured in
this Ghostly little book to raise the Ghost of an Idea which shall not put my
readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or
with me. May it haunt their house pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.
Their faithful Friend
December, 1843 C.D.
I would think that the
book’s preface is a just review of A Twisted Christmas Carol
Art Bergmann - Singer-Songwriter-Guitarist
Tuesday, December 02, 2014
My Mother's Red Shawl
- El Rebozo Colorado
Art Bergmann - Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist
hey alex, art here...I just don't know what
to say about yr mother’s red. It smelled so new but I could tell by the quality
it was ancient, or it imbued a sense of wisdom somehow...red shawl, red
shawl...over the last few years I have been walking through Aleksandr
Solzhenitsyn's The Red Wheel, his version of the events leading up
to the earth-shaking Russian Revolution. It includes documentation of
everything said by the various characters involved, mixed with fictional
stories from all facets of Russian life...from peasants, workers, revolutionaries
to the liberal squawkers in the endless debates at the Duma...this is what I
think of when I remember wearing the red shawl as you gave me no historical
facts regarding said shawl.
Editor's note: When Bergmann first put on the red shawl he said, "I think I am in my Mahatma Gandhi mode." This was the first exposure.
A Beautiful Ballerina, Calvados & A Killer Toothache
Monday, December 01, 2014
My knowledge of alcoholism
is limited to the fact that my father was one and many of the Haywards who had the alcohol bug. Several of them died of stomach or liver problems. My
father might have been the exception in that he died on the street during a heart
I have no idea if I
have the alcoholic gene. For most of my life I have had a fear to all
addictions. Some 15 years ago I gave up pipe smoking because I told myself that
it was stupid and I had lost interest.
Any small quantity of
alcohol induced a short-lived hangover that was replaced by terrible migraines.
My migraine attacks ceased when I was around 60. If I have one addiction it is
my predilection for fine black and loose tea. At any given moments I have seven
or eight large tins of exotic and very good tea. I drink it strong.
My eldest daughter
says I have an addiction to sugar so I now put less of it to sweeten my tea.
This does not mean
that I don’t occasionally drink alcohol. For many years at the Railway Club
they kept a bottle of Tío Pepe in the fridge or a fine manzanilla when they could find it. For lunch they would serve me my
soup with a small glass of the sherry. I would pour half of it into the soup
and sip what was left slowly.
My usual escape from
wedding invitations is to say, “If you are not serving Moët & Chandon I
will not go.”
In the late 80s my
first cousin (and godmother’s) husband Dolfi Kuker told me, “Alejandro, I know
you don’t like wine. But you will like this one.” This was in Buenos
Aires and he served me some very cold Torrontés white wine made in
the Province of Salta. This is the only wine I like.
When you sip it, it somehow feels that you have bitten into a large handful of
I had a very good
ecdysiast friend called Tarren who when I went to admire her dancing and
everything else would send little glasses of Baileys Irish Cream. She got me
pretty tipsy but I stuck to my principles and was a gentleman to the end.
At about the time Gary
Taylor would invite me to be a judge in the battle of the bands in his Gary
Taylor’s Rock Room. He knew I was a cheap judge as I would not consume either
the expensive cocaine that was offered or drink vast quantities of beer. A
fellow judge convinced me to try something called a Tequila Banger. You poured
soda water into a glass of tequila. You would lift the glass and cover the top
with your hand. You would then bang it hard on the table. It would fizz up and
then you would drink it in one gulp. I remember nursing a hangover in my tub
(at the time we were living in Burnaby).
I watched a towel slide off the towel rack. When it hit the floor the hangover
turned into one of the worst migraines in memory.
Simply I don’t drink.
I don’t take drugs and I don’t smoke anything.
Sometime in the early
80s Western Living hired me to photograph a few people who were importing
exotic food stuffs to Vancouver.
One of them was Portuguese José Velagao who had a firm called Continental
Importers. His ex wife, Caren McSherry now runs the Gourmet Warehouse on East Hastings. I was invited for lunch by Velagao who
treated me to an omelette in which he ground this curious (rare then, he
introduced it to Vancouver)
three colour pepper corn. The omelette was delicious. After a wonderful flan
for dessert he told me, “One of the most underrated after-dinner drinks is the
French apple brandy Calvados. I was given a little glass of it. It was strong
Every few years I buy
a bottle and drink some when I have the right guests.
This is a story that I
have told before but it warrants to be told again so that the subject of the
story can adorn this blog.
In October 2011 my
all-time favourite ballerina, Sandrine Cassini (I had first noticed her at Ballet BC)
had returned for a short stint as a choreographer/dancer with the Victoria
Ballet Company. She had been dancing in Germany. Originally I had noticed
her because she had the stamp of the Paris Opera Ballet when she walked. And indeed
she had started there before moving to the Monaco Ballet and also to be
photographed by Helmut Newton.
Cassini was in town
and she was going to dance at North Van’s Centennial Theatre.
The night before I had
a tremendous tooth ache. My dentist had given me his cell number just in case. I
was determined to avoid the man. That night I swilled Calvados in my mouth and
the pain dissipated. The next day in the afternoon the pain returned in full
force. I swilled and swilled and suddenly I had this conversation in my head:
Officer I know that I
have alcohol breath. It is not your normal alcohol breath. It is Calvados a very fine French apple brandy. I have a terrible tooth ache. I have not imbibed. I have
swilled it to kill the pain. I must go and see the glorious Sandrine Cassini
dance. If you knew how she dances and what she looks like you would trust me
and let me go.
I was not stopped and
I got to the Centennial Theatre. Cassini was up first dancing to the music of
one of Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello. She was superb. Somehow the cello
was at a frequency that penetrated into my tooth and the pain was unbearable. I
soldiered on (I had no hip flask) and after the show I took this iPhone 3G
picture that made the trip worthwhile.
Winning By A Nose
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Figure model Caitlin
Legault broke her nose trice. The first time when she was studying karate she
threw a man over her shoulder but forgot to tuck her head in. The second time,
an incredulous gentleman did not believe the story so Legault demonstrated the
move on him and forgot to tuck in her head…
Legault has the kind
of face that makes me utter the same joke when she knocks on my door. I always say,
“You look familiar,” and she smiles. She has that kind of universal face
(perhaps one of Plato’s essences, the essence of woman?) that she can transform
herself and her face becomes whatever you might want to make of it.
She poses for hours,
without moving in art colleges but also does that kind of stuff with
photographers who might say, “Move, do something different.”
I explained to Legault
that Marlene Dietrich popularized what we now call Hollywood
or Paramount or
Butterfly (the shadow under the nose) Lighting. Dietrich posed for George
Hurrell and loved what his high spotlight on a boom did for her cheekbones. She
then commanded (and she could) that all lighting directors in her films use
that boom light. Until somebody figured out in using a small light pointed at
eye level to her face, many technicians spent days painting catch lights on
long meters of movie film.
Another catch with Hollywood lighting is that if your subject moves a bit (millimeters)
in any direction that shadow under the nose can drift and make the resulting
image ugly. This meant that when Dietrich acted she had to be still. Once she
did the boom light had to be re-positioned.
Legault, who can stay
in one pose for a long time had no problem with my Hollywood
setup this past Saturday. And soon (she learns quickly) she could feel where the
light on her face was.
Here is a sample of
some of the pictures I took of her with my Fuji X-E1 set at 800 ISO and
tungsten as the pictures were taken with my flash’s modeling lights but not
with the flash.
I would venture to
assert that without that kink on her nose, Legault’s face would be as beautiful
but perhaps not as interesting.