An Epiphany Of Light
Saturday, December 27, 2014
|The Southern Cross|
Sometime in the late 90s while on a trip to Buenos Aires I
was invited for an asado at my nephew
Georgito O’Reily’s house in San Isidro. It was dusk and soon I noticed hundreds
of bichos de luz or fireflies. I knew I had to look up. I did and square in the
middle of the sky I saw the Southern Cross. I was hit by nostalgia for the sky
of my youth.
astronomer Bart Bok used to say: “The Southern Hemisphere holds all the good
stuff.” He was probably referring to the fact that we have “the two best
globular clusters, the largest and brightest naked-eye external galaxies, the
largest diffuse nebula, the largest dark nebula and a Milky Way bright enough
under our dark transparent skies to cast shadows during certain times of the
year,” in the words of the journalist Luke Dodd.
From The Dazzle of the Southern Sky by Vanessa Barbara – NY Times
It was January 1950. My Uncle Tony, Tía Sarita, their son
and my first cousin Jorge Wenceslao, my mother and I set out on a stern
paddle-wheeler up the Parana River from Buenos Aires to the river port of Goya
in the northern province of Corrientes. I could say that the river was infested
with jacarés (alligators) and pirañas but I don’t recall noticing any of them.
We arrived at little Goya in the evening. A capataz from the Estancia Santa
Teresita (owned my Wenceslao’s Tía Raquel) met us in an ancient Studebaker
truck. We were told to board it and to lie down for safety. We drove all night
on dirt roads. We looked up at the sky.
It was during this drive to Santa Teresita that I can attest to journalist Luke Dodd’s asserting
that the dark transparent skies cast shadows. I could see my hands from the
huge swath of the Milky Way that swept from one end of the horizon to the
other. The many stars had earthly competition from a myriad of bichos de luz
(luciérnagas or fireflies) that were everywhere. There was a din of crickets
and other insects. And the great Southern Sky was there beckoning us to our
destination. I was much too young to associate the experience with Gaspar,
Balthazar and Melchior leading their camels in a similar but certainly inferior
sky as they were in the Northern Hemisphere.
Olaf Stapeldon's The Starmaker
John Ireland Never Wore A White Hat
Friday, December 26, 2014
|John Ireland & Preston Foster|
A few days ago I fired up my VHS machine and inserted one of the few known available copies of Robert Rossen’s terrific 1949 All the King’s Men
. The film features a Canadian-born actor ( I
mistakenly thought he was from the prairies) John Ireland.
Watching his face, and because this is Christmas and
Christmas is a time for reflection I remembered exactly the time I first saw
John Ireland in a film.
In 1949 my father and I took the train from Coghlan to
Retiro, the cavernous downtown terminal. From there we stepped down escalators to the subte that took us to
Lavalle Station. There we walked to one of the many movie theatres that lined that street for blocks. We were there to see (now I know
the details) Bob Fuller’s I Shot Jesse
John Ireland plays Bob Ford
the man who does in James. There was something about Ireland’s face, perhaps a
look of despair and or doubt that may have affected my young mind. Or it could have been that this film, even
though it was a Western, had no clear villain in a black hat and a hero in a
white one. I had yet to discover Hopalong
Cassidy who always wore a black hat.
Since that film I have always admired Ireland as the flawed,
hero with inner conflicts that are patently all over his face.
Al the King’s Men followed that impression I had of the man.
It takes his character, Jack Burden, a long time in the film to realize the
corruption within Willie Stark (played by an awesome Broderick Crawford). But
in the last few seconds of the film Ireland comes through.
Thanks to Wikipedia I was pleasantly surprised that Ireland,
born, January 30, 1914, in Vancouver, was the first Vancouverite to be
nominated for an Oscar in his supporting role in All the King’s Men.
The shenanigans that I see on CNN with Rachel Maddow make
all the goings on of All the King’s Men seem tame.
And I always find it pleasant but curious how my memory
links to events long past.
The Grandeur Of the Big - The Charm Of The Small
Thursday, December 25, 2014
On October 27, 1996 my wife and two daughters and I went to
Ryerson United to a concert given by the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and the
Electra Women’s Choir. They performed Vivaldi’s Gloria in D major RV 589
concert introduced me to the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and their period
instruments. The all-women’s choir has spoiled me forever in ever hearing a
better Gloria. The concert in its stupendous setting was my first “big concert”
with all the trimmings.
Since then I have witnessed many Bach Passions, Handel
operas, Monteverdi Operas and all of the Bach Cantata Projects through the
years brought to us by Early Music Vancouver.
|Doctor Stephen Drance at left|
One would have to live in sunny Guadalajara, Mexico, Buenos
Aires or even Langley (if one were unwilling to drive to Vancouver for these
concerts) to eventually stop taking for granted that we are blessed in
Vancouver to have such an active early music scene, new music scene
(particularly that of the Turning Point Ensemble), opera and the symphonic
contributions of the Vancouver Symphony.
Yes we are blessed.
Sometimes, even though I do not live in sunny
Guadalajara, I find myself taking for granted these big extravaganzas at the Chan
Centre. But Sunday the 21st
Early Music Vancouver production (with
contributions from the Seattle Baroque Orchestra, Portland Baroque Orchestra and Pacific Musicworks, all combined as A
Northwest Baroque Masterworks
Project) made me realize that I have to
pinch myself and realize my luck. I was reminded when EMV Artistic Director
spoke out of the past contributions of Former Artistic Director of the Pacific
Baroque Orchestra , Marc Destrubé, to the ongoing Bach Christmas Cantata
Project. I would have added the name of lute player and instrument maker Ray
I remember the early versions of the Cantata Project held at the UBC
Chapel by the UBC Golf Club. The acoustics were so deadening that Nurse’s
group, La Cetra installed a temporary plywood floor at the altar space where
What I am attempting to write is that in Vancouver we get
the big productions but also the small and intimate ones. Early Music Vancouver’s Dowland In Dublin
set in something that resembled a cabaret. It was excellent. I like this
balance. It is also nice to see members of the Bach Christmas Oratorio play in
small groups like Arthur Neele's Stile Moderno
or those fine and even more intimate little
concerts featuring violinist Paul Luchkow and multi-keyboardist Michael Jarvis
We are lucky that we now have the north-to-south musical
axis that is Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle and Portland. But at the same time we
might be made aware that is far cheaper for Americans to play in our neck of
the woods than vice versa. Those Americans, in a rotten spirit of the value of cultural
exchange make visas to play in the US expensive.
The Bach Christmas Oratorio (Cantatas 1,3,6) after performances, in Portland,
Mercer Island, Seattle and Victoria came all together for us in Vancouver. To tour a big ensemble in few days is a grueling
piece of work. As one of the solo
singers told me, “We are going to do some drinking after tonight’s last
I was lucky to be sitting very close to Doctor Stephen
Drance and his wife. This man has been a tireless contributor in cash and
organizational skills to make Early Music Vancouver be the institution that it
Seats sold so quickly that Rosemary and my friend designer
Graham Walker were not able to sit front row centre. When we sit there our noses
are at the same height as the Chan stage.
For a while I have been writing about Walker’s shoe fetish. From our
front row centre we get a special view of shoes. Alas we were on the side. But…
I will now diverge from saying how wonderful it was to see
Director Stephen Stubbs direct and play the harpsichord standing up (Alexander
Weimann,Director of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra also has this rare talent).
Stubbs could have upped the ante by also playing his very large and long lute.
I will diverge from all that to state that from my
vantage point as I watched the stage I could see some lips of extreme redness
sock it to my eyes. The perfectly red lip
s were property of West Virginian-born,
recently to Seattle via Oberlin, baroque cellist Juliana Soltis. During the
interval I watched her on the wings. She was wearing a remarkable black taffeta
dress and sported an extremely short haircut.
Her dress was very long and hid her shoes. It seems one of
the violinists did see them and had warned me to watch out for them. The violinist told me, “Her shoes somehow match the exquisite blue cello cover.”
Nochebuena 2014 Not So Buena
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
I have no memory of my first Christmas. But from the few I
remember in the late 40s it seems that no Christmas means anything without reflecting
on Christmases past. And no Christmas without children, or even teenagers can
be a fill fledged one.
Rosemary and I are lucky to have our immediate family here
and in Lillooet (our eldest daughter). This Christmas was the first one where
Rosemary and I did not exchange anything.
I am not too happy about this so next year I will surprise her with
something even if small and inexpensive.
Bad luck in cooking happened but it did not spoil our
dinner. I always char the roast beef in
the barbecue before I finished it in the oven. I pre-heated the barbecue and when
I was about to place the roast (this year smothered in Kitchen Bouquet) I
noticed that the unit was out. I placed the roast in the oven with the
potatoes, carrots and onions and Rosemary baked her superlative Yorkshire
Pudding. We had a tossed salad but refrained from dessert this year. It was
pleasing, for once not to be completely stuffed.
Bruce, Ale and I had a bottle of red Spanish wine given to
me by former Vancouver Poet Laureate George McWhirter.
The time for opening the presents happened but our older
granddaughter was not too gracious in accepting them. We first took our important group photograph. Rebecca remindde me of it. Rosemary's cat Casi-Casi refused his red bow or posing. He seemed to lack the proper Christmas spirit. My Plata struggled but she is in the picture.
All in all it was a good Christmas and I hope that next year’s
will be a better one. One thing that will not happen will be the barbecue
fiasco. I am buying a second tank.
That Red Line Of My Lifespan
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
I have been meaning to write something associated with
lifespans for a while. Last night in a bout of my perennial insomnia I thought
about adding to my little essay
on the tenacity of my cat to live, the idea
that a cat’s lifespan is much compressed. Rebecca clinched it by saying today, “Plata
was born the same year as I was so that makes us the same age in years, but not
in cat years.”
In the early 70s when I taught high school in Mexico City to
filthy rich and spoiled American teenagers I
had the problem of reticent kids not willing to say anything in class.
One of the tricks I used that brought lots of class contribution was the idea
that in some far away future we would all be born with a blank line on our left
wrist that would slowly edge in red in one direction. Since science in the future would be able to
project an accurate lifespan for all of us, the little but inexorably moving
line would tell us about our “battery life”. The question I asked my students
was, “How would we live our life if we knew how much time we had left?”
I was born in 1942. My father left our house in 1950. I saw
him again for about a year in 1965. This meant that his lifespan and mine
mingled for just 9 years and I am not considering the first three or four years
of my existence when I would not have known of his existence.
Of my mother she was with me (or I with her) until 1972.
That means that we shared a lifespan for 30 years with those first three or four
of my life a blank. If I add 30 to 9 that would mean that the 47 years I have lived with my wife Rosemary exceed
those 30. That is most amazing.
Last year Lauren and I checked up on Puig
almost every day. He(she?) was a spider that moved into our house in the beginning
of November on the inside window of our front door. He was there until late
January. One day he (she?) was gone.
That shared lifespan between Lauren and her grandfather has been a bond
between us in some ways as important as the one that I share with Rosemary. We were both present when my mother breathed
in and did not exhale again.
At this Christmas time and those lazy but important days
until and including the Epiphany on January 6 there is plenty of time to think
about all the above and to reflect on all those red lines (some finished, some
at the beginning, some in the middle, and those for whose the lines are about
to terminate) that we (and I) have shared knowingly and unknowingly. Sometimes
(and it would seem at most important times) those lines do not run in parallel,
or do they diverge on converge. Sometimes they cross.
Those crossings can be
like that of a motorist my mother and I never met. I was about 8 and we were
crossing a busy street in Buenos Aires (near Juramento) called Cabildo. My grandmother
was already on the other side. Suddenly she shouted,” Nena, go back.” We did just at the moment that a speeding car
would have run us over.
A young man called Angel sat me at a chair in Arsenal Naval Buenos
Aires, I was a raw sailor recruit who was unaware that my will to do anything
would be nonexistent for two years without the express permission of even a
lowly superior. With a smile on his face
Angel asked me how I wanted my hair cut.
I told him. He then proceeded to give me a “doble cero
”. He shaved my head
clean. Then he surprised me. He told me, “ Captain Hans Langsdorff, the captain
of the battleship Admiral Graff Spee, shot himself with a Luger in this room, over
by that corner.” That moment I crossed lines with a dead man and I have never
forgotten and with a live man I never met again who called himself Angel.
Every once in a while (not too often) I get a few
communications from people who begin by writing, “I don’t know how I stumbled
upon your blog, but thank you.” The red
line is silently ticking with a few crosses here and there.
When Rebecca was 10 the three of us flew to Buenos Aires. I crossed Cabildo at the exact same spot with the two. I never told them of the previous, almost tragic, event at those coordinates.
My Dogged Cat's Will To Live
Monday, December 22, 2014
|Rebecca, Lauren and Plata, 11 years ago.|
Plata was five or six when I saw her at the SPCA 11 years
ago. She looked like a snow leopard and pranced like a ballerina. I brought her
home. Our black male cat had died of a
heart attack while watching Vertigo
with her mistress Rosemary (my wife). We
had a female cat, too, a white one called Polilla. I did not understand then
the problem of having two female cats as theirs were irreconcilable differences.
Polilla was eviscerated by a raccoon soon after so Niño came
to live with us but he developed cancer and suffered so much I brought him back
from the vet’s in a cardboard box and I buried him in the garden. It would seem
that Plata has co-inhabited with a few cats.
Plata is the most independent cat we have ever had. She never liked to have her ears touched but
did accompany us around the block in our summer walks, to the amazement of our
Chinese neighbours. I would point at Plata and say, “She not cat. She dog that
looks like cat.” I am not sure I was believed.
Now at 17-plus Plata still scampers on the kitchen table, up
to the refrigerator and from there to cabinets by the ceiling. She still cleans
herself very well but has a kidney problem. She drinks a lot of water. She is
smart about that.
But Plata is now less independent. When I watch the afternoon
news or a film she is next to me on the sofa.
In the morning she is on top of me on the bed and in the evening she
lies next to me when I read in bed. She
is like glue. She nags to be fed and as long as she has an appetite I keep
Rebecca, our 17-year-old granddaughter, says the cat should
be put down. She says we are being cruel.
I have been thinking a lot about this. Plata does not seem
to be in pain and she is alert. Unlike humans she cannot tell us to pull the
plug. But then humans in a coma cannot tell us either.
For me Plata represents a living thing’s tenacity for life.
At some point the negatives will outweigh the positives. I do not think we are
there yet, the both of us.
I suspect that Casi-Casi, Rosemary's male cat would miss her. They seldom fight and coexist just fine.
The Age Of Fidget
Sunday, December 21, 2014
|The Ghost of Christmas Past|
The ghost of Christmas past haunts me every year in the form
of some sort of computer failure. I am writing this on an ancient Toshiba Tecra
laptop. I have problems writing on a laptop keyboard.
In past holiday seasons the folks who host my blog and web
page and also manage my domain name will pull the plug on all of it because of
my credit card’s expiry date or some such thing. No matter what you might think your presence
in the internet can vanish in an instant. All those blog links in facebook will
not be there. And once you have resolved
the credit card payment problem it takes three to five days for the blog to
slowly come back up. In those terrible instances, at the very least I have
dealt with friendly Roumanian tech reps who speak beautiful English.
My Windows-XP computer failed to boot up a couple of days
ago. My friend at Powersonic Computers
on Bridgeport Road has identified the problem in my XP not in the hard drive.
In a couple of days I should have it back. I will need to re-install my 9
year-old Photoshop but my friend and also my wife have urged me to switch to
I am unable to explain to them the concept of form follows
function. This idea from that past
century was based on the simplicity of design. This 21st
now one that I call the Age of Fidget.
As an example I cite my iPhone 3G that has a rocker switch
to adjust ringer volume. On the upside
the volume increases. On the downside it does the opposite. My Rosemary’s
iPhone 4 has two switches. The simplicity of one switch is made “better” with
two. I don’t think so.
My Outlook Express is
easy to the eye in its simplicity. My Rosemary’s Windows 7 email program is so
loaded with stuff that I would not know how to start using it.
In design white space is very important. This idea would have upset those in
another age of fidget, the Baroque 16th
and 17th century. Every nook and cranny of a Catholic Church altar had to have
something. Bach’s canons are a model for
this elaborate complexity. I will be the
first to admit that while I love Bach canons I cannot abide by the complexity
of contemporary (this 21st century) digital cameras, the latest
computer programs and all those improvements in smart phones.
I enjoy getting lost and then finding my way. I do not need “Dolores”
to tell me in a sexy voice to turn left at the next block so I can arrive at
the new pizza joint.
I cannot understand how folks will download an MP-3 audio
file and then use elaborate devices to put back all the good stuff that was
removed in compression. I just play CDs or records on my ancient but excellent
I cannot understand why it is that if I correctly
expose a photograph with my Fuji-X-E1
why I must shoot RAW, just in case or as I have been told, “it is better”.
Photoshop allows me to correct the increased contrast of
negatives and slides that are scanned. The highlight/shadow tool of my old
Photoshop is plenty useful for that sort of thing. I do not need to get a bank
loan to purchase the new improved Photoshop. In fact , for under $60 Corel’s
Paintshop Pro will do the job. In the age of fidget the expensive complex is
Until my old computer is fixed I will enjoy the simplicity
and calm of this Christmas season.