The Camphor BabiesMonday, June 22, 2015
There is plenty of family history in my memory. A big chunk comes from the fact that for years I found myself in my mother’s bedroom when her mother, Lolita, was either visiting or living with us. They opened jewel boxes and discussed their provenance. Because of my small hands I was asked to close the clasps of necklaces and bracelets. Besides the jewels there were dresses made of pineapple fibre in the Philippines or lovely silk shawls.
Wherever we went we had to carefully pack Abuelita’s camphor babies.
My grandmother had the ability to predict coming wars, stock market crashes and coup d’etat. She always took her family (she was a widow with two daughters and a son.
In 1938 while living in Manila she saw the way the wind was blowing. The four of them boarded a ship bound for Buenos Aires. I never did ask (I was stupid) as to why they chose Argentina. Their ship must have been a tramp steamer. In Durban, South Africa men in dugouts approached the ship to sell their wares. One of them offered an unusually shaped Indian camphor trunk and a collapsible octagonal camphor table. These two and another trunk purchased in Mexico City from a departing Filipino diplomat have been with us since.
A few weeks ago I told the story of the camphor babies to Lauren. I did not show her the transparency that is reproduced here. In the early 80s I photographed four exotic dancers for Drake Hotel posters. One of my subjects was the Canadian/Chinese Damian (Shirley) who died recently.
For the photograph I not only used my grandmother’s camphor baby but also one of my mother’s Chinese coats.