Sábado De Gloria - Gringo Viejo
Saturday, April 04, 2015
|Lauren Stewart - April 4 2015|
It is not often that I rant in this here blog. But today I
will make it an exception and do so.
It all began on Thursday when on CBC Radio On The Coast host
Stephen Quinn had as a guest the redoubtably boring Grant Lawrence. Lawrence
had one of his infamous podcasts of some unintresting Canadian alternative band (we want Art
Bergmann or even that notoriously named The Wankers from yore). Lawrence told us that the song in question was going to put us
in the right mood for the holiday weekend.
If you consider that the next day was Good Friday and that
he (Lawrence) was on the radio during Holy Week you might wonder to what extent this weekend is
a holiday. You might explore the meaning of that word by first separating it –
When is the last time you heard anybody say, “Happy Ramadan,”
or “Happy Passover?”
While Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Protestants, Calvinists,
etc do not have a storied and unblemished past free of massacres and
assassinations, of late these Christians do not challenge your existence with
death (perhaps hell after, if you do not repent). So it is easy to make cartoons
and to laugh at the expense of the Nazarenes and their ilk.
But the CBC might want to show some respect or is it that
the new religion (my friend Bob Mercer might hooray me if he reads this) that of consumerism, digital consumerism, Dickensian Capitalism and movies
involving swords and magical rings?
Today in Spanish we call the day Sábado de Gloria. We
prepare for the one pleasant and happy day (after a morose Holy Week) that is
Easter Sunday. Believe it or not , the Roman Catholic church considers Easter
to be the most important feast day. If the man who was God did not come back
from the dead and rise then everything He said was a lie and he was a
charlatan. You can attempt to prove this or not. You can believe it or not. But
you must at least respect those who believe in this. Their belief defies logic because
it happens to be called faith.
Lauren, my 12 year-old granddaughter came early at two to
help me clean the kitchen and vacuum around while Rosemary was carefully
putting in pieces of sod we obtained from a nearby house being landscaped by
men from Kosovo. They told me I could take all the pieces.
I prepared a nice fire and made my signature gnocchi in the
oven with my cream sauce and plenty of Parmesan cheese on top. After our meal
(Lauren’s mother, Hilary, who is my daughter joined us as our Saturday evening
family dinners are special) we watched the 1989 film Old Gringo
Peck, Jane Fonda and Jimmy Smits. The film is based on Mexican novelist Carlos
Fuentes’s Gringo Viejo
in which Ambrose Bierce disappears into Mexico to die.
That he joins the Pancho Villa army is all in the wonderful imagination of
Fuentes. It is a beautiful film which we all enjoyed. Since I am a Bierce fan I
could stop and tell my family where some of the stuff Peck was saying was
coming from such as his story Parker Adderson Philosopher
or An Ocurrence at
Between meal and film I coaxed Lauren for one of my joint
selfies in the guest bathroom.Her mother (who is 43) won the giant bunny at a
Shopper’s Easter contest when she was 8. The smaller bunny, my aunt Fermina Miranda
gave to Hilary in one of my trips to Mexico City in the late 80s.
I can only finish this rant with the most beautiful
two-word expression in existence (my opinion) from the Latin Mass.
It is sursum
corda which translates to lift up your hearts.
Two (Not Three) Sisters & Not In Langley
Friday, April 03, 2015
|Robert Salvador, Jay Brazeau, Carmen Aguirre, Sussin McFarlen, Katey Hoffman, & Anna Galvin , March 25 2015|
Sometime around 1974 my Spanish neighbour and I traded
science fiction books. His was one by Polish author Stanislaw Lem, mine was
Olaf Stapledon’s Sirius. We returned each other’s books a month later. We
chatted on how we had enjoyed them. I never was able to read more than four
pages of Lem and I am sure my neighbour never peeked into Sirius.
When one has gone from one school to another in different
countries, one (that’s me!) ends up with holes in history and literature. I
don’t expect anybody here to know the author of music of the Mexican National
Anthem or to expound on the wonders of Alejo Carpentier. I could name the first
and duly expound on the second.
The above is simply filler on my part before I confess that
my knowledge of Anton Pavlovich Checkov is limited to one work and another not
quite by the Russian master. In college my text book Theme and Form – An
Introduction to Literature had one single story by Chekov, The Kiss. I still
have the text book so my research for this blog has consisted in me reading the
delightful story again.
The second entry in my brain of Chekov lore is a play I saw
in 2011 called Three Sisters in Langley
by playwright/director Bronwen Marsden.
After seeing the delightful Arts Club Theatre Company’s
production of Christopher Durang’s Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike
(directed by Rachel Ditor
, one who has an elegant sense of humour) I talked to
Jay Brazeau (he plays Vanya) backstage, at the Stanley, and told him of the Three Sisters in
Langley. He thought this was a goodshow idea.
There are lots of pleasant pieces of music, films, operas
and theatrical productions that lure you to the idea that you are watching
something light and funny. That was my first impression of Vanya “&
Company.” The play has some over the top performances that I could not figure
out so I watched Marco Soriano
(a very good actor who happens to be my friend)
who was a couple of rows ahead of me on stage right. The fact that he was on
stage right meant that I could see his profiled face and most of the time I
could discern how funny he though it all was, particularly when Carmen Aguirre
sucked her chest and stomach in and out in the rapture of Cassandric predictions.
I noticed that Soriano’s right eyebrow went up. This meant that he thought this
was not only a funny play but an intelligent one.
I did not dare ask Soriano on the mystery of the very good
actor and actress (yes, I am old fashioned!) who on cue overact to perfection.
I could not tell if any of the actors on stage were over acting or simply
acting the act superbly.
My only steady course was to watch the low-key Brazeau who
plays a quiet, disillusioned man who is gay with a foot inside the closet. Brazeau is the man
who almost died of heart failure, a year or two agoa, because Millerd (the Artistic Director) made
him jump repeatedly over a red (I recall) sofa. From what I could see the man
was safe siting, this time in his sofa next to his step sister Sonia played by
Susinn McFarlen (watch for her makeover). But I knew that something was going to happen when
overacting-to-perfection Robert Salvador (who plays Spike the boy toy to
Vanya’s sister the possibly over-the-hill actress Masha (Anna Galvin, who did a
very good job of it when you realize that Masha was played on Broadway by
Sigourney Weaver and alas neither Weaver nor Galvin appeared in underwear).
That is a long dangling sentence so I will continue that boy-toy Spike does a
reverse strip and Vanya almost chomps on his (Spike’s ) belt.
All the fun and rollick of the play suddenly got dead
serious (much like in a Bartók quartet). Brazeau put meat into this up-to-now
pleasing, funny almost (but not) banal play. I was afraid the man was going to collapse
(it was a long loud rant about stamps you can lick, and the state of our life
in this 21st
century) and Millerd
would have to quickly find a
replacement (who could possibly take Brazeau’s place?).
All in all the play was one that I savoured all the way home
and I cannot stop here that one of my favourite Canadian films is Lynne
and that Brazeau played a mortician in it.
I loved Katey Hoffman’s Nina but I had to ask her about her
red and shinny cheeks. Her answer to my question, “It’s glitter.”
Linda, A Facón & A Rastra - Pure Nostalgia
Thursday, April 02, 2015
Sometime in 1999 I went into the Marble Arch and sat at the
bar. Jorge the barman looked at me and placed in front of me a tall glass of soda water. This
was my usual and I never had to pay for it. Jorge was Mexican.We spoke in
Spanish. I felt very much like Humphrey Bogart in one of his films where he lived in a city that he belonged to. While I now feel alienated in a Vancouver I can no
longer relate to, I felt then that if I could go to a bar and be recognized and
to be offered “your usual” I belonged.
At another bar I had not frequented for a few years I went
up to the bar tender and I said, “I want to see …” The man looked at me and replied, “Go
upstairs and knock on your left.” I did just that. I entered a room with two
men sitting at a table. One of them was an Asian wearing a huge Rolex. On the table was the
largest pile of big denomination bills I have ever seen. ... the other man introduced me to his companion, "This is Alex Waterhouse, Vancouver's most famous photographer because he has photographed me."
In that first bar … (the owner of the establishment) came
up to me and asked, “You are Argentine, Alex, aren’t you? I want you to meet
someone you just might have a connection with.”
That’s how I met the very Argentine Linda
who had a mouth
to kill for, the same with her eyes and everything else about her.
With Linda, my artist friends Juan Manuel Sánchez and Nora
Patrich and I embarked in an almost one-year project of taking pictures, painting
and sketching Linda. After sessions in my studio or in Nora’s house we would
have Argentine mates (note no accent on that e) and talk about the subject of
our project, our nostalgia
for Argentina and Buenos Aires. It was only in that
year that I finally understood what is probably most evident to most people.
This is that you can only feel nostalgia
for a place when you are no longer in
For this photograph (of hundreds, one nicer or better
than the other in some detail) Nora made Linda wear the gaucho bombacha. A
bombacha in many Latin American countries is a woman’s underpants. In Argentina
it is a baggy pant that is tight around the ankles (it is buttoned there).
Gauchos wear alpargatas, an Argentine espadrille. Around Linda’s waist is
a gaucho rastra. For dress gauchos will wear rastras with gold coins. In her
hands is a facón a knife that is used by gauchos to slaughter cattle, to eat or
in 19th (and 20th) lore, the weapon of choice (never a six-shooter)
to resolve conflicts.
After my two years in the Argentine Navy my sailor mates
gave me this facón as keepsake and remembrance of my time served.
On Linda’s magnificent chest the black cloth is normally
used to keep the bombacha in place in lieu of a belt.
You might find interesting if you read here, that my
facón is the actual murder weapon in a novel by Canadian author J. Robert Janes
Kenji Kawakami - Chindogu
Wednesday, April 01, 2015
Portland, Seattle, Spicy Chocolate & A Spinach & Leek Soup
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
On Sunday morning I drove the Malibu to Portland for a day. That
evening I drove back to Seattle and stayed for another. I was in Portland and
Seattle to photograph 11 female musicians who specialize in period instruments
of the 17th and 18th century.
In Portland I had spinach and leek soup with Monica Huggett
and Roxanne Cumming. I photographed the former with her violin and the latter
charmed me with her sense of humour and her home-made soup.
In Seattle I checked into a hotel, reserved by my frugal wife Rosemary (in Spanish my grandmother
would have called it “de mala muerte” or a hotel for a bad death). Rosemary told me that the artistic director of Early Music Vancouver would not pay for a Holiday Inn Express. My motel was in the
Aurora section (85th and Aurora) of Seattle and I was immediately offered charms-for-pay as I
walked by a Jack-in-the Box. My room was clean but the lighting was all green fluorescent so I did not attempt to read my novel. The room phone was ancient. I had to write the numbers (they had faded) on the keys with my black marking
pen. I could not dial long-distance except with a calling card. I purchased one
for $10. It didn’t work. I went to complain to the female from hell behind the desk
who asked, “Didn't you read the instructions? “
She finally relented and came to the room (she warned me to keep the door
wide open) and when she dialed it didn’t work either. In the office she dialed and I was able to talk to Rosemary and tell her I was safe. I noticed
my tub had water jets. I tried to turn the unit on but it didn’t work. When I
informed Cheryl (a fictitious name for that female from hell) she told me, “We
don’t advertise hot tubs in our brochures so none of them work.”
The wi-fi kicked in after 30 minutes of roundabout
firewalls, “Our guests who come from all over the world have never complained,”
Cheryl barked at me. I could not call some of the musicians who had given me
cellular numbers because my room phone could not handle the different area
Getting gas was almost impossible as the pumps demanded my
zip code and were not in the least interested in my credit card’s pin number.
In one gas station in Vancouver, Washington I had to pay an additional $0.60 to
use my credit card and only after I produced my picture I.D. I could not fill the tank as I had to choose
a sum which was going to be pre-authorized.
|Stephen Stubbs playing Mozart and my Malibu reflected on his door|
At breakfast a pleasant Japanese/Canadian woman from San
Francisco proudly showed me her titanium wallet. She said hackers would not be
able to access her credit cards.
All the above was nicely compensated by the spinach and leek
soup and spending most of Monday in the home of Stephen Stubbs and Maxine
Eilander where I photographed most of the musicians. Maxine made lovely coffee
and the forest surroundings to the house on an unusually sunny day made the day
most special. The last person I photographed in the afternoon was cellist
Julian Soltis. She invited me for hot chocolate (a very nice spicy one) at a
place called Chocolati. We discussed (the kind of stuff you can discuss with a
musician) why it seemed that Georg Philipp Telemann had fallen out of favour in
the last few years.
When I noticed the big mirror in the joint bathroom at
Chocolati I mentioned this to Juliana who knew what I wanted. In the picture
the bright blue object on the left is Juliana’s Ukranian custom made case for
her cello (the cello was inside).
In the evening I drove to downtown Seattle and
photographed one violinist and two harpsichordists. Once in my motel I got into
bed and fell soundly asleep. I woke up two minutes to 9 and Cheryl had already
cleared the breakfast table of everything (including the delicious honey buns).
She allowed me to pour myself some coffee.
That Recurring Leaky Tank Problem - Again
Monday, March 30, 2015
On Thursday, July 16, 2009 I wrote the blog below entitled the recurring leaky tank problem. It is I have learned of late an unavoidable factor of life unless you are born to very rich parents and inherit millions from them.
In our family my Rosemary has (I am not ashamed to admit) been wearing the financial pants. She makes all decisions involving funds stored, saved, lost or misspent. I have never understood how you borrow money from a bank and then put it into the bank in order to make money years later. I simply cannot understand finances except when I see it as a leaky tank problem.
When one is 30 the idea of buying a brand new refrigerator or vacuum cleaner can be exhilaratingly exciting. But when your expensive Breville blender is about to be done in (thank you Eliza!) by bad design I cannot abide in making the decision to buy another one when I have five bucks in my wallet.
In the last few weeks our friend Tim Turner
has been taking us to see small nearby houses and concrete condominiums for the eventual move from our decaying mansion on Athlone. Even my roses (85 of them) are tired and Brevilling in a garden with encroaching shade. The act of going to see these houses is in itself a sad and depressing action even if Mr. Turner, suave, friendly and warm drives us around in his nice car. It is a strain for Rosemary who escapes by having long siestas (in the morning and in the afternoon).
Fortunately we are not like some poor Inuit family arriving at the realization that if the morrow does not bring a killed seal starvation will occur.
But the stress is still there. It helps to look at the greening of the garden from my living room window as I write this.
I no longer grieve about my roses, our trees, our perennials and the fact that they might soon end in a landfill.
I remember, most fondly, the very British but local photographer Philip Hersee (Age 68) who died March 20, 2013. A few months before he died my friendly camera repairman Horst Wenzel told me that Hersee had left a few of his cameras to be repaired. Not even two months before he died of terminal cancer of the lower regions he was seen at Beau Photo, cheerfully buying photo supplies.
I need to buy a new wheelbarrow
to cart little stones that will be unloaded by my lane garage. I use the torpedo (that is what the stones are called) to freshen up our garden paths. It is obvious that a brand new wheelbarrow will last a few years. Will be need it?
Phil Hersee would say, “Live your life normally.” And he might have even added, “If your leaky tank goes dry, repair it and fill it again.”
Thank you Philip Hersee for that.
since I can remember there was one word problem in school which I
despised since no matter how they hid its core with words it was always a
leaky tank problem. So much water (gallons per minute) is going into a
tub that has no stopper. So much water is going out of it (gallons per
hour). The question was always the same. Will the tub stabilize, empty
This problem is one that hits us all in
finances, in mortgage payments and just about everything else. It
doesn’t take a computer spread sheet to tell me that if the money going
into my monthly studio does not exceed the money going out I am going to
have an empty tub very soon. And so I have decided to let go of my
studio in the next few months.
I can rationalize that
the little work that I do in it like lawyer or businessman web portraits
I can do in their offices. All I need is a blank wall and to trudge
over with my lighting equipment. Those Ministers of Parliament (NDP)
that hire my services every once in a while since they know I can make
them look honest, incisive and intelligent will have to pay extra for me
to secure a day’s studio rental. I don’t see the problem there.
saw this coming a few years ago but kept playing around with our money
because she thought (rightly at the time) that a studio is part of a
photographer’s pride of profession.
For a long time a
big chunk of studio money came from my arts photos for the Georgia
Straight. That has stopped as the publication has found the cheaper
route of either demanding handout art or expecting it staff writers to
take the pictures. I don’t see that publication suddenly turning around
If there is anything of what I do that
may suffer in not having my own studio, it is the personal work that I
rely on to keep me on my toes and to keep at bay the tendency of age to
the personal work now is either the studio portrait of my
granddaughters or my work with the undraped human body. Cases in point
are these pictures of Lisa Ha, a Vietnamese/Canadian subject of mine
that sporadically frequents my studio. These I took a couple of weeks
ago. I like to record the change of time. I may have last photographed
her about 4 years ago. The next time will probably have to be in my
living room or in my garden or in her apartment. I can assert that
environmental photographs can have their charm, too.
of all I will take my grandmother’s advice to heart, “Nadie te quita lo
,” Nobody can take away from you the dances that you have
The Human Cello
Sunday, March 29, 2015
"All you do is play the cello---that's all there is
to you! No one is ever going to love you because you're so boring."
It's curious, how quickly your life can change. T. and I
had met as undergraduate students at the New England Conservatory; we had been
together nearly five years when he impulsively spoke the words that effectively
ended our relationship. These weren't the last words he ever spoke to me---I
dimly recall, through the high-pitched whine of my nervous system and the
thudding of my heart in my ears, the hasty, reparative murmurings spilling out
of the phone---but they are the last ones that I remember. An early spring
thunderstorm caused the call to drop, and I never called him back.
Interestingly enough, that was not the first time that I
found myself on the receiving end of such a comment. It was also not the last.
It is a remark meant as an insult: an indictment of how I have chosen to spend
my time on the planet. Does it hurt? Yes, absolutely. It is a statement that is
meant to harm, but one which simultaneously inspires in me no small amount of
morbid fascination. Why the focus on the instrument? "You wouldn't be
anything without that cello," a teenaged colleague said to me nearly two
decades ago. It perplexes me because of the emphasis on the external: you only
play the cello, you are nothing without the cello. Do I play the cello? Well,
yes---obviously. I have done so for almost twenty-five years. But what these
detractors who would hurl my instrument in my face as a means of tearing me
down and assailing my life choices fail to grasp is this: the cello is just an
instrument. And I mean that in the purest sense of the word: that the cello is
a tool, the means by which I give voice to that indefinable something within me
that relentlessly seeks manifestation in the physical world. Were there
suddenly no more cellos, or were it that there had never been any such thing as
a cello, that something within me would still be there, straining and striving
towards expression. It is both the best and worst of who I am, and it exists
and endures independent of any instrument---including the cello.
So when Alex Waterhouse-Hayward and I first struck-up a
correspondence regarding the possibility of doing a photoshoot together, I knew
that I wanted to do something special: an homage to Man Ray's well-known image,
Le Violon d'Ingres (1924). This would be controversial. Women in male-dominated
fields often go to great lengths to downplay their gender and sexuality;
Facebook photos and posts are self-censored and policed, workplace clothing is
carefully calculated to be just feminine enough, but never too much so. These
women do not commonly pose nude. A close friend and colleague, confused upon
seeing the first images from my shoot with Alex, asked "Are you trying to
make a statement, or something?"
Yes, the photograph is a statement---though not in the
way that people might think. It could be about body image; it could be about
sexual expression. It could be a defiant statement about the purposeful suppression
of the feminine identity in the arts. What it is about, however, is far more
personal. For me, the image is a powerful visual allegory. As its focal point:
my bare body, exposed to camera and transformed into a Human Cello by virtue of
a pair of f-holes drawn onto my back with a soft black kohl pencil that Alex
snatched from my makeup bag. To the side, my own dear cello: a beautiful
seventeenth-century instrument enjoying a rare moment of silent repose.
People have derisively referred to the cello as my single
defining characteristic. That's alright. I'll own it, because I know that
without me, the cello is just a wood box, sitting silently in the corner. When
someone says "All you do is play the cello," they are trying to deal
a debilitating blow to something essential at the heart of me; however, all
they ever really do is prove that they just don't get it. It's not the
instrument; it's me---and that force within me that refuses to be cowed, that
will not be silent.
Will people be shocked by this image? Offended? Possibly;
probably. But perhaps the next time I am on stage, someone will see and hear
something more than "just a cello."