The Blue, The Gray & The Black
Saturday, June 27, 2015
|Lunch on the deck of the U.S. Monitor - note black man on foreground right - Mathew Brady|
I am an Argentine born man of mixed heritage (English,
Spanish, Chinese and Basque). All my life I attended American schools
(elementary, high school and college) so I was subjected to a thorough
immersion into American History. It was particularly soat St. Edward’s High
School, a Catholic boarding school in Austin, where my history teacher was
Brother Francis Barrett, C.S.C. a most liberal and intelligent member of the
Congregation of Holy Cross.
explanations on what led to the American Civil War were as accurate as they
could have been at the time in the mid 50s.
It was in the mid 50s that I went with my 9th grade class to Washington DC
. I remember that all the outdoor stalls and curio shops carried merchandise that was evenly divided between the Confederate and Union army. Blue or gray hats and flags of both were on sale everywhere.
I have written many times here how as an 8-year-old
(perhaps 9) I saw my first book with pictures of US Civil War soldiers at the
Lincoln Library in Buenos Aires. I was struck by the contemporary and stark look
of the soldiers who looked like men that with fewer beards might have been walking
on the outside on Calle Florida. I was further startled in realizing that these
men had been dead for at least 85 years. I became from that point most
interested in anything I could find out about the war. I remember distinctly in
grade in having written a book report on the role of U.S.
Grant in the bloody battle of Shiloh. Since then I became a fan of the stories about the Civil War by Ambrose Bierce
and I have read Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage
It is important that I note that while I might have
harboured some sort of admiration for General Lee that my heart and interests
where with the Union Army of Abraham Lincoln
and his generals, in particular
Ulysses S. Grant
I was also attracted to the sound of the names of some of
the battles such as Chickamauga, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Chancellorsville, Antietam and Shiloh. I know by rote all
the place names at Gettysburg.
|Taylor - 78th U.S. Colored Troops part of General Ben Butler's Corps d'Afrique|
But I have to confess that even if Brother Francis
in explaining about the origins of the war in relation to slavery somehow the
Civil War had only two colours, blue and gray. There was no black anywhere.
And I must confess, further with some embarrassment that it
was so until 1989 when Rosemary and I
went to a fine little movie theatre in Port Townsend and saw Edward Zwick’s Glory with Denzel Washington (playing
Private Silas Trip), Matthew Broderick (Col. Robert Gould Shaw) and Morgan
Freeman as Sgt. Major John Rawlins. This film which finally showed intimations
of Mathew Broderick being a really good actor, was about the role of the 54th
Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (all black) in the battle of Fort
I am now a Canadian and as I see the turmoil behind the
acceptance and rejection of the Confederate battle flag I am having a small but
measurable internal issue with the idea of the removal of the name Robert E.
Lee from schools and streets. I know that particularly because those Civil War
photographs were in b+w they lacked the colour of blood and gore. Those battles
seemed to me (until now?) to have been fought between armies that at heart were
led by gentlemen. Just the protocol that Grant used in the surrender at Appomattox
is a good example of what I am trying to convey here. Will re-reading that
lovely novel, Richard Adams’s Traveller
(Lee’s horse in retirement recounts his
experience in war with a barn cat) be the same again?
Would John Brown, now, be seen as sane man?
|Members of Company E., 4th U.S.Colored Troops formed in Baltimore in 1863|
Luckily I am not an American so I can disassociate myself a
tad from all that guilt and historical revisionism.
But I am doing my part in making sure that at least my
granddaughter Lauren, 13, will be aware of the true colours of the US Civil War.
On Canada Day, July 1 after our backyard barbecue (complete with my famous iced
tea) we will watch Glory.
Obama's swearing in and Lincoln
Bard's King Lear - Crystal Clear
Friday, June 26, 2015
A fine comedy with no errors
Directing Bard's The Comedy of Errors
Steam Punk Comedy of Errors
By now one thing is evident about Bard on the Beach. They
may be beach bound but they run a very tight ship.
We were slated to go to the opening of King Lear on
Wednesday June 26. That’s the info we had. Should you look up that date you
might note a discrepancy.
So on Friday June 26 we were heading to Bard at 7:25. It was
then that my precise wife told me the show began at 7:30! I ran four yellow
lights and found ways of avoiding others. I dropped off Rosemary as close as I
could to the front entrance and then to my extreme delight found one single
parking spot in the closest parking lot. Somehow I managed to navigate the
complex (you need a doctorate from Stanford) parking meter and when I ran in to
my seat there was a smiling Christopher Gaze who told me, “Glad you could make
it chap.” He shook my hand and climbed up on the stage to make his traditional introduction speech.
Our seats (the folks at Bard must have made concessions to
my mistake) had us centre second row. The action occurred “up here”. It made this Lear immediate. Or as an a description of a Stephen King novel, gripping.
I always thought that King Lear was a complex play. This
Lear with marvelous enunciation from all the actors, Lear (Benedict
Campbell) to The Fool (Scott Bellis) made it all perfectly understandable.
When I first read P.D. James
(and I have read her complete
output) in the late 70s I found her plots unrealistic. I preferred the American
crime novels that featured psychopathic serial murderers. I asked myself how
could so much mayhem and killing happen just because of inheritance and family
wills? Slowly I have come around to disdain the psychopaths and accept that
Lady James of Holland Park had it all right.
At age 72 and with two daughters and two granddaughters I
can almost hear the thinking going on. Who is going to inherit this table or
that picture? Why don’t they die soon so we can get a down payment on a house
and stop renting? Have you noticed that Papi (that's me) is beginning to sound fuzzy? They should sell the house and put him in a home.
In our years in our leafy Athlone Street neighbourhood I have seen perfectly fit old people be persuaded
by their offspring to “downgrade” or “downsize”. I have seen them leave
and within months have heart attacks or go into homes with dementia.
Which brings me to the 21st century relevance of
William Shakespeare’s King Lear. It is all about an old man who wants to divide
his kingdom with his three daughters. We know that King Lear is a tragedy. We know it does not end well.
This play as I saw it was pure relevance with drama that was
clear and acting that was precise.
In Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare – The Invention of the Human
Bloom says the the hardest part to play is the middle sister Regan. He further
mentions that he has never seen an effective Regan. I am no Bloom but I think
that Jennifer Lines
did a fine balance between the nasty eldest Goneril
(Colleen Wheeler) and the angelic and Fair Bianca-like Cordelia (Andrea
Scott Bellis fooled Rosemary. His character shifting is so good that it took my Rosemary a
while before she figured The Fool was Scott Bellis.It made me think that on the one hand Bellis does not have a voice one can precisely say, "Tha't Bellis," But David Marr, who plays the Earl of Gloucester could never hide his magnificent voice. Both actors take advantage of their different talents.
I have no idea why handsome black men make complex villains.
This is the case with the handsome black man, Michael Blake who plays the most
nasty and scheming Edmund
The direction by Dennis Garnhum featured an eye popping eye
popping. When the Duke of Cornwall, Robert Klein does the trick, complete with
the throwing of one eyeball (David Marr’s as Earl of Gloucester) on the stage
floor. It brought back for me the horrific eye popping/eye popping scene from
one of my favourite swashbucklers
Henry King’s (1949), Prince of Foxes with
Tyrone Power, Orson Welles (and very important) Everett Sloane who with a bunch
or red grapes (the film is in b+w) convinces the nasty Cesare Borgia
that he is rendering the handsome artist
Andrea Orisini (Tyrone Power) blind!
But most of the time my eyes were directed towards Colleen
Wheeler. All three sisters had the most beautiful and elaborate hair (wigs?)
courtesy perhaps by Costume Designer Deitra Kalyn. Wheeler’s hair-do (all red
as she has very red hair) was beautiful.
I happen to know Wheeler off-stage. She is soft, pleasant,
friendly, kind. In short she would make a fortune selling Girl Guide Cookies.
But on stage she is someone else. For me I would describe her
Her father was Henry. Her twin sister was Sugar and he was
married to Penelope. She boldly suggested to be unsexed. Has a fondness for
cowboy boots and a trout. Likes dumps.
To that I would add that she would (with Lois Anderson) make
one scary high school principal.’
With Lois Anderson as her only competition, Wheeler has no
Let’s have more of her.
I am happy to report that she
will be appearing in C.C. Humphries’s Shakespeare’s Rebel.
The Mirror Spied Upon Us
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
My first moment of the realization that I was an
individual happened when I was around 6 when I looked at myself in a mirror. I silently
thought, “That is me.” Since then mirrors have been a big part of my life.
I remember my mother trying, with futility, to attach
false roll so she could have her trademark bun. She did this in front of the
mirror and lost her patience.
I remember my father using one of those special cups that
he pressed on his eye, and then on the other. It was small and it was made of
dark blue glass. My guess was that he removed his eyeball so as to wash it well.
He did this in the bathroom mirror of our Buenos Aires bathroom.
Since I was 20 I have been reading all of the output
(that I could find) written by Jorge Luís Borges. He wrote many poems about
mirrors. One of his most famous short stories is the one that I reproduce below
both in Spanish and in English.
Of late I have been taking pictures of the people who
pose for in my home studio getting themselves ready in the guest bathroom. It
is small but I manage to include myself in these double selfies.
In 2008 while teaching at Focal Point I had two very good
students. One was from Mexico the other was local. They had unusual looks. As
soon as they were no longer my students I inquired about taking their pictures.
The Mexican girl posed for me for a couple of years and we explored themes that
were part of our memories and nostalgia about Mexico.
The other young woman (both were very good photographers)
was named after one of King Lear’s daughters. She posed for me twice and then
lost interest. Of her I took (over 100 exposures) some of the best photographs of my life using
mirrors and or taking pictures of her taking her own picture in front of an Ikea
mirror. Alas! I cannot show the majority of those pictures and you can salivate
in your imagination. I did manage to photograph the two together with the Ikea mirror (see below).
We were not aware that we were preceding with style the
age of the selfie.
Both at Focal Point and in my studio I had a very
beautiful wide margined wood mirror (the only quality stuff I ever bought at
Ikea). When I closed my studio four years ago my son-in-law was able to bring
my psychiatric couch in his Toyota Liftback. But he stepped on my mirror and
that was the end of it.
I hope to return to the subject soon.
I owe the discovery of Uqbar to the conjunction of a
mirror and an
encyclopedia. The mirror troubled the depths of a corridor
in a country house on Gaona Street in Ramos Mejia; the encyclopedia is
fallaciously called The Anglo-American Cyclopaedia (New York, 1917) and is a literal
but delinquent reprint of the Encyclopedia Britannica of 1902. The event took
place some five years ago. Bioy Casares had had dinner with me that evening and
we became lengthily engaged in a vast polemic concerning the composition of a
novel in the first person, whose narrator would omit or disfigure the facts and
indulge in various contradictions which would permit a few readers - very few
readers - to perceive an atrocious or banal reality. From the remote depths of
the corridor, the mirror spied upon us. We discovered (such a discovery is inevitable
in the late hours of the night) that mirrors hare something monstrous about
them. Then Bioy Casares recalled that one of the heresiarchs of Uqbar had
declared that mirrors and copulation are abominable, because they increase the number
or men. I asked him the origin of this memorable observation and he answered
that it was reproduced in The Anglo-American Cyclopaedia in its article on Uqbar
Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, Jorge Luís Borges
Debo a la
conjunción de un espejo y de una enciclopedia el descubrimiento de Uqbar. El
espejo inquietaba el fondo de un corredor en una quinta de la calle Gaona, en
Ramos Mejía; la enciclopedia falazmente se llama The Anglo-American Cyclopaedía
(New York, 1917) y es una reimpresión literal, pero también morosa, de la
Encyclopaedia Britannica de 1902. El hecho se produjo hará unos cinco años.
Bioy Casares había cenado conmigo esa noche y nos demoró una vasta polémica
sobre la ejecución de una novela en primera persona, cuyo narrador omitiera o
desfigurara los hechos e incurriera en diversas contradicciones, que
permitieran a unos pocos lectores -a muy pocos lectores- la adivinación de una
realidad atroz o banal. Desde el fondo remoto del corredor, el espejo nos
acechaba. Descubrimos (en la alta noche ese descubrimiento es inevitable) que
los espejos tienen algo monstruoso. Entonces Bioy Casares recordó que uno de los
heresiarcas de Uqbar había declarado que los espejos y la cópula son
abominables, porque multiplican el número de los hombres. Le pregunté el origen
de esa memorable sentencia y me contestó que The Anglo-American Cyclopaedia la
registraba, en su artículo sobre Uqbar.
The conjunction of a mirror
¿Porqué nací entre espejos?
Rain is a thing that happens in the past
Mirrors are not more silent
|My two ex-students & the Ikea mirror|
A Sequence Of Three
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Plenty has been said on how one photograph is worth one
thousand words. I beg to differ sometimes as a sequence of three can tell a lot
more. For this one I used a Nikon FM-2 and a 35mm lens. I took the picture in
one of my classes at Focal Point a photography school on 10th Avenue where I
taught until it closed three years ago.
The Camphor Babies
Monday, June 22, 2015
|Damian & the camphor baby|
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.
we went we had to carefully pack Abuelita’s camphor babies.
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
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.
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.
photograph I not only used my grandmother’s camphor baby but also one of my
mother’s Chinese coats.
My Father George
Sunday, June 21, 2015
My father George died in Buenos Aires in the summer of 1965.
He died on the street and a friend, a police sergeant, took him to the nearby Hospital Pirovano. The sergeant knowing how hospitals dealt with people that were
brought in, emptied his pockets before anyone could touch him.
The sergeant called me a few days later and told me, “Your
father was working at a laundry to make money to bribe a general so that you would
be relieved of your naval conscription obligations. You could have gone home to
Mexico.” The policeman handed me the money. It was enough for a modest burial
at La Chacarita. Of the burial I remember nothing.
I had learned of my father’s death when Leo Mahdjubian
, an almost-uncle
of mine called me and said, “Your father kicked the bucket today.”
I was never smart enough
to ask my father when he was born or how old he was.
My father, like many Haywards had a drinking problem. My
mother persuaded him to leave home when I was 8. On weekends my father would
come to take me to the movies. Sometimes he was drunk and I was embarrassed if
any of my friends were playing with me in the garden. But I looked forward to
our outings because I loved him. I remember he took me to see Beau Geste.
A couple of years later my mother, my grandmother and I left
for Mexico and my father was not told. Years later he told me that it broke his heart.
I returned in 1965 to do my military service in Argentina as
an excuse to find my father. I did and we visited on weekends. I do not
remember any conversations. I have no reason as to why.
My father was a journalist but I never read anything he ever
wrote. He cooked very well and told me that the secret to cooking was to learn
to make sauces. He had several friends who came to visit us. One of them, Manrique, wore a shoulder holster under his jacket.
My father was handsome and looked like David Niven. His voice resembled Niven's.
On days when my father did not return home, my mother would say, "Alex he wrote something in the Buenos Aires Herald that Perón did not like. He is in the Villa Devoto jail."
From him I inherited my ability to cook and of late I think
that perhaps I can write, too.
After all these years I can remember his smell of Old Smuggler whiskey
and Player’s cigarettes. I remember the roughness of his Harris Tweet jackets
when he bent to kiss me. His mustache was prickly, too. I did not inherit his beautiful almost gray wavy hair.
One year Santa Claus brought me a red Schuco wind-up racer
that had a suspension and a steering wheel that worked. Right after Midnight
Mass and not long after I opened my present I lost the key. I cried. My father
came up to me and said that Santa Claus had left a spare key.
I may have been as good a father as my father
was. When I think of him I feel very English and yet I remember not only how he
spoke to me in English, usually in anger but how gentle his Argentine Spanish was when
all things were right with his world and mine.