El Sexo Débil
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
It was not too long ago that they stopped calling women “el
sexo débil” in Mexico. There was a saying that I would think would infuriate
all feminists that was like this, “A lady is a woman who makes a man feel like
In this 21st century no man with any kind of
sensitivity would call a woman a lady. That epithet of questionable meaning can
only be used by other women in the same way that Native Canadians can use the I
word and black people the N word.
It was only today that I watched the thrilling Nicholas
Meyer 1979 film Time After Time with Mary Steenburgen, David Warner and Malcolm
McDowell. McDowell, who plays a time traveling H.G. Wells invites her (from
1978) to travel back with him and live in his own time. Steenburgen firmly
tells him that her work is most important and she would not want to lose all
that back in the 19th century. Wells could not understand the
concept that a woman would find her work that important.
But some of our views (or at the very least my own) that
are based on that passing 20th
century still affect how I perceive
women and all things women. When Rosemary and I, in bed, look at big male
Casi-Casi and at delicate and much smaller female Plata we talk to them as if
they are a man and a woman and we impose our perceptions even when we baby-talk
to them. I see my Plata as elegant, feminine and graceful.
There is a paradox for me that that hackneyed “A man is a
gentleman when…” definition of a higher-up idea of a woman on a pedestal came
to mind for me memorably when I photographed gay writer Jane Rule. Imagine if
a current editor of any Canadian magazine would say what the Books in Canada
Editor told me when he phoned me with the assignment. “How would you like to
photograph a 6ft lesbian?”
You must imagine what went through my mind minutes before
Jane Rule painfully (she had severe arthritis) came up the three flights of stairs
to my studio.
Rule charmed me and I took her most favourite portraits.
After we finished she said, “Alex, could you help me down the stairs a flag me
a taxi?” I felt like Lord Wellington.
I have never ever had any ambivalent ideas of my true sexuality
and I can assert here that by kindergarten in Buenos Aires I was fascinated and
attracted to women. I have fond memories of hiking up the skirts of the three
female (there were two additional boys) Diligenti quintuplets.
My whole world collapsed twice before I understood the
truth. Perhaps in the first or second grade I saw a woman with a big stomach (I
did not know about storks yet) get on a Buenos Aires colectivo with a little
creature in a dress but with a shaved head. What was this, a boy or a girl? The
second event that troubled me was going to see films when I was 8 with my
mother. Some of them had Katherine Hepburn wearing pants. Was she really a woman I
In my photography of women, even in my more erotic ones I
always try to give the woman control and I never photograph a woman in any way
suggesting that she is submissive to anything. I try to respect the humanity
and dignity of the woman.
It was my religion teacher Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C.
who told us that every human being born was born with the grace of God and had
something that he called “inherent dignity.” He told us that in spite of
everything they had committed both Hitler and Judas had to be respected as
human beings. They, too, had that inherent human dignity. We tried to argue
against his case but he never let up on this.
Which brings me to the subject of the M sisters,
Carol and Anastasia. They are both beautiful. The former has a bubbly but
incisive personality with the low voice of a female alto. The latter is just
plain enigmatic and glides (does not walk) on miniature ball bearing joints.
The former considered me (and perhaps still does) a crass chauvinist pig.
She did not like my overtures in wanting to photograph her lovely cleavage (the
best cleavage, for me, happens when breasts are not generous). The latter never
said much and accepted my request to photograph her in the best room of the
seedy Marble Arch Hotel. She knew what I liked so she made sure her stockings
Looking back at these pictures of Anastasia. This was not
her original name and decided to change it and impose on her new name a
personality that made anybody who met her wonder who she was.
These photographs I took with a sadly discontinued a long
time ago film called Kodak Technical Pan. This film was agonizingly slow (25 ISO).
It was extremely sharp (in fact the sharpest b+w film ever made). I used two cameras.
A large medium format Mamiya RB-67 was the principal one but I squeezed two
with my German Gevabox box camera that shot instead of the 6x7 cm negs of the
Mamiya, negs in a 6x9 format.
Many of the pictures exhibit some of my early ways of
conveying Eros without taking into account that some of the poses were far too
model poses. Part of the problem was that Anastasia kept giving me those poses.
Nonetheless I think that there are some striking photographs in our
The interesting problem for me with a woman like
Anastasia is that you never know if you must think when addressing her of the femininity of my
female cat or the masculinity of Rosemary’s cat. There is that enigmatic and
nebulous and most wonderful lack of definition. She is in a category all her
The New VAG - Stacked Hat Boxes In A World Of Square Heads
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Today, like many other Vancouverites, I got a preview of
what may someday be our new Vancouver Art Gallery.
As a friend of a most pragmatic and knowledgeable architect,
Abraham Rogatnick, who died six years ago I would still agree with his
that the VAG should stay put.
What has changed since his death is a city that is full of
more money that I do not see going into places that need it. We get more bike
lanes while improvements in our transit system are still in some far off
future. The tracks on the Arbutus Corridor, in spite of Canadian Pacific’s
cleanup are still rusting.
I see that nothing seems to have changed since my friend
architect Ned Pratt
while watching the demolitions on my Athlone Street
neighbourhood told me, “I am convinced that the developers and City Hall are in
Nobody seems to have taken our former Premier, Mike Harcourt
seriously when he memorably said a few years ago at a downtown Simon Fraser University
lecture, “Homelessness can be solved if we build more houses.”
I despair that Arthur Erickson is not around to lecture us
on this ongoing folly.
But I must confess that there are two men I have second
thoughts about. These men are realtor Bob Rennie and the other is our Prime
Minister Mr. Harper. The latter I do not like nor do I agree with his policies.
The former I see as a tainted developer (with no personal information to back
that up). I do not know enough to like or dislike him.
But when today he went on the record in saying that before
this project moves forward (how I hate that expression so frequently used by
our politicians) he wants to know how the great cost will affect the purchase
of art, the promotion of art, the nurturing of our artists. He is bang on!
|Bob Rennie & his children|
Furthermore if Vancouver gets its “World Class Art Gallery”
will Regina, Winnipeg and other cities in
Canada also merit such a folly?
In Abraham Rogatnick’s Manifesto
central to it is the idea
that the present Vancouver Art Gallery is the very centre (bellybutton?) of our
city. Before this gallery moves what plans are being made to keep that centre
where it is?
|Arthur Erickson at the UBC Library|
One of the possible solutions would be to make the folks of
our University of British Columbia who find it convenient to be outside of
Vancouver in an area of lovely forests that now boasts a Save-On and
cookie-cutter truncated condo towers move out of Robson Square. UBC in one
has killed Robson
Square. Perhaps Simon Fraser with its vibrant downtown campus could make better
use of it. And they might even find a solution to keeping our city’s centre
where it is.
Al Espejo Retrovisor de un Coche
Monday, September 28, 2015
Al Espejo Retrovisor de un Coche (To a car's rear view mirror)
José García Nieto (1914-2001)
Tú eres el
corazón con lo vivido;
en ti está todo lo que atrás vamos dejando,
lo que hemos ido con pasión amando,
definitivamente ya perdido.
En ti vemos las gracias que se han ido,
los paisajes y el cielo de ayer, cuando
las cosas que ahora sigues recordando
flotan sobre las aguas del olvido.
Pero vives y estás: claro y pequeño,
miras aquellos prados, aquel sueño
tan lejano, las rosas de aquel día.
Crees que puedes cambiar toda la suerte
y, aunque vamos derechos a la muerte,
vives de lo pasado todavía.
¡Messi! ¡Messi! - ¡Francisco! ¡Francisco!
Sunday, September 27, 2015
|Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio - Pablo Leguizamón, AP Images|
From Tuesday September 22 to today Sunday September 27 I
have been glued, when possible to my Sony Trinitron. It is strange that amongst the turmoils of
having bought a house and finally sold the one we have lived in for almost 30
years, my Rosemary, with a smile on her face has been my constant companion on the sofa in our den. She is not a
Roman Catholic nor is she an Argentine. But there she was protesting how loud
the simultaneous translators were and how we could not listen in all clarity to
what the pope was saying in his Argentine Spanish.
Perhaps to inject some humour I told her that we had made a
mistake in not having added either Telemundo or Univisión on our Telus package. But Rosemary took it
seriously and perhaps even felt guilty about her lapse.
In my case my guilt was much more palpable even if I had to
mostly keep it to myself.
I believe that if there is something that must be kept
private in this confess-all age of social media it has to be what I do in bed
or out of bed with my wife that has nothing to do with an act solely for the
purpose of procreation. At my wife’s age of 70 and mine at 73 with my faulty
plumbing there is no question of that ever being a reality. But there is
another aspect of my life that I have always left in shadow to any that might
ask. This is my personal view on religious belief.
I was baptized, confirmed and took part in the Roman
Catholic sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession. I was born Roman Catholic
because my mother was Roman Catholic. My father may have been a lapsed Anglican
who waved his right to insist I be raised under the Church of England. A few things happened during my growing up that made me
question what had been drilled to me in Sunday School.
While my softly (if that can be said just like that)
religiously racist Spanish Grandmother, who often told me that the Jews had
killed Jesus Christ and seemed to be a “fact”, there was the nagging suspicion that
my best friend Mario Hertzberg who lived across the street from me could not be
a murderer. That Mario showed me a picture of young man, that looked just like
him, and explained that he had been killed by Germans during the war made it
all more confusing in my mind. When Mario and I were stopped on the street by a
Capuchin monk who asked us of our faith and when Mario explained that he was
Jewish, the monk with a smile on his face said, “We all believe in the same
By the time I was 10 my mother and grandmother would offer
money to the patron saint of lost things St. Anthony of Padua. Their offerings
were conditional – no found earing – no money. I thought this odd but strangely
By that age of 10 I had inquired and found out that the
minimum requirements for attending Holy Mass was to show up at the Offertory.
As soon as the priest uttered “Ite missa est,” I would bolt out of church.
My so-so beliefs became challenged when my mother sent me to
a Catholic boarding school, St. Edward’s High School in Austin, Texas in the mid-50s.
there I experienced almost daily Masses, frequent confessions, plus being
surrounded by men dressed in black who were Brothers of Holy Cross.
But here I had to question my faith, whatever it had been. It
had been, at the very least a religion I had learned by rote. Suddenly not only
did I find myself under the influence of great teachers (all but one or two,
Brothers of Holy Cross) but I was hit hard intellectually by that five foot
strong-man Brother Edwin Reggio, CSC. He taught me religion. He taught me
religion that was laced with the philosophy of Aristotle, St. Augustine and St.
He allowed himself to be baited in our waste-time procedures
of asking him at what point, in dollars and cents, a sin of theft went from being
venial to a mortal sin. From Brother Edwin I learned logic and dialogue all
with a big dollop of kindness.
Brother Hubert Koeppen, Brother Francis Barrett, who taught
me world history and American history gave me facts and liberal opinions on a
way that I could judge history in a non-absolute way.When my buddy John Straney (in the 11th and 12th
grade) loudly proclaimed his atheism, the brothers played it cool and ignored him. He graduated
with no ancillary problems.
Best of all Brother Edwin insisted that perhaps the most
important Sacrament was the Sacrament of Confirmation. He told me that once
confirmed I was a soldier of Christ. He was careful to explain that this was
not a soldier who wielded a sword but one who defended the faith in being able
to explain one’s beliefs in detail and to divulge to anybody who might ask what were Transubstantiation , Ex Cathedra and the concept of the Trinity of three
persons who were all individually God.
Shortly after moving back to Mexico City after Austin I had
the luck to be exposed to the philosophy classes of Ramón Xirau at Mexico City
College. From him I found out about the pre-Socratics, the Socratics and all
the rest that followed up (with a longish explanation on Baruch Spinoza) to an including Sartre and Camus. But it was Epicurus’s belief
that we should not fear death as death was oblivion without pain that set me up
for doubt. It was and has been a doubt that would never include Pascal’s
(chickenshit, oh my!) Wager.
My doubt was not toned down when my very Catholic mother, at
age 50, suffering the terrible Meniere’s Disease, experiencing an almost
constant vertigo and a loud ringing in her ears, confessed to me one day, “I am 50 and I am
alone. I have not been with a man for years. I am still young. I do not believe
in a God who cares for the affairs of men. I have lost my faith in prayer.”
There was nothing that I could have possibly told her that would have
ameliorated her grief. It wasn’t the existence of God that she doubted, after
And that is where my beliefs have been all these years.
Rosemary and I both regret that while our oldest daughter
Ale had her First Communion, her younger sister Hilary did not. Hilary’s two daughters’
idea of spirituality is all Tolkien, special effects and Star Wars.
My Brother Edwin died a couple of years ago so I feel lost
in not having his practical mind explain to me if watching the pope saying Holy
Mass in Washington DC, New York City and in Philadelphia is in effect going to
Mass. When the pope blesses the populace, am I included?
I may be proud of being an Argentine these days in spite of
Cristina. I like to shout or write, “¡Messi! ¡Messi! ¡Francisco! ¡Francisco!”
But I am really more than proud in feeling a kinship with Jorge Bergoglio.
After all since I am Jorge Alejandro he is my tocayo. I have photographed enough people (including dubious
politicians, hoods and crooks) to know what a genuine smile is.
Best of all in spite of the idiot simultaneous translators,
to listen to someone speak Argentine Spanish with verve in that quiet way of
Pope Francis’s I cannot but think that while I am not about to take up Pascal’s
Wager I just might contemplate an enhanced oblivion.
The Black Pope & that Bergoglio Imbroglio