A Blue Ghost In Our New Garden
Saturday, December 26, 2015
|Marion McDonnell & Gretchen|
McDonnell, Vancouver’s Blue Poppy Lady, was singly responsible in bringing to
our city the elusive, rare and hard to grow Meconopsis
betonicifolia and Meconopsis grandis.
She died quite a few years ago but she
is remembered because anywhere in some dappled shade garden where you might
spot this brilliant blue flowered plant you know it originally was grown in her
green house on the West Side of Vancouver. Because she had bad knees she manned
the visitor’s cart at VanDusen and took people on tours of the garden. She was a fixture at VanDusen plant sales always protected by a rain bonnet.
made the best coffee and cookies. I often visited her on Saturday mornings. In
her throaty Lauren Bacall voice she greeted me with a, “How are you my friend.”
Being her friend was a privilege I will never forget. Alas, her Meconopsis is
impossibly difficult to grow but I remember her through another plant.
in question is the only Rhododendron that gets close (but not quite) to having
blue flowers. It is Rhododendron augustinii.
shortly after McDonnell died my friend, New Zealand-born plantsman Alleyne Cook
(responsible for personally planting many of the rhodos in Stanley Park when he
worked for the Park Board) appeared in my garden with a little black pot
containing a small sapling. “Alex this my selection of Rhododendron augustinii.
It is called ‘Marion McDonnell. It is bluer.”
eldest daughter Alexandra (Ale) helped me man-handle the now very big
rhododendron and we carefully drove through side streets (so cops would not see
us with the rhodo hallway out of her passenger side window.) Our prized rhodo
is not planted at the end of our deck and unlike the iffy Magnolia grandiflora
(will she bloom this year?) it will surely celebrate a spring in blue.
|Photograph - Alexandra Waterhouse-Hayward|
Reflecting On Christmases Past
Friday, December 25, 2015
|December 24, 2015|
I was much too young to remember my first Christmas but I
do remember one from 1950 when I was 8. It was a torrid Buenos Aires summer
Christmas Eve. A few days before my father had sprayed our Christmas tree with
a can of Noma snow that my mother had obtained from her friends at the American
Embassy. Whatever it was that Santa Claus was going to bring me would not
happen until we came back from Misa de Gallo (rooster Mass or midnight Mass).
These Masses, around the corner from our house on Melián were held in a small
chapel. My father had had too much to drink and I was embarrassed to note that
he placed some mints in the collection basket.
When we finally got home my main present was a beautiful
Schuko model car racer. It was red and it was similar to the Maserati that Juan
Manuel Fangio drove. It had suspension and steering. Alas! I lost the wind-up
key. I was in tears. My father came up to me and said, “Alexander, Santa Claus
left me a spare key, just in case.” That first Christmas that I can remember is
also the last that I remember with my father.
Since then I have experienced good and sad Christmases.
One of the saddest was the one in December 1966 when I was returning to
Veracruz after two years in the Argentine Navy. I was the only passenger on
board the Argentine Merchant Marine (ELMA) Río Aguapey. It was a Victory Ship
that I subsequently, many years later found out had been built in the Burrard Shipyard
in Vancouver. We docked in New Orleans on Christmas Eve. I decided to explore
the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. I entered a bar that featured strippers.
This was my first time I ever saw an almost naked female. I ordered a Bourbon
whiskey which I did not like and the stripper danced mechanically like a robot.
I was depressed as I went back to my ship. Before calling it a night I played
some ping-pong with the young second officers. This was after we had a sumptuous
Christmas dinner that featured pre-dinner drinks, a different kind of wine for
every course and then Argentine Champagne and liqueurs. As a non-drinker I
forgot my depression and floated into a calm sleep.
Christmas 2015 went without a hitch. The granddaughters
behaved and the food was close to perfection. I started a baron of beef in our
new Jackson Grill and finished it (and the potatoes, onions and carrots) in the
oven. Rosemary made her signature Yorkshire pudding and I prepared the gravy.
For starter we had my homemade consommé. To the consommé my daughter Ale, my
son-in-law Bruce and I added a shot of very good La Guita Manzanilla Sherry. We
sipped the rest as we had our soup. For the main course that did include a big
salad an my homemade cranberry sauce (I use fresh squeezed oranges and nutmeg)
we tried an Argentine rosé Torrontés wine. Dessert was a beautiful apple pie
made by my younger daughter Hilary. There were plenty of sweets after. We then
opened the presents. To help smooth the whole process I had insisted on taking
our perennial Christmas family picture before dinner. Thanks to the Fuji-X-E1 I
downloaded the picture immediately and it was sharp and clear not like scanned
Polaroids of Christmases past.
But, all of us knew that this was to be our last Christmas
on Athlone Street. We have celebrated Christmas Eve there (here?) since 1986.
Rosemary and I both avoided looking at each other. We did not want to pass on
our deep melancholy for times that will never return.
Our Christmas tree was the tallest we have ever had. I
had to snip the leader as it bent under the ceiling. It was only one of three
trees that I found at Garden Works on 70 and Granville where I have purchased
all our trees. I bought the tree on December 22. It was nicely formed but sparse in its branches. Lauren
decorated it and because the tree was not dense the ornaments were visible in
all their glory. I liked this tree.
On Christmas Day I began the process of unmaking our home.
For me a home is a place with pictures on the wall. I removed a few pictures and
took them to our new house. As soon as the pictures were up I could sense the
transfer from one home to another. Homes are palpable entities that reflect
their owners. And like their owners they are born, they live and they die. That
process, while inevitably necessary, is a sad one. But then as our new house
becomes a home a new life is in the works and that is something happy to bring
into the new year.
Hilary With One L
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
|Hilary Anne - Mexico City - 1973|
Our daughter Hilary was born in Mexico City in 1971. She was our second daughter. In thinking of a name for her (my wife Rosemary was then a proto-feminist) we thought of something of an epicene nature. The name would not automatically tell you the sex of the person. It would be up to the named person to impose a sexuality of choice.
We liked the name Hilary even though in Spanish Hilaria sounds awful. It sounds like a name imposed on a newborn ( from a very Roman Catholic family) in which the name has to match the name of that saint’s day the child is born. Thus women born on St. Peter’s were saddled with Petra.
And so our second-born was called Hilary Anne Waterhouse-Hayward. As a married woman she has been now for 15 years Hilary Anne Stewart.
It was sometime in the late 90s when a Vancouver (where we have lived since 1975) weekly arts newspaper The Georgia Straight
in fact checking (Martin Dunphy, a fact checker from hell) an essay I had written I was told that Hilary had to have two ls. I informed him that the saint, Hilary (Hilarious ) of Poitiers wrote his name with one l. It was almost to no avail but in the end I prevailed.
To this day our Hilary is a cheerful woman, a wonderful daughter and mother. All with one l.
Nuts About That Alternative Nutckraker
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
I asked last José Verstappen
, former Artistic Director of
Early Music Vancouver
, last December 2014, to answer my question, Why
It had all to do with the fact
that Early Music Vancouver was going to produce Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. I
asked others to weigh in here.
Let me step on some toes with this one. Here goes: The
simple answer is, "Bach? Of course!" My background in the European
tradition that focuses on Bach rather than the Messiah around Christmas and
Easter still has an impact. The powerful Mengelberg tradition of the Matthew
Passion with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, for example ("early music"
of a different kind!) kept people huddled around the radio on Palm Sunday, and
the streets were deserted. Not to offend anyone; there's of course nothing wrong
with Messiah — but personally I would rather sit through the Passions or the
Christmas Oratorio on hard pews in a cold church (as I have done many times)
than hear another Messiah in a comfortable concert hall.
José Verstappen – Artistic Director Emeritus Early Music
While the above statement by Verstappen might be
confusing to some, what it boils down to is that I avoid, every year, Handel’s
like the bubonic plague. Fortunately this year Early Music Vancouver
produced Michael Preatorious’s Christmas Vespers
at the Chan.
In the same way having gone to many Nutcrackers with my
two daughters and in this century with my two granddaughters it is my hope that
the issue of becoming a great-grandfather and having to take great-grandchildren
to another of those will not happen for me. I will be long gone.
The last Nutcracker I went to involved my grandchildren
and having crepes with the Sugar Plum Fairy. I wrote about it here
Fortunately the folks at the Arts Umbrella Dance Company
give us the chance to skip that boring Christmas routine by featuring an
alternative that has bits of the Nutcracker but in the end it is surprisingly
better. I have been a fan of Mixed nuts since its inception. It is full of
warmth, drama, skilful dancers and with choreography by the best in town and
This year’s Mixed Nuts (last year's
) even though I have now seen a few
of them was full of surprises. At about this time this amateur modern dance
aficionado picks on what I think will be the next year’s crops of dancing
virtuosos who will graduate from the Senior Dance Company to join dance
companies around the world.
Arts Umbrella Dance Company is full of experienced
virtuosi but I have picked five from the Senior Dance Company (I may pick more
as I get to know more of them in future performances). On the top of the list
is Prince George Tristan Ghostkeeper, who dances very well but has a presence
in spades. His partner in The Charmer and the Snake
(the Arabian segment dance of
the classic Nutcracker and brilliantly choreographed by Ballet BC’s Racheal
Prince) is the lithesome and lovely Beatrice Larivee. Then there is Lebanese Charlie
Prince who brings his particular brand of classic ballet. His partner in one my
favourite tunes of all times, by Tchaikovsky, which is featured in Grand Pas de
Deux is the German (lots of tradition in dance there) Antonia Kruschel (and she
is tall!). And lastly there is our very own Vancouver dancer, the compact Haley Heckethorn who when she partnered
with Tristan Ghostkeeper ( In Racheal Prince's Matadors
) oozed an erotic presence perhaps punctuated by the
loveliest upper legs (a kinder expression) I have seen in years.
A dancer's bond.
|Beatrice Larivee & Tristan Ghostkeeper|
|Charlie Prince & Antonia Kruschel|
|Tristan Ghostkeeper & Haley Hechethorn|
Below you will see the pictures I took with my Fuji X-E1
at the matinee performance of Mixed Nuts at the Vancouver Playhouse on December
My granddaughter who is 13 and is in her fifth year at
the Arts Umbrella Dance Company I hope will provide me with the distinct
pleasure of her performance in a future Mixed Nuts. I can never tire of it.