Ballenitas - Collar Stays & A Dearth Of Button Downs
Saturday, April 09, 2016
I wrote the blog below on Sunday, November 29th, 2009. Today
I found how relevant that blog is to my life in more than one way. I am getting
ready for a trip to my hometown of Buenos Aires.
I decided I might want to take a couple of dress shirts. One
reason is that I will be going to Mass with my 92 year-old first
cousin/godmother this coming Sunday. We will be going to her nearby church, the
iconic La Redonda mentioned in the November 29, 2009 blog. Rosemary and I went
to the Bay to see if we could find a couple of button down shirts. My good,
iron free one is frayed at the sleeves. To my horror they had only two kinds of
button-downs. The collars on them were not the classic ones but much smaller.
Why is there a dearth of button-downs in Vancouver? Are they that conservative?
This means I will have to take a couple of regular shirts.
But the collar stays (ballenitas or little whale bones in Argentine Spanish)
have all been lost in numerous washing machines washes. So I had to enquire if
they sold these ballenitas. Happily they did!
This time in Buenos Aires I aim to buy myself a nice new
copy of Ernesto Sábatos Sobre Héroes y Tumbas. I have never owned one since I
read it so many years ago in Buenos Aires.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Informe Sobre Ciegos
¡Oh, dioses de la noche!
¡Oh, dioses de las tinieblas, del incesto y del crimen,
de la melancolía y del suicidio!
¡Oh, dioses de las ratas y de las cavernas,
de los murciélagos, de las cucarachas!
¡Oh, violentos, inescrutables dioses
del sueño y de la muerte!
¿Cuándo empezó esto que ahora va a terminar con mi asesinato?
Informe Sobre Ciegos, Sobre Héroes y Tumbas
Ernesto Sábato, 1961
Argentina is lucky in having more than one definitive Argentine novel. My favourite is Ernesto Sábato's Sobre Héroes y Tumbas
1961 (On Heroes and Tombs, 1961) which I read in 1964. It left me
shattered with its beauty and melancholy. By 1964 the section Informe Sobre Ciegos
on the Blind) was famous in all Argentina. This chapter of the novel
almost stands alone because of its independence and starkness. It has
something to do with a secret society that involves the blind beggars
who sell stuff (in my day little ballenitas
stiffeners for dress shirt collars) in Buenos Aires subways and trains.
It is staged in a fantastic underworld that coexists with the "real and
It was in 1965 when I first heard Astor
Piazzolla live at the Teatro Florida and fell in love with Susy. I then
bought every record of Piazzolla's that I could get my hands on. My
favourite has always been Tango Contemporáneo - Astor Piazzolla y Su Nuevo Octeto
It was in this recording that I heard Ernesto Sábato himself read that
first incredible paragraph from El Informe de los Ciegos. His voice is
strangely pitched and eerily monotone. I replaced the virtually
unplayable record with a CD just a few years ago. Even today is sounds
avant-garde and fresh.
Report on the Blind
Oh gods of the night!
Oh gods of darkness, incest and crime
of melancholy and suicide!
Oh gods of of rats and caverns,
of bats and cockroaches!
Oh violent and inscrutable gods
of dreams and death!
When did this begin which will end with my assassination?
Introduction to Report on the Blind from Sobre Héroes y Tumbas, Ernesto Sábato (my translation)
can listen to Ernesto Sábato read that if you wait (be patient!) until
the end of this striking composition by Astor Piazzolla here
is Rebecca's photograph here? The moody look of the picture with all
the skulls and the candles simply brought to mind this book and also of
one of the last books that Sábato may have written (he is alive and 98) Antes Del Fin
the End) which is an extremely depressing, but wonderful work of essays
on death and the author's reminiscences on his life. The melancholy of
the rainy and dark afternoon as I took Rebecca's picture also reminded
me of late wintery afternoons in Buenos Aires with my friend Felipe
Occhiuzzi. We would sit down on a bench at Parque Lezama and try to
imagine two men, one with glasses the other a blind man with a cane,
walking, slowly, arm in arm, chatting about novels and writing. The one
with the glasses would have been Sábato and the blind man with the cane,
In A Library
Friday, April 08, 2016
After seeing this show
I meandered up to the library (the
Main Branch of the Vancouver Public Library) and in the new books section I saw the book
(it seemed it was an apparition as I have been waiting months to read Camilleri’s
latest, in translation). I went to the self-checkout and I was shocked as I
could not find my library card. I went to the counter and told the man that I
might have left my card (old and torn it was) at my Kitsilano Branch. He
checked and so it was! But after paying $2.00 I had a brand new card instantly
and took my book home. Can all this
possible? Yes if you are dealing with our super-excellent Vancouver Public
Library. And of course this gives me ample opportunity to run an Emily
A precious, mouldering pleasure 'tis
To meet an antique book,
In just the dress his century wore;
A privilege, I think,
His venerable hand to take,
And warming in our own,
A passage back, or two, to make
To times when he was young.
His quaint opinions to inspect,
His knowledge to unfold
On what concerns our mutual mind,
The literature of old;
What interested scholars most,
What competitions ran
When Plato was a certainty.
And Sophocles a man;
When Sappho was a living girl,
And Beatrice wore
The gown that Dante deified.
Facts, centuries before,
He traverses familiar,
As one should come to town
And tell you all your dreams were true;
He lived where dreams were sown.
His presence is enchantment,
You beg him not to go;
Old volumes shake their vellum heads
Street Photography Is Alive & Well At Vancouver Capture Festival
Thursday, April 07, 2016
Alan Jacques - Skateboarder - 2004
am an impatient kind of photographer I eschew street photography. I appreciate
and admire that pioneer Henri Cartier-Bresson. I note his patience for waiting
for the decisive moment to occur.
people carried cameras, street photography was rare and exclusive. Now it is
all around us and to me much of it has become humdrum and banal. I can imagine
career photography critics, “The juxtaposition of the verticals and horizontals
with the immediacy of those diagonals and the ability of that photographer to
frame quickly make this photograph a superlative one.” To me that is
nonsensical as most photographers (at least this one) shoot by instinct and do
not take all that stuff into consideration at any moment when they are shooting.
as a street photographer began around 1962 and ended in 1964. The bulk of my
Mexico pictures I took then. I did a few more in the early 70s. Mexico was
always a ripe place to exploit street photography. There were the markets, the
churches, the cemeteries and that “all so photogenic” poverty. I participated
in an exhibition in 1963 at Mexico City College. I had taken photographs of the
beautiful city of Guanajuato in a trip with art students. My photographs were
awarded the first prize, I got newspaper coverage on them. Best of all, my
award was signed by the judge who happened to be the noted Mexican painter,
Rufino Tamayo. I thought for a while that perhaps I could be a photographer.
But I soldiered on (unsuccessfully) in engineering until the differences
between capacitance, inductance and resistance short circuited my career. I was
saved by conscription into the Argentine Navy.
arrived in Vancouver in 1975 I found the landscape beautiful (when I see a
lovely landscape I hold off and buy a postcard) but the city itself cold and
boring. It was a beautiful city in spite of its architecture. The cemeteries
simply did not compare with the Mexican ones. How could an almost 100 year-old
house compare with a 500 year-old one?
if I went to Bruges or Venice I would shoot some streets, probably with my
Widelux or Noblex panoramics. The exotic always seems to be elsewhere. But not
always as my friend Alan Jacques is amply proving at the VisualSpace Gallery 3352 Dunbar St. One of the three partner/owners is Yukiko Onley.
does have some exotic Paris photographs but the ones that amply prove that the
exotic can be found at home are his Vancouver photographs, many taken on the
corners of Main and Broadway. Jacques technique is to lie low (on the pavement
and with a waist finder with his Nikon F-2 he waits for that decisive moment to
happen. It is very difficult to shoot low and vertically (you would have to
twist your head to look into the finder) so all the photographs, all in b+w are
horizontal. The prints are from the custom printer Trevor Martin who never
adds any of his feelings to the photographs he prints. His interpretation is
neutral so the photographer’s intentions are never clouded by unintended drama.
|Havana photograph by Scott MacEachern|
received another invitation (this is Vancouver’s celebration of photography
month called Capture) from a photographer (I had never met him) called Scott MacEachern.
I was reluctant to go (street photographs, again!) except that MacEachern had
taken the trouble to invite me personally. So I went to the the Moat (!) Gallery at
the Main Branch of the Vancouver Public Library and saw many colour photographs
(all horizontal again!) taken most recently in Havana. While there were indeed
some that featured American cars of the 50s the photographs astounded me in
many ways. For one this man must be invisible. There is a photograph that has
an array of over 10 people on the street, in windows, in balconies and not one
of them is looking at the “gringo” photographer. The bulk of the photographs
all have a feeling of a man who knows when to shoot from the hip. MacEachern answered my question ,"Why are they all horizontal? " with something like,"My world is horizontal."
the whipped cream of the dessert were prints (ABC Photocolour) that were
inkjets printed not on that fashionable art paper but on photographic paper.
The result is a manageable (and most pleasant low contrast), smooth skin textures
and colours that while not quite pastel are in that direction. This is a
photographer from the 20th century who avoids punchy colour and extreme
to both photographers for helping to wake me up and to appreciate very good
Agent Orange & Viet Nam Are Alive & Well With Veterans
Wednesday, April 06, 2016
I have a vivid memory of sitting in my Argentine Navy whites
sometime in 1964 by the tiger cage of the Buenos Aires Zoo. It seems that both
Jorge Luís Borges and I shared an attraction for the animal.
I have a vivid memory of sitting in a nearby bench and
reading my copy of Time Magazine. Except when the government of the time would
make some issue of the weekly unavailable I read it with without fail. I was
not yet aware of the dictum, “Life Magazine for people who cannot read, Time
Magazine for those who cannot think.”
I read all about the Vietnam war. Most of it was about
airplanes shot down and the weekly body count of the Viet Cong (high) and of US
Servicemen (low). Vietnam was a distant war in a place where real soldiers
fought and died. I was a toy soldier in a toy navy of an inconsequential
country with no bearing to world affairs.
The war, the Vietnam war was never more than that for me. At
shooting practice with a turn of the 20th century Mauser, a US Issue
burp gun and an Argentine version of the Colt .45 I suddenly became aware of
the noise, the force and the power of deadly arms. No film, even contemporary
ones can replicate that noise and that power. But war was still far away. I did not
need to worry.
The Vietnam war became a palpable reality for me in the mid
80s when I went to a small St. Edward’s High School class reunion in Houston,
A former classmate and roommate, John Arnold, wearing a
crisp short sleeved button down shirt and looking lots like President Ford was
there. Some of my other classmates spoke in whispers that he had fought in
Vietanam and then had been a spy and had also worked for the US Securities
& Exchange Commission. This was my first contact, a living contact, not one
from some movie who had been in Vietnam.
It was only more recently in a trip that I made with Arnold
visit another classmate, Michael East in south Texas did when found out what Arnold
had done as a leatherneck in Vietnam. It seems that this strong and burly man had
been lowered in a rope from a helicopter to retrieve wounded US Marine Corps
fliers who had been shot down.
In these last weeks I have had a sudden and more direct
encounter with Vietnam.
While at St. Ed’s there was an odd pair of lower classmen
(one below me). They were the Averitt brothers, James and William. They did not
look like each other so they were not twins. The older one James died not too
long ago. I met up with Billy in 2011 at a class reunion I Austin. He seemed to
be a happy man.
I received an email on March 3. Here it is:
Time has a way of just
passing us by. I have attempted to find the note that you wrote about my
ability to rope and ride horses, but have been unable to find it. If you could
point me in the right direction I would certainly appreciate it.
[Here it is
I might be in the
Seattle area and if I am I will try to make it up to Vancouver.
My daughter was diagnosed
with stage 3 grade 3 breast cancer in August. She has finished her chemo
treatment and is scheduled for surgery on the 11th of March.
I will be going to
California on about the 26th of March to care for her. I just had a cancerous
growth cut from my face and am waiting for the results of a biopsy from another
growth. Also I was diagnosed with leukemia in 2014 due to Agent Orange and am
battling the infamous veterans administration because of the leukemia. Viet Nam
is still alive and well with a lot of veterans.
Send me a phone number
that I can get a hold of you in case I am in your area as I have a lot of
friends in Seattle that I would like to see.
Hope everything is
going good for you and your family.
Those sentences about agent orange and Averitt’s problems
with the now notorious US Department of Veteran Affairs suddenly made all those
Rachel Maddow programs real.
Averitt called me yesterday to say he would be in town today
by noon. At 9:30 he called me to say he had been denied entry into Canada
because of his medicines. He had not brought with him the doctor’s
I choked. As Averitt wrote:
Viet Nam is still alive and well with a lot of veterans.
|Fernando García (Class of 61) & William Averitt (Class of 62)|
My Kitsilano Darkroom & Nicole
Tuesday, April 05, 2016
|Nicole - Kodak Technical Pan - Mamiya RB-67 Pro-SD & 90mm lens|
In 1979, my darkroom in Arboledas, Estado de México was the
bathroom in what would have been the room for a live-in housekeeper. In the
tiny bathroom I had a Durst enlarger for 35mm film.
Now in 2016 my darkroom is the bathroom in the guest room
upstairs. It is not very dark so I must use a changing bag to transfer my 35mm
and 120 film into reels and from there in a Unicolor processing drum I have
been using since 1976. There is no room for an enlarger or for printing my
negatives onto photographic paper. My wet darkroom is gone. I have now entered
a new stage with a Canon Pro-1 Inkjet Printer.
I processed four rolls yesterday. Three were Kodak T-Max
100. The fourth roll, Kodak Technical Pan
in 120 (long gone into discontinuance
many years ago) I had to process in a Nikkor stainless steel tank
Pan which is inherently a high contrast film would become even more contrasty
if processed in the Unicolor tank which revolves on a motor base.
|Fuji FP-3000B b+w Instant Film - scanned peel|
The first problem I encountered is that the motor base
did not work. I thought of the consequences and how friends would say (damn
them!),”Have you tried E-Bay or Craig’s List?” But the wrinkle was a small one.
I had to press the button on the razor adapted outlet. It worked.
The second problem is that in my move I have misplaced
the Unicolor instructions for the minimum chemistry requirement for each roll
of film and subsequent extra rolls. Luckily the internet had that information
|Fuji FP-300B Instant B+W Film - Scanned print|
The third problem was that none of my four faucets
(kitchen and three bathrooms) had a tap that fit my tall archival negative
washer. I found that the kitchen nozzle could be removed and Coe’s Lumber on
West Broadway had plastic adapters.
With the problems all solved I can report that my
negative look pristine and I can see myself doing more of this.
|Fuji X-E1 Digital Camera|
To illustrate this blog I will place here photographs I
took of my friend Nicole in my Mexican department store (Puerto de Liverpool
pin-striped suit jacket.
It will illustrate my preference for using more than one
camera on any given photographic session and when possible to use different
film stocks plus my digital Fuji X-E.I previously wrote about this here
|Kodak Portra 160 Colour Negative Film|| |
I believe that when I pick up another camera my subject
shifts a bit, rests a bit and then looks at my lens with subtle differences.
|Kodak T-Max 100 Film|
Lauren & My Sailor Whites
Monday, April 04, 2016
One of the definite advantages about being a father and
grandfather is that it has enabled me to have many years of closeness with
young girls. First they were my two daughters, Ale and Hilary
and now I have
the pleasure of the company of my two granddaughters (one is 18 so not so
little girl), Rebecca and Lauren, 13.
This was most evident last Saturday. Lauren came over and I
showed her Rosemary’s Queen’s University beret. I put it on her and she smiled.
Then I thought about it (knowing that French sailors have a red pompon on the
top of their hats) and went to our family memorabilia armoire in the piano
room. There I took out my summer whites
(I had subsequently cut the long sleeves, in later years after finishing my
conscription). Lauren put them on. I then told her, “On some other day we can
photograph you in that.” She instantly said, “Let’s do it now as your studio is
ready and you will not have to put your equipment away as you did in the
Athlone house.” Lauren was right as I had a provisional studio between the
living room and the dining room and I always had to pack up and take the stuff
to the basement.
I took one Fuji Instant Colour print and the four exposures
you see here. I used my venerable Mamiya RB-67 Pro-SD with a 90 mm lens.
|Scanned peel from Fuji Colur Instant Film (alas! discontinued)|
I am sure that a couple of weeks ago I threw the summer
white top into a carboard box. But my Rosemary (who always knows) took it out
and placed it in the armoire. Bless her! And bless that Lauren who is still a