Arrival - No Zap-Gun Science Fiction
Saturday, November 19, 2016
A winged spark doth soar about—
A winged spark doth soar about—
I never met it near
For Lightning it is oft mistook
When nights are hot and sere—
Its twinkling Travels it pursues
Above the Haunts of men—
A speck of Rapture—first perceived
By feeling it is gone—
Rekindled by some action quaint
I remember the evening sometime at the end of 1950 (because
it was a hot Buenos Aires summer) going with my mother and father to the premiere
of George Pal’s Destination Moon.
were at the cavernous but lovely Gran Rex cinema
on Calle Corrientes. The film
was in brilliant Technicolor.
I remember the evening a few months after Rosemary and I
were married in 1968. We lived in an extremely narrow (no more than 15 feet
wide apartment on Calle Estrasburgo in the Zona Rosa in Mexico City. The view
from our window was the parking lot of a monstrous (but somehow lovely in its
sparseness) latest technology movie theatre, Cine Latino. That evening we
crossed the street and walked around the block to the Paseo de la Reforma to
see the just released Stanley Kubrick film 2001-The
Space Odyssey. It was my first experience with true surround sound.
By 1972 I had Acoustic Research AR-3As so I could listen to
the low notes on the organ pedal of Richard Straus’s Also sprach Zarathustra
Last night, I will remember, going with my son-in-law Bruce
Stewart and friend Paul Leisz to see Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival with Amy Adams
and Jeremy Renner.
I do remember but not as much Christopher Nolan’s 2014 film Interstellar with Matthew McConaughey, Anne
Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn and Michael Caine.
is one minor, but very important, connection between Interstellar and Arrival.
It’s the salient fact that both feature stunning red-haired actresses who
happen to act very well.
What these four films have in common is the difference
between that low brow Sigh-Fi and the more subtle and intelligent science
fiction which at one time would have been called speculative science fiction.
Even many of the episodes of the original Star Trek featured stuff that was
more cerebral and less shot-em-up with the ray gun.
The fact that last night’s viewing of Arrival was in a
room that was half full speaks to what I am writing about. The trailers
featured the soon-to be released in
December Rogue One – A Star Wars Story
and yet another (and I don’t care how good an actor Benedict Cumberbatch is or
how startingly wonderful Tilda Swinton is when bald) in Dr. Strange.
For me the three best science fiction novels of all time
are Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End
(a plot with ancillary connections to Arrival) and Rendezvous with Rama
and Olaf Stapledon’s Starmaker
In Starmaker, written in 1937 when Europe was almost at
war a depressed protagonist in England begins the novel:
One night when I had tasted bitterness I went on to the
hill. Dark heather checked my feet. Below marched the suburban street lamps.
Windows, their curtains drawn, were shut eyes, inwardly watching the lives of
dreams. Beyond the sea’s level darkness a lighthouse pulsed. Overhead
obscurity……I sat down on the heather. Overhead obscurity was now in full
retreat. In its rear the freed population of the sky sprang out of hiding, star
On every side the shadowy hills or the guessed,
featureless sea extended beyond sight. But the hawk-flight of imagination
followed them as they curved downward below the horizon. I perceived that I was
on a little round grain of rock and metal, filmed with water and with air,
whirling in sunlight and darkness. And on the skin of the little grain all the
swarms of men, generation by generation, had lived in labour and blindness,
with intermittent joy and intermittent lucidity of spirit. And all their
history, with its folk-wanderings, its empires, its philosophies, its proud
sciences, its social revolution, its increasing hunger for community, was but a
flicker in one day of the lives of stars.
If one could know whether among that glittering host
there were here and there other spirit-inhabited grains of rock and metal,
whether man’s blundering search for wisdom and for love was a sole and
insignificant tremor, or part of a universal movement!
Overhead obscurity was gone. From horizon to horizon the
sky was an unbroken spread of stars. Two planets stared unwinking. The more obtrusive
of the constellations asserted their individuality. Orion’s four-square
shoulder and feet, his belt and sword, the Plough, the zigzag of Cassiopeia,
the intimate Pleiades, all were dully patterned on the dark. The Milky Way, a
vague hoop of light, spanned the sky.
Imagination completed what mere sight could not achieve.
Looking down I seemed to see through a transparent planet, through heather and
solid rock, through the buried grave-yards of vanished species, down through the
through the molten flow of basalt, and on into the Earth’s core of iron; then
on again, still seemingly downwards, through the southern strata to the
southern ocean and lands, past the roots of gum trees and the feet of the
inverted antipodeans, through their blue, sun-pierced awning of day, and out
into the eternal night, where sun and stars are together. For there dizzyingly far
below me, like fishes in the depth of a lake, lay the nether constellations.
The two domes of the sky were fused into one hollow sphere, star-peopled, black
even, beside the blinding sun. The young moon was a curve of incandescent wire.
The completed hoop of the Milky Way encircled the universe.
And that man above soars into outer space and deep into
other constellations without a starship, wormholes but just the power of his
What is interesting for me is that I first read this
novel when it was published for the first time in Spanish in Buenos Aires in
1965. The introduction was by Jorge Luís Borges. The book’s title was the far
more beautiful Hacedor de Estrellas.
By strange coincidence Borges had published a book, one of my favourites el hacedor.
Rendezvous with Rama is all about a huge
structure/spaceship that parks near the sun. People from Earth send an
expedition to explore it. They find an immense inside city without inhabitants.
They learn a bit from what they observe. Then one day the ship moves and leaves
the solar system. The people from earth figure out the ship is from far away
and is going in another direction, far away. It parked to “gas up from the sun”
and it (the invisible Ramans perhaps?) considered Earth and its people not
important enough or advanced enough to bring into their cosmic consideration.
This novel perhaps soars with an imagination of stuff but it brought me down as
it convinced me that we perhaps take ourselves too seriously and overdo our
importance. It is a sobering novel.
Childhood’s End is similar to Arrival in that large pods
or ships park overhead in many spots of the world. `But it is different as it
finishes with the end of the world in a cataclysmic explosion. The last man on
earth chooses not to escape its destruction and escape with the beings of the
Arrival has a far more positive approach to our future.
What is best is that this is a science fiction film for women as the principal
protagonist, Amy Adams does a splendid job. Who would have known that I have
seen a film that I will see again, but this time with my wife?
Potato & Leek Soup - Not
Friday, November 18, 2016
impossible for me to prepare my French onion soup without associating it with four
men. The first one was Raúl Guerrero Montemayor my mentor in Mexico City in the
late 60s and until he died recently. The other three are author Len Deighton
and actors Christopher Plummer and Michael Caine. In the 60s and until Deighton
stopped writing his wonderful spy thrillers and WWII history books.
One of my
fave films of all time is Sidney Furie’s 1965 The Ipcress File starring Len Deighton. In Deighton’s very good
novel by the same name (far more sophisticated in my estimation than Ian Fleming’s).
In the novel the principal protagonist is not named. For the film Michael Caine
was given the name of Harry Palmer.
is Christopher Plummer in my above list? He turned down the role for the
Ipcress File. The entry of Michael Caine is thus history (and a very good
Raúl Guerrero Montemayor who gave me Deighton’s lovely illustrated (by the
author) Cookstrip Cook Book in 1968
as a wedding gift when I married my Canadian Rosemary Elizabeth Healey.
also wrote a series of cookery books, and wrote and drew a weekly strip
cartoon-style illustrated cooking guide in London's The Observer newspaper –
Len Deighton's Cookstrip. At least one of the strips is pinned up in Deighton's
spy hero's kitchen in the 1965 film of his novel The IPCRESS File.
The Observer announced that Deighton would create 12 new cookstrips to be
printed every month in the Observer Food Magazine, starting in January 2015.
exploit the success of Deighton's first four "Unnamed Hero" novels,
he wrote Len Deighton's London Dossier (1967), a guide book to Swinging Sixties
London with a "secret agent" theme – contributions from other writers
are described as "surveillance reports".
favourite recipe from the book is his French onion soup. I have been making it
to Deighton’s exact specifications for years.
Thursday (this blog will be up with tomorrow’s date) I finally modified
Deighton’s French onion soup. Instead of onions I used leeks. I must report
that the soup was sensational (to use the word so often used by my departed
friend Sean Rossiter.)
Manrique - Detective Steven Prenzl & His Pepper Spray Gun
Thursday, November 17, 2016
|Constable Steven Prenzl - Vancouver Police -Sex/Crimes - May 1986|
Perhaps because I have managed to obey most civil laws my
relationship with policemen, policewomen and police departments has been if
sometimes not a happy one always a good one and I have been impressed by their
sense of duty. Perhaps it has helped that I am a white man.
For me it all began sometime in the late 40s when I was
around 8. My father, who was a journalist for the Buenos Aires Herald in
Buenos Aires, had a frequent guest called Manrique. I never did ask my father if
this was his first name or his last. But he was plainly a plain-clothes cop who
had a shoulder holster. I was so impressed by it but never suspected that it
was not until May of 1986 that I would eventually photograph a plain-clothes
policeman showing that holster.
My experience with policeman in Argentina was slightly scary
in 1954 when my mother took me to the police department in Buenos Aires to get
my first passport. We were going to move to Mexico City. I did not kow then
that because my mother had married a divorced man (and divorce was not
recognized in Argentina) that she had her maiden’s name while I had my father’s.
I had to bend the truth in answering questions if I were to be asked but luckily
Back in Argentina in 1964 to do my obligatory military
service ( I “won” the lottery and instead of 12 months in the army I got 24 in
the navy). One of my nephews Georgito O’Reilly who was my age was in the army
but his younger brother Ricardo decided to enlist in the police force. Then you
could do that and you would get a higher pay (I received two dollars a month),
14 sure months with the police and better treatment. What was scary when I
would watch Ricardo at the dinner table was that I knew he had a very short
training period and there he was carrying a nasty .45. In fact in those years
there were police blockades in Buenos Aires. If you were in a taxi you would be
asked to get out by a young man (a police conscript) carrying a burp gun. Luckily
I never did have any confrontation with any of those young men.
Back in Mexico where I was teaching at a Jesuit
university called Universidad Iberoamericana there was a motorcycle policeman
who would stop me at least once a year with a ,”High teach.” I caught on early
that returning from my teaching I would empty my wallet and leave a small bill
for the mordida (bribe). He would say
I was speeding and if I wanted to contest the fact that he would take me to the
police station. This is something you would avoid at all costs.
In 1975 before my wife, two children and I move to
Vancouver I visited my friend Felipe Ferrer Junco
(who worked for the Mexican
Social Security Department as a lawyer) in Veracruz. He told me that before I left Mexico
I needed at least to have a couple of drinks with him at a house of ill repute.
This we did. While there I was eying a beautiful brunette dancing with a short
man with big gun in his waist. Ferrer told me, “Don’t even look in his
direction as he is the Veracruz Chief of Police.
This I did and I wrote a very interesting piece for the
Vancouver Magazine. I wrote a blog about Ferrer here and here.
But that photograph of a plain clothes policeman with a
shoulder holster was a cover article for Vancouver Magazine called Main Street
Blues. I photographed a young policeman, a veteran policeman, a policewoman, a
policeman with a dog, a mounted policeman and a policeman and his motorcycle. I
became friends with Constable Steve Prenzl who was with Sex/Crimes. Years later
we would meet once a year for tea downtown. By then he was a homicide cop. He
dressed in a long Holt Renfrew camel hair coat and wore burgundy tassel shoes.
One day he said, “Do you want to see my new gun?” He pulled a pepper spray.
Quite a few years later I photographed a policeman called
. He had written a book about drugs and how the police department was
using the wrong tactics. The folks at Douglas & McIntyre afraid of being
sued by the Vancouver Police Department pulled the book from printing. Soon
after, Pruder was found dead. There were two conflicting accounts on how he had
died. I smelled a rat but nothing came about it and no investigation was ever
My next almost pleasant relationship with the Vancouver
Police happened one Christmas in the mid-2000s. A young man called me up and
threatened to burn my house down and torture my daughters if I did not return
to him pictures I had taken of his new girlfriend that he deemed pornographic.
I called the police. They set up in my phone a number I had to press when Tony
the Taliban (as he was called). In the end I told my predicament to a local big
time hood and a week later the police told me that because I had good friends I
no longer had a problem. I wrote about that here
Since that unfortunate event my dealings with the
Vancouver Police have shown me how competent they are and how I believe they
should make more money. I have had
female policewomen in my Athlone home and now in my Kitsilano (because of a
series of unfortunate events I am not at liberty to discuss here) and I have
been impressed by their knowledge and their manners.
In one occasion believing the movies I have seen I went
to the police station wanting to talk to the desk sargeant. That does not
happen anymore! You are told to go home
and to call the non-emergency phone number. Action is swift and courteous.
I have seen a female policewoman wrestle one of my young
relatives to the ground and read her her rights as she put on handcuffs. These policemen
and policewomen are highly trained. They are experts in knowing how to defuse
The only demerit that I can write about (and this is my
personal opinion) was the firing of Kim Rossmo
who went on to the United States
where his revolutionary methods of crime profiling based on geographic
mapping were amply appreciated.
Mistresse Mary, be you ficke?
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
|Rosa 'Mary Magdalene' November 14 2016|
Infidelity fays to Mary:
“Let me fele your poulfes, mistreffe Mary, be you ficke?
By my troth inas a good temper as any woman can be:
Your vaines are as full of blood, lufty and quicke,
In better taking truly I did you never fee.”
The English Rose Rosa 'Mary Magdalene' is one of my fave roses that made the trip from the big house in Kerrisdale to our new little home in Kitsilano. In late spring and summer it has the intense scent of myrrh. The rose emerges pink and as it ages it fades to white. I like to think of that as the Mary Magdalene harlot who meets up with Christ. She is saved by Him from being stoned. She later washes His feet and dries them with her long hair. And she becomes pure, free of sin - a saint. True or not I love the idea.
In late fall there is not enough sunlight to fade its pinkness. I believe that this bloom may be the last of all my roses for this year. I look forward to Mary Magdalene and the rest next year.