A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.




 

The Finest Woman Around
Saturday, December 03, 2016





In September 1977 I was a healthy not quite a middle aged 35 year-old man. I was hanging out on Vancouver’s clothing optional Wreck Beach. I had opted for the no clothes. I was minding my own business, smoking my pipe (tobacco) when this woman lay down on a nearby log. She had the shortest short shorts and legs to blind a battalion of Hussars into submission. The only other person I have ever met with a gluteus maximus to blind a second battalion of Hussars was Tarren.

I was supposed to be a professional photographer and only a few months before I had obtained assignments from Vancouver Magazine.



I didn’t think I would dare, but dare I did and went up to her (unclothed?) and asked her if I could snap some pictures.  She said I could. At that moment I took out an exposure meter. That is when she told me, “You didn’t tell me you were a professional photographer.” I managed to take a few shots (6 Kodachromes with the date September 1977 stamped on them) before she angrily moved off.

In the mid 80s Carole (her complete name is Carole Segal) was living in a punk rock mansion with perhaps the finest bassist this city has ever had. For reasons that are in my faint memory my writer friend Les Wiseman and I visited the punk mansion to interview somebody (not the bassist). As we moved from room to room on our way to the kitchen we passed by a bedroom in which on a dresser there was a minute string bikini. We knew whose it was and Les Wiseman used (he was silent for a while in some sort of shock) that word he so often used to describe beautiful women, “That must be Carol’s the finest woman around.”

Now even then I appreciated women for more than all their charms and virtues. Segal was spunky and intelligent. She never whispered (I am going to just say she was assertive).

Not long after she started a band and I went to one of the shows and snapped a few including this one with Simon Werner.

It was in the 90s that I found out that Segal had become a photographer. Not wanting to miss my chance I suggested her as an item for Vancouver Magazine and I was able to photograph her.



With Vancouver Magazine editor Malcolm Parry I like to think we share something that I call the Ukraine Geographical Position. We know that Ukraine has no mountain barriers or large rivers that must be crossed to invade it. Thus the Chinese, the Huns and lastly the Germans marched through it.
Parry’s office was such a place. His door was always open and in marched, politicians, writers, strippers, lawyers, hoods, photographers, illustrators, poets, novelists, musicians, wrestlers, boxers, rock stars, detectives, architects, etc.

Since I always managed to be around I managed to photograph them all, including the divinely fine Carol Segal.

With a little help from my friends (Editors & Art Directors)





With a Little Help From My Friends (Editors & Art Directors)
Friday, December 02, 2016


Carla Temple

Many a writer has had a troubled relationship with an editor. There are some who say, “That if you can’t you teach.” They say that a lot of photographers. Does it apply to editors? Are they failed writers?

Perhaps the same could be said for magazine art directors/designers. Are they failed artists/illustrators/photographers?

I would disagree with anybody who would be against what an editor or an art director does although I am sure there may be exceptions of terrible editors and art directors.

As a magazine photographer I once worked with an art director who told me the first time I met, “I want you to shoot for me full-frame so I can crop the sh..out of your picture.” Not only did he say that but in later meetings he shouted at me.


Rick Staehling
Fortunately I believe I may have one of the longest streaks of very good photographs between 1977 and until just a few months ago.

I can “blame” in particular an editor and two art directors.

One of the art directors was Richard Staehling who was born in the United States and had a penchant for looking at very good American magazines like Esquire and had studied in the prestigious Art Center in LA. But the best lesson for me from Staehling is that he made me realize that photographers don’t always shoot glamorous situations. Staehling made me photograph sewing machines. It was humbling but a very good lesson for me and I became less pigeon-holed and more adaptable to take pictures of anything. It was Staehling who saw the possibility for magazine use of my new-fangled (at the time) 6x7 format Mamiya RB-67. He understood that the format almost fit perfectly with little cropping on to vertical page bleed (corner to corner) and that because of its revolving back I could be trained (and I was) to shoot every assignment both vertically (perfect for covers) and horizontally for two-page spreads.

One of my fave covers in which I worked on with Staehling was his elegant use of copy and my photograph (a story about a woman who was raped while jogging in Vancouver's Stanley Park). I used a Pentax Spotmatic-F with a 20mm wide angle and panned it as the young woman (she had been a girlfriend of Bill Evans) ran past me.




The second art director was Chris Dahl. He landed in Vancouver from Toronto’s Maclean’s so he knew all the necessary and practical stuff ( and tricks of the trade) related to publishing a weekly as opposed to a more staid monthly (Vancouver Magazine, Western Living and Equity). It was Dahl who prevented me from achieving a comfortable and dependable style. He constantly pushed me to try something different (and at the same time suggesting how to do that). One very strange but ultimately successful nod was for me to shoot very expensive houses in Vancouver’s Shaughnessy district with b+w Kodak Infrared Film. Dahl forced me to somehow work around the fact that there was no way of taking pictures with back projection as the equipment necessary was not available at the time in Vancouver. The photograph of photographer (and yes art director!) James O’Mara was the result of Dahl’s prodding.

Chris Dahl & Malcom Parry
At other time he would use key words like, “Alex I want something monumental, something heroic.” As an example here there is this picture of body-builder Carla Temple.

My third very important influence was the multi-talented editor Malcolm Parry who played a bent soprano saxophone, was a terrific photographer and surveyor.

For the Carla Temple shoot and other women in that assignment, his command to me was, “Make sure they are wearing as little possible as they can.” And I must mention here that for the Greek columns in the Carla Temple shot, both Parry and Dahl helped me manhandle them from a CBC storage warehouse in Burnaby BC on to a rented truck.

And at one time when I became complacent, Parry looked at my pictures of a real estate/developer and told me, “You were just making the motion. Go back and do it right.”  And I did.


In a recent blog I posted a picture of writer Sean Rossiter. I looked at it and I remembered the sequence of events. Dahl knew what equipment I had and always asked me of my new purchases. One day he said, “I want you to photograph Vancouver Sun investigative business reporter David Baines with your new Nikon 85mm lens. I want you to use it wide open so we can have a shallow depth-of field. Months later Dahl had moved from Vancouver Magazine to Western Living and he assigned me to photograph featured writers (Rossiter was one of them). I was instructed to do the Baines technique in colour. So for the shot I did not use flash but the modeling lights of my flash system and in my Nikon I loaded it with Tungsten (3200degree Kelvin) Ektachrome.


James O'Mara

If I am still a good photographer today it has all to do with the excellent mentor/support staff that pushed me not to feel comfortable.


David Baines


Sean Rossiter



My Galatea
Thursday, December 01, 2016


Linda Lorenzo


Pygmalion (/pɪɡˈmeɪliən/; Greek: Πυγμαλίων, gen.: Πυγμαλίωνος) is a legendary figure of Cyprus. Though Pygmalion is the Greek version of the Phoenician royal name Pumayyaton, he is most familiar from Ovid's narrative poem Metamorphoses, in which Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with a statue he had carved.
Wikipedia

If there is anything I learned from working as a magazine photographer beginning in 1977,  it was the idea that my photographs had to illustrate, go hand-in-hand and even reinforce, elaborate and perhaps improve the story of the writer in question.


Pygmalion - Jean Raoux - 1717
 The procedure is that I would be called by an art director who would show me the manuscript. In later years these were faxed, mailed or emailed. In some rare cases the editor would be present and both the editor and art director might agree or not on the avenue to pursue. On some rare occasions I was given the delightful instruction, “Do as you please.”

In many situations strong art directors acted as editors. I remember Vancouver Magazine’s Art Director Chris Dahl telling Editor Malcolm Parry, “Alex has taken a really strong shot I want to use it as a two-page spread. Can you shorten the piece by 350 words?” Many writers I collaborated with never found this out! At one time writers were paid per word.

When I started writing my own stories I was in a direct and ambivalent conflict with myself. What was more important, what I had written or what I was going to photograph?

Now in my dotage without having to be under the thumb of editor or art director one of my most pleasant endeavours is to look at a picture I may have taken in the past,  stare at it, associate it with something in my head or a poem in my memory and write as I am doing now.

When I looked at this picture of Linda Lorenzo with a projection of a statue in the Buenos Aires cemetery of La Recoleta the first thought was about Pygmalion, the Ovid story. Then I thought how my mother took me in Buenos Aires as a little boy to see Pygmalion with her fave actor Leslie Howard and now one of my fave actresses Wendy Hiller. I then thought of the Calle Corrientes bookstore Pygmalion where my mother bought her books in English as I did in my 20s when I was stationed nearby as a navy conscript with the Senior American Naval Advisor Captain Onofrio Salvia USN. I further thought that Jorge Luís Borges was a frequent customer of Pygmalion and it was there that he was befriended by a clerk called Alberto Manguel. Manguel then became a reader for Borges as the poet was a blind man. It is most remarkable that as a blind man Borges was the head of the Mariano Moreno National Library for many years. And now Manguel is head of the same institution.

All the above by just looking at that picture of Linda Lorenzo. And then when I think about it after having photographed her for a year with my artist friends Juan Manuel Sánchez and Nora Patrich she was my Galatea.



A Maserati - an Overdue Library Book - Rachel Maddow & the US Election
Wednesday, November 30, 2016



A former dentist of mine had a sign in the entrance of his office:

Ignore your teeth and they will go away.

For years I did something similar with overdue library books. I put them in drawers and closed them shut. Then the overdue library book problem would not exist until I started getting large fine notifications from my Vancouver Public Library.

In the late 80s I was making a load of money taking photographs across Canada for annual reports. I was earning hefty day rates. My Italian repairman Girolamo (to protect him from harm I will not disclose his last name) called me up one day to tell me he had just the car to replace my Fiat (fix it again Tony) X-19. It was a maroon 1985 Maserati Biturbo. I fell for it and regretted that buy for years.

The horrible German transmission, a ZF, tended to clunk, the clutch slipped and water leaked into the gas, oil into the gas, gas into the oil, etc. Finally, I parked it in my garage like a library book. Many years later a crazy Spaniard (he told me he was a mechanical engineer) took it away for $500 and I felt a big heavy weight off my shoulder all gone.

Before the US election my Rosemary (48 years married) and I watched our hero Rachel Maddow and all her fine cohorts on MSNBC. We read everything we could from our expensive, daily-delivered NY Times. I even accessed CNN on my Samsung smart phone.

The day after the election, MSNBC and most of the editorials of the NY Times are inside a figurative drawer. We have not watched Rachel Maddow or the news at all. We find our afternoons strangely empty and we realize we must find some other pastime like reading real books. Perhaps that’s one for Trump in “my books.”

The story on Medium



Peace at Last
Tuesday, November 29, 2016





There is a little girl in the photograph below who was born in San Diego. She had big ears so perhaps you can spot her. She loves opera and has fairly liberal views about life. She is 8 years younger than I am. She lives in Barcelona. In my early life as a nasty and spoiled pre-teen I thought she was terrible, particularly because she was a little girl. I didn't like little girls. It took me a long time, once I was married and had two daughters to appreciate the charms of little girls. By then she had receded in my memory.

It is only recently, 59 years later that I have re-connected with her.



Tonight I was suffering from my perennial insomnia and suddenly I had a thought. I went to my family album and picked this photograph that was taken in a resort city (it was cooler) in Baguio in the Philippines. One of the women, standing on the left is my grandmother. The picture was taken around 1888. The woman sitting to my grandmother’s left happens to be my new friend’s grandmother. Her name was Paz.  All are dressed in costumes of the local natives called Igorrotes.

My life might have been different had I liked little girls then.



My Mondrian in Black & White
Monday, November 28, 2016





A topic that I keep repeating in these blogs is that I believe that what differentiates us from the other life beings of our planet is our human ability to associate.

Consider how the pictures here, taken some years ago (which I considered to be failures) in an Emily Carr College studio with my friends Juan Manuel Sánchez, Nora Patrich and our model Linda Lorenzo have made me associate them all with a white-haired architect via a BC Hydro electric substation on Burrard. And consider, too that in our task (Sánchez, Patrich, Lorenzo and I were all Argentines) we were projecting slides of scenes of the famous Buenos Aires cemetery La Recoleta.

Dal Grauer Substation

I photographed the architect Ned Pratt quite a long time ago. We became friends and I photographed him many times and the last time a couple of months before his death.

As a young partner of the Vancouver architectural firm Tompson, Berwick and Pratt he dispatched a young man to the Vancouver Public Library , then a modernist structure on the corner of Burrard and Robson. The boy was to look up Mondrian and to report back. 

Ned Pratt


That experiment in research became the Dal Grauer Substation (next to what was then called the BC Hydro Building and now is the Electra Building). Until the abandonment of its rich heritage value, the substation a living, three-dimensional Mondrian became what it is today, a forgotten structure that nobody seems to know exists. Perhaps the same could be said about Henry Moore’s Knife Edge sculpture at the top of Queen Elizabeth Park.

When I noticed these two negatives in my thick Linda Lorenzo file I thought immediately of a black and white Mondrian. And I know that my friend Pratt would have characteristically smiled with the intelligence, elegance and savvy that in this 21st century only architects might have. And of course thinking of Pratt takes me to associate him with Arthur Erickson, and then Ron Thom and from there Bing Thom and so on…

How images affected me 
Looking at the past to defy the present




The Dagger - El Puñal
Sunday, November 27, 2016







Sometimes the memory of a story I am sure I have read recedes from it. I believe that in the late 50 I read a story by Ray Bradbury about a man who manhandles his inanimate objects. One morning his electric razor is bent on revenge and attacks him.

It was on one of William Safire’s On Language columns in the Sunday NY Times Magazine that I first read about resistentialism.

My Wikipedia informs me:
Resistentialism

Resistentialism is a jocular theory to describe "seemingly spiteful behavior manifested by inanimate objects", where objects that cause problems (like lost keys or a runaway bouncy ball) are said to exhibit a high degree of malice toward humans. The theory posits a war being fought between humans and inanimate objects, and all the little annoyances that objects cause throughout the day are battles between the two. The concept was not new in 1948 when humorist Paul Jennings coined this name for it in a piece titled "Report on Resistentialism", published in The Spectator that year and reprinted in The New York Times; the word is a blend of the Latin res ("thing"), the French resister ("to resist"), and the existentialism school of philosophy. The movement is a spoof of existentialism in general, and Jean-Paul Sartre in particular, Jennings naming the fictional inventor of Resistentialism as Pierre-Marie Ventre. The slogan of Resistentialism is "Les choses sont contre nous" ("Things are against us").

I have long experience with the reality of existentialism. My flash cords and extension cables knot up and even though I am Alexander I cannot use that other Alexander’s method successfully without electrocuting myself. I can look at a piece of photographic equipment and it will fail. This is why I have always protected my very good reputation by carrying two of everything. My Rosemary has two peculiar talents. One is her inability to open jars and bottles and especially tamper proof medicine bottles. She can also flick an electrical switch and lightbulbs will burn out at what I am sure exceeds the statistics pf probability.

Resistentialism or a more intelligent (if I can say that) form of it is central in more than one Jorge Luís Borges story and poem and particularly in one called El Encuentro. There is no English translation of this short story that features armas blancas (the Spanish word for bladed weapons) that lie behind a glass cabinet. They, a particular two, are waiting to be grabbed by a hapless human so that both can perform what they have been designed to do which is to kill. In the case of El Encuentro the two knives do their damage and are returned to the cabinet, ready and wait for the next set of human hands. In a second El Puñal, a poem, it’s the same story but more subtle. The English translation is terrific as it it by the recently deceased Norman Thomas di Giovanni and expert translator of Borges and other Latin American authors




El puñal – Jorge Luís Borges

En un cajón hay un puñal. Fue forjado en Toledo, a fines del siglo pasado;Luis Melián Lafinur se lo dio a mi padre, que lo trajo del Uruguay; Evaristo Carriego lo tuvo alguna vez en la mano.

       

Quienes lo ven tienen que jugar un rato con él; se advierte que hace mucho que lo buscaban; la mano se apresura a apretar la empuñadura que la espera; la hoja obediente y poderosa juega con precisión en la vaina.

       

Otra cosa quiere el puñal. Es más que una estructura hecha de metales hombres lo pensaron y lo formaron para un fin muy preciso; es de algún modo eterno, el puñal que anochece mató a un hombre en Tacuarembó y los puñales que mataron a César. Quiere matar, quiere derramar brusca

sangre.



En un cajón del escritorio, entre borradores y cartas,

interminablemente sueña el puñal su sencillo sueño del tigre, y la mano se anima cuando lo rige porque el metal se anima, el metal que presiente en cada contacto al homicida para quien lo crearon los hombres. A veces me da lástima. Tanta dureza, tanta fe, tan impasible o inocente soberbia, y los años pasan inútiles.



The Dagger – Jorge Luís Borges – Translated by Norman Thomas di Giovanni

To Margarita Bunge

A dagger rests in a drawer. It was forged in Toledo at the end of the last century. Luis Melián Lafinur gave it to my father, who brought it from Uruguay. Evaristo Carriego once held it in his hand.



Whoever lays eyes on it has to pick up the dagger and toy with it, as if he had always been on the lookout for it. The hand is quick to grip the waiting hilt, and the powerful obeying blade slides in and out of the sheath with a click.



This is not what the dagger wants. It is more than a structure of metal; men conceived it and shaped it with a single end in mind. It is, in some eternal way, the dagger that last night knifed a man in Tacuarembó and the daggers that rained on Caesar. It wants to kill, it wants to shed sudden blood.



In a drawer of my writing table, among draft pages and old letters, the dagger dreams over and over its simple tiger's dream. On wielding it the hand comes alive because the metal comes alive, sensing itself, each time handled, in touch with the killer for whom it was forged.



At times I am sorry for it. Such power and single-mindedness, so impassive or innocent its pride, and the years slip by, unheeding.

[1954]



El Encuentro – Jorge Luís Borges

A Susana Bombal

Quien recorre los diarios cada mañana lo hace para el olvido o para el diálogo casual de esa tarde, y así no es raro que ya nadie recuerde, o recuerde como en un sueño, el caso entonces discutido y famoso de Maneco Uriarte y de Duncan. El hecho aconteció, por lo demás, hacia 1910, el año del cometa y del Centenario, y son tantas las cosas que desde entonces hemos poseído y perdido. Los protagonistas ya han muerto; quienes fueron testigos del episodio juraron un solemne silencio. También yo alcé la mano para jurar y sentí la importancia de aquel rito, con toda la romántica seriedad de mis nueve o diez años. No sé si los demás advirtieron que yo había dado mi palabra; no sé si guardaron la suya. Sea lo que fuere, aquí va la historia, con las inevitables variaciones que traen el tiempo y la buena o la mala literatura.



Mi primo Lafinur me llevó esa tarde a un asado en la quinta de Los Laureles. No puedo precisar su topografía; pensemos en uno de esos pueblos del Norte, sombreados y apacibles, que van declinando hacia el río y que nada tienen que ver con la larga ciudad y con su llanura. El viaje en tren duró lo bastante para que me pareciera tedioso, pero el tiempo de los niños, como se sabe, fluye con lentitud. Había empezado a oscurecer cuando atravesamos el portón de la quinta. Ahí estaban, sentí, las antiguas cosas elementales: el olor de la carne que se dora, los árboles, los perros, las ramas secas, el fuego que reúne a los hombres.





Los invitados no pasaban de una docena; todos, gente grande. El mayor, lo supe después, no había cumplido aún los treinta años. Eran, no tardé en comprender, doctos en temas de los que sigo siendo indigno: caballos de carrera, sastrería, vehículos, mujeres notoriamente costosas. Nadie turbó mi timidez, nadie reparó en mí. El cordero, preparado con diestra lentitud por uno de los peones, nos demoró en el largo comedor. Las fechas de los vinos se discutieron. Había una guitarra; mi primo, creo recordar, entonó La tapera y El gaucho de Elías Regules y unas décimas en lunfardo, en el menesteroso lunfardo de aquellos años, sobre un duelo a cuchillo en una casa de la calle Junín. Trajeron el café y los cigarros de hoja. Ni una palabra de volver. Yo sentía (la frase es de Lugones) el miedo de lo demasiado tarde. No quise mirar el reloj. Para disimular mi soledad de chico entre mayores, apuré sin agrado una copa o dos. Uriarte propuso a gritos a Duncan un póker mano a mano. Alguien objetó que esa manera de jugar solía ser muy pobre y sugirió una mesa de cuatro. Duncan lo apoyó, pero Uriarte, con una obstinación que no entendí, ni traté de entender, insistió en lo primero. Fuera del truco, cuyo fin esencial es poblar el tiempo con diabluras y versos y de los modestos laberintos del solitario, nunca me gustaron los naipes. Me escurrí sin que nadie lo notara. Un caserón desconocido y oscuro (sólo en el comedor había luz) significa más para un niño que un país ignorado para un viajero. Paso a paso exploré las habitaciones; recuerdo una sala de billar, una galería de cristales con formas de rectángulos y de rombos, un par de sillones de hamaca y una ventana desde la cual se divisaba una glorieta. En la oscuridad me perdí; el dueño de casa, cuyo nombre, a la vuelta de los años, puede ser Acevedo o Acebal, dio por fin conmigo. Por bondad o para complacer su vanidad de coleccionista, me llevó a una vitrina. Cuando prendió la lámpara, vi que contenía armas blancas. Eran cuchillos que en su manejo se habían hecho famosos. Me dijo que tenía un campito por el lado de Pergamino y que yendo y viniendo por la provincia había ido juntando esas cosas. Abrió la vitrina y sin mirar las indicaciones de las tarjetas, me refirió su historia, siempre más o menos la misma, con diferencias de localidades y fechas. Le pregunté si entre las armas no figuraba la daga de Moreira, en aquel tiempo el arquetipo del gaucho, como después lo fueron Martín Fierro y Don Segundo Sombra. Hubo de confesar que no, pero que podía mostrarme una igual, con el gavilán en forma de U. Lo interrumpieron unas voces airadas. Cerró inmediatamente la vitrina; yo lo seguí.



Uriarte vociferaba que su adversario le había hecho una trampa. Los compañeros los rodeaban, de pie. Duncan, recuerdo, era más alto que los otros, robusto, algo cargado de hombros, inexpresivo, de un rubio casi blanco; Maneco Uriarte era movedizo, moreno, acaso achinado, con un bigote petulante y escaso. Era evidente que todos estaban ebrios; no sé si había en el piso dos o tres botellas tiradas o si el abuso del cinematógrafo me sugiere esa falsa memoria. Las injurias de Uriarte no cejaban, agudas y ya obscenas. Duncan parecía no oírlo; al fin, como cansado, se levantó y le dio un puñetazo. Uriarte, desde el suelo, gritó que no iba a tolerar esa afrenta y lo retó a batirse.



Duncan dijo que no, y agregó a manera de explicación:



–Lo que pasa es que le tengo miedo.



La carcajada fue general.



Uriarte, ya de pie, replicó:



–Voy a batirme con usted y ahora mismo.



Alguien, Dios lo perdone, hizo notar que armas no faltaban.



No sé quién abrió la vitrina. Maneco Uriarte buscó el arma más vistosa y más larga, la del gavilán en forma de U; Duncan, casi al desgaire, un cuchillo de cabo de madera, con la figura de un arbolito en la hoja. Otro dijo que era muy de Maneco elegir una espada. A nadie le asombró que le temblara en aquel momento la mano; a todos, que a Duncan le pasara lo mismo.



La tradición exige que los hombres en trance de pelear no ofendan la casa en que están y salgan afuera. Medio en jarana, medio en serio, salimos a la húmeda noche. Yo no estaba ebrio de vino, pero sí de aventura; yo anhelaba que alguien matara, para poder contarlo después y para recordarlo. Quizá en aquel momento los otros no eran más adultos que yo. También sentí que un remolino, que nadie era capaz de sujetar, nos arrastraba y nos perdía. No se prestaba mayor fe a la acusación de Maneco; todos la interpretaban como fruto de una vieja rivalidad, exacerbada por el vino.



Caminamos entre árboles, dejamos atrás la glorieta. Uriarte y Duncan iban a la cabeza; me extrañó que se vigilaran, como temiendo una sorpresa. Bordeamos un cantero de césped. Duncan dijo con suave autoridad:



–Este lugar es aparente.



Los dos quedaron en el centro, indecisos. Una voz les gritó:



–Suelten esa ferretería que los estorba y agárrense de veras.



Pero ya los hombres peleaban. Al principio lo hicieron con torpeza, como si temieran herirse; al principio miraban los aceros, pero después los ojos del contrario. Uriarte había olvidado su ira; Duncan, su indiferencia o desdén. El peligro los había transfigurado; ahora eran dos hombres los que peleaban, no dos muchachos. Yo había previsto la pelea como un caos de acero, pero pude seguirla, o casi seguirla, como si fuera un ajedrez. Los años, claro está, no habrán dejado de exaltar o de oscurecer lo que vi. No sé cuánto duró; hay hechos que no se sujetan a la común medida del tiempo.



Sin el poncho que hace de guardia, paraban con el antebrazo los golpes. Las mangas, pronto jironadas, se iban oscureciendo de sangre. Pensé que nos habíamos engañado al presuponer que desconocían esa clase de esgrima. No tardé en advertir que se manejaban de manera distinta. Las armas eran desparejas. Duncan, para salvar esa desventaja, quería estar muy cerca del otro; Uriarte retrocedía para tirarse en puñaladas largas y bajas. La misma voz que había indicado la vitrina gritó:



–Se están matando. No los dejen seguir.



Nadie se atrevió a intervenir. Uriarte había perdido terreno; Duncan entonces lo cargó. Ya casi se tocaban los cuerpos. El acero de Uriarte buscaba la cara de Duncan. Bruscamente nos pareció más corto, porque había penetrado en el pecho. Duncan quedó tendido en el césped. Fue entonces cuando dijo con voz muy baja:



–Qué raro. Todo esto es como un sueño.



No cerró los ojos, no se movió y yo había visto a un hombre matar a otro.



Maneco Uriarte se inclinó sobre el muerto y le pidió que lo perdonara. Sollozaba sin disimulo. El hecho que acababa de cometer lo sobrepasaba. Ahora sé que se arrepentía menos de un crimen que de la ejecución de un acto insensato.



No quise mirar más. Lo que yo había anhelado había ocurrido y me dejaba roto. Lafinur me dijo después que tuvieron que forcejear para arrancar el arma. Se formó un conciliábulo. Resolvieron mentir lo menos posible y elevar el duelo a cuchillo a un duelo con espadas. Cuatro se ofrecieron como padrinos, entre ellos Acebal. Todo se arregla en Buenos Aires; alguien es siempre amigo de alguien.



Sobre la mesa de caoba quedó un desorden de barajas inglesas y de billetes que nadie quería mirar o tocar.



En los años siguientes pensé más de una vez en confiar la historia a un amigo, pero siempre sentí que ser poseedor de un secreto me halagaba más que contarlo. Hacia 1929, un diálogo casual me movió de pronto a romper el largo silencio. El comisario retirado don José Olave me había contado historias de cuchilleros del bajo del Retiro; observó que esa gente era capaz de cualquier felonía, con tal de madrugar al contrario, y que antes de los Podestá y de Gutiérrez casi no hubo duelos criollos. Le dije haber sido testigo de uno y le narré lo sucedido hace tantos años.



Me oyó con atención profesional y después me dijo:



–¿Está seguro de que Uriarte y el otro no habían visteado nunca? A lo mejor, alguna temporada en el campo les había servido de algo.



–No –le contesté–. Todos los de esa noche se conocían y todos estaban atónitos.



Olave prosiguió sin apuro, como si pensara en voz alta:



–Una de las dagas tenía el gavilán en forma de U. Dagas como ésas hubo dos que se hicieron famosas: la de Moreira y la de Juan Almada, por Tapalquén.



Algo se despertó en mi memoria; Olave prosiguió:



–Usted mentó asimismo un cuchillo con cabo de madera, de la marca de Arbolito. Armas como ésas hay de a miles, pero hubo una...



Se detuvo un momento y prosiguió:



–El señor Acevedo tenía su establecimiento de campo cerca de Pergamino. Precisamente por aquellos pagos anduvo, a fines del siglo, otro pendenciero de mentas: Juan Almanza. Desde la primera muerte que hizo, a los catorce años, usaba siempre un cuchillo corto de ésos, porque le trajo suerte. Juan Almanza y Juan Almada se tomaron inquina, porque la gente los confundía. Durante mucho tiempo se buscaron y nunca se encontraron. A Juan Almanza lo mató una bala perdida, en unas elecciones. El otro, creo, murió de muerte natural en el hospital de Las Flores.



Nada más se dijo esa tarde. Nos quedamos pensando.



Nueve o diez hombres, que ya han muerto, vieron lo que vieron mis ojos –la larga estocada en el cuerpo y el cuerpo bajo el cielo– pero el fin de otra historia más antigua fue lo que vieron. Maneco Uriarte no mató a Duncan; las armas, no los hombres, pelearon. Habían dormido, lado a lado, en una vitrina, hasta que las manos las despertaron. Acaso se agitaron al despertar; por eso tembló el puño de Uriarte, por eso tembló el puño de Duncan. Las dos sabían pelear –no sus instrumentos, los hombres– y pelearon bien esa noche. Se habían buscado largamente, por los largos caminos de la provincia, y por fin se encontraron, cuando sus gauchos ya eran polvo. En su hierro dormía y acechaba un rencor humano.



Las cosas duran más que la gente. Quién sabe si la historia concluye aquí, quién sabe si no volverán a encontrarse.







     

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5/8/16 - 5/15/16

5/15/16 - 5/22/16

5/22/16 - 5/29/16

5/29/16 - 6/5/16

6/5/16 - 6/12/16

6/12/16 - 6/19/16

6/19/16 - 6/26/16

6/26/16 - 7/3/16

7/3/16 - 7/10/16

7/10/16 - 7/17/16

7/17/16 - 7/24/16

7/24/16 - 7/31/16

7/31/16 - 8/7/16

8/7/16 - 8/14/16

8/14/16 - 8/21/16

8/21/16 - 8/28/16

8/28/16 - 9/4/16

9/4/16 - 9/11/16

9/11/16 - 9/18/16

9/18/16 - 9/25/16

9/25/16 - 10/2/16

10/2/16 - 10/9/16

10/9/16 - 10/16/16

10/16/16 - 10/23/16

10/23/16 - 10/30/16

10/30/16 - 11/6/16

11/6/16 - 11/13/16

11/13/16 - 11/20/16

11/20/16 - 11/27/16

11/27/16 - 12/4/16

12/4/16 - 12/11/16

12/11/16 - 12/18/16

12/18/16 - 12/25/16

12/25/16 - 1/1/17

1/1/17 - 1/8/17

1/8/17 - 1/15/17

1/15/17 - 1/22/17

1/22/17 - 1/29/17

1/29/17 - 2/5/17

2/5/17 - 2/12/17

2/12/17 - 2/19/17

2/19/17 - 2/26/17

2/26/17 - 3/5/17

3/5/17 - 3/12/17

3/12/17 - 3/19/17

3/19/17 - 3/26/17

3/26/17 - 4/2/17

4/2/17 - 4/9/17

4/9/17 - 4/16/17

4/16/17 - 4/23/17

4/23/17 - 4/30/17

4/30/17 - 5/7/17

5/7/17 - 5/14/17

5/14/17 - 5/21/17

5/21/17 - 5/28/17