A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.
The Inconsequence of my need to know
Saturday, June 29, 2019
June 28 2019
My need to know is no longer as important as it once was..
People might come to my garden and point at one of my hostas
and say, “I have one of those.” That is next to impossible. The tag on my hosta
is Hostatardiflora, a dark green
hosta with narrow leaves that flowers in September and not in June when most
hostas bloom. Tardiflora came smuggled between two newspapers in my luggage
ions ago from some hosta convention in the US.
My plants of late are teaching me to let go at this once
important desire to know everything about events that framed, formed and made
My mother used to tell me that I had a sister (born dead)
with red hair. I never bothered to ask her when that had happened.
I never asked my mother how she met my father and why
exactly, when the publisher of the Buenos Aires Herald offered my father the
job of editor, that my father threw an inkwell at him.
I never asked my father why it was, that he and Julio
Cortázar were friends.
My mother told me that my father danced the tango divinely but
another woman who had married my father mentioned that he swam divinely and
that she did not know he danced the tango.
All those empty enigmas now are not important. Suffice that
I even remember some of them and that time has made most of those memories good
ones while the bad have dissipated and found oblivion in my memory.
All the above is a prelude to the rose you see here. After
we moved from our big house in Kerrisdale almost four years ago, the new owner
more or less had the garden plowed. He did that to our laneway garden. Before
we had moved many of the roses we took to our daughter’s home in Lillooet.
Other roses were dug up by members of the Vancouver Rose Society.
In spite of the plowing a few leftover roses came back up. One
of them is the one here. I have no idea what it is. I suspect it is some sort
of Gallica but that’s it.
Most of the plants in our small garden have the proper
labels that identify them, Three roses (including this one) don’t. Many hostas
I took to Lillooet have had their metal tags either lost or the grease pencil
name erased by the inclement weather.
Is this important? Must I know what rose this one here is?
I sort of relish the moment (I will be long gone) when
someone will go through my photo files and not know who this person is or why
they are posing the way they are.
In the end, the identity of all things is inconsequential
when one looks at it from the other side.
Today at the Mayne Island Trading Post I nearly purchased
a bottle of Argentine Chardonnay.
My friend, Marv newland, that classical expert on old fashioned animation (free of
computers and using the elaborate and painstakingly slow method using cells) sent me the above email today. Anything related with Mr.
Newland will make anybody and particularly this guy smile. Newland could have a
second career in police departments abroad as a mediator to prevent people from
Only someone who knows Newland intimately (I am not one of
them) could figure out the purpose of his communication or why it was he did
not purchase the Chardonnay.
Figuring out that Chardonnay thing is for me a tad more
difficult since I am not a connoisseur of drinking or of wines. I divide wines
into two categories. There are the ones that are acidic that make me shake and
those (watered down perhaps?) that do not.
The reference to Argentina and to wine immediately took me
to Buenos Aires in 1966 when I arrived to Buenos Aires for my conscription duties.
I “won” the lottery system and instead of getting 12 months in the army it was
to be 24 in the Armada República Argentina (the navy).
At the time my first cousin and godmother Inesita O’Reilly
had recently become a widow. She met and married the widower Dolfi Kuker. Between
them they had 8 children. They would sit at a Hollywood film style table (very
long) and accompanied by boyfriends, girlfriends and cousins. It was quite a
table. I remember that there were finger bowls and the women ate their oranges and bananas with the help of a fork and knife.
Immediately Kuker offered his services and influence (for a
while he had been the mayor of Buenos Aires) to prevent me from being sent to a post
in the Argentine Arctic or in some naval base where I would be at the mercy
from corporals up. He said that he could get me on the Argentine Navy training
ship ARA Libertad ( a lovely steel-hulled,
full-rigged, class "A" sailing ship). I told him that I suffered from
terminal seasickness and motion sickness from swings and trams to cars and
He then placed me as an aid and translator to the Serior US Naval Advisor
Captain USN Onofrio Salvia. This ultimately saved me (except for boot camp
refreshers) from those nasty corporals and I had a desk job with an Argentine/Irish
secretary called Edna Gahan. I was the only sailor in the Argentine Navy
allowed (or I simply got away with it) who smoked a pipe with imported
In the late 80s I went to Buenos Aires for a Toronto based
magazine run by Malcolm Parry. Kuker got me access to everything including the
Jockey Club. He took me on a lovely boat trip on the Paraná River delta Tigre.
Always he was a warm, kind and soft-spoken man whom I quickly
learned to adore. Because Kuker was a staunch Roman Catholic and I had been
educated in a Catholic boarding school in Texas we had many a discourse on
Christianity. I remember giving him a copy of Graham Greene’s Monsignor Quixote
in my silly attempt to show how some men ultimately doubted their beliefs. It is only now that I have learned to appreciate tolerance and that was something that Kuker had in spades.
It was sometime in the early 90s that in another trip to
Buenos Aires, one evening Kuker told me, “I know you don’t like wine but I
think you will like this one. It is called Torrontés.” He offered me a glass of
a very cold Etchard Reserva Especial white wine. My first sip felt like I had just bitten
a mouthful of green grapes. He explained that the grape was brought to
Argentina and that nobody except Argentines used the grape.
So when I must offer friends and visitors wine I open a
bottle of Kuker’s Torrontés. Why?
In the New Testament Gospels (my fave is the King James Version)
Christ parts the bread at the last supper and says,”Do this in remembrance of
And so it is with the Torrontés. I remember that kindly man.
I would not know what to do with an Argentine Chardonnay.
One of my favorite photographs. This is the first costume
I ever wore. For my first ever dance. My audition at the NO5 Orange for
the Matriarch Brandolini. First song ‘Black Magic Woman’
In the early 80s Vancouver was known internationally for the quality of its ecdysiasts (look up the word).
My writer friend Les Wiseman, who wrote a rock column for Vancouver Magazine called In One Ear, and
I had to go to late night concerts to review bands and to interview
them backstage. Wiseman was not only a connoisseur of ecdysiasts but
also of fine brews. This meant we ended up in many of our city’s pubs
that featured that high and fleeting art called dance. We had our faves.
Looking back I now see them as roses in my garden. My favourite on any
day is the one in bloom on that day.
both Wiseman and I were musical snobs (he trained me into that) we were
conscious of the music that these lovely women chose for their
This brings me to Miss Mew.
was not called Miss Mew. I gave her that name. Her stage name was Topaz
and those who knew her well called her Fleen. She is filed in my
collection of negatives and slides as Fleen.
was something cat-like about her slow dancing and that enigmatic stare
of hers that would break out into a tiny almost indiscernible smile. Her
skin was a luminescent white and it wasn’t until one day that she
visited us at our Railway Club lunch soirées that I found out that her
face was all freckles!
music was mostly Lou Reed. That was enough for both Wiseman and this
poor photographer. And I was a poor photographer not only financially in
those years but also in my skills. Notice
the chopped hands and legs of these shots. I had to remove strands of
hair from her face that I had not noticed in my Burnaby basement studio.
But in spite of it all Miss Mew shines in a way that any time I post a picture of her in social media she is noticed.
friends used to laugh at me for my obsession on going to see Miss Mew
perform. I may have been a poor photographer then but I knew enigmatic
beauty when I saw it.
Best of all Miss Mew is proud of her former profession.
Not too long ago I asked my Argentine rugby-playing nephew
Georgito why it was that there were so many large ads in Buenos Aires featuring
women in bikinis flogging toothpaste. He looked at me incredulously and asked
me, “Are you gay?” I am sure that it was all in jest but it is difficult for me
to fathom how I would explain to my ultra Roman Catholic family in Buenos Aires
of the events related to all the genders (a new one every day) that are
happening right now right here. He would not understand that the rainbow of
yore has been re-possessed.
Most of my life I have been a naïve kind of person. Most
stuff goes over my head. When my pioneering-spirited Rosemary suggested in 1975
that we move to Vancouver I told her I would become a photographer in our new
city. On our way to Vancouver in our VW Beetle we stopped in Disneyland. I
dropped Rosemary with our two daughters Ale and Hilary and I drove off to a
large camera store where I splurged on equipment.
In Vancouver finding a job as a photographer. I remember
going to London Drugs attempting to get a job there at the camera counter. The
manager asked me what I was. I answered, “I am a portraitist.” Raising his
voice he told me,”I went to Carleton and I don’t call myself that!”
So for a couple of years I washed and rented cars at
Tilden-Rent-A-Car. As I attempted to improve the quality of my photography I
was hampered by not having purchased lights in Los Angeles. A gay weekly
publication called Bi-Line came to the rescue.
With a pile of Bi-Lines this naïve guy went to our Burnaby
Bank of Montreal on Willingdon and Hastings to borrow money for the equipment.
The dour, grey haired older woman of Scottish heritage was the lending officer.
She asked me for collateral. I put a pile of Bi-Lines on her desk. She leafed
through them (lots of male nudes and pictures of drag queens) and said, “You
seem to be good. How much money do you need?”
The pictures you see here (fixed as to not offend the higher
authorities) I took for a Bi-Line spread in which I had no idea of what I was
doing and that as a product of those times you might perhaps understand as to
why those skis are there. The couple (who obviously had nothing in common)
might have skied all day and were now relaxing in a hot tub with drinks. The
young man was not too interested in the large breasted woman so he preferred to
read an issue of Bi-Line with my cover shot.
The cover shot was a picture of a
beautiful young blonde male dancer languidly resting on a tree limb upside
down. He was supposed to be Adam. Eve (now lives in Italy) was nearby, but she
was soon replaced by a handsome, dark-haired young man. The story was an essay
on the possibility that an alternate paradise was the real thing.
I look at these photographs and I don’t cringe. I smile.
They may be in bad taste and my only excuse was complete ignorance. But at the
same time they are a portrayal of events in the late 70s that would eventually
propel us all into this 21st century.