A Memory Through a Vaselined Lens
Saturday, October 12, 2019
It was in 1953 that my mother took a trip of exploration to
Mexico City from our then home in Buenos Aires. My grandmother had suggested we
look for another place to live because of the mounting crisis with Perón.
She came back from a country that was all exotic for me. Not
being from Mexico we in Argentina pronounced the country in Spanish as México
without using the softer h to replace that x. My mother told us of volcanoes
and mountains, of tortillas and Aztecs. It seemed all like a fairy tale to me.
Somehow I have never lost that feeling that Mexico is as
exotic as India or China. There is that additional connection that I have with
its language, that I was raised there in the golden age of Mexican art and
film, that I married a luscious blonde from Canada there, that we visited my
mother who lived in that ancient port city of Veracruz, that our two daughters
were born in Tacubaya in Mexico City and probably best of all that my hobby
interest in photography became a profession there.
After settling down in our new home city of Vancouver I
returned to Mexico as I wrote here
But there was an incident in that year in Oaxaca that left
me with that question mark that is at the end of “what would have been if I had
I wrote about that here
. And I have pretty well left it
receded in some corner of my receding memory.
Until last night, when I was ordering and filing all my Mexico slides,
b+w negative and colour negatives from my several visits there.
In a b+w contact sheet taken with my Mamiya and with the
only lens I had at the time, a wide angle (for the 6x7cm format) 65mm, I
spotted five frames of that lovely Mexican woman called Ana Victoria.
I had sudden rush of feeling almost similar to that of
seeing photographs by Timothy O’Sullivan of American Civil War soldiers at the
Lincoln Library in Buenos Aires when I was 8 or 9 years old. The pictures were
of men that looked very much like the men walking outside on Calle Florida. The
pictures of Ana Victoria (I have no memory of having used that unwieldy Mamiya
RB-67) I had never noticed or seen before. I look at the pictures (they are strangely new) and I wonder what ever happened to her. Is she
alive? Is she happy?
And what would have happened had I accepted her invitation
to fly with her to Puerto Escondido? Would I be writing this now? From here?
But there is one most negative addition. Why would I have
spread Vaseline on a clear filter to soften the surround area of my full-length
portraits of Ana Victoria? The pictures look dreamy because of the effect but
they are also a blur in my memory.
Appraisal of the Family Jewels
Friday, October 11, 2019
Since I was a little boy I was fascinated by my grandmother
and mother talking about “the jewels”.
My grandfather Don Tirso de Irureta Goyena wooed my
grandmother María de los Dolores Reyes (who was living in Manila) from Paris by sending her jewels he had
made for her there. This was a vast collection of lovely jades, pearls and
diamonds that slowly with the financing of the divorces of my Aunt Dolly and Uncle Tony (both in
Buenos Aires) was reduced to what was left when my mother died.
I will never forget that my Aunt Dolly called me on that day
to tell me that it was a pity that my mother had died while being a thief.
Years ago when I photographed P.D. James
I told her that her
novels were strange for me as most murders and criminal altercations in her
books were due to wills and last testaments. She was accurate in this I have
since then realized.
My grandmother died without a will so my aunt and uncle
wanted to divide those jewels in three parts. I told my mother that since we
had the key to the bank safety deposit box her brother and sister could take a
Not part of that collection was a beautiful Spanish fan that
was owned by my concert pianist great aunt, Buenaventura Galvez Puig. The fan
had her name in emeralds and diamonds. When my Aunt Dolly and my mother laid claims
to it my mother told her sister to remove and keep the stones. We still have
that fan. The idea that my Aunt would have pawned the whole fan was anathema to
Part of that lore of my boyhood was listening to my
grandmother and mother talk about the jewels that they kept in a locked, black
strong box. My grandmother might have asked, “Are you going to wear the little
angel, the heart of diamonds or the jades to the party?” In other occurrences
they would talk about the Hungarian jeweller called Verga. I would blush as in
Argentine Spanish that is an item that a man has that women don’t have.
As a young teenager in Mexico City there were trips to the
Banco de Londres y México on Balderas in downtown where the two would open that
safety deposit box to return or take out some piece of jewelry. We keep our valuables in a box at the Bank of Montreal.
At age 77 my Rosemary are putting together a will with ample
assistance from our Kerrisdale branch of the Bank of Montreal.
Today we went to Harling’s Jewellers, downtown. We were met
by a pleasant gentleman in a back alley of Howe who directed us to an
underground parking lot (the jewellery company does not have a store front but
a splendid showroom in an office space). I felt we were dealing with spies in a
secret operation! But the procedure has all to do with the company's concern of safety and the protection of clients coming to see them.
Christian Fernández, a pleasant cababayan, gave us an
immediate assessment but we will get an official appraisal (he told us the
difference between those words) in a week.
Before today we had divided the jewels into those that were obviously
valuable from those, that while not being worth as much, carried a sentimental
value. Fernández weighed the gold and checked for karat stamps. Few of the jewels had those stamps but the jades had Chinese stamps. We found out some interesting facts. One was that gold unlike other metals does not have a smell. He was able to discern this in my Rosemary's grandmother's gold watch (a mass produced Elgin we were told) and could smell copper in the alloy.
Rosemary and I will inform our two daughters of our action
and it is our hope that somehow the collection will remain as one.
P.D. James might have had something to say about this.
Thursday, October 10, 2019
When my Rosemary, our two daughters and I moved to Vancouver
in 1975 I had the illusion of becoming a photographer. This dream did not come
easy but looking back, had we moved from Mexico City this year, my prospect of
ever becoming a photographer here would be close to zero.
One of the best sources for photography in 1975 was that of
the magazine, any magazine. And to that one could add newspapers.
It wasn’t until 1977 that I started getting work from
Vancouver Magazine. By the 80s I was being paid (airfares included) to go to
man places around the world to take photographs and to write. That kind of work
I must stress now is all but gone.
My first job involving travel did not pay. I made a trade
with Mexicana de Aviacíon to take photographs in exchange for airfare and hotels.
My client besides the airline was a now long defunct local travel magazine.
I went to Mexico and wherever I wanted to go I was given a
green light. One place I was intrigued by was a new Mayan ruin by the sea
called Tulum. Can Cun did not yet exist.
In yesterday’s blog
about Tulum I mentioned a coming storm.
What is interesting is that the picture illustrating this blog I took perhaps
30 minutes before as it is one frame before that of the bather.
Again I must point out that the colour negative, a 6x7cm
one, has deteriorated in my files which are in all metal cabinets and get no
I look at this attractive Mexican woman knowing that she
would now be perhaps 60 years old. If I had a record of her name that is long gone.
A little bit of my memories seems to dissolve day after day. The negative is
proof that the memory once had a reality that was tactile but I can only
imagine the smell of the sea and the quality of the white sand.
Enorme mar, corazón fiero
Green Angels in Yucatán
Enorme mar, corazón fiero
Wednesday, October 09, 2019
Esta foto la tomé en Tulum en 1977 cuando los turistas aún no lo habrían descubierto y el concepto de la Riviera Maya estaba en el futuro. Me acuerdo que una tormenta se venía cuando vi a esta hermosa mujer. Le pedí que me posara y tomé exactamente cuatro fotos con mi Mamiya RB-67, una cámara bastante grande. Empezó a llover y nunca le pude preguntar su nombre o de donde era.
En los 40 años transcurridos el negativo de color ha deteriorado. La película de color negativa siempre fue inestable.
Mi recuerdo del mar furioso, ahora que he descubierto la maravillosa poeta argentina Alfonsina Storni, me trae a esa curioso hábito del fotógrafo de revista (que fui) de siempre intentar combinar imagen con lo escrito. En este caso creo que lo he logrado.
Frente al Mar - Alfonsina Storni
enorme mar, corazón fiero
desigual, corazón malo,
más blanda que ese pobre palo
pudre en tus ondas prisionero.
dame tu cólera tremenda,
pasé la vida perdonando,
entendía, mar, yo me fui dando:
piedad para el que más ofenda».
vulgaridad me acosa.
han comprado la ciudad y el hombre.
tener tu cólera sin nombre:
fatiga esta misión de rosa.
vulgar? Ese vulgar me apena,
el aire y donde falta quedo,
no entender, pero no puedo:
vulgaridad que me envenena.
empobrecí porque entender abruma,
empobrecí porque entender sofoca,
la fuerza de la roca!
el corazón como la espuma.
soñaba ser como tú eres,
las tardes que la vida mía
horas cálidas se abría...
soñaba ser como tú eres.
aquí, pequeña, miserable,
dolor me vence, todo sueño;
dame, dame el inefable empeño
tornarme soberbia, inalcanzable.
sal, tu yodo, tu fiereza.
mar!... ¡Oh, tempestad! ¡Oh enojo!
de mí, soy un abrojo,
mar, sucumbo en mi pobreza.
alma mía es como el mar, es eso,
ciudad la pudre y la equivoca;
vida que dolor provoca,
pueda libertarme de su peso!
empeño, mi esperanza vuele...
mía debió ser horrible,
ser una arteria incontenible
A Door Into Summer
Tuesday, October 08, 2019
That singular pleasure of the photographer who is able to
photograph a person more than once and sometimes many times over the course of passing
years is a reminder on how we change. This goes both ways even if I am the one
behind the camera. My subjects might note spots on my hands, thinning gray hair and
permanent bags under my eyes.
This singular pleasure has a parallel with inanimate
objects. I could add plants and trees not inanimate at all.
In the lovely colonial capital of the Mexican State of
Guanajuato, also called Guanajuato, a large percentage of the gold and silver
by the end of the 18th
century came from a nearby mine called La
Valenciana. With a large portion of extra money floating around a baroque
church called San Cayetano was built right by the mine.
In the 13 or 14 times that I have visited Guanajuato through
the years I always stopped to stare and admire the door to the entrance of San
Cayetano. While it may have survived perhaps three hundred years, time is
beginning to deteriorate it. This colour picture I took sometime in the early 80s.
In 2005 my Rosemary and I returned with our granddaughter
and I knew I was going to take one picture of her at the door. This I did.
Perhaps as the door deteriorates further in a few years we
can return and photograph Rebecca at some glorious stage of her 20s.
I remember that the picture of Rebecca was on a hot day in summer. As a teenager I read Robert Heinlein's The Door Into Summer. Of how he came to write it Heinlein said:
Its title was triggered by a remark which my wife Virginia made when our cat refused to leave the house: "He's looking for a door into summer."
From Khachaturian to Copland - A Mexican Implausibility
Monday, October 07, 2019
|Teatro Juárez, Guanajuato, Guanajuato|
Of late I have been hopping on my personal time travel
machine - my memory.
I have lived in this 21st century 19 years but at
my 77 years I consider myself a man from the 20th. I am not as Paul
Theroux wrote about Graham Greene, “An Edwardian on the Concord”. But I did
grow up without a telephone and a refrigerator and my first view on a TV
happened in 1953. I flew in almost brand new Douglas DC-3s in 1955 and a brand new Packard in that same year.
I was raised by my mother and grandmother. Both were
musicians. My mother was a pianist and abuelita a coloratura soprano who was
never able to sing professionally in the turn of the 20th century
Manila because those women who did were considered to be prostitutes.
My Aunt Dolly played a so-so violin but my uncle Tony was a
What that meant is that my mother and I would take tram 35
from the Coghlan street of Nahuel Huapí to my grandmother’s downtown flat on
Rodríguez Peña. She had a piano. My mother would play Beethoven and Mozart
sonatas and some Chopin. Then American Broadway songbooks would be opened and
my grandmother and uncle would sing accompanied by my mother. Aunt Dolly would play her scratchy violin
but I have no memory of what it was that my mother accompanied her. My fondest
memory is my mother playing the Moonlight Sonata.
As a ten year old that I was I can assert that I was bored.
As I look back on that bygone century I realize that the
music that was available to my family was limited to sheet music and a few
expensive LP records. By the time we moved to Mexico in 1954 the situation was
a tad better. The first house we rented had a device that was called a high
fidelity record player.
By early 70s my mother told me her desert island choice had
to be Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. I remember that her recordings (Dutch I
think) had an oboe or a clarinet playing the trumpet part of the Second
In 1973 Rosemary and found ourselves not being able to pay
the rent. My mother who was quite deaf by then sold her piano to help us. I
remember the agony of her playing the music and telling me she had to imagine
what it sounded like.
Both my mother and grandmother had opinions on music that
they often repeated to me:
1. Mozart was impotent.
2. There were no great English composers after Purcell.
3. Bach was God.
4. The best Spanish music was either by Frenchmen, Lalo and
Ravel, or Cuban, Ernesto Lecuona.
5. There were no good female French popular singers.
6. My mother loved Grieg.
I believe that these opinions were based on a poor
availability of music. Some of the music they knew of because they could sight
read music they purchased at Ricordi (look that up).
I don’t think my mother ever knew about Mexican composers
or 19th century American composers except for the New Orleans born Louis MoreauGottschalk.
In the 70s I discovered Aaron Copland by the circuitous
route of a version of his Hoedown by Emerson, Lake & Palmer. I fell in love
with Copland’s music.
During the 50s, 60s and 70s going to the movies meant one
had to sit for close to one hour of government propaganda. Bits of Copland’s El
Salón México were constantly used as background music. I never stopped to learn
that the music, so Mexican sounding was not that of Chavez or Revueltas but of
My grandmother would have categorically opined the best “serious”
Mexican music was by an American.
But there might be a reason for Copland’s Mexican sound. Salón
México is a 1949 Mexican film noir directed by Emilio Fernández and co-written
by Fernandez and Mauricio Magdaleno. It stars Marga López (and Argentine) as a
dance hall prostitute (commonly called cabaretera) struggling to support her
younger sister at an exclusive upscale school.
There was such a place as Salón México and it seems that
shortly before Copland composed his piece he sat at a table of the joint!
These days of impending rains and cold have me suffering
lovely bouts of nostalgia for my Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Veracruz (Americans
used to like to write that Vera Cruz) and Nueva Rosita Coahuila.
I was too young (14) and stupid to understand that my
grandmother a diplomat from the Filipino Embassy in Mexico routinely gave
parties in our large home and that the guests included Diego Rivera, Siqueiros and
Alma Reed. I was not aware that the 50s were the golden age of Mexican cinema.
How was I to know that one of the finest cinematographers of all time was
I miss the smell of suddenly wet earth at the end of the
Mexican rainy season. I miss the ochres and the oranges of the winter
mountains. I miss the warm humid smell of descending from the altitude of
Mexico City upon arriving on Córdoba, Veracruz on our way (Rosemary and me) to
the port where my mother lived. I miss the friendliness (if sometimes
artificial) so different to the coolness (in my eyes) of Vancouver residents. I
miss seeing doors that are 500 years old and over-the-top baroque churches in
the style of Churriguera.
And to finish this diatribe of my vernal nostalgia, I
miss the implausible, surprising and extraordinary variety of Mexico and Pedro Armendariz's moustache
On one of my visits to the lovely town of Guanajuato in
the State of Guanajuato I entered the Juarez Theatre, an end of the 19th
century opera house built with the gold and silver mines of La Valenciana near
I sat down in the sumptuous theatre and an orchestra
played Aram Khachaturian.
And because we live in the 21st century there is this terrific YouTube video of Aaron Copland directing El Salón Mexico in Carnegie Hall and narrated and introduced by Leaonard Bernstein.
El Salón México
And that is not all. You can view on your phone or your computer monitor Salón México, the film that inspired Copland.
Salón Mexico - Film