In Canada it's Tilden, Me & Vancouveria hexandra
Saturday, September 10, 2022
|Vancouveria hexandra and maple 10 September 2022|
|Rosemary in Chapultepec Park circa 1970|
blogs I have written often on how Argentine I feel. I have even indulged in the
idea that because of my five years in Austin I am Texan and most of all with
all my time 10 September in Mexico
(Mexico City, Veracruz and Nueva Rosita, Coahuila) that I have nostalgia for
I know of
something around the idea that there is no fate in one’s life and that
coincidence happens more often than not. I will elaborate how today 10
September when I spotted a dark maple leaf on my 7th Avenue
sidewalk. I picked it up and suddenly I was overcome with the emotion of how
Canadian I feel that I am. This is in the heels of my have written a blog on
the 8th of my Argentine Englishness which hit me upon finding out about
the death of Queen Elizabeth.
so-called fate about ending up in Canada and Vancouver began when as a little
boy in Buenos Aires my grandmother told me how it was that when she became a
widow around 1920 she and her two daughters and son emigrated to (bizarre to me
even now) to the Bronx. She told me that they boarded a Japanese cargo ship in
Manila and that it dropped them of in a place, “Un lugar con montañas y árboles
y se llamaba Van-coo- ver.” Furthermore she told me that they boarded a train
in a cavernous train station (the downtown ex-CP Station) and went to Montreal
and from there to New York.
returned to Buenos Aires in 1965 to do my military service in the Argentine
Navy I spotted a curious monument outside the Retiro Train Station. It was a
Canadian totem pole. In 1963, Kwakiutl carvers Henry Hunt and his son Tony Hunt
Sr. had been commissioned by Ambassador Bower to carve a 20-metre (66 ft) totem
pole for the plaza called Plaza Canadá. It was carved from a 2,000-year old
British Columbia red cedar, the totem pole depicted an eagle, a killer whale, a
sea lion, a beaver, and a cannibal bird called a hok hok. After being shipped
to Buenos Aires, the pole was erected in Plaza Canadá in May 1964.
When I left
Buenos Aires on 8 December 1966 to return to my mother’s house in Veracruz I
boarded an ELMA (Argentine Merchant Marine Company) Victory Ship called Río
until a few years ago that I found out that Liberty and Victory ships were WWII
cargo ship wonders that were built as fast as the German Navy sank them. The
assembly of these ships was the brainchild of Edgar Kaiser’s father Henry. I
also found out, to my surprise, that the Río Aguapey had been built in the Burrard
course all this became my fate when I met my Rosemary Elizabeth Healey in late
1967. I married her in Feb of 1968 and we had two daughters. In 1975 she
informed me that we were moving to Canada. She said that I would never learn
French in Montreal and I would not like the Toronto snow.
Vancouver, I tried to get work and the
only job I found was washing cars for Tilden-Rent-A- Car on Alberni Street. I
was promoted to counter clerk and when I answered the phone I was instructed to
answer (proudly they insisted),”In Canada it’s Tilden’.
I kept my
Argentine passport for many years and chose not to become a Canadian. Then I
did become one in 1992 but kept my Argentine passport and citizenship. Al that
changed when later on when I arrived on a family trip to Buenos Aires my
passport was stamped “annulled”. It seems that consular passports had that
happen when one arrived in Argentina. A friend of my half-brother was a police
chief. He took me to the Casa Rosada and I was able to obtain instantly a
passport. The police chief told me that the next time I returned to Buenos Aires
to make sure I travelled with a Canadian passport.
I tell my BA family that if I lose my driver’s license I get a temporary one
without a lineup and that a new one is mailed to me in a few weeks. They do not
new-found love for my Canada and my Vancouver is on the other side of the coin
that is all about my grief for Rosemary.
me is Rosemary and she is Vancouver. Curiously while reading Julio Cortázar’s
Rayuela (a few months before Rosemary died and it did take me about four months
to read it) I found in Hopscotch that in Paris Cortázar wore a flannel lumberjack
shirt when it was cold. He calls it a canadiense!
Rags, flags & citizenship
As for the
shiny green leaf in my scan her it is Vancouveria hexandra. It was a favourite
ground cover of Rosemary’s. It was not available in Vancouver until the late
grew in Washington State but seemed to respect borders. An enterprising
nurseryperson imported it. I proudly display it in my garden.
Furthermore when I would go shopping on 41st in Kerrisdale and I would often spot a very tall and handsome man. I would cross the street to greet him. He was Patrick Reid who was singly responsible in the design of our Maple Leaf Flag. Imagine living in a country and running into that man!
Our Canadian Maple Leaf Flag
How was I
to know all this when I boarded the Río Aguapey?
Jorge Luís Borges & His Yellow & Black
Friday, September 09, 2022
|Rosa 'Sombreuil' 9 September 2022|
Argentine writer Jorge Luís Borges became completely blind he could discern
some colours like green and yellow. Red became a problem and when he was
completely blind, paradoxically, one of the colours he missed was black.
one of his favourite colours and wrote lots about it including how he would sit
in front of the tiger cage in the Buenos Aires Zoo to admire the yellow stripes
of the tigers. He did not like lions in spite of the fact that they, too were
writer, he disliked lions as they reminded him of dogs.
Los Colores de Borges
Dream Tigers At the Buenos Aires Zoo
I did not
know all the above on April 13, 1966 which was a Saturday. On April 8 Time Magazine
had published its famous Is God dead? cover. I was reading it on the bench in
front of the tiger cage of the Buenos Aires Zoo.
Argentine Navy admirals had yet to dictate that summer was over, I was
wearing my navy white uniform. De rigueur, I had removed a handkerchief from my
pants pocket and dusted the bench. When I took the train or buses I never sat
down. My uniform had to be spotless or I might find myself cleaning the kitchen
bell at the Secretaría de Marina which fed thousands.
remember reading the Time article. It was a sunny day and I was not going to
have it affect my wellbeing. At the time I was more or less a devout Roman Catholic.
September 2022, I look at that memory of sitting opposite the tiger cage with a
little regret. Had I persisted I might have run into the man who could still
since my eyesight is very good I do note some yellow in this 1850 French
rose that is very happy in my garden and has been flowering since the beginning
My Argentine Englishness
Thursday, September 08, 2022
|Left La Torre de Los Ingleses in Buenos Aires, Right my mother's English butter dish|
The English Boy from Coghlan
Un Inglesito en Coghlan
On June 2,
1953, in Buenos Aires, I remember exactly what I was doing. My mother said, “Alex, wash your
hands and knees (I wore short pants, I was 10 years old) and come to lunch.” I
answered, “I cannot because I am listening to the coronation of my queen.”
date, a few hours before the queen’s coronation began at noon, New Zealand born
Alleyne Cook was the gardener and the only man working in Constance Spry’s
School for Girls in London. Spry told Cook, “You are going to have to cut quite
a few flowers as we are in charge of decorating Westminster Abbey for the queen’s
confusion on the above is that since Buenos Aires was four hours behind London,
I must have been listening to a delayed broadcast if I was about to have lunch
is complex. My mother was born in Manila and her mother in Valencia. Her father
was basque. My father was born in Buenos Aires but his parents were from
Manchester and they had moved to Argentina in 1901.
In 1947 my
father, mother and I moved to the very English neighbourhood called Coghlan.
Coghlan was the name of the nearest train station and it was named after an English train engineer.
Most of my
very English family lived either in San Isidro or Acasusso. My guess is that
Coghlan was perceived as being English because of the train station's name.
By 1948 I
was “el inglesito” on Melián where we lived. I had two friends one Miguelito,
who was Italian was “El Tano” and my other friend Mario who was a German Jew
was “El Ruso” as even now Buenos Aires Jews are called Rusos as the majority of
them came from Russia before the wars.
At home we
spoke English. My father was very English and he was journalist for the English
paper, Buenos Aires Herald. he smoked Player's Navy Cut Cigarettes and loved gin.
at the Coghlan station, the streetcars (tranvays) and the subte (our subte)
all arrived on the wrong side of the station tracks. They had all been built by the
I must stop
here, that for me, it will always be England and English and I will never utter
British or UK!
two year stint in the Argentine Navy in the mid 60s I was taught that the
stripes on my navy collar represented Admiral Horatio Nelson’s victories.
founder of our navy Almirante Guillermo Brown, while having been born in
Foxford, Ireland we Argentines have always considered him to be English.
the navy there was an obscure provision that said that any conscript that
donated blood was subject to a day off the next day. I abused this privilege by
donating every two months at the Hospital Británico. The folks there gave me a thé completo with scones, cream and jam
and a generous cup of tea.
went to visit my father’s brother Uncle Freddy who was born in Buenos Aires but he
always talked about going home to England. He proudly wore his school blazer
from St. Andrew’s Scots School. His wife, my Aunt Iris, made the best devilled
ham I have ever tasted. By then I was smoking a pipe so Uncle Freddy and I
would smoke our English pipes together.
Irish side of the family, the O’Reillys few spoke English but my first cousin
and godmother Inesita O’Reilly Kuker (she became a widow and married a German
Adolfo Kuker) spoke English beautifully. In 2006 my Rosemary and I took our
granddaughter Rebecca to Buenos Aires.
Rebecca, “You are going to meet Inesita today. The queen of England talks like
her. This is because while they both sound the same Inesita is older than the
I share my
Englishness with Jorge Luís Borges who
had an English grandmother and was raised by an English nanny, Miss Tink.
liked to smell me behind the ear and then blow gently into it. She often told
me, “Alex you smell like an Englishman.” Or she would tell me that my father
sounded and looked like the very English David Niven.
And so I
close this blog today, the day of my Queen’s death with this feeling that I feel as English today as
I did back in 1953.
this blog is my mother’s butter dish. She often told me that she was very
attached to it. It has been prominently displayed on the many dinner tables we
have had through the years. Once a month I polish it to perfection.
Sweet Juliet & Evelyn Hart
Wednesday, September 07, 2022
|Rosa 'Sweet Juliet' 7 September 2022|
dagger! This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die.
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
it is impossible not to think of Evelyn Hart’s Juliet in Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and
Juliet when I spot the fragrant, apricot English Rose, Rosa ‘Sweet Juliet’ in my garden.
There is that
moment where she spots the special potion on a little table that will put her to sleep. She tiptoes ever so elegantly towards it and then wavers and
tiptoes back. It is at that moment that this Argentine/Latin macho can
The rose, a
very large bush, used to be in our Kerrisdale garden by the 43 Ave boulevard.
There was lots of shade but she was and is shade tolerant.
A couple of
days ago I spotted some blooms here in my kits garden and I snipped them to
scan them. I know there will be more blooms in a bit. But anytime you spot a
rose in September you wonder if it will bloom again in the year. Is it its last
loved white and blue so she adored white roses. But it took her a while and
eventually she grew to like red, orange, yellow and apricot coloured roses. She
thought I had too many pink ones.
in my Kits garden, every day reminds me of Rosemary. When it begins to decline
(now) I associate it with her own decline before she died on 9 November 2020.
I cut Sweet
Juliet and enjoyed scanning it. Scanning puts me at peace but at the same time
I feel that melancholy that I cannot share that with Rosemary.
because of a rose which reminds me of Evelyn Hart.
Preténdeme blanca, preténdeme nivea, preténdeme casta
Tuesday, September 06, 2022
|Rosa 'Sombreul' 4 September 2022|
quieres alba - Alfonsina
quieres de espumas,
quieres de nácar.
rayo de luna
copas a mano,
frutos y mieles
en el banquete
en los jardines
hacia los bosques,
salitre y agua;
con los pájaros