|Rosa 'Princess Alexandra of Kent' & Rosa 'St. Swithun' 29 June 2023|
Until I left Buenos Aires for Mexico City in 1953 in our Coghlan neighbourhood, I was called el inglesito (nationalities are never in upper case in Spanish). I spoke English but was perfectly fluent in Argentine Spanish.
My father was born in Buenos Aires but his parents were from Manchester. My mother was from Manila but her maiden name was the Basque de Irureta Goyena.
In Mexico my grandmother was the de facto cultural attaché of
the Philippine Embassy. We went to many of their cultural gatherings. Paradoxically because of it my grandmother gave large parties in our house and her guests were the Mexican muralists and writers.
Until my mother sent me to a boarding school in Austin, Texas in 1958 we lived the high point of Mexican filmmaking, literature, etc.
Four years in Austin made me feel not only an American but somehow also a Texan. I know how to hook’em horns.
In 1966 I went to Buenos Aires to fulfill my obligation as a conscript of the Argentine Navy. I swore allegiance to our flag in a tearful ceremony made up of hundreds of sailors in their dress uniform.
I returned to Mexico in 1967 and in short order I married my Canadian Rosemary and we had two daughters born in the Tacubaya neighbourhood of Mexico City.
We drove to our new home in Vancouver in 1975 and some many years later I became a Canadian citizen.
In 2000 I became enthralled by the concept (I was slow!) that in order to feel nostalgia for a place you have to be somewhere else. With Argentine artists Nora Patrich and Juan Manuel Sánchez we had a show we named Argentine Nostalgia.
For years I photographed Ivette Hernández (from León Guanajuato) on the theme of my Mexican nostalgia. I jokingly tell friends that If I were to live briefly in Venice I would want to photograph a woman with an umbrella and pursue my Canadian/Vancouver nostalgia.
And so it goes the complex feeling in me of belonging to all the above places and somehow not belonging to any of them.
My mother used to smell me behind the ear and would tell me I had the scent of an Englishman. I am crazy over properly made loose tea (I have ten tins of the best variety of tea) and only before Rosemary died did she reveal to me that she hated my cucumber sandwiches with homemade mayonnaise.
I remember well June 2 1953 in Buenos Aires as my mother called me to lunch and instructed me to wash my hands and knees. I told her. “Mother I cannot as I am listening to the coronation of my queen.”
This confusion on my many national nostalgias I believe is a pleasant one. When I run into people from the US, from Texas, Argentina, Mexico and Canadians (when abroad) I can switch my accents to the proper lingo of the place. It is fun.
At the same time I think of a Spanish word arraigado, which means to be close to something or place, and wonder what it would be like to be from Nanaimo and never having lived anywhere else. What would my nostalgia be?
I enjoy reading Jorge Luís Borges as he is part of movement in Latin America called costumbrismo. This is literature, art and music from one place. Argentine tango is really the music of one city, Buenos Aires, and Borges often wrote of corners in Buenos Aires that I have known exactly. Americans cannot trace jazz to one city. I wonder what Canadian literature is of one place.
Meanwhile I scanned two English roses, Rosa ‘St. Swithun’ and Rosa ‘Princess Alexandra of Kent’ and conjured this blog as an excuse to illustrate it with the scan.