Heraclitus The Dark & the Goghlan Train Station
Saturday, February 11, 2023
|Coghlan - my friend poet Rubén Derlis|
In 1962 for two years I attended the Mexico City University of the Americas where I took engineering (I failed electricity as I had no capacity for capacitance). I also studied philosophy with Spanish
philosopher Ramón Xirau. He instructed me well as I now
spend loads of time at night, on my bed, thinking about ontological mysteries.
Ramón Xirau & Epicurus
In my copy of Rex Warner’s The Greek Philosophers, Of Heraclitus of Ephesus (known as The Dark) Circa 500BC, Warner writes:
“How wide, various and deep was his outlook may be indicated by
the fact that when we read today the fragments which have survived, we are
reminded sometimes of a Hebrew prophet, sometimes of an oracle, sometimes of
William Blake, sometimes of T.S. Eliot and sometimes of such modern thinkers as
Hegel, Marx or Bertrand Russell.”
Here is the most famous known fragment from Burnet (op, cit,
41,42 You cannot step twice on the same rivers; for fresh
waters are ever flowing in upon you.
At age 80 I have given Heraclitus some thought and have come
up with a variation of that river that is related to my love of trains and of my
experience with them in Buenos Aires before we left for Mexico City in 1953.
We lived in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Coghlan. We
had a nearby train station by that name. Only recently did I find out that
Coghlan was an English railroad engineer. The British built the Argentine train
system (the trains run on the wrong side of the tracks).
The English Boy From Coghlan
From Coghlan I would ride with my mother to the next station
of Belgrano R where she taught at the American High School and a couple of
blocks away was the grammar school that I attended.
Often my mother, my father, or my abuelita would take me to
the end of the line, a cavernous station called Retiro, that looked very much
like the London stations. From there we would hop on the subway (el subte) and
go as far as Lavalle that then was the film theatre row.
Retiro - the train station
My first ontological connection with train stations happened
about a year ago when I dreamt I boarded my train in Coghlan and at every stop
people got off. When the train arrived at Retiro I was the only passenger.
would say that is depressing but the fact is that my family and friends are
dying and those who ditch their landlines are as good as dead if I cannot call
them. And then there is the increasing element of fading friendships.
My latest connection with Heraclitus and the Coghlan train
station is that the train stops and friends and family get off. We chat for a
while. Then they get on the train and I never see them again.
And now, when the train arrives, I am on the platform with
friends and relatives.
I am the one who boards the train.
The Age of Missed Communication & Not Having Sex With My Wife
Friday, February 10, 2023
According to my dictionary of the Spanish Language (RAE) the
word communication comes from the Latin.
Del lat. communicāre.
We all know how the Roman Empire was efficient. The Romans
pioneered the concept of well-constructed roads and built bridges (they
invented concrete) to bring communities across rivers together.
I remember my 20th century black dial phone in
Mexico City. When it rang I ran to answer it.
For this century I would like to coin the expression “the
age of missed communication”.
My writer friend Mark Budgen, who died 22 October 2015, was
a paragon of a calm stability. I now realize he was ahead of the game when back
in the 20th century I called him up and his answer was, “Alex, I
cannot talk to you as I am monitoring a fax.”
I remember that one of the sensibilities of the ever-polite
Canadians back in that 20th was that they said this when I picked up the
phone, “Am I calling you at the right time?” Sometimes, as a joke I would
answer, “I am having sex with my wife.”
In the last few years when I answer my landline (yes I have
one!) I like to sometimes say, “Burnaby Fire Department, may I help you?”
All that pleasant banter is all but gone. I have lost many
friends who have died. This happens when you reach my age of 80. Many others, in this more than three-year
pandemic, have “died” because they jettisoned their landline, they are not in
social media so I have no way of finding their cellular number. Some are in LinkedIn
which is all but useless if you want to call someone on demand.
It seems that the protocol is to text people, “Can I phone
you in a while? When would it be convenient?”
I had a pleasant many-year relationship at the Georgia
Straight with the Arts Editor Janet Smith, dance writer Gail
Johnson and editor Charlie Smith. I have left messages at Janet Smith’s and
Johnson’s on-line cultural magazine Stir with no response. I have called Janet
Smith at home. She has never answered or called me back. I have Twitter direct-messaged Charlie Smith to call me. He has not.
As an 80 year-old obsolete, redundant,
retired & inconsequential magazine photographer, I have indicated to these media folk that I am not trying to pitch
stories or ask for paying assignments. I simply want to connect and tie up
loose ends as my time on this planet is statistically short in question.
My good friend, former Straight Editor, Charles Campbell
says he is unable to email me back because he gets too many emails and is
I like to play a game where I write down a short list
(shorter by the day) of the phone numbers of people I want to talk to.
The reason I want to talk to people is that living alone
with two cats makes me eager to hear a human voice.
In that short list of 10, 8 will not answer. I may get one
answering machine or this, “Alex I am driving from North Van. I will call you
later." (they don’t), or a recent one, “Alex, I am at the optometrist. I’ll call
you later." (he did). Another time time when I called him, “I am buying
tomatoes. I cannot talk.”
I called a friend of many years in Memphis about 10 years
ago. When he answered he told me he hated to talk on the phone and, “Besides
since I read your blog every day, I don’t need to talk to you.”
Another friend, I finally located, asked me how my health was.
I told him that I was okay and that I took pills for a heart problem. His email
answer was, “You lied. I am going to block your emails.”
And so tonight 10 February, I can feel lucky that I can call
my Burnaby daughter Hilary and have a pleasant chat.
And that’s it.
Mark Budgen always knew.
Thursday, February 09, 2023
|Jessica, Terri & Lilli - 1994|
When Rosemary and I moved to our big corner garden home on
Athlone Street in Kerrisdale it coincided with a huge interest in gardening. I
was a member of the American Hosta Society and soon both of us were in the
Vancouver Rose Society, Alpine Garden Club and a few others. We would often go
to VanDusen and to UBC Botanical Garden.
Our garden became so beautiful and full of exotic trees and
perennials that busloads from the USA came to see it.
One of the pleasures of the garden was the visit of our two
granddaughters in the 90s on Saturdays. Their parents worked so we were the
The doorbell would ring. I would open the door and Rebecca
would say, “¿Cómo estás papi?” Behind her was the more taciturn Lauren.
They would run past the kitchen into the garden behind.
I had a perfect lawn. I had a lawnmower especially designed
for a close cut. When Rebecca was a baby we would spread a blanket on the lawn
and we exposed her (what did she know?) to opera and classical music.
In this century lawns are out. I believe that few of the
folk that deprecate lawns have ever experienced children rolling on them,
particularly if the lawn is insecticide/herbicide-free.
As a little boy in
Buenos Aires I would roll down the famous Barrancas de Belgrano sloped lawns
near the Belgrano C train station.
There is something about lawns. And there is something about
a beautiful mother and her two equally beautiful daughters lying on a lawn,
I can smell the grass. I hasten to include the term it is
The Unanswered Question
Wednesday, February 08, 2023
|Rosemary asleep with Niño - March 2020|
Jorge Luis Borges was asked what was poetry useful for. His answer:
Two people have asked me that: Y have told them, “What is
death for?”- “What is the taste of coffee for? – “What am I good for?” – “What
is the universe for?”- “What are we for?”- What curious questions are they not?
In the mid 70s, At Bellas Artes in Mexico City, I heard for the first time Charles Ives’s
1908 composition, The Unanswered Question. The work has haunted me for many
years. I have discovered that when we are curious enough to ask a relevant
question, the people who can answer it are long gone and dead.
The unanswered question never asked
The Unanswered Question satisfied us twice
I had the opportunity to ask my father in 1966 in Buenos
Aires why Argentine author Julio Cortázar had been his friend in the late 40s. But I did not. I remember in 1950 going out to buy an Argentine brand of cigarettes, Arizonas, for Cortázar who did not like my father's Player's.
In 1977 I went to buy some books at the Buenos Aires
bookstore Pygmalion and I was too stupid to ask the old blind man next to me
who he was. He was Jorge Luís Borges.
In my family there are many secrets that will remain so
as at my age of 80 those who would answer are dead.
But there is one ultimate question that my Rosemary asked
us minutes before she died on December 9th, 2020. She asked, “Am I
dying?” My memory has been blocked and I have no idea if anybody (my two daughters and granddaughter Rebecca were present) replied.
You can die of a heart attack on a street or in a terrible
automobile accident. But what is it like to know you are dying and to ask your
family if you are dying?
There is then more than one important question that can
never be answered with satisfaction.
Am I dying?
What is it like,what does it feel, to ask that question?
And the ultimate question, What is there after?