Of silver the slender knives - Alejo Carpentier
Saturday, August 12, 2023
Slowly I am getting my house back to the way it was before
the terrible flood almost two months ago. I am putting my framed pictures up.
In a cardboard box I found today lots of stuff that was taken from our guest
bathroom.Most of it is silver from the family that has been handed down from
the end of the 19th century.
I know what every piece is but I am not sure that either of
my two daughters or granddaughters will be interested in inheriting them.
There is a difference why these are a treasure for me. The folks who owned them were
people I knew well, my abuelita Dolores Reyes de Irureta Goyena, my mother
Filomena Cristeta de Irureta Goyena Hayward, my father George Waterhouse Hayward,and of course, yours truly Jorge Alejandro Waterhouse-Hayward.
Why am I writing about the silver? I had this urge to polish
all of it as I used to do this with my mother and then with Rosemary. As you
polish the silver you get those memories. Many of the silver articles were
those that my mother used to use when preparing herself to go to work or to a
party. I would watch her. She always complained about brushing her long hair
and how unmanageable it was. She would tell me that when her grandmother
brushed it would hurt and she would cry. Her grandmother Buenaventura Gálvez
Puig would say, “To be a lady a woman must suffer pain.”
In the photograph there is a fork and a silver glass. These
were my grandmother’s from the private school she went to as a little girl. The little oval shaped piece was her sewing kit.
My father’s mate is on the top right and the facón (the
gaucho knife) given to me by my sailor companions when I left Buenos Aires are
both made of a lesser quality Argentine silver called Alpaca.I long for the visit of my granddaughter Rebecca who likes to sip mate with me. She is the only one.
Next to the knife is my Sterling Silver Mappin & Webb
birth spoon that was given to me by my Aunt Inez Barber. She wanted to be my
godmother but was denied as the arch-conservative Roman Catholics of the moment
said that was impossible as she was divorced. Her new husband, Alejandro Ariosa
was clean of marital husband and was my godfather and that is why my middle
name is Alejandro. The little spoon with the curved handle was my baby spoon.
There is a lovely round powder case given to my mother when
she left the Aluminio School in Veracruz.
My most favourite silver piece is the round receptacle in the middle that was in my family since I can remember. When you open it there is a glass inside (that it never broke is a miracle) in which my mother put butter or jam for our afternoon tea.
All the above gives me the excuse to place here again
that wonderful enumeration (an explanation of what that is can be found in the link below) by Alejo Carpentier from his short novel (novella)
Concierto Barroco (same title in English)
The Fantastic Enumeration
Of silver the slender knives, the delicate forks; of
silver the salvers with silver trees chased in the silver of the hollows for
collecting the gravy of roasts; of silver the triple-tiered fruit trays of
three round dishes crowned by silver pomegranates; of silver the wine flagons
hammered by craftsmen in silver; of silver the fish platters, a porgy of silver
lying plumply on a seaweed lattice, of silver the saltcellars, of silver the
nutcrackers, of silver the goblets, of silver the teaspoons engraved with
initials…All these were being born gradually, without haste – carefully, so
that silver should not bump against silver – toward the glum, waiting penumbras
of wooden cases, of slatted crates, of chests with stout locks, overseen by the
master in his dressing gown, who made the silver ring from time to time when he
urinated with stately stream, copious and percussive, well aimed into a silver
chamber pot, the bottom decorated with a roguish sliver eye soon blinded by the
foam which, reflecting the silver so intensely , ultimately seemed silvered
Barroco, Alejo Carpentier (translated by Asa Zatz).
Borges - Ese curioso color del colorado
Friday, August 11, 2023
|Rosa 'Darcey Bussell' 11 August 2023|
One of the advantages of me being bilingual (although I must
add that I can speak Texan and both Argentine and Mexican Spanish and I have a
smattering of Tagalog) is that I can read in two languages. And especially, that
I now have so much time in my hands waiting for my eventual departure into
oblivion, I am constantly comparing words in both Spanish and English.
It is practically impossible to translate in short sentences
into Spanish- I was being tail-gated and I was rear-ended. The same happens if
you try to translate a lecture handout or the word oblivion or nothingness.
But Spanish does have some wonderful nuggets particularly
when you read Jorge Luís Borges. In my fave poem of his, La lluvia (in Spanish
particularly in book or poem titles only the first word is capitalized), he uses
a fabulous group of words that simply has no equivalent translation into
English. The word compartir, to share in Spanish literally means to break bread with...
reveló una flor llamada rosa
curioso color del colorado.
It was revealed to him a flower called a rose
That curious colour that is red (colorado) is lost in
Ese curioso color del colorado - Borges
El simulacro - borges
Lost in translation is really that here in my Vancouver I
live in a world that is North American-central (minus Mexico) so everything we
read is about culture in the US and Canada.
This is sad as there is wonderful Latin-American culture
(and literature) that is virtually unknown. While now dead Brazilian Clarice Lispector is
becoming rightfully known, many other novelists and poets don’t register like
the proto-feminist Argentine poet Alfonsina Storni. Who may have read that
one-of-a-kind novel Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar? Gabriel García Márquez is well known but
there is an equally good Colombian writer called Álvaro Mutis. Does anybody
read the magnificent Mario Vargas Llosa (still writing) or the Spaniard Arturo
Clarice Lispector - trying to photograph perfume
Del colorado al amarillo - Julio Cortázar
Álvaro Mutis - Las uñas
How many know that one of the best Mexican writers,
Homero Aridjis (also an environmentalist) has his poems and novels translated
into English right here in Vancouver by our first Vancouver Poet Laureate
Homero Aridjis - Hotel Geneve - A tourist in Mexico 1934
While I do not read Portuguese I have read all of José
Saramago’s output in Spanish. Has anybody read his The Gospel According to
Jesus Christ where Christ beds Mary Magdalene and she teaches him to be a
man? Or that whimsical novel An Elephant’s
Journey about the first elephant to
arrive in Europe (Vienna 1551)?
José Saramago - Lanzarote
These writers give you another side to writing so
dominated by the very good concept we in the West have about Faulkner and Hemingway.
And finally to the crux of this blog which is my
obsession to reading Jorge Luís Borges. His many poems about shutting doors for
the last time or wondering if the image on the mirror will be the last one is
constantly in my thoughts.
The Agony of Compulsion
Thursday, August 10, 2023
|Rosa 'Ebb Tide' & Hosta 'Patriot' 10 August 2023|
In 1960 I went with my mother in Mexico City to see
the film Compulsion.
Compulsion is a 1959 American crime drama film directed by
Richard Fleischer. The film is based on the 1956 novel of the same name by
Meyer Levin, which in turn was a fictionalized account of the Leopold and Loeb
murder trial. It was the first film produced by Richard D. Zanuck.
Although the principal roles are played by Dean Stockwell
and Bradford Dillman, top billing went to Orson Welles. Wikipedia
The film was about the real life murder perpetrated by a
couple of friends Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. Their excuse was that they
wanted to demonstrate their superior intellect in making a perfect crime (it
wasn’t) and that they felt like it.
The above has been in my thoughts for some days. In my American
History class at St. Edward’s High School our teacher, Brother Francis Barrett,
C.S.C. had told us about what by then was called the Leopold and Loeb Murder.
What has been in my mind is that word compulsion and the
agony (it is) of going through it. I am not meditating on a perfect murder. I
am simply compelled to scan my plants every day and the scan count is now well
over 3000 of them since I began in the summer of 2001.
As I snip my plants I know that I am well ahead of my
initial purpose of reproducing the plants of my garden accurately. The scans
were beautiful nonetheless (this is a word I seem to like to use). I scanned a
rose or a hosta flower. It could have been a hydrangea or a monarda. Now I find
myself looking for combinations where I scan two or more as companions. In today's scan I demonstrate that I now almost always go beyond the one scan and I go for artsy variations.
Because my philosophy instructor Ramón Xirau at the
University of the Americas in Mexico City in 1962 was a Platonist (he never
told us he was one, I just suspected) I have now adopted the Platonic World of
Ideas in the sense that when I scan a plant I scan its very essence.That essence that makes
it what it is. In a lesser degree I use the method when I take portraits of
people. I try to draw out that essence.
There is something extra that occurs with my plant scanning
particularly when the plant scanned dies or I give it away.
My first scan was Rosa “Reine Victoria’. She was a difficult
multipetalled Bourbon Rose that hated our wet springs. She died a couple of
years after 2001. That extra is that I believe that by having that essence scan
of the rose, in a way, I have the plant even though it is not in my
All that brings me to the real agony of my compulsion.
Every scan in some way brings the memory of Rosemary and her plants and that
this plant was her plant.
When I look at my
photographs of my Rosemary I wonder, if as with my plant scans, I have with me (and
within me) a Platonic Essence that is (not was) Rosemary?
Robbie Robertson's Cohiba
Wednesday, August 09, 2023
|Robbie Robertson - July 5 1943 - August 9 2023|
At my age, about to be 81, the constant death of people I
have photographed, who many times are younger than I, unsettles me.
What is worse for me to learn about the death of Robbie Robertson today
and the fact that I photographed him on October 1994, makes me think, “My
Rosemary was alive then.”
It is also a sobering reminder of my soon to reach (I studied statistics in university) oblivion.
It was at about 1994 that my eldest daughter
Alexandra started my filing system and she did it in wonderful alphabetical order. When I
removed Robertson’s file today I instantly thought of her and I had to call her
(she lives in Lillooet) to thank her for making me organized.
Mr. Robertson and a few other men I photographed smoking a
cigar enabled, me to connect with them, because in those days I smoked cigars.
You might have been poor but you could still buy a foot long Montecristo Claro
With Robertson we discussed three brands that were then unavailable
in the US and how lucky we were, that we could smoke the Cuban-made Cohibas
(his choice), H. Upmanns and Montecristo Claros (my choice) in Canada.
I may have told him the story of Montecristo cigars. It
seems that when women were rolling the cigars (on their thighs) in Cuba they
had a reader. Their fave author was Alexandre Dumas and their novel of choice
was The Count of Montecristo.
I do remember telling him that author Len Deighton in his Cookstrip
Cookbook had something to say about smoking a cigar with or without the paper
band. We both agreed that a good deal of the pleasure in smoking a cigar was following the protocol and tradition.