That Meandering Melancholy That Is Entropy
Saturday, May 19, 2012
In 1986 Rosemary, our two daughters and I moved to our present home on Athlone Street. As soon as we had purchased the corner house with a large garden I knew that I needed to buy something else. The house has two fireplaces. One is in the living room (we never use that fireplace) and the other in the den. I had second thoughts of having a stiff mortgage but Rosemary promised that if we bought the house the den would be called the smoking room and I could smoke my pipes and cigars in it. That did it and we signed on the dotted lines.
That first purchase was an antique, black slate, turn-of-the-20th century French mantel clock.
On our first night in our new house, as I lay in bed with my wife, I would peak outside the window and admire the fine view of 43d Avenue with its weeping birches. There was no Lougheed Highway. There were no neighbors on the other side of the wall as they were in our Burnaby townhouse. Best of all, the house was so quiet I could hear the chime of the clock from downstairs. It was sheer bliss.
A few days ago John Kessel a recently discovered German-born clockmaker who has rapidly become my friend brought a wonderfully repaired mantel clock. After all these years the clock went the way of entropy and the main spring broke and quite a few other parts followed suit. For about a year the clock lay silent and motionless. It was just another thing in our house that needed repairing. The roof might have to be done soon and the interior needs a paint job. We have four bathrooms but each one has some fixture that does not work. In one the leak underneath the tub needs to be seen to. We have been told that the only way is to make a hole in our living room’s vaulted ceiling.
Rosemary, when it is sunny puts sheets on the erstwhile beautiful wooden floors to slow the fading of the sun. It seems, sometimes like we are in a corner of a room which is the only place where things are as they were back in 1986.
For years we put most of our money into our children and grandchildren. What was left went into the garden. We bought premium plants and yuppie trees. I spent a fortune in all sorts of apparatus to have a perfectly manicured lawn. Our roses are the best.
But even our plants are showing entropy. Many of my hostas under the Western Red Cedar (all in protective plastic pots) have been attacked by an almost-intelligent root system. The Western Red Cedar has robbed my precious hostas of nutrient. Some have disappeared, others I have removed from their pots and nurtured back to life.
Trees have been dying and our beautiful Cercis canadensis
‘Forest Pansy’ is almost dead. I will have to cut it down.
It seems that it was only yesterday that in the height of summer we would place a blanket in the shade and put baby Rebecca on it while we all listened to Saturday Afternoon at the Opera. It was not quite yesterday that both Rebecca and Lauren would run in their lovely flower dresses on Saturday, right through the kitchen and out to the garden. We looked forward to these all-day visits and dinner at our large Victorian crank table.
But then everybody grew up as we the grandparents started manifesting our own personal entropy with pains, constipation, flaccidity, heartburn, etc. Our breakfast tray is now full of bottles with pills.
It was only today, the usual day when we get the girls come early afternoon, and then my daughter Hilary and her husband Bruce show up later for my home-cooked meal. I could hear Hilary telling Rebecca, the oldest granddaughter, that I was going to make shish kabobs and that it might be worthwhile coming. She then informed us that Rosemary would review Rebecca’s math after dinner, kyboshing our usual family movie session.
In a fit of temper I told them all that I was not going to cook and that I was not going to make my famous ice tea and that was that.
So nobody showed up and Rosemary and I ended up early in bed and the quiet in the house was so that our new repaired mantle clock chimed and we indeed did hear it.
All the above brought to mind a story Brother Hubert Koeppen, C.S.C.
told us in my 9th grade Ancient History class at St. Ed’s in Austin Texas. It was a story about a little boy who nagged his father to buy him a red tricycle. The purchase would make him the happiest boy in the world. The tricycle became a bicycle, a motor scooter, a motorcycle, a car, a red Ferrari… and so on. This was Brother Hubert’s so-called proof for the existence of God. Ultimately he was telling us, our desire for happiness could only be satisfied by the sight of God.
I am not entirely sure that Brother Hubert was right but I now understand, better than ever, that good things have a lifespan. Even new shoes get scuffed and suits become moth-eaten.
As I write this it is Sunday and I miss my granddaughters, my daughters and my friends who seem to be so far. I miss my father and my mother and the red-haired sister of mine that was born dead. I miss my childhood and galloping on the Argentine Pampa pursuing South American ostriches with the smell of rich humid earth and the occasional sight of a large Ombú.
I remember that day in 1967 when I gathered up enough courage to ask the blond, mini-skirted beauty, Rosemary Healey for a date. She got into my VW beetle and quickly did something that she has always done. She made herself comfortable on the seat by bringing up her lovely legs giving me glimpses of thigh that suddenly made the VW have a pair of stick shifts. It seems it was only yesterday.
But I can count my blessings - or at least one blessing. And that is that in this meandering melancholy that is entropy, I can at least share it with my Rosemary.
|Our bedroom - top windows - the boulevard and the birches
Rosemary is at Rebecca’s tutoring her in her math. I can hear the mantle clock. Most of the weeping birches on the boulevard have been long ago cut down.
Philip Langridge & His Paperclip Chain
Friday, May 18, 2012
In 2004 I was working for a local magazine that was the brainchild of an art director called Arto and an editor/writer called Lyndon Grove. Considering where journalism and magazines have been going in recent years with competition from the “it’s free” internet this pair was ahead of its time if not completely free of strict journalistic ethics.
For the average person out there (and this might have been the case until recently), this person would not understand that if a good newspaper or magazine interviews a movie star, politician or rock musician, under no circumstances would the paper or magazine pay the subject of the interview.
But ethics in journalism began to creep inexorably towards at least paying the subject if you have a look at some early films (from which magazines and papers took their cue) where all the cars would inexplicably be Plymouths. How could that be? Then we learned about paying and placing a company’s products in films. Nobody would question this anymore.
Magazines and papers would never tell their subjects what the article in question would be like. These subjects would have to wait for publication. Giving them an advance look at one time was anathema.
The folks at Achievers
(Arto and Grove’s glossy magazine) would approach real estate agents, business people, etc and would tell them, “How would you like to have an extensive article about you and your business in a magazine that will make it seem like it is all editorial? But, of course, just like paying for advertising you would pay us to place the “article” in the magazine. We would guarantee a positive piece with pleasant photographs.”
Achievers gainfully employed me for a couple of years until it folded. If you look at the Vancouver Sun’s section on real estate you might wonder if what you are reading is editorial or simply slightly couched advertising.
Sometimes you might read articles about kitchens in a shelter magazine and coincidentally you might note kitchen appliance ads on the same page. Coincidence? Probably not.
Philip Langridge heads the Churchill International Property Corporation in Vancouver. The pleasant and handsome man is a fan of Winston Churchill. He gave some of his children middle names featuring some of Churchill’s names. To me Langridge had a healthy obsession and when I was told by Arto to imitate Churchill’s portrait by Karsh I complied and had lots of fun.
The day of the session in my studio we were missing one crucial object which was Churchill’s pocket watch chain. Luckily I had lots of paper clips and made a chain from them.
The Phoner & Journalistic Ethics
Garbo Talks - Garbo Laughs - Jennifer Lines - Plays The Accordion
Thursday, May 17, 2012
I went to the Wednesday opening of the Arts Club Theatre’s production of Cole Porter's (music & lyrics) High Society
with book by Arthur Kopit and additional lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, directed by Bill Millerd at the Stanley with mixed thoughts (some dark ones) accompanied by Rebecca my 14-year-old granddaughter from Hades.
Her mother had warned me not to provoke her and to play it cool. My usual theatre companion is my fair wife but she had suggested that Cole Porter might do our Rebecca some good. I wasn’t sure.
The evening began wrong. I arrived at Rebecca’s house at 7:20 and found her barefoot on the sofa exercising her twin thumbs with her portable communications device. “Papi, you are early,” she said. “No,” I retorted (ah so gently!) because we have to pick up our tickets by 7:30. In the car she applied lengthy finishing touches to her face and was cross when we arrived on Granville and 12 in short order.
And before I continue this account (will it be favorable?) I must point out that I am such a Cole Porter fan that I have the out-of-print cassette tape Cybill Does it to Cole Porter.
But then I am also a fan of Shepherd as nobody who usually wears satin and pearls can do any wrong.
Also, while I like Katherine Hepburn I was always madly in love with Grace Kelly. Could Jennifer Lines do either of them?
And finally one of my favourite angst-ridden Vancouver actors is Daniel Arnold. How could he sell out to a musical?
And before I forget, I cannot stand the sight or sound of the accordion.
In spite of all those warning lights the evening began with tickets on the third row dead center. Seats cannot be any better than that. I knew these were good seats because Dal Richards and wife were on our row, two seats away. Richards is a bit deaf so he sits where he can best hear. That was good.
The evening began better when I noticed the startling inclusion of Cameron Wilson on violin in the orchestra which also had Graham Boyle on percussion (I was a fan of his when I first heard him a million years ago at the Classical Joint) Henry Christian on trumpet (who sometimes polishes up and plays that wonderful flugelhorn
), Tom Colclough on clarinet, Ken Cromier on keyboard and Neil Nicholson on trombone.
Some might know that Cameron Wilson played for the VSO and plays for Joe Trio. But few might know that he is a talented composer who recently wrote a tone poem based on a poem by Pablo Neruda on the sea for the Vancouver Philharmonic Orchestra. And even fewer might know that Wilson is one of the funniest persons in town.
We knew we were in for a fun night when Jennifer Lines (playing the high society Tracy Lord) and Bridget Esler (playing Lord’s younger sister Dinah) did a number together. It was an over-the top performance that included excruciating French, bad ballet and some efficient accordion playing by Jennifer Lines (who could have possibly have known that a woman who is handy with handling asps could also play this instrument?). This scene performed in the presence of Daniel Arnold (playing Mike Connor) and his photographic and sometimes mate Liz Imbrie (played by Lauren Bowler) brought down the house in laughs and I let go and relaxed as I watched Rebecca laugh to tears.
As for the rest of the cast I can assert that Mother Lord (Nicola Lipman) was as funny as could be and I would like to see her purported and famous impersonation of Topol’s Tevye, and Todd Talbot can dance just fine when he jumps over a small sofa with what seem to be impossibly long legs.
But if there was going to be anybody competing with our Jennifer Lines, it wasn’t a gin fizzed Norman Browning playing Uncle Willie (sometimes and sometimes not and funny either way), or Steve Maddock who could have been my Rebecca’s father’s older brother he looked so much like him. No, competition came from Lauren Bowler’s Liz Imbrie. Kudos to whoever did her hair. It was gorgeous as was her voice. But the high moment came when during a dance Bowler noticed a stray black lace handkerchief on the floor. What to do? Leave it? Would someone trip? She deftly picked it up and stuffed it between you know what! And she did not lose a beat.
At the end of the show I discussed with Richards the sounds of the orchestra. We loved the violin and in Just One of those Things
the sound of the trombone, clarinet and the violin combined was sheer pleasure. In fact when we weren’t laughing I was enjoying a little orchestra that could and did play with class. As for that fine clarinet player (Tom Colclough) you must all know that Dal Richards's
first instrument was never the sax but the clarinet. So he knows.
Watching Daniel Arnold (as a commie-leaning idealist who convincingly sang Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
) convert to capitalism with the help of generous imbibing of Vive Clicquot made me realize why indeed that other commie, played by Greta Garbo did indeed laugh in Ninotchka
. But at the end of a splendid night there was one fact that lingered in the air and that is that Jennifer Lines indeed did play the accordion. And not too badly.
|My personal copy
María & Dominga Persist In My Memory
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
|María & Dominga
At one time I was defined by many as a celebrity photographer. During my era as a celebrity photographer the name of the game was access. Film directors would come to Vancouver to promote their films. I would be dispatched by the Georgia Straight
to some downtown hotel where I would face directors like Martin Scorsese in their hotel room. I never believed in the snapshot and the ease of shooting them. I preferred to use a medium format camera and I brought lights. In most cases these celebrities appreciated the extra effort and they would sit and pose for me. Every once in a while I had to photograph people who were not famous and in some cases not known at all. Perhaps 8 or 9 years ago this pair of Guatemalan weavers came to Vancouver in some sort of exchange program. I was given the task of taking their photographs. It was perhaps then that I began to grow interested in taking pictures of “every man”. These were portraits in which I could concentrate on getting something else out of my exposure.
I love this double portrait and I wonder what might have happened to María and Dominga. Is this moment in front of my camera as forgotten by them as I have forgotten? I cannot remember their voices or their last names. But their haunting eyes have always persisted in my memory.
The Grand Coulee Dam
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Most would be correct in saying that I am a portrait photographer. But, every once in a while, it is thrilling to photograph an inanimate object that somehow, because of its size and noise, has a life all of its own. A case in point is the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State.
Rosa sericea ssp. omeiensis f. pteracantha
Monday, May 14, 2012
|Rosa sericea ssp. omeiensis f. pteracantha
Every year I watch for the first rose bloom in my garden. I don’t acknowledge Rosemary’s early spring bulbs. When I think of flowers I think of roses and the first rose of the season is my occasion to celebrate. For the last many years the first to bloom, with some competition from the rose illustrated here, has always been the startlingly white rose, Rosa ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’
- but not this year. In the fall, the three sturdy canes of the rose had no new buds. I had only one possible remedy for this. This was to cut it almost to the ground and pray. This spring one of the canes had buds. They are growing now but the flowers will be sparse and late in the season. The rose is in the almost full shade kitchen bed. It needs to get height in order to reach the light.
Nearby is a species rose with a special name (for me). It is Rosa sericea ssp. omeiensis f. pteracantha
. It has two claims to fame besides a name that makes it sound like a species of flying dinosaur. This is the only rose (as far as I know) with four petals. Species roses have five. In the late summer Rosa sericea
develops some very large prickles that in backlighting become blood red. Another feature, not usually mentioned is its fine small leaved foliage. It is shade tolerant and grows quickly.
It is the first rose of the season in my garden today. The day is a hot one. Rosemary and I have been puttering in the garden moving plants around. It is the best part of the year. It is that part before the roses begin to bloom and you can anticipate sitting in our bench with our two cats, Casi-Casi
while sipping iced tea.
Sunday, May 13, 2012
|Ivette Hernández, a mamacita
In Spanish we call our mothers mamá
and when young mami.
The diminutive of mami
would be mamacita
. But a mamacita
is not a small and cuddly mother in Mexico. She is a well-built woman with curves in the right places. And better still would be a mamazota
. She is even better (but not necessarily bigger) than a mamacita
. A mamacita
could also be a lechugita
which should mean a small lettuce but is in fact a mamazota
We in Spanish speaking countries know instinctively where we come from. That is why the word matriz,
or womb is used as casa matriz
to denote the head office of company.
Things get a lot more complicated in Mexico. In Mexico mother’s day is on the 10th of May. This fact opens many funny possibilities since Mexicans have a strange relationship with the word for mother in Spanish, madre
Mexicans prefer to use the word
mamá. The reason is that madre has more than one meaning. It does mean mother but it is also about a place (nobody knows where it might be) called la madre
. Thus the expression “te voy a dar en la madre
” or a loose translation “I am going to give it to you in your mother” means that I am going to mess you up, (fu.. you up, do you in) if you do not behave or do as I say. Ask any Mexican where this madre
is and they will smile but not answer. That place called madre
does not exist. Or at least it does not exist in a particular place.
To further complicate things mother, consider that the Mexican expression “no vale madre
” (it is not worth a mother”) is used to define anything that is worthless or no good. In comparison to excellent Macs, PCs “no valen madre
And yet you would say in Mexican Spanish that an excellent Mac is padre
(father). And if especially good it would be “bien padre”
Which brings us to the joke about the 5th of May. On this day the Mexican army defeated the French army in Puebla in 1862. As soon as the American Civil War was over the French had to leave Mexico and left Maximilian to be shot by Juarez’s army.
Since the 10th of May is mother’s day, then the 5th of May, to use the Mexican expression is “el día de la media madre.” I cannot begin to try to translate and interpret “half mother day”, except to point out that it sounds obscene. On that 5th of May the Mexican army “le dieron en la madre a los franceses”.
I forgot, if a Mexican woman calls you (a man I presume) "papacito" that's good, it's a paternity sweet! Also if a man says, "¡Áy, mami!" to a beautiful woman passing by in the street, it has nothing to do with things mother.