Tag Archives: Hedda Armour

I Want to Be Evil (Or Maybe I’m an Overachiever)

IKEA finally delivered my bookshelves and I got right to work putting them together.  They needed shims to compensate for a serious slanting of the floors in this old building and if that were not enough, had to be secured to the walls with L-brackets in case anyone decided to climb them at some point.  Or in case of an earthquake.  Apparently I now live on yet another fault line.  Who knew?  All this tweaking involved unplanned trips to the hardware store, drilling, hammering, screwing and vacuuming up the dust and detritus in the aftermath.  But at last the work was done and I was more than happy to empty those nineteen boxes and put books on brand new shelves.  If nineteen boxes of books sounds excessive – as it certainly did to the movers who, sweating up the long flights of stairs to my new abode, informed me that it is possible, now, to get an electronic device that holds over 1,000 books and weighs next to nothing – let me assure you that it translates into almost nothing when unpacked and loaded on new shelves.  There are lots of gaps.  But there are still enough volumes to make me feel at home again.

Among these treasures is a book of photographs by Dennis Stock of James Dean taken over a few months in 1955, the year Dean died in a car crash.  One of the images shows him in a dance class in New York, standing just behind his friend Eartha Kitt.  The look on Dean’s face is transcendent; he’s only 24 years old but suffers from insomnia, drinks, smokes and is struggling under the weight of his new status as a movie star.  He looks dissipated and innocent all at once.  He looks at Kitt with love, with wonder, with desire (what manner of desire one can only surmise).  It’s a beautiful shot and I would love to see the contact sheet from whence it was chosen.  Eartha, in the foreground, is her gorgeous self.  She never seemed to age, but in this photo she is probably in her twenties so is a softer version of her later persona.  Those cheekbones!  That sensual mouth!  That perfect heart-shaped face!

I like to think of this image when I listen to what is becoming, oddly, one of my favourite pieces of music, or maybe it’s become more of a soundtrack to my life, which could be worrisome.  The song is I Want to Be Evil made popular by Kitt whose voice has been described as somewhere between a growl and a purr, a bit smoke-and-whiskey cured.  In this song she manages an undertone of irony, a teasing invitation to come this close but no closer.  “…I want to spit tacks…and cheat at jacks…”

Oh I want to be evil too.  I want to say things that one never says because they’re hurtful or unkind or just not nice.  And we do want to be nice, don’t we?  We know that health and well-being is so much about balance but I struggle to maintain that middle ground between being “nice” and being weighed down with the self-loathing that comes from allowing myself to be a full-on raging snippy witch.  That last word is misspelled.

Most days it’s not so much of a problem.  And then I get the call from the partner of a friend – see?  Right there’s an issue, but let’s forge ahead: the Partner of the Friend has decided to come to Toronto on her way somewhere else.  She “has plans” for us.  She would like to stay overnight before heading off to her final destination.  She wants to “play”.  She’s arriving at noon and leaving some time the following day.  I grant you this sounds innocent enough.  In fact, I have more in common with Partner than I do with Friend – on paper that is.  In real life though … let’s just say some people are just easy to be with.  Easy breezy.  Interesting, sure.  Provocative, yes.  Even slightly combative is fine.  A little give and take is welcome, encouraged even.  There’s an ease that allows for comfortable silences, a shared humour, space for not knowing something and maybe even having fun making it up.

Then there are others with whom you always feel a bit on edge.   There’s a neediness about their attention, a constant chatter, a tone that asks “do you like me, huh, do ya? Do ya?  How ‘bout THIS?  Oh, and how ‘bout THAT?…”  And what I so badly want to say (I want to be evil) is “How about you put a sock in it?”  Or as Stevie Wonder once put it so eloquently at a concert: “Relax your lips”.  The real evil I want to be, or say, is Dear God of All Things Merciful can’t we just meet for lunch and be done with it?  I find you exhausting.  I don’t think I can bear your company – just the two of us – for 12+ hours.  Even two hours with you SUCKS THE ENERGY RIGHT OUT OF MY SOUL!!!

But of course I don’t say these things.  It’s only 12 hours after all, and we’ll be asleep for some of them.  This person is a kind person.  Well-meaning.  Earnest.  Oh my so earnest.  We never laugh together which I find odd and adds to the element of trying – it’s trying to be with someone with whom you don’t yuk it up from time to time, and it’s The Trying (hers to focus in on me with laser-like attention and mine to endure) that’s … trying.

“I wanna wake up in the morning with that dark brown taste …. “  Oh Eartha, you sweet thang, you have NO IDEA how evil one could be if only she had the nerve and the complete lack of empathy that would allow for the kind of truth-telling this imminent visit arouses in me.  I have spent a couple of weeks agonizing over Partner’s visit, partly because I’ve just moved and haven’t completely unpacked and have some damaged IKEA furniture lying in the middle of the living room and am sporadically painting the place and just want to be left alone … and partly because I am afraid I will not be as nice as I like to think I am.  Sure, I want to be evil like the song says, but, like the song says, the worst I can do is switch seats in the theatre so I can step on everybody’s feet.  I don’t want to give voice to those dark inhospitable thoughts crowding out my innate desire to please.

Send Valium c/o Sarah Bellum Toronto Ontario.

My best wishes to all of you.   Writers are solitary saints of a sort – alliteration is for you.  Photographers get to watch it all go by.  And so until next time…my admiration.

Hedda

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Take These Chains From My Heart

Last week must have limped in on sore feet.  No full moon, Mercury not, as far as I know, in retrograde, but something odd in the air.  Something more than the autumn nip, although I’m hard-pressed to name it.  At any rate, last week I received similar-themed emails from two women I know.  One of these women is a friend; we’ve known each other a long time, have seen each other through many of life’s vagaries, live in the same city and see or speak with each other about once a week.  Let’s call her Abbie.  The other woman was my best friend in high school.  Even then we were mismatched in a number of ways, but united by our adolescent geekiness and uncommon love for a certain singer of the time.  We’ll call her Beth.

Beth moved to the southern US in 1980 or so.  We have spoken on the phone perhaps 5 or 6 times since then:  on milestone birthdays; when her husband died; during the US election campaign that resulted in Barack Obama’s presidency.  Beth and I are political opposites, separated by geography, time and interests.  We call each other on our birthdays now because we cling to some sentimental memory of our young selves and because we have both experienced and recognize the fragility of life.  We have become, in a strange way, a constant for each other.  Beth recently got connected to the internet and has become a forwarder of cyber humour, images and chain mail.

Abbie is a teacher.  She’s smart, funny, kind and has – even she says this about herself – infinite patience.  Abbie knows when to speak and when to listen – a rare quality.  She is the kind of friend who is there when you need her, both physically and emotionally.  I love and respect her very much.

Neither of these women will read this blog unless I direct them here which I probably won’t because no matter how I approach this particular topic it’s bound to smack a tiny bit of scolding.  I am comfortable with a bit of scolding when it’s warranted and when it’s valuable, but we all know it’s seldom valuable no matter how warranted.  By golly, I wish I could conceive of a photo or two to accompany this rant, but alas…  Anyway, these emails came within a day of each other and I went through a few ch-ch-ch-changes before hitting the delete key and mostly getting on with other concerns.

Back in the day chain letters came by snail mail and were cruder: “Mary Ellen Yablonsky sent this letter to 20 of her closest friends and within 15 days met the man of her dreams, had her book published and won the Irish Sweepstakes!” – “Clarabelle Bibb meant to ‘get around to it’ but didn’t forward this letter.  She was struck by lightning while hanging her wash.  She will never sing or dance again.” Yes, back in those days I would clutch said letter and writhe in superstitious paranoia, reluctant to succumb to what felt like manipulation, angry at whoever sent this missive to my mailbox, and terrified that there might be even a grain of truth to the – threats is what they were – that terrible things would befall me and everyone close to me if I didn’t do what the letter directed.  I admit to performing a few ritualistic burnings.  And, I made a point of telling anyone who cared to listen to please not send them to me, that they freak me out.  I loathe and do not forward them.  Ever.

So imagine my surprise and chagrin when into my email box landed these two different but similar chainmail “invitations”.  They are more sophisticated now, better written, and appeal to our acknowledged good fortune at having loyal and invaluable women friends.  How could we not want to forward a letter of love, support and appreciation to 8 or 12 or 20 our closest female friends?  They’ve been with us through thick and thin and will be with us until we draw our last breath.  Why wouldn’t we show them that they are not only held in highest esteem but that they belong to an exalted canon of such precious friends?  Oh, how I writhe!

Abbie’s letter asked me to imagine eight women I’d like to invite to dinner, to send them a copy of this letter telling them how important they are to me and what pleasure we’d all derive from sitting down to dinner together.  It   directed me to copy her into my invitation so she’d know she was one of the recipients of my dinner invitation.  According to this email I had – no kidding – 5 minutes to respond.   The “or else” was implied but not specified.

The odd thing was that Abbie and I had eaten dinner together two nights earlier.  Granted, all those other women weren’t present, but I knew she had seen at least 6 of them a week earlier and they’d eaten together at a social gathering.  More than eight of the women I might have put on my list have planned a get together in a couple of weeks.  We’ll see each other face to face, full volume, full hearts.

The message from Beth was slightly more disturbing.  This one was laced with Hallmark-ish stuff about Really Good Friends and the Importance of Really Good Friends.  This one demanded I make sure to let twenty – TWENTY! – close women friends know how much they mean to me, a message that was also to be delivered in the next five minutes.  The “or else” was clear.  In rhyming couplets it stated that if I didn’t do this in 5 minutes and if I didn’t include the sender in my reply she’d “take the hint”.

I have been given to understand that these things are really phishing expeditions, a method retailers – and perhaps more insidious organizations –use to gather addresses for their databases in order to bombard us with less friendly propaganda than an alleged invitation from a friend to invite her to dinner in cyber space.  This is probably true, but I don’t care as much as I care that my friends, particularly the ones I see relatively often and share intimacies with, carelessly forward vaguely threatening directives without consideration.  Hey, invite me to dinner.  I’ll probably say yes.  Let’s tell each other how much our friendship means – from your lips to my ears and vice versa.  And if it takes more than 5 minutes to do that, well, I can wait.

Hedda

How’s Tricks?

Dear Readers,

At least one of you know I haven’t had a thought, original or otherwise, in weeks.  Maybe it’s been obvious to everyone from previous entries although I have tried to pretend otherwise.  Point is, this blog’s due date found me in a state of semi-somnambulism, flatlining, poring over decorating magazines and cookbooks. …you know, I’m going to spare you all that and tell you what got my crank turning, albeit slowly, this past evening.

A friend sent me an email with the subject line “How’s Tricks?” I was reminded of  a commercial for a cereal named TRIX.  There was a cartoon rabbit involved and the tagline “TRIX are for kids!”  I don’t recall much else about the ad but something was triggered by the question and because I’ve been writhing around in my mind wondering what to talk about besides what’s really been occupying my time these past weeks I want to just go with that trigger and riff on what came along.

Trigger was Roy Roger’s late horse.  Rumour had it that he was stuffed – taxidermied – and displayed in the Rogers’ living room.  Could be true.

What came along?  Hopalong Cassidy, another fictional cowboy.  Hopalong came along and went…

“How’s tricks?” asked my friend and this is what happened:

Tricks are for turning.  Turning’s for into, for leaves, for wheels.  Turning’s the younger sister of tossing.  Tossing’s for salad, horse shoes, the extraneous.  Tossing’s for proud heads, ideas, remarks.  Remarks are for making, deciphering, interpreting, provoking.  Remarks are for responding to.   (Yes I ended that sentence with a preposition; isn’t there some rule against that?  Ah well, such is the way of the world these days).

Responding says Yes.  Yes, I acknowledge you, I hear you.  Yes I agree, Yes there’s more to this.  Responding says we’re all here, emitting sounds and scratching symbols, Yes there is meaning in these patterns.

Responding invites some form of convention.  How’s tricks?  Well, there’s the new baby.  And the new digs.  And daughter’s daddy’s not doing too well.  Finally got lights for my bike and a new dining table.  Got a bad haircut and looked like Abe Simpson; got a good haircut and look like Anderson Cooper.  Found a terrific place for fresh fish and seafood.  I miss my friends in Vancouver.

In an advice column recently I read about “first world problems” and was reminded once again of all I have to be grateful for and all the things I take for granted.  I am supremely blessed.  Health, good friends, family, enough money and education and the occasional flash of curiosity to allow me plenty of  choice.  Right now feels like a good time.

How’s tricks?  Ask Hoyle, that authority on card games.  He’d probably say tricks are for taking.  Tricks are for trumping.  And trumping … somebody take it from here, please!

Hedda

Creatures From the East

As some of you may know I’m in Toronto for the summer, subletting the ground floor of a house while waiting for my daughter to have her baby. The house I’m staying in comes with two very long-haired cats, a huge backyard, garden and tenants in the upstairs rooms and in the basement.

The cats need daily brushing, something I don’t always get around to, but am forgiven for; they simply shed what I haven’t brushed – raked really – from their pelts, evidenced in wispy tumbleweed throughout the apartment, in clumps on the rug, couch, bed and anywhere else not hung high and safe.

They are brother and sister; good-natured and easy going, affectionate (see aforementioned cat hair discussion) and tolerant of my idiosyncrasies as well as the absence of their people. For this I am most grateful.

The tenants of the house are all male. Most over 40, solitary, generally quiet, unobtrusive. We nod in passing and it is up to me to ensure the garbage and recycling bins are put on the sidewalk on collection days and returned to their place beside the house when emptied. I have the yard and garden completely to myself, which means watering, mowing, weeding, all of which I do moderately regularly. The garden pretty much takes care of itself, although it’s been blistering hot this past week and even the hardiest kale and tomatoes drooped and gasped. But fresh kale?? It doesn’t get much better…

Back to the cats. They HATE having their picture taken. I’ve tried, both in- and outdoors. No takers until just before I sent off this blog to be posted. Their people keep a window open so they can come and go at their discretion. At first the idea made me anxious – traffic, cult-y cat killers, and raccoons all came to mind – but I was assured they’re street-wise and cautious in equal measure and if the open window was too much for my delicate nerves to bear, I could simply close it. It worked well for the first 10 days or so.

Then one evening I stayed out overnight and when I returned I found muddy pawprints all over the kitchen floor, catfood in the water dish and general disarray in the room. What other than raccoons wash their food before eating it? To be less anthropomorphic – what other than raccoons moisten/soften their food before eating it? And frankly, My Dears, under these circumstances, who gives a rip? I cleaned up. The floors needed washing anyway. The walls probably did too, what with the pawprints leading up and down from the open window.

The next morning – as my Singaporean brother-in-law would say – samesame. I took to herding the cats in by midnight and closing the window. I placed a nice bowl of vinegar-tainted water outside just to let the raccoons experience the full extent of my hospitality (yes, that’s a typo) and after a protracted yowl from the cats, we negotiated a somewhat peaceful compromise. That is, you fluffy creatures are locked in each night and this bald one gets to sleep peacefully and wash the kitchen floor on her own time.

Something bit me last week. There are mosquitoes, but not hoards and clouds of them singing their virulent little songs to let you know they can see you although you can only hear them … heh heh they sing a sinister soprano … not at all. So far, just a garden variety (pun intended) of annoying little biters that take what they need and don’t leave too big a mess behind. However, whatever bit me last week was not a mosquito. Was not, thankfully, a bedbug, although the bites looked at first like bedbug bites do on one who is very allergic to their saliva or their mere existence which I suspect is the truer truth. These bites, 5 in all, were bright red, raised to a volcanic peak in the centre, itchy as itchy can be, and hard. They were each about the size of a quarter. Now they’re more like five-cent pieces, not quite so bright red nor itchy. Both my daughter and my friend proclaimed they looked like spider bites! I don’t believe I have ever been bitten by a spider in my life, so this makes me somewhat sad, as if I had amnesty due to what I like to think of as an affinity and now it’s been withdrawn or forfeited or something … did I say something earlier about anthropomorphising? It just comes over me …

Toronto has great street life. It’s summer and it’s hot. People hang out on stairs, chairs, stoops, at tables, on bikes, in milling little knots. The eateries tend to be small and narrow and many have patios, on the roof, out back, on the side – somewhere people can congregate beyond the actual structure of the joint. So it was I found myself at such a place last night after watching the documentary “Marley” which was really well made and re-created my love of reggae music and sadness at the loss of Bob Marley but that’s another story. If you get a chance to see it, by all means take it.

We went to a back patio and ordered food. When it arrived, I noticed my friend Ellen’s attention focussed over my head and a look of alarm on her face. When I turned to look, there on the wall just above my head and poised to pounce on the table was the biggest raccoon I’ve ever seen. The size of a small bear! And such a pelt! It was eying the chicken fajita with what I can only describe as INTENT. It was drooling. The thing had no fear, but it did have an accomplice, which soon made an appearance by scuttling up a tree just outside the walls of the patio. I waved my napkin in its face and made noises that I hoped were threatening enough. My other friend Larry kept warning me not to mess with it, but really? Dropping down on our table? Upsetting the condiments? Not to mention upsetting the diners? I don’t think so!

The Biggest Raccoon in the World was convinced to stay on the wall and not drop down on our table. We moved to another table though, just to be safe, and the BRintheW kept pacing around the wall until its accomplice made a scene at the other end of the patio by climbing down the tree that grew right up the middle of the space – drunken patrons who until now had been howling John Denver songs at the tops of their lungs now reached for their iPhones and started snapping away.

It seemed like a good time to make our exit. Hope you’re all having a wonderful summer! Happy Summer everyone!

Hedda

Hedda Contemplates Life, Death and Beauty

Six straight days of rain, an inherently dark nature and the anticipated arrival of a first grandchild has got me thinking about my mortality and how I’d like to get a few things off my chest before I shuffle….you know. More accurately there are things I’d like to share – low-wattage things, a few observations, maybe a nod to an old friend or two. I have no illusions about making a difference in the world, nothing like leaving a legacy – I resist putting in the requisite quotation marks here, but they are inferred – but there are things I believe we all experience and are touched by and would comment on but don’t, perhaps because they never quite gel and our observations become, at best, non sequiturs, at worst cringe-worthy, as in, oh dear, have you noticed how dotty and sentimental old what’s-it is getting? Dotty I may be, yet if you’re still reading I think I might be speaking some weird truth and you’re curious. So. Let us proceed.

Recently I was flooded with unexpected tenderness when, at a dinner party, one of the guests confided he’d once slept with a famous Canadian politician. I was mildly surprised by the revelation; the guest barely knew me and the politician, though long gone is far from forgotten. I was equally mildly surprised at how little it mattered to me. The teller of this tale and I are advanced enough in years that what would have once been scandalous and salacious was now a topic as charged as, say, where to find a really good risotto. Still, I felt compelled to ask what seemed de rigeur: “how was he?” And the teller, suddenly gracious or modest answered “I don’t really remember. It’s the intimacy I remember.” And that’s what I found touching. Whether this dinner guest was having me on isn’t the point; it’s that he produced what could have been a hot gossip item and then wrapped it in affection, compassion. It was a story about love, having loved and been loved. And I felt included in all that.

When our cultural icons die, we sometimes feel a loss as profound as if we knew these people personally. I remember exactly where I was when Marilyn Monroe died. And yes, I realize this dates me terribly, yet Monroe was not of my time; she was an icon and I was a child. Even a child in those days knew of her existence; our culture was obsessed with her. That day in August I was staying at the lakeside cottage of a friend and her grandmother. We were playing, diving from the dock when my friend’s grandmother called us in. She made us tea and solemnly announced Marilyn’s passing. Although neither of us was particularly saddened, my friend and I knew this was an auspicious passing, and we were invited to mourn in our way, with her grandmother. The summer ended then, for me. Something monumental had happened, something I didn’t completely understand but grasped at a cellular level as very significant. It remains in my memory as the moment I left childhood and entered adolescence. Do we all carry these snapshots that mark a “Before” and “After”?

Before some of my revered personages died I didn’t think often of friends I had when I was in my teens. But more recent passings find me wanting to write to people I haven’t thought about or been in touch with for many years. What is it that tugs our hearts this way? I don’t think it’s simple nostalgia for a time past; adolescence wasn’t a whole lot of fun as I recall. I think it’s something more elusive than that, something having to do with the shared idea that anything seemed possible, or maybe just imaginable. The summers were long. The popsicles melted in our hands. We played pool in the afternoons and pool-hopped in the late humid nights. We smoked and posed and imagined ourselves grown, but never truly pictured ourselves within a context where we were really adults. There’s less artifice to our laughter now, and it’s deeper than it was then. Perhaps that’s it. The laughter now is hard won, and as such is sweeter, richer.

And those long ago friends? May they be safe, well and happy. May they regret nothing, or at least may they regret little. And to keep a sparkle in their eyes and their laughter deep, may they embody that time when we were tender and guileless. And may I end this odd outpouring with this: In the 18th century the preeminent Japanese scholar Motooni Norigaga formulated the essential concept of MONO NO AWARE which characterized beauty as the transience of all things. According to Mono No Aware true beauty is found in that which does not last and includes the gentle sadness felt as it fades. (my italics). Following that logic one can conclude that many things – most things – are truly beautiful, even you and me.

Have a great summer!

Hedda

The King is Dead! Long Live the King!

Elvis was 42 when he died in 1977 at his Graceland home. Quite possibly some of you can recall precisely where you were at the moment you heard. His career had been waning; he was bleary and bloated, sometimes incoherent; his voice wasn’t always up to the songs he sang for his still-adoring fans. Much of his later erratic and odd behaviour is well documented: the TV-shooting incident for example, and his request of Richard Nixon to be granted status of Federal Agent-at-Large in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.

But this is not about Elvis per se, but about his status as an icon, and our collective inability to let him die. More than Marilyn or James Dean, more than Judy Garland or even Curt Cobain, Elvis lives on in myth, memory and…Tribute Artists!

If I hadn’t accepted my brother’s invitation to Harrison Hot Springs a few weeks ago where he was attending a convention of public speakers I wouldn’t have this story to tell you. But I did, and here it is.

This public speaking organization is well known and has, in the same way AA has led millions from intoxication to sobriety, transported many of its grateful members from shy, inarticulate, mumbling isolation to confident and polished speechifying free of ums, ahs and other verbal tics. An admirable accomplishment indeed. My brother is deeply involved. I, on the other hand, find this organization’s structure too – structured. I joke that he’s in a cult and I am not particularly drawn to cults, no matter how well-established or apparently benign. We are good-natured about this difference of perspective, although I know he would love it if I signed on to one of the many clubs he’s occupied with. But I digress.

The convention lasted a full weekend and participants were encouraged to let off steam on Saturday night with the live entertainment – their reward for working so hard. The entertainment turned out to be an Elvis impersonator, or, as they prefer to be called, an Elvis Tribute Artist. Who could resist?

This is an important cultural phenomenon, I told my brother, and I just HAD to go. Happily, he was able to wangle an invite from the organizers and I soon found myself among a group of True Elvis Fans, people who, until now, seemed to be nothing less than serious professional pontificators, dressed conservatively and observing all the protocol required of attendees at the convention.

There are all sorts of Tribute Artists. Some just walk around looking Elvis-like; some sing like him but look unlike him; some lip synch; others play guitar and sing. There are Elvises young and old; Elvises fat and thin. There are Asian and Black Elvises. There are female Elvises. This night, at Harrison Hot Springs, there was a “young” Elvis – meaning he probably wasn’t born when Elvis died, although he sang songs from every era of Elvis’ career. And he had The Voice.

And The Moves. Although he didn’t play guitar, the sound system provided everything he needed except lead vocals. This young man had entered an Elvis Tribute contest some years earlier as a joke; his friends had dared him. He won third place and the rest is history.

“Elvis” was charming and engaging and soon the audience, most of whom were women, was screaming and giggling and swooning and begging to have photos taken with him. Most of these women either hadn’t been born or had been very young girls during the real Elvis’ reign but they were swept up, crazy as if in the presence of the real thing and it was 1955 and nothing had happened since.

Until now I wondered why a person would want to go around in someone else’s skin, “being” someone else. Even if that someone else was Elvis Presley. What could possibly motivate someone to dress up and act out someone else’s fantasy life? And what did that person do the rest of the time? Who did they think they were the rest of the time? It had always been a bit of a mystery to me.

But watching this person, aka Elvis, create a mood, I kind of got swept up too. What he made happen in that hall was more than nostalgia. In the skin of Elvis, this young man fashioned an atmosphere of possibility, of hot summer nights, romance, sensuousness, innocence, palpable sexuality, unabashed pleasure and hope all rolled into notes and moves and moments. It felt free and wild and suddenly I got it, the Elvis thing.

The Tribute Artist makes it happen; the audience gets swept along, and for a brief time we all believe. Maybe it’s magic, who knows? I know I got “gifted” in a way I could never have imagined. Long live the King (and his imitators).

Hedda

Full moon rising

Wow – how about that full moon last Saturday May 5th – Cinco de mayo? My plan for that evening to was to go to the Biltmore to see Willis Earl Beal (check him out on YouTube) but the show was sold out and standing in a lineup for 2 or 3 hours in hopes of getting in just didn’t entice me.

Besides, there was Plan B: this moon that promised to be bigger and better than anything we’ve seen or will see in … how long? Hundreds of years? The best moon I ever saw was in Alberta one long ago winter. There was something about refraction or reflection or something – astronomers could probably explain – that distorted the image of this moon to gargantuan proportions. It seemed to take up the entire horizon. I was driving with friends and there it was, coming up over a frozen rise between Edmonton and Calgary. We had to stop the car and just gape. It was truly awesome – awe-inspiring, awe-inducing – gob-smacking awesome.

So when my friend suggested I photograph this cinco de mayo moon I was only moderately interested. I figured I’d seen the best moon that ever was, so how could this be better? But I have no photographs of that other moon, and even if my memory is accurate, it has become an anecdote at best, a hallucination at worst.

I decided to get up on my roof and – pardon the card-playing reference – shoot the moon. It was a cold night if you recall. Freezing cold. Windy. My building is only 3 stories high and the view to the east is blocked by much higher (and classier) condos. But I packed my gear and climbed a vertical metal ladder leading to the roof. When I pushed up the hatch that opens to the sky and had to climb over its raised edges I got right in touch with a bad case of vertigo. I was almost nauseated with – what is that feeling? Terror? Yeah. A visceral, gut-grabbing sensation that sometimes freezes me in my tracks, sometimes gets me laughing.

Hysterically. I have to talk out loud to myself and stay very very focused, keep away from the edges of the roof.

I set the camera on the tripod and prepared to wait. But it was so cold, so windy. And I’d drunk several cups of hot tea in preparation. So soon enough I had to go back down to my apartment. Repeat above procedures, sans gear. The moon was due at 8:35 PM. It may have appeared elsewhere, but I couldn’t get a decent shot of it until around 9:30 PM. By this time I’d had the chance to take some test shots of the horizon and my camera and I were in conflict; I couldn’t get a good focus and when I did the camera wouldn’t fire. Up on the roof, waiting for the moon, I sent love to my old film camera, a completely manual, responsive machine that, when you are skilled, gives the best results in most circumstances. And while I was waxing nostalgic and even contemplating going down to my apartment again, to retrieve my film camera, mother Moon was waxing too, and beginning to show herself on the urban horizon. I didn’t get much, but what I got I’m happy to share.

Did you wait up for the moon? Did you take photos?

Hedda Armour

Mexico


Recently I had the rare opportunity to visit family in Mexico. This was not your garden variety tropical vacation, and turned out to be both a blessing and a curse, like so many things that are interesting in life.
Between domestic duties and hunting and killing mosquitos and scorpions, I visited Taxco, the silver centre of the country, and marvelled at the Volkswagon taxis roaring up steep, narrow cobblestone streets that clung precariously to the mountains. In Mexico City I saw Frida Kalho’s “Blue House” and pored over letters between her and Diego Rivera, the love of her life whose face graces one side of the 500 peso bill (hers graces the other side)

A Taxco Street

I saw the ruins and pyramids of Xochicalca, about 40 minutes south of Cuernavaca, where I was staying, and which date back approximately 1200 years.

Xochicalca Pyramid

But a real highlight of my visit was a boat tour through the canals south of Mexico City to “La Isla de la Munecas”, The Island of the Dolls, perhaps one of the creepiest tourist attractions in Mexico.

Residents of Isla de la Munecas



The story goes that the island’s only inhabitant, Don Julian Santana, found the body of a drowned child in the canal some 50 years ago. He was haunted by her death, so when he saw a doll floating by in the canal soon after, he hung it in a tree. He hoped to both appease her tortured soul and protect the island from further evil.

Over the years Don Julian collected dolls from every possible source: he continued to fish dolls and doll parts out of the canal and scavenged more from trash heaps on his rare trips away from home. Even, later in life, trading home grown fruit and vegetables for old dolls that he used to create a shrine to the dead child who seemed to haunt his conscience.

Apparently, in 2001 Don Julian Santana was found dead by his nephew, in the same canal that he said the little girl drowned in.


Getting to the island takes about two hours. Visitors are taken in long punt-like crafts, with a gondolier pushing the boat with a long pole. Our gondolier stopped on a number of occasions – once to “harvest” an insect pupae from the ubiquitous cactus plants cultivated along the riverbanks. The pupae, when crushed, releases a vermillion dye used to colour fabrics. Another stop joined us with a similar boat, bearing not tourists but locals who cruise the canals in food boats – freshly made tortillas, tacos, and various tasty snacks and drinks to keep the travellers comfortably fed throughout their journey.

Our gondolier harvests the vermillion-producing pupae.

I have since shown some of these photographs to people and the reactions range from horror and a refusal to even look at them to fascination and skepticism. No matter. My experience of the island fell into the fascinated category – and, I admit, more delighted than horrified. The story that accompanied the thousands of dolls displayed in various states of decay felt a bit contrived. But who am I to say? I visited this place on a sunny day with family, not alone or at night. It struck me as an artist’s or an eccentric’s creation, but again, it was sunny and I had my camera with me, so ……..

Thank you for your kind comments after my initial blog entry. It was heartwarming to know that folks read and enjoyed my first attempt. I hope this has been a fun little foray into the deeper heart of Mexico. See you next month!

Hedda

Guest blogger – Hedda Armour or this dog made my perfect day

Welcome the second Friday of guest bloggers. You never know who you’re going to meet – it might be another writer, a painter, a musician, a chef or simply an interesting person one of us has run into.

Hedda Armour has been a friend of mine for so many years I can’t (perhaps, more accurately, don’t want to) count them. Suffice it to say that it’s been a lot, a whole lot. She’s an amazingly creative person – singer, writer, photographer, to name just a few. Her first love is photography but I think she could do absolutely anything she puts her mind to. Her knowledge and skills and talen just blow me away.

Please, meet Hedda Armour and her work…

For the past 8 or 9 weeks I’ve started each day by writing three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness, for my eyes only – stuff. I won’t call it prose, although some of it may be. Those familiar with The Artist’s Way know that isn’t the point; the exercise is meant to provide a repository for all the small, petty worries and complaints that would otherwise clutter a potentially creative mind. So, no matter what the day brings from then on, I feel I’ve accomplished one important act. Another thing I’m almost fanatical about is having a good healthy breakfast. Then I can face whatever comes my way with equilibrium, or at least a full stomach.

As much as possible I divide my photo shoots between indoors and outdoors, although I don’t like to take my gear out in the rain too often or for too long.  I shoot with film as well as digital and have several “novelty” cameras that inspire me to manipulate my images in different ways.  Most days are good days – I play with my photographic toys, get some images I really like and my equipment works beautifully.  A bad day is a day I show up at a location I’ve staked out only to find I haven’t enough film, the light’s all wrong or I’ve forgotten to bring fresh batteries or didn’t anticipate which lens I’d need.  That’s bad enough, but when my plans are interrupted by housekeeping or bureaucratic tasks that need to be attended to NOW (income tax returns, dental appointments, laundry) I really struggle with impatience.  I cope by listening to music, hitting the couch with a good book, sorting through some photos for inspiration, calling a friend or making soup – something I find very peaceful and grounding.

I dream of having a studio.  In the meantime, I work in my very tiny apartment, so I welcome small jobs.  For those, I mount a large 70s style copy stand (pictured) with hot lights on my little kitchen table. I love working with the copy stand.  I really get lost in the process, and feel a deep love for my equipment, particularly my trusty old Pentax film camera.  Besides having complete control over the subject, I like the ritualistic aspect of working manually and of making the commonplace unique.  I can isolate or enlarge or get really up close and personal with all sorts of images.  This is work that could probably be done much more quickly with Photoshop or some other photographic software; but I enjoy the hands on aspect of the copy stand so much that I don’t imagine I’ll be moving to full techno mode any time soon.

 If I’m doing anything as grand as portraits, I have to move furniture and create backdrops with screens and drapes.  Once the tripod and portrait lights are set up, there isn’t much space to move around.  It’s not a scenario I’d want my insurance provider to see, that’s for sure!!. Outdoor portraits are easier in some ways, as long as the model is flexible; there are so many variables outdoors – lighting, location, weather, other people – yet the options are endless, and there’s so much more space. 

Lately I’ve been getting ready for a course in photo encaustic collage (painting with hot wax).  We’re expected to bring lots of images to enhance the wax creations and I’ve been having lots of fun using my printer and scanner to create different views of the ordinary.   For example, I’ve made colour copies of cut flowers and close up images from family photos and even of my lingerie!

In terms of a perfect day, sometimes I’m pretty easy to please.  The other day I was walking through the neighbourhood – this time prepared with a little point-and-shoot – and a home-bound proprietary dog gave me a perfect portrait, its worried little face posed just so for my camera.  Along with those 3 morning pages I felt I’d had the best day, the Universe was smiling and so was I.  You, dear readers, are the first to see this photograph.

I love jazz.  Probably because my work tends to be very controlled, and (unlike the spontaneity of the dog portrait) usually very structured, I really like what seems improvised and free-form about jazz.  I do recognize there is a structure, but at the same time I see the possibilities, the diversions.  Jazz, to my ears, is like taking chances: let’s try this and see what happens.  There’s a balance, a trust, a fearlessness and rhythm that I would love to experience in my photography.  Sometimes it happens, it’s just something you feel, when you know you got it, what you saw is now captured, stilled, and you can play it over and over again.  If I could be anything other than a photographer I’d really like to be a jazz pianist.

Confession: this could almost be classified as a “dirty little secret” although it’s neither dirty nor small: before I die I’d like to take a workshop with Lynda Barry, one of my favourite cartoonist/writers at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY.  Her courses don’t come cheap but I think a 4-day class with Lynda Barry would influence the way I photograph.  Call me crazy, but call me.  I can take pictures.

I’d like to leave you with three favourite expressions.  The first is from Angels in America by Tony Kushner, and I have it posted where I can see it on my desk: “Respect the delicate ecology of your delusions”.  Our delusions have a delicate ecology, to be sure.  And we don’t respect them often or enough.  The second is credited as an African proverb: “Until lions have historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”  This saying reminds me to think critically.  We are exposed to so much information all the time that it’s easy to accept as truth whatever fits with our particular way of thinking.  It’s good to stop once in a while and ask, “is that really true?”  “how do you know?”  The last expression always makes me smile.  I don’t know its origin yet it’s got a universal ring of truth to it: “The person who says it can’t be done should not interrupt the person doing it”. 

Thanks for this opportunity to unpack what I tend to take for granted.  I hope you enjoyed my take on things.  May you live well and with love.

 

Hedda Armour is a Vancouver photographer who has recently thrown off the shackles of paid employment for a life of free-floating anxiety and endless creative vistas.  She is a graduate of Vancouver Community College’s counselling program, and is studying Spanish in her spare time.  Her work has shown at numerous Main Street coffee houses and businesses and in 2008 partnered with her daughter in a photography exhibit in Toronto.  She is a long standing member and director of The Drift (Main Arts Drift Society).  She has very short hair, a likewise attention span and a big hearty laugh.  You can see more of Hedda’s work at www.thedrift.ca