A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Ansel Adams, Compaction, Múzquiz & Buicks
Friday, December 28, 2007

The great American landscape photographer Ansel Adams pioneered a system of photography, the Zone System, in which on any scene to be photographed there were three options.

1. To do nothing and consider the scene normal.
2. To notice few steps between blacks and whites.
3. To notice a great combination of blacks, grays and whites.

With his zone system the first scene on a separate negative would be processed normally. The second one would be expanded and the third compacted or compressed.

At one time a young family would move into a house and plant a young cherry tree in the back yard. The family would grow, the children would become adults, and the tree would be there for all to notice as a beacon of their linear existence. If any of those children would have looked at an illustrated map of the world they would have noticed a sleeping Mexican under a cactus in Mexico, a woman with a conical rice planting hat in China, a man in short leather pants with braces in Switzerland (or Bavaria?) and a gaucho on horse back swinging boleadoras in Argentina. At that time I would have drawn the borders of most African states in red.

I did not grow up as a member of a "normal" family that stayed put so my life is divided into periods. They are periods that begin "here" and end "there". If I were to compare this with a contemporary phenomenon I would do so with the mundane state of the home computer about to get its weekly or monthy defragmentation. I would also compare it to one's emails in which one opts to compact. Both methods attempt to remove the idle period between activity and make it into a more compressed and efficient whole.

I lived in Nueva Rosita, Coahuila for exactly one year in the mid 1950s. Those who were living there and went to the school, must have only noticed me as a passing moth or other type of fast-flying insect. Many of those Nueva Rosita children and their parents remained there or moved to the near environs. They intermarried and kept their connections to this day. They lived and live in small towns, Nueva Rosita, Sabinas, Cloete, Múzquiz and in Eagle pass in Texas. A few moved to San Antonio but stayed in touch through school reunions. Our Rosita school went as far as grade 8. Only a few of us went to boarding schools in Texas. Most continued with their school studies in Eagle Pass High School. The Eagle Pass High School reunions kept them in touch.

Through my efforts to find out my own roots in that year in Nueva Rosita and to locate the five boys (in the photograph below, from left to right that's me, Rick Juvé Forns, Enrique Serna, Remigio Martinez Mueller, Sammy Simpson and Steve Frazier) of my class I have posted a few blogs here. These blogs have been found and I have made new contacts with my own class mates and those that were under me in the 7th, 6th grades and beyond. As an "uppreclassman" I tended not to notice them so I have few memories of them.

These contacts aided by Google, nurtured by Skype and email make me feel like a computer that has been lightened by an efficient and ultimately satisfying defragmentation. My compact one year in Nueva Rosita, to use the Ansel Adams comparison, has been expanded and added to the other normal periods of my life. And at the same time it has been a long string of surprises to find out how these "new" old friends have managed with their lives. I have found that a few became teachers as they were influenced by my mother and remember her to this day with affection and awe.

I wrote of a mysterious and handsome engineer called Juan Jaime and how he would leave his magazines (he subscribed to True, Argosy and Esquire) in the reading room of the American Hotel in Nueva Rosita. It was in those magazines that I first discovered what women looked like beneath their clothes. From a gracious 89-year old Jeanette Sandford Frazier (mother of Steve, one of the boys in my class and the remote and beautiful Cornelia I adored from afar) in a Skype conversation a few days ago (from her home in Eagle Pass, where I once saw John Wayne in cowboy books walk on the boardwalk near the Eagle Pass Hotel) I received more information on Jaime. Jaime's father, a real general in the Mexican army, she told me, had saved the life of revolutionary presidente Álvaro Obregón. Bertha Slaughter (whose unamarried name of Múzquiz is one of the many Múzquiz who seem to have left their influence in the area) was widowed when her husband died in an accident accompanied by his mistress landed Juan Jaime and married him. I remember Bertha because her son Johnny was my friend even though he was in grade 7. Mid year he was struck by meningitis and he stopped coming to school. He, too died.

The stories of these people merits a book by someone but certainly not from me. If I were to begin I would do so with Jeanette Sanford Frazier ( a sort of Scarlett O'Hara of Northern Mexico) whose husband died in an airplace crash in the Sierra Madre in the early 50s. She was left to fend for herself in managing an hacienda in Cloete, Coahuila and having to educate her two boys, Steve and Roger and daughter Cornelia. It was Jeanette who befriended my lonely mother and brought so much joy to her life. After I left for Austin, Texas the friendship grew. Roger a narcotics agent died in an autombile accident struck by a driver high on drugs when Roger was bringing in two suspects. Steve married a woman from Múzquiz (a town in Coahuila and a surnambe of fame in the area) and kept with his father's business of heavy equipment in Mexico City. Cornelia is a widow who lives in Eagle Pass (and drives her mother around ) and manages, probably as well as her mother her hacienda in Múzquiz.

Best of all, after 47 years I was able to thank Jeanette Sandford Frazier for her kindness. Her comment to me was, "Your mother and I had so much fun." I told her that I remembered her Buicks. "My husband always had Buicks. Cornelia says that only Buicks and Lexus do not have to be repaired often."

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