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


That C Word - A Tefal Frying Pan & A Useful AMEX Card
Sunday, March 02, 2008

Robby Miranda entered my life just a bit before these pictures were taken in Buenos Aires in 1950. He is on the far right, just next to me (my shirt has a central stripe). In the second picture (his birthday) he is in the top row on the far left and I am the gaucho. He and I were distantly related through his father Luís Miranda who was my grandfather Tirso's first cousin. Through most of my life until Luís died he was my favourite uncle and his wife Fermina was my favourite aunt until she died last year in Houston at age 95.

Robby is singly responsible that I am a photographer today. In the late 60s in Mexico City I was flaundering at university not being sure what I wanted to do with my life. In 1967 I had gone to San Francisco for a month and I lived with a friend Robert Hijar in the Haight-Ashbury area and times. One day I took the cable car to the waterfront and watched some young students get off before the cable car went downhill. They went to a quaint place that was called the San Francisco Art Institute. I also got off. I was curious. I asked one of the young men what he was studying there. I remember his reply which was like a lightning bolt, "I am studying photography. I want to be a photographer." Until that moment I did not know one could study photography or that it could be a profession. At that moment I considered all I had done in my life until then to have been a waste.

Robby in the late 60s was making lots of money distributing a new item for the kitchen called a Tefal Frying Pan. I kept telling him that I could never be a photographer now that I wanted to be one. He asked me, "What do you need? I have an American Express Card. Let's go and get what you need." Robby was true to his word and we purchased a Durst enlarger, a darkroom timer, trays, a thermometer and a safelight. I realized when we went home that I was in trouble. I no longer had an excuse for failure.

In 1950 Robby had recently arrived to Buenos Aires via New York. Their sumptuous home in Manila had been taken over by the Japanese High Command during the duration of the war. Robby who was three years older than I was seemed to be a strange boy. If you pointed a toy gun at him he would cry and hide under a table. I knew nothing of real war. It was Robby who told me of WWII and Hitler and the Japanese. He told me stories of how Hitler had survived the war and was living in an oasis (there were pockets of warm air) near the South Pole. In his Belgrano home I was fascinated by his father's (my Uncle Luis) complete collection of Life magazine from Pearl Harbour until Victory in the Pacific Day. I stared at Sherman tank ads by Buick (they had Dynaflow transmissions) and saw some of my first photographs of real dead people.

The Mirandas and Robby moved to Mexico City and we followed in 1955. It was there that I would have sleepovers at Robbys and we would go for walks on Balderas Street and he would tell me of Aristotle and his Unmovable Mover who was God. He knew of these things because he was going to a private school of Catholic Marista Brothers. From Robby I learned to be interested in being interested. We went to many movies and somehow since he was older and bigger they never stopped us when the content of the film was not for children. But it wasn't all just Aristotle, Hitler and films. Robby took me to my first American football game (University of Mexico versus Mexico City College) and my first baseball game (a double A match between the Diablos Rojos and the Mexico City Tigers). After 14 long innings the game was postponed for the next day and we were given rain cheques. We did not return.

Last night I thought about Robby as I had a tremendous confrontation with Rebecca in the mornign. I had the intention of taking her and Lauren to see Roughhouse at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. The show was to begin at 2pm. It was 1pm. I had seen this brilliantly funny piece of one-hour pantomime on Tuesday. It was perfect for them. But Rebecca said, "I don't want culture (that C word). I want to be a kid." And she called her father to say she didn't want to go. I was shocked, angry and aghast. I could not take Lauren as Lauren will not go anywhere without her sister.

Another plan for the day was to buy a one year membership to the Vancouver Art Gallery. We were going to look at the exhibition of photographs from the Eastman House Collection. In my fury I acted like another child and refused to go anywhere. Rosemary suggested we walk in VanDusen. I shook my head. She said, "Alex, you are acting like a child." I just answered, "I like acting like one, perhaps because I am still one." For the rest of the day I felt guilty as hell.

The morning had not begun well. Rebecca had come in, and after a perfunctory, "Que tal, Papi," she had turned on the TV. At age 10 my parents had taught me what in Spanish we call educación (sort of like manners). Would I in Rebecca's place have made some conversation, asked if I was still sick, offer a hug, something?

If there is any despair in all this it is in the realization on how lucky I was to have Robby and his challenging brand of friendship. Will Rebecca ever have such a friend? A friend that will interest her to be interested?

And Robby, thank you.


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