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


Magic, A Red Schuco, Alfonso Cuarón & Mervyn Fernandez
Monday, December 29, 2008

From when I can remember I can recall asking my father, "Tell me a story." And in Spanish my cousin Wency and I would ask his father, "Contanos un cuento de piratas, de espadachines o de conbois." (Tell us a story about pirates, deft swordfighters or cowboys.)

Today's blog begins at the dinner table. Lauren started with, "Papi how do you say chicken in French?" For a long time I have been giving her "le shiken" with my best French accent. Lauren has given up telling me that the correct word is poule and simply says with a fair degree of accuracy, "You don't know how to speak French." This time Rebecca did not stay out of the conversation and agreed with Lauren that poule was the right term for chicken.

I immediately got up from the table to fetch from my living room library my copy of Through the Looking-Glass - And What Alice Found There, and read to them:

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.'

'The question is,’ said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master - that's all.'

Rebecca then asked me, "So is le shiken correct?" I attempted to fudge but I finally said, "For me it is," and added, "the important thing to learn is that we must take control of the words in our vocabulary and not let them rule us." I could have added but she would not have understood, "A synonym is a word you use when you don't know how to spell the other one."

What all the above has to do with story telling is that this afternoon we sat down to view a DVD of a film I carefully chose last night. It is Mexican Alfonso Cuarón's version of the often filmed story A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This 1995 film has minor special effects only in some wonderful dream sequences. The rest of it hinges on acting, and the idea that magic happens if you believe in it. It is a magic of the imagination and both of our little granddaughters, Rosemary and I had to imagine that a bare and ugly attic became a little Hindu palace overnight because of an intriguing Indian manservant with a monkey on his shoulder. While we had enjoyed the previous evening's viewing of Pixar's WALL-E, here was a film in which just the story was sufficient to please two cynical adults and two soon-to-be cynical children. The little girl in A Little Princess has a penchant for telling stories. And from her father she has learned that magic exists if you believe in it.

I was 8 and Santa Claus had brought me a red Schuco racer (about 15cm long) with steering, suspension and a gear shift that worked! I was driven by a windup mechanism which needed a large key. Within the hour I had lost the key and loudly cried to my father that all was lost and that I wanted to die. With a smile on his face he told me, "Alexander, Santa Claus knew this was going to happen so he entrusted me with an extra key. Here it is." To me this was pure magic and I have never forgoten it. I absolutely despise little boys (they are never little girs) who try and figure out a magician's tricks during a performance. And when they think they know, they loudly proclaim the fact to those who still believe in magic.

Mervyn "Swervin Mervyn" Fernandez was a fantastically slippery wide receiver for the BC Lions around 1985 when I photographed him. For the picture I wanted to show how Fernandez seemed to have some sort of magical magnetism in his hands that could attract and catch a football even if the pass was a bad one. For the shot I used a black coat hanger wire which was attached as a belt around Fernandez's waist and clamped on to the ball with expoxy glue. To me my trick was simple yet now, in 2008, the trick would be a lot simpler and perhaps because of it less believable since I would use Photoshop.

After seeing Cuarón's beautiful A Little Princess I understand more than ever that a child's imagination is something that has to be nurtured and preserved. The power of story telling seems to be waning as th special-effects-reality of films and games is seen as better, more colourful and more exciting. Who knows while Rebecca might think she is too old for this kind of thing there is still a chance that Lauren, just might soon ask me to tell her a story. The problem is, if not cowboys, pirates and deft swordfighters, then what?


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