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


The Three Gifts
Thursday, July 30, 2009

In 1962 I used to walk in downtown Mexico City to four special places. One was American Photo Supply where I stared at brand new Kodak Retina Reflex cameras. I could not afford to buy their lens caps. From Avenida Madero, where American Photo was, I would walk three blocks to Avenida Venustiano Carranza where there were two magical shops with tons of used cameras (still at prices I could no afford) that featured Edixas, Exaktas, Alpas, Asahi Pentaxes, Robot Cameras, Praktinas, Prakticas and of course the cameras that were even beyond the desires of my imagination. They had Leicas. They had Leicas with reflex housings and all kinds of wonderful attachments I had no idea what they were for. These shops both had Germanic names. One was Foto Lipkau and the other was Foto Rudiger. It was in the latter where I finally was able to plunk enough money to get a camera that served me well into the middle 80s. It was an Asahi Pentax S-3. The fourth location, where I would oggle at the cameras, was the Monte de Piedad or the National Pawnshop right on the Zócalo or the main square of Mexico City. I fell in love with a Miranda there not knowing that this beauty was a dog. As for the Leicas and the even rarer Alpas I felt destined to always see one behind a counter or as a jewel, the apex of photographic technology, behind a store window.

Today I visited a friend who says he is dying. My friend was holding court in his living room assisted by a fan that moved hot air in his direction. Beside me was George Bowering, his wife, architect Bruno Freschi and my granddaughter Rebecca. My friend pointed at a laundry bag in a corner. On the laundry bag I read Jai Mahal Palace, Jaipur. It was heavy. Inside was a pristine Leica IIIf (circa early 50s). It was inside what looked like a brand new brown leather case. It is the kind of case made of special pressed leather that only Germans were able to make and which not even the Japanese were able to imitate or match. My friend pointed in my direction and said, "It's yours."

That's the first gift.

I introduced Bowering, below right, to Rebecca and told her he was Canada's first poet laureate. "George, please explain to Rebecca what that is." "In Parliament in Ottawa there is a wall with plaques. One plaque reads "Prime Minister", a second reads "Lieutenant Governor", another reads "House of Commons", a fourth reads "The Senate" and the next plaque says "Poet Laureate of Canada" and that's me." From there we had an argument as to who was the first poet laureate of England. Bowering said it was Dryden.

My friend said it was someone before him. Encyclopedias were checked and Dryden was confirmed. The conversation drifted to milk because out of the blue Rebecca opined that ever since milk was homogenized people have been having problems drinking milk. She pointed out that Avalon milk was not homogenized. Bruno Freschi told us he had met the original owner and that he had pushed a dream that became a prosperous reality. Bowering kicked in that Avalon milk had been delivered to him in the very neighbourhood we were in (West Point Gray) in wagons pulled by horses.

That's the second gift.

I was in a room with two great architects, a respected free-lance writer and editor, the ex-Poet Laureate of Canada and my granddaughter Rebecca. We each held our own. I was proud of Rebecca.

If she remembers some day of today, that will be my third gift even if I am not around. And unlike my friend I do want to live.


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