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


Cole Slaw & Existential Angst At 12
Saturday, December 05, 2009

Today Saturday Rebecca, Lauren, Rosemary and I decided to visit the Bloedel Conservatory at Queen Elizabeth Park. Interesting things happened which were going to give me lots to write about. The children and Hilary were picked up late on Saturday night and I simply crashed telling myself I would write the Saturday blog on Sunday morning.

Today Sunday, afternoon, as I prepared myself to process the Tri-X roll of the Bloedel pictures of yesterday I was confronted with a darkroom leak (not a pesky one of light but the more messy one of unwanted water) . It is a perennial one caused by the plumbing industry which helps them create sales even in bad times. The “basket” device that is on both sides of a sink is made of stainless steel on the top side and aluminum on the bottom side. The aluminum corrodes every three to four years perhaps because of my darkroom chemicals. Another reason is that when you combine two metals closely, electricity and other factors do not inhibit corrosion. This is why just about any kitchen dishwasher manual will warn you about mixing metal cutlery with kitchen ware made of other metals.

The plumbing industry would help me avoid my usual week-end plumbing leaks by making that bottom basket out of stainless steel or even of hard plastic. Is this a conspiracy theory rant on my part? No, it is a simple observation. It is an excuse to wait until my sink is fixed (it is but I am waiting for my darkroom to dry a bit before I process that roll of Tri-X) before I place here the pictures of Lauren and Rebecca at the Bloedel Conservatory with that iconic Agave americana (a Mexican agave).

It will suffice for me to put here a portrait of two different sets of Argentine sisters. I only photographed the four and now they are in different places so I will probably not photograph them together again.

The picture of the sisters is justified in that I am citing a project of photographer Nicholas Nixon who in 1975 began taking pictures of his wife with her other three sisters. The project (he continued for at least 25 years) is called The Brown Sisters.

I have been fascinated by the Brown Sisters ever since I saw some of the pictures, and in particular the haunting one, 1982 Ipswich, Massachusetts, in the series many years ago at North Vancouver’s Presentation House.

I have been fascinated because I am a creature of routine. For the last 15 years I have woken up at 6:30 (there have been some exceptions) and I go downstairs to make breakfast for Rosemary and me. It is always the same breakfast. There have been some changes through the years. We used to have bacon on Sundays but we eliminated that custom four or five years ago. My daily tomato juice is affected by Rosemary being able to get it on sale. And the last four months Rosemary has suddenly shifted from hot cream of wheat to sliced bananas with brown sugar. This shift to bananas has been appreciated fully by my garden roses who esteem potassium as a growing supplement.

I feed the two cats. I open the front door and retrieve our Vancouver Sun and the New York Times. I take breakfast and the papers in a whicker tray upstairs where we have breakfast in bed and read the papers. No matter how stressful my life is (and here I can only write about myself since Rosemary does not seem to be able do disconnect her worry switch) I glory in the enjoying of my large mug of very strong and very good black tea, my Venice Bakery scissor rolls (freshly baked in my oven every morning) and the glass of juice while I see and read what has happened around the world. I love this kind of routine.

Routine was in my mind yesterday when I suggested, after lunch (Rebecca pointed out how she liked my cooking and Lauren had three helpings of the beans that I put in the oven with chopped onion, good Parmesan cheese and German Gruyere.) that we visit the birds at the Bloedel Consevatory and take our routine pictures by the agave. Rebecca protested, stamped her feet and had what in Mexico we would call a berrinche. She said that she was tired of doing the same things over and over, of coming to our house on Saturdays and seeing the same films about artists (we saw one on Rembrandt that evening that we all enjoyed). Then she shocked me with, “And then I go home where I feed the Guinea pigs, watch the same TV program and then go to bed and wake up the next day to to the same boring stuff.”

I could not believe it! Existential angst at 12!

In the fall of 1942 Sartre discovered Camus only weeks after sending off the completed manuscript of Being and Nothingness. Coincidentally at the time Sartre wrote a glowing and detailed 6,000-word essay to Camus’ The Stranger. In the essay, Sartre reads The Stranger alongside Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus. Sartre wrote:

The absurd…resides neither in man nor in the world if you consider each separately. But since man's dominant characteristic is "being-in-the-world," the absurd is, in the end, an inseparable part of the human condition. Thus, the absurd is not, to begin with, the object of a mere idea; it is revealed to us in a doleful illumination. "Getting up, tram, four hours of work, meal, sleep, and Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, in the same routine…," and then, suddenly, "the seeing collapses," and we find ourselves in a state of hopeless lucidity.

It almost sounded like Rebecca’s sudden angst about the uniformity of experience in her life. I was speechless and thought about it during our visit to the Bloedel Conservatory. Somehow she had settled down after demanding that I take her go garting instead of seeing the “same old birds”.

When we returned we had a chat about routine in the living room. I showed her the picture of Keely that had accidentally been double exposed with a unintended shot at the tea room where I had enjoyed the routine of conversations with my friend Abraham Rogatnick on Wednesdays.

I told Rebecca that routines are never really appreciated until they are lost. We should make it a point to study our routines and appreciate them as they happen and when they happen. She seemed to understand. For the time being it seems that Rebecca has overcome her existential angst.

As for Lauren, she said, "I like your cooking, Papi, but I don't want to eat your cole slaw." Lauren lives a life of absolutes. When will she get her first pangs of existential angst?

Thursday Routine


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