Rampant with Memory

Oh! How our dead danced!

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“Pleasure canopied in lustful smiles meets and embraces exuberant Joy…the fascination dance goes merrily, and the libidinous waltz with its lascivious entwinements whiles in growing excitement, the swelling bosom and the voluptuous eye tell the story of intemperate revel…”

Thus spake our Canadian ancestors, while Confederation dogged their heels, no doubt tightening entwinements. This ball was described in an east coast newspaper from that time.

I call them dead people because that is what they are but then–oh then!–they were so darned alive.

Yammer about Confederation didn’t arouse interest in the Atlantic provinces, who were minding their own business and doing just fine without it thanks.

(About this purple prose one editor commented: “There are some desperate fellows in the Prince Edward Island press.”)

Yes, these revellers are several generations dead while we, who live, topple on the edge of a century and a half of Canada.

I love this quote for many reasons, not least because it was written by a fellow journalist from another world who stood to the side with a notebook in hand.

A pack of lies penned by a sexually frustrated man held back by the perils of conservatism.

Interest in genealogy grows with age and will soon explode with retired baby-boomers clicking madly on ancestry.com and with help from the Mormon stash.

And so, somewhere in this crowd of dead folk dancing, I hope, were our folk. And now these party-goers are several generations dead while we stand on the edge of a century and a half of Canada.

Ah, but most of our folk had yet to arrive to swear allegiance, to stand erect on looted land–right down to the name of our half-baked nation.

But stern and frightened expressions on posing faces back then suggest there wasn’t quite so much jollity. Nursing, not heaving, bosoms with babes-in-arms and bellies lift their skirts and swollen ankles past monster cedar stumps, hoping they, or their small children, won’t die.

Meanwhile, in the comfort of my brick home in Upper Canada, I tap on the doors at ancestry.

The resurrection of Hedy Lamarr

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This is the story of a Hollywood actress, defined by her appearance, who was secretly a brilliant inventor and helped change the course of history. Until recently, Hedy Lamarr has laid in an unmarked grave in the Vienna Central Cemetery.

Susan Sarandon

This recent tweet from one fine, film star refers to another fine, film star who pleased the screen several decades ago. Ms. Sarandon praised Hedy Lamarr’s remarkable life while commenting on her marker-less grave; in so doing, she put Hollywood to shame. A hammered-down secret: Ms. Lamarr was a genius; she was one of the brains behind the invention of the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell phone networks.

Each time we lift our phones to our lips we ought to whisper: “Hedy.”

But due to film-set starlet-branding Hedy Lamar was nothing more than a pretty face in a halo of hair coquettishly leaning up against Clark Gable’s grinning hulk. And until very recently Ms. Lamarr lay without a name in a Viennese cemetery.

Thanks to Ms. Sarandon’s insistence, we acknowledge the many talents of this woman. Sixteen years after her death, a memorial has finally been installed, .

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“It incorporates 88 steel rods representing the 88 frequencies in Lamarr’s patented frequency hopping technology,” tweets Ms. Sarandon. These rods, when viewed from the right angle, generate an illusion of Lamarr’s face.

“FILMS HAVE A CERTAIN PLACE IN A CERTAIN TIME PERIOD. TECHNOLOGY IS FOREVER.”

I remember Hedy but not for the right reasons. I remember tacking her photo above my bed beside one of Vivien Leigh. Not because I’m from that era but because I was in love with beautiful women and Heddy resembled Scarlet O’Hara. Heddy also knew Rhett Butler.

As an adolescent I was in love with all things Gone with the Wind; for so many obvious reasons, this is an embarrassing confession.

But now, like Susan Sarandon, I am provided with an opportunity to tear off the illusion and thank her for the head behind the halo and celebrate, every day, her invention. One day I’d like to visit Vienna, with a stop among the cherubs and alabaster angels, and raise a toast to Hedy Lamarr.

 

 

A love poem for a Monday

Sound it softly

So lives erupt in quiet rapture

slide out the old, cold rules

pips in twisted orchards where

we once practiced sacrilege.

A still sandstone church dull

chipped alabaster dust walls lean

up against the sky and I

against you, squinting.

Our August blast.

Slivers of us lost in soft tassels of Chiloé wool

violet threads twined in cobalt blue

Lucy, what if we touch?

 

Step into the sun (your words) it cradles us

as we move into our thirties

lean up, you said, up against the valley of the moon

and then you snapped me there—remember?

History shaped on the altar of rough imagination

by the old, whipped stones of Easter Island.

Now I pluck photographs from tinted frames

and you tear up when Yukon melts away each spring.

Let’s run the race of our old passion

gone wild inside thick Adacama heat.

 

Reflections on Youth

Youth is wasted. Remember that? Youth is wasted on the young, I mean, not that they are just plain wasted. I was thinking about that George Bernard Shaw truism because I have a youth for a son, and his girlfriend is also a youth, whom I also sort of have. They live in Montreal; I live in Toronto. I love them both and watch over them from this distance of decades and a few hundred kilometres. We are only a key-tapping distance apart.

Thinking about them, I sink in and out of envy and sorrow but mostly what I know is an all-round general enthusiasm about their exuberant, energetic lives. Tipping their first can of beans into their first crock-pot of Chili con carne, a recipe gathered from the mothers. Hoping their minds explode with knowledge, evenings at the McGill library and later a pub for a beer with a pal or ten.

When last I blogged I blogged about photographs, referring to myself as a kind of taskmaster, asking the grieving families of my obituary subjects to muck about in boxes and crates of old family photos so I can illustrate the story I write. Pictures to draw readers into the words, emphasizing a poignant or perhaps a comical anecdote.

In my work, I bring people back to life. In a whiff they return to the moulds of their younger selves, puffing up their lives with promise. Like taking a crayon to a colouring book, I fill in the frame with details of their lives and their work. Notable Canadians earning a nation’s respect.

I’ve been reading John English’s biography of Trudeau. I’m onto the second volume now: Just Watch Me.  It’s 1968. Pierre has just dived–literally–into the deep end, charming his people with his kinaesthetic excellence while cruelly commenting  on Robert Stanfield’s clumsiness. He was young then, our bachelor philosopher king of Canada.

Like many of the families I badger, I just rooted around in my own stash of  photos and found this recent one of my son Toto and his wonderful Sydney, taken in a local Toronto pub on my 52nd birthday in July. I cropped out some of the background and framed the shot. Then I encountered this question from my invisible software photo editor friend: “click or drag over blemish to remove.”

I paused. Peered closer, angling my new bifocals across the screen.

No blemishes.

Photographs and memories

I have stopped taking photographs. This feels significant and closely tied in with my death-writing. I’ve stopped taking photographs because they wear me down. Although invisible for the most part, these snapshots (as they were once so charmingly called) plug up the works, demanding that I attend to them but I don’t have time and there are hundreds lying in wait.

These photographs want viewing, reviewing, cataloguing, labelling. They want stories to go along with them. Later, they’ll want someone to care about them enough to hold onto them but nobody will. And so they are little more than perpetual pin-pricks on my conscience, nudging me closer toward thoughts of mortality. Instead of the art of photography it becomes the art of forgetting. Am I making sense? Maybe no, so allow me a tad more space.

As a blogger I’m tasked with dropping no more than 500 words into this post box, no more than twice a week. I exercise restraint and restriction. Even still, I never know whether my words are read other than by a (vital and beloved!) core of friends and family. But I write them in order to have a presence on the web. To help validate and authenticate me as a writer.  I also write them because it’s so much fun.

With taking photos, my restraint is tossed to the wind in these digitalized days; scads of bad pictures are tucked inside memory sticks tucked inside drawers–but to what end?

So I left the camera behind on Sunday when Heather and I went to Stratford to catch some sun and some Shakespeare. Maybe I was in a grumpy mood when I stood at my desk considering packing it in the bag and decided that no, no more backdrops of swans, geese, rivers, Heather, Noreen. What’s to become of the almost identical ones we already have?

Post-theatre, we took a ride 0n a little barge along the Avon River. The only other passengers were a young couple and their toddler daughter “Elise! Elise!” I knew her name not through an introduction but because her father pestered her with it several dozen times during our thirty minute ride, each time he snapped her picture.

“That kid’s first words will be ‘Enough with the goddamned pictures!’ “I whispered to Heather. It seemed truly invasive after the first forty or so.

How does ruminating on digital photography successfully segue into obituary writing? Well, one of my tasks is locating illustrative photographs to go with the pieces I write. I’m always on the hunt and likely also pestering grieving family members for this shot, or that shot. I haven’t run into the digital age yet so I doubt it’s as burdensome a hunt as it will become, but I’m nevertheless hurting with this thought of pestering.

“Rest, rest, perturbed spirit!”

Hamlet, Act 1, scene v

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