A Beautiful Ballerina, Calvados & A Killer Toothache

Scan — Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

My knowledge of alcoholism is limited to the fact that my father was one and many of the Haywards (he was one) had the alcohol bug. Several of them died of stomach or liver problems. My father might have been the exception that he died on the street during a heart attack.

I have no idea if I have the alcoholic gene. For most of my life I have had a fear to all addictions. Some 15 years ago I gave up pipe smoking because I told myself that it was stupid and I had lost interest.

Any small quantity of alcohol induced a short-lived hangover that was replaced by terrible migraines. My migraine attacks ceased when I was around 60. If I have one addiction it is my predilection for fine black and loose tea. At any given moments I have seven or eight large tins of exotic and very good tea. I drink it strong.

My eldest daughter says I have an addiction to sugar so I now put less of it to sweeten my tea.

This does not mean that I don’t occasionally drink alcohol. For many years at the Railway Club they kept a bottle of Tío Pepe in the fridge or a fine manzanilla when they could find it. For lunch they would serve me my soup with a small glass of the sherry. I would pour half of it into the soup and sip what was left slowly.

My usual escape from wedding invitations is to say, “If you are not serving Moët & Chandon I will not go.”

In the late 80s my first cousin (and godmother’s) husband Dolfi Kuker told me, “Alejandro, I know you don’t like wine. But you will like this one.” This was in Buenos Aires and he served me some very cold Torrontés white wine made in the Province of Salta. This is the only wine I like. When you sip it, it somehow feels that you have bitten into a large handful of green grapes.

I had a very good ecdysiast friend called Tarren who when I went to admire her dancing and everything else would send little glasses of Baileys Irish Cream. She got me pretty tipsy but I stuck to my principles and was a gentleman to the end.

At about the time Gary Taylor would invite me to be a judge in the battle of the bands in his Gary Taylor’s Rock Room. He knew I was a cheap judge as I would not consume either the expensive cocaine that was offered or drink vast quantities of beer. A fellow judge convinced me to try something called a Tequila Banger. You poured soda water into a glass of tequila. You would lift the glass and cover the top with your hand. You would then bang it hard on the table. It would fizz up and then you would drink it in one gulp. I remember nursing a hangover in my tub (at the time we were living in Burnaby). I watched a towel slide off the towel rack. When it hit the floor the hangover turned into one of the worst migraines in memory.

Simply I don’t drink. I don’t take drugs and I don’t smoke anything.

Sometime in the early 80s Western Living hired me to photograph a few people who were importing exotic food stuffs to Vancouver. One of them was Portuguese José Velagao who had a firm called Continental Importers. His ex wife, Caren McSherry now runs the Gourmet Warehouse on East Hastings. I was invited for lunch by Velagao who treated me to an omelette in which he ground this curious (rare then, he introduced it to Vancouver) three colour pepper corn. The omelette was delicious. After a wonderful flan for dessert he told me, “One of the most underrated after-dinner drinks is the French apple brandy Calvados. I was given a little glass of it. It was strong but heavenly.

Every few years I buy a bottle and drink some when I have the right guests.

This is a story that I have told before but it warrants to be told again so that the subject of the story can adorn this blog.

Sandrine Cassini — Photograph Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

In October 2011 my all-time favourite ballerina, Sandrine Cassini (I had first noticed her at Ballet BC) had returned for a short stint as a choreographer/dancer with the Victoria Ballet Company. She had been dancing in Germany. Originally I had noticed her because she had the stamp of the Paris Opera Ballet when she walked. And indeed she had started there before moving to the Monaco Ballet and also to be photographed by Helmut Newton.

Cassini was in town and she was going to dance at North Van’s Centennial Theatre.

The night before I had a tremendous tooth ache. My dentist had given me his cell number just in case. I was determined to avoid the man. That night I swilled Calvados in my mouth and the pain dissipated. The next day in the afternoon the pain returned in full force. I swilled and swilled and suddenly I had this conversation in my head:

Officer I know that I have alcohol breath. It is not your normal alcohol breath. It is Calvados a very fine French apple brandy. I have a terrible tooth ache. I have not imbibed. I have swilled it to kill the pain. I must go and see the glorious Sandrine Cassini dance. If you knew how she dances and what she looks like you would trust me and let me go.

I was not stopped and I got to the Centennial Theatre. Cassini was up first dancing to the music of one of Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello. She was superb. Somehow the cello was at a frequency that penetrated into my tooth and the pain was unbearable. I soldiered on (I had no hip flask) and after the show I took this iPhone 3G picture that made the trip worthwhile.

Link to: A Beautiful Ballerina, Calvados & A Killer Toothache

Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.