Sina & Hanna Together
My liberal Catholic education in a boarding school in Austin (St. Edward’s High School) allowed for Darwin’s beliefs on where we came from. At the same time a reading of Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man gave me some glimpses on where we might be headed to.
At St. Ed’s in Austin, Brother Edwin explained to us how a couple of apes at some point might have had that glimmer of thought which the Catholic Church would explain as a direct intervention of God. “I don’t think those thinking apes would have been as pretty as the Adam and Eve portrayed in art.” he explained to us. Brother Edwin’s explanation was no different from the one I had read in the books of Erich Fromm. I saw no conflict between the Church and Darwin. But Brother Edwin discussed another problem with us. He first went through the standard Aristotelian/Church progression from a rock to primitive cells and organisms, insects, birds, mammals, humans, angels and God. He explained that humans were a blend of body and spirit. That spirit was our soul. Angels were pure but imperfect spirits and God, then, was the pure and perfect spirit. Where we had a confusion and Brother Edwin left us (how intelligent he was) with it, was what kind of spirit a dog or ape would have. Could we call these spirits souls? We discussed what obvious traits made us different from animals. Brother Edwin told us that unlike animals (and I cannot now be sure of it) that we as Homo sapiens sapiens knew that we knew. We were aware of our being.
Since then, humans have been defined as toolmakers and users of tools yet several animals including birds have been seen using primitive mechanical devices to open shells, etc. The difference between animals and humans has blurred even further. Soon the Vancouver Aquarium’s sea otter and octopus will be considered so intelligent (they are) that nature lovers will force the aquarium to release them. The sea otters and the octopus will be the “new whale”.
For the time being I live in the comfort that one difference between us and the “lower” orders is our ability to associate disparate things, events, memories and find links within them. It is far and beyond making a noise with a spoon and a tin of cat food to get the cats to come in. Our human ability to associate is far more elaborate. Or as my friend Les Wiseman reminded me only this week, “What can we do, where can we be transported to by dipping a madeleine into tea?”
Yesterday I Skyped Juan Manuel Sánchez in Buenos Aires. He told me that he was having radioactive tests (radioactive substances were being injected) to look for solutions to his health problems. Sánchez is 78. I made the comment that he probably glowed in the dark. I told him that I was going to nick-name him Polonio, Polonio Sánchez. The association is Borgesian and he caught on. Jorge Luís Borges had a great interest in a shadowy Argentine literary figure called Macedonio Fernández. Thus the association of Polonio Sánchez and Macedonio Fernández. Does this ability make us human?
Yesterday Rosemary and I watched a fine film My Summer of Love that features two young women of different backgrounds in Yorkshire who find each other. The two young girls become close and have a torrid affair (I don’t think I will be seeing this film with Rebecca yet). I noted that wonderful closeness that they had which we men could not possibly achieve with our macho ideas of what is proper and what is not. I have had friends and have friends but there is always a sense of distance. I felt closeness to Juan Manuel Sanchez when he was in Vancouver. After a visit I would kiss him goodbye. We Argentine Latins can be a bit more expressive of our feelings in spite of our machismo.
The film made me re-live last Sunday in a different and far more glowing light. It all started last Saturday when the phone rang. Rosemary passed me the phone and with a doubtful expression on her face told me, “They want pictures.” The young woman on the phone had a thick German accent. “We want pictures,” she asked. This kind of thing is not infrequent so I like to make sure the request is a serious one and that money will change hands (in my direction). The girl on the phone told me her name was Sina (that S was pronounced like a z) and that she and her friend Hanna had gone to Sears to enquire about having their pictures taken. They were told that Sears no longer had that service but the woman (a mystery to me as who she was) told them that there was someone who would. My name was mentioned. The two girls looked me up on the web and found me. They called. Sina told me that they lived in Agassiz but that they were in town for the weekend. “You mean you want me to take your pictures today or tomorrow?” Sina, said, “Yes.” I mentioned to them that I was not cheap. I mentioned a sum and we agreed to meet at my studio the next morning at 11. I thought it all very strange. Rosemary, who is often right, felt that this was either a joke or that the women were “Gypsies” who would rob me. To make matters worse that evening the clocks were going to change. Would the girls realize this? Would they show up on time?
I arrived at the outside gate of my studio on Robson. It was 10:45. There were two women outside with bags. One of them had very blond straight hair down to her waist. She was well over 6 ft. I went up to them and told them, “You look German.” Up in the studio Sina (the tall one) told me that she was a milk maid in an Agassiz dairy farm. She was here on an exchange program. Her friend Hanna was visiting from home, a small town in Schleswig-Holstein. Hanna was a chef’s assistant. Both young girls were 20. “We want sexy pictures for our boyfriends.”
I insisted in taking their pictures together first to celebrate their friendship. These pictures were easy to take. There was warmth between them that I was able to recognize yesterday while watching My Summer of Love. But I had to tell them exactly how to pose together. They soon warmed up to my instructions. We then took the sexy pictures for their boyfriends. I mentioned that the picture session must have arisen from some impulse that hit them while shopping in Sears. But both Hanna and Sina spoke a very limited English and they constantly chattered on in German. I had no idea what they were saying. I suspect they must have had fun.
With a few frames left in my camera Hanna suggested I photograph them together. Hanna looked at me while telling me this and then changed her mind. I insisted. It seems there was a level of discomfort. Perhaps she was thinking, “What will our boyfriends think of us?” I took two pictures of them together and they looked exactly like the two girls in the film we saw yesterday, even if I wasn’t to know that until then.
But I did know last Sunday that I had captured something special — a bond between women, a bond that as a man, I can only but suspect of its wonders. Perhaps, those dogs, those birds and I have that flaw in common, and women are that much more human.
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.