Time and again I have written here of how in my youth I became interested and then almost obsessed on anything related to the US Civil War. I wrote that it began at the Lincoln Library in Buenos Aires. I opened a book of American Heritage and saw for the first time the photographs of soldiers, generals and of dead in battle. The photographs of the soldiers, in stark and sharp b+w, staring at me from the page did not look different from the men and young men walking in the outside Calle Florida.
With all the uproar in the US on the terrible massacre or innocents in the Charleston, South Carolina church I wanted to show my granddaughter Lauren, 13 a bit of the reality as I see it and some knowledge of what led to that terrible civil war. In Lauren’s house they do not have cable TV nor do they get daily newspapers. As far as I know Lauren has little knowledge of world events and her geography is spotty.
On July 1 we saw the beginning of Glory the film about the heroic 54thMassachusetts Regiment, all blacks. The film the first really good film by Matthew Broderick was a preview of a man who has become one of the best American stage actors.
The film was too intense for us to see in one sitting so we postponed the ending to today, July 4.
After the film I showed Lauren, Rosemary and Hilary one of my prized books about the US Civil War My Brother’s Face — Portraits of the Civil War In Photographs, Diaries and Letters by Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod with Foreword by Brian C. Pohanka.
I believe that Lauren may have understood my idea of the starkness of these portraits that were taken before 1865.
After the film I lured them into the living room and popped the Copland Lincoln Portrait. The work in question is over 15 minutes long and Copland’s style of music always elicits from my Rosemary a, “I find this disturbing.” When Charleston Heston began to declaim Lincoln’s words there were not able to identify the man. But when I did Hilary immediately commented how Heston had been a right-wing guns kind of guy.
Ulysses Simpson Grant I explained that even though I was not an American the Lincoln Portrait always gives me goose bumps.
I have written here how my feelings of belonging to one country or another are mixed with the confusion of memories of having lived in Buenos Aires, Texas and Mexico. Now in Vancouver with the recent and inexorable influx of immigrants I find that I am an alien in the city that represents the place where I was made into a Canadian.
I have always felt very Argentine and very American. Strangely I have never associated in belonging to Mexico a place where I was reared into manhood. I wrote here about feeling Texan. Of late with all the shenanigans of red-neck Texans I feel less so and perhaps more American is the better bargain.
Even today the images of the US Civil war beckon me and then penetrate my heart. It is impossible not to look at Alexander Gardner’s portrait of Lincoln on the CD cover without being sucked in to the humanity of the man.
To make this brief and final: this non-American spent a perfect 4thof July in the company of loved ones and I hope that someday they too, will understand the power of the portrait.
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.