London, tail end of a journey back to the USA, prompted by both a proposition to do something out in Pacific NW, and by a little visa run-out snag. Left Palermo on a cheapo Ryanaire flight, and stayed a handful of days with friends along the Thames, and managed to see a handful of others while in city.
Every time I return to London a neighborhood has changed, giant buildings have erupted into the sky, and the tone changes drastically. Tourists jam the center, the museums, any place “known.” They take their selfies and scramble onto the next foto-op. I betray my age with a sigh of resignation, appalled at the ADDS all around me, the apparent emptiness of thinking that by having your mug in front of this famed painting or place, it somehow endows one with anything. A vast collection of Kilroy-Was-Here imagery. It will be the final testimony of the human race.
Exiting Brexitland, I flew to Seattle, and then went on to Port Angeles and my friend Steve Taylor. He’s been in 5 of my films so far, and we plot another now, though I did not know that before. Things happen… Port Angeles is now yet another of my “homes”, a still somewhat scruffy port town at the top of the Olympic Peninsula, 22 miles across the Strait of San Juan de Fuca from Victoria, BC. I’ve stayed with Steve periodically since 2002 I think, and lived not far away in Port Hadlock back in 2001-2. In his house, I shot Blue Strait back in 2012-3 as I recall. Steve had a lead role. [https://vimeo.com/ondemand/140067].
View from Steve’s back window, looking out the fogged Strait.
This time around my schedule is hazy, with little tangible to dictate time. Finishing new film, Pequenos Milagres, about my daughter Clara’s first 3 and a half years, pinned to the computer and editing. It’s now virtually done, with just some technical stuff to tidy up, and sent off to the festival roulette game. It’s a highly personal work, though I hope I managed to make it universal as well. Not really the kind of thing most festivals would be inclined to take, or so I think. Too “experimental” for most documentary ones, and too – oh, I don’t know what to call it, too “home-movie” or too personal-seeming for others. If my recent track record is indicative perhaps none will invite it – such has been the fate of most of my more recent films – Canyon, Bowman Lake, Dissonance, They Had It Coming, The Narcissus Flowers of Katsura-shima, Blue Strait and some before then. Seemingly just out of tune with the fashions of the moment, or perhaps just not in tune with the now decades-long social obsession with money and celebrity. It makes me wonder why I persist.
Port Angeles. Downtown the repeated attempts to gentrify over the last 17 years I have known it seem to chronically fail. Main street seems the same, stores or cafes opening and closing; further out the “For Lease” and “For Sale” signs proliferate, the population seems not to grow, though on the flanks headed towards Sequim, the highway went from two-lane to four, and shopping malls sprawl out a bit, but mostly towards Sequim. The paper pulp plant to the west of town closed down, though I am told it is being fixed for some new function. There is (of course) now a brewery pub in town, a seemingly mandatory thing now about anywhere in the US. And while it seems a little spiffier in appearance than a decade ago, it also seem stuck in time.
And per usual for small town anywhere America it has its fair share of drugged out people, homeless camping in public spaces – Trump’s losers, though likely as not if they could get to a poll booth, they’d vote for him. Go figger.
Strait of San Juan de Fuca from Port Angeles
Raymond Carver lived the last years of his life here, and is buried in the Oceanview cemetery just west of town. There a marble slab lies, with a ceramic funereal image of him and Tess Gallagher, she awaiting her turn for the fabled six-feet under. Beside the slab is a little bench, adjacent to which is a small metal box, unlabelled. The grave is visited by literary tourists – writers, would be writers, fans – who must seem to know from some source, that inside the box is a zip-lock bagged little notebook, in which their thoughts may be scribbled or neatly written. Another contingent of those drawn to this site are alcoholics who feel that Carver helped haul them through hard times and perhaps into sobriety.
Among the notes written are some little Carveresque short stories, many items addressed “Dear Ray” and a number of usually longer ones, in which Tess talks of her day, the visiting poet friends, the talk she gave, all written as if to a living person. Ray Carver died of cancer, at the age of 50, in 1988.
I find the idea of “fans,” or of writing to a dead person, or of making literary or other “fame” pilgrimages all a bit odd, even perverse. It strikes me as a psychological illness, something that suggests the person holding such a mind-set is not reconciled with life, and its necessary companion, death. In the case of Tess, it appears to me as a kind of necrophilia, and in this case one of a cynical nature, that she has spent 31 years riding the coat-tails of Ray’s fame. She is the controller of the Carver estate, and apparently defends it fiercely. While I have never read it, a number of people tell me her own poetry is dubious. I know nothing of poetry, so reading it would tell me little.
Lingering in the back of my mind, now for a decade and more, has been the thought of an essay, or perhaps a kind of film, titled “Dear Ray” and then maybe a secondary one, “Notes from Carver Country”.
I have hundreds, perhaps thousands of photographs of this part of America (running from Montana to Washington, Oregon and California), images that often echo the world his stories described. Tempting.
Along with Port Angeles, also spent a week in Portland with friends Mark and Jane. Like London, Portland is in a phase of big changes incurred by globalized big money. The city is simply being bought, as in many other places, and the locals priced out of their own homes. Today I read a headline which listed 200 US cities in which the “median priced” home as a cool million. Chump change to our billionaires. Fiscal wrecking balls.
Writing now from Butte Montana after an Amtrak trip here and drive from Whitefish. Along the way the car in front of us had a head-on crash, as the fellow on the other side drifted into our lane a bit quickly. Texting? Drugs? Idiocy?
I thought for sure there would be some dead, but crumple zones and seat-belts saw the passenger in the white truck crawl out the window and likewise the driver of the blue car. The driver of the white truck, cause of the accident, couldn’t manage on his own but was not seriously hurt.
Here in Butte, yet another “home,” perhaps now for most of the summer. Lots of things to do. Perhaps some kind of sequel to 1987’s Bell Diamond, with those left here and still alive. A landscape film in Yellowstone. Something either photographic or cinematic with the Berkeley pit. Lots to do. Back in Port Angeles after a touch of mulling things over, and knowing my old Sony XDcam back in Italy is on its last legs, I guess I decided I’m not retiring just yet, bit the bullet, and bought a new camera, for a tidy bit of coinage, a Panasonic.
Or perhaps it is an indication of terminal stupidity and recklessness. I suppose the end of the summer will tell.