Winter Solstice, 2022

Dec 22 2022, Kolkata

Lying nearly on the Tropic of Cancer, Kolkata’s oscillations make for a hint of winter light, the sun slanted a bit and a diminishing of the heat. For someone accustomed to Northern US and European climes it is balmy. The locals put on a sweater.

Certainly in Riga, back 3 months ago, where I spent a 5 day stay before heading on to India (via a stop in London), they have a lot more than sweaters on now. I had a hard time recalling my previous visit way back in 1999 or so, doing a workshop with Michael Pilz, when the city seemed in memory far smaller. It was a nice 5 day stay this time around, walking the city and meeting a some new people.

London was a pit stop and then the long flight to Kolkata. Here I am staying thanks to my net-met friend Riddhi, who a few years back had sent me his film PARIAH, which I found quite good and powerful, and tried to help him get into a major festival. I failed, and found out whatever cultural clout I once had is diminished to more or less nothing. I can’t even get my films in a festival anymore: my most recently finished film, WALKERVILLE: A State of Mind, turned down by the Berlin festival’s “Forum Expanded” section, and in last years work has been rejected by others, though in my view it is among my best work.

Here I have a nice little apartment for myself in South Kolkata, on a little pond, one of very many scattered about the city. On arrival I had time to take a deep breath and then we went off for 5 days to Riddhi’s home town, Supur, a rural village about 3 hours drive away. It was Durga Puja, the major Hindu festival of the year, and I got a front row seat as it were to the festivities. Owing to Riddhi’s family status there, he had to officiate in some rituals. I found the village life fascinating – unless you’ve been to such places it is difficult to convey the basic nature of it – dirt streets, on/off electricity, questionable water, and a deep poverty which, being the norm there, takes on a “just-life” quality. Not having been in India for 12+ years, my first ride seemed a harrowing trip in hell, zig-zagging, dodging in the mixed traffic of cars trucks buses rickshaws bicycles goats cows pedestrians, horns honking and a general mayhem which here, in the countryside or the cities, is the same, and taken as normal. By my second trip I’d acclimated myself to it, and, as I told Riddhi, it appeared that either your driver was very good, or dead. No in-betweens on that.

Here in the city I walk around the neighborhood and ponder some kind of film. Have a few people – two young women, Aopala (dancer) and Tanika (actress) game to do something; now I must dream it up out of the city, life and find a film. Or not. Ok either way.

Also while here took a trip nearby (20 miles but took a few hours driving) to a place where a traditional form of Bengali boat was being built – to go into a museum. More of the endless village which seems to be a major part of India. Boat and all was of interest, perhaps because I lived a while, in Port Hadlock WA, for nearly a year, immediately across from a hand-made boat making school and saw what they did.

And another trip with friend Nilanjan whom I met back in 2002 or 3, when here for workshops in Raipur (one month) and 4 shorter ones here in Kolkata. He became my guide and friend back then and later wangled me into the film festival here 12 years ago. We went to his hometown, Bishnupur, 3 hours train ride away, and then drove to a resort place in forest, and visited a tribal village – a place I’d love to go stay a month or two and make a documentary of life there.

Otherwise slowly nosing around Kolkata – markets, different neighborhoods, though owing to the dicey modes of mass transit (buses, metro, “autos” – 3 wheeler motorized rickshaws; pedaled rickshaws or human kind, all requiring some inside know-how to use), the going on whatever is slow and going to place X is more or less enough for a day. Last weekend Nilanjan took me to all the Christian churches here (half were closed), and out for a good Bengali dinner. So it has been an interesting and active last 3 months, seeing new things, meeting new people and having a good time. Learning new things which is always good.

In early January I will go for a few days to the Sunderban, a mangrove forest area in the delta of the Ganges; maybe see a tiger. Or maybe not. A bit later I will be off to Dhaka, in Bangladesh, to spend nine days being a juror for Asian films section at the film festival there, which is a major one in the region. And then back to Kolkata until end of February, with a long trip to Cuba – with brief stop with friends in London, and then Habana via a layover in Madrid. Cuba to teach at EITVC again, as I did last year. And then, on Spring equinox, fly to Chicago, where have one screening lined up, and look to stay 3 weeks or so. After that my crystal ball offers no insights. Though perhaps to Galicia to shoot a film in May. Perhaps not.

Of life in the last 3 months, what is getting to be a “normal” once one reaches this age: the litany of friends slipping off the planet. One friend, a writer, Jim Nisbet, 75 at death, who had forewarned me after getting my summer letter that it wasn’t clear he’d be around for the autumn one, did manage to get to Sept 21, but the quick cancer he had took him on 28th. And as I write a few other friends are wrestling with cancer as well. I must have written now 100 poems which dance around the reality of death (not morbid poems I note – rather ones which simply acknowledge it is a natural part of life, and to embrace life fully, one must embrace all of it.)

Of other matters – politics and all – they seem to demonstrate our near infinite capacity for stupidity and self-destructiveness. Thanks to the war in Ukraine the arms business is kicking into high gear just when we should be taking steps to rapidly de-industrialize. We’ll go over our cliff in super high-tech style. We are so brilliant.

A poem from sometime in the last few years:

stepping out of the shower I caught a glance of myself
and thought of caravaggio’s saint jerome
not the one at the villa borghese in rome
which i saw some decades back
but the one i’ve never seen, in malta

the withered arms and pull of gravity
were there
the furrowed brow
but the skull was not on a table
for my contemplation
instead i wore it on my shoulders
slack as they were
and like jerome i’d lost most my hair

in the same moment i recalled another painting
on piazza del popolo
of st peter being hoisted to his baselitz-like end
and thought

at least i am not there
(just yet)

Actually St Peter there is looking to have more muscle in his bicep than I seem to have these days. Though I can do more than 100 pushups still.

With that I’ll wrap this up as we wrap up another year. Hope all is going well with you, and if you’re into seasonal follies (I am not), enjoy and have a wonderful whatever you celebrate. It will be getting lighter now for us up here in the northern half of our shared home.

Kindly write a note, however brief, is so inclined.

A hug from Kolkata


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