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It is the end of the year according to old Papa Gregory, whose astrologists jiggled the anomalies of the existing calendar and came up with a special one just for him, with which we’ve been shackled the last 400+ years.  So another New Year is here, and in turn the promptings to summarize the one past.  Here’s anecdotal evidence of mine, mixed in with other items of personal note.












The above were mostly done while recuperating from this, a disk extracted in April, requiring some horizontal time and afterwards some physical therapy, done in Matera, and then Ginosa, in the south of Italy.  Thanks to their medical system this did not bankrupt me, indeed hardly costing a thing.  Grazie, Italia.



And then endless photography, of which here’s a very tiny sample:

matera-collage-trans-march-25-sky-copy-sm-smCollage of Materadsc01460-sm








And being of that age, some friends slipped off the planet, at a distance, and discreetly, so saying, “So long, it’s been good to know you” wasn’t an offer circumstances gave.  Wish I could have.

pat-kelleyPatricia Kelley111photoPeter Hutton

On a happier frequency this year saw some nice things for people I know.  Friend Edoardo Albinati won the Premio Strega here in Italy, the highest literary award Italy has to offer, so in the company of Cesare Pavese, Primo Levi, Umberto Eco, Elsa Morante, Alberto Moravia, et al.  Not bad company.   The book has a mere 1,250 pages, of which with my limited Italian I have so far read 250, which is more pages of a novel than I have read in the last 20 or 30 years.  I will finish it in the coming months, as my Italian is taking great leaps forward for taking the effort.  And as the book is quite interesting, it isn’t hard work, but a pleasure.


586Edoardo Albinati

The other oblique pleasure is that Nathanial Dorsky in the last year and more has been trotting around the globe for screenings of his work.  In Spain, Portugal, France, the USA and elsewhere.  As Nick’s films are remote from the commercial world, and he has never done the film-biz hustle and promotional stuff, it has been a joy to see the world, as it were, come to his door.  His work is as deep as his modesty.

rembrandtnathanialNathaniel in Rembrandt Laughingdd-hilite17_art_0502364875

nathaniel-in-museum Nathaniel Dorsky

Finally closed in on finishing one film, Muri Romani II, an HD new version of the 2000 film of same title, minus the “II”.  And shot and am working on another film, Manahatta, hoping perhaps to wrap it up in the coming year.  Also editing Piccoli Miracoli, shot way back in 1996-2001, of my daughter Clara when I was raising her; hoping to finish by May.  And Marcella is editing Again and Again, a long documentary shot 5 years ago, which should end up as two films, one 80 minutes or so long, the other perhaps 3 or more hours. It’s about Korean choreographer Eun mee Ahn, as she develops a new work.  Aiming for a March finish for the shorter version, longer one by summer.

muri-panelMuri Romani II




ballerini-compagnia-1 Again and Again

Along with these things, did a lot of writing, mostly for my blogs, listed at the end of this, which also have many photos, and other things, if interested.


Moved to Italy in late February, we were in Matera and Ginosa until October, and then moved to Caucana, Sicily – near Ragusa – living a 3 minute stroll from a nice beach.  I went walking on it most days, where it offered up quiet little philosophic pages for me to contemplate.








For the coming year we’ll move back to Ragusa, a small but very nice apartment in the center of the city. We think to stay 6 months – Marcella to work on Bojagi and other sewing projects, and finishing the editing on Again and Again.  She’s also shooting a film on several musicians she met, perhaps a documentary portrait.  I hope to finish editing on the films mentioned, and if the spirit strikes, perhaps shoot some kind of long film there, with local people.  Also to paint/draw and lay out a book of poetry and several photo books – maybe to have on-line.  If the plot works out, we hope to head to a festival in Korea at the end of summer, and then on to Japan for one there. Then to the USA to travel 6 months seeing friends, doing screenings, and shooting more for a film essay.   Perhaps a swan song.



Best for 2017 !!




22greenhouseweb-superjumboInvasion of the Body Snatchers, 195614eganweb-master768


The long season of America’s electoral process has finally finished, and having dispatched at first the comical “best” of the Grand Old Party in an embarrassing sequence of primary “debates,” Donald Trump, regarded as the least likely candidate, and the easiest to beat by the Democratic National Committee, has emerged from the cultural rubble as victor.  Much of the nation appears to be in shock, having been told by most of the national media that Trump’s chances were nil.  The vast realm of what bi-coastals call “fly-over country” – the swathe from Eastern Pennsylvania on to the Rockies, and as well, all the West until you get to the sliver which hugs the Pacific Coast beyond the Sierras and Cascades – usually dismissively derided as uncultured and beneath contempt, all rose up to vote for Trump.  And given the oddity of the old slave-holder derived Electoral College, a minority of voters were able to secure a majority of the votes in this institution and hand the Presidency to Trump.  While geographically rather amiss, it appears indeed the South did rise again.  The irony that it did so through the hands of a Queens NYC crony capitalist is perhaps a bitter pill better left unmarked.







From Upton Sinclair’s It Can’t Happen Here (1935): “But he saw too that in America the struggle was befogged by the fact that the worst Fascists were they who disowned the word ‘Fascism’ and preached enslavement to Capitalism under the style of Constitutional and Traditional Native American Liberty.”

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15235857_10154871746439917_2879648844778042844_oMark Twain and John T. Lewis06america1-superjumbo

joes-fxPhoto by Joe Podlesnik, Phoenixf09f9b0ccfff6735a0466a578db7226d-908-580-opioid_databasefc5df1754



Having known back-road America – that fly-over turf – now for 5 decades, living there or passing through on one-laner’s or dirt roads, with many friends living “out there,” I am well acquainted with the slow degradation of life that has happened in rural America.  Railroad services stopped, Main Streets gone dilapidated and empty, family farms absorbed into giant corporations, dwindling wild life, pollution from big-ag run-off, the blossoming of WalMarts and Dollar Stores, trailer parks, a plague of meth and alcohol, and all the signifiers of genuine social collapse.   In the hinterlands of the country this is what globalization wrought – devastation.  And at the same time an ever increasing political and social marginalization of those areas which did not partake of the economic benefits of this process.   Or in the rust-belt as factories closed, either shipped abroad to cheaper labor markets, or robotized, those whose livelihoods were lost were simply ignored, racked up in the statistics as un- or under-employed.  The coastal pundits suggested more education (or re-education?) while they turned college into another profit generator while running up a gigantic student-debt tally.  In the last few years, as the meth and then opioid epidemics hit this mostly white sector of the country, along with the suburbs, there was a sudden bit of attention directed to this population, as the nation’s pundits tried to figure out just what was going wrong.  If they ever left their cocoons of upper-middle class comfort and pulled their noses out of the academic studies and books du jour, and stayed in a low-class motel while slumming in the sticks, they might just begin to get a glimpse of what Donald Trump so expertly manipulated into his electoral win.  As Michael Moore, and others who actually know this world, knew and predicted, Trump played right into the zeitgeist of the national discontent that has been building for decades.



trump-artboard_8Trump’s America, voting-wiseheroin-eastliverpool2

25tltl-personal-spaces5-master1050Jim Harrison’s Montana writing room15241965_10154871833249917_5480780354052195706_n

thoreauxHenry D. Thoreau15380808_10210480332141283_3337942007745677542_nEdward Hopper8f3d2140d93ba281a27c5257de148385-908-587-gettyimages843167781438806851




Having willfully stirred the hornet’s nest of the nation’s traditional bass-line of racism, Trump has brought to the foreground a social poison which remains broadly with us – however much the previous years attempted to gloss it over, and despite the purely racist behavior of the GOP when confronted with Obama.  Dance as they would around “policy” it was clear from day one that McConnell and company were driven by hard-core racism to oppose anything Obama proposed.   And now, with the genie let loose from a decade and more of political correctness suppression, we are seeing a rising wave of racist acts across the country.  I am not surprised.  On my back road trips I saw graffiti such as “Obama” with a rifle cross-hair in the “O”, and other such outward signs that we were not at all in a “post-racial” time.  Trump has played on this repeatedly, and will surely continue to do so as he consolidates his power.  While he meekly disavows such things, he simultaneously goads them on with scarcely an effort to mask his real intent and views.    His cabinet choices underline this quite clearly.



jazz-festival-monk-ginsbergThelonius Monk and Alan Ginsberg25stoneweb-master768Standing Rock15541175_10154833559579691_2150227030082905662_nPainting by Stephen Lack06tp-cohen-inyt-2-master768



09scrantonjump-superjumboOutside Scranton, Pa.south-charleston-wvWest Virginiayip2016-january-slide-dw1t-superjumbo

America is at a crossroads.  Its decaying infrastructure is emblematic of a crumbling social contract, one that has frayed beyond recognition.  Were we a small country, like Italy under Berlusconi, it would be bad for many people, but manageable and to some degree even amusing.  But the USA is not a small country, and what happens in it impacts not only Americans, but the world.  As indicated by the last decade and more, as we oscillated from GW Bush, pressed under the sway of 9/11 (probably avoidable if it had not been desired by certain parties within the government) into a mindless war in the Middle-East, and then an economic collapse propelled by mindless consumerism and dirty banking, and then to Barack Obama, where for 8 years the tensions of the nation simmered under a cover of benign shoe shuffles from the White House while the GOP Tea Partied its way to a fundamentalist polka of racism, the Nixonian “Southern Strategy” on steroids, blanketed in a phony Christianity and “conservatism” dictated by the likes of Rush Limbaugh.  I might note that in cross-country jaunts the only occupants of the radio airwaves are right-wing talkers like Rush, and sleazy Christian preachers, interspersed with today’s awful rock and roll and C&W.  TV is Fox and Fox only.  The great swathe of fly-over country has been truly brainwashed, almost without opposition, and their embrace of the Republican Party – whomever it coughs up – is virtually religious, an act of unquestioning and thoughtless belief.   That’s what’s wrong with Kansas (and NE MO IND WYO etc.).

With the theatrics of the 2016 Presidential Election the dead rot of our political culture was laid naked – the vacuity of the Republican candidates, including Trump, was unfathomable in its shallowness, and while Clinton and Sanders sparred with some intelligence, it was still carefully within the range of the old era polit-speak, though Sanders sometimes stepped slightly outside the parameters of conventional Democratic Party parsing.   Trump’s vulgarism and crudeness swept all this aside, his yahoo base as sexist and crude for the most part as he himself.  And as he sold the snake oil, they bought, without reservation, taken in by a carnival barker from precisely the same elite, East Coast, moneyed people of whom they complained so loudly.  Trump would, so he said, be their spokesman, he’d take care of them, bring back the factories, put those people in their places, build a wall.  He loved the uneducated.

If his pick of cabinet members and other advisors is remotely indicative of the policies of the coming years, those fly-over folks have been taken to the cleaners like the rawest country rubes by a real New York city-slicker, as archetypal an American story as ever. Mr. Country, meet Rev. Gantry….







In spring of 1960 I graduated from high school. Unknown to me, so did Cassius Clay, of whom I’d never heard, nor had most Americans or the world. A short few months later, Cassius had won the light-heavyweight crown at the 1960 Summer Olympics, and with a grand splash America and the world were introduced to the brash young man from Louisville, Kentucky. Cassius was anything but modest – he was the greatest, prettiest, fastest. He was, like America, the firstest with the mostest. He was the Louisville Lip.

Fame quickly gathered around Cassius, and he took to it like a fish to water. DJ Cassius, long before it became known as such, was perhaps the world’s first rapper. He spoke in staccato rhyme, and he spoke his mind. The world took note.


In America, as Olympic champion, he was adored and honored. At least in the manner we honor black athletes: he won for “us” but he could go to the back of the bus, not sit at the local fountain store, and stay in his “proper place.”  He was a champ but he was, in the lingo of the times, especially down south, a “nigger.”

In short order Cassius Clay turned pro, put on a touch of weight and in 1964 he “whupped” Sony Liston, a fierce bigger black man, and became world heavyweight champion, and of course, vastly more famous, in America and the world. Promptly afterward he became a convert to an American form of Islamism and changed his “slave name” to Cassius X and then to Muhammed Ali.

America recoiled. This uppity black kid poked the USA in the eye, and just after he’d received one of the highest honors his country might bestow on him: fame and wealth. And just as the civil rights movement was roiling the nation. For much of America – the part that insisted on calling him Cassius – he turned into a traitor.


I wasn’t, along with the growing inchoate substrate of the “counter culture,” part of that America. As Cassius won the title, I was in bumming in Europe, a college drop-out, disaffected and alienated from my own culture. When I returned to the USA in 1964 it was knowingly to go to prison, for refusal to serve in the US military. I spent two years and a bit there, and while in, in March 1966, Ali himself refused service. In the midst of the Vietnam war this brought vicious attacks on him, and in illegal manners, he was stripped of his title and vilified. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison, (which he did not serve) and forbidden to box. And in turn he became another kind of champion – of the alternative current running through America.


I am not one for heroes or idols or stars, and Ali is no exception. I knew of him, respected his voice (and boxing skills), and over the years, as he changed in the eyes of America from loud-mouthed black boy hero to chump, to a mythic icon, I of course, like almost everyone else, followed his trajectory that arced into tragedy. Debilitated by Parkinsons and the horrendous damage of his sport, Ali appeared to mellow, and America’s view of him did likewise. No longer the brash arrogant man of his youth, the broad soft middle of America warmed to the almost silent mumbling man he became, such that today the media floods with ecominiums to this “ambassador of good will.” Such is the hypocrisy of my country.


Boxing is a violent and brutal sport. To see it live (not live TV), as I have a handful of times – small-time boxers – is to be drawn into a primal world in which the visceral taste of death dances, as does our innate animal instinct for aggression. Watching the faces of ring-side observers is to watch the face of our most elemental viciousness. Boxing is our colosseo, and those who dance within its ring are our gladiators, issuing and receiving violence to enthrall us with the hint of death – and once in a while the real thing.

This was Ali’s world, for which he paid a deep price as the punishment he took upon himself, for our “entertainment,” took its toll. Today my society – America – schizophrenically gathers not so much for boxing, now a politically incorrect sport, but for football, where vast crowds cheer on a carefully orchestrated violence, as at the same time we discuss the brain concussions implicit, and all the other bodily damage which sees athletes reduced to hobbling cripples, stuttering with battered brains in their forties. As in boxing, a disproportionate percentage – way over the 12% of the population they represent – of the players are black. It is, perhaps, as some would say, their “natural athletic abilities,” which is not far from “they got rhythm.” Or perhaps it is their place in American society, in which one of the few escapes (another is showbiz) from the poverty of our vast black ghettos is through the avenue of sports – and so young African-Americans are channeled “by the market” to concentrate on dribbling, hoops, passing, catching, hitting, and if they are very lucky, “making it” into some major league, making a fortune, and limping into their premature dotage. It is, bitterly, a sometimes well-paid version of “keeping in your place.


In the last 8 years, having entered a supposedly “post-racial” era in America, the presence of Barak Hussein Obama, a black man in the White House, has instead, through the agency of, among others, Donald Trump (and a long list of abettors in the Republican party), revealed the festering racism which remains an essential component of American society. It is something which is shown each day in the dark bodies which “play” ball for us in the avalanche of sports which serves to distract us from the disparities of our nation, the vast income chasms, the economic stratification, the vacant factories and towns, the growing legion of the homeless, not to mention the imminent violence which global warming begins to inflict upon us and the world.

Inadvertently Muhammed Ali, placed high on a pedestal as he aged, delivered vast homage in death, was in the end, “put in his place.” He boxed and danced for us, he taunted us, and named himself. And in doing so also named us. And, alas, he played his role – pugilist, gladiator. He fought in the ring and outside of it. He fought the culture he lived in. And at the end, he won, and he lost. America for now remains, beneath the veneer of multi-culturism and “post-racialism” much the same as it was back in 1967, when Ali said his provocative words, “no Vietcong ever called me a nigger.”


The “N” word is now most politically incorrect, and we do our drone kills as best we can in secret. But racism in America remains alive and vivid as it was in 1960, just as does America’s global imperialism.

And in dying, Muhammed Ali, sadly, has been put in his “proper place.” He’s been eulogized by the President (who would see Edward Snowden in prison), reams of words have graced his name, most seemingly highlighting his ambassadorial role and his honorific awards. He has been embraced and his assertions about America  – it’s racist core, it’s militaristic impulses – have been discarded. He’s been turned into “a good boy.”

In any culture, each generation produces a handful of iconic public figures, people who somehow encapsulate an historical era, mirroring and reflecting the world in which they existed. Ali was one of those. For those of that era, the death of such a person coagulates a chain of memories and realizations  – not just of that person, but of one’s time and society, and hence of one’s self.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

                                                                               John Donne

Ali was saved by the bell a few times, and he came back to win. With the final bell, his Louisville Lip has been sutured, and history has molded him into an icon of its own desires. Present tense history is always a fraud.


A friend in India wrote and asked me to write something on Muhammed Ali, after I’d posted a short note on FaceBook.  The above item is what I sent him, and post here.  Below is the Bangladesh front page of the piece.  (Thanks Nilanjan!)




Remiss in posting here, verging on a year – more or less on the road all the time, Marcella and I.   For that time the numbing cacophony of American politics has rumbled as a background noise throughout the culture, interwoven with the other threads of our communal quilt: football, baseball, basketball, the now-customary gun massacre in a shopping mall or school, or even church.  The economy wheezes, sneezes, and we are assured is on a painfully slow recovery from the banker’s bust of 2008.  While the naked eye can read these things in the homeless encampments in any city or town, and the forlorn downcast faces of placard holding “losers,” academics scan statistics to inform us that the cohort of middle-aged white American males holds the distinction of having an ever diminishing life expectancy, with high suicide rates, and deaths from drugs and alcohol.  Pundits scurry to analyze this data, to ponder just why this should be so here in the world’s richest nation. Statistics demonstrate the grotesque disparities in the distribution of American wealth; demonstrators echo the mantra of Occupy, of the 1% and the 99%, and these are belatedly mouthed by our current presidential candidates.


Meanwhile in distant lands Predator drones, and C-130 armed planes, drift high over the landscape delivering American policy, in the sudden rush of a Hellfire missile or cannon blast from 40,000 feet.  The “target objective” is (perhaps) vaporized, along with the tangential collateral damage.  Our serious columnists and pundits sift the think-tank data and opinion and then theorize on why some elements of the world’s population are angry with us.  There is no denial so successful as self-denial, and the American elite, rapacious and vicious, believes (at least some of them do) that our nation is out “doing good” in the big bad world out there.  Building democracy (backing right-wing dictators), bringing freedom (to be vaporized if you differ in what is best for your own),  developing free markets (where corporations dictate the rules).  What’s not to like?

9_Andy_Warhol_Guns_198 _AWF

Moving down the coast through a bedraggled and fracked Pennsylvania, we passed through Gettysburg, the grim cauldron of American nationhood, where the Union was – ever so American – enforced at gunpoint and vast bloodshed.   It became a national instinct, which these days finds its expression in the gun lobby, and rural America’s love of guns which it seems to correlate with “freedom.”  About 300 Americans are killed by guns everyday.  Among the casualties are veterans of America’s endless wars, who take their own lives at a clip of about 22 per day, mostly with guns.  More collateral damage.  The monuments to these men are the VFW halls which litter the rural world, one in almost every small town and city, where hardly anyone notes the curiousness of what they mean: Veterans of Foreign Wars.  Of which we have plenty.




Meandering further southward, we passed into the Deep South, where the sense of poverty deepened, and indeed the statisticians who crunch numbers confirm, if necessary, what the eye already reveals.  Though it takes a bit more than surface evidence to understand that these deep fried souls of the south, the white ones, the ones whose lifespans are contracting, are indeed the same who vote hard Republican Right, for those who would strip them of health care, of, in due time, Social Security and any other “safety net.”  All in the name of less “guvmint” and more Bible.  And in the name of not giving a crumb to Those People – the black ones, the Hispanic ones  – the any other than one’s own cracker good old boys.  Down South the purpose of a university is to host a money-making football team, and education comes far down the totem pole.   The rewards are a prideful ignorance and stupidity, worn as a badge of honor.  Fuck them libruls, and them pointy-headed college kids.  Go NASCAR.





Sprouting from this fertile ground, the current crop of Republican Presidential wanna-be’s assemble on television for their “debates” and revel in a political vulgarity that in another time would have seen them promptly booted from the stage.  Instead, in this benighted time, their inanities are taken as if serious, and even the New York Times kow-tows to their absurdities: the world is 6,000 years old (because the Bible tells me so); global warming is a hoax (because the oil industry tells me so.)   Too much idiocy to redundantly list here, though these idiocies are taken in some perverse PC-warp as acceptable by our media.   Science is a “belief” on an equal setting with, say, “Christianity.”   Thundering from the podium, we are sold pie-in-the-sky as snake oil –  old as the nation is our addiction to delusion.


“No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

“Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”     H.L. Mencken





Through the Southwest of res towns and spectacular landscapes, we veered north to the dilapidated once-city of Butte, one of my American touch-stones.  The vast spaces are punctuated with pockets of mocking wealth and faux Westernism – places like Santa Fe, Taos, Cody, Jackson Hole – sparkling next to the myriad run-down abandoned places strung along disused rail tracks.  The res towns seem frozen in amber, desolate and hopeless, suffocated by the bowl of sky above and the empty landscapes around them.   Once thriving towns lie in ruins, roofs collapsing, stores boarded up and empty.  Desolation is transparent and real.


They’re selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they’re restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
Inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients
They’re trying to blow it up
Now his nurse, some local loser
She’s in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read
“Have Mercy on His Soul”
They all play on pennywhistles
You can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough
From Desolation Row

Now at midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory
Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row

Robert Zimmerman



Landing in the self-conscious civility of Portland, where the invisible hand of the market masks racism, and the weird politeness of well-off hipsters hides its class-roots (those thousands of dollars of tattoos and piercings that “keep Portland weird” don’t fall from the sky), I felt exhausted, not of the thousands of miles on the road, but of the meanderings of my mind.  Road hum for me is something that loosens my thoughts, allows a vast free-flow of observations, perceptions, and experiences to intermingle, and opens up “thinking,”  which in its turn allows one to really “look.”

Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking.”  Goethe

Of America – boisterous, crazed, beautiful, ugly – I have seen enough to ponder the balance of my years.  Enough to guess its fractures now run so deep that it will, following in the wake of the USSR, stumble and collapse, and modestly soon – the next 30 to 50 years?  Enough to sense I have nothing more to add to the tumult of sounds which riven it, the avalanche of images and noises, which now run amok, out of all control, driving it towards ruin.   In all honesty I think nothing – certainly no political party, certainly no technical wizardry, certainly no “religious revival” (a recurrent American fall-back) – can thwart this spiral into dissolution.  Nor, really, should one try:  it is natural that things are born, grow, live, and then die.  As much for human constructs like nations and cultures, as for any living thing.

The pure products of America
go crazy–
mountain folk from Kentucky

or the ribbed north end of
with its isolate lakes and

valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
old names
and promiscuity between

devil-may-care men who have taken
to railroading
out of sheer lust of adventure–

and young slatterns, bathed
in filth
from Monday to Saturday

to be tricked out that night
with gauds
from imaginations which have no

peasant traditions to give them
but flutter and flaunt

sheer rags succumbing without
save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum–
which they cannot express–

Unless it be that marriage
with a dash of Indian blood

will throw up a girl so desolate
so hemmed round
with disease or murder

that she’ll be rescued by an
reared by the state and

sent out at fifteen to work in
some hard-pressed
house in the suburbs–

some doctor’s family, some Elsie
voluptuous water
expressing with broken

brain the truth about us–
her great
ungainly hips and flopping breasts

addressed to cheap
and rich young men with fine eyes

as if the earth under our feet
an excrement of some sky

and we degraded prisoners
to hunger until we eat filth

while the imagination strains
after deer
going by fields of goldenrod in

the stifling heat of September
it seems to destroy us

It is only in isolate flecks that
is given off

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car

Wm Carlos Williams








 lHnCMjS (1)

Rothko’s New Clothes

In 2002, visiting Houston a first time, I went with considerable anticipation to visit the famed Rothko Chapel.  I had read of it, though I’d seen no pictures that I recall. In my mind I envisioned entering a space in which I’d be surrounded with glowing color – the signature intense hues of this color field painter – and I was flushed with a quiet excitement.  When quite young, I’d fallen for this painter’s work, standing at the Chicago Art Institute’s canvases, inches away from the surface, swimming in vibrant color, then pulling back to see the whole field of reds, oranges, blues; the delicate feathers of the borders between the simple forms, the soft painterly touches, the intensity of the subtle play of hues.  He was, without question, one of my favorites.

 1331328564-rothko_untitled - Copy

mark-rothko_02 - Copy

15 years ago, on entering the Miesien-style building which the artist shaped and requested, I found myself dumbfounded: instead of the subtle but intense play of color I’d envisioned I was faced with a sequence of huge panels, of deep very dark gray-blacks, some framed with very very dark maroon, and the painterly qualities which enlivened Rothko’s earlier work almost banished, with rather crisp graphic lines defining these initially almost invisible frames. Almost as if Ad Reinhart had been shuffled into the deck.  Black on black.   I recall at the time being very disappointed not getting the burst of color which I’d imagined, and I suspect in my disappointment I did not exactly give it the time I would have otherwise.



So this time, returned for a screening at the Blaffer Gallery at the University of Houston, I went – in part so Marcella might see it – to try again, and tried to clear my mind of my prior judgement.   Outside the chapel sits an bronze Barnet Newman inverted obelisk – the same one that occupies the lobby of the temple of MoMA, where the money-changers had long since invaded this sacred art ground and converted it into a high-end shopping mall.  This genuflection to another priest of high-modernism instilled a tart bite to my entry into the chapel, perhaps already tilting my already skewed view of what my previous experience had set.  (I note I am not at all convinced by Newman’s work, and all his literary explication does little to dispel my disdain.)


newmanmasBarnett Newman (modernist magazine graphics enlarged)

Passing the entry foyer, with its admonition to set cell phones off, take no photos and to follow the rules and be respectful, I entered, and saw a woman sitting at a little desk, there to enforce the decorum requested.  Perhaps it was the flat overcast sky and the indirect light from overhead, but, once again, I was struck by the near colorless pall of the place.  To the front, three panels, initially appearing to be black and slightly gray, sit glumly together, edge to edge.  On the adjacent walls of the octagonal shaped room’s walls sit companion pieces, similarly colorless though some of these huge panels have nearly invisible dark maroon frames holding their leaden fields; the rear panel holds two equally dark leaden rectangles.



A few people sat on the benches, one reading, following the instructions to sit silent for meditation.  I allowed myself to wander from canvas to canvas, allowing my eyes to slowly dilate, and after some minutes the slight modulations in the dark gray expanses revealed themselves, vague washes akin on some of the panels to layers of a dark gray fog, as if in some Asian landscape work.  The maroon framing areas slowly became more evident, clear graphic edges, sharply delineated unlike Rothko’s usual hazy transitions.  After some more minutes a closer inspection unveiled slight hints of painterly smudges along the edges of gray-on-gray areas.  20 minutes of such careful looking revealed little more, and whatever was there seemed hardly to warrant the effort.   As Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, there was no there there.

While I suppose one could construct some kind of intellectual or theological argument around these paintings – that the niggardly almost-nothing constitutes a Zen renunciation, or that the slow and reluctant unfolding of the panels’ “content” hints at theological mysteries, or…    But this teasing out of meaning is more squeezing blood from a rock than real thought.   The paintings in the Rothko Chapel themselves are simply a failure, a dead-end corner into which Rothko had painted himself, a null point wherein a rapturous colorist sucked the life out of his own work, and replaced it with vast leaden canvases devoid of the ripe energy of his earlier work.  The effect is not celebratory or joyous or spiritual, but funerary.


Red on Maroon 1959 Mark Rothko 1903-1970 Presented by the artist through the American Federation of Arts 1969


And yet our art establishment has elevated the Rothko Chapel to an exalted status, a mecca for cultural tourism, where we are to genuflect as at the Sistine Chapel before the divine powers of an alleged masterpiece.   So our visitors come, duly prepped for a spiritual experience, hushed and reverent, and stand before these canvasses, admonished that they must respectfully fall into a meditative prayerful state.  While I was there the mumbo-jumbo appears to have worked as a handful of people filed in, sat, and remained silent.  A mother tried to silence her infant daughter.    One young man entered, sat before the left panel of the 3 piece “altar”, and facing outward, rather ostentatiously took a full lotus position, and presumably meditated.   I was prompted to think of the admonition of the Bible to not make a show of one’s prayerfulness.


Having given the chapel the due time to let my eyes adjust, pupils widening so as to discern the minimal modulations on the canvases, the maroon elements of some works emerging more clearly, and the large fields of gray-on-gray to show their slight shifts in tone, I nevertheless concluded that the appropriate tale to tell would be of the Emperor’s New Clothes.  The Rothko Chapel, despite the institutional hype, is a dud.  As art it is thin stuff,  requiring the viewer to tease out some “meaning” or feeling from the most minimal of painterly traces.  While the scale is indeed monumental, the actual art is miniature.


There is, by default, an admission by the Rothko Chapel organization, that all is not quite as they would have it appear.  In the brochure they hand out, it is noted the chapel was commissioned by the Menil’s in 1964, and opened in 1971, while Rothko died in 1970.  They neglect to inform the visitor that he died by his own hand, in his NYC studio.  His paintings had been leached of color; the last crimson Rothko red blossom of life was his own blood on the floor which surely dried to a deep dark maroon akin to those of the paintings he left behind as a suicide note.


RothkoMural4 (1).

As I left the chapel, the young self-pleased man remained in his lotus position, and another man used some pillows to take a pious kneeling posture.  Enforced solemnity reigned, and the ghost of Rothko hung in the air, naked and despairing. And as well, the ghosts of high-modernism revealed their exhaustion.

1969.47.71 0004


Ad Reinhardt

Guild 1982 Robert Ryman born 1930 Presented by Janet Wolfson de Botton 1996

Ryman-NYMOMA-11Robert Ryman





DSC03234 SM


(New York Times Headline, April 4, 2014)

Returned to the US after close to four months away, I arrived to the cacophony of money.  It is, as the phrase goes, bottom-line American.  The All-Mighty Buck.  Follow the money.  Money talks, bullshit walks.  It’s the American way, just ask Justice Scalia, or his StepnFetchit, Justice Thomas.




Money is a kind of poetry.– Wallace Stevens

Money, the long green,
cash, stash, rhino, jack
or just plain dough.

Chock it up, fork it over,
shell it out. Watch it
burn holes through pockets.

To be made of it! To have it
to burn! Greenbacks, double eagles,
megabucks and Ginnie Maes.

It greases the palm, feathers a nest,
holds heads above water,
makes both ends meet.

Money breeds money.
Gathering interest, compounding daily.
Always in circulation.

Money. You don’t know where it’s been,
but you put it where your mouth is.
And it talks.

                               Dana Gioia


Adding insult to injury, following Citizens United, backing their decision with specious arguments asserting it wasn’t in any way a mode of corruption, the Robert’s Supreme Court this past week ruled that Federal caps on many forms of political campaign donations were unconstitutional (McCutcheon v. FEC.)  Just as the prior ruling had it that corporations are people, and hence have the same First Amendment rights as the two footed form.   And so the flood-gates opened, resulting in the NYT headline cited above.  Yep, money is, says the Supreme Court, a mode of “talk” and the First Amendment prohibits any clamps on our mouths by the government.  Let ‘er rip.  Of course the same Court has few compunctions about intervening at other orifices and apparently sees no contradiction therein, and I am sure in other instances the same court would happily rule to shut some mouths.





Returning was a narrow and selective chance to see the effects of money in the real world.  Arriving in NYC, a ramble through the once hot artistic bohemian realm of Soho revealed an ever more glamorous shopping mall, to serve the new denizens of the area, awash in wealth. Gucci Prada Luis Vuitton as well as more local practitioners of sucking up the money from the very rich.  Nearby areas reflected a similar trajectory making much of Manhattan a play-ground mostly for the very well-off.  Some visits to Brooklyn showed a down-scale version of the same phenomenon:  Green Point, Red Hook, Williamsburg, Gowanus.  There the young hipsters, priced out of swanky Manhattan, have taken over run-down swathes of the city and, as in many other places I know, displacing the locals (poorer, most often of color other than Anglo) and bringing in their “culture.”  Soon enough condo’s sprout, the economic level shifts up a few more notches, and “gentrification” happens.  This is all done under the Mystical Invisible Hand of the Market, so it is, ahem, ideologically free, not racist, etc.  Once again the rumble of cash turns into a tsunami, wiping out all in its (s)way.




945_BOSTON-FIRE_1978From Peter Hutton’s Boston Fire

Moving on from New York, where I got a few harsh reminders of the current economic trends as they apply to the likes of me, I caught a mix of Amtrak and buses on down to Columbus Ohio, a trip which put me in the company of the sorts shoved out of Brooklyn and who can’t afford airplanes.  At one point the bus had to stop as an altercation was going on, and finally the police were called and took the soul away.  He was not Anglo colored.  Another bus jaunt northward brought me back to Cleveland where I had a chance to see another once-industrial city dying as the slosh of massive money shifted to other climes in the name of “Globalization.”   This policy was put into effect at the behest of our larger corporations, with the assurances it would bring jobs and all kinds of good things to America.  Both our permitted political parties, eagerly embraced these policies, singing a siren song of praises for what it would do for the Nation.   It brought instead the ubiquitous Wal-Mart boxes and boarded up small town Main Streets, along with the larger decimation of places like Cleveland, Detroit, Toledo and a long string of other once productive American cities.  The children of old Sam Walton are among the richest people in the world, having sold their Arkansas snake-oil to the country while laying waste to it.  Ironically the country which most “capitalized” on this policy, China, has equally been laid waste with horrendous ecological damage, corruption, and sometime soon an economic crash as rapid and vast as its ascent.

A customer leaves a Wal-Mart store in Rogers



Severe Weather WI

Other travels have taken me to the quasi-abandoned northwest corner of Missouri, and across Missouri, Iowa and rural Illinois to Chicago.  The seeming story remains the same: small towns sucked dry of their economic ground, family farms taken over by corporate ones, jobs swept away, leaving boarded up towns, a litany of For Sale signs, weathered and hopeless.  Meanwhile, our government, in collusion with our biggest corporations, secretly negotiates the terms of the TPP (TransPacific-Partnership), kissing cousin to NAFTA (of which the long forgotten Presidential candidate, Ross Perot, accurately predicted – to predictable ridicule from the establishment – that the giant sound you would hear would be the jobs being sucked away….).  Obama, the candidate who promised “transparency,” is fully involved in this scam, along with the NSA one.


James Clapper




As spring arrives, haltingly in many parts of the country, already the noise of the mid-term elections are upon us, and with it, the massive noise of money.  Money in the form of endless political TV ads, money in the form of bought and paid for “representatives” of the people: Federal, State, local.  Money in the form of long since paid-off Supreme Court “Justices” who bend to the siren song of capital.  The NSA keeps silent watch over us, as an army of co-conspirators, such as Mr Clapper, pull the levers, violating “the law” everyday, and suffering no response.  Just as did our previous President and his entourage.  We live in a criminalized Nation, with the great criminals residing, naturally, at the very top of the pyramid of power.

It is spring time in Tornado Alley.



Google Data Center in Council Bluffs






Eli Elliott

The last time I saw Eli was in Tampa, back in the spring, just after I’d returned to USA, and was doing some screenings and such to round up some bucks.   He’d driven down there, slowly, losing his traveling companion, a cat, in some trailer home place near St Louis.  He was staying in Tampa at a place someone in the family had.   We had a Mexican meal downtown and he gave me a ride back to my friend Charles Lyman, out by a river.   I got some pics of him and his rig:

Eli’s bumper ornamentEli rides again (with his minimo-x)

On my trip I had occasion to take the bus a few times – from Nashville to Knoxville, and from Owatonna, Minnesota to Omaha, and, back in 2002, when I’d returned from 10 years out of the country, I took one from Tampa to Columbus, SC.  Talking with Eli I described the experience as riding with “the other America.”    Not the same folks as the planes, for sure.   As it happens his rolling converted emergency vehicle has mechanical problems, and recently his father, in Detroit, had a heart attack, so to go up to see him and perhaps be of help, he took the bus.  He sent me and some other a “collective  send” about it and I liked a lot and asked if I could print here.  So here’s installment one.   Later he’ll be heading to Boise, Idaho.


I’m back on the Hound for now, possibly on/off for next 2-3 months. As some have mentioned in the past that they’ve  missed my Greyhound stories (2 or 3 people) I present them as they unravel, via email for the selected. Please email back “SPARE ME” if not wanted. A brief update on other things in general I will also squeeze in between, but for now here’s a first string of notes and ramblings from THE GREYHOUND, also called by friend Jon, “The Other America”.


 (36 Hours – Fri. Night Depart – Sun. Morning Arrive. Numerous 1-5 hour Bus Station layovers involved)

 Our Coach, outside Atlanta, I think…

PART 1 :  “GARY”


Upon arrival at the Tampa Florida bus terminal on the first short stretch of otherwise long Greyhound travel to Southfield Michigan, our Greyhound driver informed us that our under the bus bags would be automatically shuffled over to the proper coach in which we were transferring onto. I turned around to the guy behind me muttering a mocking comment at the announcement.

This baggage shuffle routine is notorious for scenarios where folks show up at their final destination only to discover their bags hadn’t followed them. 36 hours later I would  meet such a guy who’d been traveling the same route as I, and upon arrival, was 1 bag shy. “Goddamnit now I’m gonna have to deal with a shitload of red tape tryin’ to git my damn bag back”

In the meantime my knee jerk mutterings landed to the ears of the guy behind me. A guy named GARY.

Around 60, very worn face, full beard with nicotine stained ‘stache, Gary had some trouble reading the departure times on his ticket and asked if I could help. Gary was on his way to Boston, where he had a Doctors appointment scheduled.  I noticed on his forearm what looked liked a ping pong ball stuffed under his skin, which expanded and further disguised the image of his dull, faded green forearm tattoo.

While in Boston Gary also hoped to visit his only son who was a HELLS ANGEL, the Sergeant of Arms for that particular chapter, and who was currently incarcerated, awaiting court proceedings where it looked as though he could be facing a life sentence. We never discussed the crime and I knew better than to ask, since Gary wouldn’t have let on anyway if it was Angels related, which I suspected. His sons ordeal clearly pained Gary and while passing by freeway lights in the 3 am near pitch black bus I’d catch glimpses of him wiping his eyes when the conversation came back to his boy.

Me and Gary would end up talking throughout most of the night, and into the beginnings of the next day.

Gary was one of those unsummed American hellraisers who had lived a wild life consisting of muscle cars, motorcycles, frequent intoxications and numerous stints inside prisons; “workouts” he would call his time inside. The worn face had marked his own cheats on death, many of which he told me, while at the same time signified the now potentially soon arrival towards death.  I told him it sounded like he’s had a helluva ride. Upon reflection, “Well, yeah, I sure did have a lotta fun (in life)”.

He lived a far and wide life as well. From workin’ an oil rig in Texas to the pipeline gig in Alaska to Los Angeles drug running via Maui, and to what he called “Gypsy Asphalting” which consisted of working for a group of con men who would  lay down asphalt every month in a different state; as Gary explained: “after a month, all the asphalt we laid would eventually come back up, but by then we’d be moved on to another state doin’ it all over again…”  Gypsy Asphaltin’.

None of this was bravado, but more humble. His stories unfolded natural, with a bit of subtle prying on my part. This needs to be said as many Hound riders can be compulsive in their braggart story tellings.  Gary would’ve been just some guy with a doctors appointment had I not listened and shown some interest which he picked up on.

Before hopping aboard the Hound, I had just learned that the movie premiere of Kerouacs novel ON THE ROAD was screening somewhere tonight. Rather than having gone see it I realized I was celebrating it by undertaking Jack’s favorite form of travel, the Greyhound Bus. And I was meeting Gary who provided his own verbal rambling novella, and would likely never have a movie made on him, though probably could, maybe should, but no, never would.

A glimpse of Gary

PART 2 :  “BOB”

Swaggering steady through the Tampa bus terminal was a man with a full suit on, yet the tie was undone, the shirt unbuttoned, and the hair disheveled; a bad day on Wall Street perhaps. But since this was a Friday  in Western Florida, inside a Greyhound Bus terminal nearing midnight, Bob’s story was a bit different.

Bob, 70, was headed all the way back to El Centro California where he owned 100 acres in the desert, 12 miles from the Mexico border.  He prided himself in his sharing of the land, by allowing travelers or passer throughs to stay there for a bit while he would feed and fix meals for them. “And I’m not talking no rice and beans…When I prepare a meal for someone…I prepare a MEAL.”  Bob talked to me further about his willingness to help out folks due to his own on edge situation and not knowing how much longer he had in life to live, and not having anyone to really give the land to as an inheritance when he was gone. So I guess he was giving a little of it to everyone while he was still alive.

The journey ahead of Bob was a ridiculous 3 or 4 day Greyhound ordeal shooting him in all kinds of roundabout directions, anything from the straight shot route one would think to travel to Southern California if looking at a map. And one wondered, if his suit and disheveledness as it was after only day 1, what would become of Bob after a day 3 or 4. Would he even make it.

That thought became stronger as he held up his only carry on luggage which was a casino plastic bag which had the advertisement image of  hundreds of clumped together dollar bills on the front along with the name of the casino.

“This is my pharmacy”, he told me. Dozens of various medications filled the plastic bag as Bob described his ailments ranging from diabetes to heart disease to a number of psychological conditions.

Bob had been in southern Florida visiting some relatives but also settling an insurance claim in which he had just yesterday received 7 thousand dollars for.  It had involved a car that had hit Bob while he was on his bicycle last June. Bob had threatened to sue for 250,000 dollars and ensured the insurance company that his story would be printed in every major news publication in the United States.  He said the company then offered up the 7 grand settlement the very next day. Bob took it.

On smoke breaks Bob would heatedly argue with Greyhound employees who would tell him he couldn’t smoke outside the building and had to go to the designated area. “This is public space…I can smoke right here where I’m at.” One time a nearby policeman was called in and threatened to arrest Bob in 2 seconds if he came back out here to smoke. “HA – Yeah and  then I’d be out after 2 minutes officer”.  The cop stupidly retorted for the sake of stupidly retorting, “No you’d be in for 2 weeks.. and you’d miss your bus.”

Later I would look for Bob to ask him for his address if I was ever that far South when in California. But when I found Bob he was already seated on board his next bus which was about to leave. I told myself and for some reason felt confident that all I’d have to do was go to El Centro and I would somehow run into Bob within an hour or so.



A little town in Tennessee we pulled into to have our 10 minute break at a small convenience store. Grab some food or smoke a cig then rush back onto the bus.    And back aboard the all too familiar post 10 minute break scene begins to unfold; once all settled in and the bus takes off down the road, an object or two will be noticed on a now vacant seat, and the question arises “wasn’t there someone sitting there like 10 minutes ago”?

In this case a lone pillow remaining on a now vacant seat told the nightmare scenario of a passenger getting left behind during our 10 minute break. I’ve seen it happen a number of times in the past and not once did the driver attempt to turn around. This time was no different as the drivers denial response upon telling her was “people leave pillows behind all the time”.

A few minutes later we discover what we determine to be the guys backpack in the overhead rack. At our next passenger pickup stop 25 minutes down the road, the driver must’ve gotten a call as she had to, coldly, confess, “Yeah he got left…”  Left in the middle of Tennessee at some convenient store.

But there was now a new situation emerging in the form of a 5 foot 1, 20 something year old Korean girl. She was getting on the bus as a new passenger but there was some squabbling outside over her ticket that apparently she hadn’t fully paid for. It was all unclear what the situation was all about, but the driver seemed to allow her entry and began aggravatingly throwing her bags inside the lower luggage compartment, but then little Korean gal began yelling and grabbing the driver trying to prevent the bags from going in for whatever reason. After the grabbing the driver took her bags out from underneath and then refused her entry on the bus altogether. The driver then quickly tried to drive off which prompted Little K to throw herself in front of the bus causing the driver to brake as not to hit her. She then would give a little gas, go forward a few inches hoping to prompt her out of the way. Little K didn’t budge.

A standoff ensued.

The Standoff…

It was Little K standing firmly in front of our bus and the driver becoming infuriated not knowing what to do, knowing she was stuck. Back and forth yelling occurred and I of course attempted to film the event whereas the driver became pissed at me shouting, “Stop filming this.. I don’t want to be on YouTube!” I lowered my camera but then raised it back up.

Passengers started getting unruly as they worried about missing their transfers and such. Some racist humor was also attempted. One comment from a guy in front was, “Not to be rude, but CHINA is in the other direction”. From the back of the bus another comment was something to effect of “problem with these damn Chinese people is you can’t understand em”.

The Tennessee cops arrived and diffused the situation by coaxing Little K out from her standoff position, and then oddly explained to her how she was smaller than the bus and wouldn’t be able to withstand the impact of a large moving vehicle while standing in front of it.

Within 30 minutes this driver had managed to leave a guy behind in the middle of Tennessee and allow a situation to explode into a complete standstill requiring police intervention.



-AN AMISH FAMILY, man/woman, small boy, smaller girl and an elder male, all in full Amish regalia including the 2 small children hats and all, on board the Greyhound. We  take an exit around midnight in Tennessee and pass by a BP gas station, go a couple hundred more yards, pull into the Sonoma Farm store and there waiting is a horse tied to a post with a carriage attached to horse. The Amish exit, the elder waves bye to the rest, turns and disappears into the night while the woman and children enter the carriage and man dismounts horse from post and they begin there sojourn home. Various contrasts enter mind, i.e the passing of BP gas contrasted by a tied up waiting horse powered unit only short distance away; the presence of Amish aboard the gas guzzlin’ Greyhound in the first place; the Amish dress, in particular the woman and young baby girls ridiculous head dress which seemingly blinded their view from left and right and I wondered if it was more symbolism than function.

-NO ONE CARES ANYMORE/HONESTY EMERGES. The whole Greyhound system running off of a surprising theme of blunt honesty; everyone is miserable and they don’t bother hiding it anymore. No one wants to be here, passengers and in particular the drivers as after my first stretch our driver didn’t try to hide his comments to the greasy spoon bus station cashier as he ordered 2 big burgers to fight off his famine as he repeated slow and a bit too serious “ took EVERYTHING I HAD IN ME, to make this run tonight…”

Two other incidents, separate bus station cafeterias, one cashier admitting to all within earshot that buying the overpriced food here was “highway robbery”, the other made sure to inform me to “keep that coffee cup, bring it with you to every stop and you can get a 25 cent refill, they don’t want us telling you that but I always tell everyone that during these times…otherwise you have to pay another 2 dolla’s…you keep that cup..”

And that cup I may just try to keep for all future trips. Next is a Chicago round trip.

Eli on the road.

A big thanks to Eli for letting me publish this and I look forward to the next installments.  If you wish to see Eli in one of his roles, he has a Vimeo channel and  you can find him on Facebook as well.

Francesco Goya, tapestry cartoon, Prado

Following his very successful sell-out screenings at the Rotterdam film festival(*), my friend Nathaniel Dorsky received an invitation to go to Spain, for some screenings in Madrid and La Coruña.  He’d never been to Madrid or Spain before so I wrote him some thoughts about things to see – paintings, the Church of San Antonio da Florida with the lovely Goya frescoes on the dome interior, the Goya tapestry cartoons at the Prado.   I like Madrid a lot, and assured Nick he’d likely find it as wonderful as I do.   He went last week, and shaking the jet-lag, went off into the city and in turn sent me some letters, which I found delightful – expressive of the almost child-like joy of his wanderings in museums and streets, the tasty jamon iberica, the architectural treats.   The letters were such a pleasure for me I thought others might find them similarly joyful, even if one doesn’t know him, and asked him if I could publish them here.   He thought about it a little and accepted.

Madrid facades and street life

5.28   your tumbling tumbled weed
Well about Madrid…  I arrived in the middle afternoon, a driver and all,  and then my hostess, Beatiz, led me around a little after a lunch (the only vegetables here are green house tomatoes, little  pickles, iceberg lettuce and canned string beans…  but more to come…)  I walked in the super lovely huge park, dark and dense with  Chestnut trees and lovely earthen alleys, charm, charm, charm…    and then went to the modern museum (all the museums are open till 9pm everyday…   well that is still two hours before diner time ) (I eat  breakfast and a late lunch, only) where they have just great Picassos and Juan Gris etc.  Today I went to the Prado.  Bigger in a  sense of the actual paintings than the Louvre.  Boy, do I not enjoy painting from the 1600’s.  And now I know another reason why…   I hate the gesture of the frozen moment in time which this century held so dear, it so terribly dull, egoic, and sickening. Beforehand, then it is good, and the 1700′s become heavenly, especially at the Prado where the Goya collection is almost worth walking here from SF.  He, not unlike Picasso, can paint in any style required and they are all very very touching and beautiful and generous to the  eye and the heart and the profound sense of the cosmic and the  color, so right and so healing.
Also the Bosch collection includes the HUGE  Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych along many other of his paintings and  paintings  from that period, including an amazingly avant garde Van der Weyden Descent from the Cross which took care of the 1600’s in one fell  swoop.

Now I am home resting and the hot day has cracked and it is pouring  with bursts of yellow lightening.  My hotel doors to the tiny balcony are open and cool airs wafts across my sweaty self.

And I also loved on the very top floor all the Goya “cartoons” for tapestries if I can trust my non existent Spanish… and there are also three large circular allegorical paintings (one of two woman spinning yarn)  that I found SO touching both as human depiction and color rendition….  wow…   and I went back this evening and re saw with MUCH less people the Bosch’s ..  that earthly delights MUST be seen in the real….    wow…  and came upon, that goodness, the very large Annunciation of Fra Angelico which I found deeply moving….   the shadowed exterior of the banishment from Eden and the columned portico illuminated by purity of the angel’s golden wings and and golden rays of light….

Yes, tomorrow San Antonio da Florida  n.


Today I went to the train station that has an iron and glass roof, not quite as pretty as the stations we love in Paris, but it is filled with tropical trees of all sorts, so it is like being in a dream that is one half the glass houses in Jardens des Plantes and one half Gare du Nord.  The train was super modern, a kind of TJV with reserved
seats and I took it for on half hour to a Toledo.  There is a very famous Cathedral there with many great paintings in it. The glass to me looks like it is from the 1400’s. They have a Caravaggio I actually loved… which is genuinely quite unusual for me. His paintings are usually not so sympathetic, but rather more demonstrative. It is a terribly sexy depiction of a young Saint ?? (who has a lamb and a staff, a body to end all bodies and hung out in the desert as a teenager?) OH, The Baptist, of course. This painting does not suffer from the frozen-moment-syndrome and actually allows one to enter and it brings forth presence… of course
it is rather “body”.  [Later, I received an email from a friend, Vivian, who informed me that a friend of hers who is an expert art historian told her that the painting is in question as to whether it is painted by Caravaggio. Now is not that interesting?] 

The not Caravaggio in Toledo [Just as Toledo Ohio is not…]

There were many El Greco’s also but gosh the 1600’s are missing my psyche right now and also a dark Goya which was hard to appreciate.  Then I visited  the Jewish section of town which had two synagogues from also that period of time in a more Islamic style.  I walked back to the train station from high on the hill and crossed over a beautifully constructed stone bridge arching high over the river surrounding the town built by the Romans.  From the bridge you could see another they built.  They are so sturdy and graceful and practical and must be almost 2,000 years old.  No upgrades…  working perfectly.
A thunder and lightening storm began just as I reached the station which has all sorts of Islamic architecture with colored glass windows in  that style.  They have many benches out on the platform under the cover of an open roof, so one could enjoy the cooling down pour as dry as could be.  Now I am back home in my room.  I think tomorrow I will  go back to the Prado, as looking at paintings is the thing I by far enjoy the most here, especially the deepening discovery of Goya.  They have almost 200 paintings by him in many many different styles as we have discussed. The Prado is closed on Monday, so I think I will save that day for going to San Antonio da Florida to see his frescoes.

OH!  Spain must of just won a football game as everyone out my open window is suddenly screaming as the evening comes in.

I am quite alone here and it is almost too much.  The Spanish culture is a new one to me that I appreciate the way one might appreciate New York, but I have no real feeling for it or its language.  I am simply HERE walking around.  It is not France and it is not Italy and the Christianity is just TOO haunted by the immeasurable amount of pain, murder, and torture that has gone down under its name to shake loose of that for me.
I have been warned that only 20 people may show up for my shows as ag film has no presence here and certainly no following.  But being here has been a truly great inspiration in terms of painting.

Your meat-filled Jew boy,  Nathaniel

5.29        as we speak
Dear Jon, Thanks for the fill in’s. Those demonstrations for more jobs (in the huge square) are two blocks from “my” hotel. They seem to be working, as more police seemed to be employed than ever….. ahh, the political process in action.

AND:   my new film is at the neg cutter and the title is being shot and sent to her and then she will send the a and b’s on to my lab in  Colorado.  It is 27 minutes long and could be titled:  The Return        or it could be titled:   Broken Moon      Any suggestions.  I worked at it as hard as I could to perfection (not biting of lower lip) from pre-breakfast till 11 pm ever since we last saw each other in Rotterdam.  There are three shots from that wintry place, all shot on that Saturday (you were already in Amsterdam) the was extremely windy. Perhaps you remember.  It is 80% fuji neg and 20% eastman neg, a very rich and varied and workable cocktail of failing emulsions.  (our river trips footage a hair too descriptive for the film’s need).

Today I will either go back to the Prado or to San Antonio….   this Goya love is just too interesting and can only be quenched in this city   (someone just walking by playing ” Tequila” on a trumpet).   My hostess wants me to take a train to Cordoba…  a little expensive…   to see a little more of southern Moorish Spain and its architecture…   not sure if I want to be stuck for the day in such a place… they all seem SO tourist-tamed… ultimately depressing… how many sword, cross and helmet shops can you see without wondering about all that happened because of that nice Jewish boy who could see through everything except self-deification (a major sin, to say THE LEAST in the good old testament days). But then, the deification could be the results of
Spin Doctor John, and have little to do with who knows what really happened.

Well, be well……     and thanks for the football info…       nick

Foto by Jon in Madrid summer 2010

Barcelona had just beat Manchester United, 3-1, for the Champion’s League Cup, the World Series/Super Bowl of European Soccer.

5.29    lip flap from afar
Dear Jon,

I spent the morning at San Antonio de la Florida where Goya did the ceiling frescos….   such a beautiful and subtle sense of color.  I have never seen dome and ceiling painting so brushy and in such subdued but deeply beautiful colors.  Perhaps there are some online as everything seems to be these days.  Then I went over to the Prado again as my day pass continues to work. This time I began with Goya and looked at everything again.  Then I went to the 1400’s and so deeply loved the Fra Angelico Annunciation which is quite large. After looking at it for awhile in detail I went back to a seat in front of it and sat there for an hour, falling asleep and awaking again and again…  every time I popped back into the room there was a different configuration of people looking at it wearing different color clothes and many times, no one.  It made a very wonderful  personal film with the refrain of the painting mixed with quick dreams.  Then I went and looked at the other great work from the same century, and I mean Great!  They have a Dirk Bouts four views of the Virgin’s life which is extraordinarily beautiful…  the one of The Visitation is definitely one of the greatest paintings I have ever seen from that period…  the colors, the composition, the poetry…   a major major masterpiece sitting right there, hardly noticed.  I then went and looked at  Bosch’s Earthly Delight triptych again and for great good fortune no one was there (as usually there is a crowd of folks) and I think I eventually saw almost every detail which takes about a half hour to do.  There is always some new super charming thing to discover.  And then to straighten myself out again I went in the next room to look again at two David’s from that century of a Madonna and Child….  both of the very very highest order.

Then after two salads in the cafe (the only green thing to eat I have seen here since arriving)  I decided to look at all the paintings I had not liked the first day just to see them as this museum has more great work on a high level than any place I have ever been…  more than the National Gallery in London, I feel.  And that was interesting and could enjoy them more because I had been so healed by what I had already experienced.  I cannot even name all the great geniuses from the 1600’s that are there in great number and great quality.

The lovely park I spoke of before is up a hill behind the Prado and I walked up there and bought some water and strolled under the dark green canopy highlighted by the evening sun, sat around a little and listened to the doves as the day began to cool slightly and walked home and am now resting.

Love,  Nathaniel

PS: Sitting in front of The Annunciation I began to enjoy the title:   The Return     more because it is an announcement of an event, that event being the montage to follow, rather than a name as such.  And also I seemed very uninspired in my attempts to improve it…  but I  am OPEN….

Goya fresco, dome of San Antonio da FloridaVan der Weyden’s Deposition

Reading these letters I was transported from somewhat soulless (at least for me) Seoul, to the vibrant world of Madrid, and prompted to go once again to the museums, to walk the streets, to go out in the late night social whirl of cafes and talk.   Getting these two I begged Nathaniel to keep up his missives, which I find joyful and revealing, and also remind me of him – one of my very favorite people.  Knowing his films, one can glimpse the intense visual and spiritual acuity he brings to the paintings he speaks about, which makes me want to go see them myself, again.    After writing this last one, his screenings were on tap.  I told him I thought likely the forewarning of an audience of only 20 was not going to happen as I have found for myself lively and full audiences and I thought he’d do OK.   He’d been surprised in Rotterdam so perhaps Madrid would provide another.  (See this for words on Nick’s Rotterdam shows.)  More letters later.

Dirk Bouts’ The VisitationFrom Nathaniel’s The Visitation




While being far from any expert on Caravaggio, I have seen very many and unlike Nathaniel I am, I guess, a “fan”.   In Rome some years ago I saw a large exhibition, I think it was in the Scuderia del Quirinale (former horse stables of the grand palazzo where Italy’s titular President lives), of Caravaggio and his school.  I think I might have seen this one there.  I recall seeing some, which like this one, had slack or miscalculated proportions – to me the torso here is missing some structural form, and the arm on the left is too short in the shoulder to elbow part, and the one on left is too thick.   Also the leaves are rather unlike the foliage I have seen in other Caravaggio’s.  And the light, while chiaroscuro, is not, as nearly always done with the master, used for drama.   So I bet against this being by Caravaggio, though I imagine in the dark setting of the church there, maybe it looked passable.   And it raises for me the curious matter of what if a painting by an artist you really like, happens to be not by that artist?  One of my most favorite Vermeer paintings, Girl with a Red Hat, certainly has a lot of circumstantial evidence suggesting it is not by Johannes.  And while it is one of my favorite of Vermeers, I would have to say that evidence decisively says it is not his.

Alleged Caravaggio St John the Baptist

[Note: if you double-click on many of the painting images you can see them bigger – check the Bosch that way.]

I seem to have forgotten to post this, but I guess its seasonal nature is still appropo, so post away we will.

Aurora Borealis

Being not a Christian, nor a rabid consumer, it’s my habit to slip into hibernation around now, and to re-emerge once the Gregorian calendar’s New Year’s sillinesses have subsided and life resumes its more usual patterns.  Days of obligatory happiness, be they these, or national markers, or saintly ones, all tend to make people more cantankerous – lemmings in flying silver sardine cans, ski slopes crammed, roads jammed, all in the name of dubious requisite celebrations for things few believe in, producing errant gifts and angry family get togethers.   I’ll pass.

[Note: there’s a new post up for my daughter, Clara, on her blog. ]

Despite the bah humbug above,

Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo, Clara !

Ha Noi, August 22 2008

Forty years ago I was in Chicago, working at “the Mobe” office, readying for the convention.  My friend Kurt Heyl and I had already been arrested a week earlier, making some Bolex shots of the convention center, where in a piece of political hubris they’d decided to build a mini-White House portico at the entrance.  In another week the chants of “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, NLF is going to win” or “Hey Hey LBJ, how many kids you kill today” would echo through the canyons of the Loop, and the acrid bite of tear gas would float in the hot summer air.  Far away in Vietnam Americans were writing their names on a dark wall in Washington, and unnumbered Vietnamese were giving their bodies to the fetid tropical soil of their homeland in what they called “The American War.”  Little did I imagine 4 decades hence I’d be in Hanoi, a near life-time later, trying in some tiny way to make amends for the horrors my country had visited upon Vietnam, as well as upon itself.  Though something in me knew that most likely were I to live so long, America would be doing much the same these forty years later: today my country – with a long list of detours through Grenada, Nicaragua, Lebanon, Guatemala, Chile and other adventures – has occupied Iraq, a country of 23 million but astride a significant pool of oil, and has laid waste in the same heedless manner with which it mangled Vietnam.  Then it was Agent Orange, body counts, the Phoenix Program and a litany of other Orwellian military acronyms which hid the ugly truth.  Today, having learned their version of the lessons of Vietnam, the cluster of resentful neo-con souls who gather around Richard Cheney, and whose signatures can be found in the documents of The Project for the New American Century, deploy what they imagine to be a smarter variant of the same programs, thinking to impose a Pax Americana on the middle-east, though transparently eying the resources that lie just beneath the surface of the sand – a policy written in the blood of now a million dead Iraqis, 5000 and more Americans (the number obscured by the privatization of warfare executed by the Bush Market-Economy wizards), and running from Azerbaijan to Afghanistan to Venezuela – wherever the oil that is needed to power the American military juggernaut resides.  And likewise the landscape is littered with the toxins of American warfare, in this instance the cancer of so-called depleted uranium, settling in for its half-life of a million years, whether in the GIs who dispensed the weapons, or the Iraqi and Afghani terrain which now hosts the residue.  The bill is just beginning to come in.

Forty years ago, in a paroxysm of violence, America turned right, electing Richard Nixon, who with  Henry Kissinger – still alive and still maneuvering in corpse-like fashion in the underworld of arms and real politick power, ever a fixture at the Bilderberg conferences – dragged out the Vietnam war a few million more deaths, only to leave in an indecent interval, helicopters clattering from the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon as the VC rolled in.  By then I was living a hardscrabble life in Montana and working on a film, SPEAKING DIRECTLY (1974-5), which sought in desperation to account for the maelstrom of America in the wake of the 60’s.  It sought to explain in some manner the meaning of the sound “Vietnam” to one American, reflecting perhaps many others.  Little did I imagine what would unfold in my life, or America’s, or the world in that time.  Little did I imagine 4 decades hence I’d be doing a workshop in Hanoi for the Vietnam Film Department, trying to coax a little imagination and creativity from a dozen souls mired in a system in which rote learning is the norm, and exposure to the world is minimal.

August 27.  Leaving Hanoi, we spent a few days in Hue, site of a military feint by the North Vietnamese Army back in January 1968, when they carried out an action to keep General Westmoreland distracted while the Tet offensive was prepared.  It was one of the major battles of the war, and also site of what today might be called “ethnic cleansing” – the summary execution of governmental officials collaborating with the Americans.  Today it is a languid provincial town, with a tourist strip, and the surrounding area offering a pock-marked landscape of bomb craters to remind of the war 40 years ago, with special DMZ tours.

And then we came to Saigon, now named Ho Chi Minh City.  It’s a huge place, exploded from the one million of 1965 to eight million inhabitants (in part owing to the fleeing of rural peasants to Saigon during the war), a buzzing mix of tropic 3rd world impoverishment and hyper-capitalism, all cohabiting under the eyes of one of the few remaining Communist Party apparatuses of the world.  Across the street from the Revolutionary Museum brand new stores dangle the baubles of Chanel and Gucci, underlining just who actually won the 20th century’s struggle between socialism and capital.  Follow the money.  Down the street near the Opera House – undergoing restoration – are the classier hotels.   Not far away in the jammed streets of District 1, the signs of Sony and Nokia signal the marketplace of ideology in which I-pods and cell-phones have triumphed.  The air chokes with the gas and oil fuel of a million motorbikes.

We visited the “War Remnants Museum” – a tawdry collection of American airplanes and tanks, pieces of weaponry from the gas-fed “seismic bomb” to an M-16.  They all look terribly archaic and almost toy-like by contemporary standards.  The museum, like Viet Nam, is poor – a new building of poorly done concrete, a yard cluttered with “the remnants,” and the staff loitering about in the yard.  In one room is a photography exhibition of faded and yellowing images shot by the many journalist photographers who died in Indo-China.  The images are searing ones of war and its collateral damage, made more poignant by the fact that the photographers all died in process of providing this witness.  Back in the 1960’s and ’70’s these images were widely accessible, to be found in magazines like Life (now defunct), or each night on “the news” (also defunct).  Looking at them I was psychologically telescoped to my youth – reminded of the tension and stress of the period, of the passionate response of some Americans to the war in Viet Nam.  I was, of course, reminded of my 2 plus years in prison, 1965-67.  When I arranged to come to Viet Nam, I had anticipated some kind of psychological upheaval, which I thought surely was one of the reasons for coming – it was something I wanted to touch, to confront in myself, in the raw reality of the place which had had so much impact in my life, as well as many others.  In Hanoi and Hue there had only been a little ripple, a vague cloud of guilt, of the inadequacy of my long ago resistance – after all the war had ground on many more years and millions of deaths more.  The transparent poverty and relative technological primitiveness of Viet Nam was made utterly clear, making all the more obscene my country’s arrogant behavior, one reflected in the present election where John McCain waves his bloodied flag and his POW status as a defense for all his actions, and it is somehow ignored that what he was doing was participating in a mechanized mass murder imposed on civilians, a vast pillage of a poor underdeveloped country which failed to submit to the imperial wishes of Washington.   Adding to the painfulness was the simple fact that some 40 plus years later, my country is doing the same thing once again, now in Iraq.  It attacked an embargo-debilitated country of 23 million, half children, waged a high-tech war of alleged “Shock and Awe,” displacing 3 or 4 million from their homes, ravaging the economy and infrastructure, and killed directly or indirectly one million, most of whom were civilians.  But this time the images have been suppressed by a corporate media which is in the pocket of the government, or, in Mussolini’s terms, who are part of the fascist structure – the government and the corporations are the same thing, which in the US today is simply the truth, and the mass media are part and parcel of corporate conglomerates which dictate American governmental policy, and hence what “news” is to be.  And this time in a clear effort to minimize political risks, the military is kept separate from the body politic, privatized, and there is no selective service.  The young can be enraptured by American Idol and the myriad other corporate entertainments and enticements, seduced into a consumer landscape in which personal responsibility is reduced to the obligation to buy, be fashionable, and go into credit-card debt (forever).  Iraq?  Who cares.  All of these are clearly deliberate policies developed over the decades since the 1960’s, policies intended to permit the government to do whatever it wishes, unfettered by any public revulsion or political discord.  In the 1960’s there were massive demonstrations; today there are “free speech zones” to provide a fig-leaf of pretend “liberty” in the land of the allegedly brave and the free.

And so in this visit, the anticipated psychological impact arrived in full, mostly courtesy of the faded images of Robert Capa, Dana Stone, Kyoichi Sawada, and the other 130 war reporters killed during the war.  Though it had already arrived in the numerous young people in Hue and HCM City, victims now 3 generations later of the use of Agent Orange, cruelly deformed and reduced to begging.  Or in the chatter of an alleged former RVN soldier who walked with us on the street, who begs as well, pulling out an English language letter encased in plastic, hand-printed, detailing his past, his visit to America, and a litany of woe, which if true would tally with the treatment which RVN soldiers – collaborators with America – did in fact receive.  Or in the irony which seems to pervade the streets of HCM City, where American capitalist triumphalism seems to have won out – if badly timed in light of America’s own collapse, thanks to its run-of-the-mill imperial life-cycle behavior:  over-extended, fat, lazy, and sucking its own life and soul out in excessive and mindless military expenditures.  On one building a large sign illuminates the phrase “PERFECT USA.”   Well, not quite.  Instead America is rotted on the inside, corrupted (and not just the government, but across the board), and intellectually and morally rudderless and at sea.   The current election offers a quiver of hope, but it is probably far too little far too late.

In the photo exhibit there was a text in which the death of Robert Capa, covering the Indo-China war, in which a Vietnamese doctor inquired if Capa was American.  Told yes, he commented, “This is a harsh way for America to learn.”  That was in 1952, while the French were (not) holding down the fort.  Now almost 70 years later, it seems America has not yet learned.

Saigon blues.