Dublin, Trinity College
Since last posting here, time seems to have zipped along with my geographic coordinates. From Belfast to Dublin to Amsterdam and Brussels, a jaunt to Ghent, Paris, Locarno, Cassina Amata near Milano, Piangipane near Ravenna, Bologna and now in Mondello, on the flanks of Palermo. Each not only a physical place, unique to itself, but a node of personal acquaintances, people known decades and brand new, each in the midst of their own jangled worlds. I soak it in, inquisitive as ever, in the moment and then on leaving one place and entering another, into a new world. It’s been ever so for me.
In Dublin, generously hosted by Maeve Foreman, I was lucky to have a little inside edge. Maeve is well-connected with her neighborhood and her city, and that opened doors that otherwise would surely have remained closed. Lucky me, I got a better glimpse of the place than I would have otherwise. Thanks Maeve.
Maeve ForemanThe Long Room, library at Trinity College, where Maeve taught
The museums in Dublin are all free, so I wasn’t economically locked out as I am in many places asking 20 or 25 Euro to enter, so I had a nice look at what was available to see. A pleasure. For more on Dublin see this.
[Maeve is the mother of Donal Foreman, whose film The Image You Missed has been getting extensive and well-deserved exposure on the global festival circuit. Once I again get settled down it’s my intention to write a long piece on it. If you haven’t seen, try to – it is a wonderful, highly watchable, complex film and personal film which manages to expand itself into the universal.]
Next was Amsterdam where I was able to see long-term friend Errol Sawyer, since 1964, and stay a week thanks to Mathilde. While there I got to see the people at Eyefilm, the Netherlands archive, which holds all my originals and is in process of making 4K prints of some of them. Had a talk about what more needs to be done. Slow going but going.
Museums… well, I was priced out. And even in this way-out-of-season time, Amsterdam was crawling with too many tourists, warping the ambience of the city into a playground of a kind that is becoming all too familiar around the globe.
Buddha and me
And then it was on to Brussels, to visit with Peter and Karolina, now in a new place. And where I had screenings at the old Nova-Cinema, where I’d done screenings some ages ago. They went well, with nice audiences and good Q&A’s. Thanks to Katia, who was running the place way back when and still does. As well had a screening at the film school there, thanks to Justin McKenzie Peers, who, despite his name, is French, studying for now in Brussels. He also helped organize the Nova-Cinema showings and is doing some translations for some of my films. And also appears to be writing perhaps a grad thesis or something on my work.
A surprise for me was that in one of the screenings a 16mm print of Angel City was shown, which seemed pristine and clean. I at first thought that Eyefilm had made a new copy and not told me, but it turned out it was one that I had sent them. I urgently wish to get a 4K print of it, along with one of Last Chants for a Slow Dance, an archival print of which Eyefilm has made before either gets dinged up. Things to do or get done.
Managed some museums in Brussels, including the Magritte one, which was a bit of a revelation, as it covered his early work, and his Warhol-like self-promotion. He is, in my view, like Warhol in that he is less an artist than a graphics person – someone who illustrates ideas rather than actually “paints.” A curious distinction perhaps, but one I think is valid.
The classical arts museum in Brussels has a wonderful collection of Breughels and other painters of that time and that snared me some hours.
While in Brussels managed a day-trip to Ghent, not so far away – one of many places I’ve missed over the years, along with Antwerp and, oh hell, a lot of other places.
And then it was on to Paris to visit Mark Rappaport, and get in just little bit of a city I’d lived in for nearly a year and a half back in 1997-98. Mark was doing fine, busy making new video essays, of which I saw a handful I’d not seen before. Mark is a wizard, making things about topics I don’t much give a damn about (arcane film lore and history) come alive and branch out far from cinemania into fascinating and engaging social essays. One of them had me in tears at the end, another busting my gut laughing! The ones I saw were America’s Grandpa, about Walter Brennan, and soon to be available on Kanopy and I, Dalio. He’s busy working on a new one now.
Also stayed a few days with Peter Friedman who was finishing a long documentary, a cinéma vérité portrait of a big time opera director, Robert Carsen, filmed working on an adaption Leonard Bernstein’s Candide. I got to see this film and liked it quite a lot. It covered both the technical and preparatory stuff of putting on a really big piece of theater, and then on working with the singers, the “directing.” Fascinating stuff and well done cinema-wise. A pleasure.
Like Amsterdam, Paris crawled with tourists in the no longer existent off-season, and seemed much the worse for it. Mass tourism is a pox of globalism. I wonder what will happen to all these places that now rely on tourism as a major cash-crutch when the economy goes poof, and the tourists disappear? I know all too many places which put a lot of eggs in the tourism basket and are utterly vulnerable to this most certain collapse.
One of the many effects of neo-liberal globalism
Also managed to see Emmanuelle Chaulet, who played a lead role in 1999 in All the Vermeers in New York. I hadn’t seen her in nearly three decades ! A nice talkative lunch with a lot to catch up on.
And I tried to rendezvous with the Gilets Jaunes, just to get a look, and went to where they were supposed to be, but did not see them. I think they are being wily and saying they’ll be in place X to draw the police there, and then they materialize somewhere else. Here a month now since I was there they are still around though the media seems to do its best to ignore them – a little corporate commentary in that? Especially the American press. And Macron has enlisted the military to attempt to impose control.
I took a train on to Milano for a quick stop to leave things with the Grassi/Rebosio’s before heading on to Locarno to do something for Lech Kowalski – I didn’t really know what he wanted, but was game for whatever. On the ride through Grenoble, in the French Alps, I noticed there was only snow, and not so much, at the highest elevations of the surrounding mountains. Normally there would be a lot of snow on the ground in the city at this time of year.
In Locarno Lech did a multiple camera thing of me talking, not being interviewed, on subjects he guided me towards, with his students manning the cameras and sound. Await word from him on just how it worked for him and am ready to do more on request. Along the way part of my job was to go with eager students enamored of the wonders of real film (celluloid) and shoot a bit – me, the grizzled old dinosaur of “real film.” I have zero romance for celluloid, so it was a curious exercise. I think the experience may have disabused them of any fantasies about it.
While in Locarno I noticed, there too, the mid-winter mountains empty of snow. A dammed reservoir we went to see was maybe 1/3rd full. The river below it was a not even a trickle.
Dam near Locarno
Back outside of Milano, in Cassina Amata, I stayed a week with Tilde and Luciano. When Tilde was 10, in 1962, her family had picked my up hitch-hiking outside of Como, and taken me home and in a curious turn of events I returned and spent 2 months with them in 1963, shooting my first film as a portrait of Tilde. A year later I returned another month and they (the Rebosio’s) somehow became “family.” I tried to find them for some decades afterwards and failed, but courtesy of FaceBook, about 8 years or was it 7 or 6, we reconnected and I’ve visited a handful of times since. To “family.” Life is very weird.
The last evening there, Luciano and Tilde took me out to Monza, site of the famed Formula 1 racetrack, to a fish place were we had a wonderful and vast serving of fried (lightly) sea things, most delicious. As we walked there we went by the river, the Lambro, which flows down from the mountains into the Po. Except it wasn’t there, rather a concrete trench with a few puddles. Luciano said he had never seen it like that.
House in Cassina Amata, 1963Tilde in my first film, Portrait
Then took a train on down to little Piangipane, a village not far from Ravenna, there to re-record music we’d done in autumn of 2017. I’d not been happy with my voice or my guitar playing and asked Christian Ravaglioli if I could take another stab at it, having practiced in the intervening year and more, and feeling much more at ease and confident in both voice and playing. We ended re-recording most of the songs and he agreed it was much better. Albums are due out in June or so. One solo and one a mix of my work and Christian’s. When they do come out I’ll post word here.
From Piangipane it was to nearby Bologna, to visit my friend Pina, who was just quitting her job after 15 years as a chef in a vegetarian restaurant in the middle of the city, to strike out on her own. She has one book, Vegetaliana, a vegetarian cookbook rooted in Italian cuisine, and just collaborated on another project centered on Bologna’s most famous artist of late, Giorgio Morandi.
And then it was on to Palermo, where I’d originally planned to spend the time looking around for a place to live for the coming year or more, before returning to the USA for retrospectives planned for autumn-winter 2020. But in the interim a proposal came in from the US West Coast, which altered my plans. So following a stop in London to see friends it will be on to Seattle and a new adventure. See how it all works out.
In Palermo its been a mix of take-it-easy in Mondello, the next door beach town of Palermo, where off-season the weekdays have been quiet, though nice weather has pulled in hordes on the week-ends.
And when the weather has been nice I’ve been going into Palermo, a city I really like, and nosing around. And finding out my 75 year old creaking body ain’t like it was and finds a day of walking around, looking, taking a ton of photos, is rather taxing and am inclined to take a break the next day, whatever the weather. Learning to be “old.”
Baroque Palermo – there’s a lot of it
And quotidian pedestrian Palermo
Palermo has passed through many hands over time, like all of Sicily. Greek, Roman, Arab, Norman, and on up to American GI’s not so long ago. All those who seized it or just passed through left their marks, and the result is a rich intaglio of cultures, in contemporary lingo, a real culture-mashup, a mix-down. But this one has passed through millennia, and is all the richer for the ripe patina of time. Often this can result in an oppressive sensibility, that history weighs heavy on the present and acts as a psychic/creative block. But I don’t sense this in Palermo, which, perhaps thanks to the many immigrants present – from North Africa, and black Africa, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and many other places – seems alive and vivid. It is a city once opulently rich, with a vast array of monumental buildings to show it, and then battered by poverty, the Mafia, and left in the wayside of history. Not long ago it had been written off as a hopeless wreck, as destroyed as the cars of Falcone and Borsellino were by Mafia assassination bombs.
Since then the city has recovered, in part thanks to a new mayor, Leoluco Orlando, who has largely been credited with the turn-around. He was originally elected in 1993 and stayed to 2000; in 2012 he was again elected and is the current sindaco. And surely also instrumental were large student demonstrations against the Mafia in the wake of the murders of the jurists.
In the last 10 years there has been, as elsewhere in the world, a process of gentrification here, though frankly it seems not to have done much damage so far, and some perhaps has been good for the city, like two major streets in the center of town, Emmanuelle Vittorio, and Via Maqueda being turned into pedestrian areas for a bit, along with a few smaller adjacent streets here and there.
Palermo, Palermo, Palermo. A riotous dream.
The Oratorio of Santa Cita, by Giacomo Serpotta
And so much more, but for the moment I am out the door for a last go around in Palermo before heading off to London tomorrow. Tickets in hand. Moving.