August 8 2009. The landscape of Campagna glides by quickly, the sun slanting through the dirty windows of a Eurostar train. We’re enroute to Bari, and then a car ride to Marcella’s hometown, Matera. It’s been a whirlwind trip: Bologna with friend Pina and excellent organic food, tasty and healthy; then to Marcella’s cousin, also in Bologna, with side-trips to Ferrara. Bologna is a lovely place, walkable, seeming the optimal size for a city, 370,000 to a half million, depending on where you count. Civil, with handsome architecture, and the recent peripheral sprawl well-managed. Likewise Ferrara and Imola and Carpi. The cities are clean, well kept and provide a sharp contrast to the messiness found to the south, somewhat warranting the negative views of those up North – it’s not just money, but certain cultural attitudes.
Visited the archive in Bologna and secured their agreement to replace a long lost (1996) best print of Last Chants for a Slow Dance with an HD transfer off original, liquid gate and otherwise electronically optimized. Will do this perhaps in winter 2010, if invited to Rotterdam or Berlin. Step one in getting all the films put onto optimal HD format. The archive is an impressive one, in a new/old building – an old industrial building converted to cultural uses. There’s two cinemas, an impressive and comfortable library, and the archiving things of the future. They can do frame-for-frame 4K digital restoration, liquid gate transfers, HD, the works. I guess the regional government covers some of the bill, perhaps the EU other.
Following Bologna traveled to nearby Ravenna, family house of a young musician, Christian Ravaglioli – excellent pianist and oboist, who was working with French-American singer Marianne Dissard on new album. Christian’s mother was a contadina mom who spent her life in a small store, and kept the household together. She has never been to see the mosaics in Ravenna, a mere 15 minute ride away, nor been in a church there, nor she said, has she any interest to do so. She said her house and family were quite enough. She gorged us on the greatest Emilia Romagna food – tortellini, ravioli, cappelletti, linguine – all handmade and with an admonition to eat up double servings which I could not refuse so good was it. Take while the taking is good. I think I put on a few kilos in a week or so. Along the way got to go to a few concerts and meet some new people – Antonio, the local impresario, who organised a summer-long festival of local events, among them one with a friend of Marianne’s, Vicky Brown, classically trained violinist who five years ago in Tucson decided to jump into avant garde music, and plays with looping electronics, improvising. Was fun. The another American, Will Oldham aka Bonnie Prince William, whose music was slightly perverse, excellently done with two side(1 wo)men, a violinist/singer and a guitarist/singer. His stage presence was pure weirdness of a riveting kind. I learned later he’d played lead role in Kelly Reichart’s Old Joy. Before finding that out I’d already had thoughts of him playing perhaps in Mexico border film should it happen.
Christian, Marianne, Oldham
While near, went to Ravenna to see famed mosaics, which warrant their reputation, though being honest I am not that taken with mosaics of this kind which seem to strangely amplify the Catholic kitsch element of Christian motifs. I preferred the less spectacular and more primitive floor designs done in larger scale tiles.
Then went to Rimini, a small city cum beach town, just as the August crowds descended, to visit Marcella’s sister Francesca, who works there as a nurse. As “beach town” it is low key though I find the Italian go-to-the-beach to hang around with an urban density of population, nattering in the sand all a little dubious. The regimented rows of umbrellas stretched for kilometers down the coast, ready for the touring masses to “sun” themselves. Central Rimini, old and handsome, seemed quasi-deserted, its excellent little museum virtually vacant.
After some days we moved along to Montepulciano, a lovely Tuscan hilltown, small, near Siena, to visit Lorenzo Taiuti, a friend of mine, professor of media in Milano and La Sapienza in Roma. He’s staying at an agri-tourism place just outside the town, a very nice two room place nestled under some trees on the flank of a farm. Lorenzo showed us around town – a walk of an hour – stopping to taste wine, buy cheese and bread and salami, and of course, a bottle of the local wine. He spends the summer there, writing in his little country room, walking, stopping in cafes and, of course, imbibing the local vino. Lucky Lorenzo.
However, his talk was mostly of a lost Italian culture, and particularly that of Milano, where he recalled a youth of vibrant discussions of arts and literature and politics, and which today has devolved – like more or less everywhere else – to talk of money and its getting and spending. No more the vivid conversations of his youth; instead words of stocks and Berlusconi and …. My view is that Lorenzo is merely lamenting the loss of his youth and its excitements, and has grown a bit jaded. As time will do to most of us. By his own accounting, the current arts are tired and worn – which I agree is mostly so, as the academic professionalization of the arts cranks out “artists” (who expect due payment) like sausages. Their art is mostly regurgitation of the last years, po-mo play on genres, po-po intellectual conceits, little new, and less passion. It’s just a job. And Lorenzo I think misses the illusions of his youth – the vaunted 60’s for which he is nostalgic – when, in fact, things weren’t really so different. Well, actually they were, but that is another story. But he was different – young and excited about the brand new world which was unfolding before him. So he takes succor in a fine wine and slice of cheese. Like a good contadino, settling for reality.
From Montepulciano we went, by train, down to Capalbio, just on the Tuscan side of the border with Lazio. Stayed two nights with Eliana Miglio and Paolo Grisenti in their lovely well-done new home-in-the-country. Eliana was in my film Uno a te, back in 1994, and then in La Lunga Ombra in 2006. Her son, now 20, is studying acting at the Centro Sperimentale (national film school). I’ve watched him grow now from a young little boy to a towering lanky young man – smart, funny, and talented. Over dinner last night I made a handshake deal with him to be in a film for me. Maybe with Eliana too, maybe in part in the very house we were staying in (would make a perfect setting for a certain film in mind, and being all “in the family” could make it cheap). We’ll see. Capalbio has blossomed in the last years into a little liberal left outpost of writers and such, second homes a drive or train ride from Rome, with the appropriate cultural addendums of little literary and film festivals, readings, bookstores and the like.
From Capalbio we took train today down to Roma for a lunch with co-scriptor on Uno a te, Edoardo Albinati, writer somewhat well regarded and published – has a new book coming out in September, a fat one of short stories collected in last 15 years. Visiting was a critic, also with new book out, and theater friend, and arriving later a painter based in New York. Was a 4 hour feast of enjoyable talk and wine and simple meal. We had only 5 hours in Roma which was, as usual in August, somewhat vacated – my favorite time of year there. And now we’re on the train, headed to Matera.
Ferrara, Ravenna, sunset near Comacchio
[More thoughts on Italy soon at www.jonjost.wordpress.com ]