Skip navigation

July 14, Matera, 2011I Sassi, the old center of Matera

Six years ago, in early July, I arrived in Matera, Italy, where I’d never been before, following a long flight from Brisbane, Australia, through Singapore and on to Rome, where I took a bus to arrive on Monday morning, around 5 a.m., to start a workshop at 9 a.m.    I thought I’d be destroyed, but actually I was, despite the long 48+ hours of travel, awake and ready to go.  My students, in the last week of a 5 week workshop, weren’t.  I recall 3 of 15 being there at 9, and some, but not all dribbled in over the rest of the day. One of those 3 was Marcella.  The rest of the week carried on in a similar fashion – students burned out on too much disorganized unfocussed work-shopping off in a small Basilicata town, Pisticci, and into non-stop partying.  I couldn’t turn them around.  Around Thursday, hoping to use their egos as a lever, I filmed each of them explaining what they hoped to do and why they were taking the workshop.  Though I’d noticed her before, while filming Marcella I “fell in love” and obliquely told her so.   She was 28, I was 63.    After the workshop finished we took her away to Berlin, Lisbon, London, and then finally to America (Portland) where she asked me to marry her.  I’d lived with many others before but never married, but did so for her.   We later went to Lincoln, NE, and then to Seoul.

Marcella (ti amo)

A few days after arriving in Matera from London, Marcella, mentioned often here, who’d been in Italy for 4 months doing a post-graduate course in general film business stuff, told me she needed to talk about something.  I knew what it was before she really said anything.  Time to end things.  I knew when it began that it would, some time or another, come to this: the differences in age, along with cultural and other things made it all predictable – it was just a matter of when.   As it happened it was with an interesting symmetry: almost exactly to the day (one off) when our “affair” had seriously begun six years earlier.  In the same place, Matera.  The circle rounds and closes.   It was not my choice, but I knew inside it would come some day.   It is hardly pain-free, but after many spins around the sun, it is life as life really happens.   I had no delusions.    We’ll remain friends and I love her, and I hope for only the best possible life for her.  It was six years I am only happy came and happened.   That it comes to an end is only natural and I accept that.

Casa di Oretta e Gugliermo

I went to Roma, as planned, and stayed a few nights with Oretta and Gugliermo in San Lorenzo.  They knew the story before I got there,  and it was a good comforting time.   Gugliermo is playfully my favorite Palermitano mafioso.   We trade horse-head pillows.   Oretta had a very nice dance piece she’s been working on which Gugliermo did videos for – I am hoping to help get it into a big festival in Seoul so she has an excuse for another visit there.  See this for a sample.  

Gugliermo in San LorenzoHorse head, forget the museum and artist

It was only a few days in Roma, but I did manage to see a few friends I hadn’t seen in a long time – Marco Delogu, a photographer whom I hope to do a Pleasure of Friends piece on soon.  Lorenzo Taiuti, who was headed shortly to the Venice Biennale and then on to Austria for Ars Electronica.  And Eliana Miglio for a lunch.  All good.  Other friends were not in town, alas.   And I managed to have a beer at the San Calisto in Trastevere, where the clientele remains the curious mix of expatriates, locals, druggies, alcoholics, and in the evening a mixed crowd of young people.  The barmen are the same as five years ago, last time I was there.  Some things seem never to change.

San Calisto, just off P. S. Maria in Trastevere

And then it was on to Berlin where I stayed nearly 3 weeks, under gray skies and a summerless summer.  Cool and rainy.  Stayed with my friend Martin, from long ago (1979).  He’s now director of the archival section of the Deutsche Kinematek.   Then he went off for vacation on the Baltic where, apparently, the weather was the same.  I managed to do a bit of torture tourism of museum-going on a 3 day pass, and saw a lot of things I hadn’t seen here previously.   The Pergaman had a long line, and I skipped it, and went instead to the Alte Museum, the Neue Museum, and the Bode.   The latter two I’d never been to.  Archeological, Greek, Egyptian and into Roman things.  And then the next days to the National Gallery, with its handsome building by Mies van der Rohe, and then the newly built well designed for light if not otherwise sprawling Gemäldegalerie.  And then also to the Hamburger Bahnhof, with contemporary art, including a new wing which makes the DIA Foundation site in upstate NY seem small.  Unfortunately what fills this massive space only confirms my view that most of this kind of art is a fraud.

Caspar David Friederich

While in Berlin, as if to underline the fact of aging, at the Bode I noticed a young woman, maybe 30, who seemed to materialize again and again in the same room as me – a vast museum, easy to be lost in.  I decided it was more than coincidence and finally drew up the wherewithal to ask, “Do you speak English?”   She replied, “Yes,” and I asked her where she came from.  Bulgaria was the answer.  I asked if she’d like to go have a cup of coffee and she declined.  I noted a museum guard’s amused look.  I said good-bye and left, thinking to myself,  “Come on, Jon – you’re 68, an old man, and…”

So after I left, took a walk to soak up some time before going to a concert I’d been invited to by a friend –  Marianne Dissard.  Walking past the Brandenburg Gate and the hordes of tourists I went to the Holocaust Memorial, to see again so I could write a not-nice critique.  Wandering in its columns, noting the children scampering about as if in a big maze, and young people using its myriad corners to steal a kiss or hug, I saw some kids jumping from one column to the next and thought I should also go up to get a foto from above, showing how it was organized.  I walked to the end of one line, found one short enough to clamber upon, and looking for a way to get more central, I finally took the little leap – about a meter – from one column to the next, and….

Eisenmann’s Holocaust Memorial, by the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

And I don’t really know exactly what happened in that millisecond, only that I was then sprawled on top of the adjacent block, a bit stunned, and concerned about my glasses, the tink of which I heard as they hit the ground.  The frames were minus one lens and I went to the pavement to look, and found it, shattered.  I put my hand to my face and noted it was rather bloody.  I think I said, “Damned” or perhaps it was “Fuck!”  And I felt my face, and thought I should likely go to a hospital for some stitching.  After a few minutes a man came by and gave me a small bottle of water to wash off with, and luckily I had picked up a hanky from the street a few days earlier (clean) and had something to mop up the blood.  Very red, very fast.  I wandered to find a place like a pharmacy but couldn’t find one and went into a gym place, where I asked for help and the man came with a band-aid, which I didn’t think sufficient.  I asked where was a hospital and he said some name and I went to find a taxi, which finally arrived, and I said the name.   He drove me there, and on entry having no insurance it was minus 100 Euro to go in, which, after some forms I filled out, I waited about 45 minutes before a young doctor saw me, wiped things up, did stitches on the gash in my eye-brow and let his assistant glue the rest together.  While waiting I noticed a gash in my right shin, which didn’t hurt, but now some weeks later it is the last to heal up and will leave a nice scar tissue to remind me of my age.  Or something.  Perhaps I will think of the Holocaust each time.   Through all this, as seems characteristic, I was laughing at myself, the reality, life.

Post-Eisenmann treatment

I consider myself lucky that the lens didn’t rip my eye, that I didn’t lose some teeth (some nerves to them are momentarily numb), and didn’t break my shin-bone.    However, as it wasn’t my physical feebleness, but some mental lapse, I hope it doesn’t deter me from making, more carefully, such little leaps in the future.  As I told Marcella (we talk almost every day – all’s OK) I will now sport some “masculine” scars – one on my nose being most evident now.

Roman portrait in the Bode

In Berlin I managed to see some friends, some not seen in some time, and make contact with some others.   In 1985-6 I’d shot a film with them, taken up to a near-final edit, A-rolled in 16mm, and then I didn’t have the money to print it.  For some time I’ve thought to cut it down a bit more, make a contemporary HD framing for it – using the same people – and find a way to make it interesting for the present time.  The film is a nice time-capsule of Berlin with the wall and the arty community then, which, to be honest, appears very little different than the arty community now.  Except now there’s more money, more people, more everything.   They seem to have agreed, so now to find what it will cost, and find a time to do it.  Perhaps later this autumn if invited by some festival back to Europe.

Caspar StrackeMartin KoerberBernd CaillouxThomas Schulz

As happens in travels, now in Amsterdam – having passed through Paris, then Brussels, with many things of interest:  people, places, new things made by friends of mine, some of which quite strong.  Of these things later.  Meantime a final image, one made by Thomas, above, of Germany when the wall was still up, an image suggestive of the evanescence of time and life: a simple fact which in various ways has been underline for me in the happenings of my life, and of some of those close to me.   Of that, more later.

Image from Thomas Schulz


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: