A Cockatoo Convention

A three-bird Cockatoo convention visited me soon after I arrived home yesterday, tapping on my window, asking for a conversation. I gave them some nuts, guessing they were down from the fire-affected forests, and they headed off.

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Celebrity…so what

I live in Cannes. Have done for a while. I have just finished a novel set in a similar festival, no names, no pack drill etc.

So down to the festival I sometimes go, some years, to see the hoi mix with the polloi. Where are all the stars? Shall I be honest? Who cares. I am not interested in them, though they appear in my novel. Go figure. Privileges and the Precious Few. I’m not concerned about that in my life, I say. I like bigger things, I say.

It’s just a personal thing, no big deal. Not trying to sell anything to you, change your heart or mind, or get you upset. I mean who cares what another human thinks unless it’s someone you love, care about, live with.

Most people, as Sartre identified, are hell, wild animals to watch, arrive at an unspoken agreement with, to give room to get by or around without any anger or fuss.

So there is this word I think about sometimes, not a lot, but some. It’s no great shakes in itself, unless you use it to rate the world, to measure others by. Some think it’s right up there with the really major words: death, love, hope, life. It’s not on that level, but it’s a word that gets talked about an awful lot. And ignored by me just as much, I like to say.

Tuscan Retreat

With Brexit still breathing down Britain’s neck, I wanted to revisit a blog I did some time ago, to celebrate the very best of British production, in my view – the Landrover – and how this journey back (together with the journey down) opened up Europe for me, travelling across France and in to Italy.

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So many journeys so many memories, to and from London and our place in Tuscany, Italy. Nostalgia? Absolutely, completely. I feel the need to revisit these memories before the Brexit maniacs get their way and destroy what is beautiful and sustainable in Freedom of Movement. The camping grounds I stopped at in France were extraordinarily well-managed, great facilities, and so reasonable in price. It made driving the long hours an absolute joy.

The first trip back to London took me up through Italy from Tuscany up through Piemonte to Valle d’Aosta, which led me (countless times) to les Alpes, driving up over the Great St Bernard Pass (il Passo del Gran San Bernardo) that first time down into Switzerland in brilliant sunshine, at four on a September afternoon. Around Lake Geneva to Lausanne I went, arriving at Pontarlier in the dark. I found a parking spot just outside the entrance to a Péage, heading to God knows where. I was absolutely exhausted. After a night of waking up and dozing in the front seat of the old beast, I woke up and crawled to Troyes (only seeing the periphery), then on, going around in circles late afternoon south-east of Paris struggling to find a municipal campsite. Finally I came across Méry-sur-Seine, a tiny hamlet south east of Paris.

I parked on the grass and walked in to the village, got something to eat – do I remember what I ordered? No. But whatever it was it was very, very good. I know that. I walked back and set up my mattress in the back of the beast, extending out over a table top I had made especially with a trestle to support it. With a tarpaulin attached to the roof rack and reaching down and pegged in to to the ground all around, fresh country air flowed in all around me. I slept the sleep of angels. To this day I can’t recall a sleep so sound (maybe one other). It rained all night and I never felt a drop.

Waking up at six I packed up like a single person army on the march. I was gone in minutes, driving around to find the right route north, until I stopped at a café for breakfast, café au lait, a croissant and advice how to drive en direction de Meaux skirting north-east Paris, on through the northern cities. I reached Calais at four in the afternoon. Crossing the channel by ferry to Dover, I arrived home in east London at around ten at night. My old landrover only did fifty miles an hour.

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That voyage in 2006 I will never forget. I have done the same trip many times in the years since then, in two separate Landrovers (old and new). My last defender model (2013), took me via different routes, but the first trip from Tuscany in the battered old Series Three has never ever been bettered.

tuscanretreat.wordpress.com

 

Lee, JFK and Stephen King

It’s tough being a writer in this organised politically-controlled oligarchic world of ours. Publishing is a strategic asset in a stable of assets essential to a well-tuned oligarchic universe. The message whatever it is must be edited. That seems to be the last law of the universe, the one Scientists haven’t yet owned up to.

Try thwarting it and you will be edited out of existence says a footnote on the first page of the Oligarchic Manual. Try beating the system and your Sun will shine no more.

So, I guess even the great Stephen King obeys this largely hidden law of our Oligarchic Universe. (I say great because book sales obviously equate with greatness, right?) It has nothing to do with well-oiled sales machines. Sales = Greatness and vice versa.

So, I went, I must say with hope, to read 11.22.63 by the undoubtedly great Stephen King. And what did I find?

Well, my mother always said: if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all. But when did I ever listen to my mother?

What on earth was King thinking about?

Not the truth clearly. His novel is fiction, okay. Only he put some real people in it, no? Like Lee Harvey. Poor old very dead Lee Harvey. The man who some people keep saying was guiltier than his own imagined sin. Lee Harvey with his Carcano Model 91/38 rifle which he probably couldn’t have hit a barn door with from 100 metres, but somehow reverse-actioned Newtonian physics with a tree blocking his way, hitting a moving target, from how far was it? Killing a President.

Go figure. Many have tried. I don’t need to debate this. To my mind at least if Lee were on the sixth floor of the Book Depository that fate-filled day and fated time, he would have had more chance of hitting Parkland Hospital than the man it is claimed he murdered in the way convention says he committed this crime – the myth now co-signed by author Stephen King.

The dilemma of being Harvey

I first saw Harvey in person speaking in the Variety tent in Cannes at the festival in 2000, an interesting first in-the-flesh look at a man with a huge reputation.

I sat in the tent watching Harvey W demolish an Englishman in rumpled linen questioning U.S. film business distribution techniques in Europe.

Some time later, I read Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures, a superb read and study which told me all I needed really to know about Harvey’s ways of doing business.

Then came the revelations in hotel rooms and elsewhere – in summary making for a dark chapter to end his career on. As I watched Harvey pleading for understanding, I thought: is he ripe for redemption? My take was this – barring paying out his entire fortune to his victims and starting a centre for abused women, then manning the soup tables in the new Harvey Weinstein centre for homeless people, I couldn’t see him coming back in any form. My advice then: buy an island, buy lots of books, DVDs, coconuts, pineapples, slim down, live your life, because the one you had is over. Done. Finished.

But here’s the big but thing. It’s pretty well, jump on a bandwagon time against him, isn’t it. Even if the women are/were dead right to call him out – even without all the details we know in the deepest recesses of our consciousness that the accusations are as right as they are true – but the accusations also have a bandwagon organised feel to them.

Harvey had the temerity to take on the NRA, threatening them with a film with Meryl Streep in it. So, even if Harvey admitted his guilt and really is in a bad place morally, let him have his days in court. Let’s hear his side, before we throw away the key. I know I know. I hear you. Harvey has a side? (He kills and eats his children, the man has a side? – from Deconstructing Harvey, soon for empty theatres near you)….

BUT  – if Harvey truly is sorry, wants to prove how redemptional he is, be the genuine redemption chasing Harvey, even if he is under the influence of say of some native American mysticism, peyote, best Mexican grass ever grown, he needs to come up with a genuinely creative plan to make amends. Maybe there is a road back, but it needs to be a really good plan, a plan I’d like to put that omnipresent adjective in front of it for real, a great plan.

  • That says in toto:

I, Harvey Weinstein am going to be the greatest supporter of the vulnerable and victims on planet Hollywood and elsewhere, from here on in. I am going to pay for my sins and pay out to my victims, and from here on in, I am going to make only great films, life affirming comedies, Little Miss Sunshine kind of films, great themes, great actors, ensemble casts so lots of actors can get lots of work. I am going to help everyone I can get a chance on life’s creative ladder, because I am Harvey the great redeemed one.

A cartoon filled with fantasy in other words.

Still it could work. Stranger things have happened, right? Though he will need one helluva of a writer to make it stick.

 

 

 

NormanLloyd@CANNES

Norman Lloyd’s talk in the Salle Buñuel was a lesson in theatre, film technique, Shakespeare, Renoir, Brecht, Chaplin, Welles, Hitchcock and Kazan, and how to keep your mind a steel trap well into your nineties. I don’t know if he eats nothing but blueberries but he must be doing something right.

In an age when aging (see Haneke’s Amour) is often told in tales of sad decline, this man stands out as an object lesson of hope for all. The session was one of the highlights of Cannes in 2012. Holding his audience spellbound, Lloyd, a 97 year-old veteran of acting, directing and production, took listeners through the best part of the pantheon of cinema (the first 60 years of it). What and who he didn’t know simply wasn’t worth pursuing.

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It wasn’t just that he knew so many of those who were crucial to the development of 20th century cinema, it was he knew what they knew and why they knew it – and above all he could tell us how and why he knew what they knew. He understood their brilliance with exacting modesty, placing himself in the role of pupil to all of them. Yet for all intents and purposes he was their equal in collaboration, a creative confidant in so many ways; he travelled through film history with them not because of them. Lloyd’s contribution to film is real, tangible and deep. When he recounted how Hitchcock – a decidedly unpolitical man – with three words to NBC, “I want him” dissolved the McCarthy blacklist era, the entire audience in the Salle was stilled. Lloyd’s part in McCarthy’s ruination was just one anecdote in many. Politically involved and motivated throughout his career, Lloyd was a close friend to Jean Renoir, Chaplin, Welles and Hitchcock. Lloyd was at the heart of theatre and cinema for nearly fifty years. One of the best moments of the night was his recollection of the lines of Bertolt Brecht: “Since the people are displeased by the government, the people must be replaced.”  The sharpness of wit, his breadth of cinematic knowledge was stunning.

Experiment, what experiment?

..handheld shaky cam, found footage, ultra-violence, meta-storylines, etc., all becoming part of the broad pop cultural landscape and assimilated into the commercial marketplace. This translates across all cultural lines – music, art, technology, etc. as the outsiders and untouchables of yesteryear are today’s TV spokesmen and tastemakers..

…experimental film seems to represent more fully the true potential and magic of cinema

…for brief moments in history, think the ‘beats’, the real ground-shakers, the true risk-takers, manage to do something that is life and culture affecting, their minds drafting the future…

The Price So Many Are Paying

With the global financial crisis deepening and spreading into communities (aided and abetted by years of political corruption) in recent months the number of workers in Italy who have taken their own lives has risen fast.

Below are some of their stories

See more of these printed in L’Espresso (in Italian) – 13th April 2012

13 April 2012. Sesto, Fiorentina, Firenze. Giuliano V., ex-manager, 42, died by throwing himself under a freight train. Four months before he had lost his position in the marble production sector in Garfagnana. Falling into a deep depression he had tried to create a new life and career without success.

12 April 2012. Treviso. Paolo Tonin, 53, agricultural businessman hanged himself in his business premises. According to his family, the suicide was as a direct result of the difficult economic climate his business had been plunged into.

9 April 2012. Valtiberina, Arezzo, 27, owner of a woodcutting business, killed himself in a forest by connecting a hose to the exhaust pipe of his car. Family and friends said he was overwhelmed by his debts. He had just received a tax bill for 50,000 euros.

5 April 2012. Savona. Vittorio Galasso, independent builder, 52,  hanged himself in the apartment he was renovating. According to friends, he could not go on facing little work and rising debts.  He left a wife and two children of 15 and 17 years.

3 April 2012. Roma. Mario Frasacco, businessman, 59. His aluminium products company failing, workers being laid off, Frasacco shot himself in his business premises. His body was found the morning after by his twenty year old son.

2 April 2012. Roma. Pasqualino Clotilde, artisan, 57, hanged himself in his framing shop. A note explained his reasons: “insurmountable economic problems.” The day before his wife had begun working in a cleaning company to help pay off family debts.

23 March 2012. Cepagatti, Pescara. E.F, businessman, 44 years, hanged himself because he was desperate over the economic situation of his window and door frame company.  His body was found by his company employees.

21 March 2012. Scorrano (Lecce). Antonio Maggio, craftsman, 29, hanged himself after losing his job on an excavation site. With the job he had been supporting his widowed mother. A few days before he lost his job, he received a payment notice for rubbish collection.

9 March 2012. Ginosa Marina (Taranto). Vincenzo Di Tinco, 60, shopkeeper, hanged himself after his bank refused him help. Proprietor of clothing company he was refused a 1,300 euro loan notwithstanding his 40 years in business.

9 March 2012. Noventa di Piave (Venezia). Carpenter, 60, took his own life because delay in receiving payments from clients. His body was found by a co-worker in their work premises.

26 February 2012. Firenze. Businessman, 64, found hanging in his premises, due to economic difficulties.

15 February 2012. Paternò (Catania). Owner, 57, of an  agricultural machinery company, hanged himself in his warehouse. His company had numerous debts.

3 January 2012. Milano. Giancarlo Chiodini, electrician, 64, shot himself in the head in his van parked in front of his work premises. Dedicated to his work, in recent times he had become obsessed by worry over promised contracts that did not materialise and delayed payments.

(translated by this writer)

Sammakon in Turku

I was in Finland last week, in the western city of Turku, facing down five days of clear blue skies and 30 degree sunshine, weather Londoners can only dream about. Turku is a friendly, gentle-paced city.

I found a bookshop not far from the hotel.

What caught my eye right away was a small John Fante hardcover in Finnish lying on an outside table, selling for 3 euros.

No dumping books in remainder shops, not in this corner of the bookworld anyway. There it was at a price anyone can afford – with the added value of being in translation. Sammakon is not an average bookshop, even if it could be mistaken for one at first glance.

There are two sammakko.com shops, the other in Helsinki. Sammakon’s owner publishes, sells and translates from English himself, especially his favorites – Bukowski, Fante, the beat poets and novelists. His first book was a translation of Charles Bukowski’s The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills. And don’t they just. After coming across this minor miracle for the world of books in English, one that so intimately caught my eyes, all both of them, it was on the bus for the drive back to Helsinki, for a day and a half of restaurants and walks, before flying back to rainy, chilly London.