As Brexit continues morphing out over the coming months, I think we should begin sharing experiences of what it has been like to live in and freely travel around Europe before our rights disappear. The ‘good’ the young of Britain in particular are about to lose.
Automatic right to be and travel inside Europe without a visa, attend universities, work without foreigner status conditions, to learn languages, share in the life as citizens of Europe with equal rights.
What the Europe Union does so well is not to look towards obvious economic stimulants as bridges to future social, cultural and economic activity, but to social and cultural stimulants, which when aggregated from individual life-changing experiences multiply in exponential societal ways, not only across Europe but across the world. Europe is a civil and cultural force unlike any other.
Here is an early pre-FOM personal European experience, before freedom of movement was instituted, but giving reason to why it is so good for societies and individuals.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus. The ancient Odeon, built by Herod Atticus 161 AD, situated at the foot of the rock of the Acropolis with the Parthenon as a backdrop. The Odeon of Herodes Atticus written up by Vernon Kidd in the New York Times, describing a 1981 Athenian summer component in a plethora of Europe-wide festivals, The Athens Festival awaiting travellers…“plays of Euripides, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes … presented by the National Theater of Greece, the Amphi-Theater, the Art Theater and Northern Greece State Theater. Tickets: from $1.20 to $6. July 5 to Sept. 25.”As Kidd’s NY times article detailed, Ancient Greek theatre in the ancient Odeon was only a small part of a Europe-wide extravaganza of arts festivals in the summer of 1981.
So, unaware of any of the above, one hot early July ’81 evening I wandered up the road from my Plaka hotel to the Acropolis, this young filmmaker then resident of Hong Kong. As darkness gathered, I sat myself on a wall to take in the dusk scene at a spot overlooking the lit-up Odeon of Herodes Atticus theatre. A rehearsal was going on way down below. Intrigued very quickly by what I saw, I hiked down the hill to find out what it was I was watching. A poster outside the Odeon announced the Athens Summer Festival’s showing of The Acharnians by Aristophanes. Had I see an Aristophanes play before? No.
I returned to my hotel and the next day bought a ticket for the play at a ticket outlet – (prices of the day ranging from $1.20 to $6). I found a Penguin translation of the play in a bookshop, read it, and no wiser I have to say set off a night later to see the performance.
The Acharnians was first performed in 426 BC. A strident anti-war play it is credited with being the oldest staged Greek comedy. I didn’t know what to expect because the Penguin translation did not make anything clear. Still, I had seen the rehearsal. That was enough. The play itself would do the rest.
The Odeon theatre is an extraordinary space, but on a hot July summer night it is other-worldly. The night air made translucent by light was alive with what looked like tiny floating tips of flowers, rising in the warm air all throughout the amphitheatre. In jeans, t-shirt, sandals surrounded by Greeks in evening dress I felt a rank outsider. Yet nobody cared.
What truly resonates with me most, nearly forty years later, is how an ancient play, interpreted, performed and directed as it was, was soon so relevant for a 1981 audience. Filled with dance, mime, mask, and music, George Kounis’ (or Kouns’) production lifted me off my seat. This was not a stilted play from Ancient Greece, a production I remembered too well from university productions. The Penguin translation was swept from my mind.
Dicæopolis, a native of Acharnæ and an ex-soldier returns disillusioned from the Persian wars, heartsick at the miseries and stupidities of the conflict. Not shy in making his views known, with earthy gestures he rails against fellow citizens, while a chorus of startled, indignant citizens in white masks, odd hats and fantastic bed square sewn quilt costumes, rush in dance formation from one side of the stage to the other, all to a cacophony of startling music and sound effects, remonstrating with him and each other. The audience was in stitches inside minutes. I didn’t understand a word yet understood everything.
As a writer it is hard to communicate the effect this experience has had on me: the hot July night, the western world’s most ancient comedy, the mime, dance, costume, design and performances, Greeks all around me ‘rolling in aisles’, the old director helped on stage after the performance – I felt as if theatre itself, not only the ancient Greek concept of ‘spectacle,’ had finally been made clear to me.
photograph by and courtesy of Berthold Werner 2017
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.
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.
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, dozing in the front seat of the old beast, I shook myself conscious and crawled on toward Troyes (seeing the periphery), going on, then around in circles late afternoon south-east of Paris struggling to discover a municipal campsite. Finally I did, coming upon 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.
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.
I first saw Harvey W 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 watching his technique of demolishing an Englishman in rumpled-linen who was 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, gather-up 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.
It’s now ten years that we have been in Pitigliano, renovating, holidaying and living. We chose Pitigliano, in the hills of La Maremma, southern Tuscany, for several reasons – the town itself; the hot springs of Saturnia; the wonderful beaches south of Argentario, and the countryside all around. Here are a few photos.
We took up the floors and found old tiles which was a wonderful find, but which now need work again because the ceiling of the magazzino (store room) below is deteriorating affecting the floor above. In truth this work was always going to be done, it was just a matter of when – when arrived in 2012.
I made my own stoneware tiles for the kitchen, following the idea of uncovered – ‘found old marble’.
We found the original painted wall and built it around designs incorporating terracotta wall lamps I made. Not everyone would do this or even like it for his or herself, but for us the architectural point of an old house like this, going back in parts to the 17th century – as it it is for local builders – is that you create and reconfigure old aspects and ‘finds’ into the overall look.
The fireplace was completely excavated, set back and made much larger, and we designed a heavy cast iron grill and had it made at a local foundry, so any fire on it would suck up the air and roar up the chimney.
A wood heater (la stufa), for keeping the house warm when a roaring wood fire would create too much heat.
The roof was redone.
Ceilings and a skylight done.
Shutters (le persiane) put up.
Slowly, modestly we are getting the house in shape.
Mother died today. This morning at 11. Having a sudden feeling suddenly all might not be well I called. The nurse told me my mother had died six hours before.
No one sent me a telegram: Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely. I had been back and left my number just in case she worsened.
Flying back to see her it was winter. Getting off the plane at five in the morning I went and swam in a pool to get my head straight. Driving up into the hills I stopped at a bakery in a small shopping centre. On offer were the same rolls loaves and sweets I knew from my childhood. I ate them in the early sun under a 7am clear sky, drinking hot coffee. Then I drove on to see her at the home. The nurses were kind. You are the one abroad aren’t you? We heard of you.
The home where she lived is half a world away. The nurse on the phone said the funeral will be tomorrow or the next day. The body had been taken away.
I have been away for twenty years this time. If you add up all the years in between the times we saw each other, contact was sparse over the last thirty-five years.
I watched as a Roman Catholic sister came in and said to her: I know you are a woman of great faith, would you like me to give you a blessing? My mother looked up at her with adoration in her eyes. Yes, she said. The sister took her hands in hers. I bless your eyes for all the beautiful things you have seen. I bless your nose for all the wonderful flowers you have smelled. I bless your lips for all the kind things you have said, and I bless your hands for they have held all your children.
What do you do? the sister asked bouncing a little on the vinyl floor. I write, I said. You are all creative. Then she left, coming back to confirm my telephone number. Is this still yours? Yes, I said, mine.
My mother and I used to be very close, before others made a weapon of the distance between us. I am a writer, before that a filmmaker. Not the lawyer my mother wanted me to be. So there was that in the silence between us.
The last thing she said, I hear you have not been well. Given all the laps up and down in the pool I said they would have scraped me off the bottom by now if I weren’t. She didn’t laugh, just closed her eyes, went back to that half dream, dozing morphine state.
I suppose I needed a caretaker to walk in, say, You’ve no need to justify yourself, my boy. I’ve read your file. You just lost contact with what you were once.
It was true. Or maybe I am confused as to what it was in truth. After I left the first time whenever I wrote we were two points in space inching further and further away. She looked at me with her one good eye, her beautiful mouth ruined by a stroke. You are looking well on the whole. I nodded. I keep fit. We only have one body so I guess I have to. I wondered if hers was ready.
The room was oblong, purpose-built, bigger but plainer than I expected, the walls covered with my sister’s paintings. Photo albums were scattered around. Over in the corner on the floor in with some other dusty paperbacks I found a copy of my last book.
My mother liked her apple juice. I helped her drink some. She was connected to a catheter. She couldn’t get up, her life now like Bukowski’s beer sodden sadder than all the dead Christmas trees in the world. In the corridors residents pushed metal walkers.
I never saw my father’s body. I’ll never see hers. On my last day I kissed her forehead near the large cyst. I have to go to the airport, mother. I hope to see you soon. Yes, she said. No anger, no hopes and no dreams. I could have looked up through the roof at the mass of signs in the stars and laid myself open to the benign indifference of everything, but there are no signs to be had. I left, walking the corridors, thinking: if I meet my family at the door I hope they greet me with shouts of hatred.