Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The 33rd Telluride Film Festival, Sept 1-4, 2006

A non-blog account of the 33rd Telluride Film Festival, sent
as daily email to a few family and friends.

See also photos at
33rd TFF

Scroll down a page or more to get to the latest text ... my hack to get
around carriage return problems ...


Friday, September 1, 2006

I wasn't going to do a play-by-play but it's just too fantastic and I
can't help myself. Plus I have a half hour until the next talk at
noon. (The films really start this evening. I should say the Show,
which is the name used here.)

So far, without any sort of trying, I've met four film makers who are
showing films this year.

* guy on shuttle from Montrose to Telluride on Thursday. Philip Van
is one of the 6 "film makers of tomorrow" whose short was chosen to
show this year, 'High Maintenance'. I told him where to find
internet, and told him to use chapstick assiduously. He was
grateful for these tips.

* guy in B&B where I'm staying is showing an archival 1929 film - he's
an archivist who preserves films. I guess he isn't literally a film

* guy in B&B, Elias something, who is showing a film

* woman from Amsterdam who was very irritated after 25-hour travel
(not clear why it took 25 hours) and then her plane couldn't land in
Telluride so they went to Cortez and had a two-hour drive to
Telluride and she doesn't have her clothes or black eye shadow and
she's exhausted and, frankly, pissed. I got this story when I
approached her to ask when her short was showing. The preliminary
program handed out yesterday is incomplete. The real program is
being handed out at noon today, but, bless the local paper's soul
(The Daily Planet), they are printing the schedule. That is one of
the two free dailies.

I went to the 9 - 10 a.m. talk by the "film makers of tomorrow", which
is part of today's series of four talks sponsored by Apple (the whole
festival is greatly underwritten by Apple) on the theme "made on a
mac". The aforementioned Philip Van and woman from Amsterdam were on
the panel. I have to see their two shorts.

Archive those old 8mm home movies!

Lunch will be easy today - Friday is the weekly farmer's market, which
is just below the open air theater set up for the film festival, and
there's a grass-fed beef stand selling tacos, enchiladas, burritos.
In a small way I regret not being in a condo, as the stuff at the
farmer's market is so wonderful. But today's breakfast at the B&B
(sort of a beef-cheese-potato- mushroom quiche) was great.

Oh, two other people on the shuttle from Montrose on Thursday: a woman
who's been part of running the film festival from the start, and a man
who's been doing same for 22 years. This is the 33rd year. She is
handling shows at "The Nugget" (Telluride's actual movie theater), and
he is handling shows at The Sheridan Opera House, a small and antique
and charming theater. Apparently hard to get into since it is small
and, well, charming.

I may or may not do more non-blogs as email ... I have this feeling
once the films start showing, I'll be either in line, watching, in
transit, looking for a bathroom, etc.

Weather couldn't be better. Clear blue skies, HOT! I had to shed my
jacket I had on this morning when it was freezing and I wished I had
little gloves.



More from Friday, September 1, 2006

Due to overwhelming demand (OK, Mom and big brother) I am encouraged
to continue the deluge of TFF non-blogging! (I will probably collect
all this for my actual blog once I get home - my blog is "Marianne's
Travelogues", will send out that URL if I actually update it ...)

I'll start writing down names, films, websites, ... more as a record
for myself than anything.

The students on this morning's panel (Film Makers of Tomorrow): Ben
Wu, Stanford; B.J. Schwartz, USC (was attorney, left that world for
film making!); Phillip Van, NYU. There were three others on that
panel, but I guess they weren't students and I can't locate their
names just now in the reams of info in the updated schedule. Other
students, whose shorts I'll see in the "Student Prints" showing:
Anocha Suwichakornpong, Columbia; Tala Hadid, Columbia; Talya Lavie,
Same Spiegel Film & Television School.

Two Irish "moving image artists" spoke from 12-1 about their
documentary project, "Civic Life". It is what it sounds like:
capturing social interactions in towns. Their web site is "Desperate" in Irish slang means
"crappy", so, the implication they are optimists but maybe not very
good at being optimists all the time. One movie they mentioned that I
want to see: The Thin Red Line.

Two hilarious Aussies spoke from 1:30-2:30 about their various
projects. They won the prestigious Australian festival award,
tropfest, which was their ticket to Telluride, not to mention Tribeca
and other festivals. Actually, one of the pair is an Australian; the
other is a transplant from L.A. Names: Alex Weinress and Rob Carlton.
Alex did a previous documentary apparently about sports of some sort
that aired on ESPN: The Last Game. The short that the two did that
won Tropfest is called "Carmichael and Shane", and it's screening
here. The premise is a single father of twins gives advice on how to
choose the favorite. It's a mockumentary (mock documentary). Rob is
a (happily married) father of twins and an actor. They put together
this short in 5 days, starting on a Saturday and submitting the film
on the following Thursday. Total cost: $20 (not counting their time).
The $20 was for 3 video tapes. They used Final Cut Pro 5.1, an Apple
product apparently much beloved by all the independent directors and
producers, as it makes film making affordable for the masses. I
should mention all the talks on Friday are part of the "Made on Mac"
series, and you can see podcasts of all four talks (an hour long each)
by going to

Alex's web site is, and Rob's (business) web
site is He runs some sort of
conferencing business to keep the cash flow going to support the
twins, etc.

The 4th Friday talk, from 3-4 p.m., already had a long line when we
emerged from the Sheridan Opera House at 2:30, so I decided to go sit
down and plan out my film viewing for the next few days. I had a
refreshing drink at the Floradora Saloon, where I had a good
conversation with two regular attendees, Joan and Victoria (they
didn't know each other, everyone's just grabbing food and drink at odd
intervals). They gave me some tips on how to get into the smaller
venues. Basically, show up an hour early and get in line. Saving
grace: chatting with other people in line. This 4th talk was popular
as it was Walter Murch, a famous editor, and Sean Cullen. They have
done such movies as The English Patient, Cold Mountain, Jarhead,
Brokeback Mountain, (possibly?) Apocalypse Now, others... There is
also a "Tribute to Walter Murch" screening that I will try to catch.

Speaking of lunch, my taco plans were cast aside by the weather. When
I emerged at 1 p.m. from the 2nd talk, it felt cool and the skies
looked dubious, so I walked down to the B&B to fetch my jacket. I
walked across the street to Clark's Market, got a cup of
chicken-tomato-basil cream soup, scarfed that down in my room in the
B&B, and was only 5 minutes late for the 1:30 talk.

Almost forgot - my moment of fame. I asked the first question at the
Irish Q&A session (the two Irish people), and the Apple guy working
the panel walked over and gave me a cool beige boxy baseball cap that
has the Apple logo stitched in front and "Telluride Film Festival"
stitched on back. Needless to say, I am wearing it all the time.
This came in handy when the heavens parted and pelting rain came down
(it only lasted two minutes, and now it's sunny and hot again).

Next up: the 5 p.m. Feed. They block off 3 blocks or so on main
street (official name: Colorado Avenue) and set out tables and tables
of food for all attendees. I am looking forward to this as lunch was
a bit sparse. If you haven't been to Telluride: the town is
essentially 10 blocks long and 2 blocks wide. Well, that's the
happening part of main street. It's really about 15 blocks long and 4
blocks wide, but the two blocks north of Colorado are just
residential, as are the two ends of Colorado. My B&B is on the far
west end of Colorado, across from the very nice Clark's Market.

Then the film viewing starts! First up: "The Italian" which is
preceded by the Aussie short "Carmichael and Shane" (that's the one
about the twins that won Tropfest). It's followed by Q&A with the
film makers, which is why I chose this viewing instead of other times
when those two films are on.

Scheduling one's activities is not trivial. There are 7 venues and 32
films, NOT counting the shorts that are shown before maybe 8 or films.
Most films are shown 2 or 3 times, but some only once - so if you want
to see those, block those times off. Scheduling is NP complete,
meaning it's basically impossible. I spent maybe an hour pouring over
the schedule and highlighting films and crossing things out, and I
fully expect my "schedule" will change drastically as time goes on.
Good news: it seems Monday is mostly TBA, and they'll re-show the most
popular films.

Here are some films that will probably be distributed nationwide that
I figure I will see when they come to a local theater (i.e. I won't
try to see them here, but instead I'll concentrate on seeing films I
won't see otherwise):

* Babel ("all the buzz at Cannes this year")

* Fur

* The Last King of Scotland (Victoria confidentaly declared this one
and "Fur" are the two best films this year. I am not sure why this

* The U.S. vs. John Lennon (an anti-war film)

* Infamous (another film about Truman Capote - apparently last year's
film about Capote, named "Capote", premiered here too!)

You can probably find info about those movies in
(Internet Movie Database) - I recommend keeping an eye out for them in
case they show in a theater near you.

I stopped by the Apple booth at the Brigadoon, the info center, and
got a loaner video iPod that has trailers for many of the films
pre-loaded! Talk about way cool! I do have to return the iPod at
festival's end.

Apple's presence is HUGE and although Microsoft is some sort of
sponsor, if any Microsoft people are here, they are in hiding. No
Microsoft presence that I can detect.

Ralph & Ricky Lauren are also major sponsors. Turns out they own a
35,000 acre ranch (formerly a working ranch) just outside of
Telluride, on the road in. Tom Cruise apparently has a house in
Telluride and is here a lot, but no sign of him today. Everyone is
incredibly friendly and open and chatty. It seems fully half of the
2,500 people in town for the festival are either showing a film or are
involved with one of the films in some way. I mean, that can't really
be the case, but it seems that way. Hence there is a lot of
interaction between the film makers and us peons.



Saturday, September 2, 2006

Well happy Saturday morning - another frigid dawn as I stride at 7:15
up to the "Restore the World" magnificent cafe/bookstore for the
double-shot 16 oz. whole milk please latte, and use one of their 4
free internet computers. I do put $1 each time in the little donation
box. The bookstore is smack in the middle of Telluride, and a
5-minute walk from my B&B.

Last night I planned to see two films, but after the first, decided I
was so tired, I wanted to go to bed RIGHT NOW so I did.

The movie I did see, "The Italian", was preceded by the 5-minute
Australian short, "Carmichael and Shane", that I raved about
yesterday. The short did not disappoint. This deadpan father
explains how to choose which twin to favor, and why it's really a good
idea just to favor one, and get it over with.

I think I feel the need for another latte coming on.

"The Italian" is grim. A 6-year old boy in a dreary godforsaken
orphanage seemingly in the middle of a large, flat, gray and white
nowhere, is set to be adopted by an eager Italian couple (for 5000
euros to the evil, cruel, corrupt orphanage Madam) but he thinks maybe
he can find his mother who abandoned him. All of this could be a
parable for Mother Russia but I'm not going there at 7:50 a.m. before
my second coffee.

The kid doesn't know how to read, but a teenage girl, who supplements
the kids' gang stash of money by pleasuring passing truck drivers,
takes pity and teaches him the rudiments. The kid breaks into the
safe that contains his File and finds out he originated in some other
orphanage in some other town. The teenage girl helps him run away by
stealing money (actually she's the one who steals the money from the
gang leader) and getting on a creaky train.

Long chase/journey in which evil Madam and stupid flunky try to chase
train from SUV. Needless to say, plucky kid keeps evading them,
against all odds. Sad scenes dominate. The film ends with him
apparently finding Mom and smiling at her, but we don't hear
acknowledgement from her, or see her. But kid is smiling and you do
get the feeling it's a happy ending, although the mother's reality
looks pretty grim too.

I thought the movie very good, but, grim. The director was supposed
to be here for Q&A but he was stuck on a flight from London. A lot of
that going on.

Ce matin: take the gondola up to Chuck Jone's Cinema in Mountain
Village, and get in line for "Student Prints". About six such,
including my buddy Phillip Van's, "High Maintenance", which is a
mishmash of romantic drama, sci-fi and alienation - all in a 10 or 15
minute short.

Some people see 5 movies a day. I have 4 highlighted on my program.
I will be amazed if I CAN see 4 movies in one day, but such is my
mission. Better get that coffee.

It is freezing again and I am terribly uber-hip in black leather
jacket and black jeans. It must be said, the prevailing aesthetic is
"comfortable semi-hiking/loose cotton vacation wear". Many people in
low-slung hiking shoes, not that anyone actually goes hiking. The sun
is bright and strong, and now that it's near 8, the cafe is filling
up. I want to get to the gondola in the next 15 minutes - better get
that coffee to go.



Sunday, September 3, 2006

Happy Sunday morning.

Scoop on Saturday:
Shows: 4
World Premieres: 2 ("The War", "Venus") (actually more)
Celebrities: 1 (Ralph Lauren and kids)

The first show at 9 a.m. up at the top of the gondola, at Chuck Jone's
Cinema, was "Student Prints". 6 short works, mostly prepared "in
partial fulfillment of the degree requirements for the MFA at
such-and-such film school". My buddy Phillip Van's was commissioned,
in a way, by the Berlin Film Festival and shown there, so perhaps
can't be called a premiere. But many of the other student works were

All 6 were good, although the dialog-lite impressionistic
searching-for-love saga set in Thailand was puzzling. I think I
didn't get it but I loved the music and the Elvis impersonators.

You can't choose "the best" of these six, but I especially liked
"Cross your eyes keep them wide" by Ben Wu of Stanford U Film Dept
(!), a 23-minute documentary about the Creativity Explored center in
San Francisco. Developmentally disabled people go there 4 or 5 days a
week to do art. I want to GO to this center as a client. Maybe
they'd take me as a volunteer if I register as too high-functioning.
See Buy art works from them! The people
get the money but mostly the joy that their work "came down off the
wall". The film shows the art as much or more than the people - the
art is mind boggling. I loved the scene where two of the people are
looking at African primitive art from millenia ago in a museum
(probably the de Young) and are appreciatively commenting on it.

B.J. Schwartz's "Wolf in the woods" (insert German phrase here if you
know it - Woelfe in Wald or something - it is a children's game like
hide and seek) shows a bunch of kids playing this game. A little girl
hides in a bush but there's some grown up already hiding there - a guy
in canonical pinstripes of the prisoner. When her game is over, he
tells her "sshh", "my game isn't over", and when she leaves the woods,
she sees 3 policeman with a wolf dog searching an escaped prisoner.
Perfect short story, on film. Also, beautiful.

An eerie story of two young women in the Israeli army affected me.
One is trying desperately to get transferred out of this desert post
to Tel Aviv, and the film starts with her orienting her substitute.
She's a clerk. Turns out the substitute wants to leave, too, but by
another route - taking her life - the first attempt fails and the plot
is twisty hereafter but believable and emotionally true. The film
ends with our hero the girl set on Tel Aviv having achieved her goal,
and, likely, the substitute also - we're shown her body next to
bottles of pills, and it's implied she made it that time. Also very
beautiful, and the character acting is superb. This one is
"Subsitute", by Talya Lavie. I think this one had the strongest, most
complex, best storyline of all 6.

Phillip Van's little story of love among the human-android-robots is
funny and appropriate in this age of "I want to date someone who is a
rock-climbing masseusse with a 5 o'clock shadow who comes on to me
over dinner" sort of thing. The checklist. Those of us in the dating
scene know about The Checklist. He created this entire film in under
a week, from pre- to post-production, in Berlin, using crew and actors
he met and recruited at that time. That might have been part of the
commission. As you know ... it's "High Maintenance".

That was 9-10:45. I hopped on the gondola to go back down to
Telluride and got me some wonderful take-out lunch from Honga's Asian
deli, now open. (Mom and Dad: that's where they have the Stammtisch.)
I got ginger shredded pork with string beans, daikon
(radish)/cucumber/tomato/onion salad, and kim chee. I ate this in a
somewhat leisurely manner on the gondola ride back up the mountain. I
got my butt in line for the noon showing of Severance.

Severance is probably also a premiere, but I can't swear to it. I do
think there's a decent chance it'll get distributed in the wide world,
and I recommend it to Monty Python fans and people with, shall we say,
accepting attitudes towards black humor. It's a slasher film, but
it's a genre-bender, or, it takes the ironic, laughing view of the
genre. I thought it was hilarious. A group of 8 or so employees of
Palisade Defense, some sort of UK/US defense industry, is going on a
team building exercise at a new "private lodge" purchased by the firm
in (where else) desolate, beautiful, remote Hungarian countryside.
Where there may or may not be bears in the woods, vampires (oh wait,
that's Romania), strange sounds, ominous forebodings, and eventually,
any number of masked, guttural killers intent on slaughtering our
hapless set. Don't want to give away the ending, but it is quite
funny how two of the original number do manage to escape. In a boat,
going across a lake, to destination unknown - but you have the sure
feeilng they have made it. There are so many good gags in this movie
it's worth seeing even if you're uneasy with the occasional
over-the-top slasher scene.

Now, at the 9 a.m. "Student Prints" showing, they announced the TBAs
for Saturday. This is a big deal, as the programs are increasingly
littered with TBA in the time slots - almost all of Monday is shown as
TBA. Saturday 4 p.m. was to be the world premiere of Episode One of
Ken Burn's latest documentary on WWII, named "The War". This will air
for the world in about a year. The entire thing is 7 episodes and 15
hours. They are concentrating on the story as it happens to four
communities in four towns across America. As soon as I heard this
film would show, and that Ken Burns and other would be there for Q&A,
I determined to be there in time to get a good place in line. That's
really what motivated me to get up to the noon showing of "Severance",
as "Severance" and "The War" were both up at the end of the gondola
line. (There's no way you can see a film down at the high school at
one end of town that gets out at 3:30, and then get the gondola up to
Mountain Village and get a decent place in line for the 4 p.m. show -
not going to happen.) I figured out the seating formula for this
particular cinema: given that it's a 15-minute gondola ride away from
town, they hand out little W2 slips (Wabbit Weservations) which
guarantees you a seat. Your place in line just affects how good your
seat is, once you get in. So that meant I could get my W2 for "The
War" before I went in to "Severance", oh joy, oh be still my heart.
That cinema is the second largest at 500 or so seats, and it's new and
comfortable with major amounts of leg room and good views from every
seat. Popcorn acceptable but not great.

The person in the seat next to me and I remarked that Ralph Lauren's
broke-in slightly-faded creased black leather jacket looked very cool
on him, with untucked dark bright red shirt and loose black sweats of
some sort. She thought he'd look better in jeans but allowed as maybe
he wanted to be comfortable and not conspicuous. Yeah, right, like no
one is going to notice Mr. Polo ... one daughter ran up the aisle to
get popcorn in a gauzy flimsy dream of an idea of a loose white angel
dress, with half-size cowboy boots, that fit the dress well. Very
Laura Ingalls Wilder. Ralph et al. were about 5 rows in front of
where I sat, just one seat or so to the left. Ralph Lauren exudes a
sort of calm dignity, totally not stuck up, if you can gauge such
things in a darkening movie theater.

Ken Burns is also the epitome of not-stuck-up. The documentary was
excellent and amazing. I hadn't really thought before, much, about
the year 1942. Consider Pearl Harbor is December 7, 1941. Then we
join the war, and 1942 happens. 1942 was not a good year for Allied
Forces. Hitler had all of Europe, including France (well I guess
Spain was not under his control, nor of course Britain), and was
pounding the UK mercilessly and also in an almost suicidal way driving
into Russia, with huge casualties on both sides, and the infamous
Russian scorched-earth policty (destroy everything in retreat so the
Germans don't get it). The pacific theater was as bad or worse.
Japan completely controlled all of the pacific except for Hawaii and a
tiny place in the Philippines. When that fell, it was a dark day.
The film goes over the struggles with the Japanese imperial army for
Midway and Guadalcanal and other places. Truly amazing. 1942 was a
dark year for the Allies and it sure didn't look like it would be a
sure thing to defeat the Axis. I am looking forward to seeing the
remaining six episodes of "The War".

OK, I cried.

I also cried during "Venus", an affecting end-of-life story of a
British actor, played by Peter O'Toole, directed by Roger Michell and
written with writer Hanif Kureishi. This probably will get
distributed (maybe nominated for oscars) - go see it. First, Peter
O'Toole is wonderful to watch anytime. Second, a great story of a man
who knows he is nearing death who allows himself to feel emotionally,
erotically, in a friendly way, in many ways, for a very young girl who
comes to live with a close friend of his. She is the daughter of this
friend's niece and has basically been thrown out of her mother's house
since she's something of trouble. The two connect eventually, but,
not completely until the very end. Beautiful.

Oddly, all four of my movies were up at the Chuck (gondola city): 9
a.m., noon, 4, 7. So at 8:30 p.m. when I took the gondola back to
town, in theory, I could have gone to the 10 p.m. screening of "Catch
a Fire" with Tim Robbins playing at the Galaxy (this was a sneak
preview, not mentioned anywhere in the program - a last minute
surprise), but I decided to go to sleep early-ish. But I didn't feel
exhausted or tired or like I COULDN'T go to another movie. So there
you have it. It is possible to see 4 or 5 movies in a day.

Nice people in line - a German woman (Gisela) and her husband (Bill)
were waiting with me for "The War" (quite a long queue that was), and
then a group of Seattle women and one Telluride woman in line for
"Venus". (When I left the theater after "The War", I just immediately
got in line for "Venus" - I had already picked up the W2 for that
while in line for "The War".) The Telluride woman is a travel agent,
and told us about a cruise she took her parents on, to Alaska. She
praised to the sky the cruise line "Celebrity Cruises", which you
catch out of Seattle, and which takes the inland passageway. She told
me Conde Nast rates them the highest and that she personally
researched the bejesus out of all cruise lines before she bought

My video iPod is defective. (This is a loaner from the Apple booth.)
On Friday night, I played a few previews in my B&B room, but after the
third, something about the BBC's love for the mac platform (the
trailers have a very strong air of Apple promotion), the thing got
stuck, wouldn't reboot, wouldn't restart, wouldn't turn off, wouldn't
play. So I just let it sit there, and in the morning the battery was
dead (of course) so it wouldn't start then. I'll take it back to the
Brigadoon info center today. I don't think I need another loaner
iPod. The thrill is over. It was fun to see trailers on the iPod,
though. The video is better than you would think.

Th'th'that's all folks,


Monday, September 4, 2006

Today is the last day of the festival - I am here on Tuesday, though,
as I couldn't get a return flight until Wednesday 6 a.m. (groan).
(Tuesday night I stay at the Black Canyon Motel in Montrose. The
people there are very nice and pick up and drop off at the airport, 5
minutes away -- just a tip if you ever come to Telluride!)

Sunday morning saw me in line at the Galaxy, a medium-sized and very
nice theater in the (old, former?) high school. An old beautiful
brick building. Talked with a couple from Berkeley - he's a physician
and she's an artist, and she wasn't wasting time - she was knitting
away on a scarf. She said she knits every year, and one year it was a
big ol' baby blanket for a grandchild. The year after that, people
came up to her and said, "hey, how'd the baby blanket turn out?" She
said it was too much to haul around, though, so now she knits smaller
items. They bought their place on the Hayward fault, on Cedar just
north of the university (unfortunately one of busiest traffic corners
in Berkeley, since everyone going up the hill passes their house) but
they bought in 1969, so they have done well on their housing
investment! We lauded Berkeley and talked about favorite places.
Mine would be the Berkeley Bowl, grocery store designed by the patron
saints of food.

The show, "Calling Cards", is a collection of 8 shorts from film
makers around the world. These 8, and the 6 student shorts, were not
included in my estimate of "8 shorts" that are playing the festival.

Bawke, (Hisham Zaman, Norway, 2005, 15 min) - A father and son from
Turkey (?) smuggle their way into Norway, but the father is caught by
police and he decides to separate from his young son so the son can
stay in Norway and have a better life. The final scene shows the
father being driven away with the son running after the car.

The Eyes of Alicia (Ugo Sanz, Spain, 2005, 8 min) - Bizarre and
futuristic and a bit scary. A young woman is bound up, hands behind
her, hood over head, in a solitary cell. When she wakes, a video
comes on to tell her first how to find a glass of orange juice in the
corner, since she hasn't had liquid in 15 hours. The head and voice
on the video continue to recant this young woman's horror - the
traumatic death of her young girl (I'll elide all this but it's
interesting and a big part of the story) and presents the woman with a
choice. She can take a pill to neutralize the poison that was in the
juice - the woman had been repeatedly trying to kill herself - or she
can choose to die. She has to free her hands, and she has 40 seconds
to do so and find the pill. She does with 0 zero seconds remaining,
frantically trying to save herself. Then the voice tells her the
juice did not contain the poison - the pill does. She has the free
choice now to take the pill or not. She drops the pill to the floor
and we see her face - it's the same as the face in the video. This is
supposedly an experiment about helping people recover memory and get
over traumatic experiences (that is told to us as part of the story -
it isn't REALLY supposed to be that). Very interesting and reaffirms
the will to live.

Delivery (Till Nowak, Germany, 2005, 9 min) - Fantastic - an animation
of an old, lonely man in a building far from an industrial polluting
city we see in the distance on a plane. A box is delivered. He opens
the package, and a lid on the box. It's a magic box - the lid on the
box is also the lid in the heavens over his building and the city. He
uses a spatula to scoop the city out of the ground, and - now the city
is tiny - puts it in a window box. He takes flowers from the window
box, puts them through the box's lid and plants them in the ground
where the city had been. The flowers are gigantic. Great animation.

I want to be a pilot (Diego Quemada-Diez, US, 2006, 12 min) - A young
boy in the largest slum in east Africa tells us he wants to be a
pilot, and narrates his life as the orphan of parents who died of HIV.
His last meal was Sunday; today is Wednesday. At the end we learn
part of his loneliness: kids shun him and won't play with him since
he's HIV positive. There is some web site that we are invited to look
at; I thought it was, but that site doesn't work
for me right now. Very affecting and brings home the multiple
tragedies and ironies of Africa. Very sustained audience applause.
Also gets 9.8/10 on

Run (Juliet Lamont, Australia, 2006, 7 min) - A young girl works in a
newspaper stand in Sydney (some city) and leaves for her lunch break
to run at full speed for 40 minutes in a big loop. She encounters a
few odd scenes, including the weirdest in which she sees a man bent
over a dog just hit by a car. The man can't bring himself to kill the
dog, so she does by stomping. Somehow this weird scene isn't
disturbing, I don't know why - kudo to the film maker for making it
seem natural. During the credits, there is a line: "No animals were
hurt in the making of this film".

Burst (Juliet Lamont, Australia, 2006, 7 min) - A single mom and her
daughter approach a house, hesitate there a while, then go to a train
station. While waiting, the little girl who's about 6 or so, runs and
runs, with her mother in pursuit. They go back to the house. A man
inside the house blows soap bubbles through the mail slot. The girl
sitting on the stoop is delighted. Eventually she puts her little
fingers under the door, and the man inside touches her fingers with
his. After a bit, he opens the door, smiles as if he knows a happy
secret, and continues blowing bubble. The mom says ... "Hi, Dad."

Useless Dog (Ken Wardrop, Ireland, 2004, 5 min) - Hilarious deadpan
tale of the useless dog. It's some sort of sheep dog mongrel, and
she's useless. Just sits, lopes around, naps, asks for love. Not
neutered, and once in a while has pups. One of them is just like her,
so there are now two useless dogs. The man who describes all this in
a bemused way clearly loves them to death. He ends with "What can you
do?" Very sweet.

Dead Letters (Paolo Rotondo, New Zealand, 2006, 13 min) - Out of all
these shorts, I fidgeted the most in this one. Great production
values, but I thought the story a bit lame. A sort of fantasy about
how letters get delivered to our boys overseas during WWII - the
method by which this happens is a bit futuristic and clearly not
related in any way to reality - ends with a guy who works in the
office and one of the "dead letter girls" seeming to hook up

Well, I didn't mean to do a blow by blow on those! They were all
good, and "I want to be a pilot" will stay with me forever, as it's a
documentary of real children in that actual awful ghetto. The boy
wants to go far away. You ache that someday he can, and walk barefoot
on grass, as he says at one time. I need to hunt down that web site.

Time for breakfast. I am in love with the high-end Mexican joint,
Cocina de Luz, I think it's called (next door to Honga's). I had the
huevos machaca, which I thought was with some different cheeses, but
turned out to be with shredded pork. Unusually good side of refried
beans, proving that not all bean preparations are created equal.

I repaired myself to the gondola, first turning in the defective iPod.
The man at the Apple booth was profoundly unconcerned with my tale of
its defectiveness. On my way out, I entered the drawing for a
Windjammer cruise for two in the Carribean. They only wanted name,
festival pass #, and phone number to contact you while you're at the
festival, so this might not be a troll for junk mail addresses. Then
again, it might be.

Now for the highlight of the day, of the festival, of this year in
films ... for me anyway ...

Namesake, by the director of Monsoon Wedding, Salaam Bombay,
Mississippi Masala - her name is Mira Nair. This movie will be
released in the US in March 2007, and a week later in India. It's in
English. Set in Calcutta and NYC. The story of two generations of
Indians - a young couple emigrates to NYC (well, the guy is already
going to university there, and he is married in an arranged wedding in
India) and bring up two kids, Gogol and a girl whose name escapes me.
(See for all the details I'm sure to leave out.)

The world premiere of this was Saturday evening, but the Sunday
screening was special in that Mira Nair took about 10 minutes of
excellent questions at the end, after the long, sustained applause.
It should be said the audience applauds everything, and you judge the
audience's delight by the fervor of the applause. This film is based
on the book "Namesake" by Jhumpa Lahiri. I will definitely read the

Amazing, beautiful - how love grows, how American kids get estranged
from immigrant parents but come back home (so to speak) when the
father unexpectedly hits tragedy. Beautiful scenes of India and also
New York. I should really wax on and on about this film for 3 or 4
pages, but I don't want to ruin it for anyone, since YOU HAVE TO see
it. It will certainly get a wide distribution, as she's a very
successful director. The actress who plays the immigrant mother is
the "Meryl Streep of India", according to her.

Well, that movie affected me so much (message: every day is a gift)
that I wasn't sure I WANTED to hurry to the 4 p.m. screening of
"Infamous" (another Truman Capote movie) down in town. The 5-minute
line at the gondola was just long enough to make my decision moot. I
didn't get to town until just after 4. And in any case, I knew I'd
have had to be in line by 3:30 to get into that one. I heard later
from other people about 100 people were turned away from that
particular screening (the only such happening I've heard of at the
whole festival) - apparently a slew of Patrons showed up, and they get
seated first. Patrons paid $3,500 to attend, as compared to the $680
us little people paid. (You can also be a super VIP by paying
$25,000.) (Note: up to half of the $3,500 is tax-deductible, and
probably a huge chunk of the $25,000. In case you're feeling flush
next year.)

I had a couple hours to kill until the 6:30 film I wanted to see down
at the Palm, in the high school. Had a huge salad at Cocina de Luz,
bought some earrings at the trunk sale held on the second floor of an
old brick building (various artists showing their goods only during
the festival), wandered about, visited that friendly, friendly ATM
(which I had neglected to do before leaving Palo Alto, and frankly,
the dollars, they had all evaporated).

"The Page Turner" was my third and final show of the day. I would've
fit in four again, if I had made it to "Infamous", or if I had stayed
up til 10:30 for "Civic Life", but at 8:30, after "Page Turner", I
decided I didn't want to wait two hours. If the next show had been at
9 or 9:30, I would've done it - the film fever is on me - but I knew
10:30 was not happening.

This film was preceded by the strangest short I have ever seen in my
life. The audience hated it, and booed and hissed loud and long,
although the director was in the audience. They booed her when she
stood up when the emcee introduced her. She raised her arms in a
mocking salute and bowed and left, although there were calls "Explain
yourself!" "Q&A!"

I had gone to "Page Turner", in fact, to see her short, as I heard her
speak Friday morning at 9 a.m. as part of the "Made on a Mac" series
of "Film makers of tomorrow". She was the one who lost her black
eyeshadow on the plane flight. Suddently the black eyeshadow clicked.

OK, what was it about? And its name? And her name?

When we were young (Eveline Ketterings, Netherland, 2006, 7 min) - a
tall, muscular man and a little 8-year old girl in a cute one-piece
swimsuit climb into some antique sort of pool and dive in. At first
it looks like a lark, they are swimming around underwater, as if to
see how long they can stay underwater. The man sits on the floor of
the pool, holding the girl's hand. After a while, she is kicking and
struggling as if she wants to surface. He is quiet and calm and
continues holding her hand until she stops moving and then floats,
face in the water, arms still, hanging. Well. Pretty darn strange.

Now, here is my question: why is it OK, even cool, even heavily
applauded, to show the realistic horrible plight of a starving child
with HIV, but not OK to show what is clearly an allegory of the adult
killing off the child? You could interpret this film in so many ways.
It was beautifully shot, and, shooting underwater on film, as she did
(not on video), is the most difficult thing to do. And she did it on
no budget (hence "Made on a Mac".) I heard lots of people, walking
home in the dark, still frothing at the mouth about the short. "Ought
to be burned", etc. I am just left with my question.

Undeniably very hard to watch.

"The Page Turner" (Denis Dercourt, France) is the story of revenge of
the child on the adult. (They obviously went to great lengths in
pairing up the shorts with the features.) A young girl's piano dreams
are ruined during a competition when a famous judge all but interrupts
her performance by letting a fan come into the hallowed performance
room, present her with a photograph, and get an autograph. The girl
is shown later locking her piano and putting away the bust of
Beethoven. Then we cut to this girl as a young woman. She manages to
get a post as a sort of nanny/ cook/assistant at the mansion of a
famous lawyer, his wife - the famouse pianist - and their young son.
She then procedes to destroy the family's life. It is amazing and
believable (the plot, that is, which I'll elide since I'm talking too
much to start with, and maybe you'll see this movie. But if
interested drop a note!) The film is very French (to my eyes) -
austere, contained, beautiful, a bit drab in a way as if beauty is
subtle, distant people, repressed. The girl gets her revenge though.
Oh boy does she.

nonblogfully yours,
Marianne (that 9 a.m. show is calling ...)


Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Walking up the slight hill to the cafe this morning, I saw that they
took down the big SHOW banner that had straddled the road all
festival. Must have done that after the last show last night - an
open air screening complete with live orchestra, The Alloy Orchestra,
of "Lonesome (1928, 69 min, Paul Fejos). I wanted to go, but it was
freezing and my eyes were tired - really, I'm not used to watching so
much video. Maybe if I had blankets to wrap up in - but I didn't feel
comfortable taking any of the brand-new blankets from the
brank-spanking-new-remodeled B&B. The film is a "masterwork of poetic
realism", if you are interested in silent film during the transition
to sound, and have itchy netflix fingers.

Monday morning had me in the Nugget for "Civic Life", the only one of
the 11 shows I caught that I did not like at all. I wanted to see
this one particularly, as I had heard the two Irish film makers on
Friday talk for an hour about their process. Their background is
performance art and theater, so I should have realized when they
talked about process all the time, this would be high-concept. It
consisted of 7 short pieces, each supposedly about the life of some
community in England. Well. I found each one, without exception,
baffling, dull, boring, exasperating and a bit stupid. I didn't mind
amateur actors - I like that. But the stories were just long and
meandering and I didn't get the point of any of them, unless you take
them exactly at face value, and conclude socialist realism and earnest
community frothing is not dead yet. Don't tell the film makers I said
so, as they are terribly nice people. Names of Joe Lawlor and
Christine Molloy (married and doing art together for decades).

It was 10:30, so I walked slowly, stopping on the pleasant wooden
platform halfway to watch the San Miquel river, over to the Town Park
for the 11-1 Labor Day Picnic (open to all passholders). Food was
great, actually: mixed green salad, ceasar salad, potato salad, some
sort of pasta salad that I didn't try, and either a respectable chunk
of steak or chicken. Or both - they offered both. I had the thick
steak, medium rare and tasty. Funny - during the opening day Feed, I
ran into Nancy B., a friend from home - she lives in Berkeley
and is a regular at the Asilomar Microcomputer Workshop I go to every
April. I didn't see her again until this picnic! I joined their
group of 6 people or so at a table. They were all Patrons.

I scarfed down my lunch in record time as I wanted to get in line for
the noon showing of "Deep Water" at the Sheridan Opera House, both the
nicest venue and the smallest. I think, though, it wasn't absolutely
100% full, which probably was a first for the Opera House. People
remarked during the day that it seemed already about a third less
people. (Except for Ken Burns' "The War", I don't think any of the
shows I was in was completely 100% every seat taken - always a couple
lousy seats way up front, or something.)

"Deep Water" is a fascinating story, which I had never heard about
before (some of you may have), of a race around the globe. The
challenge was one man, solo, sailing without stopping. I think 7
people took part. The film focused on the journey of Donald
Crowhurst, a man seemingly looking for himself and authenticity, but
who ended up perpetrating the hugest fraud, inexplicably. This came
to light later when his abandoned boat - abandoned in the Atlantic's
Sargasso Sea, no less - was recovered by some passing liner. This was
in 1969, by the way, and the contest was sponsored by the London
Times. I really recommend this stranger-than-life documentary. He
basically didn't do the route he was supposed to - plus he stopped off
Argentina to repair his yacht at one point - and he was faking log
books so that when he got back to Britain, it would look like he did
the real trip. Well, he figured he'd come in 4th, and his log books
wouldn't be scrutinized that carefully. But due to unimaginable
coincidences and weirdnesses - a Frenchman who was set to win decided
to circumnavigate a SECOND time, he didn't want to come in from the
sea, and so on - he was set to win the 5,000 pound prize for fastest
circumnavigation. He started writing about the cosmos and the game we
play with God and the game we play with the devil (he had been out
there alone for, what, 8 months?) and he disappeared. He left behind
a young, poor widow and four young children. The whole thing was the
hugest scandal in Britain. The person who won the 5,000 pound purse
gave it to the Crowhurst family.

Unfortunately I nodded off and missed something like 1/3 to 1/2 of
this great film. I will try to see if I can rent it and watch it
again. Dinner and movie night, anyone?

I was inexplicably tired on Monday. I had been sleeping fine, and
from 9 p.m. - 6 a.m. every day, as is my wont - I never did go to any
"late" showings (9, or 9:30, or 10:30), and heavens knows the lattes
here at "Restore the World" do not lack for caffeine - but there it
is. I think watching 11 films in 3 and 1/4 days (count Friday evening
as 1/4) is like speed-reading 11 novels in 3 days. Your brain fills
up. I don't know how the hard-core, who see 5 or 6 films a day, do
it. I did see 4 on Saturday, but "only" 3 on each of Saturday and
Sunday. Plus, I had chosen many shows that were made up of a sequence
of shorts, so in a way, that's even more stories to absorb.

I slowly walked around and slowly made my way up the gondola for the 4
p.m. screening of "Infamous", the other Truman Capote film, about the
whole "In Cold Blood" saga. If you haven't read his book, I can't
recommend it highly enough,although it certainly is strange, and it IS
the story of the gruesome murder of 4 people on a Kansas farm and how
the killers are caught. Capote wanted to create a new kind of
reportage - fictional techniques (emotional and psychological depth)
applied to a non-fiction story. He is recognized as having done this,
and he garnered fame and fortune thereby. He was a writer for the New
Yorker, and they supported him during the entire 4 years he was
writing the book. But the project took too much out of him and he
never wrote anything substantial after that, and eventually died of
the slow suicide of alcoholism. Anyway, the first film, "Capote", is
a mixture of Capote's story and the "In Cold Blood" story. "Infamous"
focuses almost completely on Capote, and barely sketches the story of
the murders and the townspeople and the characters of all the many
people Capote interacted with to get the story. People say "Capote"
is the better movie, tighter, etc etc, all those Hollywood words, but
I think you can't compare the two. They seem to want to accomplish
different things. "Infamous" goes for the emotional artery, and gets
there. I didn't like it at first, probably since I was comparing it
my mind to "Capote", but it grew on me, and by the end, I liked it as
much or more. Touching and wrenching. You really see how the project
took its toll on Truman Capote, and how ambiguous his relationship
with one of the killers became (the man named Perry).

Some guy in the coffeeshop just hollered out: Some guy's parked in the
middle of the road and you're gonna get a ticket. Silence ensued. I
said to the guy who issued the warning: Well, looks like there is a
decided lack of response. He said, Yeah, Thanks for the rousing row
of indifference! I laughed and congratulated him on that turn of
phrase. He allowed as how it's something some musician he likes says
at concerts when the applause is weak.

Sure enough, the cop was writing a ticket when the man carrying a
coffee walked out to the truck. The cop let him off. We watched with
interest. OK, back to the blog. Non-blog.

I was impressed, though, with how fast that cop showed up,
parking-ticket-pad in hand.

It was 6:00 when we emerged from "Infamous" and I was tired, my eyes
were tired, scratchy, watery. It was warm in the sun but I could tell
it was going to get cold early, colder than it had been. I had
planned to go to the 6:30 screening of "Day Night Day Night" in the
same theater (Chuck Jones' up at the gondola) but weighed this back
and forth many times before concluding I just couldn't. It was a
combination of emotional exhaustion from "Infamous", tired eyes,
mortal fear of the dark cold that would greet me at 8 p.m. I
seriously want to see "Day Night Day Night" so here's hoping it comes
out on DVD someday. People say it can take up to 6 years for a
Telluride film to show up on DVD (or back in the day, VHS). "Day
Night Day Night" is about a young woman who is "excruciatingly
withdrawn and isolated, arrives in an unnamed city ... following her
towards a mysterious rendezvous". The film is "harrowingly accurate
[but] its rigor is more abstract and spiritual than psychological or
social". Sounds like just my thing. By Julia Loktev, 2006,
US/Germany. It was preceded by the short made by my B&B mate, Elias
Merhige, "Din of Celestial Birds", and I really wanted to see his
short since, after all, we talked a bit in the hallway and all that.
Oh well.

I took myself to "Rustico", an absolutely fabulous Italian restaurant.
Credit card abuse moment. I had actually been eating very much on the
cheap the whole time, so decided it was OK to just close my eyes and
order. I had the green cabbage salad with pine nuts and wild
mushrooms and grilled Hawaiian butterfish with marinara sauce, spinach
and broccoli, and mashed potatoes. I have many hilarious comments
scribbled in my notebook from the two idiot LA young women at the next
table, but I'll save those for some searing short story. Plus it is
sort of mean of me to laugh at their dumb converstation. Could not
help myself. So I'll apologize to the universe here, and hold my
peace for a bit.

Some parting observations and comments.

Recommended movies from other people in line, etc: (from
previous years)
Vera Drake
Best of Youth (2 parts, 3 hours each)
Dinner Rush (good for people who like food, too)

I ended up buying TWO pairs of the charming film earrings ($5 per
pair). The earrings are made of two little pieces of film negative,
black and white tiny scenes, on hooks. I promptly lost one in the
wind (also because the earrings aren't made properly, in my humble
opinion - I will reset). So after I lost one, I went back and bought
a second pair. Then I lost one of THOSE. I saved the two surviving
earrings in a box, and will fix them somehow when I get home, so I
won't lose any more.

Coming down from "Infamous" on the gondola, we talked about the film,
and wandered into "where are you from, what films did you like, how
many years have you been coming to the festival (a very popular
question - apart from bragging rights as to how many shows you caught
- filmies got up to 20 - people are proud to say this is their 17th
year or 3rd year or whatever). Well one couple I had talked with
several times over the festival are from New Orleans. This news
shocked the gondola car into silence, as if someone just said they
lost their family in a horrible plane crash. They talked a bit about
how bad things are there. They are living in an apartment and might
get into their home by Christmas, and then again, maybe not. They
don't know. But Telluride Film Festival honored their passes from
last year when they couldn't come due to Katrina - they didn't have to
pay this year. Good on you, TFF.

Celebs: no Roger Ebert this year, he's in the hospital recuperating
for surgery, and we were asked to speed good thoughts his way.
Penelope Cruz and Brad Pitt were here but not seen by me.

In the past, one guy told me, he came out of the Opera House to see
Peter O'Toole talking with Salman Rushdie. Rushdie is on the TFF
Esteemed Council of Advisors, as is Laurie Anderson and Don DeLillo
and of course a host of others. Ken Burns is majorly connected; he is
on the Board of Governors.

Crowds never materialized - it's so odd to me. Someone told me there
are 1,400 passholders, so that number of 2,500 people probably
includes all the "guests" (film makers and their guests), organizers
and staff, volunteers who work hard like mad, and so on. But there
never was any sense of crowding or desperation in movie lines. Always
just a pleasant time to talk with interesting intelligent people about
film. This is helped by the line-control they invented. They had out
"Q" slips, numbered. When you get in line, a staff person eventually
wanders by and gives you your Q. They let people in according to
number - "OK, 39, 40, 41 ..." This prevents people cutting in line.
Up at the Chuck Jones, it's different, but also successful - you get
that W2 Wabbit Weservation slip that guarantees you a seat (if not a
place in line) so you can get a W2 before you take 15 minutes to go up
the gondola.

Restaurants were never crowded. It seemed like any summer day in
Telluride. There is one hot dog cart, and one gyro cart, and you can
buy (not that great) sandwiches in the theater concessions, but still,
I don't get it. A lot of people are staying in rented condos, so
maybe they make their own sandwiches or whatever Plus movie times are
staggered all over the place, so probably people are hitting eateries
at different times. In any case, everything is smooth, calm, fun, not

After I saw "Namesake", Mira Nair said during the Q&A that the film
would be released in March 07. I tried to think when that was. I
could not,for the life of me, think what day it was, or what time of
year it was. I was somehow suspended outside of time. It took me a
solid minute concentrating to force myself to deduce: OK, this is the
TFF. This is Labor Day. That means September. That means March is,
what, 6 months away.

Today I might hike around, or I might sit around and read, or just
ride the gondolas for no reason, or ... shais pas. But this is the
last of the non-blogs, so your inboxes will be spared more missives.

Weather continuing sunny and warm to everyone's amazement. In years
past it has snowed, or, rained the whole time.



Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Postscript: the SHOW banner was not taken down from over the
street. I don't know what I was thinking, or seeing. It's probably
there yet, as they continue showing 10 films from the festival over
the next two weeks, for the locals, and for whoever's in town.

When in Telluride, eat BBQ at "Fat Alley", conveniently located
on Oak, in between Elk's Park and the gondola.

Rode to Montrose in the Telluride Express with 6 other airport-bound
festivians, including Denis Dercourt, writer and director of "The Page Turner".
He filmed about 40 minutes or so of the road framed by ranches and
mountains coming to meet us.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Santa Barbara Wine Country, and Lompoc FCI

[Photos that accompany this blog can be seen at Look for the first link under "2005".]

I decided to visit my friend Gary in prison ("not his real name"). He's been at the Lompoc federal low-security lockup since summer 2003, and has 2 or 3 more years to go. I've been visiting over the past year and a half, but finally realized that Lompoc is a half hour from the gorgeous Santa Barbara wine country. I might as well make a fun weekend of it. I spent ridiculous amounts of time on the web learning about wineries, art galleries, beaches, old Mission churches. Almost every hotel was booked, but I got into the Buellton Day's Inn. This is the one with the windmill, where our heros in the movie "Sideways" spent some time. Oddly, the Day's Inn doesn't mention this anywhere. In fact, I got the distinct impression that although some 60% of current Santa Barbara wine country visitors find their way there through that movie, the locals rather pointedly and as if in pain try to distance themselves from the movie. (That 60% figure was given to me by a couple different wine-tasting hosts, as an estimate.) "Every weekend is like Festival weekend", one said, referring to some local wine bacchanalia.

Here are towns to visit when you're in wine country: Solvang. Los Olivos.

Solvang is an odd little Danish outpost. Apparently actually settled by Danish people in 1811, it somehow managed to stamp the town's psyche with some sort of Danish fixation. All buildings downtown must be obliged to paint themselves white with brown cross-hatches, running diagonally and up and down. I did notice a couple blocks from downtown, houses reverted to California kitsch. There are 4,000 Danish bakeries in Solvang. Solvang is Quaint writ large. But actually, it is not itself kitschy or cloying. You can happily spend a couple hours strolling around town, visiting shops and abusing credit cards. The Bulldog Cafe on the main drag is fantastic and not to be missed. Solvang is sort of a family's vacation town. While there are tasting rooms, I'm not sure how terribly oenophile they might be.

Los Olivos is more than the address of Michael Jackson's "Neverland" ranch. (There is no mention of Michael Jackson anywhere, and it's completely unknown to me just where his ranch might be - thank goodness - but I am given to understand Los Olivos's zipcode is the zipcode they use to order barrels of monkeys over the internet.) Los Olivos is distinguished by being a small village with more art galleries than anything, including (seemingly) houses for humans, or wine tasting rooms, or upscale cafes and restaurants. If Solvang is wholesome all-Danish family fun, then Los Olivos is connoisseurville.

Saturday, June 18, 2005: Salinas, Buellton, Wine Tasting, Pea Soup

But on Saturday morning, I didn't know any of this. I got up at 6 a.m. in Palo Alto, vowed to be in my car in a half hour, and succeeded in stashing the last of my junk in the car at 7:15 and heading off to fill 'er up. Always fill up your car before you head south on 101. There is this one stretch, about 150 miles south, where you enter a pleasant but Martian landscape, void of any human habitation or gas pumps for 50 miles. By 7:30 I was whistling with the radio and speeding south like the rest of the lost souls. Where are people driving at 7:30 in the morning on a Saturday? And why? Why aren't they back home, sleeping in? I had a reason. But what could these other peoples' reasons be? This is the mystery of 101. Any time of day or night, there is a stream of madly rushing cars, all pushing to go as fast as possible: 70, 80, 85.

I flagged soon enough, my commuter coffee mug long empty, and on a whim veered off 101 into Salinas, vaguely thinking "breakfast" but more urgently thinking "bathroom". I had covered only 75 of the day's 280-mile journey, but I have a soft spot for Salinas. Breadbasket to the breadbaskets. Strawberries, artichokes, broccoli. And garlic, of course garlic: garlic capital of the world. Lots of work if you don't mind bending over all day and getting about $3/hour. This is Steinbeck's town. He lived here all his life, and wrote about it, and tried to escape it, and kept coming back. Sadly, conditions for field workers today are hardly different from when Steinbeck wrote about it in "Grapes of Wrath." Without any sense of irony, the town fathers and mothers erected a multimillion-dollar Steinbeck Museum. The Museum is fairly dull; what can you really display about an author's life? "Here's his writing table"? And again without irony, the local politicians are closing the town's library - budget cuts, fiscal responsibility, don'tcha know. So kids in Salinas can go the Museum, gaze in awe at their favorite son, the Author, walk past the shuttered library, and work after-school in the strawberry fields.

My initial foray into Salinas was not promising. I parked near the Greyhound station and
watched homeless men pulling their sleeping bags into bundles they grabbed as they shuffled to another part of town. I walked here and there and the town looked shut, dead, closed. I gave up, did a U-turn onto Main St. and ... discovered the cute part of Main St. You have to go past the Greyhound station on Main (at this point Main St. is bifurcated into two one-way streets) and do the U-turn to land on the cute block. I spied "Dudley's": Open. Exactly what I was looking for: a genuine old-fashioned small-town restaurant where the side of potatoes weighs in at three pounds. (258 Main St., Salinas, CA 93901, 831-758-5257.) Due to a long-standing pledge to myself to order Eggs Benedict whenever I see it on the menu, I was able to order almost as soon as the waitress came over with her coffeepot. E.B. recommended: two well-poached eggs, credible Hollandaise sauce, crispy toasted fresh English muffings. The only thing that took away from this vision of perfection was the horrid slab of ham: thick, tasteless, gargantuan. I felt almost guilty leaving that much protein, however horrid, on the side of the plate, and wondered if I could convince a homeless person I was not crazy and trying to poison him if I attempted to transfer the ham to said homeless. Coffee and E.B.: $9.01, not including tip.

Saturday Wine Tasting

I made it to my hotel california before 1 p.m. - not bad, not much over 5 hours on the road, which included the longish breakfast stop and a shorter stop. I was anxious not to waste any time getting to some wineries (there are are dozens and dozens, see but I was amazed to see that the World-Famous-Since-1924 Pea-Soup Andersen's Restaurant was practically across the street from my Day's Inn in Buellton! I had to check it out. I walked over and snooped around and got the lay of the land. It is a seriously down-market establishment. Perhaps its heyday was in the 50's. Not to be classist, but the entire population of the RV park across the street seemed to be dining there. Not to be sizeist, but each table seemed to boast at least one morbidly obese person - and I'm talking people who weigh in at 400 or 500 pounds and you just wonder how they manage to move about. More on Andersen's culinary delights later.

I am not ashamed to admit I got a lot of mileage out of the "Sideways Map", published by the Santa Barbara Wine Country people. I rapidly expanded the list of wineries I wanted to visit - by looking at their "wine trails", Santa Ynez and Foxen Canyon - but the simple little map that showed just the obvious main roads was a big help when you're getting started.

But like Napa and Sonoma, there are only a few main roads, and all the wineries hang off these, and they all go to great lengths to announce themselves and direct you into the parking area near the wine-tasting room. My wine pronouncements are amateur and probably not useful to people used to reading about "vanilla" and "blackberry" and "the slant of the sun over the deep black ocean after the fog has lifted", and so on. Every winery charges $5 (some $7) for tastings; you get to keep the logo wine glass. Which is kind of fun, actually.

1500 Alamo Pintado Road, Solvang,
  1. 2001 Syrah: OK. Thin papery ending. Vinegary rather than pleasant sour red.
  2. 2000 Cabernet Franc: Thin, almost watery.
  3. 2001 Merlot: Heartier. Acceptable. A bit chalky. I wouldn't buy.
  4. 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon: Best of the bunch; standard Cab Sauv.

Foley Estates
1711 Alamo Pintado Road, Solvang,
  1. 2002 Lincourt Pinot Noir: Very good flavor, full yet light.
  2. 2003 Foley Pinot Noir(Rancho Santa Rosa): Watery yet $38/bottle. Thin.
  3. 2002 Lincourt Syrah (Bien Nacido Vineyard): *A BUYER!* Sweetish but not sweet, not thin, not thick, no aftertaste.
  4. 2002 Foley Syrah (Rancho Santa Rosa): A bit of that vinegary mouthtaste; thin.

Fess Parker
6200 Foxen Canyon Road, Los Olivos,

Pleasant tasting environs. Fess Parker was Hollywood actor in the 50's in westerns and disneys. He worked in Davy Crockett and Ol' Yeller and all that sort of stuff. He owns lots of restaurants and inns and spas around the world (including one in Los Olivos) and is threatening to develop 14,000 acres he owns in the wine country. People therefore hate him. During tasting at Fess Parker's, I got into fun conversations with people from Simi and people from Orange County, proving that people in those zipcodes are not all homocidal lunatics with perfect lawns and Republican voting records. We came up with the idea of me putting together a "Traveling Computer Circus", a whimsical sort of thing, that would be a "Computer Tasting" for people who had curiousity about (say) Apple or Linux or what have you, but wanted to try before they buy. Actually, perhaps I came up with this idea.
  1. 2002 Sauvignon Blanc ("Ashley's Vineyard"): Basic white, unremarkable. Named after Fess' daughter.
  2. 2003 Viognier ("Santa Barbara County"): Sweet, honeysuckle. Yuck.
  3. 2001 Pinot Noir ("American Tradition Reserve"): Pleasant, a bit sweet, medium (not thin, not thick.)
  4. 2001 Syrah ("Santa Barbara County"): *A BUYER!*
  5. 2001 Syrah ("Rodney's Vineyard"): *A BUYER!*

Andrew Murray
2901-A Grand Avenue, Los Olivos

Storefront in downtown Los Olivos. The previous were all out in the gorgeous countryside.
  1. 2003 Grenache: Good. Little of the cardboard.
  2. 2003 Syrah Tous Les Jours: Good. Buy anytime.
  3. 2003 Estate Grand Syrah: 8 syrah grapes. Excellent; nice blend. Long finish, well balanced. *A BUYER!*
  4. 2001 Oak Savonna Cellers Pinor Noir: OK.
  5. 2001 Oak Savonna Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon: end o' the day, I have no notes!
After all this exhaustive research, I repaired to Andersen's Restaurant and had some World-Famous-Since-1924 Pea Soup. Frankly it did not do that much for me. I think perhaps I can do better. But in the interest of promoting pea soup awareness, here is the recipe they print on a souvenir coffee cup ($5.95).

Recipe for 8 bowls of Andersen's Famous Split Pea Soup:

2 Quarts of soft water
2 cups of Andersen's specially selected green split peas
1 branch of celery, coarsely chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground thyme
1 pinch of cayenne
1 bayleaf
salt, pepper

Boil hard for 20 minutes, then slowly until peas are tender. Strain through fine sieve and reheat to boiling point.

Sunday, June 19: Bulldog Cafe - Mission - Wine Tasting - Beaches - More Pea Soup

I had cleverly searched for "wireless internet cafe" back at home, and "Bulldog Cafe" at 1680 Mission Drive, Solvang, popped up. Mission Drive is the main drag. The Bulldog Cafe is in between First and Alisal and otherwise impossible to see - the sign is overgrown with ivy, or something. It is attached to a bookstore (!), both new and used (!), and also attached to the upstairs Hans Christian Andersen museum. The coffee is wonderful. They had real bagels. Copies of the Sunday NY Times and Santa Barbara Whatevers were scattered about. Sofas. Tables and chairs outside in the sun. All in all, a serendipitous find. The nicest coffeeshop south of San Francisco, with apologies to Palo Alto and Menlo Park, but that's how it is.

A block's walk takes you to the Santa Ines Mission, founded 1804 by Padre Estévan Tápis. (See for a list of all the missions in California.) I arrived during 9:30 mass. The sermon was about social justice: the priest invoked Nelson Mandela, Mather Luther King Jr., Oscar Romero (whom, he reminded us, is up for sainthood in Rome. Ha! That'll be the day - Rome acknowledging a liberation theologian.) I was gratified to hear strains of the Catholicism of my youth - care for your brother, care for your world - instead of the angry evangelical constricting Catholicism that is on the rise today. The mission building is grand and quiets the soul. It is a pearl, set in the beauty of the foothills. You can safely skip the gift shop unless you're looking for cassette tapes of pious choir music.

Zaca Mesa
6905 Foxen Canyon Road, Los Olivos,

Caffeinated and illuminated, I headed into the country. Today I determined to drive far back into wine country, to the area where (I imagined) fewer people ventured - up along Foxen Canyon Road, beyond Los Olivos. I guess the direction is east, but it feels west. People who know me know I have a hard time with direction, as I impute value or emotion to directions, which aren't relevant, but which I can't shake off.

I pulled into an expansive, empty parking lot at Zaca Mesa at 10:45 a.m. and then pulled out and then pulled around and then reparked. The sign said they're open at 10. Hmm. Where were all the cars? Hard to believe, but I was the first person of the day. Within 15 minutes, their huge tasting room had filled with a dozen people or more. It was fun getting a wine-taster to myself the whole while, though. No doubt they saw me coming, as I bought two bottles. This is the only place out of the 6 that I visited that did not send you off with a souvenir glass. 's'ok, I don't need it. I'm just noting it for the record. However: they are also the only place that does complimentary tasting of their usual wines. There is a $10 fee to taste the reserves. But you can taste 5 or 6 wines for no fee. Zaca Mesa was my favorite winery. My wine taster wouldn't have any of my disclaimer "I only drink reds." She said, "Well, here, you'll taste some whites." I was glad she insisted - I bought a white (!)
  1. 2004 Z Gris: a potential buy!
  2. 2002 Chardonnay Zaca Vineyards: a soft Chardonnay. Another potential buy. Very nice.
  3. 2003 Estate Bottled Viognier: subtle, excellent, perhaps good as a dessert wine, slightly sweet and slightly dry both.
  4. 2003 Chardonnay Chamisal Vineyard: *A BUYER!* Not like any Chardonnay you've had - doesn't shout out "I'm Chardonnay." Not oak-y. Silky. Only available from the winery.
  5. 2003 Roussanne: A bit sweeter, creamy but also a bit spicy.
  6. 2000 Chapel Syrah: quite good. Only available from winery.
  7. 2002 Z Three Cushman Vineyard: *A BUYER!*
  8. 2001 Estate Bottled Syrah: *A BUYER!* I think I didn't buy all the wines I marked as to-buy ... This one is a basic beautiful standard mix syrah. Their signature wine.
  9. 2002 Z Cuvee: I would have put this on the to-buy list, but I was already maxed out.
After putting my couple bottles in the car, I hiked up a short path on the Zaca Mesa grounds to a beautiful overlook of the vines in the valley and the foothills all around.

Rancho Sisquoc
6600 Foxen Canyon Road, Santa Maria (but closer to Los Olivos!)

Sisquoc is Chumash for "gathering place". Chumash is the name of the local Native American tribe. There is a reservation outside of Solvang. The Chumash Casino was the site of the Michael Jackson Post-Verdict Victory Party. Apparently one juror went to the party. How weird is THAT?
  1. 2003 Chardonnay: Good. A poetic mix between June bloom and June gloom.
  2. 2004 Sylvaner: Too sweet. Perhaps OK if you like dessert wine.
  3. 2001 Sangiovese: The California name for Chianti, as you can only call it Chianti if you're making wine in a certain region in Italy. OK for a Chianti.
  4. 2002 Sisquoc River Red: A bit pucker-y.
  5. 2002 Syrah: Hmm, a vinegar aftertaste.
  6. 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon: Again, what's with that vinegar?
  7. 2002 Cebernet France: reasonable.
  8. 2001 Cellar Select Meritage: More reasonableness.
Other wine-tasters started giving me tips on where to eat, locally, and up and down the 101.
  1. Los Olivos: "Patrick's". Upscale, pricey, wonderful.
  2. Lompoc: "Tom's A-Z Burgers". 26 kinds of burgers, all worth sampling.
  3. Nipomo: "Jocko's"
  4. Guadalupe: "Far Western Tavern"
  5. Templeton: "McPhee's"
  6. Templeton: "A.J. Spurs". Get off on Vineyard.
  7. Tascadero before Paso Robles: "Village Cafe", Italian.
  8. Casmalia: "Hitchin' Post". Better than "Hitchin' Post" in Solvang/Beullton.
  9. Paso Robles: "Senor Sanchez", good Mexican, Spring St. off 24th
  10. Pismo: "McClintock's". You can see it from freeway.
  11. Pismo: "Harvey P's Bar" at the beach
I dutifully lunched at "Patrick's" in Los Olivos. I had the tender pork BBQ spareribs that were the special of the day. Hot to see the ocean and get my feet on the beach, I pointed the car west. Or south. Unfortunately, I chose a road that also doubles as a 4-lane fast state highway used by L.A. people on their way home on a Sunday afternoon. I had spent the past couple days meandering on deserted country roads, drinking in the oak trees and brown hills, and I freaked out with the SUVs on my tail. When my road intersected with 101, I turned north, but was disappointed to discover that you can't see the ocean from that stretch of 101, though the ocean is only a stone's throw away. I didn't take exits for "El Capitan Beach" or "Ocean Beach", thinking I knew better. I was aiming for "Gaviota Beach." Now it's quite possible I missed a sign, or missed an exit. All I knew was I flew by Gaviota without seeing a beach-like exit. I was sullen from the L.A.-SUV driving, so I decided just to return to Solvang, have a nice soothing coffee, and maybe check my email.

My second night of pea soup at Andersen's convinced me their pea soup really is quite awful. I recommend buying Progresso. But it is comfort food and I felt like comfort, and like being in a family-restaurant-establishment after so much upscale wine and food earlier in the day.

Monday, June 20: Visiting Gary at Lompoc FCI

I will fill in these details soon. Suffice to say a visit to a prison reminds you in a powerful way what freedom is, and why it matters. For people who think there is no such thing, or that the Patriot Act (as despicable as it is) is as bad as living in totalitarian China, well, they should volunteer for a month detention, and see if they still think freedom is an abstract concept. Freedom is not abstract. I hope some Americans still believe it and will stand up for it. I have this feeling we'll have to.

Sunday, May 01, 2005