A Walk Through M: 2017 in 24 film-festivals

“Remembrance of the past may give rise to dangerous insights.”
Herbert Marcuse

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M is for…

… Merihaka

Helsinki in January: wet and cold. Snow, ice, etc. I’m in town as the one-man jury of the DocPoint film festival (and will clock up a further six juries and another 23 film-festivals before the year is out); on a darkening Saturday afternoon I impulsively decide to track down some key locations from Aki Kaurismäki’s The Man Without A Past (2002). Heading north from the centre towards one such destination I am waylaid by stumbling across (or more precisely into) Merihaka, a huge peri-urban development built in the 1970s. Vast roof-enclosed car-park (which I will later spot in Kaurismäki’s The Other Side of Hope) on ground level, up top a sprawling residential complex of blockily brutalist charm.

Following a sign in the car-park that catches my eye, I eventually locate the Sir Oliver pub: not quite retro-hip enough to be used in a Kaurismäki picture, but engagingly unpretentious, with a mixed clientele watching British footy. In one corner, a large, slightly raised, mirror-walled stage for live music and—as promised by a notice on the wall—Karaoke, later that very evening. Festival duties unfortunately mean I have to scarper after just one pint, departing in what turns out to be a vain quest for Kaurismäkian hot-spots as the evening descends into chilly, grim drizzle.

This is the first weekend without John Hurt, who died the day before. I got the news after returning to my hotel around 3am, following a night of socialising with various festival staff. Well-oiled after numerous beers and vodkas, I’m in the lobby heading to my room when I impulsively decide to check my emails on the hotel’s public-use computer. Hurt dead at 77. Fresh in my in-box: an urgent appeal for a tribute article from my Hollywood Reporter editor in Los Angeles.

Having briefly met Hurt when he came to the Bradford Film Festival a few years back (he was a true gent and then some), I respond enthusiastically and spend the next hour or so knocking out 600+ words which appear online soon after. I suspect Hurt, who wasn’t massively averse a drink or two every now and then, would not have disapproved of these unorthodox working practices.

… mezcal

Berlinale in February. As an experiment, I don’t seek press accreditation, instead attending as a “private” citizen. I see only one film-programme a day—usually via a complimentary ticket provided by some obliging filmmaker pal who has a picture in the line-up. I deliberately spend more time in the Stadtklause pub (near Anhalter Bahnhof, old-school former haunt of Bruno S) than in any of the Potsdamer Platz cinemas where the bulk of the festival takes place. Eshewing hotels, I stay with friends; this involves several nights in the apartment of Germany’s principal importer of the fiery Mexican liquor mezcal, whose powerful intoxicating properties I learned all about first hand in Oaxaca last year at the Ambulante documentary festival. His flat is full of Mezcal bottles, and my generous host says I should help myself from any which have already been opened. I nevertheless manage to exert sufficient discipline to avoid getting smashed, on most evenings consuming quite enough alcohol (i.e. beer) at the Stadtklause. Not the most profitable stint at the Berlinale (I file just one review for The Hollywood Reporter: Manuel Abramovich’s Soldado, showing in the youth-oriented Generation section, for which I purchase a €4 full-price ticket) but certainly among among the most… convivial.

… March, Maidan, My Joy, Mendocino, Moonlight, Mahershala Ali and Marcello 

Despite deciding to boycott the United States of America for the duration of the Trump anti-presidency (the schmuck having been sworn in on January 20th, just before I headed to DocPoint), I can’t resist an invitation from Berkeley University to moderate five sessions over three days with Sergei Loznitsa, subject of an “Afterimage” partial retrospective (including My Joy and Maidan) at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. I spin this out into a three-week stay in California, heading to Los Angeles via Sacramento—after a couple of days on the coast in the raffishly well-heeled small town of Mendocino, where I watch the Oscars in crowded Patterson’s Pub.

I’ve never viewed the Oscars in such a setting, the locals treating the event like a sports spectacular. I cheer loudest for the first winner of the evening, Moonlight‘s Mahershala Ali, upon whom I’d placed a fairly sizeable bet back in December 2016 when he was still only slightly odds-on to win Best Supporting Actor . The ceremony is bookended by Moonlight successes, though of course the last one (Best Picture) is, as has been very widely chronicled, much less a case of plain sailing than the first. The whole Beatty/Dunaway La La Land debacle provokes chaotic scenes in Patterson’s. “Fake news!” I satirically bellow.

Down in Los Angeles a week or so later I introduce a screening of Pietro Marcello’s sublime, bonkers Lost and Beautiful (Bella e Perduta) at the Echo Park Film Center, shown under the auspices of Jordan Cronk and Bob Koehler’s Acropolis Cinema programme. The following month I meet Marcello in Rome to talk about his upcoming project Martin Eden, based on the Jack London classic (a 1970s Penguin paperback of which I bought at Berkeley), and which should—if Marcello’s track record is any guide—be one of the unmissables of 2019 (or maybe 2020…).



… meanders

I return to Europe in time for the world premiere of a short I directed, Vilniu Detroit, at the Vilnius International Film Festival in  March. The picture runs just over five minutes, but on the big screen of the Forum Cinemas Vingis multiplex, in front of a paying audience, it’s over in a flash. I take advantage of this visit to do one of my extended urban walks, which usually takes the form of my choosing a direction or city-edge destination, and heading off with my compass, leaving room for occasional minor diversions if something worthwhile catches my eye. My Vilnius trek takes me all the way to (and then all the way back from) the Soviet-era suburb of Fabijoniškės, six miles (9km) from the cinema, complete with distinctively round-cornered mini-skyscrapers.

Other meanders of note in 2017 will include a nine-mile (14km) one-way hike in June from central Oslo—where I’m in town to moderate screenings at the a new festival, OsloPix, and to discover my new favourite building in Europe, the City Hall— to the socialist/space-age residential district of Stovner. And there’s another one-way nine-miler from the middle of Riga (where I deliver two lectures, on the history of film criticism and the practice of teaching film in schools) to the quasi-urban village of Dārziņi. As the festival organisers warned, there’s really not much to do or see in Dārziņi—but my efforts (and those of my colleague-in-step, short-film maestro Alexei Dmitriev) are rewarded by a spectacular rainbow stretching across the entire horizon.

… Maisons-Laffitte and Margot Robbie

In Paris in April, on another jury: Europe Autour de l’Europe, an idiosyncratic, somewhat low-profile event which runs for an entire month. I persuade the festival director and my fellow jurors to accompany me to Maisons-Laffitte for a race-day, including classic trials the Prix Djebel and the Prix Imprudence. Track excitements are preceded by lunch at nearby eaterie the Pavillon Bleu, much frequented by horse-racing professionals (Maisons-Laffitte, my favourite racing venue in France, is a training centre as well as home of a racecourse). Betting-wise, however, from my perspective the afternoon is a total disaster, culminating in my stupidly missing a 29/1 winner, Creach Light for reasons too complicated to explain here. Stunned and mortified with frustration, I visit the statue of 19th century champion Dollar and swear that I will never place another bet. More than eight months later, I have still not risked a penny on another horse—though I have had a couple of wagers on Margot Robbie to win Best Actress at the Oscars for I, Tonya, on the basis that the UK bookies’ odds of 16/1 were just too generous to pass up.

… May, Moscow, midnight, Moskva, Marina Roscha and Metro

At the age of 46 I finally make it to Russia: a two-week stay based in Moscow and St Petersburg, main two sites of a conference (13/14 May) dedicated to the work of much-missed maverick writer-director Alexei Balabanov. I fly into Moscow amid snow and ice, and on my second day walk from my hotel (‘Sleepy Tom,’ a cosy “boutique” joint in the Tverskoy district) to Red Square and the Kremlin—and keep going, and going, a total of 15 miles (24km) to the obscure residential district Chertanovo Severnoye. The following month, at the Edinburgh Film Festival, spot as being very close to where an alien spaceship crash-lands in Fyodor Bondarchuk’s 2016 sci-fi hit Attraction.

Originally intending to get the Metro back, I impulsively decide to do the whole thing on foot, and end up stumbling through Red Square shortly after midnight and on back to Tverskoy and finally Sleepy Tom. Total approximately 30 miles (48km), by some way my record for any “meander.”
Moscow is dauntingly vast, but I see a fair chunk of it in the limited time allotted, doing another trek from the centre to the 1772-foot-tall (540m) Ostankino TV tower (“the tallest free-standing structure in Europe,” visible from most of the flattish city) and back—stumbling across an irresistibly hidden-away Vietnamese food-joint (“restaurant” would be pushing it) in the pleasantly humdrum Marina Roscha suburb, washing my dinner down at a pub called the Roy Castle (no photos of the late entertainer anywhere on the walls).

A couple of hundred yards away the road goes over the top of a busy six-lane highway I film with my little Canon stills camera—footage which will end up as another short film, Towing Dispatch. My final Moscow meander traces the course of the Yauza River, a small tributary of the vast, wide, snaking Moskva, for a little under five miles (8km) until I get to a huge old electricity plant: Elektrozavodskaya, where I take the Metro back to the centre.


I accidentally leave my wallet on top of the ticket machine at the station, and when I notice the loss later at my hotel presume I’ve been pickpocketed. For some hours I burn in shame (even a late-night detour to catch Alien Covenant at the Oktyabr multiplex on Novy Arbat, main venue of the DOKer documentary festivals on whose jury I’m serving, fails to quench the flames), until I mentally retrace my movements and then, the next day, get the Metro back to Elektrozavodsakaya station. This is a real jewel of the system, dedicated to the builders who constructed the network; after a broken-Russian conversation with the cheery babushkas who work there, I am presented with my wallet—intact, all cash present. I celebrate with a beer in the small real-ale joint across the road from the station, which I’d called into the day before and which serves the tastiest ale I’ll have in the country.

No such dramas in St Petersburg, where—as well as Balabanov duties—I present a carte-blanche screening of the BBC science fiction / fantasy classic Artemis 81 (1981) at the New Holland arts complex, a converted naval/docks complex dating back to imperial times and now the beneficiary of largesse from the Abramovich Foundation. Further excitements are provided at the Poison bar, where I make my public-karaoke debut in the format with a rendition of ‘Cemetry [sic] Gates’ by the Smiths, egged on by my karaoke-crazed St Petersburgian pal Alexei (the Riga-rainbow pal). This will. it turns out, not be my final karaoke performance of 2017.

Mutants

Grimstad in June: Norway’s national Short Film Festival, which I’ve been working for since 2015, moderating the international sections. My duties involve working with Alexandre Dostie, Québecois director of the much-lauded Mutants, and Patrick Bresnan, whose The Rabbit Hunt I saw at Berlin back in January. The Rabbit Hunt has been picking up prizes all over the circuit in the interim, including at Vienna shorts earlier in the same month June (one of my jury-duty stints).

I am partly based in Vienna nowadays so VS doesn’t really feel like a “proper” film-festival stint, but there are plentiful compensations including… more karaoke. Having seen Patrick B going hog-wild as a Bez-style dancer accompanying somebody else doing vocal duties on ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ I take the stage for a couple of solos (including Elvis’ “mental” duo ‘Suspicious Minds’ and ‘Always On My Mind’) and the odd duet, most memorably ‘Waterloo Sunset’ with Slovenian critic Tina Poglajen—pesky technical difficulties forcing us to cosily share the microphone, in the style of Pete and Carl from the Libertines.

… Mizoguchi

I reach the age of 46 years and 4 months without seeing a single film by Kenji Mizoguchi, then watch three on a single July day at Karlovy Vary. By the end of the festival I will have clocked a total of nine, the standout of which is his fierily feminist period-piece My Love Has Been Burning (1949) starring the legendary Kinuyo Tanaka. I could of course have plugged my Mizoguchi gap before via DVD or downloads, but preferred to wait for the big screen experience—at KV, most of the retro was even on 35mm, including screenings at the opulently old-school Municipal Theatre (1886).

In a schedule dominated by archive titles (including A.Żuławski’s rewardingly off-the-wall That Most Important Thing: Love [1975]) I see only one new film: Francis Lee’s much-buzzed Yorkshire-set rural romance God’s Own Country, which perhaps inevitably feels somewhat dwarfed by all the blasts from the past. Extra-curricular activities include a beer at the Dennis Hopper bar in the “main” part of KV, some way removed from the tourist-oriented “centre” of town where nearly all the festival stuff takes place, and the belated completion of editing on a short about KV’s oddly little-known “big” river (the Ohře) which I’d shot twelve months before.

Main professional duty: publicly interviewing (for an hour) Ken Loach and Paul Laverty on the occasion of their lifetime achievement Crystal Globes. After I depart the festival, I get the train to Prague—anoter city I’d somehow never set foot in before. The stag-part-central main square is off-putting but once I get beyond this unpromising start the Czech capital proves a knockout, somehow combining aspects of Vienna, Amsterdam, Bucharest, Paris, Lisbon, even Moscow while retaining its own character. And it turns out historic Wenceslas Square isn’t a square at all, rather a very long oblong.

If I visit a new place and there’s any kind of tall tower visible on the horizon I usually try to trek there and back if the weather and terrain allow—even without i-phone, GPS or compass, navigation to such landmarks is always a doddle and invariably yields unexpected finds along the way. The Blakes-7-ish Žižkov Television Tower (1992) in Prague fits the bill on every front: en route I stumble across The Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord, in Vinohrady, a 1932 masterpiece by the Slovenian oddball J.Plečnik which looks like something from the set of Silent Hill.

The Žižkov tower (which has a cat-prowled Jewish cemetery near its base) turns out to be in… Žižkov, a rough-and-ready zone of former industrial buildings and pubs of varying degrees of salubriousness. I end up in U Kozla (“The Billygoat”), a corner spot on a main road (Jana Želivského 4) where I have beer and sausages amid a vocally enthusiastic crowd of locals glued to Wimbledon tennis: R.Nadal vs Luxemburgish journeyman Gilles Müller in the “round of 16,” which goes to an epic fifth set: 15-13 to Müller.

Wrung dry and sated, I get the tram to my Airbnb, but somehow overshoot the stop and end up at the terminus, a dark spot seemingly some way from civilisation. But there are lights: ‘Prvni Pivni Tramway’ (“First Beer Tramway”), an old-school boozer which has an air inexplicability about it like something in a dream. I wasn’t actually planning on having any more to drink tonight, but destiny dictates otherwise…

… Montagne Dolomiti

I see the Dolomites on the far horizon one morning when going for run on the Venice Lido, where nearly all of early-September’s Venice Film Festival takes place. The mountains are usually shrouded by pollution or other atmospheric effects, but occasionally their snowy peaks are visible in clear focus, an unlikely backdrop to the spires and columns of Venice itself.

I take my running shoes to most festivals nowadays, to counteract the deleterious health-effects of prolonged exposure to the festival circuit. The Lido run counts among the more spectacular of circuits, my 30-45 minute outings taking me from my hotel near the Santa Maria Elisabetta vaporetto terminal to the edge of the airport and military zones at the end of Viale Klinger (sadly not named after Venice-prized Gabe K). Despite the usual variable weather, I manage to get out nearly every other morning on my full-festival visit as part of the Fipresci jury.

This means I get to watch all 20-odd films in what turns out to be a decidedly strong competition, with premieres including the splashily-received Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Annette Bening’s jury spreads the love but cold-shoulders what was for me the standout of the competition and the festival, and one of the top three or four new pictures of 2017: Frederick Wiseman’s Ex Libris. Fortunately, my fellow jurors are in accord, ensuring Wiseman’s epic documentary does not leave the Lido empty-handed. So shines a good deed, etc etc.

… M (and Mr Klein, and Malcolm and McDowell)

Yes, sometimes M is just for M. As in the title of Joseph Losey’s 1951 thriller, perpetually dwarfed in the popular (and even cinephile) consciousness by the picture which shares its moniker and of which it is a remake, directed by Fritz Lang two decades before. I must have seen the American version some time in the 1980s, but barely remember it when taking my seat at San Sebastian in September where it’s showing as part of a big Losey retro. It turns out of be one of the finds of the festival, not least for the fantastically atmospheric use it makes of locations in and around Downtown Los Angeles (a part of the world I’ve come to know pretty well in the last half-decade). Some of them are long gone (the tenements of Bunker Hill), some still very much standing (the entire climax takes place in the Bradbury Building, making even better use of that locale than Ridley Scott managed in Blade Runner 31 years later).

Even better are two later Losey classics I’d never seen before: Mr Klein (1976), surely the greatest cinematic deployment of Alain Delon’s glassy, glossy handsomeness, and the five-star “hidden” masterpiece Figures In A Landscape (1970), a frantic, near-abstract picaresque with Robert Shaw and Malcolm McDowell making their way through hazardous, unspecified terrain surveilled by totalitarian helicopters. Stunned and shaken after the screening, I meet up with the writer-directors of Araby (by a country-mile my favourite new film of 2017, caught at Rotterdam in January), Brazilian maestros João Dumans and Affonso Uchôa, for what turns into a protracted bar-crawl around the nicely untouristy Egia Kalea/Street, ending up at “Le Bukowski,” an establishment a touch ritzier than its moniker would suggest.

… Modus Vivendi and Makino

Another month, another northern Spanish festival, another evening that culminates in an alcoholic blur: I get the 9 hour train ride from San Sebastian across to Santiago de Compostela, home of the nicely funky Curtocircuito event dedicated to shorts and located in the labyrinthine old city that’s the terminus of the world-renowned pilgrimage trail. I arrive in time for a quietly intimate dinner with the festival’s star guest (a veteran British auteur) and three senior members of staff. Fancy, meaty nosh, amid much raconteuring (from both Brits present) and free-flowing local wine.
(me: “You used to live in Goole?”
veteran auteur: “How on earth do you know that?”
me: “I ‘gooled’ it…”)

Afterwards, I’m happily heading back to my hotel when I happen to notice a medieval-looking bar on a quiet little square, with the name of Modus Vivendi. A cracking find: fantastic, eclectic music, bygone decor, low ceiling, superb local “craft” beers. I take to knocking back the latter in alternation with some strong local spirit and a steady decline into blotto-ness begins.

Recollections of the rest of this night are patchy indeed, but I do know that I spent what felt like hours and hours wandering the streets in search of my hotel, getting hopelessly lost despite Santiago not exactly being a sprawling metropolis. I make it back in a state of disorientation some time around 6am… only at this belated juncture realising I’d been carrying a map of the city in my hand the whole time.

On waking, suitably chastened, I decide never to touch a drop of alcohol in my life ever again… Newly “sober” I take in several programmes at the festival and see what turns out to be my #1 new short of 2017, Takashi Makino’s hallucinogenic On Generation and Corruption. Lots of swirling specks and dots… Like floating down to the bottom of a glass of rich, dark ale. All the way to the bottom. And beyond.

… Marco Ferreri, Morto and Michel Piccoli

I stay off the sauce to the end of the festival, and indeed to the end of the month, falling off the wagon (in considered, measured fashion) at the Viennale — one of the festivals I work for, as a consultant, on-stage interviewer and moderator. In between duties I catch several pictures which make my year-end list, including my #1 UK/US release of 2017 (the Safdie brothers’ Good Time), my #2 feature of the year (Valeska Grisebach’s Western), my #1 new-to-me archival short (Bruce Conner’s Cosmic Ray [1962]) and another couple of retro crackers at the 750-seat Gartenbaukino.Jean-Luc Godard’s Grandeur et décadence d’un petit commerce de cinéma (1986) has me in kinks of laughter and overall knocks me out much more forcefully than when I saw it for the first time at this same festival back in 2009; Marco Ferreri’s Dillinger è morto (1969) was for me a first-timer, built around a dazzling, often solo-on-screen turn by the ever-amazing (and still alive!) Michel Piccoli.

… Mahler-town

I play “hooky” from the Viennale by escaping for a couple of days to Jihlava, a couple of hours up the road in the Czech Republic, as guest of head programmer Tereza with whom I’d served on the Moscow documentary-festival jury back in May. A bit of a flying visit, and the wintry rainy weather in this old hilltop town—birthplace of Mahler!—makes sightseeing tricky. I catch only one programme, a Saturday morning selection of Brazilian shorts put together by Dumans & Uchôa’s pal and distributor Daniel Queiroz, the highlight of which is an offbeat and (inexplicably) very seldom-screened, 42-minute urban-planning documentary from 1982: Rio: plano político-administrativo do município by Sérgio Bernardes Filho.

… miscellaneous

January/February: Rotterdam. All about Araby.
March: CPH DOX, Copenhagen. Stinking cold and miserable weather. But I do get to interview Austin Lynch (son of David, nephew of Sissy Spacek & Jack Fisk) and Matthew Booth on their genre-blurring debut Gray House.
March/April: jury service in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. Ski-resort with a permanent population of 1,636, and this the smallest place I’ve ever visited for film-festival purposes. Elevation 5,900ft (1,800m) above sea level. Alpine resort best known as the location where Wham!’s “Last Christmas” video was shot in 1984. Much fondue and raclette. After lunch one day the festival guests head up various funiculars to the Allalinhorn glacier, elevation 13,000ft (4km). I’m told I don’t need to change into my winter boots and that I’ll be OK up there in my trainers. Swiss humour! Cold feet on the snowy summit. Cold feet in the ice caverns. I’m glad to get back to the cosy warmth of Saas-Fee itself, but up top did make for some dramatic photos.
April: Crossing Europe, Linz, Austria. I moderate a screening of Peter Lataster and Petra Lataster-Czisch’s Dutch schoolroom-documentary Miss Kiet’s Children, which I’d seen some months before at IDFA in Amsterdam where it world-premiered. This second view hits me much harder on an emotional level, and I have to forcibly pull myself together for the Q+A. As the lights go up, I realise that more than half the audience is also in tears.
June: Edinburgh. The joy of Alex Cox’s Repo Man on 35mm! Less than two months later, we lose Harry Dean Stanton.
July: Palić, Serbia. I do moderations at this “party-oriented” festival held in and near Subotica, close to the Hungarian border. More karaoke with Alexei; afterwards, heading back to my hotel, I hear very distant but evidently loud music. Impulsively I head towards the source of the racket, away down the lakeshore. I plug on and eventually arrive at the “Summer 3p” festival (“a unique open air summer experience that provides a good quality of electronic music and an unforgetable pool party during the night.”). A new experience. Youthful crowd. I stay an indeterminate while, entranced by the electronica and the novel vibe. Eventually I head back to the hotel, a bizarrely epic-feeling trek which eventually concludes as I stumble up the steps of my hotel, some time around 6.30am.
August, Locarno: as usual I attend on behalf of Hollywood Reporter, for whom I wax enthusiastic about Brazilian werewolf picture Good Manners and Radu Jude’s semi-experimental essay-film from Romania, The Dead Nation. The nightlife hotspot is Paravento, a sprawling bar-complex up on a hill above the main part of town. But I avoid this place because of the unneccessarily paramilitary-style security staff they elect to employ and instead spend my francs down at Bar Silo, a very unpretentious (some would say basic) establishment across the street from the train station. Much more laid-back, as well as considerably cheaper.

… Montréal, Mosley, Monty Clift, and Murder on the Orient Express

All 27 of us passengers make it off the coach and watch from a safe distance as the vehicle is consumed by flames; so it goes. A chilly but not Arctic day in November, on the A40 motorway that connects Trois-Rivières and Montréal. I am heading to the latter for jury duty at Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal, my seventh (and last jury service) of 2017, my 23rd (and penultimate) festival, and my fourth karaoke stint: ‘Suspicious Minds’ goes down pretty well, while I join Vancouverite “man of cinema” Adam Cook for a rendition of ‘Promiscuous’ by Nelly Furtado, in which I take the tricky “part” originally sung by Tim “Timbaland” Mosley.

Sombre shadows amid the merriment: festival XXIV should have been IDFA in Amsterdam the following week but I have to cancel it because of a family bereavement—which I hear about from my brother, on the phone in the lobby of the Travelodge hotel in downtown Montréal (and XXIV ends up being Porto/Post/Doc in Porto, Portugal, in early December.)

It’s a stretch to say I myself “cheated death” on the autoroute, but the incident could obviously have been much more serious: we were halfway to our destination when a rear tire blew; we pulled in: our phlegmatic, seemingly unflappable Orléans Express driver announced we all had to get off because—in the words of this laconic Francophone chap—”Ça brûle” (“it’s burning”). Wary of explosions—we’ve all seen too many films—we retreat to a couple of hundred yards away and look on helplessly as the flames steadily consume the whole top half of the bus. Any possessions left on the seats: gone.
We all fear the worst for our hold luggage, but in the end pretty much everything survives unscathed.

Also fortuitous: the timing. Two days earlier and we’d have been risking hypothermia in the sub-zero temperatures, snow and howling winds that made my 10-hour excursion to Québec City (from Trois-Rivières , where I enjoyed the hospitality of my new Grimstad pal Alexandre Dostie) something of an ordeal. Most of Québec City’s most historic sights are on high ground, where the wind is particularly “bracing.”


I escape the conditions by treading in the footsteps of Montgomery Clift and the Chateau Frontenac (an imposing hilltop hotel regularly visible in Hitchcock’s I Confess (1953) and the fictional film about its making, Robert Lepage’s Le Confessional [1995]). I skulk the halls of this huge, fancy establishment in pseudo-tourist mode, prominently clutching a map as I do so (shades of Santiago)… Then I head out, eschewing the nearby “Plains of Abraham” where a crucial battle was fought between the French and English back in 1759, and scoot down the Rue Saint-Louis, a wide boulevard flanked by government buildings, exuding a capital-city air. Quickly tiring of the biting cold, I seek refuge in an original-language cinema, the Cartier, for a teatime screening of Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express.

For a couple of hours I abandon my critical faculties and lose myself in the shenanigans on screen, grateful for the warmth of the auditorium. Afterwards I head directly to the bus station for the last coach (Orleans Express again!) to Trois-Rivières but, due to a farcical set of circumstances and despite having plenty of time, I end up missing it. Fortunately I recall that it stops at some obscure suburb—so dash out into the icy air and frantically flag down a taxi, telling the Turkish driver (in my fractured French) that I need to get to Sainte Foy A-S-A-bleeding-P. He duly makes haste, and I make it to the bus station with a few minutes to spare. But—quelle horreur!—the taxi won’t accept my credit card. And I don’t have enough cash. I promise to send Monsieur le chauffeur the balance when I get to Montréal, and he trusts me to do so. This memoir is dedicated to him. SALUT!

Neil Young
21st January / 19th November 2018