Archive for the ‘walking’ Category

4 highlights from Duluth

adam gee speaker catalyst content festival deluth 2019

Not The Usual Suspects

I gave a talk this week as part of the Catalyst Content Festival (formerly the ITVFest) in Duluth, Minnesota. All I knew about the town (which is actually a city) before I heard about the festival moving here from Vermont is that Bob Dylan was born here (and at six moved just north of the town to Hibbing). That’s why on the plane over I was listening to Blood on the Tracks, getting in the groove for a semi-mythical place. At sunset yesterday a train whistle worthy of Slow Train Coming cut through the freezing air and a four-coach train appeared on the lakeside tracks just below me as I returned from a long walk around the edge of Lake Superior. The lake, the best part of 400 miles lengthwise and 200 widthwise, contains 10% of the world’s accessible/surface fresh water. The coaches included a silver 50s-vintage one with bubble windows along the roof of AirStream-style silver panelling, matching the sides; two classic red carriages, and at the back a black Victorian-type one with one of those doors and platforms with railings from every Western ever.

1. Bob Dylan’s childhood home

On my first day I walked up the hill behind the hotel for a few blocks to an innocuous suburban duplex house – 519 North Third Avenue E – where Bob, who was born in 1941, lived on the 1st floor (UK; 2nd US) as an infant. The pilgrimage was done. There’s little to mark Duluth’s most famous son – a highway named Bob Dylan Way which I walked by chance the first evening at sundown and the air where a statue doesn’t stand, as the recent crowdfunding attempt failed. I understand there’s a small music festival annually. The city can certainly make more of their legend.

bob dylans childhood home duluth

You can see Highway 61 from the porch

2. The journey over

My talk was entitled: Not The Usual Suspects and looked at getting competitive edge in TV and film through diversity of all kinds. It seems to have gone down well as people have been stopping me in the street and giving me lovely feedback. They say stuff like “your talk made me cry” and I have to check “For the right reasons I hope!” – I showed a couple of moving documentary clips including Mushi’s King’s Speech triumph in Educating Yorkshire, made at Channel 4 (UK) during my time there.

bob dylan duluth

Bob’s next-door neighbor

“The Usual Suspects” phrase comes from Casablanca (made the year after Dylan’s birth). In the talk I showed the diversity of the people who made this ‘American classic’, from the Swede Ingrid Bergman to the Jewish scriptwriters, the Epstein brothers. By chance the movie was available on the plane over so I watched it for the first time in about five years. It brought me back of course to Robert McKee’s long-running Story course which includes a day dissecting the film from a story structure perspective. I remember that being riveting at the time, this was in the late 80s near the start of my career. John Cleese, sci-fi writer Brian Aldiss and nascent director Joanna Hogg were among my cohort of fellow students.

4 things I noticed this time out:

(i) the symbol of drinking/wine glasses knocked over and righted again
(ii) the ironic reference to how fast Nazis can kill

Victor Laszlo:

And what if you track down these men and kill them, what if you killed all of us? From every corner of Europe, hundreds, thousands would rise up to take our places. Even Nazis can’t kill that fast.

That was 1941-42 (when the Epstein brothers wrote the script) – little did they know of what would come to pass in the wake of the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, seven months after the birth of little Jewish Robert Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota (aka Bob Dylan). The Final Solution set in motion there could manage hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, millions.

(iii) the images of stripes in the film – on Bogart’s tie, on Bergman’s dress, the blinds in Rick’s office, all seem to suggest that life requires a choice between the black and white options before us. It’s resonant watching the film in a week where Trump’s isolationist withdrawal from Northern Syria has precipitated the attack of the Kurds by the Turks, sowing more chaos in the Middle East.

(iv) the theme of race and interracial relationships – the friendship and partnership between Rick and Sam must have been unusual and progressive in 1942. Sam gets 25% of the profits of Rick’s American Bar. There is a real, tangible mutual affection between the two which flies in the face of the Charlottesville era.

As I was watching the film, ironically I was filling in a form to get a German passport (my father and grandfather were born in Leipzig, German like Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser) and Ingrid Bergman’s mother). The movie is full of people seeking paperwork to escape oppressive regimes, nationalism, divisive ideas and narrow minds. There was a real resonance in the coincidence of art and life in this aeroplane seat.

casablanca-plane movie 1942

Planes are central to ‘Casablanca’

3. Sight restored

One of my fellow speakers on the Storyworld part of the conference had a small eye treatment just under two weeks ago. It involved flashing lights, no surgery, took around 15 minutes. As a result the sight was restored to one of his eyes that had not seen in the half-century of his life – he had been living with monocular vision which was blurry and 2D. His bad eye it turned out was physically OK but not wired in right to the brain. This quick intervention, a doctor’s hunch,  jump-started the connection. The real highlight of this trip was to see this New Yorker revel in his new-found vision like a child. After the morning of our talks, we went out back of the old brewery which was the venue and he was struggling with the richness and dynamism of the scene – the expanse of Lake Superior, the biggest of the five Great Lakes, was too much to take in: the bright colours under the sun, the ever-moving waves, were making the ground beneath his feet move and blowing his mind. His brain is clearly still making adjustments to having two working eyes. Since the change, his lifelong OCD tendencies have disappeared overnight. The joy of his rediscovery of how the world looks, experiencing life anew in this way was an absolute privilege to witness. Like the innocent joy of infancy.

lake superior duluth minnesota by adam gee

a superior lake for sure

4. Lake walks

I went for a long walk on Friday afternoon along the shore. Lake Superior appears more like a sea than a lake, it is so huge. First along the red stone beach, to the 1909 iron lighthouse on a long concrete jetty by the port entrance, over the massive metal lifting-bridge which is the emblem of the city, to the narrow white beaches beyond, which a fellow conference participant told me are the longest in the world for an inland body of water. It takes a freighter seven days to get from this most westerly port city to the Atlantic via the St Lawrence Seaway. I sat on a beach dune reading a Lew Archer and listening to the rhythm of the small lapping shoreline waves, grateful for such opportunities to travel and see the world afresh.

lifting bridge lake superior duluth minnesota by adam gee

bridges not walls

Adventures in the Writing Trade: Day 4

Friday ended up as a frustrating feeling day. A lot of loose ends. Nothing finished. Including my relatively short To Do list. Saturday (yesterday) by contrast finished with me hitting send as a fired over three useful documents to my co-writer, Doug Miller. A mark-up of his outline. A set of notes collating the helpful, considered responses to my online call-out. And a response to Doug’s initial thoughts on how best to collaborate in practice. A satisfying, rounded-off feeling to conclude the day.

It’s important to live with mess, loose ends, even chaos in the writing process, indeed in all creative endeavour. It’s getting over that hump, bringing back some order in the face of the most out-of-control prospect, which usually marks where the creative achievement lies.

view from the summit of Lambay Island County Dublin Ireland

View from the summit down to the harbour

After lunch we headed up to the summit I had visited the day before. This time it was as a group, led by our hostess who is one of the two prime-movers on the island. I had a lovely chat with her on the way up, quite deep for a modest walk. At the triangulation point on the top there was a real sense of a cohort, a group bonded across very different experiences, backgrounds and personalities. Two of the Americans asked me to explain what we were looking at so I pointed out Howth Head as the North end of Dublin Bay and the Wicklow Mountains as the Southern limit; Rush and Malahide opposite; the small islands of Skerries looking North, and at the limits of our view the Mourne Mountains, faint in the distance, where my Other Half comes from. The panorama was epic, a beautiful subtle palette of blues and greys and delicate purples in the autumnal sunshine.

view of Howth from Lambay Island County Dublin Ireland

View of Howth Head from Lambay

On returning to the white house we did our second writing workshop with Jonathan (Gosling) on Style. Clarity; Pace; Engagement were the factors we considered. I focused on the opening of my as yet unfinished book When Sparks Fly, on the creative rewards of openness and generosity – a subject closely allied, it turns out, to the book on Collaboration Doug approached me about (the focus of my efforts this week). It was a helpful exercise and I could see at least a couple of things to improve – too long sentences in a quest for fluency/flow and questionable assumptions about how Digital Culture is perceived by many people.

The day before our first workshop was on our relationship to Writing. By using two observers as we spoke concisely about writing’s role in our lives, one recording facts, the other emotions, we quickly got some real insights into our work and ambitions. A really useful technique I hope to deploy in some other context soon. Probably starting with the MDes course on Story-telling I am teaching at the end of the year at Ravensbourne university/film school.

After the workshop I made a bee-line to the harbour to take advantage of the strong late afternoon sun. Donning my new Finisterre swimming trunks I strode into the September sea and dived in. It was …fresh. Envigorating.

Commercial Break: Coincidence No. 477

I am out for a walk in St Agnes, Cornwall during my summer break a few weeks ago. It’s a bit rainy so I head up from the cliff top inland towards where I’ve been told (by Joya & Lucy of Surf Girls Jamaica, both locals, hence my choice of St Agnes to sojourn in) there is a small business estate where there’s the HQ of a great surf clothing retailer called Finisterre. I eventually come across it, go in and buy some swimming trunks, shirts and a lime green recycled plastic water bottle. As the shop assistant is wrapping up my stuff he explains a bit about the business, how well it is doing, where the branches are, there’s even one up in London. Oh, where’s that? Earlham Street.

I work at Red Bull at 42 Earlham Street. I’ve never noticed Finisterre.

I have the harbour to myself, except for sharing it for a few moments with a black Labrador. The tide is out, the sand is smooth, the water cold (colder than Donegal a couple of weeks ago) but bearable, soon really refreshing. After the swim I feel amazing. I chat to a couple of Dubs from Howth over for a nature walk day trip. The wife shows me on her phone a photo of their view of Lambay from Howth village.

IMG_7492 lambay island harbour white house cottages county dublin ireland

I finish the day tying those loose ends on the lawn, my spot du choix. I also connect the lady-boss of the island to an old colleague & friend of mine who lives on the Isle of Eigg. Eigg has done an amazing job pioneering green energy & sustainable living, and my friend Lucy has been enthusiastically involved in driving those efforts. The Lambay Trust has similar ambitions. I’m glad I made the connection during our walk&talk.

Creativity, in my view, revolves around Connections. This includes the people connections offered by a writing retreat like this. And the factual/conceptual connections such as Lambay is a proto Eigg.

I bought myself a book from the island on Friday – it was my birthday present to myself. From my family, I asked for a new walk as a gift.  The book is In Praise of Walking by Shane O’Mara. Mara is Irish for sea. John of the Sea. It explores the science of walking and why it is good for us. I am convinced it is very good for Creativity, hence my early morning walks every day on Lambay. Here are a couple of quotations on Walking I recently gathered.

“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.”

Steven Wright (US comedian)

Triangulating History

22.vii.18

The river ouse at rodmell sussex virgina woolf

This I reckon is the spot (River Ouse, Rodmell)

I went to visit Monk’s House, Virginia & Leonard Woolf’s cottage in the quiet East Sussex village of Rodmell. I was here years ago with Una and it left an impression, I was happy to return. Because I arrived before opening time (the cottage is now looked after by the National Trust) I sat reading for an hour in the nearby local churchyard, St Peter’s. At noon I had a look around the gardens with its view of the South Downs and then had a look around Virginia’s bedroom, with its monk-like single bed and set of Shakespeare beautifully bound by her, and a wander through the ground floor rooms of the cottage, with paintings by Leonard’s shared woman (post-Virginia), Trekkie Parsons, who split her week between Leonard and her husband at the marital home nearby. All par for the Bloomsbury course.

st peters church rodmell east sussex

St Peter’s churchyard, Rodmell

Of course Bloomsbury is rich in colourful tales, none less fascinating than the one the National Trust volunteer at the entrance to the cottage reminded me of, the way she eventually killed herself by walking from the cottage to the river Ouse, just beyond Monk’s House’s grounds, put stones in her pockets and walked in, drowning in what a local told me is a river with strong tidal currents. Not that day – in the midst of a heatwave there was barely enough water to immerse yourself in, the level less than half-way to the line marked by green vestiges of the high water mark.

IMG_4340 garden of monks house rodmell virginia woolf

Leonard & Virginia’s beloved garden, Monk’s House, Rodmell – St Peter’s in the background

I decided to go find the spot, mainly because I wanted to walk by the river which I really love, rather than for ghoulish motivations. That no-one seemed to know where the actual spot was was more of a prompt.

view from St Peters church rodmell sussex

view from Rodmell (St Peter’s churchyard)

I’ve done this kind of triangulation of history before. Two memorable ones include figuring out where Patrick Pearse read the Proclamation of Irish Independence in 1916 and standing there exactly 100 years to the minute after that momentous event. And working out where Tony Visconti and his lover kissed by the Berlin Wall, a moment immortalised in David Bowie’s Heroes. In the latter case, my estimation was subsequently confirmed as correct.

thistles at southease east sussex by river ouse

The start of the river path at Southease

For this one I went down to Southease, the adjacent hamlet, and walked down to the river under the blazing summer sun. I walked along the raised embankment back in the direction of Rodmell. By using the spire of St Peter’s I was able to align myself with the garden of Monk’s House and there is only one natural path to that spot along the edge of a field which must have been pretty much adjoining the Woolf’s land. On the basis that Virginia would have wanted to just get to the river and do the deed the place where she walked into the river is the spot shown in the first picture above.

A very resonant and tragic act in a very beautiful and peaceful place.

river ouse at rodmell sussex southease

Profumo promenade

32352535800_439c9fc7cb_k

17 Wimpole Mews, Marylebone, London W1

This weekend’s wander had the theme of Profumo, a pole to pole stroll from Stephen Ward’s house at which the Profumo Affair kicked off to Peter Rachman’s love nest for Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies where all the pieces of the puzzle assembled.

The signs weren’t good. I lost my favourite pale blue & grey scarf, given to me years ago by Una, on the tube from Hampstead (where Rachman lived) to Oxford Circus. I got shat on by a pigeon (supposedly lucky but I’ve never bought that). And then I got to Stephen Ward’s house at 17 Wimpole Mews, Marylebone and it had been killed by developers. Has no-one got any respect for history any more?

8290815395_fc4127115d_o

1962 and 2012 {photo courtesy of Euronomad}

Above you can see the place on Friday 14th December 1962 after Johnny Edgecombe lost his shit with Christine Keeler and fired at the door in a vain attempt to get in to where Christine and Mandy were cowering. The bottom picture was taken on Friday 14th December 2012, exactly 50 years on, by Euronomad. Whilst it had been modernised by 2012, it’s now been ripped to pieces by barbarian property developers.

Lost scarf, bird shit, desecrated history – the walk wasn’t going so well.

I headed westwards through Marylebone, across Baker Street, towards Montagu Square and Bryanston Square. In the corner of a mews by the latter is the small house where Peter Rachman installed first Christine and later Mandy.

31889024274_c360c3dff4_k

1 Bryanston Mews West, W1

32608969001_760868b490_k

Rachman of course was dead before Edgecombe fired those fatal shots but that didn’t stop the press and establishment making him the second scapegoat of the Profumo Affair, alongside Ward who they would hound to his death soon enough.

Here’s where Rachman lived when life was a little rosier for him. He’d pop down the hill to Bryanston Mews for a shag or a chat.

28830191533_ea1dc9d460_o

Rachman’s house in Winnington Road

To raise the tone of the walk I made a small diversion a couple of streets away from Mandy’s shag-pad to one of the London homes of T. S. Eliot. TSE died in January 1965, just after the Scandal. According to Frederick Tomlin (in T. S. Eliot: A Friendship) Eliot was disturbed by the serious corruption in public life indicated by the Profumo Affair. He strongly disapproved of the letter Kenneth Tynan and Angus Wilson had written defending Ward (although that might have been on account of the review Tynan had written of The Elder Statesman).

31889024454_3f7fa83715_k

Corner of Crawford Street & Homer Row – Eliot lived at 18 Crawford Mansions, 62-66 Crawford Street, W1 from 1916 until 1920

Eliot must have enjoyed living on Homer Row (not his official postal address but as much his street as Crawford Street, the entrance to his block being on that side). Eliot read Homer at Harvard and borrowed some of his characters throughout his career. Tireseus from The Odyssey, for example, makes an appearance in The Waste Land.

And there on poets’ corner my own mini-odyssey came to a more salubrious but less colourful conclusion. Personally I would have liked to see an intact 17 Wimpole Mews with its very own plaque, indicating respect for modern epics.

Et tu Brutalist?

I had a great London wander today – theme: Brutalist Architecture. First outing for my Brutalist London Map which I got from the Twentieth Century Society via Blue Crow Media (beautifully designed, for a mere 8 quid).

24076999424_3b052a3a92_o

I had a pre-outing last weekend to Trellick Tower on Golborne Road. The architect Erno Goldfinger shares a birthday with me (and John Martyn) so I have a bit of a soft spot for him. My niece lives there so I got to capture some of the interiors…

24567813135_a2213e6557_o

Trellick Tower

24485531361_811524dfb8_o

Entrance hall windows (rear)

23941798643_c1a8e0f70d_o

24544173456_2dfa12867f_o

I headed East this morning to Blackwall on the Docklands Light Railway. First stop Robin Hood Gardens in E14. Although the 20th Century Society is fighting to get it listed and indeed saved, personally I found it terrible architecture and even worse housing. As I walked around the estate two separate people asked me whether I was there for the consultation – the second was an architect type. He told me there was a big session taking place today regarding the redevelopment of the whole area so it looks like it’s a gonner (no tears).

24346931389_d115b32e70_k

Robin Hood Gardens, Poplar, London E14

Fortunately within 5 minutes walk is Balfron Tower, the 1967 precursor by Goldfinger to Trellick Tower (1972).

24688426696_d1f8f9a018_k

Balfron Tower, London E14

Trellick was definitely an improvement, partly because it has a far better site. The nautical touch of Trellick’s tower is evident in a smaller block adjacent to Balfron called Glenkerry House.

24688434216_4b4da49da7_k

Glenkerry House

I sailed off North West from there across E14 and E3 to E2 where two further Brutalist sites beckoned. Leaving views of Canary Wharf Tower and the Docklands behind me, under blue skies in bright winter sun I walked along canals (Limehouse Cut and the Regent’s Canal at Mile End), through back streets, past Victorian churches and factories, until I got to the estates behind Roman Road. And there waited two beauties by Denys Lasdun, architect of the National Theatre, one of the most well known Brutalist buildings in the city.

First the exquisite Trevelyan House, gleaming white against the azure sky.

24087816003_ad02fdb53a_k

Trevelyan House

It is characterised by the central staircase/lift shaft connecting its two halves. A couple of roads away is a sister block, Sulkin House.

24688463216_b7d6979d06_k

Sulkin House

So that’s the first flânage from my Brutalist London Map. I bought a pear from the fruit stall behind Sulkin exchanging badinage with the West Ham supporting stall holder and his dad, thanks to my Spurs scarf (from Savile Rogue). Then an Italian coffee from two lovely Italian girls on the Roman Road. Lunch at Pellicci’s on Bethnal Green Road, Est. 1900, served by the grandson of the founder, proper Cockney, all the staff super-welcoming, sat with a chatty second-generation Irish couple from Walthamstow. Final stop – Flashback Records down the street where I picked up a copy of Lola by The Kinks, boys from my manor.

Headed back to my manor after 5 hours walking with a spring in my step as the sun set on a brutally beautiful day.

24714645745_052bcdc394_k

The photos are all here.

%d bloggers like this: