Archive for the ‘travel’ Tag

4 highlights from Deluth

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 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.

“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’. 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 falshing 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 mono-ocular vision which was blurry and 2D. His other 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.

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

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4 places worth visiting in Caernarfon

I am writing this in Chester station on my way home from Caernarfon aka Carnarvon. I noticed on the small train along the coast opposite Anglesey that Caer is Welsh for Chester so there seems to be a link. I’m guessing Caer means Castle but I have no idea what Narfon signifies. What I do know is that Caernarfon is a Stronghold of Chilling Out. When my work (for TAC [Welsh PACT] and S4C) was done, the rest of my time there was largely spent on the

(1) Harbour

wall, overlooking the Menai Strait across to Anglesey. I plonked myself there with the old copy of ‘The Quiet American’ I had half-inched in desperation having finished my book (‘A Woman of No Importance’ by Sophie Purnell) on the first day. The Graham Greene was the perfect read for the warm sun and the cafe terrace overlooking the harbour, an open terrace attached to the arts centre from which piano tinklings and snatches of musicals drifted gently down. The whole place was a haven of tranquility into which the sunshine poured all afternoon, culminating in magnificent sunsets across the waters.

Caernarfon Carnarvon Harbour Wales sunset

(2) The Black Boy Inn

Apparently the place to get food in the town. In an alley off the charming, narrow High Street. Thai mussels and a G&T hit the spot. It was a friendly joint and I met a bunch of Yanks of Welsh extraction from Oregon. I was wearing a T-shirt with three native Americans on horseback and the slogan “Homeland Security: Fighting Terrorism since 1492”. I was given it in the early 2000s at the Ormeau Baths in Belfast by graffiti artist Kev Largey during the launch of Channel 4’s IdeasFactory Northern Ireland (which I was responsible for). I was pretty confident I was the only person in the world who still had this T. But it turned out the fella in the Oregon trio also has it. Small world.

Caernarfon Carnarvon Wales castle flag

(3) The Anglesey pub

I’m not even into pubs really but this one has a magnificent view across the Strait, in the shadow of the castle walls. I was told the most popular Welsh pop song of recent times is set here and portrays some of its regulars. I also heard that at 11pm the swing bridge adjacent to the pub opens and stays that way until 6am. That means when the klaxon sounds you have to down your pint and leg it or face a 40-minute walk around the water to get home. I’d love to watch klaxon time.

Caernarfon Carnarvon Wales Menai Strait sunset

Menai Strait from The Anglesey

(4) Everywhere

around this town you hear Welsh being spoken in an everyday, mundane, quotidian, alive way. That I’ve not heard even in the Gaeltacht of Ireland, a minority language spoken by people going about their day-to-day business, meeting on the street. Caernarfon, the Online Content Commissioner of Channel 4’s sister station, S4C, told me, is a stronghold of spoken Welsh.  It was a real delight (particularly for a Mediaeval & Modern Languages graduate) to hear Welsh in full flow.

Caernarfon Carnarvon Wales statue Lloyd George

Lloyd George in full flow

Highway 1 Revisited – California recommendations

Easy-riding in Venice CA

Easy-riding in Venice CA

LA

sunset marquis hotel pool los angeles

Sunset Marquis hotel [Sunset & Alta Lomo]

Fun for its rock excess vibe/history and proximity to Sunset Strip, plus it’s something of an oasis despite being a stone’s throw from Sunset.

mels diner drive in sunset boulevard los angeles
Mel’s Diner [8585 Sunset + Hollywood & Vine]

Made this old school diner my office. Great for breakfast and lashings of ice tea on a scorching day. The table-top jukebox adds to the pleasure.

book-soup book store sunset boulevard los angeles

Book Soup [8818 Sunset]

A proper independent book store which is a joy to browse. Also has a bit of vinyl tucked down the back.

gjusta los angeles venice

Gjusta [320 Sunset Ave, Venice, CA]

A bakery in an old boat factory – lots of exposed brick and Californian healthiness. Not cheap but fun to eat out back – in particular yoghurt & honey and beigels. Met a starlette here.

venice-canals-bridge los angeles venice

Venice Canals

Where Venice gets its name from and where Jim and The Doors got photographed. A tranquil backwater well worth a wander.

San Luis Obispo

boo-boo record shop san luis obispo

Boo Boo Records [Monterey St]

An absolute top record store with lashings of vinyl, new and second-hand. Total delight.

Big Sur

upper-creek-and-lower creek house big sur california

Deetjen’s – Upper Creek House

The quintessential cabin in the woods – off the grid, back to nature, cosy fire in the hearth (as opposed to the horror movie sort).

Monterey

Monterey Bay Aquarium_Kelp Forest

Monterey Aquarium

I’m not usually too in to such things but this is a real model for how to present nature and sea-life. Wondrous and beautiful.

Old Capitol Books [559 Tyler St]

Fine second-hand book store with a big selection and plenty of gems.

San Francisco

boogaloos valencia mission san francisco

Boogaloos [Valencia & 22nd]

Fun diner with staff who like comic books and stuff, in a striking Victorian building (old drugstore?).

baby blues bbq mission st mission san francisco

Baby Blues BBQ [3149 Mission St]

The real McCoy. Honest to goodness American food – great sauces and staff.

Biking the Bridge [Fisherman’s Wharf to Sausalito]

Cross the Golden Gate Bridge on a two-wheeled steed. Joyful and thrilling, especially when you’re being wind-blasted as you cross the bridge. Blazing Saddles was a good bike supplier and the name is irresistible of course – get 20% off by booking online, even on the day.

City Lights [Columbus & Broadway]

Perhaps a cliche of San Francisco …but who cares – a genuine book-lovers’ bookstore with, of course, an illustrious history. Live life to a different Beat.

City Lights 2015

City Lights 2015

City Lights 2004

City Lights 2004

Baby Blues BBQ

Baby Blues BBQ

Prince of Denmark (Day 51)

hamlet-laurence-olivier

Taking the show back out on the road – this time to Copenhagen for CPH:DOX, the annual documentary film festival, and an emerging sub-set called SWIM which focuses on multiplatform/transmedia for storytelling, distribution and financing. Installed myself on arrival in a lovely room overlooking the 19C University of Copenhagen buildings. It was a drizzly day, much like the last time I visited around four years ago, same time, same place. But I enthusiastically did a super-fast turnaround and was out on the street again in minutes with my Savile Rogue Spurs scarf (a cozy present from the excellent Street League – do go look) and a moderately waterproof coat (though the same can’t be said of the boots). In other words I shifted my normal 9-5 day to make room for some touristing.

I’d used the ambiguously named SAS flight to carry on with the first draft of my commercial creativity  project and to do more Comedy research, focusing on Peter Cook.

Back on the streets of Copenhagen, I headed towards Christiania, the hippy zone I’d set off to visit last time but had got caught in a rainstorm and taken shelter in the Jewish Museum designed by Daniel Libeskind. This time I got all the way to the so-called Green Light Zone where hoodies and beanies of the world unite. I’m too old for that shit. Found myself a quiet candle-lit café for a late lunch of fried herring heralded by a steaming glass of glogg (spiced wine). Throw in a copy of Uncut with a long article about singer-songwriters and that’s me happy.

Headed back to the hotel satisfied and damp. Took off my rain-drenched socks and hit the keyboard big-time, very much in the mood. More work on my model chapter With a Little Help from My Friend centred on Literature and Allen Ginsberg.

Took a few minutes to tidy up plans for a Channel 4 team visit to Arte on Friday in Paris (after which I plan to go check out the Beat Hotel in rue Git-le-Coeur when Ginsberg nearly got hooked on smack, the only time his drugs ever got out of control). And a few minutes thinking about Working Title which Enfant Terrible No. 1 is studying in Media Studies. Then back to business, inspired by the university library opposite, still fully lit towards midnight, walls of colourfully bound books illuminated in the arched windows (perhaps inevitably, no students in evidence).

University of Copenhagen library

This above all: to thine own self be true

richard burton hamlet

Osama Loves

Farrah and MasoodThis morning two young British Muslims, Farrah and Masood, set off on a 50 day mission right across the Islamic world. Their goal: to meet 500 Osamas. Why set out to meet so many people with the same first name? ‘Osama’ conjours up the most prevalent cliches of Islam in the minds of most non-Muslims. By seeking out 500 people with that name – people of all ages, shapes and sizes, backgrounds, hopes and loves – Osama Loves seeks to undermine the cliche and put a human face on Islam, whilst showing the diversity of Islamic culture across the globe.

The project came about when my fellow Channel 4 commissioner, Aaqil Ahmed, came to ask me if I had any ideas about how to give his Islamic culture TV season (The Wonders of Islam) an online dimension. He had commissioned a very special documentary about the Qur’an, a series about the Seven Wonders of Islam and some other programmes, all highlighting the diversity of Muslim culture beyond the Middle East. So that was the brief: show how varied Islamic culture is across the world.

I had been talking to Andy Bell at Mint Digital for a long time about doing a project together but it never quite happened, the right thing hadn’t come along. From chatting to Andy I knew he had recently married a Muslim woman, that he had a strong interest in things spiritual, and that he had insight into both worlds. We bounced a few ideas around, brought in other colleagues from Mint, combined a few themes and merged some ideas until we had the participative journey that is Osama Loves: Searching for 500 Faces of Islam.

So today that journey starts and Farrah and Masood are going to need all the help they can get… If you know an Osama or can help them on their travels in any way please do let them know via the site’s blog comments.

The question came up while we were developing the Ed Spec, what if they find That Osama (the cliche one)? We wrote into the Specification that if that were to happen Mint definitely get a second series with a decent budget 😉

Another important question is why are our young travelers bothering to cross continents in search of names and faces? Let me briefly tell you Farrah’s story. She was doing her medical training in East London when one day she finds herself in an operating theatre into which is wheeled a patient for an amputation. It struck her as odd how young this patient was – usually there are years of artery furring abuse behind an amputation like this. To cut a long and sad story short, the patient that day was one of the victims of the 7/7 bombings in London. Suddenly the reality of that outrage, committed by men with very similar backgrounds to Farrah herself (a fact that quickly struck her), that outrage shook her identity to the core. Now she’s on a mission and this time it’s personal: to prove that That Osama does not represent her community, to explore what Islamic culture and belief really means to her, and to provide insight into the day-to-day realities of Muslim communities, their concerns and hopes, their perspectives and loves. “Osama” and “Loves” are not two words you often hear together, or expect to. This initiative is yoking them together whether That Osama likes it or not.

Talking of Thes and Thats, for now I’ll leave the last words to Matt Johnson of The The. I met him once when I was working with Tim Pope and Pete Goddard who made some of their best promos – Matt made me a cup of tea the first time he came into the office in Marshall Street – tea-making was my realm at that point in my first job so it was a generous gesture which hasn’t been forgotten. Writing the last paragraph punctuated with “Loves” reminded me of this song of his about two people walking away from death and conquering with love:

Me and my friend were walking
In the cold light of mourning.
Tears may blind the eyes but the soul is not deceived
In this world even winter ain’t what it seems.

Here come the blue skies, here comes springtime.
When the rivers run high and the tears run dry.
When everything that dies
Shall rise

Love love love is stronger than death
Love love love is stronger than death

In our lives we hunger for those we cannot touch.
All the thoughts unuttered and all the feelings unexpressed
Play upon our hearts like the mist upon our breath.
But, awoken by grief, our spirits speak
How could you believe that the life within the seed
That grew arms that reached
And a heart that beat
And lips that smiled
And eyes that cried
Could ever die?

Love love love is stronger than death
Love love love is stronger than death

Shall rise, shall rise
Shall rise, shall rise.

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