I did go to Yellowstone, and to the overlook of the falls. I took out the camera and tripod to set up and looking realized my errors. The canyon is deep and in winter is mostly in shadow, and then in the afternoon the sun is low, and as it happens the canyon runs north-south so the sun comes dancing into the lens making refractions. Not at all the image I had imagined, so I made a fast decision, packed up the camera, and headed back towards Butte. Slept in the van at well below freezing in the touristy town, West Yellowstone, right at the edge of the park. And the next day went back to Butte.
Along the way I passed Hebgen Lake which formed in 1988 after an earthquake. Yellowstone is full of hot springs and is very active because it sits atop a vast caldera, with a huge mass of molten magma just beneath it, a mass which has moved over time – 16 million years – from far south in north eastern Oregon, through Idaho, to its present place. It could erupt anytime (now or in another 500,000 years) and largely destroy the vast region around it and cast a cloud of volcanic dust sufficient to bring on another ice age. It could…
I passed then through what by American eyes are old towns from the Gold Rush of the 1880’s – scarcely a blink in European time scales. These towns, like much in America, were born by economic bonanzas – gold and silver. And they died as quickly once the metals had been extracted, and the land was left scarred.
Mine tailings outside of Virginia City
Butte is a large example of this American habit – to gouge the earth, leaving behind a deep wound, and in most cases a toxic new reality. Butte is site of one of the largest “Superfund” projects in the USA – the public cleaning up after the massive get-rich-quick schemes where some became super wealthy, and left, and those who were left behind were left abandoned and poisoned. My America.
The Berkeley Pit in winter.So long to friends – Hamer, your father, Marshall, Clark and Hal
In Butte I said good-bye, most likely for a last time, to some good friends. Shot a little too, for something that I may or may not finish, and then moved along towards Missoula.
On the way to Missoula.My friend Swain, in earlier days.Painting by Laurie Urfer, where I stayed in Missoula.
I went to Missoula with a heavy sense, as a dear friend, Swain Wolfe, whom I’ve known since the early 70’s, had told me he was in such pain that he didn’t want to see me as having other people around made him more cantankerous. His back, and knees and hips are crumbling, and he’s a patched together bionic man. And in chronic deep pain. A week before I was going to go I wrote and asked again and in an email he wrote simply : STAY AWAY. I contacted Laurie, who sort of lives with him, and asked to know more. She said to meet her at the Butterfly Herbs Cafe on Higgins Street. And I did. And behind her, walking slowly, was Swain, who for some time seemed grudgingly there, and then loosened up and for more than two hours regaled me with stories. He is a writer and a story-teller and I am happy to listen. Afterward we went back to his place and he quickly retired to lay down, declining a stout he suggested I get when I offered. But I’m glad he found it in himself the willingness to see me – I tried to tell him how much it, and he, meant to me. I left in the morning not seeing him again, nor do I think I ever will.
I went on then up a long familiar road, one of my favorites, that leads up the Lolo Grade from Missoula, and on to Lewistown, Washington. I took it first in 1972, when with my partner Elayne and her daughter Erinn, we moved from Oregon to near Kalispell Montana. It was on that trip that I met Swain. Later I drove it and hitch-hiked it any number of times, recently making a short film, Stand, while camping overnight beside the Lochsa River. If you wish, you can see that film on Vimeo:
Pswd: DNATS VIM.
It is about 30 minutes, slow, and seemingly a single shot. It is one of the kinds of things I have been doing the last few years.
The view to Lewistown, with the Snake River winding in the landscape.
I then went to visit other friends, who had lived with us in Kalispell in 1974 or so, staying the better part of a year. Tom and Debbie. She is a nurse, and he is a horse-trainer. They have a lovely “off the grid” place atop a very big hill outside of Potlatch Idaho. A nice, if too brief a visit. Again, I doubt I will see them again.
At Tom and Debbie’s place.
From Idaho I went across a favored region, the Palouse hills in Eastern Washington, and visited a Facebook-met friend who put me up two nights. James Winchell and his wife. Owing 100% to me – I left my van door literally wide-open over night – I was robbed of some things, a projector, a lot of DVDs, and a few other lesser things while there. One of those increasingly frequent “senior moments.”
And then, through a snow storm at Snoqualmie Pass and a terrible traffic jam around Seattle, I moved along to Port Angeles, where I have stayed many times, thanks to friend Steve Taylor (who has been in five of my films). It is rainy there in normal times, but this year it seemed more so. I had to pack up things of Marcella’s and mine to ship to Europe once we know just where.
And it gave me time off the road for a few weeks, time to rest and time to think. And to eat well: Steve is a fantastic cook. Naturally I put on a nice bit of weight and am fasting now to take it off.
While there I went to Neah Bay, the most northern and western place in mainland America. It is an Indian reservation and like most of them, it is a sad and depressing place, where the remnants of a destroyed culture languishes in poverty and despair, with the usual afflictions – meth and alcohol, domestic violence and suicide. I went to see it again – I have been there maybe 5 times, and took a shot looking out over the Pacific, thinking to begin the essay film, Plain Songs, there, in an episode I’d call “The End of America.” As far west as we could go, for the most part wrecking much along the way, magically thinking there was an infinite supply of land and things to take in our most American manner. Neah Bay is very much where we Americans are heading.
I thought to take more pictures in this place, but found that I could not. It seemed exploitative, and Native Americans have been exploited to death, quite literally. And at the same time I found it needless, to replicate the brutal ugliness of America – not just the Indian reservations, but the endless strip malls, corporate big box stores, the fetishized world of automobiles, the vast tacky housing tracts, the collapsing small towns, the endless litany of America’s tragedies. And I wondered if I should bother to make the film I had in mind which would only be lost in the crescendo of America’s shouting at itself, aimless and desperate. And I wonder now. It seems, quite honestly, pointless.
As you can see this journey is already taking its toll. It is good to see my friends again, though that is tainted by the addendum “probably for a last time.” It is good to see loved landscapes, though many have already been ravaged before my own eyes, in the short span of my life. But this is all deadened by the social and political environment in which it is placed, and that is toxic. I feel it, and it sours my soul.
I am sorry to be writing such a depressing letter, but it is what I see and feel. I rather knew this journey would be like this – each day’s news here merely amplifies the realities of this land. And all my life I have been sensitive to it, and tried to do work* which in some ways addressed it. Today it all seems for nothing. I am sure I am far from alone in this feeling.
As I promised earlier, I will write a few “hard” letters, as I think they are owed to you.
Amo-te, Clarinha ! Take care of yourself and I hope to see you when I return to Europe.
Um grande abraço,
The view from Cape Flattery at Neah Bay
[ For other thoughts which animate these, you might also see:
Or the long sequence
which all deal with the background of my current thoughts. ]
[ * ] [ For example early short films such as Traps, 13 Fragments and 3 Narratives from Life; my first long essay film Speaking Directly (1971), and then Plain Talk & Common Sense (1987), and many if not all of my narrative fictions – Angel City, Last Chants for a Slow Dance, Bell Diamond, Sure Fire, The Bed You Sleep In, Frameup and on through Homecoming, Over Here and Parable, and most recently Coming to Terms. All of these obliquely address America and its illnesses. See http://www.jonjost.altervista.org]
The last weeks have been filled with travel. Three weeks ago I was in Piangipane, recording songs. From there to London a quick day, and then the long flight to Seattle, a train to Portland where I had only a handful of days before taking a train to Dunsmuir – a lovely small town in the north of California. And from there a ride from friend to Redding to get my van and drive immediately about 1000 kilometers to Boise Idaho. And the next day on to Salmon and then to Butte, where I am now.
Tomorrow I will go to Yellowstone National Park to shoot a landscape film, something I wanted to do a few years ago, but did not. This, I think, is my last chance to do so. It will be from “artist’s point” and based on a famous 19th century American painting by Thomas Moran. He did many versions, capturing the varying light and atmospheres. I will stay the whole day, a single shot. Weatherman says it will be cold….
Yellowstone Falls, by Thomas Moran
In the next months I will try again to make a final essay film on America, which I began in 2012, but then abandoned. You can read about it here: https://americanplainsongs.wordpress.com/
I am already full of doubts – a confusion about America, a question whether at my age my body will tolerate the hardships of this travel, and other things which I write of in the blog I have pointed you to.
I will try to write to you as this journey unfolds. It is in a way a difficult voyage I am on – to say goodbye to friends, most of whom I do not expect to ever see again, and to say good bye to this country, which, however much I have disagreed with it over my life-time, remains my “home” and is the culture from which I have emerged. I do not intend to return again. So this is a trip of another kind, weighted with a meaning far beyond simple traveling.
Site of the Battle of Big Hole
As I travel I will be passing not only through a landscape, but also a history of which I am a part. It is not a nice history, but one stained with America’s deep sins – as in the image above, the landscape where yet another tribe of the continent’s original inhabitants were attacked and destroyed, in this instance the Nez Perce tribe.
Or where I am now, Butte, a mining town where the minerals are ripped from the earth, in this case it is mostly copper, but also other metals, in a process which leaves the area toxic and poisons those who live here. Those who made their fortunes all left, and left behind the vast mess they made for others to either clean up, or simply accept. This is my country.
I will in the coming months write to you a letter, probably in a few parts, that is more difficult – about the world which has been given to you, the planet which our species has radically altered and has made perhaps untenable for us, and many other species. It is not easy to write of such things to a young daughter, a person whose life is fresh and new. But it is a letter which I feel I owe you.
Amo-te, Clarinha !
Just a short note as I am tired from the last weeks of travel from Ragusa to Matera, then to Bologna and nearby Ravenna where I spent 5 days recording songs – 21 of them – with my friend Christian Ravaglioli. He is a wonderful musician and has a good at-home recording studio. My songs and guitar, his mixing wizardry. And then to London one day, and on to Seattle and immediately another 3 hours on a train to Portland. My 74 year old body feels it!
I go shortly to California to get my van and begin this last long trip through America. To show things and perhaps to shoot a final essay on my country. I am not sure I will do so or not.
Meantime I wanted to let you know of a film showing now at the festival there in Lisboa. It showed last night, but will show one more time at the Culturgest, at 4 pm, on Monday. It is by a young, 25 years old, Welsh filmmaker, done with an i-Phone, and is truly beautiful and a stunning work. It is titled Sleep Has Her House, and I think it would be good for you (and your friends) to see it. Here is one review, and here is an interview. When I can find the time I hope to write something about it. Really try to go see it. And be patient – it is slow but it works.
I will try to write again in a few weeks when I am settled down for a bit at a friend’s house in Washington State.
Teu pai, jon
[Note: time went fast, readying to leave took up all the time and this is late.]
We are almost all packed up to go, things boxed, the last minute rush of things to do before moving. At first to Matera a week, then to Piangipane, near Ravenna, to record some songs, and then via London on to the USA. Marcella goes to Belfast to try to set us up to live there. I go on the road to screen films and shoot a final essay-film on America.
[The earlier ones were Speaking Directly, 1972, and then Plain Talk & Common Sense (uncommon senses), 1987.]
Writing now from little Piangipane, near Ravenna. Here to record 19 or 20 songs. And then on to the USA after a brief stop in London. No time now really to write, so I send along some pictures. I had meant to write a letter, something a bit serious, and maybe in the next days I can find the time. But for now I send this.
Amo-te, Clarinha !
In the last month we spent 2 weeks in Berlin, taking care of a friend’s apartment while he and his wife went for a few weeks to the Baltic. It was mostly lovely, not hot, rained a bit, but nice enough to get in a lot of bicycling around the city. A good time, visiting old friends, making some new ones.
Theo & Judith
Theo Eshetu and Judith – she’s an actress, and Theo I have known since ’94, since meeting him in Rome. He has a big video installation piece up at the current Dokumenta in Kassel. All the reviews of Dokumenta cite his work as one of the best things in it.
Thomas Schulz, an artist I’ve known since ’79 or so. Way back then he was working on a sound-piece based on the English Channel “Chunnel” which was being constructed then. Powerful stuff. We had a nice long light lunch in his studio, cheese and wine and lots of talk. Fun.
Selfie on bikes.
Erika & Ulrich Gregor
Erika and Ulrich Gregor. They are retired now but used to run the Berlinale Forum, where I was a frequent guest until 1993. And they long ago started the Arsenal Kino. I’ve known them since 1977 or so. Had a nice lunch at the old Paris Bar and heard lots of interesting stories from them.
Bernd Cailloux, a writer friend. He was in a film for me way back in 1984, something I never finished, but think perhaps to return to Berlin to use the old work (it was almost finished but I had no money to wrap it up) as a kind of time-capsule and put it in the context of a new frame of present Berlin. We shall see about that! He had a lot of stories to tell as we nursed some beers – 3 hours and more of things to tell. Little wonder he is a writer!
Carmen Tartarotti, a film-video maker I have known since 81 or so. I shot a film for her in Frankfurt back then, and see her now and then since. She gave us a copy of a lovely film she recently made, Non possiamo sognare un cielo limpido. She shot in her home region of Alto Adige (Tirol), a documentary very quietly done about two very old nuns living in a convent there. She is thinking of doing a film in Istanbul and perhaps Marcella will help her.
Marcella, Francesco and John
Marcella and two new friends for us, Francesco Campitelli and John E Woods – they’re partners. Francesco is the brother of Lela, a friend we have in Matera, and teaches at a school for difficult kids in Berlin, and John is a highly regarded translator of books, German to English.
We’ll be in Ragusa another month, and then I go to the USA, for a long journey to see friends, perhaps to shoot at last a final essay film about America, and to probably say good-bye to the USA. And make some money. Marcella, for the moment will go to Belfast, where her sister Chicca lives, though perhaps she’ll join me later on the trip. I expect to be back in Europe next May, and if things work out well for Marcella, we’d be in Belfast.
More or less the coming trip – over 6 months.
Summer in Berlin.
By that time you will have had your 21st birthday. I have not seen you since you were a bit older than four years of age. We both know why. If, in the next month, you decide you’d like to see me before I go to the US, you need only contact me – here, or on my Facebook page, (https://www.facebook.com/jon.jost.9), or however you wish, and I’d get a ticket and fly to Lisboa. Otherwise it will be another year before I have a chance to see you there in Portugal. I am not getting any younger, as is normal. In the last year a handful of friends or people I have known have died: Peter Hutton, Dan Cornell, Sam Shepard – they were all younger than me. (See this for more.) As I have written before, it is important for you and your life for you to see and know me a little before it is too late. You need only let me know and I will come.
I hope you have had a wonderful summer, where ever you have been. And I hope might hear from you before I leave for America.
Teu pai, jon
Across the Rummelsburg See, where we stayed in Berlin – view from the terrace.
Amo-te, Clarinha !!
Ragusa Superiore, on the upper left is where we live
The last month and a half have been busy with guests – at first Jane from New York, and then our friends Hyun-suk and Seong-hee, from Korea, and then Marcella’s sister Chicca and her companion Peter, from Belfast in Northern Ireland. We went around to Palermo, Catania, and other places nearby Ragusa. Now a little break of a few weeks, and we go to Berlin for two weeks, and finally back. But only for 6 weeks, and then we leave, still not quite sure for where. I send these now, and later I try to find time to write.
I suppose you are at the beach, or have been or will be. I hope it is lovely there and your summer is being everything you would wish.
Teu pai, jon
Church detail, PalermoStreet scene, poor immigrant part of PalermoDinner out along the harbor in Palermo, with Hyun-suk, Seong-hee, Marcella and Simon CrosbieWall, PalermoDetail of facade in Catania
Peter Murray, Chicca’s companion
Granite cafe con pannaFascist era factory facade, Catania
Peter and Chicca (Marcella’s sister) at beach near SiracusaAt fishmarket, Catania
Roof tiles from campanile of the Modica DuomoWall of Frederick’s castle in Catania
Hyun-suk and Seong-hee, in Ragusa
Man in the cloth store on Corso Italia, telling how he is closing down because there is no business
Wall in Catania
Sunset in Randello
Amo-te, Clarinha !
In the last weeks our friend Jane came to visit from New York, and we took her around a little in the area. She and Marcella went to Matera a while ago, and I am here, doing things with photos and painting, and just thinking. Marcella returns tomorrow.
At the flea market in Modica.
From a presepe in Modica, it made me think of Bresson’s Au Hazard, Balthazar
Ibla at night, from near where we live in Ragusa SuperioreFestival of S. Giorgio, patron saint of Ibla
The Duomo of ModicaDry stone fencing of the regionCountry side near Marina di Ragusa – reminds a bit of Alentejo, but olive instead of cork trees
Ceiling of storage room in masseria, scarred with the signs of work and life.
Soon it will be summer solstice, the longest day of the year up here in the northern hemisphere. I’d guess for some of the summer you are in Cabanas, enjoying the beach. With Tiago I imagine. I hope it is wonderful, the water warm, the days long and lazy.
I leave here the URL and password for a film, Nas correntes de luz da Ria Formosa, shot down there, long ago. Your voice as a small child occasionally can be heard. It, like Cabanas, is slow and languid. I will leave it available for a few weeks and then change the password. I hope you can see and enjoy. https://vimeo.com/93397774
Password: CORRENTES VIM
Amo-te, Clarinha !
Teu pai, jon
PS: The Vila do Conde festival did not invite the little film I made. So no visit to Portugal, at least for now. Here is the URL for that film, in case you’d like to see it:
Mountains as Mountains – https://vimeo.com/210105853