Ode On a Grecian Jurney

Ode On a Grecian Jurney

I was gone for a week, and it all feels like a dream. It took me nearly 24 hours of travel to get to Thessaloniki, and I had just three nights there. It took me almost 2 days to make the trip home. I hardly slept on the journey at all, and after getting home at 5 pm yesterday I went bowling with my daughter and her friends and then slept for 10 hours. I’m thumb typing this at 8am after that long sleep and this only exacerbates the fuzzy line between home and the journey. I woke up to this Euronews piece about John Waters, my book and our film Who Took Johnny, which is also surreal.

Last Tuesday at 1am, after 24 hours of travel, I arrived in Thessaloniki and had a bite to eat and a beer with Efi Papazachariou. We were staying at the same hotel which is across the street from the favorite bar of journalists and festival staff. I was exhausted and jet lagged, so I headed back to sleep at around 2 and woke at 7am. I couldn’t sleep anymore, so I took a walk and made images. I was kind of nervous because I had a book presentation set for noon, and I’m not so good at planned speaking. After the walk, I practiced it a bit before heading over to get set up. I was feeling pretty out of it, but also excited to launch the book.

Efi and I met the curator, Hercules, as well as Dennis Lim, a film programer at Lincoln Center whom I know from New York, and we discussed the event. Efi has hustled like crazy – not only to arrange the event, but to get books from Monica Rossi from Italy, and get a dozen articles written. Hercules, who studied at NYU at the same time as I did, read a piece about the work that was so spot-on and illuminating that it kind of made my presentation moot- so I rushed through it and he, Dennis, and I had a great conversation about the work.

The book presentation at the Museum of Photography in Thessaloniki with Hercules

As all of us lived in NY in 1989, I made the connection to the fact that the subtext of the mall work was the the economic difficulties of the cities. NY was starting a decades-long recovery from previous decades of flight to the suburbs. Malls were the direct result of the dichotomy between the raucous chaotic energy of the city and the controlled private spaces of commerce that grew out of the fear of the city. Greece is going through a tough and tumultuous economic crisis and my driver from the airport mentioned that many of the smaller neighborhood coffee shops and bars are shutting down. Now that I live in a college town, I don’t have much opportunity to shoot in cities so I jumped at the chance to make images while I was there.

Afterward the event, we went to do a Euronews interview where Tonnino Rossi bought me a beer before rolling the camera- so I was extra animated. Also before rolling Andreas Horvath rolled up too to do an interview and we rolled over to see his multi-award-winning film “Lillian.” Andreas stayed with us in New York in 2004, and it was great to re-connect. The film was amazing. Patrycja, the star, had never acted before, but she carries the film with only a couple lines of dialogue in the first few minutes.

Exhausted, Efi and I had dinner with her amazing friend Maria Markouli before seeing John Waters’ one man show. We took a long walk had a beer and I went to bed at 2, only to pop awake again at 7. My body was starting to get very tight all over from the travel, stress, and lack of sleep, so I tried to do a little yoga, and then I headed out for another photo walk.

John Waters master class

After the walk, I caught John Waters’ truly amazing master class. John invited our film Who Took Johnny to the festival as part of a special program of his 10 favorite films. I was the only part of any filmmaking team there but had no opportunity to meet him. So I went up after the talk and asked him to sign my shirt over my heart. Andreas, from “Lillian” made an earlier film that was number one on Waters’ Artforum list in 2015 and he introduced himself as Waters signed my shirt. I think introduced myself. It was a very surreal moment.

I then ran to present Who Took Johnny to a packed house. During the screening, I had a coffee with Efi in the iconic bar next the 4th floor screening room in the Olympia Theater.

This was my third trip to Thessaloniki, twice for the documentary festival in March, and now for the film festival in November. This festival felt a little bit more active, but I felt more outside of it, especially because our film wasn’t a part of the main program. I was also in town for a very short time in the middle of the festival so I just felt a little bit disconnected. Each time I’ve been there, I have spent a lot of time just wandering. It’s a gorgeous city that has it’s own feel, and it doesn’t feel like a tourist trap. I made it back to the film for the last few minutes. Who Took Johnny is a very heavy film, but it also has some surprising moments of lightness. Near the end, one of the victims Paul Bonacci talks about forgiveness by explaining that holding onto his anger was toxic, and letting it go was freeing. Watching this reminded me of how all of our films are connected as All The Rage deals with our response to trauma in ways that echo Paul’s words. After the film, people were kind of stunned and had a hard time asking questions. I talked to some younger filmmakers outside. One of them was wearing a Stranger Things T-shirt- and she had completely picked up on the connection between Who Took Johnny and Stranger Things. During the Mall presentation we talked quite a bit about nostalgia and how the mall figures so prominently in the new Stranger series.

I met up with Andreas and Patrycja for an amazing meal and then we went back to the Residents bar where I met Mankey Sounds who was playing Yo La Tengo when we came in- and there were Tae Won Yu posters for my book all over. Made it home in the rain at 3am and got a little sleep. Once again I woke up too early and got up to walk around and make pictures.

We checked out, had a couple of meetings that were great. I enjoyed an amazing rain storm and then a fast but incredible meal before flying to Athens with Efi. First, though, I captured some great reflections after the storm and taught my new friend Jane how to use snapseed on her phone after she stepped into one of the pictures.

Efi and her husband live right near the old airport so the original Olympic airways sign is near their house. Her husband has an office near the beach and that’s where I slept that night. I finally slept 6 hours that night then got in a great walk to get coffee and then down to the beach. I was not prepared for how warm it was and when I got to the beach in my long pants and sweater I found dozens of older people floating in the calm blue water. I was deeply torn. I only had about an hour before I was supposed to meet them, so I didn’t have time to go back and put on shorts. Finally the temptation was too strong and I took off my clothes and jumped in the sea in my underwear. It was bracing but amazing.

Before getting in the water, I did a little bit of rock hunting. When my mom was ill this summer, she could spend long bits of time picking up rocks in the garden. There wasn’t much special about these rocks, but she treated them like precious gem stones. Just before she passed away, I was swimming in Isreal and I grabbed a dozen beautiful rocks to bring her. She passed away two days later. I made it home to see her but wasn’t able to share those rocks with her. On this day, I felt some sadness at her loss, and I tried to just be with that as I collected and connected. I saw a shard of blue tile, and since blue was her favorite color I picked it up. It was shaped like a short fat North Carolina. I thought that was interesting, but later the connection seemed increasingly profound and surreal.

Time was a little bit tight, but I went with Efi and her family and had the most amazing meal. I barely made my flight to Madrid and at first they couldn’t find a seat for me. When they did it was in 4C. I thought I’d gotten bumped up to business class, but it turned out there were only 2 rows of business class. When we got to Madrid, I had to rush through the airport to get to my London flight which was then delayed on the tarmac for two hours. This turned out okay because the people in front of me left to get a different connection and I laid down to sleep on their seats. I got to my London airport hotel at midnight and went straight to bed, and of course woke up early to take a photo walk in the neighborhood at 7 am before catching the bus back to the terminal. 

The plane wasn’t too crowded, but my row was so I moved up a little bit and asked a guy if I could share his. Drew Grimes was friendly and a video producer from Raleigh, who started out working with my friend Neal Hutcheson and was of course friends with my good friend Jason Summers. I stood up to go to the bathroom and saw Lana Garland snoring on the other side of the plane. Ok, Lana wasn’t snoring but she was fast asleep. I had just been talking to Drew about what an amazing, supportive person she was so it was a real shocker to see her. On the flight, I caught both “American Graffiti” and “The Longest Yard”. They both were pretty excellent, and it’s amazing how little I remembered about them.

I was totally exhausted when I got home, but went bowling with my daughter and her friends. The next morning, I got up and got right back to work documenting the meadow.

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