The house in Cassina Amata
I left Cassina Amata in spring, 1963, early March as I recall. In the Po Valley it was warm and as I headed out my inexperience told. I was going as direct as I could to London, and that meant up the Simplon Pass before travel in Switzerland had been reduced to a kind of Disney ride, with the mountains flattened with tunnels and pylon perched highways; one zig-zagged up the passes and then down. And in early March spring was in hiding in Switzerland and I found myself in snow-covered landscapes and a cold for which I was not prepared. I recall only two things from that journey – one a lady at the door of her distant rural house looking at this stranger hitching in such a climate; in my mind she seemed concerned, as if she would offer a place to sleep if I did not get a ride – which I did. The other was camping in snow by Lac Leman, and masturbating to generate some warmth so I could sleep.
I passed through Geneva and into France and on to Calais, surely with a bundle of adventures along the way, ones of which I remember nothing. Arriving in England and the relief of speaking the language I knew, I got to London and found a Youth Hostel in Highgate. Back then these were very cheap, as was the food they served. I almost instantly acquired an English accent, and was seldom taken for an American. At the University of London I found members of a film society, and they had the most minimal of basic editing equipment: a desk with rewinds and a Moviescope, and a tape splicer. They let me use this, and I commenced to look at the footage I’d taken in Cassina Amata. I hadn’t really edited anything before and I recall being disappointed in my material, as seen through the small and dirty Moviescope viewfinder. And worse it seemed much faster than I had imagined it, skittering by like animation instead of the slow languid movement I’d thought I was doing. I carried on, a bit discouraged, taping the cuts together and wondering how I had tricked myself into seeing it as I had.
Meantime I had another thing to deal with, the imminent arrival of April 1st and the end of my passport’s valid date. Aiming to renew it, I went to the new American Embassy in central London’s Grosvenor Square. Entering the room of the consulate officer dealing with passports I immediately noted the military photographs on the wall, and instinctively knew trouble was coming. The first words out of the man’s mouth were, “I bet your father wouldn’t like that haircut.” In the papers one had to provide, was information on your family and all that. It was all down-hill from there, with a grilling of an unpleasant kind, and ending with a not-kind word about getting back to me. Later word was that they were refusing to renew my passport, which came as no surprise. I am not sure just why – were they already aware of my Selective Service failure to comply, or was it just a government guy pissed at a budding hippie? Or something else? I never found out.
Back at the University of London, I finished up my editing, and somewhat unenthusiastically asked to use their 16mm projector to take a look at my film which I figured was a frenetic mess. They said OK, and a few of them sat with me to watch after I’d threaded it up. I flicked it on, and the motors cranked up like an old machine, and I watched as the light flickered and the images unfolded – slowly. Instead of the rapid-fire I’d seen on the Moviescope, the shots were as I’d imagined and thought. As I recall those who watched with me seemed impressed and liked it, though it wasn’t at all like the kinds of things they had ever seen. Along the way I realized that I’d been hand-cranking the rewinds way too fast. Live and learn. And while it seemed back then a bit crude and primitive to me, and still does today, I could see something innate that said “cinema.” For a first try, it wasn’t bad at all. Decades later the Eyefilm Museum in Amsterdam, which holds all my materials, would make an archival copy of it, and made a digital file which I was able to show Matilde and her family 50 years later!
Finished with my editing, I hitched from London to Edinburgh, taking some photographs along the way with a Pentax 35mm camera, and found myself at a hostel there. Pentax was stolen. Later the prints of what I’d shot in the UK and Italy were all burned up. I recall a very nice one of the driver in an old truck, caught in the side rear view mirror. It is still impressed in my mind, though lost.
From Edinburgh I went hitching with a South African kid (white) met at the hostel, and we went on a big flatbed truck that picked us up, taking us through the Glencoe pass. A spectacular place, which we were able to see in near 360 degrees from the back of the truck. I recall being deeply impressed. We camped there. Nearly everything else is a white blank, though it was surely full of adventures.
Glencoe Pass, Scotland
As April 1 came upon me, and the US consulate, despite some prodding from the head master at the hostel, declined to renew my passport I decided to do it for myself. Using a pin I scratched out, as carefully as I could, the diagonal line in the typed-in three, back before electronic inserts and such made this kind of thing impossible:
and I put in a vertical. It was a little messy if one looked closely, but at a distance it just seemed a bit smudged. It was illegal to do so, of course. While it made me a little nervous, I’d already cast my lot as “criminal” in the Selective Service papers left in the Atlantic.
On my first use of this self-made 2 year extension, entering France from the UK, I was admittedly a bit nervous, thinking if the officer looked closely, they would see, and if they thought for a minute they might wonder what this strange two and a half year limit was about. However nothing happened, then, or in any other border crossings, of which back then I made many as Europe still had boarder crossings then. On my return to the USA however, I deleted my alteration and returned it to the officially out-of-date, April 1, 1993. Some years later, in 1969, the passport was burned up, along with my photographs of Europe, in a fire in Woodside, California.
As summer approached, my passport renewed, my film edited, I left the UK, and went to France, Bolex at hand. I have no idea how I kept the print and negative of the film and never lost it, nor how I managed with guitar and camera to carry on, but somehow I did. Summer stretched out before me. I was 20.
Photo taken in Oslo Norway, summer, 1963