Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Durango, Colorado

Rather than taking the easier, less strenuous route from Telluride to Durango around the back side of the San Juan mountains, as I did four years ago on my way to Albuquerque, this year I took the far more demanding route tackling the San Juans head on, subjecting my legs to four high mountain passes so I could visit the Carnegie library in the old mining town of Silverton.

Never have I put so much effort into seeking out a Carnegie.  Nor have I been so uncertain as to whether my legs were up to the task after four weeks of minimal cycling while I looked after the shipping department for the Telluride Film Festival.  I got plenty of exercise hoisting and dispersing boxes, but I spent little time on my bike other than making short deliveries and commutes in this town of 1,500 that is just several blocks wide and barely extends a mile from end to end in its cosy box canyon.

As I made the arduous thirteen-mile climb from Ouray over the 11,000 foot Red Mountain Pass to Silverton my thought was transported to the Philippines where this past February I had made an even greater effort going one hundred miles out of my way over a rough mountain ridge on an unpaved road to visit the isolated beach town where the surfing scene in "Apocalypse Now" was shot.  I was most glad to have made the effort and knew I would feel the same once I reached Silverton.  

"Apocalypse Now" was on my mind, as Telluride gave it a special tribute with it being its 35th anniversary.  Not only was Francis Ford Coppola on hand, but so were many of its principals--screenwriter John Milius, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, editor and sound designer Walter Murch, producer and casting director Fred Roos, and also Dennis Jakob, who Coppola brought in as a consultant to help on the editing and the script, particularly with whether Kurtz should live or die.  

Jakob was a classmate of Coppola's at UCLA's film school along with Jim Morrison.  At one point Coppola intended for Morrison to provide the entire soundtrack for the film, but instead only used  "This is the End" for its opening.  The classical music he settled on for the helicopter scene is so emblematic, that it has been adopted by helicopter pilots to announce their arrival in wars ever since.  Jakob said that when he joined the shoot in the Philippines, there were only two sane people on the set, one of whom was the cook.  He didn't like being there at all and said, "Don't ever go to the Philippines."   I was sitting three rows away from him in the Courthouse where he was in conversation with Errol Morris and Guy Maddin discussing the movie and could have offered a contrary opinion, but didn't care to interrupt the fascinating conversation.

The Opening Night Tribute to the film in the Opera House, hosted by director James Gray, who saw the film as a ten-year old in Times Square inspiring him to become a film-maker, was one of the many highlights of the festival always jam-packed with once-in-a-lifetime moments.  After one of the clips from the film, Gray commented to his wife in the audience that he was going to retire from film-making and become a substitute teacher, as he could never hope to match such artistry.

As I pedaled away, climbing higher and higher amongst the rugged mountain peaks all around, my mind also wandered to my summer in France and the added coincidence of paying a visit to Jim Morrison's grave in Paris with Janina.  It was almost as if I had had a subconscious premonition that "Apocalypse Now" and Morrison would feature prominently at Telluride this year. 

Nine of the fifty-plus films on the Telluride schedule had played at Cannes, all of which I had seen and were worthy enough to see again.  The Palm d'Or winner, the Turkish film "Winter Sleep," however did not make the cut, undermined somewhat by its three-hour running time.  But there were seven former Palm d'Or winners in attendance--Mike Leigh, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Volker Schlondorff, Francis Ford Coppola and the Dardennes brothers.  Adding to the "Apocalypse Now" theme was that  Schlondorff's "The Tin Drum" shared the Palm d'Or with it in 1979.

Saturday's Noon Seminar in the park included all of them except the Dardennes, who are slightly hesitant to speak English.  It may have been the most august panel in Telluride history.  Also on the panel was Ethan Hawke, on hand with the documentary he had directed--"Seymour," featuring an elderly Manhattan piano maestro who had abandoned his career to teach.  When Hawke introduced his film shortly after the seminar, he said he had just had the most incredible experience of his life being a part of that panel, a sentiment that those who had been in attandnace could fully appreciate.

It is no wonder that Telluride is considered the Crown Jewel of film festivals.  It will leave me plenty to revel over as I pedal the 1,500 miles back to Chicago hopping from Carnegie to Carnegie.  Silverton's was not the first of these travels, as I stopped off at the one in Delta on my way to Telluride a month ago on my 128-mile ride from Grand Junction after taking the train from Chicago.  Grand Junction once had a Carnegie, but it is one of five of the thirty-five Carnegies built in Colorado that has been torn down.

Delta's Carnegie has been doubled in size with an addition to its backside, but its front retains all the nobility it had when it was constructed over a century ago.

Inside, mounted on a wall, was a newspaper clipping detailing its history.

Silverton boasted a much more modest, though no less distinguished, Carnegie with a magnificent mountain backdrop.  It was a block off the town's main street, on a dirt road, as were all the town's streets other than its main street, which was lined with restaurants and outfitters and stores catering to tourists. Though Silverton is at 9,300 feet and has the highest Harley Davidson shop in the world, its Carnegie is not the highest.  That honor goes to Leadville, at over 10,000 feet, one that I have yet to visit.  The library was closed, it being Sunday, but while I was there, two people came by to take advantage of its WIFI.  I was fortunate, as they could tell me the password--Colorado.

Beside the entry was a small plaque acknowledging Carnegie. 

It had been a ten-mile descent to Silverton from the summit of Red Mountain Pass, but continuing south to Durango I was immediately confronted by a seven-mile climb out of the town over the Molas Pass, just under 11,000 feet high.  After a four-mile descent the road climbed three-miles over Coal Bank Pass.  A storm had moved in and I was pelted by hail as I made the climb.  Blue sky ahead took some of the bite out of the storm, and it had fortunately passed by the time I began  the long descent to Durango, thirty-five miles away.  I closed to within twelve miles of Durango before dark, camping in a clump of trees just off the road.

The next morning I passed a narrow-gauge train packed with tourists that makes the run from Durango, at 6,300 feet, to Silverton.  It gave me a toot and many of the passengers waved and pointed their cameras at me.  As I entered Durango, I asked a cyclist where I could get a hefty stack of hot cakes.  He recommended the downtown Durango Diner, just a couple blocks from its Carnegie Library, now home to a cluster of city offices.

The next Carnegie awaits me in Monte Vista, over one hundred miles away on the other side of the forbidding Wolf Creek Pass.  It is relatively flat going for sixty miles from Durango to Pagosa Springs, where the climb will begin.  It will give my legs some time to recover from the demanding three-pass day into and out of Silverton.  And after Monte Vista I will have the pleasure of a visit with Joel,  a long-time friend from the film festival who lives in Alamosa, another of the five towns in Colorado who tore down their Carnegie. 

1 comment:

baba bici said...

Copacabana, Bolivia
Hey George the C.
long time I do enjoy reading you, old stories and new ones, your 48 spokes
and your camping obsession, with the notable exception on "the race" parts, not so exotic for me.
Recently I was there on that stretch of road you certainly remember: Trinidad-
San Borja, well, it has been a nightmare, zero mud, but a lot of dust, and trucks
creating thick clouds, i had to stop to let them dissolve. Always a head wind, but
without it, it would have been too hot(in the 100s). Without trucks il would have
been less awful, but trucks now are there(even huge ones with containers! what's
in that? certainly not bicycle parts, none goes by bicycle in Trinidad and env.
storms of cheap motorbikes). I am still scratching from insects' bites!
I enjoyed north Argentina, Paraguay and SW Brasil, but this time Bolivia
has been a disaster, fuck, Bolivia used to be my dreamland...
Your Carnegies story is funny and almost tender: seems like you are after a
dying America (i am always after stgh dying, like the Amazon...).
Reading about you criss-crossing US it seems US is enjoyable by bike, certainly
much more than overcrowded Italy, Colorado sounds magnificent, i hope in
two months i will get out of SouthAmerica into Central America(by plane or
boat) and be able to cross into California or Arizona from Mexico next may, after 2 years
i am so fed up with Aymaras, Quechuas and the Andes!
Hope you find lots of Carnegies and in perfect shape!
Ernani, Italia
PS Heard about-seen any movie by Aki kaurismaki? This filmaker
for me is enormous, I am just rewatching his "A man without past" here
in my humble room at Titicaca lake