It was a commute unlike any other. Janina and I had the choice of taking a pair of gondolas to work every morning or a seven-mile bike ride with a thousand-foot descent, quite a contrast to Janina's usual Metra commute from suburbia into Chicago. It was slightly faster to ride the bike, and much more exhilarating. Both were spectacularly scenic with 360-degree views of rugged high peaks including some of Colorado's fifty-eight 14ers, more than all the other states combined. The back-half of our commute, returning home after work, was the gondola, as it was always after dark.
Biking back would have certainly kept my legs tuned, but what I was able to do was enough to minimize the strain my legs have felt in years past when I set out on my bike ride home to Chicago beginning with four passes before descending to the Plains--the Dallas Divide before Ridgeway, followed by Cerro Summit and Blue Mesa Pass out of Montrose, and then the killer, Monarch Pass after Gunnison. Usually I make the ten-mile ascent of Monarch on the morning of my third day of riding. This year I reached it before the end of Day Two enabling me to climb to within four miles of its summit, where I camped at ten thousand feet, slightly higher than what I had been sleeping at in Mountain Village.
It was a cold night with temperatures near freezing, quite a contrast to the heat on the flats leading up to it. I couldn't always keep my four water bottles filled as there were long stretches between services and not all the services had drinkable water. One said its well water was suitable for watering plants and another said its water was so iron-laden most found it undrinkable. Both had bottled water for sale though at inflated process--personifying the entrepreneurial spirit.
It was well that my legs had more vigor this year, as after descending Monarch, rather than continuing east towards the Plains, I turned north to climb up to Leadville at ten thousand feet to visit the highest of the 2,509 Carnegie Libraries scattered around the world. And then I had the Fremont and Loveland Passes to climb before descending to Denver. It was a gradual climb of more than fifty miles to Leadville following the Arkansas River passing through Buena Vista where I used to go to summer camp FIFTY YEARS ago. The river was to my right dotted with one rafting outfit after another and to my left was an arcade of a dozen 14ers, among which were the Collegiate Peaks--Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia and Oxford. Harvard was the highest. At 14,420 feet it is the second highest of Colorado's mountains.
I camped twelve miles shy of Leadville in a cluster of bushes between a barbed wire fence and railroad tracks. Not a train passed all night nor during the day. I passed motel after motel into and through
Leadville, mostly small and locally-run with catchy names such as Avalanche. This former boom-town, that had a gold rush in 1860 and then an even bigger silver rush in 1877, once boasted a population of 50,000, making it the second largest city in Colorado. It's population now fluctuates between 3,000 and 5,000 depending on the tourist season. It calls itself "Cloud City" and the "Roof-Top of the Nation."
It was still going strong when it earned a grant from Carnegie in 1902 to build a two-story red-brick library at one end of its main street.
It served as it was intended until 1970. When a new library was built several blocks away, it was converted into a Historical Museum, and continues in such a capacity. A Mining Museum is nearby.
History was a theme of this year's Telluride Film Festival. It began with Marcel Pagnol's Marseilles Trilogy, three films from the '30s--"Marius," "Fanny," and "César," each over two hours long and each by a different director, with the third by Pagnol. There was a short wine and cheese break between each film. Janina and I ducked out of the third film a little early so we could partake of the French-themed Opening Night Feed on Telluride's closed off Main Street. Cassoulette was one of the dishes as well as more cheese and wine.
Our next film was another French classic, Louis Malle's "The Fire Within," from 1963. It was one of the six selections by the guest director Volker Schlondorff. He had served as Malle's assistant director, before returning to Germany to begin his own career as a director, which included the Oscar and Palm d'Or winning "Tin Drum." Janina and I greeted Schlondorff at the Feed and told him we were looking forward to seeing all his films. He said he was still thinking about what he would have to say about "The Fire Within." He began his introduction saying he was a little nervous seeing his good friend Werner Herzog in the audience. Then he spoke for ten minutes about his long friendship with Malle, living with him for a spell and accompanying him to Venice for the premiere of the film.
Not only is Telluride synonymous with exceptional cinema, both old and new (it has given the North American premiere of the film that went on to win the Oscar for best picture the last seven years), it is also about the intimacy between film-goer and film-makers. Janina and I exchanged a few words with Isabelle Huppert during and after her Conversation in the Courthouse attended by only thirty others.
We brushed shoulders with Clint Eastwood (on hand for the world premiere of "Sully" which he directed) while sharing Pierre Riessient's birthday cake just off the lobby of the small theater named for Pierre before the screening of the documentary "Gentleman Riessant," seventy-seven minutes of Riessant recounting his many discoveries and his role as one of the selectors for Cannes. During the screening we sat behind Bertrand Tavernier, who kept turning to his companion with a smile of endorsement for a comment of Pierre's, including mention of both him and Eastwood. Of Eastwood he said that when he first met him in 1970 he recognized that he wasn't a "fascist or a red-neck or a cowboy" as some thought, but a genuine auteur, though he never imagined that he would accomplish all that he did. Later we saw Tavernier's magnificent three-hour personal documentary of his commentary on French cinema.
As always, Telluride was four days of incomparable cinema experiences that will last us a lifetime. They are too numerous to recount here. Janina will do much better with her annual Telluride Journal at her website merelycirculating.com. But it will be a spell before she has fully digested her Telluride experience and "put it all to paper." She began the process on her train trip back to Chicago. I am lucky to have three weeks on the bike to ponder and relive it.