If I am dissatisfied, it’s simply because good photos are few and far between. A good photo is a miracle.
– Josef Koudelka
Tokyo is a special place. It is so wildly exotic, yet as safe and entertaining as an amusement park.
The fruits at Harajuku have been well documented. These young ladies were spellbound by their own images on a jumbo screen hanging over the main entrance to Harajuku which displayed a live feed that was pointed at them.
They stayed there for several minutes unable to leave their doppelgangers, taking pictures of themselves taking pictures of themselves.
When I was packing in Los Angeles to come here, I had a sense of unease because I’ve always felt some ambiguity about an award for poetry. Poetry comes from a place that no one commands and no one conquers, so I feel somewhat like a charlatan to accept an award for an activity which I do not command. In other words, if I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often.
I was compelled in the midst of that ordeal of packing to go and open my guitar. I have a Conde guitar, which was made in Spain in the great workshop at No. 7 Gravina Street. A beautiful instrument that I acquired over 40 years ago. I took it out of the case, I lifted it, and it seemed to be filled with helium. It was so light. I brought it to my face and I put my face close to the beautifully designed rosette, and I inhaled the fragrance of the living wood.
You know that wood never dies.
I inhaled the fragrance of cedar as fresh as the first day that I acquired the guitar. And a voice seemed to say to me, you are an old man and you have not said thank you, you have not brought your gratitude back to the soil from which this fragrance arose. And so I come here tonight, to thank the soil and the soul of this people that have given me so much.
– Leonard Cohen, speaking at the Príncipe of Asturias Awards Ceremony at the Campoamor Theatre in Oviedo, October 21, 2011.
To hear his entire speech:
To learn more about the Conde family of luthiers:
I love the Romani people and I seek them out wherever I travel in Europe.
I am always warmly received by them and conversely, most every place where they reside, they are marginalized and on the outskirts of society, the latter being their choice as well. Have just always curious about these people.
In Romania, there were many gypsies and in Bucharest, they were scattered throughout the city instead of just occupying one neighborhood or corner. I was walking along this road, just lost and wandering as always when I saw this group of kids. The cluster of apartments formed a gypsy enclave of just a handful of Romani families. Spent just a few minutes playing with the kids, talking to their father.
There were many kids absent from the photos as he has fourteen of them.
We were driving north about an hour out of Bucharest when I saw the cluster of sheep on the horizon. The land at this point had flattened out into a billiard table plain and the only feature besides the road and the power lines running along side was this flock of sheep. We pulled over and trudged through the soft ground. The sheep dogs came out early and challenged us and the fixer I was with, froze in fear. Lots of issues with feral dogs in Bucharest. The shepherd appeared from his shack and admonished the dogs and the dogs were still barking at us and the fixer called out that we wanted to talk to him for a bit so soon the flat plain was full of shouting and barking.
Everyone settled down soon enough.
The shepherd was happy that we were there as he did not get a lot of visitors. He did not have any tea to offer but a bottle of palinka, the Romanian fruit brandy grain. The shack where he lived was just clapboard and blankets, a small stove and pots and mugs. This was not his flock of sheep, he said, but he acted as a caretaker for two villages who pooled their sheep and goats together. He milked the goats and delivered the milk daily.
I turned around slowly in a complete circle to take in the vast plain. Except for road gutting it down the middle, there was nothing but those two villages and some hills on the horizon. The through line to the past was strong and a straight line in that moment. I asked him if there had been a shepherd here, in his role for a long time. Maybe hundreds of years? Without hesitation he said that this had always been pastureland and the two villages had been there for at least a thousand years, so yes, there was always a shepherd here.
I was taken back to all the folktales I had read, stories from when I was a kid in the states of harsh winters, woodcutters, strange visitors from the forest.
And what about wolves, I asked.
Not much anymore. Too many people, he said. But that is why I have the dogs.
I was north of Chiang Mai with my driver, traveling to a hill tribe village in a steady and thick rain when I saw the sliver of massive stone steps cut into the side of a mountain, just visible through the jungle foliage. I asked him to stop and since the way was wet and filled with shoe eating mud, the driver said he’d stay in the car.
I climbed the stairs and saw the monk there, standing by his buckets and bowls, out collecting the rain for drinking water. He was the sole caretaker of this meager temple, a small cave and statue and run down altar. He was actually Chinese and spoke French fluently, but very little English. His cigarettes were foul, hand-rolled affairs, terribly strong and stinky. I gave him my pack of American cigarettes and we smoked in the cave, sheltered from the rain while he told me stories and lessons that I could not understand.
There were only poor farmers nearby and I doubt any tourists would stop by this tiny cleft in the mountain. This was truly a life of solitude and he was far from where he had started from. As was I but I would return to my life of cities soon enough.
We passed the time and my feet were wet and there were enough cigarettes to last us for a good while.
Marc Maron: Do you miss film?
Werner Herzog: Celluloid? No, I am not nostalgic. I still love it. Of course I love it. But digital film making has helped me to work faster and to work less expensively. So that’s why all of a sudden I’m coming out with four films, all of them ready for distribution. The system of distribution is too slow for my output.
MM: What did you lose with celluloid?
WH: Well, the kind of magic of the flicker of 24 frames in a theater. And celluloid, you alway have to understand it as a layer, a three dimensional thin layer of emulsion that stores the information. Whereas digital film is only a file of zeroes and ones. It’s strange that we sense there’s a different life to it.
MM: Also I imagine the editing process is a bit more decisive.
WH: When you work in celluloid, you better come to some conclusions quickly and what I see today in digital editing, there are directors who do not know what they are doing and they create twenty-two parallel versions and they never can decide. I’m editing almost as fast as I am thinking. Because I do not have to search for that small reel of film and look for…making some pen marks on it and glue it, splice it and feed it into a system and roll it to the right moment.
I’m editing much much fast now. Closer to writing in a way, yes.
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