Picking A Direction

“In the population of Transylvania there are four distinct nationalities:  Saxons in the South, and mixed with them the Wallachs, who are the descendants of the Dacians; Magyars in the West, and Szekelys in the East and North.  I am going among the latter, who claim to be descended from Attila and the Huns.  

I read that every known superstition in the world is gathered into the horseshoe of the Carpathians, as if it were the centre of some sort of imaginative whirlpool; if so my stay may be very interesting.  (Mem., I must ask the Count all about them.)”

— From “Dracula” by Bram Stoker

It was time to get down to doing what I came here to do.  Laura and I packed up the car with all my equipment and set off for a road trip – Transylvania style!  Our first stop was the gas station.  My 1.5 litre Dacia Logan was diesel powered.  In Europe there are two flavours of diesel, along with two kinds of unleaded gasoline.  I filled the car up with the cheap  kind (3,95 lei/litre) and wound up with a 163 lei bill (about $50).  One quick pit stop at McDonald’s and we were on our way down E60 towards Brasov, in the Transylvanian Alps.

“All day long we seemed to dawdle through a country which was full of beauty of every kind.  Sometimes we saw little towns or castles on the top of steep hills such as we see in old missals; sometimes we ran by rivers and streams which seemed from the wide stony margin on each side of them to be subject to great floods.”

— “Dracula” cont.

The drive was as picturesque as Bram Stoker describes it.  In terms of majestic beauty, a road trip through the Canadian Rockies still holds the crown, but Transylvania has its own charms.  There’s not much of a margin for error on these roads.  Sometimes there’s a guardrail but generally, the highway features sharp drop offs, blunt protrusions and sharp turns without any warning.  The quaint villages and slower pace of the highway through the mountain passes all add to the flavour of this magical place.  The journey was only a couple hours old and it was shaping up to be one of the best road trips ever.

Brasov is kind of like Banff, except dustier.  This city, set in the Transylvanian Alps is older than any in Canada and features rich architecture and Piata Sfatului among many other things.  I once wrote that Brasov is like the good child who grew up to become a successful accountant.  Bucharest is more like an angsty dysfunctional artist who drinks too much.

After checking into our hotel and chilling out for a bit, it was time to break out the cameras and head into Piata Sfatului.  I’ve been to Brasov once before, about three years ago.  The place hasn’t changed.  I more or less knew my way around and that helped a great deal as I took everything in, figuring out how I was going to shoot this demo.

I’ve been thinking about this shoot for several months.  I’ve researched the story thoroughly.  I’ve read the novel, watched the movie, and culled creative possibilities.  I’ve endured lost luggage, and a miscalculation of my own productivity.  I knew I would get to this day, but it all seemed theoretical somehow.  Suddenly, there I was, holding the camera in my hand, and it was time to be real.

I once flew into Montreal with a broken charger, ninety minutes of battery life, and a whole weekend worth of filming ahead of me.  I had to be selective about what I shot, and for how long.  I suddenly felt a sense of deja vu as I stood there, camera in hand, with the realization that I was 8,000 kms from home, a whole team of people counting on me, and the future of this project riding upon the footage I was about to capture.  I had a mini ‘oh shit’ moment as I let it sink in.

The story of ‘Nosferatu’ doesn’t take place anywhere in particular, and to a lesser degree, it doesn’t take place within a specific time period.  The film stands as one of the greatest examples of German Expressionism, and is acknowledged as one of the best films of the 20th century.  The problem was the filmmakers didn’t secure the rights to Bram Stoker’s novel and after a long drawn out court case, the film negative and all prints were ordered destroyed in 1924.  The film however, like Dracula himself, rose from the dead.  One print was discovered in Paris and was saved through an underground distribution network of art houses.

I was standing near Piata Sfatului thinking that establishing the setting for the story in Transylvania wouldn’t be enough.  The story needed something much more powerful.  I looked at Laura, dressed head to toe in red, and thought to myself, “the story needs a metaphor.”

Suddenly all the loose strings could be tied up, and I knew exactly where to point my camera.

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Driven

Chaos came to take over Bucharest one day and found cars everywhere, racing, revving, and piling on top of each other.  Their drivers never actually bothered with any type of training, obtaining their licenses instead through bribery of the designated officials.  Bucharest’s streets snake off in all directions, meandering, wandering aimlessly, with no particular destination in mind.  Pedestrians share sidewalks with automobiles because that’s where the city spills its leftover traffic.

Chaos came to take over Bucharest one day and discovered drivers dive bombing their cars into places that automobiles ought not to be going.  Horns blare, fingers wave, tires screech, and tempers flare.  There’s no rhyme or reason to their maneuvers, and the only recognizable pattern to their behavior is that Bucharest’s drivers can be counted on for their unpredictability.

Chaos came to take over Bucharest one day and instead got itself run over, sworn at, ass fucked, and sent packing like a pathetic little bitch poodle running with its tail between its legs.  Not even Chaos could tame the streets of Bucharest.

So there I was, behind the wheel of a rental car, driving my way back from Piata Romana to my apartment on 13 September Blvd, about 5 km away.  It took me about twenty minutes to make my way home through the heavy downtown traffic and I’m pleased to say, I did alright.  At times, I even out Bucharested some of my fellow drivers because they were in my way.  I feel like I really accomplished something.  If I can drive through Bucharest, I can drive anywhere!

Adding to my good mood was my backpack showing up.  I had a car, I had an apartment, and the only thing left to do was buy groceries to make myself feel truly at home.  I drove to Unirii Shopping Centre, parked on a sidewalk, and soon found myself face to face with a bunch of labels I could not read.  Is that butter or cream cheese?  Is that milk or coffee creamer?  What’s the white stuff in the ‘Heinz’ bottle?

Simple things become miniature adventures in this place because familiar things become new again.  At the same time, brand new things like the location of an obscure cafe, the correct stop of a bus route, and the cell number of that friend I made, become familiar.  This is my forth trip to Bucharest and I really like my familiarity with the city as much as I like its mysteries.

On the drive home I took a different route.  The winding nature of the streets messed with my sense of direction and I wound up driving south east when I should have been heading west.  I figured this out after driving past one of Bucharest’s countless Orthodox Churches.  They always face east, and based on my orientation to the one I just passed, I was able to get my bearings again.  In no time I was home and preparing a pasta dish for supper.

Resumption

From Casablanca I climbed into a cab that advertised 1,39 lei/km on its door.  It’s about the cheapest rate in town.  I explained to the driver that I needed him to take me to the airport, wait for me while I got my luggage, and then return me to my apartment.  He spoke very little English and I spoke very little Romanian.  It was a complicated affair.  Fortunately we were able to understand each other just enough to get the ball rolling.

Thirty minutes later I found myself talking to customs officials.  They had my camera bag, but had no knowledge of my backpack.  I didn’t really care.  I had the most important and expensive piece of luggage in my possession.  There was some discussion over the correct documentation required to shoot a film in Romania, but I pleaded ignorance.  I also showed them some paperwork from Canadian customs related to my equipment and that seemed to do the trick.

I always knew there was a possibility that shooting in Romania would require special permissions and paperwork, but I chose to cross that bridge if I came to it.  Romanian officials are notoriously corrupt and there is no guarantee that talking to one department would secure the cooperation of other departments.  It’s best just to pay bribes if asked and move on.  Fortunately, no such ‘tax’ was requested.  This will be my second time shooting in Romania, and so far I’ve found every authority figure to be very respectful of my Canadian passport.

It also helps that the EU has been cracking down on corruption in Romania.  Foreign investment and international loans tend to flow better when sound business principals are practiced.

One 150 lei cab ride later ($52) I was back in my apartment with my camera.  I also was now in possession of 6 fresh t-shirts, 5 long sleeve shirts, and 1 jacket.  I packed them into the camera case for the added protection they provided.  It felt great to finally be able to ‘move in’ to my new Romanian home.  The act of unpacking my clothes made my stay seem more real somehow.

The cell phone and computer power adapters remained awol because I packed them into my backpack.  I bought their replacements at the Unirii Shopping Centre a short time later and settled into an Irish pub (boasting free wireless internet) to reconnect myself with the world.  I was back in the game, and ready to resume this whole, ‘shoot a series demo in Romania’ business.  I was two days behind schedule, but all things considered, I think I faired okay.

The Bucharest Leg – Part I

Shortly after landing in Paris, having thoroughly enjoyed the best flight experience of my whole entire life, it became apparent that I was destined to miss my connection to Bucharest.  We were about 45 minutes late pulling away from the gate due to some technical problem with the plane, and we never made up the time.

After wandering through Charles De Gaul Airport in Paris, bouncing between Air France and Air Canada help desks, I finally found myself on a Tarom flight bound for Bucharest.  Tarom is the national airline of Romania.  The flight was just over two hours long and they served a tasty warm meal of chicken, rice and a strawberry desert.  The plane was an Airbus 318, one of 4 in their fleet.  Booze was free.  There was a 3D map displaying our progress throughout the flight.  United Airlines could learn a lot from how Tarom treats its passengers.

Upon landing in Bucharest it was clear that my 2 pieces of luggage had not made the trip.  Air Canada never sent it over to Tarom despite their assurances that they would when they handed me my ticket.  To make matters worse, they could only track the location of 1 item.  The other item was missing.  Over $17,000 worth of production equipment was stashed in that luggage.

I needed to sort myself out.  I had my wallet, my Romanian cell phone, and the clothes on my back.  I started by taking a cab to Universitate.  From there I got 500 Lei out of an ATM and bought a Metro pass.  I took the Metro to Unirii shopping centre and bought some minutes for my phone.  From there I called my contact at Eastern Comfort so I could at least check into the apartment I’m renting.

Once in my apartment I took stock of my situation.  I had a one quarter charge on my cell phone, half a charge on my laptop and the power adapters for both was in my luggage.  My ability to communicate with the world was in serious jeopardy.  I needed to be able to talk to the lost & found ppl at the airport, and they needed to be able to call me when something showed up.

It was a long hard think on my 8th floor balcony as I took it all in.

The Bucharest Leg – Part II

The idea of sitting around feeling sorry for myself was not an option.  I called Laura and we made plans to meet in the lobby of the Merriot Hotel (a block from my apartment) at 10pm.

I left early and did some wandering.  The Merriot is a ritzy place filled with shops like Versace and other high end luxury boutiques.  There was a lot of marble, high ceilings and spiral staircases around.  I was standing there in the middle of it all, with only the clothes on my back, and my day pack on my shoulder.  Not another worldly possession within  1,700 kilometres.  It was a pretty naked feeling — a really funny, pretty naked feeling.

There was nothing to do but pretend to be rich, so I reclined into one of their many plush couches, pulled out my Dracula book, put my feet up, and read until Laura arrived.  Soon after, we found ourselves sitting in ‘The Actor’s Cafe’ in the National Theatre, having a meal and drinking Tuborgs.  Our loaded pizza had corn on it with ketchup on the side.  If Americans can have spray canned cheese, I guess Romanians can indulge their weird ideas about pizza.

It was really great to see Laura again.  We talked for a couple of hours then parted ways.  It’s like there was no time passing between visits.  It’s the same with Bucharest.  This city feels like an old friend.  Friends take care of each other in times of need.

I awoke this morning to a dead cell phone and a quarter charge on my laptop.  I thought maybe I could use SKYPE to talk to the baggage people at the airport, but I’d needed to make sure my computer would have enough life to make it through the call.  I remembered that Casablanca, a cafe near Piata Romana, had non-european electrical outlets.  Maybe they’d have a plug-in that could charge my laptop.

I hopped on bus 385 and rode it for about 10 minutes.  It was jam packed with humanity.  At every stop a few people would trickle in, and a few more would trickle out, but at Izvor, a whole crowd got off.  I figured that meant a metro station was nearby, and I was right!  I rode the metro to Piata Romana and soon found myself in Casablanca, fumbling with an electrical outlet.

No dice.

There was a group of students studying at a nearby table.  I explained my situation and they really went out of their way to help me.  One even offered to pull the SIM card out of her cell phone so I could use it with my number.  Instead I just borrowed her phone and called the baggage people.  No answer.  Tried again.  No answer.  Tried again.  No answer.

I resolved to eat some breakfast and try later.  The students left to study with a larger group in another room.  Then, about 10 minutes later, the girl who lent me her phone charged back into the room.  She kept trying the number I dialed until she got through.  She needed my file number and spoke to the Romanian baggage agent on my behalf.  My camera had arrived!

I was beyond grateful and she didn’t want anything for her efforts.  She wouldn’t even let me buy her a coffee.  She just did it out of the kindness of her heart.  It has been my experience that most Romanians will give you the shirt off their backs for someone in need… another reason why I really love this city.

Positively!

Holy Shit!  Holy Shit!  Holy Shit!

This trip has had more ups and downs than something that goes up and down a lot.  In the last 48 hours I’ve seen the inside of more planes, stood in more airport line-ups, and lacked more sleeps that I ever could have imagined.  I’ve had serendipitous free rides and conversations with perfect strangers.  I’ve also been in a constant fog and my head feels like its underwater most of the time.

Then instead of crossing the ocean to Paris, I wound up spending an unexpected night in Montreal because of weather delays.  Soon after, I woke up at 3am with a stabbing pain in my inner ear and a soreness in my throat.  My body wasn’t really cooperating with the whole, ‘keep my spirits up and the journey won’t suck’ plan.  I was becoming sick in addition to being in pain.

I slept til noon, and didn’t leave my room until 1:30pm.  I ate lunch in the hotel and didn’t feel like going anywhere.  Yes I was in Montreal with a few hours to kill, but my body was begging me to take it easy, rest, catch up on some emails, and otherwise relax.  Fine.  So… I did.  I was in Montreal for 22 hours and I didn’t see anything but the inside of my hotel.

Whatever.  Taking care of myself was more important than seeing Montreal again.  Then my airport shuttle was late.  Then the electronic check-in kiosk at the airport was giving me attitude.  My flight was boarding soon and I still had to clear security.  My blood was beginning to boil.

I felt myself beginning to give up… throw in the towel.  Piss on it.  Piss on all of it!  The shitty flights, the headaches, the lack of sleep, the standing in line, the missed flights, the constant fog, the sitting around waiting for this, the waiting for that.  I caught myself fantasizing about beating up someone who was much weaker than me.  So I began to breathe, deeply.  I took great big deep breaths trying desperately to find the handle on my calmness.  I was fighting a losing cause.  I was slipping away into madness, standing in yet one more line waiting, waiting waiting while the time to board my next flight kept right on ticking ticking ticking away.

Then it happened.

“It looks like you’ve been bumped into Business Class sir.”

So now I’m writing this from my seat in Business Class aboard a brand new Boeing 777.  My feet are up and I’m listening to Jazz music while I type.  I just finished a meal that included smoked salmon with dill mustard sauce as an appetizer.  The main course was Grilled AAA Beef Tenderloin with red wine sauce accompanied by Yukon Gold mash, green beans and heirloom carrots.  A selection of cheese that included Providence Soft -ripened, Saint Paulin Semi-firm, and Chevalier Brie with herbs followed with ice cream for desert.  I ate off of ceramic plates with silverware and my abundance of free booze came in glass – real glass.  The stewardess took my jacket and hung it up for me.  My seat has seven different buttons to adjust it into 4 kazillion different positions and it will even go all the way flat to become a bed!  I have three lamps and a 14” flat screen TV all to myself.

This is the best flight ever and it came at a perfect time.

Far Away From Here

Life is a journey.  And now this journey has become a journey.

I should be somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean right now, but instead I’m sitting in a hotel room in Montreal.  My flight out of Toronto showed great promise.  Baggage stowed.  Passengers seated.  Plane all gassed up.  One small thing though.  No driver.

The pilots were coming in on a different flight and were caught up in bad weather.  Our plane didn’t leave the gate until about 20 minutes after my connecting flight left Montreal for Paris.  So… we’re gonna try this thing again tomorrow night.

I’m not disheartened.  Spending a day in Montreal ain’t nothing to sneeze at.  I intend to sleep late tomorrow morning, then I’ll take a cab downtown and hang out for a bit.  New Years 2007 with Nadia was the last time I stayed in Montreal.  Two days went by before I even saw the sun.  THAT was a party(s).  My flight doesn’t leave until 8pm tomorrow.

The day started off alright.  I woke up in my own bed.  Courtney came over with coffee and a muffin.  She even picked up some clamato juice for me while I packed.  I plan to introduce Laura and Company to such Canadian staples as ‘The Caesar’ and the ‘Beer & Clam’ when I arrive in Bucharest.  They don’t have clamato juice in Romania, hence Court’s secret mission.

Later, in Toronto, I met two women in the bar, and wouldn’t you know it, they were both aspiring writers.  I sang the praises of Robert McKee for as long as they could stand it.  Perl just retired from the military after 23 years of service and has seven chapters of a novel put together, based on her experiences.  Shawna writes medical reports.  She’s looking for a little more excitement in her work.  Two hours went by in a blink.

Now I’m here, journalling about my journey thus far, and San Diego seems so far away right now.

Daunting Journey of Awesomeness

Today begins a daunting journey to Bucharest.  People have been asking me if I’m excited for my trip.  A simple shrug of the shoulders has usually been my response.

Start time: Sunday Feb 21, 12:15pm – San Diego to San Francisco.  San Francisco to Calgary.  Calgary to Regina.  Regina to Toronto.  Toronto to Montreal.  Montreal to Paris.  Paris to Bucharest.  End time: Tuesday Feb 23, 2:10pm.

I ain’t complaining mind you.  Can’t.  I must stay positive or the getting there part will suck.  Besides, 40 some hours of air travel is a great way to get some reading done.  With a little luck, I’ll have completed my research for the Dracula episode and if I eat my Wheaties (and spray canned cheese) I may even have a start on my shooting script.

Adding San Diego to my trip certainly complicated things, but it was worth it.  I got to see my little girl and get in a bit of a mini-family vacation.  PJ and I barely even fought, and for the most part, it felt like old times.  We spent the day cris-crossing the University of California, San Diego campus, and we even took in a trip to the aquarium together.  There was ample oppertunity to watch the ocean and I squeezed every last drop out of my Jazzy/Daddy time.  One of my favourite memories was eating pizza on the beach.  The moon was up and it was just Jazzy, me and a box of pizza.

On Friday we had dinner with PJ’s academic advisor Steve, as well as with Ken Eklund, the San Jose based game designer we’re working with on the Mothers Day game.  Both were in town for the conference PJ is attending.  Prior to that night, I had only known Ken through our SKYPE meetings for the Mothers Day Game.  It was great to put a face to the voice.  It was also great just to hang out in a non-work sort of occasion.  Even so, I got talking about Crimes of the Art and Ken’s ears perked up.  After some discussion, he and I decided that we are going to work on an Alternate Reality Game for Crimes of the Art.  We figure it would be a great way to build an audience and launch the series.

That’s it for now.  Got a plane to catch.

Bitten

I’m on the UCSD campus, sitting at a table, away from the rain in the Faculty of Visual Arts.  In a half hour I’ll be able to hit the Geisel Library and do some research for Crimes of the Art.  It seems I will get some work done on this trip after-all.  Last night as Jazzy was watching TV, I was able to sneak back onto my computer and do some digging.  I came across a book that looks to have all the information I need to write the Dracula treatment (and demo script).  I’m hoping to be able to spend a few hours with it today.  I know that it’s also at the U of R Library, and I think I’ll get someone to check it out for me.  In fact, I’ll give Shy a call right now.

[some time passes]

Ok.  So I realized that SKYPE isn’t an option because, thanks to modern technology, I don’t bother memorizing ppl’s cell numbers anymore.  I just enter their name and hit ‘store’.  Fortunately, a facebook message works just as well.  Shy has exactly 12 hours to return my plea for help.

[more time passes]

I’m sitting in the Geisel Library on the UCSD campus and both of their copies of the book have been checked out.  I shall now attempt to research other books on the subject using a different resource.  I have exactly 90 minutes to do something productive.  The clock is ticking.  Shy hasn’t messaged me.  The rain subsided.  The coffee is dripping.  The keyboard is tapping.

The drama is milking…

Year-Roundiness

I’m not going to get much work done while I’m here with Jazzy, and I’m okay with that.  Other than staying on top of some emails, and lining up some meetings for Toronto, I just haven’t had a chance to do much writing.  How can I?  It’s just me and my little girl all day long while PJ is at the conference.  I only get to see her about every two months or so, and I just don’t feel like squandering the opportunity when I can write from anywhere, at anytime.

I’m writing this from the side of the pool at our hotel.  I spent the past couple of hours teaching Jazzy the breast stroke and she’s getting pretty efficient at it.  Time stops when I’m teaching her things.  It’s a really great way to live with her inside a moment.

I am fully confident in my ability to come up with something special for ‘Crimes of the Art’ upon landing in Bucharest.  Hell… if I was really worried about a shooting script, I would have had one finished by now.  Back home, the team is plugging away nicely, and their work is excellent.  So many talented people have their hands in this series, I don’t feel as much pressure to carry it on my shoulders as past projects.  If anything, it’s going to be better for that reason.

My only other ‘beach’ experience aside from La Jolla Shores, California, is Wreck Beach, Vancouver, and Vama Veche, Romania.  There’s no alcohol, no fires, no camping, no music, no partying, and no nudity on the beach here.  Vama Veche has all those things in abundance.  Wreck beach has some of those things.  The sand here is nicest of all of ‘em.  It’s very fine and it packs down so you could actually jog on it, bare feet.  Vama Veche is the most fun, followed closely by Wreck.  La Jolla really doesn’t even belong in the same category as the other two.  There’s lots of surfing here though.  Surf rentals, surf boards, surf lessons, surf sections, and surf shops dominate the town.  At this time of year I don’t think much of anything is happening in either Wreck or Vama.  So… La Jolla gets the gold medal for year-roundiness.

It is cooler here than I expected.  Temperature cool I mean, and by temperature cool, I mean about 16 C.  I thought I’d show up in February and be the hardy prairie Canadian boy, bare my chest to the wind, and show off my hardiness.  Insteadiness, I’ve spent most of my time bundled up in my bunny hug, even as I wear shorts where ever I go.  At times, I’ve noticed the locals wearing less than me.  WTF?

Maybe it has something to do with the spray canned cheese they sell down here.