Monday, April 06, 2009

Reading the Picture Writing on the Wall I

Exterior of "City of Glass" exhibit:

Note windows. When the sunlight comes streaming through they cast these awesome shadows:

When my wife, Marsha, and I told our friends in Florence that we were going to Pordenone in northern Italy they told us we were crazy. “Pordenone?!” exclaimed Luigi, “You might as well go buy yourself a nice firm mattress and a down comforter and hibernate for a few days!”

Gina suggested that if we really had to go to that sleepy excuse for a town we should pack some amphetamines just to keep our eyelids open.

On top of being boring they also said it was ugly.

Let’s face it, Florentines are snobs. They can say with fair certainty that any other city on the planet is boring and ugly and know without even searching Google Images that they are probably correct.

It’s one of those jokes that is really not a joke to say that most Italians consider any other city, town, or bus stop other than theirs is beneath their contempt. According to Florentines I have spoken to (and this is all true), Napolitani are scoundrels, thieves, and ride twelve to a Vespa, Milanese think they know how to dress because Milan is the Fashion Capital of the Planet but they are all slobs, and Pratesi who live exactly 20 minutes away all drive huge cars and drive them all very badly.

Pordenone to these people is a 38.2 square kilometer horse tranquilizer filled with 39,000 ugly people, 24 boring meters above sea level.

Once a year Pordenone holds the Dedica Festival (which, much to my relief, is not a Greatful Deadica Festival), a two-week celebration of the life and work of a single living author. This year’s celebrant was American writer, Paul Auster. The Italians are nuts for this guy.

Because David Mazzucchelli and I adapted Auster’s novel “City of Glass” into a comics story (or what your librarian once referred to as “Trash” and now proudly shelves as a “Graphic Novel”) someone thought it would be a good idea to invite me along, too. Or maybe it was just because my name, in case you missed it, is also Paul.

I had this fascinating fact pointed out to me innumerable times by various chuckling Italians. Imagine! Two guys on the planet Earth have both been named Paul and they’re both, you won’t believe this, Americans! Fortunately they did not continue to note that one of the Pauls is a fabulously talented writer, poet, translator, filmmaker, who himself looks like a movie star and who smokes really cool black Dutch cigars and the other Paul takes his dog for a walk every day rain or shine.

Unfortunately David Mazzucchelli could not attend Dedica because his name is not Paul.

Pordenone turned out to be small but nice and up to date, and remarkably clean. This was especially notable after spending a week in Florence where there is scientific evidence to suggest that cigarette butts actually breed in the gutters. We were even put up in a place called the Hotel Moderne, which it was (although the Internet service and I restaged the Cuban Missile Crisis in Room 313. I played Khrushchev.).

Shortly after arrival we strolled across the piazza (Italian slang for “pizza with an extra ‘a’”) to the theatre for the opening night presentation. 1500 Auster-hungry fans filled the joint to capacity. People were turned away. Teenage girls with Paul Auster haircuts baring signs that read “We LUV You, Austerone!!” (roughly translated as: “We LUV you Biggie Auster!!”) were carried away weeping by grim Polizia.

The presentation began with a surprise short film made by Auster’s pal, Wim Wenders. At least it was attributed to Wenders, but it sure was hard to tell. As a tribute to Auster’s recent novel, “Man in the Dark” (a story I honestly loved and recommend), Wenders got the clever idea to film his tribute …in the dark! It’s a good thing for ol’ Wim that Auster’s recent book was not called “Man in the Shea Stadium with the Mormon Tabernacnle Choir, seventeen trained seals, and the June Taylor Dancers”.

Auster was interviewed and among many of the erudite things he said was, that, “A novel is the only place in the world where two strangers can meet on very intimate terms.” Nice, huh?

Two guys named Paul:

Paul K. admits that despite a lot of head nodding and smiling this is the amount of Italian that he really understands:

The next day we all went to the civic building where they had installed an exhibit of original art from City of Glass. I am suspicious of the very notion of putting comics on the wall but I gotta hand it to the guys who organized this show, Giulio Devita, Andrea Alberghini and their team, this was a smart little show. In fact, here is a video made by Davide Coral of me seeing the thing for the first time. (Warning: It plays very smoothly on a computer with some power but on a computer like my laptop built some time in the previous century it looks all jerky).

Paul Karasik from Davide Coral on Vimeo.

Upon our return to Florence our friends were quick to ask with a knowing smirk, “So how was Pordenone?”

We reflected for a moment. Marsha had eaten what she claims were the best gnocchi she has ever had and she is hard to please in the gnocchi department. I was ego-tripped out. And ultimately we were both charmed by the hospitality of our hosts and by the enchanting tourist-free city itself.

“Well, it sure ain’t Florence,” we admitted.

Swell limited edition (100) facsimile edition of my sketchbook breakdowns for City of Glass: