16 years after the ghastly heat wave of 2003, Europe is about to become a sweatbox again. The boys were with me during that sweltering summer. Jett had just turned 15; Dylan was 13 and 1/2. We got through it, but barely. A couple of days before the heat began, I slipped into a Castorama near Place de Clichy and bought three sizable fans. They restored our souls. If I hadn’t pounced when I did the fans might’ve been sold out.
To escape the damp, jungle-like Paris air we decided to attend 2013 Locarno Film Festival. It began on Wednesday, 8.7.03, and closed ten days later. A smart, elegant, sophisticated gathering. Locarno is in southern Switzerland, of course, but it’s northern Italy in almost every tangible sense — culturally, atmospherically, architecturally. The gelato stands were a daily blessing.
I remember Roger Ebert‘s face being all pink and sweat-beady during an outdoor discussion panel. The guys and I were constantly soaked, of course. Every afternoon around 3 or 4 we took an hour-long dip in Lake Maggiore.
“I can say with utter confidence, however, that we’re here, we’re credentialed, and we’re rockin’ and sockin’,” I wrote in an 8.5.03 filing. “That last verb referred to the fact that the dirty socks and T-shirts are boiling in a big pot of water on the stove. Not the best way to clean clothes, but we were on a budget. If you stir the clothes around in the steaming water and then cool them off and wring them out and then sun-dry them on the sundeck, they’ll at least “feel” cleaner when you put them on later.
We arrived after an all-night train ride from Paris in a second-class compartment — six bunks in a space the size of a large foot locker. Locarno was scenically beautiful, the pizzas tasted better than in Paris, black and yellow leopard-skin motifs were printed on every exploitable object and surface (that breed of cat being the festival’s theme) and the festival looked, smelled and talked like a class act.
The kids and I were having breakfast Thursday morning on the outdoor terrace at the Hotel Arcadia, where most of the journalist freeloaders were staying, when film critic and scholar Harlan Jacobson walked over and said hello. ‘Welcome to Switzerland, guys,’ he said to Jett and Dylan. ‘It’s a wild place. Drugs and girls are very plentiful here so you’ll have a good time.’ Harlan was drolly alluding to Switzerland’s reputation as the world capital of complacency, order and tidy-ness.
A guy was openly smoking weed later that night while sitting in the middle of a big crowd watching an open-air screening of Vincente Minelli‘s The Band Wagon. Fred Astaire, Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant…stoned.
Montage from 2003 Locarno Film Festival.