As someone who’s visited and hung out at the Hanoi Cinematheque two or three times, this birthday greeting (sent by an old friend) meant something. If only the artist in question had tried a little harder to (a) tilt the wall lettering a bit more to the left and (b) make the font stylistically align….oh, well. I only just noticed this. It got me.
It’s currently 8:35 pm in Hanoi and 6:35 am in Los Angeles. We’ll be heading back to Hanoi Airport tomorrow (Sunday) morning, and then catching the same 12:20 pm flight to Seoul. An hour or two later our respective flights will leave for New York (Jett, Cait) and Los Angeles (me). My flight will leave Seoul at 8 pm Sunday night and arrive in Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon at 3:10 pm.
My Vietnam atmosphere pics are mounting up, I realize, and perhaps are starting to seem a little monotonous to some, but this is what’s happening on my end and I’ll be seeing it through. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and every day (sorry for the cliche) is a feast for the senses and not incidentally the soul, and it’s Sunday anyway so where’s the harm?
My flight from Hue landed at 9:30 am, and I was back at the Hanoi Movenpick by 10:15 or so. At 12:30 pm I went to a lunch at Ly Club with Hanoi Film Festival sponsor and Vidotour president and CEO Nguyen Mai, Vietnamese actor Chi Bao, finance director But Dinh Anh and actor-model Nhan Phuc Vinh. Then I walked back to the Movenpick with good-natured Vidotour employee Nguyen Son.
I fell in love with Hanoi almost right away. My flight from Tokyo arrived at 10:25 pm (or 7:25 am LA time) so I couldn’t see all that much, and I haven’t even walked around Old Town, in part due to relentless solicitations (full-body massage, blowjobs…”what do you want, man?”) from young guys on scooters and one 30ish woman in particular who wouldn’t give up) so I’ve really only seen the outskirts and the glistenings of the Red River and the immediate neighborhood near the Hanoi Movenpick.
But I live for cities like this. Cities with natural beauty, economic vitality and tourist appeal but with a fair amount of funk and native aroma on the fringes, side streets and outlying areas, and which haven’t been noticably affected, much less smothered, by corporate plastic enterprises and bad-taste architecture and franchises or any of that 21st Century flotsam that has infected almost every large or mid-size city in the U.S.
Older cities always look and feel and smell different than you might anticipate. I haven’t begun to digest any of the aromas but I love that the corporate plastic element is almost non-existent. I realize, of course, that in celebrating this I am convincing 90% if not 95% of the typical tourists who might read this to never visit Hanoi, but them’s the breaks. Most of the people out there want synthetic comforts when they go on vacations.
Hanoi reminds me of the less slick, less wealthy sections of towns between Nice and Cannes combined with a little Mexico here and there. Elegance and history and poverty and civic pride and corporate investment and squares and government buildings and the red lights covering the walls of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. It’s not some nouveau-riche uptown super-burgh looking to hook in tourists who want the same bland aesthetic they can get in Atlantic City, Cancun or Las Vegas, but a storied, richly atmospheric, agreeably down-at-the-heels atmosphere — not in the center of town, mind, which is fairly flush and bucks-up and well-tended but in the outskirts and along the four-lane, amber-lit boulevards coming into town. And I mean that in the most flattering way imaginable.
The air is heavy and humid in Hanoi, delightfully so. I was told to prepare for fall-type weather… wrong! I’ve seen no fast-food franchises and only one supermall, and it didn’t look like anything in the States. The occasional brick and cobblestoned sidewalks and streets and walls along the boulevards are old and imperfect and rounded down. Hanoi has been here for a thousand years. The agreeably runddown look of it is mixed in with occasional remnants of French colonial homes and the occasional soul-less hotel or office building. And in the daytime, of course, there are tens of thousands of scooters and bicycles.
It’s 1:45 am now (or 8:45 am in LA). I have to get up at 6:30 am to be at the airport (roughly a 40 minute drive to the northwest) for a 9:20 am flight to Danang. I guess I’m going to try and crash.
Ninh, a very sweet and thorough guy hired by Videotour, met me at the gate and facilitated my Vietnamese visa and passport situation.
I’ve accepted a generous invitation to visit and cover the 2012 Hanoi Film Festival (11.25 through 11.29). I’ll leave a few days before Thanksgiving to visit Danang and Hue before returning to Hanoi for four days of moviegoing, interviewing and event-covering. I’m figuring there will have to be at least four or five Asian-produced films worth savoring. It’ll be a chance to learn, open up and breathe in fresh aromas.
I have to be myself — the sum total of genes and upbringing and opportunities missed and seized, the small percentage of movies I’ve seen (hundreds as opposed to thousands) that are truly bracing or soul-soothing or a combination of both, fortunate good health (genes again), a flood of cultural and political (not to mention sensual, sexual, musical and spiritual) influences, a life of dreams and longings and drudgery and occasional adventure, decades of struggle and hand-to-mouth survival, the “stink of L.A. in your bones” (Charles Bukowski line) and the aromas of Paris, Hanoi, London, exurban Fairfield County, Prague and Savannah, endless car tune-ups and repairs and public transportations, mostly hard work and little slivers of leisure, the stink and horror of Twitter, ups and downs, Italian fashion and European restaurant solace, highs and lows and earphones…it is what it fucking is. A poor thing perhaps, but mine own.
So if the HE package doesn’t rock the rafters of this or that movie-savoring clique or tribe or realm with certain specific agendas and world-views, there’s probably not much I can do about it.
Vincent Hanna: “So you never wanted a regular type life?”
Neil MacAuley: “What’s that, barbecues and ball games?”
The blessing of tapping out a daily column 10 or 12 hours daily (if you include watching films at home) and generally running around and hitting film festivals (obviously pre-pandemic) was that it didn’t include life’s usual-usuals — okay, maybe an occasional barbecue or a ball game (although the last time I attended a game at Dodger Stadium was sometime in the late ‘90s) but generally it was about operating my own steam engine and living off the fumes of that.
That all came to a crashing halt 11 months ago, of course. And now, in the words of Martin Sheen’s Cpt. Willard, “I wake up and there’s nothing.”
I don’t know why I just wrote that. The column isn’t nothing. The daily discipline and discovery and occasional tumult of Hollywood Elsewhere is damn near close to everything. Without it the emptiness would eat me whole like a blue heron swallowing a live chipmunk.
But the current, indisputable fact is that the special joys of this kind of life — the fun, the surge and the Don Logan bolt and buzz of it all…the laughs and encounters, the luscious flavors and intrigues, the traveling and the airports and cavernous European train stations, the occasional set visits, cool parties, subway intrigues, Academy screenings, small screenings, all-media screenings, press junkets, visiting the homes of friends near and far, noisy restaurants, walking the crowded streets of Rome, London, Paris and Hanoi, writing in crowded cafes, hitting the occasional bar with a pally or two, the aroma of exotic places and the hundreds upon hundreds of things that just happen as part of the general hurly-burly (including the generally ecstatic idea of a world without masks)…all of that is fucking gone now, and it probably won’t come back for another eight to twelve months, if that.
Plus there’s the terror of wokester culture and the notion that there are more than a few people out there who wouldn’t mind slipping a blue plastic bag over my head.
I haven’t felt this consumed by ennui and despair since junior high school. But at least I still have the daily grind, and for this I feel very lucky. And so this NY Times article about the serious pitfalls of letting your work overwhelm or dictate your life…my immediate reaction was “are you kidding me?”
My favorite line in the whole piece:
For 35 or 40 years my basic response was, I felt, nicely phrased by William Holden’s Pike Bishop in The Wild Bunch: “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Now I’m not so sure. No roller coaster, no life. Well, I have a “life” (Tatiana’s persistent faith and disciplines and laughter, getting chewed out for my endless failings, restful nights, good stuff to stream, old films that look and sound great, our two cats and the comfort and assurance of the day-to-day) but the thrills and adventure are all but gone.
Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill: “These are the bad times.”
But at least Trump is finished and the vaccines are starting to give people a slight sense of hope, or at least an idea that life in this long dark tunnel will eventually open up, oxygen and sunlight-wise.
Remember when $20 bills used to mean something, above and beyond what you might tip the valet guy? Nowadays you need to carry a few $50 bills around just for the feeling of them in your hand, for that wonderful crispness and to remind yourself that you’re alive and cooking and planning ahead…that you have blood in your veins and thoughts in your brain. I love $50 bills! Happiness is roaming around lower Broadway (south of Houston) or Hanoi’s old town with six or seven $50 bills in your money clip.
Someone on Tiktok posted a video of Trump in Florida this weekend. They say he was handing out $50 bills. pic.twitter.com/Vq5fTswok3
— Hunter Walker (@hunterw) February 5, 2021
This is currently the most emotionally soothing photo in my system. I’d like to be able to visit this region of Vietnam every April or thereabouts. If I was ordered to live somewhere in Asia I’d park it in Hanoi but come here for occasional week-long stays. Two other far-from-the-madding-crowd downshift comfort spots: (a) Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland; (b) Knocklong, Ireland (near Limerick).
This looks like Central Vietnam, south of Hue, northwest of Danang…something like that. Or maybe it’s farther south…what do I know?
A few days ago film critic Thelma Adams posted a long list of destinations. She said to put YES next to any place you’ve been. The average is 8, she said. Thelma has visited 56. I’ve visited 98 or 99, and I will never, ever visit Dubai. And honestly? At this stage in my life I’m not putting a lot of faith in the idea of visiting Alaska.
Here’s my incomplete rundown, which omits a few cities, towns and regions:
Amsterdam — YES
Arcos de la Frontera, Spain — YES
Arizona — YES
Atlanta — YES
Austria – YES
Barcelona — YES
Belgium — YES
Belize — YES
Berlin — YES
Bern, Switzerland — YES
Boston — YES (lived there!)
Bordeaux, France — YES
I’ve been reading for years about monogrammed Red River belt buckles. An elite few (director Howard Hawks, John Wayne, screenwriter Borden Chase, et. al.) received personalized belt buckles as keepsakes after the 1948 western (actually lensed in ’46) finished shooting. Nine years ago Michael Cieply wrote about the matter of three missing Red River belt buckles in the N.Y. Times.
I’ve always wanted to see or better yet hold one of these real-deal belt buckles, which are about 4 x 3 inches. Knowing that to be impossible and fool that I am, I decided earlier today to buy a poor man’s version of one of the originals. Yes, I know — too shiny and brightly colored, but I’m figuring I can lacquer or grime it up when it arrives.
An allegedly original Red River belt buckle.
Piece-of-shit Tijuana border crossing version.
Knockoff of Howard Hawks’ (HWH) RR belt buckle.