Sunday 28th March

Every year that I have been in Pittsburgh (25 and counting) I have rented a large house or apartment. The first 15 years my children’s visits kept it full, indeed Finn lived with me for two whole terms and went to school here. But for the last decade the children rarely come and, if they do, they are keener on staying in New York. This year, for the first time, no children at all come to Pittsburgh and although Flavia is now a regular visitor, there is no longer any reason to rent such a large place. This means, however, that I will no longer be able to put up visitors. Of course they can stay in the Holiday Inn but there is a pleasure in welcoming someone into your home that will be gone.
I didn’t know it when I invited her, but Frederique Berthet will be my last guest. Frederique helped me with research on the Godard book in Paris in 2002. She had done her doctorate on the economic basis of the producer Anatole Dauman’s company (Argos Films) and she was an indispensable guide to the economics of French film making. I remember in particular one day spent at the CNC archives in a Bunuel landscape outside Paris. Two years ago she gave me the book that she had written on Pascale Dauman which was a very different kind of work from her thesis. She was still interested in the economics of film, though now focused on a distribution company (Pari Films), but this interest was now inflected by much wider concerns of personal, social and cultural history. When my colleague and friend Volodia Padunov asked me if I had any suggestions for visitors I immediately thought of Frederique. If we had been making a film then we would have seen Frederique the next day but academic time is very slow and it is nine months after the invitation that I go to Pittsburgh airport to pick her up. I love showing visitors Pittsburgh, the view from Mount Washington, the drive out to Fallingwater in the Laurel Mountains, the Warhol Museum, Tessaro’s, Pamela’s. Each visit rewards and there is the added pleasure of your guest’s surprise: Pittburgh remains one of the best kept secrets in the world. Nobody knows how beautiful it is.
Even better Frederique gives a great talk on film and history. Chronique d’un ete was the first film that Pascale Dauman worked on although there is no acknowledgment of that work in the film’s credits. Equally invisible is a long sequence from the opening interview when Marceline Loridan talks about her experiences as a deportee which was cut by Rouch. Frederique discovered this transcript in the archives and she uses it to show how Marceline’s memories in the film are entirely at the service of the directors’ wishes. It is nearly fifty years later that Loridan makes a film in which she bears witness to what she wants to say about the death camps to which she was deported as a fifteen year old. Frederique’s talk is elegant because the various strands – Pascale Dauman, the status of oral history and Rouch and Morin’s film – are only gathered together at the end to emphasise the multiplicity of experience. Frederique’s talk reduplicates at the concrete historical level, my efforts to understand modernism’s stress on the multiplicity of experience. It sets my brain racing.
When I come down to breakfast the next day I hear children in the kitchen, a sound that I have never heard in this house. For a moment I am completely thrown and then all is explained when I realize that Frederique is on Skype and I say “Bonjour” to her family. The revolution in communication of the last 25 years is unbelievable. No Skype, no e-mail, not even any faxes or Fedex. There were telephones but they weren’t mobile. In the five years that producing films was my major occupation I would rise at 6 and do two hours on the telephone before lunchtine in England (1pm) . Thus by 8 am I was free to start my American day – always able to call in for some emergency but basically cut off sufficiently from my production office that I could concentrate on academic work. I doubt that what I did then would now be possible – 24/7 contact with the UK would never have left me the mental space to revolve questions of the Elizabethan stage or re-think questions of the linguistics of writing.
When I drop Frederique at the airport, I am brutally reminded of another material change that would have rendered my early life in Pittsburgh impossible. Frederique has to change in New York to get to Paris. For my first 20 years there was a direct flight to London. I can and did fly at a moment’s notice for a real emergency. But all that came to an end when US Airways pulled out of Pittsburgh as a hub airport four or five years ago. Now you can no longer fly seven days to a week to London or other European cities; you can’t even fly to Los Angeles or San Francisco without changing planes. I bid a fond farewell to Frederique, who has been a perfect guest but as I drive back to the city my thoughts are gloomy – the last visitor to a city that has become a backwater and a past that is now impossible to recapture even materially. As I enter the Fort Pitt tunnel, blackness descends.
And then, out onto the confluence of the Three Rivers, sunlight reflecting off the water and the skyscrapers.
Pittsburgh endures.


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