Polyester Road Diaries

My life in the bush of filmic ghosts

My father was a wonderfully outrageous Italian patriarch, a towering, lovable intellectual as comfortable discussing cold fusion as he was re-reading with real intrigue and wonder Green Eggs and Ham. He was a man known to family and friends not as Livio or as Mr. Davanzo but as Papa Livio. He brought our family to America when I was small. Physically powerful, cosmopolitan and brilliant, he was difficult to miss even in a crowded room. Though obviously Italian, there was nevertheless something very American about him: like the Romans centuries before him, my Papa aspired to greatness; unlike the Romans, Papa had trouble with authority. Enamored of American culture, he was in his hometown of Saletto di Piave America's greatest propagandist and most ardent defender.

Figuring him for an immortal, I was cut down by his sudden death two years ago. At 27, I was devastated, leaderless and hopeless, a young man whose life map is suddenly bereft of its most notable landmarks.

Days before he died, Papa and I took one of our last walks to a park where I played as a child. It was a listless summer afternoon, hazy, quiet and warm, and we took our time, stopping to appreciate the nuances on a pathway we had walked perhaps a hundred times. It was, I now see, a kind of vacation-restful, exotic, beautiful -in the space of an afternoon.

But the park was barren and sad. Much of the dark earth had been plowed; what remained were simply fragments of a happiness surrendered.

We sat in silence on our favorite bench, perhaps each of us reflecting on the transience of nature around Orange County.

Papa broke the quiet. "We should do something about this," he said. He quickly developed a plan to return later that evening and plant trees.

It was typical of him-a spontaneous act of personal responsibility for the beauty that once ruled. Guerrilla tactics in the name of love.

We returned later that evening with a shovel, a bag of soil and two small saplings no taller than a milk carton.

We named our budding garden Castelli in Aria-Italian for castles in the sky. But the words encompass more than translation allows. They are a euphemism for a place where all is well. A place where there is no pain or suffering. An earthly utopia.

Months later, after my father's memorial service, I decided to travel. Everyone deals with loss differently; losing my hero and inspiration in life, I wanted to drift.

Thus was born the Polyester Prince Productions 1998 Traveling Film Festival on Wheels. I would travel in my van for six weeks and, in the words of my manifesto, "show my films wherever and whenever possible-on barns, on sheets, on walls, on anything, always free, always different. All are welcome." I would manifest the spirit of Papa Livio through my travels. I would create countless castelli in aria.

May 12, 1998. Irvine. El Nio time. I head north on the 405 freeway toward the Grapevine, dodging whirling cars and sliding through raindrops and a haze of light on wet machines. I fling myself far from the lights and glitter. At sunset, I begin to feel free. My future lies ahead on seldom-traveled roads through the Central Valley. I look forward to Stockton, the mostly unannounced site of my first screening of the Polyester Prince Traveling Film Festival on Wheels. I get lost for a while on rural roads that lead nowhere and everywhere before finding myself in downtown Stockton. I assumed this would be a good place to begin exploring. I am wrong. Downtown is a place that time and humanity have forsaken. I roll in after dusk. The mood is unsettling: a post-apocalyptic world of destitution and squalor. A sea of transients washes up against the foundations of gorgeous historical buildings whose faades tell stories of passion, change and hope. I feel like a character in Escape From New York; I keep thinking Kurt Russell will come crashing down the street with machine guns screaming to the skies. The bitter irony is that while many small communities revere their old downtowns (if only as a means of attracting Hollywood film crews), Stockton seems to have walked away from its. The city is now perhaps more famous for a schoolyard shooting than agricultural achievement.

I spend my first night sleeping in the van in the parking lot of an upscale tennis club, unable to contact my friends.

May 13. Stockton. I pass the night gently in the grip of red wine and a head full of dreams. That evening, a modest group gathers in the living room of the lovely Madeleine Gonzalez, known to many as Maddog, for my first screening on the road. As her name implies, Maddog is a woman to be reckoned with-one part fire, 10 parts love. We met in grad school at Humboldt, where we spent many sunny afternoons floating down the Klamath River together, equipped only with wine and an accordian. Years later, she still opens her door to projects like mine.

A Filmography of Paolo Davanzo

By Paolo Davanzo.

Born August 16, 1970, in Torino, Italy. Master's degree in film production from Humboldt State University in Humboldt, California.

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