A Week in Culture: Tim Small, Publisher, Writer, Filmmaker
March 7, 2013 | by Tim Small
10:00 A.M. Having just quit my job (well, not just quit, but still) to dedicate myself to “my own projects,” I have the great luxury of being able to sleep until ten every morning. It’s disgraceful. I eat bread and butter and drink a cup of tea while I watch last night’s NBA highlights.
11:00 A.M. Yesterday I gave a copy of Train Dreams to my special lady, mostly because I started reading it again and it’s just a perfect-perfect gem of a book. I read more of it on the subway as I make my way to VICE Italy, my old office, where I have to pick up two pallets of new Milan Review books. They are both comics and they will both be presented at BilBOlBul, the independent comics festival in Bologna. One is the Italian translation of Prison Pit, a hilarious and ultra-violent graphic novel by Johnny Ryan, which is like a mixture between violent mangas, wrestling, and a twelve year old’s brain. I decided to title it Il pozzo di sangue, which literally means “the well of blood.” The other is called Rap Violent in the Ghetto Street and it is a collection of dumb, satirical comic strips about rap and new-age philosophy (but filtered through a weird take on Italian popular culture) by Dr. Pira, an Italian artist who specializes in terrible drawings with an amazing sense of humor. It’s very hard to explain to Americans, but Italians seem to get it.
12:00 P.M. I finish an e-mail correspondence with Daniele Manusia, a sports journalist from Rome who writes a weekly column called “Stili di Gioco,” in which he might take it upon himself to write ten thousands words on Ibrahimovic or Eric Cantona. I love it—actually, I had commissioned him to do it for VICE Italy, when I was the editor in chief. Our e-mails are about Mario Balotelli, the Italian bad-boy striker who was just bought by my team, AC Milan, bringing an insane amount of joy to my heart and making me €89.00 poorer, because yes, I bought his official jersey the day he was announced. The article ends up being five thousand words of back-and-forth between me and Daniele wherein my theory is that Italy is a racist country and that Balotelli is awesome. It goes online shortly after we’re done and is very well received, partly because I spend the next hour sending it to every person I know, including the AC Milan press office.
3:00 P.M. Me and Giulio Squillacciotti put the last finishing touches on Queens of the Alps, a documentary in the Italica Web series that will be the last episode of the first season, and which will probably also be the last documentary I make for VICE Italy in quite some time. It’s about cow-fighting in the Alps and about two kids who raise cattle and are as obsessed with their weird regional sport as much as city kids are obsessed with “regular” sports. It’s coming together rather well, in large part thanks to the great soundtrack that was put together with music by the Rome-based label Geograph Records.
7:00 P.M. Me and Giulio head to the opening of the new Libreria Utopia, which just moved from its old spot in the city center to a place up north, where I am planning to have one beer and then get dinner with a couple of publishing friends but dinner becomes a “plate of pasta at a friend’s house” which becomes “a plate of pasta at a friend’s house after another beer” which becomes “a tiny portion of pasta and twelve glasses of wine” which becomes “stumbling home and chain-smoking and saying some ridiculous things to old girlfriends on Facebook message at three A.M.”
10:00 A.M. Today is Valentine’s and I have a throbbing hangover so I decide to dunk my head in cold water. I get back in bed with a cup of tea and finish rereading Train Dreams for the fourth time. The part in it about Kootenai Bob is as heartbreaking as the first time I read it.
11:00 A.M. I head to a patisserie called Sissi, which is right by my house, in Piazza Tricolore, just behind the Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli. Sissi is very posh and its head barista is a very sweet man who laughs all the time and wears multicolored glasses and calls everyone vecchio mio, which in Italian means something like “old-timer.” He uses it with me, too, even though I’m fifteen years younger than him. I order an americano and an extremely fluffy butter croissant which I devour in front of an astonished Giovanna Silva, a photographer and fresh new publisher who has just brought me the first book she published, Narciso nelle colonie, a travelogue-novel-photo-reportage-guide to Ethiopia with words by Vincenzo Latronico and photographs by Armin Linke. I bring her a copy of Il pozzo di sangue. Looking at the books we just exchanged they seem like exact opposites of each other. Giovanna is wearing a salmon colored angora sweater that looks like the softest thing I have ever seen and I want to put my face in it.
I buy eighteen heart-shaped cookies.
12:00 P.M. I head back home and take two Advil and I e-mail Nathalie Du Pasquier because I love her paintings and arrange a studio visit for later in the week. I try to write a page of a script I’m struggling with but I can’t do it and I’m late for lunch so I leave the house wearing a Hüsker Dü T-shirt under my sweater. I had drunkenly laid it out the night before in order to remember to send it to a friend in LA and now I want to wear it one last time before I do send it.
Before leaving my building I give one of the heart-shaped cookies to my porter and she beams and I know I will never lose a package again.
1:00 P.M. Lunch with my special lady in the old artist’s neighborhood, Brera. Due to the hangover (and the fact that I am twice her size) I eat all my food and two-thirds of hers. Heart-shaped cookies are exchanged.
3:00 P.M. Coffee with ex-girlfriend (name: Maria) at Cucchi, an old café in Corso Genova. More heart-shaped cookies are exchanged.
4:00 P.M. I swing by the VICE Italy office where I am still in the middle of a four-month process of clearing my desk (I gave three-month’s notice in September and people are looking at me more and more with a what is he still doing here kind of look every day I show up again). I have a look at the final, post-produced, sound-mixed version of Queens of the Alps. Which is, after all, the reason I’m still coming to this office to begin with. It’s good! Seems like we’ll be uploading it next week.
I send a few e-mails and figure out that I might manage to organize a show for Il pozzo di sangue at the Treviso Comic Book Festival in late September. I also have a look at Nicola Pecoraro’s ongoing comic project, called MCMX, which looks amazing and which I can’t show here.
7:00 P.M. I give one heart-shaped cookie to every girl in the office in exchange for a symphony of awws and then I walk home with my friend Virginia, talking the long route, all the way up the Navigli canals and then on to Via Torino, up toward the Duomo, then down Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Corso Venezia, and then right down Via Mozart, which is one of my favorite walks in Milan. Everything looks austere and stately and elegant and it makes me feel extremely stately and elegant, too, even if I am wearing sneakers and a hoodie.
8:00 P.M. I get home and decide it might be better to take the night off and spend ten delightful minutes in front of my unread books pile next to my bed and decide I can’t decide which one to pick up next, so instead I make spinach with butter and peperoncino and pecorino cheese and stick some sea-bass fillets which I found in my freezer in an oven dish with olives and tomatoes. While my dinner’s cooking, I head back to the pile and decide to pick up Satantango. I crack it open and read a W. G. Sebald blurb that says it’s better than Gogol’s Dead Souls and then I put it down and turn on the TV. Undecided between catching up with Girls and Downton Abbey I decide to watch the more masculine third option, Italian Masterchef, and feel my hangover finally subside.
10:00 A.M. I have a meeting with VICE to pitch two shows that I might produce externally for them. One’s a documentary/reality show about two dudes who are opening an upscale hot dog and noodle bar in Porta Romana, the other a funny, weird travel show presented by my friend Costantino Della Gherardesca which we’re calling Découvrir l’Italie. The exec tells me his budgets have been slashed and I think, Haven’t they all.
11:00 A.M. I take the bus home and spend most of it trying to come up with new ideas to make money.
7:00 P.M. I have a meeting with Tommaso Garner, an art director friend of mine who’s helping me design my own site, which I’ll need now that I’m freelancing jobs and whatnot.
12:00 A.M. I am interviewing Marco Belinelli, the Chicago Bulls two-guard, on the phone for L’Uomo Vogue and the time difference is six hours. He’s in Boston, and asks me to call him back in an hour, so I make another pot of tea and work a bit on an article that I’m supposed to write for this very Web site you are reading now. It’s been dragging on for months. I call Marco back at 1 A.M. and we talk for twenty minutes, during which he laughs at the fact that Americans have given him the nickname “Clutchinelli,” due to his penchant for making ridiculous last-minute shots that go in and lead his team to victory, like this one.
I like Marco so much I decide to support the Bulls in the East this year.
I sleep late both mornings, I read—or try to read—parts of Building Stories, I have lunch with friends twice, I see my special lady twice, I shoot two girls in my apartment for this girlfriend project I’m shooting (wherein I get girls to act as if they were being filmed by their boyfriend and then edit them all together, which could either turn out to be a powerful meditation on the universality of love or the creepiest thing I’ve ever done in my life), I watch Men in Black III, Michael Haneke’s Caché for the fifth time, and Ted, which is just plain awful. Men In Black III’s best part is when Will Smith’s about to travel back in time to 1969 and the nerd who’s helping him tells him, “1969 wasn’t the best time for your people ... I’m just saying. It’s like a lot cooler now.” It reminds me of when I obliviously told my friend Stephen Ansah that if I could time-travel I would really like to go to Alabama in the 1930s. He didn’t agree in the slightest. In my defense, I was deeply in love with O Brother, Where Art Thou? that month.
The rest of the weekend includes grappa, wine, Hendrick’s gin, a successful Thai basil beef and rice, more reading, watching the entire Brass Eye DVD, thinking about the genius of Chris Morris, and more thinking about how to make money.
The screenplay remains there, on my desktop, challenging me to write her, but I ignore her pleas.
10:00 A.M. I wake up refreshed and decide to shelf the screenplay I’m struggling with for the time being and start off surprisingly well on a new thing, which, for now, is called A Woman In Trouble. All I know as I’m writing it is that it will be about a woman who is in trouble and it’s going to be a dialogue-heavy short movie that I want to shoot in the States. It is obviously an homage to Inland Empire, which is probably my favorite movie of the last ten years.
12:00 P.M. I have a meeting with the Missoni fashion house, for whom I might be making a short documentary about the preparation for their upcoming Fashion Week catwalk show. I think I’ll call it Ready to Slip into the Day. The meeting goes well, the green light is given, and I leave more decided then ever to involve music by avant-garde R&B act Autre Ne Veut in it. ANV’s music is incredible and it’s perfect for the kind of documentary I'm thinking about.
2:00 P.M. I spend the afternoon on production for Ready to Slip into the Day: making calls, finding equipment, preparing a shooting schedule, drafting budgets, and watching fashion movies that might be inspiring. The king of fashion documentaries, of course, remains the unparalleled Valentino: The Last Emperor.
6:00 P.M. Time to waste some money on Amazon! As if I really need other books, considering I have around four to five hundred unread books in my own home, I buy four NYRB Classics: Thomas Tryon’s The Other, Camara Laye’s The Radiance of the King, The Stories of Robert Sheckley, and The New York Stories of Elizabeth Hardwick. Hardwick’s the reason I’m buying these four books. She’s a relatively new discovery for me, and I enjoyed Sleepless Nights so much that I feel like I should have more. That being said, I really don’t know where to put books in my house any more, and I should really try to stick to buying one book at a time, but I can’t help myself.
10:00 A.M. I get a call from the Nike Italy marketing manager, who asks me to take a shot at writing some copy for their new Mario Balotelli campaign and it makes me so happy that I don’t do anything else all day, besides finalizing Ready to Slip into the Day and bringing a raspberry tart to a friend of mine whom I had drunkenly offended over the weekend. The tart is a form of apology, and it is accepted.
9:00 P.M. I sit at my desk and write this.
1:00 A.M. I send this to Sadie Stein.