My partner Kathy J and I have just returned from Canton, NY where we were lucky enough to attend a poetry reading, gallery opening and book signing with Viggo Mortensen.

Friday afternoon we packed our bags and headed over to border into New York State, as the sun dipped down below the horizon we slowly made our way across dimly lit back roads and small towns towards the University.

We finally arrived at the University just as Viggo was prepared to open the gallery to students, faculty and specially invited guests. The opening reception was held in the Richard F Brush gallery, a small, two-room gallery with excellent lighting and sound. Viggo’s many portraits from ‘Signlanguage’, his latest book, were displayed. Each image, some several feet long, were laminated in glass and the extra glossy look gave you the feeling that they were just exposed and were hanging to dry in some darkroom.

Many of the attendees spent their time waiting for Viggo to arrive looking at his photos and poetry on display. The gallery managed to re-create some of his written work on the walls of the exhibit.

Before Viggo spoke one of the teachers at the University gave a delightfully candid speech about Viggo’s time at the school, and his time as a guest at the teacher’s house for the summer.

Viggo came to the mic and thanked everyone for attending, he told the students to enjoy their time in Canton and to try and become part of the entire village and not just the school. He expressed a want for the students to see beyond their immediate needs of homework and study and take the time to look around them.

Instead of making a grand speech Viggo spoke only for a short time then proceeded to mingle in the crowd the best he could. Fans were told not to ask for autographs or photos with Viggo, but you can imagine how quickly that rule was ignored.

I managed to speak with Viggo at the second gallery opening later that night. I told him how many emails we received in regards to his appearance on the Charlie Rose show last December. I told him how upset I was that I missed him in New York for the TTT premiere, and he told me he wasn’t able to make it either due to work.

For both gallery openings the two rooms were packed full with friends and family alike. Viggo’s Mother and stepfather were in attendance as well. Viggo seemed somewhat adrift among the endless amount of fans begging for his attention. When Kathy and I left for some dinner I couldn’t help think Viggo would love for some quiet time. Even if he was very glad to be back at St. Lawrence, all this attention was clearly not something he craved.

Saturday was one of the warmest we’ve had (in Canton as well as Montreal), this winter has been harsher than most, and being out in the melting snow and beautiful sunshine is something that my friends to the south will never experience, and it is a sad thought.

Viggo was slated to read poetry at the theatre early in the afternoon. We arrived early to speak to some hardcore fans and see what they had to say about meeting Viggo. We ran into a looney bunch of Viggo-maniacs from the Viggo fan base website. Some of them had traveled as far as Vancouver to be there today.

They have made a local name for themselves when they arrived a few weeks earlier to queue up for tickets at 7 in the morning. The local newspapers and radio stations were calling them ‘The Fellowship of HIM’.

As 2:30 slowly approached fans eagerly awaited a chance to hear Viggo recite some of his poetry to the audience. He arrived on stage and was immediately bathed in flashing camera lights and applause. We were asked by his manager Pilar not to film his poetry reading and we respectfully agreed. We did get his introduction and a few words before the recital, more about that later.

Viggo read a few selections from various works, and even treated us to a new poem he had written recently. He also mentioned the impending war with Iraq and his thoughts and feelings about it. He told the audience in attendance that no one person should tell them what to think about this war, but that everyone has the right to discuss and debate it in the open. The crowd applauded his speech, and the poetry reading continued.

After the reading Viggo headed back to the Richard F Brush gallery to prepare for the book-signing event. He was available for almost 4 hours signing books for fans. This is a task that I would not envy! When we managed to use our press passes to get our books singed he was very courteous and asked me if I covered the poetry reading, I told him no, and he arranged for me to get a copy of the video from the school ‘If anyone gives you any trouble, tell them I said it’s ok’ (yes, Viggo has my back folks).

Many fans young and old arrived for the book signing, and Viggo was courteous and respectful to all, he asked many people the origins of their names, as I recalled, he seemed interested in heritage and cultures.

Kathy and I headed back to our hotel for some R&R and to get prepared for the screening of the ‘Fellowship’ Extended DVD at the Gulick theatre.

An opening band entertained the eager fans as they waited for Viggo to introduce the film. He arrived slightly late (as he states, his artistic and free-loving lifestyle is just an excuse for his general lack of co-ordination). He told the fans that he was glad they were watching the extended version, a version, in his opinion, is the better version and actually feels much more faster in pace than the theatrical version.

Viggo then dipped off to the Underground theatre to open the Fellowship for those eager fans, and then headed home for some well-deserved rest.

We will be cutting a new chapter of TORN Digital with highlights from this weekend. Stay tuned for that!

You can catch Viggo’s Signlanguage exhibit all this month at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY.

Special thanks goes to Macreena Doyle, Pilar from Perceval Press, St. Lawrence and of course my Kathy for taking these wonderful photos and navigating (part) of the way!