Tag Archives: John Fante

Memorial Day, Eagle Rock Boulevard

When I think of L.A. I think of things that are no longer there.

John Fante’s Bunker Hill boarding house,

The crumpled slips between the wooden seats at Santa Anita racetrack,

Where Bukowski cursed his way through another weekday afternoon.

The marble fireplace where Scott Fitzgerald stood,

In the rented Hollywood home where he tried to recharge his life – and where he lost it.

That strange bright emptiness – a great unease – that Joan Didion lived in and wrote about.

The last is still there, high above Eagle Rock Boulevard, where I walk, remembering.

All of these people wrote, and lived and drank and fought, against it. And for what?

The dust, the heat, the dry air, the lure and the promise and the tiredness, are too great to overcome.

Not that we should stop trying.

—–

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I love that book – what’s it about?

What was that last book about?

‘What was that Camus novel about?’

Four months ago I read Haruki Murakami’s short novel South Of The Border, West Of The Sun.

Today I can barely remember a thing about the book. The characters (I’m sure there were male and female ones, maybe one of each), the plot (a quest of some sort, maybe involving travel across borders?), the ending (not happy, I’m fairly sure of that) – it’s all a blank page.

Now the book sits on a shelf, needling me from across the room. The problem is that it’s stacked alongside a Dave Eggers’ short story collection and a Jay McInerney wine book – and I can remember very little about those either.

What’s going on? Do I pick forgettable reads? Is my empathy through the floor? Or my concentration shredded? Am I reading on autopilot?

Part of this is age-related, of course. At 38 I’m likely experiencing the onset of age-related memory impairment. But I read Ask The Dust after Murakami’s novel and I recall every rooming house, bar and street corner.

About a boy. And a girl.

About a boy. And a girl.

Sitting on my shelf next to Murakami and Co is Patti Smith’s memoir M Train. In this account of her mid-life years, Smith is often preoccupied with the irritants of ageing. At one point the poet-singer (a Murakami devotee herself, incidentally), re-reading Albert Camus over her black coffee writes of “an intermittent, lifelong enigma”.

“I finished many books in such a manner…closing the covers ecstatically yet having no memory of the content…I look at the covers of such books and their contents remain a mystery that I cannot bring myself to solve. Certain books I loved and lived within yet cannot remember”.

That’s the thing. If I forget writing that was forgettable to begin with, that might be understandable. But some of the great long and short works that I’ve loved – Goodbye, My Brother; Great Expectations; The End of the Affair – are lost to me, in details if not in spirit.

The downside of this is that I often have a vague notion that a book is great but can’t really recall why. The upside? I’ve an excuse to read it again.

But not South Of The Border, West Of The Sun. It turns out it’s about a boy and a girl. The boy travels on a navel-gazing quest into his own past and winds up at sorrowful, empty ending. Sometimes your memory – or the lack of one – is enough.

_____

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Keeping the desert down

John Fante. Pic: Afag Azizova

Studiously avoiding making resolutions for a new year, or asking about anyone else’s, I’ve instead spent the past 24 hours with Arturo Bandini – alter ego of writer John Fante – in the streets and boarding houses of 1930s Los Angeles.

Fante’s 1939 novel Ask The Dust is a tribute to human connection, its difficulty and its fleeting nature. The dry poverty of a life lived in a city built on a desert is ever present, the background to Bandini’s writings, wanderings, and attempts at wooing Camilla, his “Mayan princess” (and, at times, his waitress).

Bandini’s desperate LA love affair plays out on the novel’s surface, beneath which lies the sand, ancient and patient and unconquerable, indifferent to the almighty-yet-petty struggles of man.

“The desert was always there, a patient white animal, waiting for men to die, for civilisations to flicker and pass into the darkness…all the evil of the world seemed not evil at all, but inevitable and good and part of that endless struggle to keep the desert down.”

And so Bandini, obsessed by his own struggles with writing and women, makes a resolution. Having scripted a savage criticism of the short stories of a love rival who approached him for writing advice he reconsiders.

“Under the big stars in a shack lay a man like myself, who would probably be swallowed by the desert sooner than I, and in my hand I held an effort of his, an expression of his struggle against the implacable silence…

His fate was the common fate of all, his finish my finish; and here tonight in this city of darkened windows were other millions like him and like me…

I walked back to my room and spent three hours writing the best criticism of his work that I could possibly write.”

This outstretched hand offers a moment of hope in a story that will prove to sorely need it, and a message that self improvement is of little worth compared to an attempt at human connection – which is as good a resolution as any today.

_____

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‘Beguiled and voracious ‘ – a literary meal

'Portrait of James Joyce' Patrick Tuohy (1924-1927)

‘Portrait of James Joyce’
Patrick Tuohy (1924-1927)

My reading habits are a lot like my eating ones. I go too long between chapters or meals and wind up short-tempered and salivating.

This often leads to an undignified gorge-fest, leaving me sweating, shirt-stained and ashamed.

And that was just the first chapter of Eat, Pray, Love.

On other occasions my hunger for a book and dinner collide and I find myself, stuck between pages and meals, craving Ishmael’s clam chowder or Holden Caulfield’s Swiss cheese sandwich.

On one of these peckish occasions it occurred to me – what would be my perfect literary meal?

Appetite:
Half the pleasure lies in anticipation, I’m told (by masochists). Ask Leopold Bloom. Standing at the counter of Davy Byrne’s Dublin pub, in James Joyce’s Ulysses, the ravenous, rambling ad-man scans the offerings.

“Sardines on the shelves. Almost taste them by looking. Sandwich? Ham and his descendants mustered and bred there. Potted meats…Cauls mouldy tripes windpipes faked and minced up. Puzzle find the meat. Kosher. No meat and milk together. Hygiene that was what they call now. Yom Kippur fast spring cleaning of inside. Peace and war depend on some fellow’s digestion. Religions. Christmas turkeys and geese. Slaughter of innocents. Eat drink and be merry. Then casual wards full after. Heads bandaged. Cheese digests all but itself. Mighty cheese.

—Have you a cheese sandwich?

—Yes, sir.”

EH 7239G 1924 Ernest Hemingway outside of his residence at 13 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, Paris, ca. 1924. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Ernest Hemingway in Paris, 1924

Starter:

A young Ernest Hemingway sits in a cafe at the Place St Michel on Paris’ Left Bank. After dutifully eyeing up a beautiful young woman and finishing “a very good story” he orders a dozen portugaises and a half carafe of dry white wine.

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”


Main:

A grown-up son returns to the bosom of his mother’s Italian-American table in John Fante’s The Brotherhood Of The Grape.

“The kitchen. La cucina, the true mother country, this warm cave of the good witch deep in the desolate land of loneliness, with pots of sweet potions bubbling over the fire, a cavern of magic herbs, rosemary and thyme and sage and oregano, balm of lotus that brought sanity to lunatics, peace to troubled, joy to the joyless . . . the altar a kitchen range . . . the old children, lured back to their beginnings . . .beguiled and voracious Virgil filled his cheeks with gnocchi and eggplant and veal, and flooded them down his gullet with the fabulous grape of Joe Musso, spellbound, captivated, mooning over his great mother.”

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Apple pic. Pic: Dwight Burdette

Dessert:

Dean Moriarty is barreling his way across the United States, fuelled by liquor, pills and the internal combustion engine. Jack Kerouac’s On The Road anti-hero doesn’t spend all this time speeding through the American night, though – sometimes he stops for pie. Like this time, outside Joliet, Illinois.

“I went to sit in the bus station and think this over. I ate another apple pie and ice cream; that’s practically all I ate all the way across the country, I knew it was nutritious and it was delicious, of course…[later, in Des Moines] I ate apple pie and ice cream –  it was getting bigger as I got deeper into Iowa, the pie bigger, the ice cream richer.”

Coffee:

And finally, after all else, coffee. Followed by contemplation, and gratefulness – the ‘Nirvana’ of Charles Bukowski’s poem.

“the meal was
particularly
good
and the
coffee.
the waitress was
unlike the women
he had
known.
she was unaffected,
there was a natural
humor which came
from her.
the fry cook said
crazy things.

Coffee, Dublin

Coffee, Dublin

the dishwasher,
in back,
laughed, a good
clean
pleasant
laugh.
the young man watched
the snow through the
windows.
he wanted to stay
in that cafe
forever.”

_____

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