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Who was Roberto Bolaño?
An exhibition of the "2666" author's personal effects offers new clues to the man behind the literary legend
BY LISA LOCASCIO
L.A. Review of Books 1. THE FIRST PUBLIC EXHIBITION of the papers and personal effects of the Chilean author Roberto Bolaño is the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) exhibit “Bolaño Archive. 1977–2003,” the result of the Centre’s partnership with Bolaño’s widow, Carolina López, who along with her two children, Lautaro and Alexandra, constitute Bolaño’s heirs. The intensity of Bolaño’s posthumous fame — his second life as a cult literary idol — must be both mesmerizing and repellant to López, who for over two decades was the partner of an author for whom recognition was elusive. In the years since Bolaño’s passing, López has MacMillan Publishers only rarely spoken to the press, primarily to dispel rumors. The exhibition, which will close just weeks before the 10th anniversary of Bolaño’s early death from liver failure, is not only an unprecedented point of access to his creative process but also a unique opportunity to investigate Bolaño himself: not the winsome headshot on the back jacket, not the collective dream of his admirers, but Bolaño the immigrant, the worker, the father, the artist, the man. Readers tend to mythologize writers. A well-loved book has the power to elevate the author into a guru or totem. Bolaño’s death aggravated this process, forcing his readers to invent an origin story to explain the miracle of his work. He’s gone, so we seek his trace in his books and interviews. In the vacuum compounded by López’s silence, Bolaño legends have sprung up with weed-like rapidity, fueled by the combination of Bolaño’s sudden ubiquity and the relative paucity of biographical details. The author’s tendency to write about a doppelgänger protagonist — Arturo Belano, frequently simply “B.” — further muddies the waters. Seeking a point of entry to Bolaño’s unforgettable prose — its curious power to dazzle and baffle, the pervasive, addictive mood that Francine Prose called his “microclimate” — we repeat the verses of his contradictory legend: He was an alcoholic like Bukowski. He was Alejandro Jodorowsky’s protégé. He was a heroin addict. He never did
7/24/13 Print: » Who was Roberto Bolaño? » Print . whose exploration ofviolence and evil had probed the dark recesses of the human psyche. grounding. At the exhibit’s entrance hangs a six-foot-tall excerpt from Bolaño’s 1993 poem “Musa” (“Muse”): Musa. not far from Las Ramblas.com/2013/06/24/myths_and_legends_of_roberto_bolano_exposed_in_new_exhibit_partner/print 2/10 . . The prison story is a compensatory fiction prompted by guilt. With the CCCB exhibition. She brought economic and emotional stability. contracted from dirty needles. are my only homeland. He was arrested under suspicion of terrorism in Pinochet’s Chile. evident in prim assertions in the catalogue. Alexandra and Lautaro. López reclaims her lost husband. was in fact a happy man who experienced immense joy when he was writing.] [Bolaño]. [. The exhibition has an air of correction. as in this section by Valerie Miles. a restoration Miles explicitly endorses: [López] belongs to another tradition. damaged his liver. The CCCB is located in El Raval. asserting control of her husband’s narrative.salon. then Jorge Herralde” (his publisher). held in a secret prison. . . porque tú estás conmigo. adonde quiera que tú vayas yo voy.Salon. and escaped execution only because the men guarding him turned out to be his high school classmates.” and “Carolina reads my books first. he only began writing fiction to support his family. Sin importarme el dolor o el esfuerzo que he de jacer para seguirte. neat handwriting. the framework of a family. 2. Hepatitis C. whose unflinching gaze stares from each photograph. Sin importarme los años o la enfermedad. his notebooks show that he had every intention of becoming a novelist [. .com drugs. “Bolaño Archive. that of the practical genius whose role has been instrumental in creating an environment for a writer to work. He was never in Chile. 1977–2003” returns the story to Bolaño himself. Naturally a poet. Barcelona’s university district. and encouraged him through the days of fasting in the desert when his manuscripts were being rejected by editors and agents alike. who worked closely with López on the exhibition: Contrary to what has been repeatedly claimed about Bolaño the poet versus Bolaño the prose writer. whose vivid voice rings from each manuscript page in his tiny. By displaying his private archive.] It’s also obvious that he never used heroin and that his drink of choice was tea. Carolina López draws this fantasia to a close. An author’s archives and the living memory of his family are undoubtedly the most trustworthy sources of information. Musa. Sigo tu estela radiante a través de la larga noche. Porque contigo puedo atravesar los grandes espacios desolados y siempre encontraré la puerta que me devuelva a la Quimera. más hermos que el sol www. and in the case of Roberto Bolaño he stated it clearly in one of the last interviews he gave: “My children.
his first collection of poetry Reinventar el amor (Reinventing Love). The first film. Not caring about the pain or the effort I must make to follow you. which the program calls a “reversible landscape.com y más hermosa que las estrellas. Not caring about years or sickness. stories that the reader could touch. all published in Mexico City in the late 1970s. dim rooms with dark red walls that echo with the atmospheric soundtracks of four film installations. he embraces López and infant Lautaro. the first archival materials appear under glass: Bolaño’s infrarealist manifesto Déjenlo todo. but also a physical piece of The Savage Detectives. Muse. The Savage Detectives chronicles piecemeal the adventures of the infrarealists Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima. He broods. He sits at a restaurant and in a park. and an anthology of infrarealist poetry Pájaro de calor (Bird of Flames ).” is comprised of interpolated footage of Hitler. As if in reaction to the temptation to lose oneself in these unreal materials. with other boys. vertical rows of identification pictures that the author repurposed to fit a given mood.salon.7/24/13 Print: » Who was Roberto Bolaño? » Print . emanating in waves across a room-sized curved screen. shadow selves of Bolaño and his friend Mario Santiago. glares. wherever you might go I go.” Beyond this rumbling curiosity. the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre. flowers. Here is boy Bolaño. looks away. a www. the articles he clipped from newspapers — but then. on a city street.Salon. more beautiful than the sun. They are harbingers of the exhibition’s strangely destabilizing impact. three faces crowding the frame with bittersweet smiles. because you’re with me. a little sad. grotto-like. and smokes. reminders of reality hang above each glass case: illuminated photographs of Bolaño. These items. unflinching. and the fall of Salvador Allende. he smiles.com/2013/06/24/myths_and_legends_of_roberto_bolano_exposed_in_new_exhibit_partner/print 3/10 . family demons. his carefully organized notebooks. for each book is not only a piece of the Bolaño archive. The visitor can dream the items in the glass cases — Bolaño’s collection of science fiction paperbacks. like the books and manuscripts that follow. like stills from a forgotten film. must float back down. “Close phantoms. Because with you I can cross the great desolate spaces and I’ll always find the door leading back to the Chimera. looking up. impossibly young. The man as we know him from the backs of his books is middle-aged. I follow your radiant trail across the long night. Many of the pictures were taken in photobooth kiosks. Muse. someone’s apartment. In the background are palm trees. the novel that won the 1999 Rómulo Gallegos International Novel Prize and catapulted Bolaño to international renown. The overall feeling is cave-like. more beautiful than the stars . with girls. are both evidence of Bolaño’s creative process and realized pieces of his fiction. nuevamente (Give It All Up Again). The exhibit is arranged in a series of low. with flowing black curls and double bridge glasses. cityscapes. but he was a man. Roberto Bolaño is an idea. if not for the protective glass. who founded the poetry movement together. In a particularly indelible set of images in the third room.
Chandler. written in Barcelona in 1980: Of what is lost. Mario de Sá-Carneiro Caranguejola. In the first room several tables are papered with typed copies of Bolaño’s exhaustive lists of writers. an experience recounted in The Savage Detectives . trying and failing to swim on. his copy of the war strategy board game Third Reich. Joe Haldeman. another table is covered in a collage of printouts of Bolaño’s internet research on Ciudad Juárez. The other film installations are animated responses to the author’s fictions.Salon. and cosmographic maps. complete with pencil-scratching sound effects.com/2013/06/24/myths_and_legends_of_roberto_bolano_exposed_in_new_exhibit_partner/print 4/10 . Ellin. the campground where Bolaño worked as a janitor. the line was so long that it looped around the corner and spilled out onto Avenue B. Dashiell Hammett.” It took place at a bar called Plan B in Alphabet City. Another redraws the manuscript illustration. said the foreigner. “What’s going on?” I asked.7/24/13 Print: » Who was Roberto Bolaño? » Print . H. Wilhelm. “Jonathan Lethem wrote an incredible review in the Times. Jean-Pierre Verheggen.” the author’s appearance on Chilean television in the late 1990s. lines capable of grasping me by the hair and lifting me up when I’m at the end of my strength. His student identification cards. The exhibition’s main attraction is its huge collection of manuscripts. musicians. Ursula K. “It’s a release party for a new book.” “Who?” “I haven’t read it but everyone says it’s amazing. Mary Shelley. the emblem of Estrella de Mar. drawn in Bolaño’s neat cursive. Ted Berrigan. Throughout. In the exhibition’s final room wait the most melancholy objects: three pairs of Bolaño’s glasses shrouded in gentle. A television with headphones offers “Bolaño X Bolaño. 3. Leguin [sic]. Let my writing be like the verses by Leopardi that Daniel Biga recited on a Nordic bridge to gird himself with courage.” Later. One does not walk through “Bolaño Archive” so much as one swims. irretrievably lost. 2666. [which] will make all other book parties look like fucking well-oiled teutonic machines.) Odes to the human and the divine. from which his posthumously recovered novel takes its title. intimate light. and philosophers. ” someone told me. Juan Marsé. somehow distant from my surroundings. Wells. filmmakers.” she said. ” I filed this information in a back file in my brain. which he drew beneath the last lines from his novel Antwerp. floating past the surreal objects that connect Bolaño’s fiction to reality. He’s South American. My interest was barely piqued. artists. when I stumbled into the 2666 release party while out for drinks with colleagues from a publishing internship I’d held the previous year. running her hand along the tops of the glass cases. 2008 was my fifth year in New York City. Farrar. Bertran de Born. The city’s glamour had long since become more of a taunt than a promise.salon. I discovered Roberto Bolaño on an evening in December 2008 shortly after my 24th birthday. Bertolt Brecht. The visitor may be moved so deeply that she stands suspended in front of the case for a few minutes. viewable in another case. pages of the peculiar melancholy of a bygone digital age. Alfonso Reyes. Passing these objects gives the Bolaño devotee a peculiar feeling.com person who smoked on balconies and took his children to the Louvre. the exhibition attempts to give the viewer a window into Bolaño’s artistic process. In those days. something like what the author describes in the short story “Sensini” as “[a] feeling like jet lag — an odd sensation of fragility. all I wish to recover is the daily availability of my writing. the visitor thinks. When we arrived.” Here are the objects that were translated into fiction and thus into eternity. Straus and Giroux and Paris Review editor Lorin Stein as “the most chaotic fucking book party ever thrown. And dead. it seemed I would never be piqued again. of being there and not there. (Significant. Sylvia Plath. Seneca. notebooks. “By Roberto Bolaño. A representative example reads: “[Ambrose] Bierce. The party was hyped by its organizer. One animates Bolaño’s tiny handwriting. I www.G. Cardenal. as shown in a photograph from the year before his death.
I wanted to lose myself in writing and carousing. I read 2666 waiting for him in bars.Salon. which must have been what I wanted.” I said. He was honest. I became involved with an older man. How was it so easy for them? What had I missed? The evening burned into my memory. The novel’s strange allure and fervent admirers stayed with me long after I limped home to drink bourbon on ice in my kitchen window. but the voices that had led me before — Edward Gorey. I enrolled in Francine Prose’s “Craft of Fiction” class.salon.7/24/13 Print: » Who was Roberto Bolaño? » Print . William S. There were no copies of the book for sale. that adults find what they want. I sat in a booth with B. Soon I acquired a handsome edition of 2666. The reporter. B inclined his head. which cleverly packaged the book’s five parts as three paperbacks in a stiff case. but no one would publish my stories and I was a hopeless casual lover. instead of just relegating me to envelope stuffing and endless photocopy jobs. Bolaño’s voice was addictive. You’ve always been a butterfly. I didn’t know it yet. as any fool knows. Truman Capote. a bit. “Yes. It was going to get easier. records a kind of sermon given by a Black Panther at a Detroit church: “The sun has its uses. When I returned now to words that had once brought me solace. “The Part About Fate. Although. He was 28. When the final semester of my MFA began in January.” I said.” B said. the way I had watched everyone else catch everyone else. that what this one wanted was my unhappiness. Her syllabus included four Bolaño stories. I fixated on Part Three. too. confused.” “A grub. The unguent was right there beside me in Plan B. Slowly I came to understand that the older man would not be kind to me. riding the train. I took my place in the long line as I had on so many nights before. But he was comforting. Oscar Fate. scooting closer to him. for no apparent reason. full of dumb hope: maybe tonight’s the night! I just wanted to catch someone. stung with longing. “Does it get easier?” My jaw hurt from trying to control my curdling expression. it can be a grub-like time. too. Sometimes. sure-handed. turning to smile dreamily at E. but from far away you’d have to be a vampire not to see how useful it is. www. So I went out with my friends. a book everyone told me I was too young to write. That Christmas. These were my friends. He treated me badly. two realities that filled me with rage.” he said. said Seaman. From up close it’s hell. a fellow former intern. When we finally made it inside. and asked B a humiliating question. an editorial assistant who had left his job at the publisher. B had always been careful to give me interesting tasks. He was smart. I could keep going.com was at work on my first novel. even — it makes me cringe to think it now — that he considered me an equal. and single for the first time since I was 14 years old. beautiful photograph. Burroughs. my reading was fraught with a kind of moral exhaustion. I had always turned to literature for guidance. In my days at the publishing company. haven’t you?” E giggled. demanding attention like a lurid. My fear and malaise broke in Bolaño’s hands. As long as I kept reading. “You’re older than me. from the collection Last Evenings On Earth. wise. the light was red and the furniture was black. and I left. He was brave. but B was right. “Not for you. Soon the conversation was theirs alone. David Lynch. and E. funny. “Yes. writing catalog copy and author letters. sitting slumped in libraries. I thought. For someone who has spent her life within books and films. Bolaño’s voice had a curative power. I thought this meant that he respected me. and all of the free drinks were gone. I started to understand what I wanted.” which follows the unlikely adventures of a black reporter sent to cover a boxing match in Santa Theresa. “Around 26 you start feeling like less of a grub. Marilynne Robinson — began to ring hollow. Bolaño’s name for Ciudad Juárez. From the first page. how beautiful.com/2013/06/24/myths_and_legends_of_roberto_bolano_exposed_in_new_exhibit_partner/print 5/10 . this was a horrible development. I found my face hardening into a rictus of anger.” How did he nail the voice? How did he know what a man like this would say to a crowd of believers? The world of the book swallowed me up like a great dark wave.
” www. Los Ángeles. one-sided friendship nurtured in words. In dark times. B. not far from the CCCB. proudly. and that from now on. I have not left him again. Blanes 1985–2003.] That’s what Catalonia has taught me and what Blanes has taught me among many other things that I’ve learned here. When Bolaño wrote about home. Twenty-two. . and even my voice sounded different. he wrote about Blanes: [A] town or small city that despite its problems. and raised their children together. where he met Carolina López in 1981. In the spring of 2012. I wanted to make a pilgrimage. Through change. . Also in the Blanes slideshow are images of Joker Jocs. . I couldn’t seem to maneuver my shadow out of the path of the projector. Projected photographs of these places divide the exhibition space: of Carrer Tallers. I must be over thirty then. I asked her how old she was. they are lost dreams. I began to call him. In the years since finding Bolaño. like me. “Inside the kaleidoscope. things would begin to change. an inland city to the north of Barcelona. The end of “Sensini” became my dream of happiness: Suddenly I realized that we were at peace. which he loved to play with his son Lautaro. The strange kinship we call fandom is a secret. where The Savage Detectives is set? Neither Mexico nor Chile are presented in Bolaño’s writing as homelands.. Shyly.salon. I won a grant to travel to Blanes to research Bolaño’s life there. my shape was stained onto Blanes.Salon. Something strange happens when a reader falls in love with a writer: the reader finds a place for herself in his sympathies. The exhibition not only charts the author’s biography — an effort to correct the cloudy record encapsulated in an exhaustive chronology charted on a massive timeline — but also explores his relationship with the Catalan cities that he called home. she said. But he has never disappointed me.” he writes. is lively and civilized. but where to? I sought clues in Between Parentheses . an embarrassing desire that I couldn’t shake. that for some mysterious reason the two of us had reached a state of peace. The exhibition is organized in three successive environments. imperceptibly. and of 23 Carrer del Lloro in Blanes. As if the world really was shifting. because without tolerance there is no civilization [. who is a citizen of Blanes and a Catalan by birth and not by adoption. where Bolaño bought the war-strategy games described in The Third Reich. I raised my hand. where he lived at number 45. Standing before the photographs of Blanes as they melted into each other. and Café Terrassans.com/2013/06/24/myths_and_legends_of_roberto_bolano_exposed_in_new_exhibit_partner/print 6/10 .” covers the two decades Bolaño spent in Blanes. to myself. 1981–1985. “The visitor from the future. The second. 4. ] is the urban geography of the soul. I was grateful to be the only initiate. where he often lingered over coffee and cigarettes. 1977 was the year of his arrival in Spain.” an address Bolaño was invited to give at the 1999 New Year’s celebration. Bolaño stayed with me. . The first. Barcelona 1977– 1980. Reading his work kept drawing me closer. whose sole vanity was his devotion to his work. Only the very first objects included in “Bolaño Archive. it was a strange image that was also true. where Bolaño and López lived.” focuses on his time in Girona. is tolerant. I had become preoccupied with the problem of his biography. [. Chile. No matter where I stood. worked. Like everything else in the exhibition. “The urban geography of Blanes. . The above quotation is from “Town Crier of Blanes. teaching me how to accept change. ] and maps like those are made so that the heart doesn’t get lost. 1977–2003” are artifacts of Bolaño’s life in Central and South America. “[. mourned past lives.” covers Bolaño’s time in the Catalonian capital. “The unknown university.7/24/13 Print: » Who was Roberto Bolaño? » Print . where he lived from the year of his marriage until his death. thinking of him with tenderness. giving succor and clarity. The last. despite its defects. I said. the most important of which is to take care of my son. . where he was born? Mexico City. It is too much to ask of the modest Chilean. of 29 Carrer Caputxins in Girona. the collection of Bolaño’s incidental writing. I turn to Bolaño’s books like a Christian to the Bible.com “Has anyone heard of this author?” she asked.
possessed with romantic zeal. selling maritime trinkets. The real Hotel Costa Brava is small.Salon.7/24/13 Print: » Who was Roberto Bolaño? » Print .” he said sadly. Bolaño knew Blanes intimately. easily reached by a delightful train ride alongside the ocean. so named for the wild rock formations in the ocean near the long beaches. the latter was in Brazil. I did not expect to meet anyone in Blanes who had known Bolaño.salon. In honor of The Third Reich. The vendors are still there. corresponding with Bolaño’s first English translator Chris Andrews. The asphalt of the Paseo is wet. and Bolaño’s agent. Lorin Stein. a fictional retelling of Bolaño’s life. immortalized in The Third Reich: The Paseo Maritimo is empty except for a shadow that vanishes along the boardwalk toward the tourist district. When I arrived. asking strangers if they remembered Bolaño. I felt a similar clash driving around Los Angeles looking for the shooting locations of Mulholland Dr. a bulge in the curve of the beach. told me that in the past year over a hundred visitors had come to Blanes in search of Bolaño artifacts. In that time I circled Bolaño’s sites. The bare streets were not where they should have been. www. climbed the tall hill in the north of town and walked to the end of the Paseo Maritimo. paced under his old studios on Carrer del Lloro and Carrer de l’Aurora. Early in his time in Catalonia. The two Cristinas — Cristina the first and Cristina the second. then drew me a map of places to visit. Blanes’s tourist attaché. for which he wrote. but of course there is no money. Bolaño’s second English translator Natasha Wimmer. but slowly a web of contacts began to take shape.” Walking in the pretty beach town. who brought Bolaño to his American audience. They were kind or curt. Diari de Girona. and in some streets the flow of the traffic had altered substantially. To my great surprise. the places he had worked. the lights of the port have faded or simply gone out. Sa Palomera. I went into bakeries and shops. He used its changeable character to great noir effect inThe Skating Rink. neither of whom was able to meet. sunny place in which I found myself. too. which at this time of day (but what time of day is it?) resembles a milky gray cupola. dreaming of finding a place that would offer me a way of understanding B. interspersed with whitewashed restaurants advertising Irish coffee and Cuba Libres. a large rock formation crowed with a Catalan flag. I had exhausted every contact I could find or beg off better-connected friends. if I read the local newspaper.com So I had to go to Blanes. the town’s beauty surprised me. Blanes is an hour and a half north of Barcelona. one I could glimpse. The former’s email address had expired. Andrew Wylie. I traveled openhearted. At the other end. I mainly expected to take pictures. president and publisher of New Directions. artist and author of Pronuncio un nombre hueco. 15 minutes’ walk to the water and run by an querulous elderly couple and their adult son: my trip’s first unraveling of Bolaño’s invention. the proprietress of the bookstore on Calle Anselm Clavé. and connected me to Cristina Fernández Recasens. I was in Blanes for five days. another writer from Blanes. Bolaño saw the darkness beneath the resort veneer. I felt close. Wimmer put me in touch with Cristina Zabalaga. Before leaving the United States. Blanes marks the beginning of the Costa Brava. or asked questions of the countless unemployed young Catalans looking for something to do in the tiny medieval streets. which in Bolaño’s novel is a luxurious and spacious establishment on the beach run by Frau Else. almost everyone did: the owner of the bakery beneath his first apartment in Blanes. as I briefly thought of them — were instrumental in helping me to develop a spatial sense of Blanes and generous with their own Bolaño archives: the addresses of his apartments. Zabalaga had once lived in Blanes as research for her novel. the room named for him at the public library. separates Sabanell Beach to the south from the Bay of Blanes to the north. an Australian academic. I was struck by the dissonance between this image and the bright. his habit of hiding behind a book. “We should build a museum. Roger Perales.com/2013/06/24/myths_and_legends_of_roberto_bolano_exposed_in_new_exhibit_partner/print 7/10 . a mysterious and beguiling German woman. Bolaño worked as a vendor on the Paseo. in which Blanes is called “Z”: “the storefronts seemed to be elements in a vast camouflage operation. Stein and Epler sought to connect me to Bolaño’s friends Rodrigo Fresán and Enrique Vila-Matas. These sources and others helped me or they didn’t. a clear sign that it has rained. I stayed at the Hotel Costa Brava. But I had no idea what I would find there. They recalled his giant curly hair and massive glasses. Just beside the beach lays the Paseo Maritimo. Barbara Epler.
but that’s another story) or talking about thrillers that only he and I and sometimes Dimas Luna. on the beach.” The other common thread in people’s memories of Bolaño was his hair. fundamentally reserved. countless DVDs in matched gray and blue cases lining the walls and shelves. They fell out over an argument about the Chilean poets Pablo Neruda and Nicanor Parra. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. and several films about the Dalai Lama. His desire to penetrate closed worlds. M. I met Narcís Serra in his movie rental store Videoclub Serra.7/24/13 Print: » Who was Roberto Bolaño? » Print . fascinated by everything. who ran and still runs a video rental store in Los Pinos and who was and I imagine still is one of the funniest people in town and also a good person. Serra. “He liked to read in the cinema. his constant. the two men spent hours together nearly everyday. www.” she wrote. sports. For over a decade. massive. Serra said: at bars and restaurants. which is located in the Los Pinos section of Blanes.” Serra described Bolaño as a consummate watcher. he often spent hours in a bar notorious for its clientele of junkies and cocaine addicts. Spanish romantic comedies. the economy. He has owned his store since 1987. has lived in Blanes all his life. Serra stressed. had seen. I wondered. telling me that Bolaño was a cultural omnivore who loved the films of Aki Kaurismäki and David Lynch. just like everywhere else. Serra happily indulged my hunger for personal detail. just talking. The interior was dim and quiet. Bolaño. women. just observing them. was also a determining force in his life. almost compulsive reading. in fact. I went back to “Town Crier of Blanes”: And then there’s Narcís Serra. Serra told me. people are increasingly less likely to leave the privacy of their homes to rent a movie when they can so easily do it online. even. This was a trait that everyone in Blanes remarked on when relating their memories of the author. When Bolaño first moved to Blanes in 1987. “He has a video renting shop in Los Pinos called Videoclub Serra. Above all. 6. unruly.” he told me. was a natural listener. the documentary Inside Jobnestled between Korean horror movies. “You can visit Narcis who was Bolaño’s friend. and curly. and reading. almost hiding his wide glasses. and Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy. The drug users accepted Bolaño because he was so calm and unobtrusive.Salon. Bolaño read everywhere. more than happy to stand in the Videoclub for an entire afternoon. with whom I spent whole afternoons discussing the films of Woody Allen (whom Narcís recently spotted in New York. content to simply sit among them. with the reverent feel of a library. books.” Serra told me. A giant poster of a scantily clad Adrianne Palicki blowing a kiss advertised a film calledProblemas de Mujeres . smoking cigarette after cigarette. He had. Serra is an ardent supporter of Tibetan independence. the same neighborhood where Bolaño first lived. I soon understood the naissance of this quick intimacy: Serra is a charming and indefatigable conversant. Videoclub Serra bears all the markers of a cinephile paradise. drinking coffee. Fernández Recasens emailed me.com/2013/06/24/myths_and_legends_of_roberto_bolano_exposed_in_new_exhibit_partner/print 8/10 . as he told me. we were very close. on my last morning in town. with twin broad front windows bearing an intricate mosaic of DVD cases of disparate films.salon. You can tell him that I sent you. “Soon. a tall man in his 40s with silver hair. He was not particularly invested in sports but he was a FCB fan and watched matches sometimes.com but not quite there. or a vacation? Then. constantly launching forth on a new discussion of the current cinema. Was this a pilgrimage. but does not expect his business to last much longer. films. while waiting to pick Lautaro up from school. so present in his writing. In Blanes. who back then was just a kid doing his military service and who now runs a bar. “He liked to read in the dark.” The name was familiar. but time was short. discussing “politics. Serra met Bolaño in Videoclub Serra in the early 1990s. I wanted more of him and his Blanes. Bolaño was insatiably curious. briefly enjoyed a protégé relationship with Alejandro Jodorowsky. with an excellent sense of humor.
The Virgin wore a blue cloak and an www. for Sam Carter.” He concludes. who was Bolaño’s lover in the last years of his life.” Serra said. Moderated by Héctor Tobar. you get a year of forgiveness.” she told me. you know. In addition to the exhibition catalogue. and translator David Shook. “The continued publication and popular packaging of [Bolaño’s] incomplete work may actually be diluting his reputation as a writer of varied talents and fearless ambition. then. as Harper’s did in 2006. Carter and Ehrenreich aren’t alone in their Bolaño fatigue. ever the diplomat.’s posthumous success. He would surely quail at the stacks of notebooks that fill the exhibit. like a summoning chant. is the kind of press López has assiduously avoided. nuevamente.” he would remind me — as did Ben Ehrenreich at the Los Angeles Public Library’s May 16 roundtable. the CCCB has cornered the market for Bolaño memorabilia. Ehrenreich’s primary contribution was the question: “Who are we not reading because we read Bolaño?” Cult writers attract as many detractors as they do devotees. 1977–2003. I don’t blame them. politely demurred from pursuing an evident difference of opinion with Maristain on López’s decision to switch literary agents. For people who feel that we have enough Bolaño. Serra told me. Cristina and I sat at a café. The city was lovelier than ever in the pale violet light of spring. the event was deliciously gossipy. indicating an allegiance to Carmen Pérez de Vega. For a public library roundtable. in which he has a cameo.Salon. share it. It’s not. grounded person. the three pairs of glasses at the end of “Bolaño Archive. Bolaño. was allergic to flattery and to attempts to turn him into a celebrity. talking about the resilience of our connection to Bolaño. perhaps eight inches tall. and who has vied for public recognition as another widow. After “Bolaño Archive. Launch yourself into the streets”). 1977 –2003” do not possess a curious melancholy power. Barbara Epler. author of the New Republic article “The Roberto Bolaño Bubble. She pointed to a statue of the Virgin. “I could start a new business. The Man and the Myth. Serra remembered the author approaching a police officer and questioning him about the details of his uniform and weapon for what seemed like hours. These people are not drawn to the end of the exhibit and held perfectly still by the way he saw the world. in 2008 and had a veritable freakout in front of Videoclub Serra when they realized that they were standing on tiles that Bolaño himself had once stood on.salon. Epler. “There are other South American writers.” As it stands. and willing to talk to anyone — a description consistent with his appearance in Javier Cercas’s Soldiers of Salamis . most of them fellow fiction writers. Láncense a los caminos” (“Leave everything again. And the final suggests that there is a name for people like me.” I returned to Blanes to visit Narcís Serra and Cristina Fernández Recasens. “I told them I would pry one up and sell it to them. an understandable decision.” Serra joked. the miniature library of international editions of his books an eye-rollingly obvious conclusion. Epler explained that the doubt cast on Bolaño’s story of imprisonment in Chile in a 2009 New York Times article (a piece which bizarrely quotes Pérez de Vega but not López) was the result of an American writer’s jealousy of B. especially considering that Bolaño’s daughter Alexandra is not yet 13 years old.” which featured Ehrenreich. One is printed with a quotation: “Déjenlo todo.” in which Carter argues. It’s hard not to be aggravated when the gatekeepers of American letters won’t give an unsolicited submission a second glance but will make a dead man their new books editor. installed in a high sconce in an old wall across the square. but he was always friendly to writers who sought him out. “We have enough. Bolaño Bolaño Bolaño Bolaño. the immutable and inexplicable bond that had developed between us because we loved his books. One simply repeats his name. a proud tribal identification: “Soy bolañista!” 7. for example.” The totemic value of Bolaño’s mysterious circular charts of his fictional universe would seem a bit overblown. “It says that if you blow her a kiss. I wondered how he would have felt about people who came to Blanes in search of not a conversation but a souvenir of Bolaño. “The Making of the Great Bolaño. Mexican journalist Mónica Maristain. in their gift shop one can buy three Bolaño-themed red pins.com/2013/06/24/myths_and_legends_of_roberto_bolano_exposed_in_new_exhibit_partner/print 9/10 . The CCCB exhibit is not for everybody.7/24/13 Print: » Who was Roberto Bolaño? » Print . Many people I know. ripe for future publication. like the Catalan couple from Barcelona who came in search of B. This. But Maristain — the last journalist to interview Bolaño and the author of a new biography — critiqued Carolina López’s management of his estate. the event sought to contextualize Bolaño’s posthumous fame.com “He was a simple.
It has this power. 1977–2003” runs through June 30 at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona. I think: not the glamour of celebrity. into the streets.” a kind of writerly rallying cry: “Literature is basically a dangerous undertaking. That’s what it is. “why exactly Bolaño’s work brings people together. when I called him that night. but there was something else underneath it. what I felt almost guilty about: the friendship I found in B. All rights reserved. The author wishes to thank the Del Amo Foundation. We blew the Virgin kisses.com/2013/06/24/myths_and_legends_of_roberto_bolano_exposed_in_new_exhibit_partner/print 10/10 .salon. Cristina Fernández Recasens. in the taste of coffee and the smell of the sea. in his town. so hated.com expression of tired beneficence. and I went. of course. “I don’t know what it is. ¤ More Los Angeles Review of Books Mikel Dunham on “Between Parentheses” The Apocalyptic Tradition MIKEL DUNHAM October 19th. Theis Duelund Jensen.” she said. the Serra Family. Cristina and I finished our drinks. and her family for their support and assistance with this essay. again. but the simple miracle of friendship.” It appealed to my ego. She had a dance class to get to. “Bolaño Archive. www.’s “Caracas Address.’s books.Salon. Brave.7/24/13 Print: » Who was Roberto Bolaño? » Print . 2011 Lisa Locascio on “The Sad Passions” A Ladymass in the Distrito Federal: Veronica Gonzalez Peña’s “The Sad Passions” LISA LOCASCIO June 13th.” I thought of a line from B. He makes writers feel invincible. “Do you stop and think about the fact that you are now friends with the friends of Bolaño?” my husband asked me. crystallized now in the streets of Blanes. Jaume Pujadas. and now. the thing B.com. a palpable tenderness. 2013 Copyright © 2011 Salon. That was what I was after.
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