Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Wrong Foot

After frenetic days in Florence it's a relief to have landed in Vernazza in the Cinque Terre region of Italy, where we landed a room with a terrace that looks out on the Mediterranean. Of course I myself may have landed a little too hard: this is a village of steep stairways and two days ago I took a bad step and sprained my right foot pretty good. Spent the entire day yesterday recuperating and it's still tender to walk on today. But it's not preventing us from appreciating the beauty and intimate feel of this little town--when we arrived Sunday it was crammed with tourists, but for the past several days it's been quite low-key and Emily seems to have made friends with half of the residents. We had an exquisite evening last night after dinner at Trattoria di Piva, a little seafood place run by the eponymous Piva, who likes to play his guitar and sing for the customers after nine o' clock. This was special enough, but then a group of Austrian and Italian tourists that Emily had met earlier in the day dropped by, and one of them pulled out his own guitar, which he played with virtuosic skill. So a little party (with lots of grappa and limoncello) was improvised right there on the narrow street and lasted until after midnight. You can't buy or manufacture experiences like that.

Today, due to my limited mobility, we will probably just ride the boat back and forth between the five towns and then settle for dinner in one of them. Having little to do but read yesterday, I read all of the short stories in Miranda July's new collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You. I enjoyed her film, but the faux-naif stance she takes toward human relationships and sexuality begins to feel a lot like shtick after reading a couple of the stories. It's all a little twee for my taste; at the same time, she deploys a couple of tricks that it would probably be useful to introduce creative writing students to. And of course it's never easy to write well about sexuality and the strangeness of desire, so I give her points for exploring that territory.

The rest of the day I alternated between squinting at the sea and getting lost in Hopscotch, which is beginning to justify the hyperbolic cover blurb by one C.D.B. Bryan (who?), "The most magnificent novel I have ever read." Among other things, it's a kind of instruction manual for its own production, thanks to the frequent interventions of a fiction Italian novelist named Morelli, whose musings and prescriptions make up many of the "expendable chapters" of the book. What with this and the Perec and Pynchon waiting in the wings, I find I've devoted this trip to immersion in the great twentieth-century postmodernists--though Cortazar, writing in the mid-1960s, I think feels himself to be more of a belated modernist, or someone sifting through the collaged ruins of modernism trying to get at the creative destruction of literature that Derrida, Barthes, et al were writing about almost as beautifully at the same time. It's a fine lesson on integrating one's intellectual and existential concerns into/with/through/against narrative--the tragic love story that composes the main plot being so often the pretext for philosophical overreaching, and vice-versa.

This is getting expensive. Next stop will be Venice, where I hope to glimpse a little bit of the Bienniale, already fortutiously in progress.

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