An Episode in the Life of Landscape Writer + Questions Commonly Asked of Our Life in the Presidio
Remember, we need to sell at least another 500 copies of The Entire Earth and Sky in order for it to go to paperback.
The reader who gives me the best idea about how to push out a snazzy marketing campaign to achieve this wins: An autographed copy of my book. If the idea is really good, I will phone you and read to you from it. If it is a brilliant idea, I will come to your home and cook you dinner and then read aloud from the book. What are you waiting for?
My mind is occupied with the work of Cesar Aira, in particular An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, translated by Chris Andrews and published by New Directions in a neat little format.
Bob Halliday, my dear friend in Bangkok and perhaps the world's foremost authority on both Thai food and coolish fiction, suggested I read it in our recent Skype call.
"I bet there's a copy right now sitting on the shelf at City Lights, waiting for you," he said. And indeed there was a copy on a bookstore shelf and now it is sitting next to me, as I gaze out at the rotting rope hammock in my backyard -- twisted, greenish-ropey gymnast, gone mad in our 52-degree, winds from the SSW at 13 miles per hour days -- (yo! check this out -- I made up those numbers up and went online to check and voila! spot on except for the wind direction -- solid W on that one. Call me a sailor who knows how to read local weather as text -- wind, cloud, humidity.)
Aira's novel documents a moment in the life of Johann Moritz Rugendas. For me, he articulates feelings so clearly about the challenges of framing, decoding, documenting landscapes.
Aira-inspired Thought: While we can work to understand the vertical dimension of The Presidio, the temporal or geologic, the serpentinite, graywacke sandstone, melange, the Monterey cypress and pines, the blue gums, the clarkia and banana slug, when it comes to the horizontal things become more obscure. No amount of study will yield an absolute set of answers. How can words begin to make a picture of the horizontal aspect of this place when what it is and what it claims to be diverge with such a spectacular lurch?
While I read Aira, stories of a landscape painter making sense of a wholly unfamiliar place, I also ploughed ahead into Here Is Where We Walk...now moving towards a finish date of 1 December.
I began making a list of the most common questions asked of us when we tell people we live here and from here we operate The Bureau of Landscape Narrative.
1) How often have you been to the statue of Yoda at the Lucas Film offices?
2) Are you a military veteran?
3) Where do you shop for groceries?
(This last one always makes me laugh. Why, after they lock the gates on this former military base at sundown, there are no trips to the shops. This is why we all have community gardens. So we have something to eat while watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey.)
By the way, the first word of this Aira book is Western and the last word is watch. A writing trick Bob Halliday taught me when we were colleagues at a Bangkok newspaper: First and last words matter. Choose wisely.