“The door was behind me; when I heard it swing shut, I didn’t know whether to burst out laughing or crying.”
––Roberto Bolaño, Distant Star
Part Three: Writing Alone and Together
I took pictures of doorways. Perhaps they are difficult to find interesting without realizing Bolaño once walked through them to family apartments and writing studios. On the other side, he met blank pages and unfinished manuscripts, things that would later become 2666, or Last Evenings on Earth, or Distant Star, or some other incredible something that occupies once empty space because Bolaño walked across a threshold and took time to create it.
Thanks to information provided along the Ruta, I now believe Bolaño preferred to write alone and in quiet (05, 13, and 17). But along the Ruta are glimpses into his friendships with Blanes’ citizens–– drinkers at a local bar, a video store owner, a bookseller, and the players of strategic war games of which he was said to be a top competitor. Each of his connections documented along the trail (03, 04, 09, and 11).
I prefer to do my writing in cafes surrounded by people, people going about their day. It keeps me feeling less lonely during writing’s most difficult tasks––facing the blank screen, managing the confusion, even terror of infinite possibility, and the brutal necessity of accepting an image or scene that was not was wanted, only what arrived.
Here is a photo of the fly that joined me at one my favorite writing spots in Blanes (the Café Terrassans. No word if Bolaño frequented it, but it would be hard to imagine him not knowing it was there, sitting, as it does, at one end a busy pedestrian thoroughfare not far from the sea).
And here is what I hope is a respectful photo of the waiters who served me copas, pulpo, and Spanish tortilla while I wrote.
The Bolaño doorways are plain, but the town itself is charming in just the way one might expect.
It has an ancient Roman fountain from which drinking water still flows. There are gilded saints in its churches and grottos where sailors’ families pray for their safe return. Picturesque arches lead to neighborhoods with narrow sidewalks and hidden plazas. Some of the buildings are tiled in spectacular ways. There are farmer’s markets with displays of local honey and saffron, and sidewalk cafes, and, of course, the beautiful sea, which one can look upon from restaurant tables while drinking sangria and eating grilled sardines, and every evening families walk along the promenade and climb the rocky peninsula where a red and yellow Catalan flag snaps freely in the breeze.