Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Guided Tour: Along the Ruta Bolaño in Blanes, Girona, Spain (Journey in Six Parts)

“I came to this town years ago, at a dull and dingy time in my life”
––Roberto Bolaño, The Skating Rink

Part Four: Residents and Tourists
Behind the line of seaside hotels is the working class Blanes neighborhood Bolaño first called home. One afternoon, I walked its streets examining its anti-facist graffiti and less than picturesque buildings.

It was there I took a photo of a dog on a grassless playing field. The sky above was cloudy and overcast in a manner that recalled the author. Though in reality the dog was in the company of a woman who smiled and threw a ball to it, in my favorite photo she remains out of frame. There is only a black dog, walking over a bare field under an oppressive sky, and I am reminded of Goya, who reminds me of Bolaño all over again.

Later I learned that Bolaño arrived in Blanes with an inventory of costume jewelry purchased in Barcelona, only a half-hour away by train. During the day, he and his mother sold it from a storefront a few blocks from the beach, which was also their home (02 along the Ruta). Even knowing Bolaño died having married, raised children, and formed close friendships all over town, I’d so often imagined him as an anguished literary figure, living at the edge of social convention, I now found it hard to picture him running a small business and living with his mom.

At point three, not far from the store, the oddest sentences are posted, which capture something about Bolaño’s relationships with Bolaño's other citizens. The Ruta’s text reads, “[Here] was one of the bars frequented by Bolaño during the first years of his stay in Blanes. In these premises, whose clientele were quite marginal, Bolaño met his first friends.”

Today, the site where the “marginal” once gathered is home to yet another ice cream shop and a fish-fry place that serves beer and bland snacks to tourists. It was while sitting there sipping from a copa, that I finished The Third Reich. Upon reaching the last page, I saw a quartet of swallows flitting high overhead, and once again I became sentimental, taking them for a sign, but a sign of what I didn’t know.

Nowadays all the costume jewelry in Blanes seems to be sold from tented stalls across from the sea. There African women braid children’s hair, and local men sell homemade sock puppets, leather wallets, and t-shirts silkscreened with marijuana leaves and the names of old bands. I bought some jewelry––trinkets for family and friends––from two smiling sisters, who allowed me to take their picture under a hot summer sun.

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