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Posts Tagged ‘Gore Vidal’

Gore Vidal, 1925–2012

August 1, 2012 | by

“The most interesting thing about writing is the way that it obliterates time. Three hours seem like three minutes. Then there is the business of surprise. I never know what is coming next. The phrase that sounds in the head changes when it appears on the page. Then I start probing it with a pen, finding new meanings. Sometimes I burst out laughing at what is happening as I twist and turn sentences. Strange business, all in all. One never gets to the end of it. That’s why I go on, I suppose. To see what the next sentences I write will be.” —The Art of Fiction No. 50

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A Star Turned

February 6, 2012 | by

This is a story about the life and death of a Hollywood icon—much of it myth, uncorroborated hearsay, and patchwork nostalgia, but it’s all how I remember it.

In its day, which is to say from around 1996 to 2003, Les Deux Cafés was the brightest starlet of the Hollywood nightlife scene, and like many of her sexy habitués, she was famously unpredictable, hauntingly seductive, and seemingly hell-bent on her own destruction.

Hidden in a nondescript parking lot, behind an unmarked steel door, the “the two cafés” girded a pair of Provençal-style gardens dotted with mosaic-top tables and dripping with night-blooming jasmine and eucalyptus. Around the old magnolia tree dropping its leaves on the slate slab floor, past the mobile garden bar (and tables 20-23), you approached the main house through the patio—an elevated porch, covered by a canopy of grapevines and three species of Japanese wisteria, and heated year-round by an outdoor fireplace. These were the most coveted tables (numbers 50-62), each of them handmade glass-tile arabesques—where Al Pacino shot double decaf espressos and Six Feet Under shot episodes, where Tim Roth and his family ate most Sunday nights, where Heath Ledger, Djimon Hounsou, Nicole Kidman, Ridley Scott, and David Lynch ate Hama Hama oysters and drank Veuve Clicquot on quiet nights, and Lenny Kravitz and Bill Murray chopped it up and table-hopped on the busy ones.

Inside the house, a two-story white clapboard Craftsman bungalow, you came to the walnut-paneled banquettes (tables 70-101), where romantic couples would be getting engaged. The House, which was placed on a trailer and moved several blocks to this site, had reportedly belonged to James Cagney in the thirties. Designer Paul Fortune—who, after his masterful work at Les Deux Cafés, would famously revamp the restaurant at the Sunset Tower—hung his own portrait of the actor over the indoor fireplace.

Behind the house was the cavernous kitchen, and down a long, poured-cement corridor, past the bathrooms where TV stars did cocaine, was the Trapeze Bar—a jazzy, high-ceilinged modernist boîte where, long after the California smoking ban, performers still puffed through their sets, and, right after the Grammys, Puffy would dance on tables and buy out the bar’s collection of Krug Clos du Mesnil.

But, though the café was Siren-song beautiful, the real draw—what we lurch for with the electromagnetic descriptor vibe—was felt more than seen. The service was abysmal (infamously, and intentionally so), the food was okay, but the scene ... the scene was the thing. It was lost on no one that the garden tables were arranged as an amphitheater, the better to watch everyone else. Owner and guiding spirit Michèle Lamy casted the staff more than hired them, and, consciously or not, we all performed in her play. Read More »

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Slanderous Correspondence; Imitations

January 13, 2012 | by

I take great and perverse joy in reading insulting, inflammatory, and slanderous correspondence between authors, publishers, and celebrities. Could you recommend some particularly bilious rivalries?

As Mr. Wilson so justly proclaims in the beginning of “The Strange Case of Pushkin and Nabokov,” we are indeed old friends. I fully share “the warm affection sometimes chilled by exasperation” that he says he feels for me. In the 1940s, during my first decade in America, he was most kind to me in various matters, not necessarily pertaining to his profession. I have always been grateful to him for the tact he showed in refraining from reviewing any of my novels. We have had many exhilarating talks, have exchanged many frank letters. A patient confidant of his long and hopeless infatuation with the Russian language, I have always done my best to explain to him his mistakes of pronunciation, grammar, and interpretation. As late as 1957, at one of our last meetings, we both realized with amused dismay that despite my frequent comments on Russian prosody, he still could not scan Russian verse. Upon being challenged to read Eugene Onegin aloud, he started to do this with great gusto, garbling every second word and turning Pushkin’s iambic line into a kind of spastic anapaest with a lot of jaw-twisting haws and rather endearing little barks that utterly jumbled the rhythm and soon had us both in stitches.

So begins the famous response, by Vladimir Nabokov, to a negative review by Edmund Wilson in The New York Review of Books. The book: Nabokov’s translation of Eugene Onegin. A fun game to play: Exactly where does Nabokov start to show his teeth? Is it “the tact he showed in refraining from reviewing any of my novels”? Or “not necessarily pertaining to his profession”? Or even that “justly” in sentence one?

Six years later, when Norman Mailer was attacked by Gore Vidal in that same magazine, Mailer took his case to the masses—on The Dick Cavett Show—with less sinuous results. The lesson, most publishers will tell you, is never respond. But it's awfully good TV.

I am taking a beginning poetry class and am expected to write imitations of poets on the class list. What should I be careful to do or not do? What should I pay attention to in an imitation?

To get the most out of the exercise, try to make the meter sound exactly like the meter of the poem you’re imitating. And make sure the teacher checks your work. The meter will look and sound right to you—and if you are a beginner, it will almost certainly be wrong. (You will say your words out loud in your head as if they marched along ka-thunk, ka-thunk, ka-thunk, when in fact they will go baah-duh-dee, buh-dee-doo.) Don’t get hung up on matching the vocabulary of the old poems. You won’t get it right, and it will sound fake. Use words that are more or less natural to you.

And have fun! Read More »

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Cycling; Second-person Narration

October 21, 2011 | by

I love both reading and cycling. Can you recommend some great titles? —Monica

To answer this one, I consulted our resident cyclist, Peter Conroy. And did he deliver! Says Peter:

With respect to the classics, the discussion has to start with Tim Krabbe’s The Rider, a fictionalized account of a one-day amateur race in 1978. Brutish and beautiful, this is required reading for anyone who’s ever wanted to go faster. Daniel Coyle’s Lance Armstrongs War is a fascinating tour through the bizarre world of pro cycling in the aughts and a great portrait of the man who systematically dominated its hardest race from 1999 to 2005. More recently, Timm Kolln’s The Peloton is a stunning collection of photos and remarkably candid interviews with a generation of professional racers.

I feel I’m the lone standout in my book club of highly educated, highly literary, middle-aged ladies. I never took a literature class in college, and I like a good page-turner with a bit of plot and action. I also believe a good read doesn’t, by definition, leave its reader utterly depressed! So far, judging by the other members’ selections, it seems that I’m the only one who feels this way. It’s my turn to pick a book. Can you suggest something that will please us all?

The divide between “literary fiction” and “good reads” isn’t as stark as it sometimes seems—recent Booker controversies to the contrary! You have loads of options. After all, who doesn’t love a page-turner now and then? You don’t mention whether your book club is geared more toward new fiction or classics, but if you can take the latter route, you can’t go wrong with Dickens. Have you read Bleak House? A few newer titles that spring to mind: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Never Let Me Go, The Magician’s Assistant, and—while it may seem intimidating on the face of it—Infinite Jest. All a pleasure to read with plenty of fodder for discussion.

In this magazine, Gore Vidal once said, “The second person certainly holds few charms.” What is your opinion of second-person narration?

Tricky. I think the great second-person book list may begin and end with Absalom, Absalom! That said, I’m willing to hear a case made for Bright Lights, Big City.

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