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Bolano

Posted 1/18/2010 6:15pm by Eugene Wyatt.

When I took sheep pelts down to Bucks County Fur Products I was struck by the light and color of the corroding woods of the vats in this old tannery in Quakertown.  I asked Brian, the manager with long chin whiskers that would have suited a goat too (a goatee?), if I could take some photographs when I came back to pick up the tanned sheepskins.  Not a man of many words, he nodded. 

A month later he called and said they were ready.  The following week, after I loaded fresh pelts in the box truck, I left taking  with me a Nikon D700 and a Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 zoom along with my iPhone on which I had a recording of Roberto Bolaño's 2666, 893 pages of reading or 37 hours of being read to.  Squinting behind polarized sunglasses into the illuminated gray haze of the day that reminded me of the painful, dull glow of daytime Los Angeles, my ear buds in, I headed south through New Jersey on 287 to 78 where I would go west into Pennsylvania.

Somewhere below Basking Ridge, while listening to a character called "the Swabian" relate the story that he heard at a dinner party in an East Friesian village just after the war told by a German widow about how she had watched her husband, a former cavalry officer, win three horse races when they visited a ranchero near Buenos Aires but who was told by the third losing rider, a 16 year old called the "little gaucho," that the last two races were fixed, I realized I hadn't heard a period for 20 minutes.

When I got home I found the passage in my paperback copy of the book and realized the sentence I'd heard went on for six and a half pages.  The resolution of the widow's story, which had striking imagery about her smoking cigarettes on the  deck of a steamer at night watching beef carcasses being loaded into the tungstun lit holds of ships anchored in the Argentinean port, was that it had no resolution, or no resolution that we could agree upon—so much the better—that gives roominess to the story. 

The widow concludes her tale (by beginning a new sentence) and asks the guests at the party if they know the answer to the riddle.  What riddle, I thought...then the elusive guest, Benno von Archimboldi, said it was clear that losing the last two races was "hospitality."  But what of the first race, was that the riddle?