For twenty years, I hadn’t read a writer who’d caught my interest, so I survived on a meagre diet of Cendrars, Bukowski and Miller. Kerouac, Ginsberg and that ilk were looking more and more like conflated pussy-boys on a Sunday hike with every re-read, and the women….well, with all the women in the world worth dealing with – all the cobras, all the charlatans, all the charmers and all the chameleons, you’d think one of them could…ah, never mind.
One day, Jim Christy was talking to me on the phone during the last days prior to getting the boot from his Upper Canada farm in that deceptively casual South Philly accent, saying, “yea, almost forgot, can you help me – I’d like a translation of a dedicace written by Cendrars to a pal in the army named Malaparte. Pretty good writer, actually better than good….I think it’s in those collected works you got of Cendrars, check it out, dude…”
Christy had a way of dangling rare fruit from his own forays in front of you, something nobody else even knew existed, and something about the way he said “check it out” put me on his trail. The first Malaparte novel I checked out was titled “The Spit”. Naples 1945, plague-ridden and defeated. Malaparte is walking the filthy streets of the defeated city with an American soldier:
“Europe is the land of men,” I said. “There are no more virile men in the world than those born in Europe.”
“Men ? You call yourselves men ?” said Jimmy, laughing and slapping his thigh.
“Yes, Jimmy, there are no nobler men in the world than those who are born in Europe,” I said.
“A lot of dirty bastards, that’s what you are,” said Jimmy.
“We are a wonderful race of conquered men, Jimmy,” I said.
“A lot of dirty bastards,” said Jimmy. “At heart you’re glad you’ve lost the war, aren’t you?”
“You’re right, Jimmy, it’s a real stroke of luck for us that we’ve lost the war. The only thing that irks us a little is that it will be our job to rule the world. It is the defeated who rule the world, Jimmy. It’s always like that after a war. It’s always the defeated who bring civilization to the victorious countries.”
“What? Do you really think that you’re going to bring civilization to America?” said Jimmy, looking at me with amazement and fury in his eyes.
“That’s just the way of it, Jimmy. Even Athens, when she had the good fortune and the honour to be conquered by the Romans, was forced to bring civilisation to Rome.”
“To hell with your Athens, to hell with your Rome!” said Jimmy, looking at me askance.
I just about fell out of my chair after reading these lines, and forgot the world existed until I’d absorbed every last word in a daze. Miller and Cendrars had produced the same effect, because the root cause was identical. Europe. Phallic Europe. The Christian Europe that depended upon evil to survive. What this two-faced treacherous smoothie did with words made Céline pale. It is no coincidence that the two greatest stories of Malcolm Lowry and Curzio Malaparte are both played out under the shadow of an active volcano.