Saturday, March 27, 2010

An obscure annotation to 'The Savage Detectives'

I was dipping into The Savage Detectives today and re-read the long account of Mary Watson, one of the few pieces in the long middle section of the book (a section which consists entirely of first-person speeches, supposed interviews conducted by an unknown interlocutor) narrated by an English speaker. This section, labeled "Mary Watson, Sutherland Place, London, May 1978," is one of the longest "interviews" in the book, almost twenty pages long in the American trade paperback edition. It recounts a series of incidents centering around an unnamed night watchman of a campground in the south of Spain near Barcelona, a man whom narrator Watson becomes involved during a period of several weeks when she and a companion link up with a group of motley vagabonds, spending part of the time picking grapes in the south of France.

In the last paragraph of the piece narrated by Watson, she describes her return to Oxford, where she is studying, and says "A little while later I moved to 25 Cowley Road, Oxford..." Why so specific, I wondered. What is at that address? I looked it up on Google Maps. I don't know what was there in 1996 or so when Bolaño wrote the book, but now there is a Spanish/Moroccan tapas restaurant called Kazbar. From Google Street View, I can see that there is a residence above part of this restaurant, but the door is marked 27a.

So I wonder why Bolaño named the address of that restaurant. Is it significant that it serves Spanish food? Could Bolaño have made the acquaintance of the owner at some time, could he perhaps once have visited Oxford and had an enjoyable meal there, or at whatever restaurant, if it was different, that occupied the space at some point whenever it was that Bolaño visited? Did Bolaño ever even visit Oxford?

It would be nice if someone in Oxford were to do me the favor of going and asking the owner of the place. For all I know there's a photograph of him on the wall; equally possible, the owner may never have heard of Roberto Bolaño, may not even be Spanish or Moroccan. Like everything else in the book that tempts the reader to ask what part is true or why the author chose a particular detail, this will remain a mystery, as the honorable author is of course dead.

Later: A little more searching turned up the facts that the Kazbar is owned by a man named Clinton Pugh, who is said to own several Oxford restaurants, and that (according to the restaurant's own website) the establishment was "designed and developed in 2001" by Mr. Pugh. What was there before that, who knows.

Still later: Upon further consideration, I've decided that the most likely explanation has nothing to do with the coincidentally Spanish restaurant. It seems most likely that there was a house at 25 Cowley Road, one just like the house next door with the door marked 27a, and that at one point Bolaño knew someone who lived there, perhaps a writer with whom he corresponded, perhaps a poet friend who was in Oxford on a year's visiting lectureship or something. I'll leave the rest of it to Bolaño scholars. Obviously not, as I added something else below.

It also occurred to me that it would be great if there were a Bolaño wiki where fans could annotate Bolaño's longer works.

Even later: While continuing to surf around, I was reminded that the author Javier Marías, whose trilogy Your Face Tomorrow I am reading and which was recommended by Bolaño at various times, suggesting that Marías was a friend and correspondent of the Chilean, lived for some time in Oxford and set some of his novels there. So perhaps Marías was the one who lived at 25 Cowley Road.

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