on Writing Across the Landscape, Travel Journals 1960-2010, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Liveright)
On October 7, 2005, Lawrence Ferlinghetti turned up in Brescia, Italy where his paternal family had lived. He had met the Fluxus performer Francesco Conz in Verona; Fluxus was a sort of Dadaist spinoff and Conz anointed Ferlinghetti as an emeritus member. On the 7th, they performed together on stage in Brescia: “I painted a grand piano on stage with anarchist slogans, while [Conz’s] piano let forth groans of protest.” Then on the 12th, accompanied by a videographer, Ferlinghetti pulled up beside the house where his father was born in 1872:
“A short man in baggy pants, carrying a radiator of some sort, opened a door and started hollering at us in the local dialect, Artisti parassiti! Artisti parassiti! and told us to get the hell outta there. We complied, but on the way back to our van a police car zoomed up and had us against a wall while they checked our papers.” Meanwhile, the camera keep shooting and Conz handed the footage to the media. Then came the headlines in Corriere della Sera and Il Manifesto among other newspapers: Italian-American Poet Arrested in Search of His Father.
The anecdotes, impressions, memories, and run-on spiels come thick and fast in Writing Across the Landscape, a rich selection of Ferlinghetti’s travel writings studded with lines of poetry and drawings. On noticing a fly moving down a man’s tie in Oaxaca, he thinks of a poem by Nicanor Parra. In the German town of Andernach, the birthplace of Charles Bukowski, he determines that the “flat, dull-looking place” would lead “one naturally to a life of drink and whoring, gambling and horseracing, migrating to more of the same in Los Angeles.” His friends and acquaintances spring up: George Whitman, Voznesensky and Yevtushenko, Burroughs and Ginsburg. He speaks frequently about his role as publisher.
He went abroad early on and never ceased traveling. Born in Yonkers in 1919, Ferlinghetti served as the captain of an anti-sub chaser during the allied Normandy invasion, and was stationed at Nagasaki after Tokyo’s surrender in August 1945. These adventures open the book’s narrative. (He completed his doctorate at the Sorbonne on the G.I. Bill.) In the Sixties, he travels to Latin America, Germany, Italy and France. In December 1960, he is in Havana describing the city and meeting literary people. He wants to know what Hemingway was doing during the Batista regime. He meets Neruda. In January 1968, he is thrown into the Santa Rita Rehabilitation Center for “blocking the entrance to war at Oakland Army Induction Center.” He sees “an eighteen-year old first offender thrown in for disturbing society’s deep sleep now making his first hard connection with hard drugs …” Ferlinghetti not only portrays the jail with terse force but mordantly sums up “the very real existence of evil” in the state’s prison machinery.
Writing Across the Landscape honors the landscape and delights in rapid description – then jumps to the book he read while in transit, or to an overheard conversation on the train through the Netherlands. In the Eighties, he is in Managua. He meets Daniel Ortega. In the Nineties, he visits Barcelona and Prague. Vaclav Havel had visited the City Lights Bookstore during his trip to America, and now Ferlinghetti gets to sit at Havel’s desk “high up in the castle. And I was shown the great windowless window (fifteen feet tall) where unwelcome guests in other centuries were pushed out and fell three stories to their death – defenestrated!”
Ever Ferlinghetti: Mexico, February 28, 2004, as a guide lectures in the Diego Rivera Mural Museum, he watches “an urchin lifting a wallet out of the back pocket of a passing gent …”
[Published September 14, 2015. 496 pages, $35.00 hardcover]