It’s been occurring to me to re-read Ricardo Piglia’s The Absent City. I haven’t read it in years, but recent current events keep reminding me of it—and though I know, also it’s that feeling that I must re-read it to get the full information. So I am. I pulled it off the bookshelf today, where it’s landed after many, many moves, where I haven’t opened it at any one of those locations, for years and years, but there it sits, waiting. Until now. Once I open it I know: something. Something in here is the thing. I read the introduction and the fog starts to clear a little: so near to us..from 1976-1983—all within my lifetime—the Dirty War in Argentina. Disappearings. Re-writing of events. Narratives… I remember it now.
It’s not the war I remember; I didn’t read this book until a class in Post-Modern Lit when I was in college in the 90’s. It’s this story, in a sense, of the war, The Absent City. It’s becoming, it occurs to me, where I live.
And life. Life is in Piglia’s writing: contaminated, as the introduction says, with history, but not straightforward history—history half imagined, like a dream. And I realize this is life: a half-imagined dream contaminated and cross-pollinated with history, characters we think are real but are actually merely quazi-memories, quoting from their works they never wrote. Not quite a fiction, but not quite real, either.
This is now. This is LA.
LA used to be a city. I used to live in Burbank where I modeled and acted and wrote and argued with my roommate about juicer pulp in the sink. Where I discovered I could no longer read a map without glasses. Where I walked to the gym kitty-corner to my place, did my laundry illegally, once, on New Years Eve at the movie-themed laundromat across the parking lot from the gym. I let my dogs run (also illegally) on the baseball diamond across the street while I chatted with the two homeless people who lived there. Kenneth, the man-boy who lived behind the tree across from my house and who went to breakfast and a movie with me on Mother’s day, as a replacement son, but would, through skilled drawings that backed up his claim of relocation to LA to be an illustrator, let me know in a schizophrenic way that he was in love with me. Goodbye Kenneth. Madam Tussaud’s, and Au Lac, where I used to go on dates with my daughter’s father….LA was a real city then. It seemed, at least, so real.
Now I drive through my old neighborhood and remember, remember, remember. But it’s as if it were all a dream. Half-remembered characters in a story I seemed to write as I went, enjoying it all the way through, sad when it ended. And the now—all shot through with these semi-memories, maybe-facts, seems to be part of the active dream. But LA, beloved LA, why are you fading?
Reading diaries of people living and dying here long before I was born. Or overlapping, time-wise, with my life. Characters in the dream…real figures, injected into, grafted onto my experience. What a strange phenomena. My life is so dear to me, this somehow beautiful cacophonous symphony of what I know and love, hugging it all close to my chest—these half-dreams, quasi-real characters, books… a mish-mash mosaic that is only mine, mine, mine.
I look around at the plants I live with and care for, the colors and textures of my pink apartment, my daughter’s toys. She is sleeping at her father’s house and so I am her dream, tonight, and she is mine. Fabric-ed of remembrances and forgettings, neural synapses and gestalts. And where is LA, now? The restaurants I used to love, the gorgeous Edison building (a Piglia novel in itself), old lovers and friends and nights leaning intently over delicious soil-smelling raw mushroom soup and intensely discussing everything, everything. For awhile, everyone I dated seemed to have driven here from Florida. LA is slipping away. The friends dispersed. The soup no longer on the menu. My apartment remodeled, the gym is gone. Disappeared.
A new story replacing the old…mandating a painful injection of dark insanity I can’t hug to my chest into the story I loved so much. No longer can I enter even the old favorites that are still there. To them, I will be the disappeared. Erased because I decline to participate in this new insane night terror. I shake my head, wipe my cheek, and turn away, my eyes gripping the concrete sidewalk I remember from my childhood, my grandmother’s apartment on S. Curson Street at Park La Brea. And the smell of all of it I will never forget. L.A., L.A., L.A., City of Angeles, City of Dreams, how can they do this? Where will you go? You always had my heart.