The winter of 1989-1990 has been dry, with many forest fires and a drought from Sicily to the Alps. Since December the golden calycanthus flowers light up when the sun rises above the roof lines of the courtyard from the cliffs of Monte Generoso. I've been living here on and off for nineteen years. My neighbours Laurie and Giovanni have this old electric typewriter, which I'm using now. I like its typefaces, its hum and metallic noises. A ten-thousand-word autobiography sounds like ten thousand rivers and mountains. I'll try.
I was born on Lago Maggiore, October 7, 1937. My father worked for the Swiss railways. I guess I was born in Locarno because my mother's mother, Anita Sala, moved there from Sestri Levante, Liguria, after her husband, Hervé Fragnière, died in 1930. Earlier he too was in the railways. My father's father, Giuseppe, was a farmer. He migrated in 1899 from Cadenazzo, Ticino, to California, had a dairy farm in Point Arena, Mendocino County, on the Pacific. His wife, Lucia, had four daughters and two sons: Americo and my father, Giovanni, the elder. My grandfather came back from California in 1909 to see his savings vanish in the bankruptcy of a local Swiss bank. His second son, Americo, went to California too. He'd a reputation as a troublemaker. Everybody in the family would say that I looked just like him. He died at twenty-two from gangrene in Santa Maria, California, in 1931. As a kid I would often visit my grandfather's farm in Cadenazzo. A stone house, a garden, some cows and a horse, an orchard and vineyard on the slope of Monte Ceneri's chestnut woods, and some fields out in the Magadino plain. He told me of the San Francisco fire, of trains into the city, of riots in Chinatown and other things, letting me dream that the world was wide and available. He had a black hat and a red bandana, kept tight by an empty matchbox. He was an Anarchist at heart and gave me, probably without counting on it, a desire to travel, to go away, to move on. I'm fifty-three and I'm still like that. My mother's name is Linda. She attended the Scuola d'Arte del Costume in Milano near the Duomo. Nowadays it's called stylism. While visiting relatives in Cadenazzo during September 1933 she got a love letter. The messenger was my father. In 1936 they married, moved from one railway town to the next, and finally separated when I was sixteen.
The language of southern Switzerland, Ticino, was Italian and of local dialects. You could tell where everybody came from by their accent. Tiny differences did matter. I have forgotten many dialects and only speak some with my father, now eighty-three. My mother always spoke Italian with me. (They were unlikely persons to be together. I'm their only child. I too have one son, Giona. He was born in Kyoto, Japan, in 1966. His mother's name is Judith Danciger.
I should say something about my grandma Anita. She always took me mushroom hunting and also to the pastry shops and beer halls she was fond of. In April 1945 the war was over. The Antifascists hunted down the local Fascists. I assisted at the mobbing of a tobacco shop under Locarno's portici. The owner got an ear cut in the fight. Some Fascist bosses' villas burnt. I didn't disapprove. Switzerland had been officially neutral but thousands of runaway Italian, French, and GermanJews were driven back at the border and handed to the slaughter. Call it neutrality! In the middle of the night you could hear swarms of airplanes. You could tell from the red sky that Milano was being bombed. My man was Stalin. I thought of myself as a Communist and an Anarchist. Life was boring in Chiasso, a small railway border town where we moved in 1946. Thank God we had gangs, street fights, soccer games, and the "2 movies 2" in Ponte Chiasso across the border. Como was near for Westerns, and more movies with the Neapolitan actor Totò. When my parents split up I was the first to go. I rented a room in Lugano, where I was stranded studying at the Liceo. I wasn't a good student. Mnemonic systems were horrors. I loved languages, art history, and whatever art and literary news I could get. The professor of French, Pericle Patocchi, was sharp on Provençal poetry and on Ronsard, Louise Labè, Rabelais, Verlaine, Baudelaire, and Apollinaire. It took two years more than had been foreseen to finish the damn school. Life was so much more enticing, and books. Sartre, Camus, Villon, Ungaretti, Dino Campana, Vittorini, Pavese, Melville, and Hemingway were my heroes, along with Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein, and Pollock, whose shows in Milano I didn't miss. My mother had moved there with her new man, Edo. The city was good for bars, galleries, bookstores, music, and action. Lugano was a sort of weekly exile. When I moved to Zürich in 1958 to study architecture I was very much on my own. My father and my mother always helped; they weren't wealthy. I think they were and still are exceptional in their quiet ways.
A few hours ago I told my mother about this autobiography. "Oh, you forget so many things. I've a better memory than you," she laughed on the phone. My standard excuse for my poor memory is that I met so many people and got involved with so many different places, situations, jobs, and events that the nowness of it all took over.
In spring 1939 my parents went on a trip to Interlaken and Lausanne. I was left with my grandma Anita, and remember huge blue hydrangea flowers (in Kyoto, 1967, I'd see them again on LSD) and alleys lined with strawberries. For the first time my parents weren't there. That was in Cadenazzo in the large country house of my mother's wealthy relatives. At my grandad's farm a few hundred yards uphill the scene was radically different, a small fireplace with a coffeepot always on. But there were hydrangeas there too.
I remember my grandma Anita's pâté and anchovies. She was a gourmet, even spent days preparing my aunt Carla's wedding banquet. There was a mountain girl helping in the house. I forget her name. Sometimes she would play with my little thing and I would touch her. I must've been four or five since my uncle Fredi was often away in the army. Those days Fredi was quite outgoing. We would visit another young lady on the opposite shore of the lake. She had several fox skins. Once the tin ocean-liner toy which we'd borrowed from zia Carla sunk. That almost caused a breakup. My uncle used me as his hunting dog, I would rescue the warm, tiny birds from under the brush. I remember him shooting a large green woodpecker. I remember not liking that, but I liked my uncle. My career as hunting dog came to a sudden end after I caught pneumonia from sleeping out in wet clothes. Fredi also caught trout with his hands in the Isorno river gorges of Loco, Onsernone Valley. His father, Venanzio, a retired railway engine driver, had the most monumental white mustaches ever and collected old weapons. They never impressed me though I liked to play duels with Fredi with real swords. We were careless but it all worked out.
Flashback: Winter 1940, 1 am walhing on a frozen fountain. The ice breaks. A farmer rescues me and brings me to his kitchen, lit up by a roaringfire. His wife takes off my icy wet clothing, lays me naked on the large wooden table for a massage with grappa till I am red . I don't even catch a cold. At age five, near the railway yards of Castione, Bellinzona, behind the kindergarten fence, a man is castrating cocks. Feathers J7y all over. Another time a stoneworker saves me from drowning in a fastrunning creek. (I've a terrific collection of straw pets: Miki the dog, a giraffe, a horse, Mumo the huge teddy bear, a tiger, and an elephant. I also am fond of a doll and knit several clothes for her: I remember a blue skirt with pink flowers.) The Swiss army marching up and down the dirt road into town. To school, the smell of ink, the beauty of metal nibs. The uncomfortable wooden benches. I hate to sit there, eternally. Soldiers shaving along rows of wooden sinks on freezing mornings. One good day, no school: the building is crowded with British Sikh soldiers and other war refugees. It's 1943 or 1944. We spend a summer, my mother and me, with relatives in Indemini, a lonely mountain village. I help make wooden charcoal. A long white worm scares and puzzles me: it vanishes in an invisible hole. Mystery. Age seven: my father has to move again, I change school three times in second grade. In Locarno the teacher shuts me in a closet. A daily routine. I eat all his hidden stash of dryfigs; mygrandmother moves me to another school. 1945: war is over. I'm on my father's shoulders watching a crowd with red flags feasting in Piazza della Colleggiata, Bellinzona. Finally my parents find a house in downtown Chiasso, where a year before my father's freight train was machine-gunned by two U.S.A. war planes.
Flashback: 1945, still in Ravecchia, Bellinzona. I remember the last time my dad played soccer with me in the corridor. I remember his geographical maps, was excited by those faraway names, faraway places. I remember a Christmas. My father was away working, my mother couldn't hide her sadness. She was very young and beautiful. She has an oblong beauty mark on her right calf: She dressed well, with Italian taste. Everybody else seemed clumsy, except for the women farmers in long, Jlowery skirts.
The border opened, the family could trade visits. I remember the fantastic smell of fresh color ink from 11 Corrierino dei Piccoli, Bibì and Bibò, the cartoon adventures of il Signor Bonaventura, who always won a million lire. In those early postwar days, a mythical apparition: my Sicilian uncle, Achille Viola, a lawyer at Milano's market. He had fine mustaches, brought oranges at each visit, even rented a box at the La Scala opera house. He was the third husband of my grandmother Anita's sister, Carolina. But zio Achille died before he could take me down to Palermo. Zia Carolina went broke, would become blind, and moved back to Ticino. She stayed very elegant till the end. My mother was living with her while studying in the city.
In 1946 my parents rented a place for the summer in Bordighera, near the French-Italian sea border. The long trip by train was a treat. Bombed bridges were reinforced with wooden structures. In Genova, for the first time, the sea: silver light on pale turquoise waves. The beds of the rented cottage turned out to be full of fleas. We move to Pensione Aurora, where we'd go back for a few summers. A table was reserved for two men who detected and unprimed mines. One had a face ruined by metal splinters. He introduced me to Ping-Pong. (PingPong: one of the things I like best in life. This very afternoon I played several games with my son, Giona.) I learned to swim; what a change the Mediterranean was from the granite pools of freezing mountain water where we used to go. I still visit those remote waterfalls and emerald green pools.
Well, Chiasso was a funny, swampy place, large meadows with grey Alpine cows were hidden by the "downtown" buildings near the station. Lots of charcoal smoke in the air from the railway engines. I could watch the wide railway yards from my fifthfloor windows. The landlord had a cigar factory. There were many cigar factories. They're all gone.
Women working tobacco had tanned fingers. There were lots of full- and part-time smugglers. They would carry backpacks loaded with cigarettes, chocolate, and watches over the ridges into Italy. At thirteen I learned to play decent poker in a bar which is being taken down right now. The village where I'm writing all this is about ten miles north of Chiasso, at the southern tip of Lugano Lake. But that Chiasso town, in spite of its adventurous activities on the border, was dull, and from the beginning I felt a stranger. I still am a stranger. I didn't learn its dialect, and immediately took a strong liking to Italians. The locals thought, and to a degree still think, they are more Swiss than the Swiss. Everybody else must be uncivilized and inferior. My friends were Italians, sons of border guards, smugglers, forwarding agents, and railway workers. Our gang was the downtowners. A Calabrian kid lost an eye, hit by an umbrella rib used as an arrow. We were pretty wild and ritualistic. At some point I met Floretta; she could outplay the boys at soccer. Flora and I are still friends. She owns the courtyard, fixed the buildings one by one in the early seventies, and now teaches architecture in Zurich and Rome. Her husband, Andre Ruchat, was my best friend in Chiasso. He went down in 1961 with a Swiss army airplane. Their daughter Anna will be a mother soon. Flora has some of my best paintings in her house. (Yes, I'm a visual artist too.)
For summer vacations we later moved to Nervi, east of Genova. I remember blinding afternoon light, large processions of red and black ants, cicadas in the pine trees. I bought my first poetry book there, Il Dolore by Ungaretti, and couldn't get over the impact: I built a special place for poetry in my mind and wrote hermetic attempts. It took years to find out some basics: the only way to write is to write. Later on in Japan, when at twenty-eight I still was very shy regarding poetry, Philip Whalen confirmed it: in order to write you've got to sit down and do it.
When I was thirteen or fourteen, I often cycled to swim and read by the Breggia River, now covered by the main highway. All I wrote, all I painted, and I did paint a lot as a kid, is gone. First by selective destruction of unsatisfying work, and finally at twenty-three in Fredi's garden above Locarno, I burned everything thoroughly and happily. By then my mother had moved back from Milano and worked for her sister and Fredi's clothing shop. She somehow managed to save two paintings from the fifties. Strangely enough they remind me of Tancredi, whom I didn't know at all. In Ascona there was a gallery, la Cittadella, run by Gisèle Réal, showing Ecole de Paris abstract work. Gisèle had the best art mags of the time. Through her I met Raffaello Benazzi and through Raffaello, Julius Bissier, the German painter. In April 1965, just before leaving forJapan, I visited him. "It's a long way," was his last greeting at the gate of the garden. When I arrived in Tokyo his wife wrote that he'd died. His art is light and transparent, spirit and hand are one.
I was overeducated, had to go a long way away from all of it to begin to see through. Life is interesting because it is complicated, as Ted Berrigan was fond of saying, using the same wording which I also used in Italian. Complications? Complexities? Whatever it is it's been a long way, endlessly surprising, never predictable.
It's a miracle how lightly I went through the architecture studies, hardly attending twelve hours of Vorlesungen (lectures) over five years. I even got scholarships and a degree in spite of my loose ways. Paris, 1960 and 1961: it was easy for somebody as determined as I was to find work. I knew Paris from previous visits. When I moved there it felt like home. Evelyne followed soon. She was a Zürich photographer. We moved from one hotel to the next. The best was Hotel Henry IV, place Dauphine, with windows on the Seine and Le Pont Neuf. The first was near la Contrescarpe. I was working for Candilis and Woods's atelier, 18 rue Dauphine, and nighttimes I was trying to paint, in a general Michaux plus Tobey direction. My readings were the preSocratics, Laotzu, D. T. Suzuki, Levi-Strauss, Genet, and Rimbaud. In the atelier I met Li Yen, a Chinese just in from London. Li introduced me to more Taoism and Zen, and also to Ezra Pound, Saint John Perse, Max Picard, Mao Tse-tung, and to new American writers. I'd already read the Italian version of Kerouac's Subterraneans with my sculptor friend Raffaello Benazzi, with whom I often stayed in the pine forest near Massa Carrara, where I designed a children's sea camp for the Anarchists, coming and going from my Zurich rooms in Niederdorf, the old section of town. I got more leads from Giovanni Blumer, an autodidact heavily into Marcel Duchamp, Lautreamont, Ludwig Hohl, and everything marginal and intelligent. For a while we'd a girlfriend in common, Irene Aebi, now singing with Steve Lacy. In Naples, Irene met an American navy kid, went to San Francisco, and came back with news from the West Coast, of Jack Spicer and his circle of poets.
You see: I can't be linear even if I try. Back to Paris. The main things were making love to Evelyne, wandering with Li Yen, and discovering that architecture as it was practiced wasn't my way. Too square, too hectic, too abstract, too many phone calls, too much sitting around drawing tables, too many straight lines with too many rapidographs, far from the streets and reality. The atelier was a friendly and fairly well-paid setup, but Li and I quit and found jobs on our own. The main one was remodeling a studio in rue d'Amsterdam for Henry Meerson, a worldly fashion photographer doing covers for Harper's Bazaar and such. Evelyne worked for him in the darkroom, and he was fond of saying that his young architects combined Chinese and Italian subtlety with British rigour and Swiss precision. What an optimist! Our Algerian carpenters were passionate but rough, yet Meerson never blinked. We hung out with his models, saw lots of movies, were wandering scholars. The Algerian liberation was near, bombs would explode often in the deserted Quartier Latin. Li gave me the first rudiments of English while I tried to improve his French. At the beginning of spring I left Evelyne, moved back to Zürich for exams, passed through Paris in summer, read Gregory Corso's Happy Birthday of Death and Kerouac's Dharma Bums. Meerson gently paid cash for our project of a summerhouse on the Côte d'Azur which was never built, and I moved to London into Li Yen's flat while Li used mine in Zürich on Rindermarkt. I found work with the Smithsons, designing details for their Saint James Towers. It was a part-time job so I'd time to wander. The British Museum became familiar, including the nearby teahouses. Coomaraswamy, several Kenneth Rexroth, and D. T. Suzuki on Japanese art were among the books which I stole in Charing Cross. On Hampstead Heath, Chinese flew kites from the large grass terrace overlooking London. (One can cut another's kite loose by hitting its string with a tenser string, using the wind.) By the end of 1961 I was back in Zürich. I got my degree in architecture at Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) in 1963. I traveled a lot, mainly to Italy, France, Spain, and Tangier. It is a mystery how I could work, study, lead a dense bar life day and night, go through girlfriends, sometimes heartlessly, read steadily, and be on the move all the time. Flashback: Life in Zürich around 1963, springtime. I'm living at Professor Alfred Roth Dolder's house overlooking a creek in the forest. You can hear it all the time, running from waterfall to waterfall.
Christophe Beriger, the architect, had moved back to Zurich from Paris and offered a job and also helped my degree project for a conservatoire, drawing technical details. Leo Zanier, now living with Flora, helped with statics. I got a letter from Irene, who was in Rome, her new fiancé was an engineer, Bubi Fiorenzi. I moved there and we became friends instantly. After two months of traveling in Greece I rented and repaired with them a tufa tower in Isola Farnese, above the Etruscan ruins of Vejo, seventeen kilometers north of Rome. There was no running water in the village. In order to get it, along with a bus line, Isola joined Rome. For the feast Rome sent a Bersaglieri band. More musicians than inhabitants to feed. A firework hit a barn in the night, lots of firemen arrived, also hungry; the barn was ashes. In winter I worked again in Zurich with Christophe, Li Yen, and a young Tokyo architect, Minoru Shimoda. We always had green tea and Remy Martin cognac on the draft tables. Some of the projects got built eventually by Christophe's father's firm. Flashback: Lots of Jean-Luc Godard's movies. The frozen lake of Zürich. A girl in München, Berta. We'd met in Greece, Mikonos. Her father was a Second World War Prussian general who liked Minoru better than me. Several trips to Paris and Provence. Spring 1964 comes: back to Rome and Isola. We've credit at the grocer's, at the bar, and at a restaurant in Trastevere, da Lucia. I work with Bubi remodeling attics in Campo dei Fiori and Trastevere. With a zoning plan for Sperlonga, half the way down to Naples, we save the Grotta di Tiberio beach from speculation and cement. Irene and Bubi tell of an American girl named Judy. One morning she arrives in her mother's sports car. She's studying to be an interpreter in Geneva, Switzerland, and comes and goes from there to her mother's place in Rome. Flashback: Judy suddenly crying out of happiness after moving in. We go for long hikes and drives, visit Bagnaia, Bomarzo, and Viterbo, Siena, and the Etruscan graves of Targuinia, and the frescoes which I'd seen at seventeen. We visit Sperlonga, swim in the sea, swim in Vejo's river and waterfall. She has a younger sister, Lizzi; her stepfather, Doctor Hirshman, had died a few weeks before we could meet. Leila, her mother, is a HungarianLatvian Jew born in Paterson, New Jersey, and has grey eyes like a gentle wolf: My studies of the English language become steadier. Judy writes poetry, she types the texts carefully, which I never did. We listen to records: Vivaldi, Bach, Bob Dylan, and Roberto Murolo's Vecchia Napoli (an LP which actually I'm playing right now.)
Flashback: My father, throughout these years, keeps visiting me. In Zürich we used to meet at the Hauptbahnhof, where he would arrive with his train on the job. He comes to Isola too, goes to Sperlonga, meets my new friends. I've a "London smoke" suit. Sometimes I wear the coat with white jeans. Fredi and my mother tailored that suit. My mother never visits. I always visit her. She keeps private, rarely goes out of her way, some kind of strange dignity and shyness.
Flashback: Judy opens her light blue eyes, I call her Judy girl, the best in the ring. At the beginning our common language is French, which we both speak f luently, then Italian and American. After the fast turnover of girlfriends, Judith Mary Danciger is a radical change. Summer is over, Li Yen and Christophe arrive and want me back for work, so Judy and I move to Zürich for six months, go through several borrowed houses, including a sandstone cottage in a quarry near Regensberg, and end up with our luggage and growing collection of books under a roof on Oberdorfstrasse. In the streets I would meet Koebi, a welder, walking a variety pack of expensive dogs, all pets of Niederdorfs hookers.
There were only a few boutiques and galleries; it was a section of Zürich full of old bars and artisans' workshops. Sometimes we would drink with Friedrich Kuhn, the fabulous painter. I was working hard, paid as usual by the hour. Judy was learning German and was wearing a long camel-hair overcoat. Leila, Bubi, and Irene visited from Rome. I started feeling restless, the drive to see Japan took over. Spring came, 1965. We spent two weeks in Ticino visiting my parents, Flora and Anna, Solange and Lio Galfetti, the architect, Benazzi and Bissier.
In my early days in Zürich I met Alfred Giedion, the historian, and his wife, Carola Welcker, and Alberto Giacometti, the sculptor, at Caffee Odeon, a classy, Viennese-style hangout. I also met the architects Alvar Aalto and Richard Neutra and listened to their monologues. Giacometti was very silent, our meetings fast but intense. Well, all that was over, I was an architect, was living with a woman I loved, and was leaving Europe. Judy came along till Venice. For a week we roamed all over and rode boats to the islands. She waved me good-bye at the station. I was off to Vienna, Moscow, and the Japan of my mind. In Moscow, Majakovskji's grave was covered with flowers. May 9 I saw the military Day of Victory Parade in the Red Square, twenty years after the fall of Berlin. While the Trans-Siberian train was leaving Moscow I shared a bottle of vodka offered by a grey-eyed Red Army veteran. On the train everybody was visiting from one compartment to another, in pyjamas and dressing gowns. A drunk general distributed his decorations to several kids. Days later, an hour before he'd to get off, everybody looked for his scattered medals. I was second class, had food stamps, which would provide two daily bottles of cognac to share with Volodja, a Vladivostok cannery worker, and Simeon, a Siberian Yupik whaler from the Bering Strait on his way home after a recovery period in Crimea. With his new Turkish rifle he shot rocks from the train windows. Volodja and Simeon spoke some German from their army days in Eastern Germany. I showed them a recent photo of Judy, they approved. Simeon had a picture of his father in white furs and seal skins. We parted our ways in Khabarovsk on the Amur River. The main buildings were neoclassic, Europe had extended so far. But from the train occasional Mongolian yurts and camps filed by with endless, rolling, bare hills. Every morning a different landscape and different springtimes. Khabarovsk had a large, modern, new hotel, the waitresses in miniskirts had a Marilyn Monroe-Niagara Falls look.
A new model train took me to the harbor of Nakodka and a Russian ferry to Yokohama, through the Tsugaru Kaikyo, crowded with small wooden fishing boats. Along the eastern coast of Honshu you can see many villages under steep green mountains, just like in classic Far Eastern painted scrolls. That's why landscape is called sansui: mountains and waters. In Yokohama, Minoru and Günter Nitschke, a friend from London, were waiting. They took me to eat sushi and to a public bath, and finally to a cottage in Tokyo's Nishi-Ogikubo. Günter's girlfriend Fujiko spoke German and English. After two weeks of hanging out in Shinjuku's bars and Tokyo's various districts, I moved in with Minoru in a one-floor guesthouse where I started studying spoken Japanese and Chinese ideograms and Eastern literature, including Genji Monogatari, Osamu Dazai and Fenollosa's art books. I daily went to museums and Noh theatre, the Kanze Kaikan. Noh is a healing performance, knots vanish through living tragic deeds again. Enlightenment through voice, music, and dance.
On the crowded sidewalk outside Shinjuku's Fugetsudo coffeehouse I met Nanao Sakaki, the Japanese wandering poet, and soon his informal Bun Academy. Nanao had and still has a remarkable social mobility. Homeless people under bridges would offer tea and next we were sitting in some hidden luxury mansion. He'd translated Milarepa in Tokyo dialect; many thought that he himself was Milarepa. Then I met a young weaver named Akiko Sato and when she moved to Kyoto it was time to move too. Unexpectedly Minoru quit his job and came along. Akiko later rented part of a farmhouse in the country, in Ohara Mura north of Kyoto.
I'd to make up my mind; in the fall Judy arrived. We rented a four-and-a-half mat tatami room (which is nine square yards) in an apartment house on a backpath near Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion Temple. Minoru got a room next door. Judy too liked Japan immediately, started giving English lessons to students provided by Minoru and his Zengakuren friends. She also started studying weaving with Akiko. Winter was wonderful but the Zurich money was gone. Through old Isaburo Ueno, the rationalist architect married to a Viennese designer named Lizzi-san, I worked as an architect in buzzing Osaka, a striking contrast with quiet Kyoto. In Osaka I also taught French to a fashionable Ikebana teacher, who wanted to learn how to spell Chardin, Dior, ChampsElysees, and such. One day, in the sushi restaurant where the lesson would usually finish, he told me that I was a beatnik. We parted friendly and never met again. Meanwhile for the Osaka firm my approach to design was tooJapanese. They'd enrolled a European to get the new dope, but even the Honda skyscraper for Kobe was tooJapanese. At that point I got wind of an exchange scholarship between my Zürich school and Kyoto University, and thanks to Gaudenz Domenig, the architecture anthropologist, I met the outgoing Masuda-sensei, who was lecturing every Saturday afternoon on traditional art and culture to a few foreign students. I got the scholarship and was able again to do what I wanted.
One spring afternoon Nanao came visiting, along with Gary Snyder, who introduced me to Philip Whalen, the poet living nearby across the Shirakawa (White River) of our poems. Phil soon introduced me to Cid Corman, a long-time resident. There I was in the middle of three poets who talked shop talk. I began to type things. Phil would elaborate thoroughly every question I'd on any disparate subject. Gary was very active, had sound views on the alternative movement, tribal communes and stuff. Cid was quieter and witty, had European links which I appreciated. In a way these new friends broke the enchanted isolation where Judy and I were living with Akiko and Minoru. At Gary's place I met Rexroth and others. Spring 1966 came. Judy was pregnant. We moved to a larger place near Nanzenji, overlooking a park daily trimmed by many gardeners. Dry pine needles were picked one by one. The year in our tiny paradise room was over. There were no sleazy tourist traps then along the Philosopher's path on the canal under Higashiyama, steep forest of cedars, pines, and rhododendrons.
Giona was born October 9, 1966, in the Baptist Hospital built in the thirties by Ueno-sensei, who invited me to his International Design Institute. Every Monday I made the students design their dream house and build large models. Ueno approved, we were far from those pseudo-modern speculators of Osaka. Japanese homes are modulated on 3' x 6' tatami-mat patterns, articulating light wooden frames. A complex case in point to focus on. Flashback: Playing with little Giona on our terrace. Throwing him in the air and watching himfall back laughingfrom the sky into my stretched arms.
Phil would visit us, announcing his arrival by blowing a conch shell. He gave me Gertrude Stein, Olson, and Blake to read and I went several times through his own books, like Every Day. Oral transmission. Now he's a Roshi, a Zen teacher in San Francisco, Soto lineage. My practice has always been rather informal, walking meditation is my way; I've a strong refusal for anything formally set up. Yet the Diamond Sutra is a daily study along with Lao-tzu. I try to practice their essence in art and life, which have become very much the same, a daily thing, renewed by necessity and chance. I love chance, in its John Cage and Duchamp connotations. Flashback: Nanao, Gary, Phil, Giona baby, andJudy on a wooden deck above the Kamo River western bank. Min Min, a popular Chinese restaurant. Kyoto is the ville toute proustienne, the ancient capital of our mind. Cid keeps more to himself, is busy writing and editing Origin magazine. We've long tête-à-tête talks, since then we've been corresponding almost weekly throughout the years. Suddenly I get an invitation to teach design in lowa. Flashback: My grandparents' marriage certificate framed in their entrance hall. Mendocino Co.&emdash;only later I discovered that Co. meant County. Everybody in thefamily would say, oh we got a letter from Mendocino Co., and that was it. Grandpa never explained. He was proud of his cows' beauty, they got prizes for the best-looking horns, the certificates hung in his neat stone stable. Anyway lowa was given up since another teaching gig opened at San Louis Obispo's Cal Poly.
The same week our money disappeared from a book where it was hidden, Cid offered the sum which was repaid with the first Californian paychecks. With Gary I went to Kagoshima, Kyushu, and to Suwanose Jima, a volcano island part of the Ten Islands Archipelago extending towards Okinawa. I helped Nanao and his friends to build a straw shed. We cleared a bamboo forest for a sweet-potato field. Meanwhile Judy waited with Giona at Gary's house north of Daitokuji temple. Buying strong paper, tape, and rope to mail our packages to Europe and California I realized that I was speaking fluent Japanese and that just then I was leaving. Our plan was to be back in Kyoto within two years. It didn't happen. (I returned after nineteen years for an intense month of hikes, visits, readings, and shows. Kyoto always feels like home. Other places which kind of feel like home: Ticino at large, Milano, Venezia, Rome, western Sicily, Paris, San Francisco, and California at large.)
The Washington Bear cargo ship at Kobe harbour: everything was huge. Fridges with pounds of roast beef, gallons of milk and juices: America. Used to tight spaces and small dishes and cups, the boat largely anticipated America's big spaces. Asked by Phil and Gary, James Koller, the poet, was waiting for us at Pier 40, San Francisco harbour. He was editing Coyote's Journal and Books, had a face which seemed cut with an ax, and we've been the closest friends since. Jim drove us in his green 1965 Chevy pickup to Mill Valley across the Golden Gate Bridge. The Mahalila Great Delight Society, Hisayo and Albert Saijo, Jim Hatch, Jay Blaise. Smoking grass was the main activity with designing posters for rock bands. There I met the poets Lew Welch and Joanne Kyger.
After a week of feeling out the new continent, we got a ride to San Louis Obispo. The artificial lawns and uptight buildings of the campus froze me. We bought an old VW bug, rented half of a duplex cottage in the Mexican section close to the Southern Pacific Railway's tracks. The hooter announcing endless freight trains made me feel better. I was an extreme teacher, gave out my energy trying to always learn something. A few students became part of the family. Giona started walking and talking. He used to climb any wall or tree he could get near. Jim Koller came down visiting, the second time with Phil back from Japan to edit his collected poems, which Bill Brown named On Bear's Head. In SF Phil introduced us to Richard Brautigan, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Michael McClure, and Allen Ginsberg looked us up at the Swiss American Hotel on Broadway. "That's America," he smiled, taking me to a drugstore lined with porno mags. My American was shaping up, though I still speak with an Italian accent. Jaime de Angulo became another hero of mine. His adventurous and tragic life, his writing, drawings and notations of native music are unique. Teaching wasn't leaving enough time to write, so in spite of Dean George Hasslein's dismay I gave up after a year. "You're going to starve," he said, smiling a sad Armenian smile; "Anytime you want back I'll've a job for you." In the early seventies I went back twice for weekly terms and five hundred bucks.
My friend in San Louis Obispo was a sculptor of kinetic flags and metal fishes sounding rib to rib in the wind. Jack Augsburger died in 1979. At the opening of my show at Loeb's in Bern, I cried. Lewis MacAdams and Kathy Acker were there. Jack died, I explained, but they didn't know him. In San Francisco I heard Janis Joplin at the Fillmore; she was dynamite. Jerry Garcia, the Fugs, and Jimi Hendrix I heard in Santa Barbara. My students printed fake tickets to get in; they were very political about prices. In Bolinas, Bill Brown was a writer and a gardener, Jim and Jack Boyce, the painter, were working for him. When in the city, Bill used to drink at the San Gottardo on Columbus Avenue, whose owner went to school with my father back in Ticino. My father wrote its address as a good hotel but the San Gottardo had just a zinc bar, and had become a winos' hangout. Jim had a large Malamute dog named Thomas Thomas and soon a new girl, Cassandra. She later became a famous bartender in Santa Fe's La Fonda Hotel.
It was time to see Europe again. We mailed everything and somehow the painting which Yves Klein gave me inJanuary 1957 in Milano disappeared forever. The small blue thing is now worth a fortune. It was a magic reminder of our meeting at Galleria Apollinaire, a token of vision and generosity. Klein died inJune 1962. So in San Francisco we said goodbye to Phil and flew to Denver and Colorado Springs, where we wrecked Judy's uncle's Cadillac. Then to Memphis, Tennessee, to see her grandfather Zeide Nash, who disapproved of Judy's marriage to a nonJewish person. But when Zeide saw little Giona from his redbrick tenement window he waved us up. He lived surrounded by music scores and books in Hebrew, Yiddish, Latvian, and Russian, several musical instruments, and a collection of cactus. His neighbours were black people, the tiny old Latvian was the only white man on the block. As a young man he'd to flee the Czar's military repression following the failed 1905 revolution, first to England then to New York and onwards doing all kind of jobs. From Memphis we flew to New York, which was torrid, so we visited Vermont. The second time in the city was better but we had to leave for Southampton. The liner was a feeble remake of Céline's boat ride in Voyage au Bout de la Nuit. Everybody stood up for national anthems and the captain was playing them all. We never stood up and were removed to the bar for meals. Leila meanwhile had moved to Brighton with her new English husband, who was running a language school; that marriage didn't last long. Later that uptight Englishman was killed in his trailer in southern France. London again. Flashback: Rid ing buses on Oxford Street, Charing Cross Road, etc. Giona is twenty-two months old and enjoys himself immensely. In Zürich, Christophe is at the airport, drives us to Saanen, Bernese Oberland, where he rents rooms in a châIet with Li Yen and Kim Lawrence. We attend Krishnamurti talks; he has things to say even on the recent Paris May 1968 events and transmits breakthrough insights. I hear him again in 1972 in Ojai, California. A blue jay flies in front of him just when he is pronouncing the word "bird." Silence.
In Zürich, Giovanni Blumer, who had been living in Shanghai, told me, "This is no time for poetry but for revolution." I did what I could but went on writing. After a long visit to Ticino we moved to Zürich at Christophe's on 38 Forchstrasse. Giona was very lively; he and Luca Zanier would throw wooden toys on the roofs of trams and on the sidewalk below. Blond Friulano Luca and dark Italian-Swiss-American Giona had wild fights; we separated them only when needed. Nice kids. At Christophe's, besides doing our projects, we were busy with the immigrant Italian workers and within the extraparliamentary Left, already divided into several factions. I met Urban Gwerder, the poet, prepared several pages for his underground paper, Hotcha!
When spring came once again we visited Ticino. My first architect teacher, Rino Tami, offered to collaborate in designing the Chiasso&emdash;San Gottardo highway. I was adamant. I needed all my time. We moved to Rome, rented a walk-up flat nearJudy's old family friend Zev in Trastevere, where I wrote my first prose book, Nadamas. I was attending Steve Lacy's rehearsals, in the ground-floor place which he inherited from the Musica Elettronica Viva people There I met many musicians, including Cornelius Cardew and Mal Waldron, the pianist. Steve's soprano sax inspired the rhythm of my book. We'd met earlier in Milano at Ettore Sottsass and Fernanda Pivano's house. Nanda encouraged me to write down what I was saying; she was friends with Whalen and got me to translate Burroughs, Brautigan, and others for her anthology L'Altra America. I suggested that she include Joanne Kyger and James Koller and she did.
Giona was spending his time playing in Piazza Santa Maria di Trastevere, also begging and reselling balloons with his babysitter Marino Zanier. Edoardo Cacciatore, the poet, came visiting with Leila. I was typing. "A poet," he said, "what a destiny!" From Edoardo I first heard of Adriano Spatola. I met Giulia Niccolai, also translating for Nanda's anthology. Giovanni Blumer visited from the north. He had tc see Nanni Balestrini, the poet who was running the monthly Quindici. I went along and we ended up at Adriano Spatola's, which turned out to be around the corner from our place and, surprise, Giulia was living with him. At the second meeting Adriano asked what was I doing. After reading some he said, "I'm going to publish it. Title: One of Those Condor People." After a few weeks we left for Naples and by boat to Palermo and western Sicily. We lived for a year in Partanna in shack number 492 among the people who lost houses and everything in the 1968 earthquake.
I learned to drive at the Leonardo da Vinci Driving School and worked with a leftist group, the Centro Studi e Iniziative della Valle del Belice, trying to set up people's co-ops for the reconstruction, and freewheeling for organizations, ideas, posters, etc.
In Partanna, 1969-1970, we met Franco Giuliani from Trieste, Sonia Trincanato and Gianantonio Pozzi from Venice, Neno Negrini, now a farmer in Bolivia, and Pietro Gigli, the free-lance photore porter. The group was a splinter from Danilo Dolci's nonviolent enterprises. We started antidraft movements, promoted "no taxes to this state," blocked the main roads when needed, organized manifestations for the reconstruction for the people by the people, and for new jobs. Almost 100,000 people were living in the shacks, often in desperate conditions. The local mafia, the authorities, the carabinieri, and the landlords didn't like our activities. Springtime 1970 my father came and bought a large fridge for our community kitchen. Christophe repaired the doors and windows of our shacks. Bubi Fiorenzi visited from Siracusa, where he'd refixed a ruin on the cliffs of the bay.
Late spring my book, published by Adriano's Edizioni Geiger, arrived. Positive reactions came in with letters by Mary de Rachelwiltz and Nelo Risi. Adriano moved the tiny book all over Italy and kept publishing my work. Adriano was a large, pink-faced, and jovial man, central to poetry experiments and experiences, in love with Giulia, chess, poker, and alcohol. He had just published Towards Total Poetry, later developed into performance poetry. By 1971 we (Adriano, Giulia, Corrado Costa, and myself) were involved with Adriano's Tam Tam magazine, designed by Giovanni Anceschi, the son of Professor Luciano. Somehow I'd become part of the Italian avant-garde poetry scene.
In late summer I'd a dream on mescaline: splashes of frozen blood in a glacier. I announced to the Sicilian comrades that in a month I would quit. They were involved in endless arguments and meetings, fighting on the political line. It wasn't fun. I loved Sicilians and our cheap, prefab shack, the thin, green walls, its rattling metal roof, the ancient Arab walls and dirt roads lined with prickly-pear rows, the almond orchards, the ruins of Partanna, the blue sky, the Greek temples of Selinunte and Segesta. But we had to leave. I edited a report, Belice lo stato fuorilegge, promptly published by Feltrinelli in Milano. Adriano printed my second poetry collection, Another Earthquake, and helped in editing and published the Roman prose book Nadamas.
We moved to Venice, staying at Sonia's and Gian's in San Toma with Maurizio Allegretto. I was completely and maniacally absorbed by writing. Judy worked as an interpreter for Buckminster Fuller's talks. We were introduced to Ezra Pound, by then totally silent. I felt respect for the fragile old man; we never got beyond eye contact. I was also playing chess with the gondoliers of the bar Trento. Giona was very popular with his Sicilian accent. We couldn't find a place to rent in Venice and in winter 1970-1971 a vacation cottage above Lugano proved to be the right place to get very depressed, entangled in knots of my own making. Judy bravely protected me and took Giona sledding. My father's wordless concern was solid. I moved back to Zürich and worked while Giona and Judy were mostly in London at Leila's. It was really a bad winter. From California, issue number nine of Koller's Coyote's Journal arrived with some early poems of mine and gave me a lift. I wrote a key poem:
I see coming out
even from where
I thought them exorcised
they say they're feeling well
we're getting to be friends.
Adriano published it, and so did Jim, and Tim Lonville in his Grosseteste Review in England. Spring 1971 came, an offer from Flora Ruchat became real. There was a place for us in the complex of old houses surrounding a courtyard in Riva San Vitale. (I'm still there. There is also a large garden and a creek with trout often poisoned by chemicals from the many factories upstream.) We moved in rapidly and spent the rest of the summer back in Sicily. We edited our multilingual poetry magazine, Montagna Rossa, named after the cliffs of Monte Generoso. By Christmas we were back to California house-sitting Gary Snyder's new house, Kitkitdizze. It was a winter of snowstorms, writing, and brush-clearing the property. Nanao and Allen Ginsberg visited us. Spring came in the Sierra Nevada foothills with manzanita flowers and tiger lilies. On a trip to the Southwest and Los Angeles with Marian and Chuck Dockham, a friend from Japan, we saw a UFO in Arizona's Prescott National Forest while camping out. We visited Phil and Joanne in Bolinas, met Robert Creeley, stayed with Jack Boyce in his cabin built with used lumber from the Oakland Bridge railway.
Back to Europe in early summer 1972: I edited most of issue 3/4 of Adriano's Tam Tam magazine. Judy's name doesn't always show in those publications yet she was central to everything I was doing. We also translated into Italian Jaime de Angulo's Indian Tales, and spent time again in Rome, Sicily, and Sperlonga. Suddenly Chuck wrote of some available land next to Gary's; we bought it with Leila's help. I'd gone through that land in my winter hikes, knew China Flats meadow, black oaks and digger pines, and the Yuba river's boulders far below. That's where Lew Welch went and probably shot himself. He was never found. Believe it or not, that winter he visited Kitkitdizze, asked Judy for coffee, left thanking her, passing right through the closed door. Giona and I were at the mailbox, five miles of dirt road away.
In 1973 1 asked for an immigration visa. Endless hassles with red tape. When the paper arrived in spring 1974 Judy and I had separated. We painfully felt that we couldn't grow further together. The breakup was hard on Giona, who was seven, attending second grade in Riva. I left with a broken heart for Sicily, stayed at Bubi's in Siracusa and then at Vreni and Claudio Volonte's in Capena near Rome when Judy phoned that my green card had arrived. From San Francisco airport Richard Baker Roshi, the Zen master, drove me to Green Gulch in Marin County to wait for my lost leather backpack. By Greyhound I arrived in Nevada City and hitchhiked Gold Rush Highway 49 to the Ridge and through the diggins' moonscape to our land, Elakawee. Nobody knew I was coming, everybody was stunned but warm. I helped Snyder build his garage shed and a ramada, learning some basic carpentry. Gary is a very concrete and capable man. Then I worked with a local carpenters' crew till I felt ready to build independently, overcoming my hangups about practical matters. With Chuck I built a light nine-poles frame, with a long skylight over the ridgepole and large eaves. It looks like a bird ready to fly away. It's still there with the many additions constructed by Judy. The sandcasted lagbolts were rescued from a ghost gold-mine flume in the higher Sierras.
Many people helped, some I can't recall since my journal of summer 1974 got stolen. I remember Neal Pinholster, Bob Erikson, Nebraska Bill, Peter Orlovsky, Lloyd Kahn, Piero Resta, Peter Warshall, Steve Sanfield, Joel Goodkind, Dale Pendell, Jack Augsburger, Peter Blue Cloud, Robby Thompson, Tania the belly dancer, Fred Brunke, Cathérine and Hélène Attié, and others whose names I forget. For the San Francisco Chronicle we were Rattlesnake Hippies. By the early fall Hélène, age eighteen from Paris, was hanging her silk skirt in the doorless doorway. I was gone to the Bay Area, Bolinas, San Louis Obispo, Big Sur, and Los Angeles; some of it is told in my second novel, Quarantuno. By the end of winter I flew from San Francisco to Geneva, rode a train south till Montelimar, a bus and a taxi to the village of Ardèche, where Judy had moved.
It was raining hard in La Bastide de Virac when Giona came out running from an old stone house. We circled and embraced many times holding tight together and laughing under the pouring rain. I stayed two weeks, cut wood for the fireplace and stove, then headed back to Riva. Our two rooms were empty, things had been stolen, I felt a total stranger. Gianantonio arrived from Venice with a Fiat 500. We drove all over northern and central Italy; he was shooting a 16-mm movie, Al Paese dei Balocchi. More magazines and books were coming out here and there, others were being worked on, word by word like stone on stone or wave after wave. Next winter I decided to return to California. I visited Paris and attended Le Havre 1975 Book Fair, reading with Giulia and Adriano. So I met Julien Blaine, another life friend.
The night before leaving by air from Luxemburg I got in a car crash with Giovanni Blumer; Marcello Angioni was driving. He's a Sardinian poet and a translator for the Common Market. I was the only one hurt and spent three months at Sainte Elisabette Hospital. Marcello brought books, drinks, and food every day. We planned an international poetry magazine, Abracadabra, which went on till issue number five. Harry Hoogstraten, another friend from Japan days, and Suse Hahn hitchhiked down from Amsterdam and became very much part of the project. Steve Lacy, Adriana Casellini, Udo Breger, and my father visited. When I got out of the hospital my right foot was crooked forever and I couldn't walk. After two weeks at Marcello's, supervised by his five children and his Swedish wife, Louise Gigia, I rode a train home. It took months of therapy to finally walk without crutches. Robby Thompson visiting from California was of great help.
Several persons started buying my paintings. I went back into painting while building the cabin. Once I was sick from a Iymph-glands poisoning caused by lizards. A country-medicine book perused by Marian had the remedy; doctors couldn't figure the cause of those swollen glands.
Anyway, it was late 1976. I could walk again and I visited Suse and Harry in Amsterdam. Abracadabra number one came out in April 1977. Renee and Maurice Ziegler in Zürich offered to do my first show at their gallery, which worked with artists like Meret Oppenheim, Jean Tinguely, and Kimber Smith. While the show was on I visited Giona and Judy in Ardèche and Julien in Marseille. Jim arrived in Europe; we drove with Harry in a red rented car with a coyote's paw sign on the windshield from one reading to the next: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Haarlem, Zurich, Biasca, Venice, Ferrara, München . . . The response was strong. Flashback: In München I dream of a poetry festival to be called P77, outline a programme and team, call Gian and Armando Pajalich in Venice, Giovanni d'Agostino in Santa Maria, Codifiume near Ferrara. They all go for it. Giovanni d 'Agostino is an artist of the lighter kind, inserts in wax blades of grass, burns, pine needles, and poppy petals. His woman Giovanna Manduca is a fine and solid person. In their beaten-up Ford we drive to Marseille, see Julien, pich up Giona in La Bastide, visit caves and canyons, drive back to Riva for the summer. Ping-Pong and visitors, like Jos Knipscheer, the Dutch publisher, and his large family. In September Judy moves out of France, I suggest California and the empty cabin.
P77 was on, poets came from all over: Spatola, Niccolai, Costa, Angioni, Blaine, Lacy, Hoogstraten, MacAdams, Breger, Gerald Bisinger, Giovanni Anceschi, Milli Graffi, and many others, including Michael Köhler doing S-Press tapes in Germany; Uwe Montmann and Pietro Gigli were the photographers. We gathered a fine attendance for eight days, a smallpress bookstore, movie projections, and free places to stay in private houses. P77 was a turning point. A Dutch friend of Nanao came too; Soyo Benn Posset would organize P78 in Amsterdam at the Cosmos, then One World Poetry at the Meelkweg. Jean-Jacques Lebel, whom I knew from Paris in 1958, started Polyphonix in Paris; Gianni Sassi started Milano.poesia; Julien Blaine, the Cogolin, then Tarascon, Rencontres Internationales. The new festival chain born in Venice at the Saloni del Sale is still spreading, though not everybody knows the lineage: it was a necessity in the air anyway. Through the readings and festivals I'd meet many artists, like Anne Waldman, Bernard Heidsieck, Valeria Magli, the ZAJ people Juan Hidalgo, Walter Marchetti, and Esther Ferrer (I'm very fond of Esther), Baruchello, Amelia Rosselli, Elio Pagliarani, Joëlle Léandre, Ma Desheng, Haroldo de Campos, Pierre Joris, Joël Hubaut, Claude Pélieu, Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux, Jean Daive, Claude Royet-Journoud, Philippe Castellin, Philip Corner, and Tom Johnson.
I came back exhausted to Riva, saw offJudy and Giona heading to California. Quarantuno, the second novel, came out in Milano thanks to Nanni Balestrini's enterprise with Gianni Sassi, Ar&a, and won me a new friend, Virgilio Gilardoni, the Marxist historian, whose writing I'd followed since I was a teenager. After a quiet winter in Riva, Rome, and Naples at Bubi's place in Posillipo, Harry and I caught up with Jim in Maine. A week of merry snowstorms in Jim's A-frame on Georgetown Island near Bath and off we went on several reading tours coast to coast. In NYC I met, throughJoanne, Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley. At our Saint Mark's performance Ted said he'd written many poems in his head while listening to mine. We kept seeing each other in the Lower East Side, Amsterdam, Zürich, and Boulder, Colorado, where I met Ed Dorn and Jenny Dunbar doing Rolling Stock. Ted died in 1983; he was pure verbal energy and I miss his sharp wit and warmth. I dedicated a show of my Tibetan Papers to his last postcard: "Absolutely yes anytime! 21/IV/83."
Poetry in its various aspects: from aloud composition to writing to editing to publishing to readings to performances to actions to painting to collages to traveling. I became a wanderer; by 1978 poetry and art had taken over my life. At Sassi's in Milano I met Demetrio Stratos, researching progress in regress of the voice as daring experimental singer for Cage's Mesostics and as leader of the progressive rock band Area. Stratos died in NYC in 1979. (Now I'm living with Daniela Ronconi, the woman he was married to. Life's interwoven threads are surprising.)
Spring 1978: in NYC I met Annabel Levitt Lee. We translated some Blaise Cendrars together; she was to publish my Airmail Postcards for her fine Vehicle Editions. Somehow New York became familiar too. Summer was busy in Riva, Ping-Pong games, Giona visiting, and a flow of visitors. In the fall I drove, with Corrado Costa, to Amsterdam for P78, organized by Benn, Harry, andJos. They flew in Jim, Joanne, Bill Berkson, Lewis, Tom Pickard, Harris Schiff, Nanao, Anne Waldman, Reidar Ekner, Brion Gysin, William Burroughs, and others. At a breakfast Ted introduced me to a shy, very sharp-looking British poet: Tom Raworth. Tom has become so much part of my concerns; we continue meeting, reading, and doing things together. One fine summer day in Riva his wife, Val, was the laughing witness as we improvised The Thoughts of Captain Alexis, a collab which developed into an English-Italian-French two-voices performance. We are still at it: Mail, Horses, Camels, etc. In a few weeks we'll be in Marseille's new Centre International de Poésie at Le Refuge and visit Callelongue again. Also with Jim I do written and visual collabs like Graffiti Lyriques and The Possible Movie.
Ten thousand words can't tell it all, and go by fast.
P79 in Amsterdam: Jim, Harry, Giulia, Adriano, Julien, Anne, Kathy, Steve, Ed Dorn, John Giorno, Diane di Prima, Udo, Gysin, Burroughs . . . with Giovanni d'Agostino and Gianantonio, who has changed his name toJohn Gian, I did Tales by Three, a performance of signs and words. The P79 festival was such a success that later it sort of went commercial, excluding research as the crucial meeting ground. In 1980 Jim and I zigzagged once more across the States. BesidesJim's wry "We're opening new trails," and my "Another day, another dollar LESS," and besides having a tough go, I saw new places: the Juan de Fuca Strait, Seattle, Idaho, and Oregon. We visited Creeley in Placitas, camped in the stormy Rio Grande Canyon, saw Taos again, met Nanao, and were in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (didn't make it this time to Drummond Hadley's ranch nor to Keith Wilson's place in Las Cruces, New Mexico.) I was rather worn down when we arrived at Don Guravich andJoanne's friendly house in Bolinas. Then I visited Giona and Judy; the Ridge gave us a fine welcome. We read on a deck under the stars and visited Phil in the city.
Giona is back here since October after years of coming and going to and from California. Tonight he fixed a Chinese meal; he's twenty-three and works as an electronics technician and copywriter nearby. He studied electronics in San Francisco with his grandfather's help. My father never failed us and though his family is scattered he acts the old ways.
In 1979-1980 I rented a house in Sperlonga, came and went from our seaside winter headquarters with Gian, Rita degli Esposti, and Giovanni d'Agostino, edited the anthology Sperlonga Manhattan Express and Scorribanda Productions.
Life through the eighties wasn't an easy ride. I kept learning the hard way how to survive without going out of my concerns. It takes obstinacy, integrity, and discipline: money made with poetry and art is rare and you can't buy poetry grocery, no, you've got to buy grocery grocery. But since the almost-deadly car crash in Luxemburg 1975, I feel that I'm just going on the ways indicated by my dead friends and teachers. Make it new, give what you know and learn what you don't. (In 1982 I met a local longhair named Gian Pio Fontana, who looked like a Sioux; he asked about Jaime de Angulo. He's a farmer, an artist, and a freewheeling scholar, and since then we've been very close.)
Julius Bissier's greeting, "It's a long way." Yves Klein's visionary extremism. Andre Ruchat's tenderness. Jack Boyce's straightforwardness. Ted's laugh. Brion Gysin's almost cynical elegance hiding his vulnerable openness. Bubi's generosity. All my dead friends have taught me to fight it on the ground. Wordslingers, signslingers. Ueno-sensei's understanding; Lizzi called him the Chief Monkey. I carry them with me as I carry the tattoo eye which Claudio Volonte did on my left biceps. Claudio died too. Tragedy, passion, confusion, and despair are also part of it, part of my being still here. As Jim wrote on a spray painting hanging in the kitchen, "We are old enough to know that . . ." That what? To know that. Years ago I met Patrizia Vicinelli, a sidewalk epic poet, and through her man Gianni Castagnoli, the xerox artist, I met Dario Villa, a young Milano poet-translator of Basil Bunting. Dario has a sharp eye on visual art too. Adriano also died; almost two years ago his generous heart exploded. Dario wrote a fine piece on my show with Tom at Adriano's gallery in the country near Reggio Emilia, on the same Enza river where he and Giulia had moved, further upstream in Mulino di Bazzano, in the early Tam Tam days. As Heraclites pointed out, you can't step in the same water twice.
Nineteen eighty-six: finally back in Kyoto. After an evening with Minoru, Shizumi, and Cid Corman, I thought to meet Lady Murasaki:
1000 years later.
I dedicated the poem to Duncan McNaughton, the American poet I have cared for since we met in 1974.
Years ago Giona, then studying graphics, looked at me and jokingly said, "Why are you sitting doing nothing? Do another magazine." "There's no money for it." "Do it small!" he laughed, going out in the courtyard to play. Within fifteen minutes I designed the graphic grid and the logos for mini, "the smallest magazine of the world." I've done twelve issues so far and mailed them all over. It's light and fast, full of real people and their traces of poetry, visuals, scores, and objects, for anybody concerned or even only curious. This morning I was training for the Milano presentation of my latest book, Niente da, which is Nothing to. I'll paint words on a large scroll and go over them at the end with a huge X done with a wet sponge.
Flashback: I'm twelve, my young and beautiful mother is running after me with a carpet-beater, trying to reinforce the law, upset because the wet pen which I'd thrown at il Signor Chiesa, the schoolteacher, splashed black ink on his grey suit.
I was a very temperamental kid, always in trouble with school and restrictions. That was in Chiasso, maybe 1949. Many times she pointed out the advantages of education. I couldn't have cared less, but she managed to see me through to where further education starts. My mother was really elegant and at seventy-three still cares for style. When I translate this passage for her she'll smile. Flashback: Crandfather Giuseppe after my parents' separation, "Stay close to your father, he needs you."
A few minutes ago I called Jim Koller in Maine. "What's up?" he asked. "I'm finishing that autobiography thing," I said. "That's good," he said. Now I'll walk out in the cold, clear, February night and see Orion. Back to the humming electric typer, I can't quit. Writing is writing about writing the writing one is writing. It is also recording a voice. I finish this tenthousand-word movie with a 1969 poem:
there is not much to understand
just pay attention.
Riva San Vitale, 20-23/11/1990
First published in Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, CAAS, vol. 13, Gale Research Inc., Detroit and London l991.