Friday, January 12, 2007

Book: Chourmo, by Jean-Claude Izzo (1996, U.S. 2006)

I’ve had the second volume in Izzo’s Marseilles Trilogy on hand for a while now. I’ve been anticipating it since I finished the first installment, Total Chaos, several months ago. But I didn’t want to read it right away. There are some books you keep in a kind of glass case, to be used in the event of an emergency. For when you need to be inspired, when you want something to savor.

And savor Chourmo I did. The voice Izzo has created for his protagonist Fabio Montale – again beautifully translated by Howard Curtis – is singular. Rich, evocative, eternally alive to the pleasures of music, food, life. Izzo’s work bears parallels to that of George Pelecanos, but where Pelecanos’ books possess a reserve, a coolness that’s distinctly American, Izzo’s are charged with passion. His descriptions of Marseilles, “the first city of the Third World,” are so vivid that I feel as if I could find my way around its streets in the dark.

I’m not entirely certain that I followed the plot, which embroils gangsters, crooked cops and Islamic fundamentalists in Montale’s search for his missing nephew. And I didn’t care. Chourmo – the title comes from a French word meaning rowers in a galley, people “trying to get out ... together” – is primarily a tribute to a vanishing way of life, what Montale calls “the art of living, Marseilles style:”

Those were the days when people still knew how to talk to each other, when they still had things to say to each other. Of course, it made you thirsty. And it took time. But time didn’t matter. Nobody was in a hurry. Everything could wait a few more minutes. Those days were no better and no worse than now. But it was a time when you could share your joys and your sorrows. You didn’t hold back. You could even tell people you were poor. You were never alone ... And whatever problems kept you awake at night vanished in a haze of pastis.

Miscellaneous: Links

I’d always heard about Club 33, the secret and exclusive restaurant hidden away at Disneyland. Now, via Nikki Finke, comes a website that takes you behind the scenes.

Two smart guys, Craig Mazin and John Rogers, weigh in on what all the changes in media really mean.

The Onion A.V. Club on the genius of one of my favorite albums, Elvis Costello’s King of America.