Michel Bulteau, Rue de Téhéran, Paris, January 1978.
Each interview in the big middle of The Savage Detectives begins the same way: speaker, street (or park, airport, etc.), city, month and year. Michel Bulteau is going to describe a surprise visit from an unknown Mexican poet, Ulises Lima. This is in chapter 7, which is all about Lima’s bohemian life in Paris.
Bulteau is a real writer of the French conceptual variety, co-author of Electrical Manifesto with Eyelids of Skirts, lead singer of Mahogany Brain, with which or whom he recorded With (Junk-Saucepan) When (Spoon-Trigger). Why anyone bothers to write fiction is a puzzle.
So Bulteau said he would meet Lima at the metro station:
It’s only a few minutes from Rue de Téhéran to the Miromesnil metro station, walking fairly quickly, but you have to cross Boulevard Haussmann and then head along Avenue Percier and part of Rue la Boétie, streets that at this time of night are mostly lifeless, as if starting at ten they were bombarded with X-rays, and then –
I’ll just interrupt here to note the presence of a metaphor, a reasonably original one, which are if not rare also not especially thick in The Savage Detectives. But Bolaño is mimicking casual speech, and often has to pay a price. He makes up for it a couple of years later in By Night in Chile. So Bulteau is heading to the metro station – no, hang on –
and then I thought that it might have been better to meet the stranger at the Monceau metro station, so that I would’ve had to walk in the opposite direction, from Rue Téhéran to Rue de Monceau, on to Avenue Ruysdaël and then Avenue Ferdousi, which crosses the Parc de Monceau, because at that time of night it’s full of junkies and dealers and sad policemen beamed in from other worlds, –
I will bet you five dollars and fifty cents that right now, somewhere in the world, some young Bolañist is working on a novel that he thinks will be titled Sad Policemen Beamed in from Other Worlds. It will be quite difficult to collect on this bet, since the novel will not be published for many years, and will in the end be titled A Second Opportunity on Earth.
from other worlds, the languid gloom of the park leading up to the Place de la République Dominicaine, an auspicious place for a meeting with the Mexican Death’s-Head.
You have probably already studied the Google map above, which shows the path Bulteau did not take to the metro station where he would not meet Ulises Lima (because he had already told him to go to a different station) but which he describes in such detail that he includes every street on which he would have set foot, no matter for how short a time. Then he does the same thing in the direction he did take (see left). Once they meet, the characters wander Paris, each turn onto a new street noted.
Bolaño is here exaggerating an effect that is one of the motifs of the novel, with the names of streets and bars and shops and villages included in obsessive detail by almost all of the dozens of speakers, no matter how different their voices are in other ways. The kid with the diary gives a tour of Mexico City, not only the streets but the cross streets, which is quite handy when obsessively looking for clues about the novel. Where is Amadeo Salvatierra’s apartment, or Rebecca Nodier’s bookstore, or the spot where García Madero is so startled by meeting Belano and Lima that he faints? I gazed upon all of these spots from space, courtesy of Google. When, in the last couple of pages, the kids are just driving around in Sonora (“February 10 Cucurpe, Tuape, Meresichic, Oopdepe”), their path doesn’t form any sort of pattern, does it? No, just forget I asked that.
One amusing effect Bolaño gets from this naming neurosis is that it packs more poets and writers into this book about poetry and writing. Firdawsi appears on Bulteau’s imagined path, the novel’s lone representative of classical Persian verse. La Boétie was a writer, too, Montaigne’s friend. Ruysdaël was merely a painter. Other characters live on or visit streets named after Rubén Dario and Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens and – maybe that’s it. No, I think there were a lot more. We are surrounded by literature, at least if we are in France, or Mexico City.