Monday, September 7, 2015

365 True Things: 162/Literature (Steinbeck)

This afternoon's geocaching quest took us to downtown Salinas. One site we visited was 132 Central Avenue, a.k.a. Steinbeck House: John Steinbeck's boyhood home. He was born in the front parlor in 1902 and lived in the house until he left for Stanford University at age 17. In the upstairs room, he wrote The Red Pony and Tortilla Flat. I'm sure his view was considerably better then than it is today, a couple of blocks from the county courthouse, Greyhound station, and Salinas Californian editorial offices.

I haven't read much Steinbeck, and not for quite a while. Grapes of Wrath in college—geography in literature. East of Eden, very much a book of the Salinas Valley. And of course Cannery Row. (Pictured here ☟is the cover of the paperback copy I own: Mack and the boys.)

A number of years ago a friend organized some get-togethers where attendees were encouraged to perform something—sing a song, recite a poem, tell jokes. A sort of salon. For one of these I memorized the opening paragraph of Cannery Row. I still pretty much remember it today. It's a great portrait of another place that has changed immensely since Steinbeck knew it.
Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitant are, as the man once said, "whores, pimps, gamblers and sons of bitches," by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, "Saints and angels and martyrs and holymen" and he would have meant the same thing.

I should read that book again, and visit some of the places he describes. Maybe take some photos; write a little piece. Could be fun.

(And just for the record, it kills me that Steinbeck repeated the word iron in that paragraph. Where was his stinking editor?)

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