Some time ago, Frank Moorhouse took Jeffrey Eugenides to the Boathouse restaurant in Sydney. I know this because I read Moorhouse’s entertaining story Man About Town in The Monthly. It was some time ago, just after the Sydney Writers’ Festival where Eugenides was a guest.
I dig Jeffrey Eugenides; I really do get a bit fangirl about him. Middlesex was probably one of the most fun, absorbing, exciting reads I have ever had – this could have something to do with the fact I read it while in Venice, but then again that also says a lot about the book, that I could be so absorbed in its pages while the splendour of Venice spread itself around me. I would be sitting on my little balcony over one of the narrower canals, gondolas sliding by and I would rarely glance up, enraptured as I was with the novel. The gondoliers would shout up to me, for the amusement of their picture snapping fares, “Bella! Bella, buon giorno bella!’ and still, read on I would. Half the pictures taken of me during that fantastic trip show me with my head in the book. Venice and Middlesex and the wonderful Jeffrey Eugenides are now forever entwined in my psyche. I finished the book in that quaint little room with its balcony of peeling green paint and disproportionately ornate glass chandelier and – it being a very thick book and I being a light packer with several weeks more travelling ahead of me – I left it there, in the bedside drawer. A more enriching find for the next traveller than any Gideon’s bible. It was a melancholy parting and knowing there were no more Eugenides novels to read (I had read The Virgin Suicides much earlier and The Marriage Plot was still far away) added to the sadness of finishing Middlesex.
That was a long time ago, though, and on this fateful evening, when Frank Moorhouse took Eugenides to the Boathouse, there was a new book and I happened to be living just a few houses along from the Boathouse and at home and not in Venice or anywhere else more exotic.
I like to imagine I might have seen their party coming along the road. I would have stealthily followed. I am crippled by shyness, I’m not capable of walking up to someone I admire and saying ‘Hi, I admire you’, I would have to be more discreet; I would walk a distance behind like I was unaware of them, like I had just that moment decided to pop in to the restaurant for a quick bite. The Boathouse is amazing and I do occasionally eat there, but it is not within my budget so it’s a rare treat. They wouldn’t know that. I would ask for a table right beside them and then simply eavesdrop on the stellar conversation. When my waiter approached I would be annoyed at the interruption and give him one of the looks my niece gives me when I correct her about the names of jellyfish – a dark little look of deep irritation – straining not to miss any of the pearly wisdoms those giants of the written word pass across the table over the oysters, the excellent oysters, the Boathouse has wonderful oysters, like slippery little pockets of ocean, a briny mouthful of the mysterious sea.
In my fantasy I do not talk to them, I do not get noticed for even one second; that’s the height of my fangirling, to simply have overheard writers I admire (considering a great many of the writers I admire are quite dead, this is in itself something precious) while eating incredible oysters on a crisp winter’s day with a view of the bay outside the picture window that I would barely notice, enraptured as I imagine I’d be with the words, words, words.
And speaking of words, here is a link to Moorhouse’s amusing tale of trying to take Eugenides out on the town and impress him, with mixed results.
And here’s Eugenides sage advice to young writers from the New Yorker (I found this the other day and it reminded me of my fantasy stalk and why I had thought he might have an interesting thing or two to say).
Now, if Helen Garner would wander past my house, I’d follow her around all day (in my head).