- While in college, I read a book that ignited my passion for Latin American literature. It was Mario Vargas Llosa’s “Conversation in the Cathedral.” The “cathedral” of the title was actually the name of a seedy bar, situated in the bowels of Lima’s tawdriest neighborhood where buses, trucks and colectivo cabs picked up low-fare passengers bound for the farthest reaches of the Andes, the altiplano or the coastal desert. The cover photo sent a vibe — of a joint where men who would do anything for a price exchanged information and took orders, downed cold beers as a salve against the heat and the torpor of their souls, and ground out cigarettes right on the surface of the wooden tables. What a place. Reading Vargas Llosa’s scenes, I thought it must be something like the student bar I hung out in on Friday nights, the El Dorado, which was lit like a Hopper painting and harbored a few unsavory types, but was always friendly because of a screaming juke box and rowdy innocents. Little did I know. On a much later trip to Lima, and to the transport hub of the fictional Cathedral, I realized my college bar was an oasis, a paragon of virtue and hygiene, in comparison to the bars I saw before me then.
I thought about this yesterday, while taking a break from the heat at Amnesia Brewing. A couple of dewy tall glasses of ESB were positioned before me, and I thought back to the Cathedral, and to that sense of PLACE. Is there a literature that creates it for Portland? And if so, what are its characteristics?