Let's go back to Greenwich Village in the early sixties and take a seat at a tacky empanada stand on the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal Streets. Let's eaves-drop on a bunch of kooky Argentinians as they expound and moan about La Vida. When writer John Nichols did just that, it was long before I had ever thought of Argentina or ever imagined that one day I'd be living here.
I've been a fan of writer John Nichols ever since I read The Sterile Cuckoo (1965) while in college, and then saw the 1969 movie with Liza Minelli. He of course became famous as the "Faulkner of the American Southwest" with such great works as The Milagro Beanfield War, and his Taos trilogy--If Mountains Die, The Last Great Days of Autumn, On the Mesa and many other celebrated works of fiction and non-fiction.
His latest, The Empanada Brotherhood, is a novel like a memoir--New York's Greenwich Village, a young writer just out of college with a completed manuscript on his hands, and a host of colorful Argentine characters who meet daily at the empanada stand to commiserate and celebrate. "Blondie," the narrator (certainly the author himself) is seen as a novelty at first but then unlikely bonds form between them all in this rite of passage story. Quiet Blondie listens and learns as the cast of odd-ball characters converse with personality and wit over their empanadas each day. He even meets an Argentine flamenco dancer and becomes enamored both of her and the art form. The sparkling dialogue brings to life a moment in time and place that now just lives in memory. And we are privileged to listen in.
The author and I became friends in the late '90s when I took a writing seminar in Taos, and we occasionally visited back and forth before I moved to Mexico. Mostly we wrote letters and telephoned. John is handsome, funny, tough-talking, nature-loving, a quirky and good wise-guy who it's been my honor to know and call a friend. (He also wrote my "epitaph" but you won't get to read that yet.)
He took me hiking above the Rio Grande and showed me these ancient petroglyphs.
Here's a photo of us when I dragged him to his first, and probably last, milonga in Santa Fe.
We kept in touch when I was in Mexico, but unfortunately distance and South American mail put an end to our correspondence. Reading his latest book, I loved going back in time to the empanada stand of his youth and becoming once again, for a brief moment, a part of his colorful brotherhood.