through Richard Carreño's life as a flâneur and never gets tired of the journey.By Jackie S. Atkins
[Writers Clearinghouse News Service]
HOW does one read a third-person narrative of a first person memoir? Well, on a bus, in a cab, by the fireplace, in bed (either silently or aloud to a favorite friend). All of these will work, for that matter how about while standing upside down and glancing into a mirror? Such is the fate of rapture and bemusement which will befall the reader of Richard Carreño’s A Flâneur at Large: Cultured Shock (WritersClearinghousePress, 198 pp, $14.99).
It is a chronicle of style and consideration packed into a travelogue of insightful observations: security (or lack of it) at Dublin’s airport, Santiago’s fast-food restaurant obsession, and a rounders (the forerunner of baseball still played in English public schools). Plus much, much more. The dictionary defines a flâneur as an idler, a loafer, someone with time to kill. Carreño is seldom idle and never loafs, and, boy, does he get around.
Carreño takes (in true flâneur fashion) the stance of a gentleman bemused, bewildered, fascinated, and enlightened by the world surrounding him. He is, after all, the center of his own universe as his module tumults about this earthly orb.
This volume is divided into forty subdivisions not arranged chronologically but by Carreño’s topical, diverting remembrances of things past. Each chapter flows into the other like a logical river of paragraph after paragraph of meandering streams of conscience.
His pronouncements on all things profound (the prison island off Marseille), obscene ( “Dressed up Naked at MOMA"), nostalgic (“Claiming my Inner Brooklyn”), political (“Clinton to Blair: SWAK!"), and downright diabolical(“James Jones Flips Over Flipper") are succinct and thoroughly conclusive. While there is a city or country attached to his bemusements, the stories strike a universal theme of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World.” The subtitle for A Flâneur at Large is 'Cultured Shock,' so what does one expect?
An amazing part of these idiosyncratic diversions is the lack of any (despite Carreño’s obvious political, aka progressive bent) resentment one might have towards his philosophical persuasion. His writing is too civilized and well mannered (a trait the folks over at MSNBC should learn) for that. He is the left wing equivalent of a William F. Buckley without any of the later’s penchant for generalizations.
One particular diversion has this iconoclast author on a planetary pursuit of all the “eponymous” places in the world named Carreño. How many are there? You’d be surprised. Where did our intrepid author end up staying over night but in Carreño, Spain, on his quest? You’d couldn't be more stupefied. Well, actually by the time you reach this chapter you'll be taking it all in stride.
It was with particular relish I consumed Carreño’s out-takes about his adopted hometown Philadelphia (and my choice of exile). From uncovering less touted museums like La Salle University’s all the way up in the Olney section of the city to the Philadelphia Art Museum, the Parkway, and the denizens (past and present) of City Hall, little in his newly aligned home turf goes untitled or unirrigated.
By churning up the mulch of political ineptness (the decision by the former Street administration to discontinue the mounted horse patrols) and excavating long-lost heroes of the past. Yes, Benjamin Franklin. But also Richardson Dilworth (who Carreño incorrectly identifies as a Republican).
In an introduction, Carreño indulges in familiarities, explaining how he came about his eccentricity of going into places (geographical and philosophical), where he was not particularly welcome, and/or familiar, and how he learnt to become a detached observer.
These were lessons well learnt, enabling Carreño in his pages to become the proverbial fly on the wall that we all wish (at one time or another) we could be as well.