If there is a character with a mythical aura in the golden age of American journalism, it is Joseph Mitchell.
His life and personality captivate as much as everything that this melancholic narrator of old New York wrote, an elegant chronicler who in the forties set the
New Yorker model forever,
that long, good and beautiful journalism that would later inspire Talese. , Wolfe, Breslin, Capote, Didion, Thompson and all that band that wrote crookedly.
A sensitive spirit who coined an immortal phrase worthy of being carved in newsrooms and palaces: "Ordinary people are as important as you, whoever you are."
Yes: Mitchell is the author of
The Secret of Joe Gould
, the celebrated book about an eccentric New York Village bum who ate ketchup and wrote a grand "Oral History of Our Time," made up of everything he heard on the Internet. streets and then noted down in thousands of notebooks.
And yes: Mitchell is also famous for having suffered one of the most exaggerated blocks in the history of writing.
After completing the second installment on Joe Gould with an unexpected ending, he did not publish anything else.
The reporter spent thirty years going every morning to the offices of the New Yorker.
He would go to the newsroom, lock himself in his office and hear his old typewriter typing.
But he never published anything again.
Mitchell was silent.
And so he enlarged the myth.
His best chronicles —a feast for New York lovers and a reporter's manual— are collected in
McSorley's Fabulous Tavern,
published in Spanish by Jus five years ago.
This anthology refines the virtues of a storyteller who elevated the journalistic profile of nobodies and nothingness to art.
That he focused his interest and his prose on seedy bars, old pensions, bearded women, charismatic gypsies, fanatical preachers, movie blockbusters and bohemians of all kinds.
There are no little people, Mitchell insisted.
Perhaps he said so because, despite his well-branded suit and elegant hat askew, that taciturn man in love with yesterday never forgot his origins.
Born on a tobacco and cotton farm in Robeson County, North Carolina, Joseph Mitchell arrived in New York the day after the
of the 29th.
He was 21 years old and that meeting was a crush.
She fell in love with the big city as only a romantic outsider can.
Key to fueling that burning passion was the advice given to him by his first editor at the
to be a good reporter, walk.
That's what Mitchell did his whole life.
Walking, in solitary ballads, through every corner of New York.
Looking at her, listening to her, feeling her;
discovering it every day in a kind of daily addiction that he maintained until the end.
This is how an exceptional book published in 2015 and which deserves to be translated into Spanish now relates:
Man In Profile,
an exquisite biography by Thomas Kunkel about the life of Joseph Mitchell.
Now, five years later, the author returns to Spanish bookstores.
He may be a lesser Mitchell than seen so far.
Perhaps I sin in excess of long enumerations and anachronistic details.
But a Mitchell is always a Mitchell, and
The Bottom of the Harbor
compiles six major pieces written between 1944 and 1959. As Lucy Sante announces in the prologue, they constitute the epitaph of the New York harbor and of what Mitchell was most interested in: its people. , their traditions, their places, their environments.
The engine that activates Mitchell is invariable: what is behind the apparent.
That, and common lives.
Like Louie's, with his outlandish gait as a veteran waiter obsessed with the remains of an old hotel full of drunkards, pensioners, old wackos and wandering sailors.
Lives like that of the skipper Roy, who dreams of the hundreds of rotting ships that rot at the bottom of the port.
Like that of Poole from Bahia, who narrates how every year, in mid-April, the bodies of suicide bombers, bastard babies, sailors and even gangsters emerge at one point in the port.
Lives like that of Ellery Thompson, a sad-eyed Yankee whose family has been fishing those waters for three hundred years;
a philosopher of the sea and an amateur painter who hates rushing and who is capable of summing up the entire history in one sentence:
In addition to the excellent first report, there is another text that stands out in this volume.
It takes place in Sandy Ground, an almost uninhabited town.
It arose with the oyster boom that flanked the coasts of Brooklyn, Queens or Manhattan until the pollution of the Hudson sank the business.
Mitchell visits that town and sees a shadow of what it was.
With the empty porches.
With the echo of children's voices already turned off.
There he will spend a whole day with Mr. Hunter, an old man who accompanies him to the overgrown cemetery to show him his own tombstone, already prepared and with the only blank of the date of death.
The nostalgic touch, always tempered by that point of humor and vitality that the chronicles of him exude, is provided by Mr. Hunter with a phrase: "Every morning the world begins anew."
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