When I was young I adored Anne of Green Gables. Thankfully I had a great friend who also loved Anne. We thought of ourselves as kindred spirits, much like Anne and Diana in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s tales. In all phases of life kindred spirits are necessary, whether they are friends, lovers, or companions. It can be essential to have someone who speaks your language, who “gets” it, and understands the world you interpret. I’ve spent the past week reading Swimming to Elba and Just Kids. Although seemingly opposite these two books are about kindred spirits, finding love in odd places, and transforming in a shared, loving space. Swimming to Elba, by Silvia Avallone, translated by Antony Shugaar, is a novel about two young girls, better than their harsh, steel-working, Italian circumstances. They are discovering what it means to be women from working-class families. Their friendship and love for each other holds them together and tears them apart as they attempt to grow and change beyond the limitations being set for them. I devoured Just Kids in two days. Patti Smith pulled me into her and Robert Mapplethorpe’s world. I swam in the sea of 1970’s New York, poetry, photography, sexuality, and discovery. Two souls devoted to their art in love and friendship, fueled the ride of reading, and Patti’s gorgeous flow of words.
Here is a bit from “Swimming to Elba”
What does it mean to grow up in a complex of four big tenements shedding sections of balconies and chunks of asbestos into a courtyard where little kids play alongside older kids dealing drugs and old people who reek of decay? What kind of vision do you get of the world in a place where it’s normal not to go anywhere on vacation, not to go to the movies, not to know anything about the world, to never read the newspaper, to never read a book and that’s just how life is? The two of them, in this place, sought each other out, chose each other.
An excerpt from “Just Kids” –
On other days, we would visit art museums. There was only enough money for one ticket, so one of us would go in, look at the exhibits, and report back to the other. On one such occasion, we went to the relatively new Whitney Museum on the Upper East Side. It was my turn to go in, and I reluctantly entered without him. I no longer remember the exhibit, but I do recall peering through one of the museum’s unique trapezoidal windows, seeing Robert across the street, leaning against a parking meter, smoking a cigarette. He waited for me, and as we headed toward the subway he said, “One day we’ll go in together, and the work will be ours.”