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In the Fall of 2015, follow the wind with Daniel Canty. Aboard the Blue Rider, a venerable midnight-blue Ford Ranger crested with a weathervane and a retractable windsock, Canty surrendered himself to the fluidity of air currents, driving in the direction of the wind for ten days in 2010. And soon, his accompanying musings may be found in a book.
The United States of Wind is a gentle road book, a melancholy blue guide written in an airy, associative prose, where images coalesce and dissipate, carried away through the outer and inner American landscape. The book, mixing the tropes of road narrative, poetic fabulation, and philosophical memoir, reaches towards images on the horizon of memory, to find out where they come from, while coming to the foreordained realization that, wherever memory may lead us, its images will be long gone when we get there and most probably were never even there at all. The book’s through-line is about this emotional reality of images, the ways in which they take hold upon us and carry us back to the deep narrative of self.
Daniel Canty is a Montreal-based writer and film director who works in literature, film, theatre and design, and new media. Originally written in French, The United States of Wind was translated by Oana Avasilichioaei, whose collection of poetry, Limbinal ($20), was also published this year.
To tease and tickle your fancy as you await with gooseflesh the arrival of The United States of Wind ($15), we offer the windiest chapter of Canty’s previous book – Wigrum, an inventory-novel ($15) – which may be found on pages 97–9.
The eyes of the actress Imeldina Dulce are only known in black and white, yet according to the news of the time, “her azure eyes, with their soothing blueness, their Mediterranean languor” (Baltimore Sun, June 12, 1921) matched the soft colour of this silk scarf. On summer days, she liked to wear it as a shawl during the long, pastoral drives in convertibles or by motorcycle on which enamoured admirers or basely interested seducers would take her.
The scarf was wrapped around her hair on that June 20, 1921, as she toured the island of Malta, comfortably seated in the sidecar of Juan Islas’s motorcycle. At skilfully timed intervals, she would mysteriously look towards the far African horizon, or charmingly laugh at a witty remark her companion made. Islas, an obscure silent film actor with Hispanic features, jet black hair and an extravagantly waxed moustache, specialized in sheikh and pasha roles. Contrary to most of his colleagues, who accepted secondary roles in exchange for getting close to the starlets, Islas, though he had the looks, didn’t have a reputation as a womanizer.
The two actors had just wrapped up shooting So the Wind Won’t Carry Us All Away, a melodrama for MGM of which no copy survives. Only a few photograms, of Dulce as a ballerina speaking to a suit of armour, have come to light since the American collagist Joseph Cornell incorporated them in one of his compilation films.
The bike followed the island’s exposed cliffs. At a hairpin bend, a gust of wind whisked off Imeldina’s blue scarf. They stopped in the middle of the road to observe its flight as it gently faded into the azure sky. Imeldina then turned towards the actor, who had courted her since the start of the shoot, and, with her blue eyes fixed on him, asked: “Now how am I to keep from getting cold?” It was thirty-two degrees in the shade and he had no idea what to say. She
closed her eyes and from the sidecar brought her lips close to his. He leaned over and chastely kissed her. Their lips brushed lightly, then they returned without another word to the hotel, their awkward silence drowned out by the engine’s whir. At the entrance, he invited Imeldina to join him in his room if that was her desire. She declined and left Malta at dawn. They never saw each other again.
In a letter to Nelly Bloom, an assistant director of Irish extraction who became his confidante during the shooting of Blue River,1 Islas writes:
We loved her because she was able to create and violate intimacy with one gesture. The cruelty of that moment equals its beauty. Yet it was only another insignificant chapter in a life lived as though in a film. I should have accepted the scarf’s wisdom and not put so much weight on her gesture. I now understand that it was not Imeldina’s life, not even her beauty, that truly motivated our desire; rather, it was their promise. And promises, as the proverb goes, are as light as wind, and as immaterial as images. I can only hope that you will find the will to forgive me.
Dulce’s star soon faded after the flight of the blue scarf, as MGM terminated her life contract following the failure of So the Wind Won’t Carry Us All Away.2 For those who never really knew Imeldina Dulce, she is nothing more than a ballerina dancing around
a suit of armour or a young woman melancholically gazing at us from a period photo. We can console ourselves along with Islas. In the final scene of an invisible film, he offers his lips in a humble goodbye kiss to Imeldina’s fame and rekindles, with his doomed love, a woman who always felt cold.
1 Only one fragment from the dialogue in Blue River was saved from oblivion
by a Delhi Times correspondent, covering the shoot of this “Indian western” on the shores of the Ganges. The sibylline exchange echoes Heraclitus’s temporal river, where no one ever steps twice, and the relativity of the gaze that was so dear to Islas’s heart.
ELMA: This river was never blue.
JOHN: It all depends which way you look at it.
2 Islas’s last screen appearance was in 1938. In Dark Harbour, a British propaganda film, he played the role of a spy-ship captain. As the vessel is sinking, treacherously struck by u‑boat torpedoes, he speaks, in a grief-stricken voice, his last words, which echo the episode on Malta: “This night will touch shore without us.”