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GORE VIDAL


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     Gore Vidal - Palimpsest - A Memoir
    
     Jud Evans
    

    

It's a most enjoyable read. I heartily recommend it to all my descendants. What am I talking about? What spoon has stirred the thick porridge of my phlegmatic northern dejeuner? I pick it up in a Charity Shop in Ormskirk, on a Wednesday, in the dying year of the millennium.
    
     'I'll take this book if I may?' I say to the old dear behind the counter.
    
           She slides her head forward and down, adjusts her pink spectacles on a Roman snozzle that allows no purchase on the sweaty slope of its Mons Capitolinus. Her empurpled fingernails claw open the cover page and she checks the price.
    
     'That'll be eighty-five pee luvvie.' She fuddles it into a paper bag without looking up, and as she hands it to me she's already in eye contact with the next customer.
    
     Outside the shop, in the busy street, I remove the book from its covering and examine it under the protective chapeau of my umbrella. A handsome man's face adorns the front and rear cover of the volume. Just a face - no words. I think of the discussion that must have taken place in the 'Design and Marketing Department' of Abacus the publishers, before the order was given to adopt this strange marketing gimmick. After all, although I recognise the author, (and the photograph must be at least forty years old,) not everyone would know the celebrated American writer Gore Vidal. I twist the book sideways and read the words on the spine - 'Gore Vidal - Palimpsest - A Memoir.
    
     Palimpsest, Yes, I know the meaning of this word, for it was the word that Nicky used in his presentation volume of his poems to me. He wrote it on the inside page:
    
     'To my best friend Jud - Corporal Evans of the Gloucestershire Regiment, 28th Foot - A Palimpsest of Past Conceits.'
    
     I turn the book over in my hands and examine it closely. It's in mint condition. I grin to myself and a warm bubble of self-congratulation wells up inside me and pops to the surface of the limpid pond of my English reserve. Only a fellow bibliophile or perhaps a self-abuser would understand the feeling of gratification. I place the book in the string-net pocket in the back of Connor's pushchair and weave my youngest son through the crowds of afternoon shoppers towards the supermarket and a rendezvous with Clare and Cameron.
    
     This urbane patrician American has always impressed me. He's often on British TV. Always immaculately curried, cropped and attired. A consummate TV performer and interviewee, he lolls in his chair one leg thrown aimlessly over the arm, seemingly oblivious of the blistering studio lights and the out-of sight technicians and cameramen. His voice is mellow, with rounded effortless vowels that slalom down the idiomatic slopes of his New England drawl. He's an amusing urbane ecdysiast, who teasingly strips away the covering layers of his sophisticated fairing and gradually reveals himself as a full blooded rampant homosexual. After a while it becomes apparent that the upright poles that mark the downward slalom of this sapient sybarite, are the upright members of myriad male voluptuaries. Many are the males that he has sedulously seduced in the salons and conveniences of the American capital, and most other places that appear in the gazetteer of the Times Atlas of the World, (including Kathmandu.) The man is delightfully irascible and very percipient. His louche good manners and wit are reminiscent of Oscar Wilde, or the British Member of Parliament, homophile profligate and bon vivant, Lord Boothby.
    
     This is no thin-lipped stressed-out gay, rived with dissonant psychoses - this is no eremitic Proustian recluse, coughing his lonely lungs up in some odoriferous draped cupboard - this is an adorable, cuddlesome, alfresco queer in his most diverting epiphany - an entertaining gay in his most amaranthine, brilliant incarnation. He has all our flaws and more - and jubilates in them. He is a firecracker of a human being.
    
     Few gays endear themselves to the heterosexual public - Vidal is one of them. However, this is not all, for the gentleman takes us on a coruscating cruise through the corridors of US power. As we clench onto his coat-tails and swirl behind him (the safest position to be,) we bump into all kinds of interesting wraiths. The sapphic Eleanor Roosevelt, Ana´s Nin, the ever rampant, woman-a-day, John. F. Kennedy, and of course the lost Annabelle Lee of Vidal's life, his loveable, doomed, US Marine lover, Jimmie Trimble, who died tragically  on the battlefield of Iwo Jima in 1945.
    
     My dead wife and I once strolled past his villa tucked into the greisen cheeks high above the Amalfi coast at Ravello in Italy. We spotted Vidal and his thurifers on a patio, drinks in hands. The flitterbugs swirled around in the lamplight. How I would have loved to have scraped back a chair and joined in the evening colloquy. Alas, whilst the great American frolicked, we continued along the strada and disappeared into the anonymous semidarkness where all tourists dwell after the clubs close. I did not mind - one glimpse was enough.
    
     Gore Vidal*
    
     Gore Vidal was born in 1925 at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was brought up in Washington, D. C., and attended St. Albans School and the Phillips Exeter Academy. He enlisted in the army at the age of seventeen and served as first mate on an army ship in the Bering Sea, where he wrote his first book, Williwaw. In the sixties, three widely praised novels established Vidal's reputation as a best-selling author: Julian (1964); Washington, D. C. (1967); and Myra Breckinridge (1968). His collected essays, United States, won the National Book Award in 1993. In 1995 he published a memoir, Palimpsest, which the London Sunday Times called "one of the best first-person accounts of this century we are likely to get." The Essential Gore Vidal was published by Random House in 1999.


    
    
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