Bellecour

Description

88 pages
$12.00
ISBN 1-55071-216-0
DDC C813'.6

Publisher

Year

2005

Contributor

Reviewed by Matt Hartman

Matt Hartman is a freelance editor and cataloguer, running Hartman Cataloguing, Editing and Indexing Services.

Review

Guernica Edition’s City Series is dedicated to “writers and their
relationships to their environment.” Of these first two offerings, Red
Hook is the more effective, continuing the author’s chronicling of the
Italian-American immigrant experience first explored in Blood of My
Blood (1996). Subtitled Confessions of a Brooklyn Eaglet, 1939–1955,
Gambino’s little book has a ring of truth for this ex-New York
reviewer who grew up at the same time and in the same place. Aside from
his dead-on dialect, Gambino captures many of the childhood games and
props of the period. Stickball (which he calls “hitting sewers”) was
played in the streets, where manhole covers marked off bases and
distances. He gets it mostly right, though he misses out on the spelling
of the little pink rubber ball used for the game, calling it a
“spoldin,” rather than a “spaldeen,” the right way to
mispronounce the ball made by the Spalding Sporting Goods Company. Red
Hook, renamed Carroll Gardens long ago by realtors, provides Gambino
with many memories—the lemon ice sold from pushcarts on hot, sticky
days, the legend of swimming in the Gowanus Canal (your skin will fall
off), the long-defunct Brooklyn Eagle newspaper, required reading for
the borough for many years. Gambino now teaches creative writing in
Toronto.

John Calabro, a Toronto schoolteacher for more than 25 years, takes a
different approach. In Bellecour, he uses shifting locales—Paris and
Toronto—and their similarities and differences. He was nine years old
in 1963 when he lived in Paris, and most of the book details that time
and that place. But Calabro filters his childhood memories through an
adult sensibility. Streets in Paris and Toronto metaphysically merge.
“I don’t recognize this part of Queen Street,” he says early in
the book, “even the streetlights appear different, older and duller,
from another era.” And suddenly he is in the rue Bellecour district of
Paris: “These storefronts have French names … The side streets also
have French names that are vaguely familiar. I try to recall where I
have seen them before.” Calabro’s sexual memories are also coloured
by his shifting sense of place. His initiation into fondling at the
hands of Annie and the instances of sexual abuse are transforming
experiences.

Bellecour is a more ambitious book than Red Hook but both works are
valid, honest attempts to capture a disappearing time.

Citation

Calabro, John., “Bellecour,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 17, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/15070.