Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Cannery Row

Canned by Neha

" CANNERY ROW in Monterey, California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and the scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses..." Text Color

"How can the poem and the stink and the grating noise - the quality of light, the one, the habit and the dream- be set down alive? ", asks author John Steinbeck after a brief introduction to the beautiful poetic prose that is Cannery Row. The story takes the reader through the streets of Cannery row, its people : Doc - the marine biologist , the fountain of philosophy, art and science who has done something nice for everyone at Cannery Row and for whom everyone at Cannery Row want's to do something nice , Lee Chong and his grocery store - the lifeline of Cannery Row's paraphernalia, Mack - the leader of a small group of men ( call them bums or call them free spirits) who have in common no family, no money and no ambitions beyond food, drink and contentment, Dora - the owner of the bear flag restaurant ( which is not a restaurant as you'd find!) , the male Gopher waiting to welcome his dream lady Gopher at his perfect residence on the vacant lot on Cannery Row and myriad of other incredibly interesting and quirky characters.

I love Cannery Row. For beginners, I am enchanted by my copy of the book which I picked from an old used book store I discovered. The store has three floors filled with books of all sizes, colors, shapes and languages. As I entered on a Sunday afternoon , the sleepy fan was making its usual rounds while its slow moving sound brought home a familiar comfort of tropical kind. And there it was - Cannery Row waiting for me to pick it up. The copy I found ( or rather which found me) was published in 1963 , 18 years after the book's first publication in 1945. The pages are yellow and it smells musty ...a bit like Cannery Row itself I like to think. The story of Cannery Row is a dream. Yet, it is so real. It is comical. Yet, it is deeply philosophical ( from beer milkshakes to moral, physical and aesthetic effect of Model T Ford on the American generations to beards to fortune to misfortune to surprise to frogs and rattlesnakes). The words sing and paint at the same time - a treat for an art lover .

The story has parallel themes with Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men ( which was written in 1937 and which I confess I also deeply love!). The misadventures of men of Of Mice and Men are of a different kind yet they evoke similar emotions as the men of Cannery Row. They have no family and share a deep camaraderie. They want a li'l place of their own where they can belong. While for Lennie and Milton ( in Of Mice and Men), it remains a distant dream which lives in their heart, Mack and the boys of Cannery Row are lucky in having made their home at the Palace Flophouse. Such must have also been the camaraderie between Steinbeck and his friend Ed Ricketts, the marine biologist on whom the Doc's character is based and to whom Steinbeck Dedicated the Cannery Row saying " For Ed Ricketts, who knows why or should". I love the Doc. Who doesn't. He's kind, eccentric and mysterious. I love when he reads the Black Marigold's , a 11th century love poem called Caurapañcāśikā written by an Indian poet, translated from Sanskrit by E Powy's Matherrs. A poem which only makes him more mysterious.

In a journal entry in 1938, Steinbeck wrote " In every bit of honest writing in the world there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other. " And so it is with Cannery Row. It is honest and compassionate. Read it !

Notes: Read the Black Marigold translation here


Eric Enno Tamm said...

Hey, Check out our Ed Ricketts page on Facebook.

Eric Enno Tamm

Herbert said...

I suggest all you are REALLY interested in Ricketts should read Tamm's book and the two edited by Katherine Rodger

Herb Behrens -