Andreas* is in Greece. I meet him on his yacht, the 218 foot Rosenkavalier, built in 1929. He is one of nine children born to a shepherd. He made his fortune in donuts, and later cream-filled pastry puffs. “Come,” he says, “Sail with me. I will give you your own suite. You can do your work on the aft deck.”
I take a photo of him on a wicker chair, drinking champagne.
The light is gold mixed with silver. His face is dark from tanning. His smile is very white. His wife is Orthodox and will not divorce him. In the morning, he sends me a large stately hardcover cloth book, Burke’s Peerage. There is article on him and his rise from donuts.
In the afternoon, he takes me to a boatyard. His new yacht is there, all steel lines, massive as a ferry. “You will sail on it,” he says. “You will write about it.” He is a small man, with a small bullish chest. He has all his hair and kind dark eyes: not dark like coal or iron ore or night. But brown like a dog’s eyes—a spaniel or beagle.
He has four children. His son’s name is Dionysius. I don’t meet his daughters. When I get home to New York, Andreas calls me up. “I followed you,” he said. “I arrive tonight, via Miami.” He has his own plane.
I take him to the Village Vanguard. It could be wonderful, I think, to sail with him, to have my own suite, to work on the aft deck. He shows me the suite – he has a brochure. The bedspread is shiny black. The drapes are gold. Or, “you could have the petal room,” he says. It is delicate, like tendrils, pale green and yellow. “Lalique,” he says, when I touch the bowl in the photograph. “Fantasia.”
At the Vanguard, it is dark and smoky. A band plays the blues and he likes the blues, he says. He understands the blues. “Do you,” he asks, understand the blues? Perhaps not yet.” He lays out his business card. He adds a number to it. “Come tonight,” he says, meaning to the Mediterranean. “Come next week. I will arrange it.”
We don’t eat. He is past eating. We drink champagne. I am twenty-seven and wearing a short skirt. I am wearing a pale peach silk shirt that is shoulderless and wrapped at the neck. The lights lower. The lights lower again. He has his right arm around my shoulder. He lowers his hand to my breast. He takes his finger and his thumb and squeezes my nipple. He crushes it. Although this hurts so much that I hold my breath, I stay very still, very quiet,
I pretend not to notice. What I do notice is that he has warned me. What I do notice is that never will I sail with him in the Aegean. Never will I swim with him or write about him on his aft deck.
Later, he builds the Alysia. It is 280 feet. It has thirty-six crew. Weekly rental is 661,500 Euros ($820,000). He is in Mumbai at a trade show. He leaves his boat in the harbor and goes in search of a curry to eat. It is 2008 and he dines at the Palace. Islamist fundamentalists overtake the Palace. He and his fellow guests are locked in the basement. Andreas uses his cell phone to call his family and then the BBC. His last words describe a lull in the bombing. You can hear them online**: “All we know is the bombs are next door and the hotel is shaking every time a bomb goes off. Everyone is just living on their nerves.” He is shot five times and dies at seventy-three.
*Andreas Liveras, dies 11/2008
** This live recording could be found online in 2014
“The Shipping Tycoon” appeared in 52 Men published by Red Hen Press in Pasadena USA in 2015. 52 Men was featured in an essay by Amanda Fortini in the Los Angeles Review of Books in 2016. “52 Men suggests that our identity is at least in part a product of our romantic past, and that the particulars we choose to depict that past are significant, comprising a kind of personal psychobiography… Leonard’s focus is zoom-lens tight: she describes the various men, zeroing in on what they said and did -— and how she responded — in a pivotal moment. .. She suffered a grievous early trauma… and she’s wounded. Yet she’s also slyly, coolly observant and has transformed her experiences into art… We know her, ultimately, through the book she has written. The narrative specifics she selects to describe the men are hers, as is the deadpan humor; all of it arises from her artistic consciousness. “Although in style and tone 52 Men differs from either Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights or Renata Adler’s Speedboat, it is, like both of these books, a novel of impressions unified by the author’s sensibility.”
Louise was raised in Manhattan. She was born in New Zealand of British and Maori descent and has traveled widely throughout the world. At 28, she quit full-time magazine work in Manhattan to be a creative writer. Compared in the LARB to Renata Adler and Elizabeth Hardwicke, she favors the crot and short form; her focus is on men and women, the interior lives of girls, and the experience of extremes. She has lived in New York, Europe, Mississippi, New Zealand and Australia, including in the outback of Western Australia. She lives now on Lake Ontario, New York.
Long before the Me Too movement, you’ve been writing books and coming of age stories [Since You Ask, Miss Me a Lot of] about survivors of assault, abuses of power. Can you tell us a little about the origins of 52 Men and why you wrote it?
I wrote 52 Men while flung out, alienated in the outback of Western Australia. I felt so estranged from my life growing up in Manhattan, it was as if people from my past appeared in hologram in the sky. I had to pay witness to them.
It also seemed to me that these 52 relationships were the fallout of a particularly brutal relationship in childhood. That relationship is in Part 2, and though fictionalized. I wonder if all of us have some blight on our childhood, some rupture that destroys what might have been -- wand what we therefore, in some ways, always long for. The Garden of Eden lost, the human condition in which good and evil, in us, live side by side.
Why did you become a writer?
Writers, some of us, need to tell our own sides of a story; this need arises from childhood or some wrong, some injustice . It can also come from an experience of ecstasy -- that, by expressing, we prolong or hold onto.
Who were some of your formative influences? And what advice did they give you?
I was lucky. I had a lot of praise, and a lot of encouragement, from early on. This gave me a solid identity and purpose. I was writing for newspapers in Manhattan and New Zealand at 15 and 17 and 18: reviews, interviews, a front page column, a long feature on a boy's prison, which I toured at age 17 with a newspaper photographer. Creative work was more fraught, and personal. I took to heart the advice of my father and of poet Kenneth Koch who I studied with for at Columbia College in New York: don't try to write like someone else; write as yourself. It easy, yet it is what all writers strive for: to be distinct, while at the same time not being a virtuoso or resorting to frills and bows. The work I like best is work like the rose created by the blood of the nightingale -- it has to capture that person's soul or life blood.
What other art forms interest you?
All art forms that transcend words attract me; I cannot help but think that visual and musical arts forgo the expectation of making sense of life, of extracting a meaning or lesson. I would prefer not to have this responsibility. That being said, age helps.. Truths I could not see, or would not, have at last forced themselves upon me. It's worth staying alive for, even if painful. I revere the poets who wrote their brilliant work young. But for me, I quote Aeschylus, a favorite in college: " Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.'
What are you working on now? What are your forthcoming projects?
In 52 Men, the telling in shorts of 52 encounters with men in my life, is the seed of a novel on a reform school boy I met at 14. I've been writing that story ever since .... Innocence, lies, manipulation, sex, violence... all of these took me decades to understand and I hope this will be my next book. There's also a collection of essays I wrote on lovers who enacted joint suicide pacts. They're tragic but oddly beautiful, romantic yet the result of power (usually a man's), delusion (both men and women's) and hope.
What are your views on the future of communication and how technology is changing the way we communicate, read, interact with the world and our imaginations?
Meanwhile, technology provides a continuous stream of information -- yet still, this only the raw material with which the writer works. It's what you do with it that counts. Beware as one would beware a proliferation of Sirens on the beach.