Summer is just around the corner in Montreal; springtime is here, and with it the annual literary gathering known as the Blue Metropolis Festival, which recently welcomed to its stage renowned author, essayist and liberal activist Gore Vidal to set the tone for the literary happenings to come.
As the octogenarian was wheeled on to the dais, he paused, as if to announce himself to the crowd, and was overcome by the appreciative applause from the 600-plus crowd.
Before the night was over he was labelled as "cantankerous" by one young student, held up as the greatest U.S. president they never had by another, and would thoroughly entertain, if not enlighten, the congregated mass, though a dozen or so walked out before his talk had concluded.
In an intimate setting, Vidal opened by telling the audience that he "travels under the guise of a Canadian, which is still better internationally then the failed U.S. republic."
"Americans are the dumbest people on earth, and I only want them to get better. Canadians are catching up (or down, depending on how you look at it)," he said.
Vidal spared no lash of the tongue for the United States and declared, "The American narrative that the U.S. gives aid through support and money to the nations of the world has been a lie since World War II."
On the extent of the American Empire, Vidal declared, "the world should be grateful we ran out of gas; the American Empire will be little more than a footnote of history." Then, in his best Texas-drawl, the 85-year-old Vidal paunched his jaw and explained "I'm a war-time president," in tribute to George Bush, whose Republican Party Vidal proclaims has become an "openly fascist party."
The political spectrum, internationally and domestically, was not the only target for this piquant, jovial public voice. Vidal had some harsh criticisms of today's notions of journalism as well.
"The American and Canadian media are lacking, completely lacking in thought or original perspective. I prefer European sources for my information, not just for the events, but for the various perspectives presented."
The second half of the programme had Vidal taking open questions from the floor, which became a learning experience for those listening, despite the strangely entertaining fact that Vidal prefaced his responses to each with either a "what did he say?" or "what a ridiculous question!"
We learned that his favourite books were Thieves Fall Out, A Star's Progress and Creation. We learned that he has a play re-opening on Broadway for its third run. Interestingly enough, Vidal's attestation that he cannot live without anaesthetic, however jovial, did conjure up images of Brave New World's soma dependency and prompted further the author to announce his position when asked about the de-criminalization of drugs.
"I don't care what you do as long as you don't do it around me!"
The most revealing moment arose when Vidal told the audience how he sees himself and his life when he pauses to reflect. Quite simply, Vidal told the hushed crowd he has dedicated his life to the study of history.
"My life has been a study of history. How we screwed up the United States step-by-step from the Revolution in 1776 to President Obama today. We were borne out of an uprising of tax offenders whose attitudes can be summed up by Ben Franklin's belief that 'Good ideas fail because of the corruption of the people' and it doesn't get any better from there."
Gore Vidal impressed all in attendance -- and, thankfully, all bodes well for the future of tell-it-like-it-is truisms in the literary world. As Gore Vidal has spent his life proving that the truth will come out even if not everyone likes to hear it.
Tariq Jeeroburkhan is a Montreal-based freelance journalist.