Two men of the world: Rob Chirico and his hero

  • "Vermeer Tango” by Rob Chirico of Greenfield. Contributed photo

  • "Vermeer Tango” by Rob Chirico of Greenfield. Contributed photo—

  • Rob Chirico of Greenfield, author of “Vermeer Tango.” Contributed photo

For the Recorder
Published: 8/15/2019 8:27:03 AM

Rob Chirico of Greenfield has done a little bit of everything in a lot of different places. That varied experience (along with a talent for spinning a tale) shows up in his new novel, “Vermeer Tango.”

The book’s hero is Max Brand, whom Chirico describes as “bartender, former art historian and man of the world.” Max creates elaborate cocktails in a Washington, D.C., watering hole that caters to politicians. 

He is approached by a prominent congressman who wants Max to travel to Argentina on the government’s behalf. His mission is to tend bar in Buenos Aires and keep his ears open for word of a Vermeer painting stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990.

Max takes on the job — and finds that the art appraiser attached to his new job is his former wife. Together with a private investigator, the two try to track down the Vermeer, now in possession of an oddball art forger named Eric Zorn. Zorn has restored the painting and wants to sell it to the highest bidder.

Chirico’s other books have involved food, blasphemy and cocktails. He has also both taught art history and created art himself. And he and his wife lived in Buenos Aires for three years in the 1990s. He could, therefore, provide authentic local color for his novel.  

He obviously has affection for the city. “People used to say it was the Paris of South America,” he told me in a recent interview. “It was like a wedding cake that has been in a New York bakery window for 30 years. It’s falling apart, but it’s exquisite.”

The writer’s experience with corruption in Argentina also made its way into “Vermeer Tango.” At one point, he explained, he was bringing merchandise into the country on behalf of his wife’s parents, who were art dealers. 

“(The customs people) confiscated the art objects I had brought,” said Chirico. “They wanted $15,000. We negotiated it in half.”

It was those in-laws who led Chirico, who hails from Queens, N.Y. to Greenfield. They had another daughter living in Northampton and wanted to be nearby. 

He and his wife began their residence in a carriage house on her parents’ estate, but when the older couple suffered financial reversals the Chiricos moved to a smaller home of their own in Greenfield.

A life-threatening disease a couple of years ago curtailed Chirico’s painting, although he hopes to get back to it in the near future.

“I took quite a few pictures in the Southwest a few weeks back, and I’m hoping they will inspire me,” he told me.

Meanwhile, he keeps on writing. He has two books under consideration with agents and publishers. (One is a memoir.)

Most of his books have been “conventionally” published — that is, placed with a publisher. “Vermeer Tango” is an exception. The novel, which has 369 pages and costs $9.50, was independently published through Amazon.com and is available only through that outlet

Chirico originally tried to find a conventional publisher, but when no one bit, he knew he could manage Amazon’s print-on-demand format. “I told myself, okay, I’m just going to do it,” he confessed. He took a couple of months to revise the manuscript and then released it to the world.

He spends his days at present marketing the book, gardening, checking in with his elderly mother, and working on writing projects. He is apparently a compulsive writer.

“When you get going on something, it comes together — as you probably know—by itself. You may not know where you’re going but as you go along it tends to work out,” he said of the writing process.

“Christopher Hitchens said, ‘Everybody has a book in him, and that’s probably where it should stay.’ But for those of us who just can’t help it, we just have to do it. If you’re really that dedicated, nothing is going to stop you.”

Readers should be happy that nothing has stopped Chirico. The world needs more writers like him: full of flair, humor, and knowledge. 

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.




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