Bolaño acknowledges the unlikeliness of Archimboldi's day job - it sounds like a joke, like being a trash collector in Antarctica. But, no, Bolaño maintains that Archimboldi really is a gardener in Venice, employed by the municipality to tend to its public parks, however few in number or small in square footage.
Having just traipsed around Venice for the first time, I have a fresh appreciation for the disbelief that ought to greet any claim to be a gardener in Venice: the city really doesn't have any plants.
Indeed, I believe I have identified what has to have been Archimboldi's workplace. Pictured above is the only public park space I saw: four or so trees, clustered with some shrubs, by the Ponte della Accademia. An enterprising Venetian municipal official might consider installing a plaque, "Here worked the mysterious and brilliant novelist, Benno von Archimboldi, according to that other mysterious and brilliant novelist, Roberto Bolaño" - or setting up a walking tour of Venice's public plants, similar to Stockholm's tours of points of interest from the Millennium trilogy.
That said, having seen Venice (however briefly), I now feel that Archimboldi's job was not a joke: it was a metaphor.
Venice is a has-been metropolis. Its dwindling population survives on the skimpiest of economies: short of seasonal tourism, the city has no industry, no offices, no business, no livelihood. Its buildings are constantly decaying; upkeep and restoration efforts cannot hope to outpace the destructiveness of the rising salt-water. A monument to a Renaissance pinnacle, the city is currently close to a tomb, a symbol of the absurdity and hopelessness of resistance to mortality.
Nonetheless, Bolaño doesn't grieve Venice's fate. Everything has its span of existence, and Bolaño doesn't respect attempts at exceeding these limits. Throughout 2666, Bolaño mocks stabs at immortality, whether through his repeated references to burned books or his antipathy to fame:
Until that moment Archimboldi had never thought about fame. Hitler was famous. Göring was famous. The people he loved or remembered fondly weren't famous, they just satisfied certain needs. Döblin was his consolation. Ansky was his strength. Ingeborg was his joy. The disappeared Hugo Halder was lightheartedness and fun. His sister about whom he had no news, was his own innocence. Of course, they were other things too. Sometimes they were even everything all together, but not fame, which was rooted in delusion and lies, if not ambition. Also, fame was reductive. Everything that ended in fame and everything that issued from fame was inevitably diminished. Fame's message was unadorned. Fame and literature were irreconcilable enemies.(p. 802.) Like fame, immortality is "rooted in delusion and lies." Immortality is almost always twinned with ambition. And it is reductive; to be immortal is to be diminished, the color stripped from the Greek statues, the music lost from the Greek dramas, the social context irrevocably severed from the surviving fragment.
For Bolaño, literature is not about authors who reverberate through the centuries. Rather, tthe point of literature is to help us to accept mortality, to benefit from its gifts, and to husband our energies so that we can avoid wasteful resistance to the inevitable. In 2666, Bolaño suggests that mortality doesn't diminish life, but resistance to it does.
Thus, he sends Archimboldi into the world's most beautiful monument to such resistance, Venice, to nurture life and growth in the midst of this blindingly gorgeous hollowness. The task Bolaño gives Archimboldi is one either futility or nobility.
In any event, it is the task of any brilliant novelist today.