Mon 15 May 2017

citybooks | Recommendations from the guide

A few times a year, the Flemish-Dutch House deBuren (“the neighbours”) sends a group of writers and a photographer to a city and gives them two weeks to look around and think. We put the stories and pictures they bring back with them on the citybooks website, which is now starting to bear a strong resemblance to a small city itself. For his internship at deBuren, Max Urai wrote a travel guide about that virtual city.

travel guide citybooks banner

In this last tour, I want to guide you through four of my favourite stories on citybooks.



We start with Saskia de Coster, whose story A Hundred and Forty Kilos of Love already featured in the slums tour. Her Wildebeest is about rugby players, takes place in the South-African Stellenbosch and has one of the best openings on the whole website:

‘My mother says that these days you have to get divorced to keep up with the Joneses. That’s not why I’m getting divorced. Who are these Joneses, anyway, and why would I want to keep up with them? My mother also says that people aren’t prepared to make an effort anymore. From the moment I got married I made such an effort that I was no longer myself, and that made me angry at myself. And that, in turn, made me desperately unhappy. My mother hasn’t a clue about any of this.’

Read & listen to Wildebeest


Niña Weijers on an eclipse

We continue with the story Eclipse by Niña Weijers from Ghent. Opposed to apparently everybody, I wasn’t particularly blown away by The Consequences. Her debut novel felt pretentious and unfinished and I especially didn’t get why Weijers was presented as the representative of the new literary generation. But then I read Eclipse and I suddenly understood. The story is light and is reminiscent of a diary, and that’s how you see how terribly attentive she actually is:

‘This afternoon I walked past a house whose window was filled with notes. Buddha yes, Allah no. And Stop Muslim Terrorism Against Sheep. Under it a picture of a goat. I couldn’t see anyone inside, though there were a lot of candles and plants. I wandered on further through the streets of the Patershol. Noteworthy: the Plotersgracht smelled of burnt cheese, the Vrouwbroersstraat of stale cooking oil. Restaurant ventilation grids, backs of buildings. Suddenly I found the courage to carry on walking without knowing where I was going. It didn’t help that it was raining.’

Read & listen to Eclipse

© sanne de wilde
© Sanne De Wilde (citybook Ghent)


Rodaan Al Galidi visits Antwerp in November 2015

Our third stop is a series of poems by Rodaan Al Galidi. In November 2015, just after the IS attacks in Paris, he paid a visit to Antwerp where he wrote ten poems. You can see that Al Galidi doesn’t like to write poems about violence and war – after all, who does? – but that for him these poems couldn’t possibly have been about anything else. In particular, the transitional passages that link individual poems are fascinating in their cheerful pessimism.

‘21 November, 2015, Antwerp. I saw tanks, rifles, pistols. I saw fear, hesitation, expectation. People looking over their shoulders, pale and fearful faces. After many years I finally felt at home. On 21 November 2015 Antwerp brought me to Baghdad during the terrorist years of Saddam Hussein, during my puberty. To that boy who wrote poems to make the world a better place. ‘Poor, poor Antwerp.’ I went to the library and opened Tolstoy’s War and Peace to divert my thoughts, but instead of reading, I wrote this poem:’

Read & listen to Antwerp in november


‘Labyrinths’ by Jeroen van Rooij

We end this tour – and this travel guide – with one of the first stories published on citybooks, which completely blew my mind: Labyrinths, written by Jeroen van Rooij. In 4000 words he links the labyrinth on the cathedral’s floor in Chartres with Borges’ work, Roman Opalka’s paintings and medieval cosmology. Every one of his observations is interesting:

‘Stained-glass windows are more like TV screens than real windows. Like television, the stained-glass window changes when the outside conditions change. If there are elections on, the TV shows a different image than when there is a war. The stained-glass windows change their appearance according to the position of the sun and the weather conditions. But both TV and the stained-glass window are first and foremost a filter: one’s gaze may be focused outwards, but sees only as much of the world as the maker of the filter regards as suitable for display. The outside world sees nothing of us while we are goggling at our glass.’

Read & listen to Labyrinths


With this we have come to the end of this tour. Thank you for reading and don’t forget the guide.


Read also

- The first tour of greats
- The musical tour
- Recommendations from the neighbours



Translated from Dutch by Annelies Dotselaere, who did an internship at deBuren as part of her Master in Translation at the KU Leuven Campus Brussels.


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