Mon 08 May 2017

citybooks | Recommendations from the neighbours

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

For this tour, I asked three colleagues of deBuren to recommend a story.

What 922 people liked

Xander Stroo, deBuren’s expert on Europe, picked 922 people liked this, a story about Tbilisi written by Frank Westerman. “During the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, the young Georgian tobogganist Nodar Koemaritasjvili took a turn at the speed just shy of 100 miles per hour, flew off the track and crashed into an iron pole. In Tbilisi, Frank Westerman looks for the story behind the tragic Georgian sports hero, but eventually writes a different kind of text to the one he’d planned to. It’s a compelling report in the characteristic style of Frank Westerman: the author makes you feel as if you’re together with him discovering what actually happened.”

‘I can’t help thinking about the You-Tube footage of Nodar’s funeral, about his mother-in-black, whose name is Dodo. About the open coffin. The father, pale as a ghost. The little church between the snowy summits of the Trans-Caucasus. Not the parents, I’ve firmly resolved: I don’t want to approach Nodar’s parents for my story. Even though they have talked to the press before, I didn’t come to Georgia to exploit their sorrow over their lost son. But now I’m in contact with his uncle. Is that any less callous?’

Read & listen to 922 people liked this

© athos burez
© Athos Burez (citybook Hasselt-Genk)


Marianne Hommersom picks 'Departing trains'

Marianne Hommersom, responsible for the production and communications sides of citybooks, recommends Departing Trains by Aleš Steger, a story about Hasselt.

‘The train comes to a standstill. Have we arrived yet? Is this Hasselt? Or is this only the absence of Hasselt, the name that screams hazelnuts or the timidity of rabbits to my ear, un-attuned to Flemish. Another station, which is pure absence. It reminds me of the posters seen at the airport that read: YOU ARE ALMOST IN BRUGES. YOU ARE ALMOST IN ANTWERP. YOU ARE ALMOST IN GHENT. Nearly there, almost. What of my destination?’

Read & listen to Departing trains


Willem Bongers-Dek on the small Paris of Eastern Europe

Our last recommendation is Bucharest - A One-Person Travel Pack by Ester Naomi Perquin, suggested by Willem Bongers-Dek, the coordinator of citybooks. “Bucharest, the small Paris of Eastern Europe, is a fascinating city where you’re greeted by the Belle Époque, former communism and contemporary hypercapitalism. Traffic’s aggressive there, the ice-cold țuică and palinca are delicious and in the best restaurants you can listen to the nineties’ house music and watch today’s football matches. Ester Naomi Perquin’s citybook is one of my favourite stories about this multifaceted city: a one-person travel pack in which beautiful and sad suspicions, extraordinary encounters and capricious fairy tales whizz by in turns.”

‘In one of the side compartments you’ve stuffed the razor-sharp pocketknife that you can’t put in your hand luggage. A Smith and Wesson that you can open with one hand. You were given it by someone who said it was a handy knife ‘for filleting fish, for example’. You’ve never filleted a fish in your life (these days people can grow old without ever filleting a fish, picking fruit, digging holes, sawing a plank or slaughtering a cow), but despite your pacifist disposition the knife is a nice thing to have. Apart from that you never know where you might come across a fish. It could be anywhere. It could be a Romanian fish.’

Read & listen to Bucharest - A One-Person Travel Pack


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


Also read

- The second tour of greats
- The slums tour
- Recommendations from the guide



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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