Mon 13 March 2017

citybooks | The first historical tour

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 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

This tour will guide us through four stories on the history of the city as a destination. In this first historical tour, we’ll focus on cities in the Low Countries.

Bernard Dewulf’s ‘Snippets from Ostend’

We start in Ostend, where Bernard Dewulf guides us through the artistic history of the city. He shows us which artists used to live re, which artists found inspiration in the city, and which artworks originated there. In Snippets from Ostend painters and poets are present, as well as Marvin Gaye and Hugo Claus. By the way, it’s worthwhile to hear Dewulf himself reading out his story: his voice is beautiful.

‘Henri Storck (1907-1999). After a little research I find a photo of the ground floor of his parental home: a shoe shop in the Adolf Buylstraat 32, ‘Storck-Hertoge Chaussures’.
I’ve never been able to let things go like that: I went to have a look. At the present number 32 of the shopping street stands Harry Wilson, a clothes shop. As is often the case, the ground floor has been 'modernised'. The rest of the house is intact.’

Read & listen to Snippets from Ostend


‘All and Nothing’

Just like Dewulf, Onno Kosters starts from the artistic history of his city, which in this case is Utrecht. However, instead of describing it, Kosters interweaves the history with his cycle of poems All and Nothing. Based on Nijhoff’s Awater, Koster writes about Belle van Zuylen, the collapse of the Dome and the planned city expansion.

‘I had a dream, but was it really a dream.
The end was near when it began;
I groped and there it came, the storm,
a terryble thunder rose;
God’s lightning trumpet sounded out,
and heaven stood o’er the dust

in ceaseless fire and flame, and trembling,
so it seemed, the Northern lights,
but it was lightning flashing,
and it was terryble to hear the thunder
and orrible winds, and when the nave
did finally settle, swifted pilers and all,
which gave folk cause to speak of an upheaval,

the turmoil of the clouds died down,
I then awoke, and it was done.’

Read & listen to All and Nothing

© Oliver Leu (citybook Ypres)


‘Schizophrenia’ in Ypres

Our third stop is in Ypres, where we walk along the remnants of the First World War with Ghayath Almadhoun. In Schizophrenia the poet describes how it feels to look at the remnants of an old war while your mother’s land is destroying itself at that moment. There are several translations of this text, which was originally written in Arabic. I think the English translation is the best one, particularly because of this excerpt:

'- Have you come here to benefit from what Western Civilization can teach us, about how to kill the greatest possible quantity of men with the latest devisings of that civilization?
- No.
- Have you come to learn from the experiment in gratuitous death, where six hundred thousand men became fertilizer for the poppies?
- No.
- Have you got to find a new way to recycle soldiers, so they can be reused in other wars?
- No.
- Are you here to learn killing?
- No, I'm here to learn death.'

Read & listen to Schizophrenia


Party underground in Turnhout

We end our tour in Turnhout, where Maxim Februari stayed for two weeks. “They’ve sent me to Turnhout,” is how his story Underground Party Room begins. “So I guess I must be a bad person.” Februari tries to discover where the worthless reputation of the city comes from. For those interested, there’s an interview for De Literaire Loketten, in which he gives some background information about his stay and his writing process.

‘Yes! The Begijnhof! How beautiful the Begijnhof is! World heritage. I fish my iPhone out of my back pocket and photograph the whole damn mystical religious tradition. The House of the Mother Superior. The Grave of the Mother Superior. Calvary. Today there’s a button missing from my shirt, I look not only grubby, but also malnourished and fairly unhealthy, and I’m starting to suspect that the tendon in my foot is not swollen but pulled; yesterday at mealtimes I could no longer get much further than the bread vending machine on the corner of the street.’

Read & listen to Underground Party Room


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 historical tour
- The tour of hometown authors
- The tour of travel companions



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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