Mon 20 February 2017

citybooks | The first tour of greats

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 first tour, we’ll stop by a couple of great names on citybooks.


Cees Nooteboom: the Eiffel tower of citybooks

We start at the Eiffel Tower of citybooks: Venice 2012, written by Cees Nooteboom. Nooteboom has been a travel writer for more than forty years already, and this is not the first time that he pays a visit to Venice: the title of the story is mostly meant as a reminder for himself. He has an anecdote or little fact about everything he sees, including the hotels:

‘I have had various addresses in this city, sometimes in old hotels, usually on dark, narrow alleyways, in parts of a palace that never resembled a palace, dilapidated staircases, small rooms with what passed for a window, looking out onto the back of a house where no one seemed to live, and yet outside on a rickety washing line two frozen pairs of panties hung in the still, icy cold,’

Read & listen to Venice 2012


Annelies Verbeke: a public favourite

We’ll continue our tour with one of the most popular citybooks stories. Few writers have immersed themselves as deeply in a city as Annelies Verbeke for her story Angels in Jakarta.

‘I smoke clove cigarettes; they keep the insects away and bring me into contact with people. Such as Vina, at the Seven Eleven next to the hotel, a beautifully made-up woman of forty-five with a Union Jack on her sweater. She starts on about korupsi, a word that frequently occurs in conversations with Soni. She can’t get hold of enough money for her youngest son’s school leaving exam. Meanwhile rich people buy yet another car. “Sorry, sorry, Annelies, it makes me too angry. Hahaha!” She doesn’t believe the situasi will improve when a new president is elected in April.’

Read & listen to Angels in Jakarta


© Amran Malik Hakim (citybook Jakarta)


To Grahamstown with Ingrid Winterbach

Our third stop is Grahamstown with the South-African Ingrid Winterbach. In Remains she tells us of the reburial of Saartjie Baartman, of a coelacanth preserved in spirits, about an archaeological excavation and of her family with grown-up children.

‘I am visiting my two daughters for ten days here in Grahamstown. I attend rehearsals. (Noziswe wears a wig the colour of tarnished gold.) I buy groceries. I cook: Greek vegetable stew, bobotie, vegetable curry. One morning I drink tea with Anton, on the day of our marriage thirty four years earlier. Now we are both grey and worn, more than just frayed around the edges. I bake. One morning Brink’s eye is blood red, must be stress and worry. Feelings of desolation lie just below the surface of my consciousness; it does not take much to lay them bare. Sixty years’ worth of impressions, I think, crammed into my weary head.’

Read & listen to Remains

Arnon Grunberg in the police station of Lublin

To wrap up this tour we stop by the police station of Lublin, where an agent in the post room opens a letter. The young guide Danuta Kalinowska was given the task of showing Arnon Grunberg around, and now she wants to file a complaint because he treated her very poorly.

‘Through the lady from the office of cultural affairs, Malgortza - God bless her - I received one of the writer’s books, so that I would know what kind of character I was dealing with. If only I had listened then to the voice inside me. I now deeply regret having ignored that voice, as well as the voice of my mother. She saw a picture of the writer and said immediately: “This man is no good.”

I read Mr. Grunberg’s book, Phantom Pain, in Polish. Not the whole thing, but enough to know what it was about and I ask you with all due respect: is this what they call literature? Is there no one who can prohibit this? If I were in politics, I would see to it that such things were banned.’

Read & listen to A Reported Offence


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 intellectual tour
- Recommendations of 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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