Mon 03 April 2017

citybooks | The intellectual 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 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 tour we’ll read up on four stories about philosophy, politics, universities and the reflective life.


A philosophical discussion

We start in Skopje with a story that’s literally a philosophical discussion: Conversation about the City’s Metamorphosis, in which Goce Smilevski & Marija Sarevska Todorovski write about how cities are constantly changing and how that affects its inhabitants.

‘Sometimes the city seems closest while being watched from my window in the loft. The framed window shows a landscape reaching out to the Cross and the clouds above it. Then the city is where there is the least of it. It grows into a metaphor for freedom, for what cannot be covered in structures, concrete, asphalt. And then, its firm shapes are replaced with soft, flexible dream-making foam.’

Read & listen to Conversation about the City’s Metamorphosis


‘Vallei flies high, or: satori in Sheffield’

To continue we travel to the department of Dutch Studies at the University of Sheffield, where the late Joost Zwagerman’s story Vallei flies high, or: satori in Sheffield takes place. Otto Vallei is a Dutch writer who has just made a breakthrough and who now works on a translation project at the University of Sheffield with a small group of students.

‘Just as in London, Cambridge and Nottingham, at whose universities Otto had, before Sheffield, worked his way through the same lesson schedule for the same diminutive number of students, most of the questions were remarkably concrete and to the point, which came as a relief to him. How do you translate the word ‘kunstpaus’ (‘art pope’)? What is a ‘pijpenla’ (‘pipe drawer’)? Can you put a full stop in English where there is a comma in Dutch? How do you translate the word ‘bakfiets’ (‘box bike’)? For Otto, these questions were like music to his ears. To his surprise – now he actually was surprised – these kinds of questions made him happy.’

Read & listen to Vallei flies high, or: satori in Sheffield

© Kakha Kakhiani (citybook Tbilisi)


‘Where edges meet’

Our third stop for today is Where edges meet, a Kundera-ian story about chess players, maths, film and antipodes, written by the Georgian author Shota Iatashvili.

‘There were several fixed rallying points in Tbilisi. The area around the House of Cinema was one such place. The stretch between the steps in front of the House of Cinema and Rustaveli's monument was often rammed full of people. Loud-hailers in their hands, party leaders and speakers would come and get the rallies going. We would be there too, listening to the speakers, slowly navigating a path through the rally crowds with their fists raised high. Our hearts bled for Georgia's fate, we clapped, sometimes we even cried ‘Victory!’, but we really loved the film, too. The film which was about to start, right behind the backs of the speakers standing on the steps. Ears pricked up, we would creep between the patriotic crowds, hearts pounding, contemplating the fate of our motherland and glancing at our watches: 15 minutes left till Bunuel's Viridiana, 10 minutes left till Pasolini's Pigsty, 5 minutes till Bergman's Persona, Ioseliani's And Then There Was Light was just starting, Bertolluci's 1900 had already started, and if we didn't go in straight away there'd be no point going at all for Godard's A bout de souffle...’

Read & listen to Where edges meet


Răzvan Radulescu in the Center

We end our tour in Bucharest, with Răzvan Radulescu’s Me, in the Center. Radulescu grew up in Bucharest. Just as Vieria Mendes’ The Street (featured in the tour of hometown authors), this story is partly an autobiography and partly a meditation on the idea of writing an autobiography.

‘In Cişmigiu Park, every Sunday, well into the 1980s, my grandmother and I went to listen to the military band play at the small plaza with doves. The brass band didn’t only play in Cişmigiu on Sundays. There is a pavilion with benches in Herăstrău Park where, more rarely and in a smaller formation – fifteen people maximum, once every three Sundays – you could hear the military men play their brass instruments. Still, in my daydreams, I prefer the military band in Cişmigiu. Herăstrău Park appears on my imaginary map as the place my father took me to launch my wind-up boats on the lake.’

Read & listen to Me, in the Center


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


Also read

- The first tour of greats
- The first historical 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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