Mon 24 April 2017

citybooks | The tour of travel companions

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 tenth tour we’ll read four stories about fascinating and remarkable travel companions.

‘Death Comes Up from Below’

Today we start in Venice, with the citybook Death Comes Up from Below. Walks in Venice, written by Atte Jongstra. Jongstra describes how he met the ninety centimetre tall Dr. Gustave Joseph, a Polish physician. It’s a merry, parading story, and without giving away too much: if you’re going to read this story, read it completely. There’s a nice surprise waiting for you at the end.

‘Apparently, the little geopneumonologist had gained vigour following his bridge crossing. He tiptoed through the labyrinth of rami, calli, salizzade, sottoportici in considerably higher spirits, dismissing the solicitations of gondoliers who appeared suddenly with a determined flick of his hand. Here and there he paused a while to consider a matter related to his proposed brochure. Judging by the delight with which he noted them down in a small format Moleskine, they seemed to surprise even him.

“Many of these apparently luxurious palaces are unsuitable for the hard of breathing,” he dictated to himself. “However fine, marble floors are always cold, and those cavernous rooms are an impossible challenge to keep warm. Death, in such retreats, comes up from below.”

“Beautiful, that last sentence,” I said.

“That’s not the point,” said the doctor.’

Read & listen to Death Comes Up from Below. Walks in Venice


An anti-citybook by Gerda Dendooven

You could see our second story as an anti-citybook. Gerda Dendooven, who primarily works as an illustrator for children’s books, travelled to Grahamstown with the following plan in mind: interview mothers and draw their portraits. But as soon as she’s prepared her camera and sketchbook, she’s addressed by a girl. A Perfect Plan - Stories from the Land of the Black Man is about what happens next, about how the girl starts to determine Dendooven’s stay and about how she tries to deal with the colonial, post-colonial and racist baggage between them.

‘At five o’clock she’s waiting for me on the other side of the street. She sees me first.
I wave and cross towards her. She’s wet and her nose is running.
"You had a nice day?" I ask.
"I have a problem," she says, "come with me."'

Read & listen to A Perfect Plan - Stories from the Land of the Black Man

© sophie smith
© Sophie Smith (citybook Grahamstown)


Anna Luyten describes the execution of Ceaușescu

Our third stop is in Bucharest, where Anna Luyten is guided by a man without a name through the communistic past of the city in The Ways of the Ant. Just her description of Ceaușescu's execution alone makes this story well worth reading.

‘In the 1970s he had made the long journey to the library every day. On foot. He went there to read. He had been born in Transylvania. He used to go to a café, where the Radisson Hotel now stands. The books that he read then were hurled out of the windows and burnt during the revolution of 1989. “When I got here after the revolution, five hundred thousand books and nearly four thousand manuscripts lay smouldering on the ground.”’

Read & listen to The Ways of the Ant


Peter Holvoet-Hanssen’s mission in Ostend

We wrap up our tour with The mission in Ostend by Peter Holvoet-Hanssen, about the local loser named Finbar and his, ehm, semantically curious companion Molrat Malrot.

‘“What are you reading, Molrat?”

Achter de vormen steekt toch altijd hetzelfde, or something. A less well-known book from a writer who is disappearing into obscurity. Not bad, not bad. Listen, put your hands over your ears. Can you hear the sea? It washes up words, grinds the spinning top of language. Yo-yo. Yodel. Yoga. Yogurt. JOHAN. Date. Day. DAISNE. Sheaf. Shed. Sherry. Shelf. SHELL. Ground. Gripe. Grand. Great. Grid. Grip. GRIT. Look, this little book is a Marnix paperback from 1967. Two shells and a bit of grit, that’s what it’s called. A story by Johan Daisne, just 67 slender pages. On the cover there’s a large and a small shell. Look at the back flap, at the signature. O la laa...”’

Read & listen to The mission in Ostend


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


Also read

- The culinary tour
- The second tour of greats
- 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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