Thursday, November 21, 2013

Literary Geography

If you are a literature groupie you might enjoy this list. It's my top places - obviously highly subjective - where you can soak up the atmosphere of a particular writer or a certain milieu. It was going to be a top 10 list but there was too much I wanted to cram in. I'm giving you my list in reverse order but really its not in any order if that makes any sense...


14. The Eagle and Child Pub, Oxford, England. The bar where JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis used to go to read aloud their works in progress and get criticism and advice from their peers. Large chunks of The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia books were composed here. They serve real ale and Philip Pullman and even Alan Moore have been known to pop in. Consequently it's a kind of a nerd paradise and it's where I met that lucky(?) lass...the future mother of my children.


13. Dostoyevsky's House, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Ok the whole thing's fake, the furniture isn't period and no one knows exactly what his apartment really looked like, but it is as close as we're going to get to the real McCoyski. When I was there they had a free walking tour map where you could follow Raskolnikov and other characters' routes through the city and that's a great thing to do as long as you don't kill an old lady at the end of it.


12. The Site of Pushkin's Duel in the Woods, The St Petersburg Suburbs, Russia
Since we're in Petersburg we might as well stay here. Pushkin wrote a poem about a young man who threw his life away on a pointless duel in the forest. Rather tragically he then, er, threw his life away on a pointless duel in the forest. There's a statue marking the spot which was hard to find but worth it: when I went to see it there was a beautiful blonde girl in a white dress leaving flowers for Pushkin and weeping for him as if she'd just heard the news. No, unfortunately, she wasn't the good kind of crazy.


11. The Colburn Hotel, Denver, Colorado
Kerouac, Ginsberg, Cassady and William Burroughs used to go to Ginsberg's room in the Colburn to take acid, mescaline and other pharmaceuticals and watch the sun set setting behind the Front Range Mountains. I've never enhanced my experience in such a way but the sun sets are nice.


10. Les Deux Magots, St. Germain, Paris
This place is on all lists like these. The cafe that was the centre of the literary universe for periods in the twenties and again in the fifties. Who mooched cafe au laits and wrote here? Who didn't? Its patrons included: Scott Fitzgerald, Joyce, Dos Passos, Djuna Barnes, Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir, Beckett and many others. I mean ok so it's an expensive tourist trap these days but you still have to go here once in your life if only to experience the rudest wait staff in the Western World.


9. The British Museum Round Reading Room, Bloomsbury, London
This is where Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital and where anybody who was anybody in British letters did their research and writing. Dickens, Trollope, Thackeray, Auden, Orwell, Waugh, Maugham, Amis etc. all used the RRR at some point. Now that the British library has moved to St Pancras anyone is allowed in to visit the RRR and if you go there early before the hordes of screaming children it can be quite pleasant.


8. The Piano Bar of the Ambos Mundos Hotel, Havana, Cuba
This atmospheric joint is where Hemingway wrote For Whom The Bell Tolls. Be warned the current pianist has an inexplicable fondness for Celine Dion.


7. The Bar of the Ritz Hotel, Paris
The Ritz Hotel was "liberated" by Ernest Hemingway and a few American infantrymen in August 1944. A massive drinking session ensued. Sergeant JD Salinger showed up and Hemingway bought him a few cocktails having been impressed by his early short stories. Oh if those old whisky bottles could talk...


6. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, Massachusetts
Final resting place for Hawthorne, Emerson, Alcott and Thoreau and a short hike from Walden Pond State Park where you can visit a reconstruction of Thoreau's cabin. There are many great literary cemeteries in the world (Westminster Abbey and Highgate in London; Montmartre, Montparnasse and Pere Lachaise in Paris; the lovely Novodevichy Convent & Cemetery in Moscow) but this is a very special place. For me it's the epitomy of tranquil, quiet, autumnal loveliness and I wouldn't mind spending all eternity here myself (but not for a while yet).

5 Garcia Lorca's House, Granada, Spain
After the somewhat dull symmetries and broken fountains of the Alhambra why not walk down the hill to the home of Spain's greatest twentieth century poet. You won't be disappointed.


4 Dashiell Hammett's Apartment, Post Street, San Francisco
When I visited there was someone actually living here but he was kind enough to let me in anyway. Since this is also technically Sam Spade's apartment too it can be a big thrill for fans of The Maltese Falcon.

3 Robert Louis Stevenson's House, Apia, Samoa
I haven't actually been here but it's very high on my to do list. Mark Twain visited and was impressed and if I remember correctly Paul Theroux dropped by too. Anyway it looks charming and I'd like to go.

2 Trotksy's House & Frida Kahlo's House
Ok neither of them are really writers (though Trot had a nice turn of phrase) but these houses are definitely worth a visit. They're very close to one another in the pretty Coyacan section of Mexico City which was actually a port in the time of stout Cortez. (A mind boggling fact when you see what it looks like now). Trotsky's house was and is a mini fortress and he's buried in the front garden. Frida Kahlo's home is one of the most beautiful interior spaces I've ever been in. She turned the house into a full blown extension of her personality and her art blossoms in every corner.


1 Ernest Hemingway's House, Havana, Cuba
It's quite the scene. Michael Palin wrote an entire book about how no one is allowed to sit in Hemingway's chair. But as you can see...


Hope you liked my little trawl through the literary geography. Let's do this again sometime, I've got a great story about how I tried to beat Dylan Thomas's record in The White Horse Tavern...

54 comments:

Cary Watson said...

I went to Hemingway's house in Key West last February, and, yes, it's overrun with tourists, but it is a lovely house, especially all the six-toed "Hemingway" cats. I might get a chance to see the Concord cemetery next summer. We always go to CT in the summer and that wouldn't be much of a detour. New England graveyards are fantastically atmospheric; the ones in Vermont score very high on the eldritch meter. How's this for a name on an 18th century Vermont gravestone: Noble Hard. There's a story to be written about that guy.

Liam Hassan said...

Great list Adrian - makes me want to read more of the authors and actually travel. Going through an Orwell phase after being in Barcelona last month- and I don t live too far from Wigan Pier ...

Did visit some of Hemingway's haunts while I was in Havana. To be honest, after I few days I would have killed for some Celine Dion. Only so much Latin jazz I can take in one go - have nt listened to my buena vista albums since I got home!

Alan said...

Adrian ,Les Deux Magot despite obscene waiters reeks of generations of writers passing through.The Ritz a bit to expensive to savor the atmosphere.Hemingway's Home and Dos Ambos carve a picture of a man full measure who somehow dabbled in the world's affairs but at a bit of distance. What a wonderful list,Pushkin and Trotsky closely linked,quell panache.I would mention McSorley's Old Ale House in "The Village" for flavor and brew.Best Alan

adrian mckinty said...

Cary

In Vermont you can legitimately stalk the JD Salinger house now - as I did once illegitimately - and of course if you're in Southern NH you can pop over the border and do the Kerouac grave thing in Lowell - which is ALWAYS interesting.

adrian mckinty said...

Liam

There is a singularity of musical taste that does get a bit annoying. Its what the punters coming off those big cruise ships obviously want though. They're doing Havana in one day so they want a mojito, Buena Vista, Hemingway, Che and a quick tour of the Nacional Hotel. Oh and the tubby ancient European/Canadian ones still walking the streets at 1 in the morning evidently want sex with a teenage prostitute.

adrian mckinty said...

Alan

I don't want to put anyone off the Deux Magots though. Its an absolute must to visit. Without a doubt the most famous cafe in the history of literature.

adrian mckinty said...

Alan

Its over 10 years since I last lived in NYC so I've confused McSorley's and Chumley's in my mind. The one with the dogs and the sawdust I used to go in all the time, whatever that one was...

Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I'm going to be staying in Nelson Algren country for a few days next month before I hop a train from the city of Raymond Chandler's birth to the city with which he is most closely associated. I will probably follow a literary trail or two, maybe even retrace the path of the first drive in "Nevada Gas,: though I'll be sure to sit in the front seat.

Alan said...

Adrian,McSorley's is/was sawdust city with a strong atmosphere of Ale and reused oxygem which would bring a tear to any serious British punter.It is on 7th Street.Best Alan

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Thats a terrific train journey. Are you getting one of Amtrak's single berth sleepers? They look good. I havent taken one myself but very nearly did so in January when I was figuring the best way from Seattle to SF.

adrian mckinty said...

Alan

Yeah that weird vinegary smell. You wouldnt need to be one for panic attacks in that place when it gets crowded on a Saturday.

adrian mckinty said...

and speaking of my good lady wife (from the Eagle and Child bit) she's got a piece in yesterday's Guardian Australia about how we should be nuanced in our appreciation of Richard Wagner

seana graham said...

Interesting piece by Professor Garrett. I don't know if I should even mention it but one of my friend's is an unabashed Wagner aficionado, and has been writing a weekly blog post about various aspects of him in honor of some anniversary this year. I haven't managed to keep up with it, but I have a feeling she would be in some other corner of that debate. Her lastest posts are comparing him to Hunter S. Thompson, I see.

But to your wife's point, there are very few mysteries by men written before, well, yesterday, that don't leave you wrestling with some misogynist comment or other, but I read them anyway. I have the same problem with James Joyce, for that matter. And I don't think I could say exactly how I or anyone manages to approve one aspect and decry another from the judgments either, but I think one would lose a lot if they just nixed something because they were aware of the bigotry in it.However, Wagner may be particularly difficult to square.

I remember with bemusement giving my mother a copy of some Lovejoy mystery while she was recuperating from some surgery and she handed it to me the next day saying I could take it right back. She did not approve of his womanizing ways. At all.

But I suspect we're all like that about something.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian: Most overnight Amtrak trains have what they call "roomettes," with two berths, as their smallest accommodations. That's what I have. Last time I took an overnight train (1993), there were single-berth sleepers. I remember this because I had a lower berth, and I gallantly swapped places with an elderly woman who did not want or was unable to use her berth, which was an upper.

I have naturally been flipping though Chicago- and Los Angeles-appropriate books. I am fairly close to concluding that James Ellroy got good when he stopped writing conventionally. As far as I can tell, White Jazz marks his break from conventional storytelling.

Seana: I've read one or two of your friend's Wagner posts. My Wagner story is that a few years ago I was listening to and enjoying lots of Wagner overtures. When I confessed the sin to my mother, she said that not only did she love Wagner, but she had just seen one of the Metropolitan Opera's live-in-a-movie-theater broadcasts of one his operas.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Leah's point isn't about censorship or boycotting, its more about being aware of Wagner the man and still being able to enjoy the art. Her contention is that we can hold two contradictory ideas in our head at the same time whereas the "separate the art from the artist" types don't think this is possible.

seana graham said...

Peter, I enjoyed the James Morris version of Wotan in the Ring cycle.

Adrian, I understood her point.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Yes that's right, but its not an unreasonable price if I recall correctly.

I've taken some big Amtrak trips: Chicago - New Orleans, New York - Montreal, Boston - Chicago, Philadelphia - Jacksonville, Denver - SF & I've always found them very enjoyable.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Have you ever seen this little clip? I think it might help convince the deepest Wagner hater...


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFkyAD9gS6g

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Oh and yes the extraordinary ending to Werner Herzog's Wings of Hope


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szH3vaPzUXQ

Peter Rozovsky said...

I can do New York to Montreal or Toronto standing on my head, but those trains leave in the morning and arrive the same night. This trip will be a two-nighter, and I half-expect to see William Powell and Myrna Loy tumbling out of the berth next to mine. For two nights, with meals included, the price is indeed reasonable.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

You'll meet some characters that I promise.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Two nights ought to afford opportunity for meeting characters. A one-night train trip is too rushed for me because of my hours: I'm up later than everyone else, and then I get roused at some ungodly hour just because the train has reached its destination.

Last overnight trip, I met characters only because a great blizzard hit Chicago, stranding us there for an extra night.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I forgot to mention that the West and Southwest were the sites of a memorable airplane trip I once took. That's right: "Airplane" and "memorable" in the same sentence. I flew from San Jose to Denver on a perfectly clear day. The views from the air were stunning.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I remember when I was a kid I used to love to fly and now its just sheer torture that begins in the airport lobby and doesn't really end until you're where you were intending to go.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Flying is shit. I have suggested that airlines ought to spare their passengers the misery and put them all in suspended animation for the duration. The money they'd lose by not selling meals, they'd recoup through the greater capacity they could gain by stacking the unconscious passengers like cordwood.

Brendan O'Leary said...

We had a couple of summer breaks in a cottage in Braemar next to the house where RLS supposedly wrote Treasure Island.

I crossed Denver to see a concrete carpark in the approximate place where Kerouac and Cassidy hung out.

I always enjoy visiting any place in Southern Europe where neither Hemingway nor Byron have been.
That's it really. Not much of a literary pilgrim.

Brendan O'Leary said...

Oh, I did go to look at Robert Fergusson's gravestone in Edinburgh, knowing that Robert Burns had commissioned and paid for it.

Anne said...

Seanna, with respect your mum, I don't think womanising equates to mysogyny - quite the contrary. I had the pleasure of meeting Jonatan Gash, the author of the Lovejoy series, and he was very much the charming English gentleman auteur. . . he actually turned up to a library event wearing a fedora!

Sheiler said...

Speaking of Phillip Pulman, have you read the write up / speech he gave called Fairy Tales and Evidence? Click for the pdf.

The whole literary bar thing isn't a draw for me. I almost passed out from sheer intensity when I approached Doris Lessing at a book reading/signing to ... wait for it, sign my book. I wanted so much more than to say Hello but knew if I said anything other than that I'd sound idiotic.

But having read the Pullman piece, I might find myself at that bar where you and Missus met.

seana graham said...

Adrian, thanks for the links. I loved The New World, but had completely forgotten that Colin Farrell was in it. I didn't watch the Herzog one because I realized that I hadn't seen the movie yet.

Anne, I'm a Lovejoy fan myself. I don't even think Lovejoy is a misogynist, just cheerfully unfaithful. He basically likes women. I was somewhat taken aback by my mother's strong reaction to what is basically a comic novel series about a character who is no better than he should be.

After reading the anti-flying discussion, I am glad I am only flying to L.A. next week. but traveling the day before Thanksgiving, I'm sure it will be sufficiently horrendous.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I also remember thinking when I was a kid that the Sydney - London flying time would be 3 hours and New York - London 1 hr because of Concorde. In fact the flying times have got SLOWER since the 80s.

adrian mckinty said...

Brendan

You missed out. There are actually cool things to see in Denver related to the beats. I went on a walking tour of Denver led by Neal Cassady's son and there was tons of cool stuff.

adrian mckinty said...

Anne

I wish I could pull off the fedora look but it makes me look creepy.

adrian mckinty said...

Sheiler

Its an interesting piece although I've never been a fan of Swallows and Amazons like everyone else in the UK apparently.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

The New World was the last Terrence Malick where he hadnt completely lost the plot - now I feel that he is. I think he's a frustrated cinematographer trapped into being a director.

seana graham said...

By the way, I see that Herzog's pal Errol Morris has a piece up on Slate about the documentary he and Herzog co-produced called An Act of Killing. Haven't had a chance to read it yet.

Brendan O'Leary said...

Adrian, it was 1978. I don't think there were any walking tours in Denver then. I went to the Coors brewery, got drunk with an Englishman and a New Yorker.

They relaxed the "two free beers" rule since we were foreigners. That included, without irony, the New Yorker.

Then I got a drive away car to Texas.

Different days.

Peter Rozovsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, this was an anti-flying polemic, not a discussion.

Adrian, I saw a Concorde last month--permanently grounded and on display near the pier in Manhattan where the tour boats depart. I don't why the Concorde's service life was so short. Were costs of operating the service too high?

Peter Rozovsky said...

Hey, did you notice that some one mentioned Phillip Pullman right after the talk turned to overnight train trips? If any of you are ever in Boston's South Station, stop by the statue of A. Philip Randolph and the accompanying display about the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

It was the 1973 oil shock that killed Concorde and all planes like it.

Flying just isn't worth the hassle anymore, especially with kids - unless you really really have to do it.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Wild horses wouldnt get me on a plane around Thanksgiving. I'd rather take the Greyhound. In fact last year I did take the Greyhound on Thanksgiving eve from Portland to Seattle and very pleasant it was too.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I will foreswear commercial air travel the day the first trans-Atlantic train goes into service

Bus travel is a crap shoot. I have had far more pleasant experiences than the other kind, but there is always the risk of getting stuck next to some fat, obstreperous snorer (alas, that may be me when I fall asleep), and the confines of a bus make is impossible to escape such things.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

You can always ask the bus driver to stop and let you off if you just can't take it anymore. Also the cigarette break policy on Greyhound is a boon even to non smokers.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, well, this one time, I didn't want to me let out in the middle of central Oregon, as lush as it was, and this other time, hopping out in the swamps of Jersey when I was just going to New York would have made little sense.

seana graham said...

I was going to say rant rather than discussion but didn't want to be cruel.

I've considered the train at times, but the trips are always too short for it to make much sense. As if flying the day before Thanksgiving wasn't bad enough, I have to meet up with two different family members who are coming from different places. Let's just say that I am not the one who came up with the plan.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I merely stood outside Hammett’s old apartment at 891 Post Street, but I did make a bit of Hammett pilgrimage in San Francisco. A Chandler route would be more difficult. Fortunately I have a friend who possesses two essential attributes: a love of Chandler, and a car.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

It was very un-me to ring the bell and go up and ask to go in. Normally I avoid all human contact. I don't know what got into me that day. Fortunately/unfortunately it was a freak occurrence.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I would not have been able to bring myself into trying to talk my way in even if had not been late in the evening when I was there.

Hmm, I could have knocked like mad and said I was Dundy and Pohlhaus.

Connie Wilson said...

I would have added Hemingway's home in Key West.
Adrian, shoot me your e-mail address at EINNOC10@Aol.com so I can send you a pdf file of a children's book that your kids might enjoy (just out). You can see the cover at www.TheXmasCats.com.
It's not Shakespeare (or Hemingway), but they'd get a kick out of it, and I've checked that genre off my bucket list.
Now, I need some recommendations about "How to write a mystery." (HA!)
Sincerely,
Connie Wilson
(I've used Constance Corcoran Wilson on "The Christmas Cats Chase Christmas Rats" in the spirit of "branding," but it seems that I've fooled no one since it's showing up with Connie, as well. Go figure.)

Connie Wilson said...

Oh! And I almost got to sit in Hemingway's attic in Oak Park as their "Artist in residence." They suggested I apply next year; said I was one of 2 top applicants. But maybe they were just trying to let me down easy.
Connie Wilson

Jacinta Arnold said...

Off with the Mr. and three teenagers to Belfast in June. Last there in 1990 for a conference when we lived in the UK for a year. Would love for you to tell me some Belfast Pubs or other interesting spots as my investigations show its all Titanic now. Best J

adrian mckinty said...

Jacinta

Everyone who is anyone has been in the Crown Bar at some point. Thats the only absolute must that I can think of.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Even I have been to the Crown. And yes, I met interesting characters on the train, who, in turn, told me stories about other interesting characters.