Category Archives: LITERARY TRAVEL

Literary Travel in the United Kingdom

gordale scarBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Who should know literary tourism better than the author of 17 novels, plus a slew of biographies and screenplays and critiques, and now, a memoir called The Pattern in the Carpet? Margaret Drabble recently put together a splendid list of literary tourism destinations for the Guardian, introducing it with a remark about best-selling author Dan Brown that could be interpreted as dismissive or worse. And some sincere words about writers of yore, and their favored surroundings:

I am one of many who read the landscape through those who wrote about it and the words of our great landscape writers – Walter Scott, Wordsworth, Hopkins, Hardy, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath – sound in my ears as I walk and wander.

Some of Drabble’s picks are predictable, but that’s not to imply they are banal. There is, after all, a reason why the classics are the classics, and that goes for places, as well as books. The lighthouse in Cornwall that meant so much to Virginia Woolf, for instance. Stonehenge — not only for its own sake, but because it inspired Thomas Hardy and William Wordsworth, both highly esteemed literary figures whose reputations are unlikely to fade. Tintern Abbey and Tintagel; the Lake District; and Haworth, home of the Brontes, whose environs she describes as “numinous.”

The list also encompasses many low-profile locales, like Burslem, which figured in the novels of Arnold Bennett. In Burslem, one can still find “picturesque pot banks,” whatever those might be. Drabble names Goredale Scar, pictured on this page, and Malham, an important place in one of her own novels. Poet Thomas Gray is also associated with this lovely section of the world. Remember “An Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard”? Not the catchiest title, but a number of his phrases became immortal, especially “far from the madding crowd” which Hardy borrowed as title for one of his novels. And Gray knew from graveyards: among the twelve children his mother bore, he was the only one who made it past infancy.

Then there’s Aldeburgh, which has associations with George Crabbe and Benjamin Britten. Nowadays, it’s the site of a renowned literature and music festival. And do not neglect the Quantocks, a place of transcendent value to Coleridge and Wordsworth, and others who knew transcendence when they saw it.

Andrew Lycett highlights some features of the Wales of Dylan Thomas in The Times. This is a pretty fascinating look at the “curious love-hate relationship with the Welsh countryside” experienced by the poet. He talks about visiting the boathouse in Laugharne where the Thomas once lived, and defines the different significance that three different parts of Wales had for him, and reveals what happened at Worm’s Head. The Times also sponsors other literary walks, such as “Daphne du Maurier’s Cornwall,” “Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh,” and “William Blake’s London.” But here’s a question. How many writers are not somehow associated with London? Even Karl Marx wrote some pretty famous stuff there.

If you go up to Scotland, you can hang out in places previously frequented by Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. Jimmy Lowe shared in the Glasgow Daily Times an account of doing just that, and much more besides, when he and his wife toured the United Kingdom with literature on their minds. And should you ever consider buying a house in Britain, you can hire a certified house historian to ferret out any literary associations if might have. At Mail Online, Gwenda Brophy — another of those writers enamored of London — tells marvelous stories about historic homes, quoting specialist Melanie Backe-Hansen, who says:

Certain places are a magnet for writers. Carlyle Mansions, on Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, is referred to as the writers’ block as it’s been home to well-known figures such as Ian Fleming and T. S. Eliot.

Wander around England long enough, and you’ll see places that bear the stamp of Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, George Eliot, Vita Sackville-West, John Bunyan, Bram Stoker, J. K. Rowling, Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, A.A. Milne, etc., etc., etc. And that’s just novelists and poets. We haven’t even started on the painters yet.

photo courtesy of gaspa, used under this Creative Commons license

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Provence, France: Literary Tourism and More

RoussillonBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Susan Spano, staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, sees Provence through the lens of a reader. She was attracted by the writings of Peter Mayle, who has published no fewer than four books featuring the district, only to have a fan of show up in his living room. And then there’s a book called Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes, which which brings throngs of devoted readers to the area of the Luberon Mountains.

Spano, however, is not content to stick with trekking off to see the sights described in any of these books. With us peeking over her shoulder, she visits the town of Apt, where the market day is a famous attraction:

The Apt market, stretching along pedestrian-only streets…draws tourists and locals alike for its dazzling array of regional merchandise — handmade lavender soap, lotion and sachets, olives and olive oil, wine, artisanal honey and liqueurs, cheese, herbs, flowers, candied fruit, pottery, baskets and fabrics in all the bright, beautiful patterns of Provence.

Every one of those items is practically mandatory baggage for the home-bound visitor, especially the lavender products, because this is lavender world headquarters. And a serious market-goer has to know the ropes: Show up early, like 8:00, because first of all you want to be able to park.

Spano also explored the a mountain village called Sivergues, which she describes as “sort of Provençal ghost town” situated near the scenic Aiguebrun River. In fact, there appears not to be an inch of Provence that isn’t scenic. Art tourism vies with literary tourism as the big draw, especially since the recent opening of the house of Jane Eakin, a painter who inhabited Ménerbes for about forty years. Know who else used to live in this town? Dora Maar, one of Picasso’s muses.

Travel Examiner Mickey Sewell has also written extensively about Provence, adding an interesting detail about the area called the Luberon. No new buildings are permitted, so if you want to live there, you’d better have a relative who owns a house and who is anxious to remember you in their will. Sewell claims Texas as her other area of geographical expertise, and also is a proficient technical writer who grew up in many different parts of the world.

In La Belle France, she also covers the territory immortalized by painter Vincent Van Gogh, and the village of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, where Gypsies from around the world gather each spring to celebrate Sara the Black, patron saint of the Romany folk. Another town in Provence, Cassis, is where Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and Roger Fry tended to hang out. And that’s only scratching the surface of the treasures Provence has to offer. And now, wouldn’t you know it? Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have invaded Provence and bought a 35-bedroom chateau with a 1000-acre back yard.

It goes without saying that this incomparable section of France is a favorite of a certain travel writer whose name is at the top of this page. Kevin Dolgin sings the praises of Provence like nobody else, in The Third Tower Up From the Road. We won’t give away too much, but he does say:

All of these things are wonderful and you should go to Provence and stay a long time and read about them, then check them out and then decide to stay even longer…

So, there you have it: Provence, France – be there or be square!

photo courtesy of jacdesalpes , used under this Creative Commons license

Picking a Literary Travel Destination

lebanon
By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

We’re looking at a very interesting list of books in the general category of literary travel, assembled by a writer who has done considerable traveling herself. Or would that be a traveler who has done considerable writing? Jeannette Belliveau has published two books, An Amateur’s Guide to the Planet and Romance on the Road, and seems to be one of those exceedingly literate outdoorsy folk, like Paul Theroux and a surprising number of other adventurers. In a way, it’s kind of strange that the gene for sitting alone in a room, and the gene for roaming the planet, are so often found in the same person. Belliveau has also held various editorial posts, and currently is a professional speaker. The reason given for one of her recommendations, Redmond O’Hanlon’s No Mercy, goes like this:

The complex and heartbreaking aspirations of his gentle third guide, Manu, close No Mercy in a way that could serve as a shout of anguish from the soul of a continent whose people get no second chances in life.

She suggests a fiction work, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, as the ideal companion piece to No Mercy, because “the greatest and smallest aspects of life in the Congo are utterly consistent, in a way that suggests the essential truth-seeking of both O’Hanlon the travel writer and Kingsolver the novelist.”

These literary travel picks include tales of Afghanistan, Borneo, the Congo, Thailand, Uzbekistan, and a slew of other interesting places. Belliveau rates the books and the writers according to such criteria as (these are all quotes) chokingly funny, amazing maturity, overly obsessive, particularly intriguing, deceptively insightful, and stoic hilarity. Not all, obviously, in reaction to the same book.

About The Ends of the Earth by Robert D. Kaplan, Belliveau says he “argues quite believably that borders, which only became fixed within the last half-century, are falling away as ethnic links reign supreme once again.” Borders are a concern of Kevin Dolgin, as we have noted previously. Before you’re even a dozen pages into his book, he makes the position clear: “I deplore the presence of borders and cross them whenever possible, sometimes just to spite them.”

Today’s other featured list comes from TripAdvisor, and it’s called “Top ten literary travel destination ideas.” If your desire is to visit the home or birthplace of a great author, or see the urban or rural landscape frequented by an imaginary character, here’s a good starting point for inspiration.

They are tried and true, all cities, and mostly Anglocentric: London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Edinburgh, Dublin, New York, Concord, San Francisco. Plus Paris, Rome, and St. Petersburg. Plenty of examples are given of the authors and books each place represents.

For something a little more out of the way, give this one a try: hike the Lebanon Mountain Trail, as described by Norbert Schiller in The National. It’s only a mere 440 km (or around 270 miles), of which the Baskinta Literary Trail is an offshoot. This route includes 22 cultural and literary landmarks, including places associated with the writers Amin Maalouf, Abdallah Ghanem, and Mikhail Naimy.

We’d like to hear about other not-so-ordinary literary travel destinations.

photo courtesy of marviikad , used under this Creative Commons license

Bloomsbury Group Inspires Literary Tourism in Britain

at Charleston
By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Disclaimer: we here at The Blog of Kevin Dolgin have no connection of any kind with the travel entrepreneurs described in this piece by Jeremy Seal in the Telegraph. But what they do is just so cool . Seal, by the way, writes extensively on travel, and his many articles can be found via the search box at the Telegraph as well as in many other publications. In “Sussex: on safari in the South Downs” he tells us about a vacation that is more unique than 99% of the things that are described as unique in this mixed-up old world. Are you ready for this? Okay, Damien the guide shows up with a bag of dead rabbits for dinner. Seal’s story continues:

Our eldest daughter, Anna, who happens to be sporting a fluffy bunny on her T-shirt, takes this in surprisingly good heart. She even maintains a fascination, albeit appalled, as Damien takes a hatchet to Flopsy in preparation for the evening’s pot. “Be sure to remove the scent glands,” he cautions, pulling something pink from the creature’s posterior. “They give a sour taste.” Not something you would learn at your average campsite.

But here’s the thing. The campsite is only a stone’s throw from Charleston, the one place in the world that your blog news editor would go, if she went someplace. Charleston is the old, beautiful farmhouse and grounds where Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant created a home and a way of life fantasized about by artists everywhere. They, Bell’s sister Virginia Woolf, and several others were known as the Bloomsbury Group. (The picture on this page is part of Charleston Pond).

Gerald Brenan was a peripheral member of the Bloomsbury Group. He published several excellent books and is also noteworthy for the tormented, unrequited love he felt for painter Dora Carrington, who preferred instead to spend her life with gay writer Lytton Strachey. This is the kind of dish that keeps scholars so interested in the Bloomsbury Group, by the way. When it came to experimental lifestyles, those folks were off the charts. Helen Anrep, companion of the brilliant writer, artist, and activist Roger Fry, left behind 700 letters when she died, from such luminaries as Virginia Woolf. This collection, expected to net at least £80,000 (around $130,000 USD), is to be auctioned on September 3 by a firm in East Sussex, which is also not very far from the Safari Britain campsite.

By strange coincidence, £80,000 is the identical sum recently paid by an anonymous buyer for a certain bay in Cornwall. This portion of landscape inspired Virginia Woolf’s very significant novel To the Lighthouse. As Ben Hoyle tells us in The Times:

To the Lighthouse is one of the key novels of the 20th century, exploring the potential of a stream-of-consciousness prose style to examine the connections between the physical world and individual memories.

Woolf said that her childhood summers spent at nearby St. Ives were “the best beginning to life conceivable.” The property includes three miles of wild Cornish coastline called Upton Towans beach. Since the new owner is forbidden to build on the land or dig for minerals, perhaps he will commercialize it as a prime literary travel destination.

Anyway, we were talking about Gerald Brenan. When he was 17, he and a friend decided to walk to the Orient. Brenan got himself a knife-grinder’s cart, figuring that everybody needs their knives sharpened, and he could make enough money to pay their way as they went along. The boys crossed the channel and set out from France with a good-sized chunk of hashish and a few books to solace their journey. They were arrested in both Italy and Austria, although not because of the hashish. This was in 1911. The authorities probably didn’t even know what it was. Later in life, Brenan settled in Spain and wrote extensively about his adopted country.

At PressConnects, Luke Z. Fenchel acquaints us with “A Room of Their Own,” a touring exhibit of works by Bloomsbury artists. And meanwhile, The Oxford Times takes a look at “Beyond Bloomsbury: Designs of the Omega Workshops 1913-19″ which is currently showing in London. This was Roger Fry again. He started the Omega Workshops as a way to help some of his artist friends support their food and shelter habits. But for a real in-depth examination of both those exhibits, one on either side of the Atlantic, we recommend Eve M. Kahn’s great article in The New York Times.

You’re not going to believe this, but a group called Princeton released an EP record, described by Luftmensch at My Old Kentucky Blog:

How’s this for high-concept? Each of Bloomsbury’s four tracks examines a single member of London’s influential and controversial Bloomsbury Group. Leonard Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf and John Maynard Keynes all get the deluxe treatment here…

This musical ensemble also performed at the recent Virginia Woolf Conference, an annual event that draws scholars and book-lovers from all over the world.

Duncan Grant was an innovator in the combination of music and visual art. Decades before we had animated fractal patterns as screensavers on our computer monitors — about a hundred years ago, in fact — Grant invented a device that was basically a 15-foot-long, thin painting rolled up like a scroll, housed in a box with a viewing window. By grasping the handles on each side and turning them, the colored designs flowed past the window, a moving symphony of color that was meant to be accompanied by music. The Tate Museum eventually acquired the Abstract Kinetic Scroll and Richard Morphet made a film of it in action, accompanied by a piece of music by Bach. Unfortunately, nobody has yet posted this film on YouTube, but Bloomsbury lives on in all sorts of ways.

photo courtesy of Prince Heathen, used under this Creative Commons license

You May Already Be a Literary Travel Writer!

durhamBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

If you’ve ever visited a place with literary associations and written about it — and, of course, taken pictures — this fabulous online resource wants you as one of its fabulous resources. Literary Locales is a directory that has already compiled more than 1,350 links to places associated with the lives and/or work of well-known authors. Here’s the invitation:

If you think that a deserving writer has been overlooked or treated inadequately, fetch your camera and set matters to right. We are constantly open to new additions. This site abounds with examples upon which you can model your own page. Or you can submit gifs or jpegs to us and we will construct a page for you.

You can’t ask for fairer than that! Literary Locales is sponsored by San Jose State University; specifically, by the Department of English & Comparative Literature. Its participatory nature guarantees a wide range of interests. Want to see Danielle Steel’s mansion in San Francisco? Or the village of Umuofia from Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart? Present and accounted for. Dante’s birthplace in Florence, Italy? Check. The Greenwich Village apartment of John Dos Passos? It’s here. The birthplace of Gustave Flaubert or Helen Keller? No problem. Louveciennes, where Anais Nin hung out; Trieste, as experienced by Rilke; the Corfu of Gerald Durrell; Edgar Allen Poe’s cottage; Robinson Crusoe’s island. The world is just one big theme park of places inhabited or depicted by writers.

“Ah love, let us be true to one another…” Yes, that’s Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach”, and here’s a nice website all about Dover Beach. Remember The Prophet? Here’s Bsharri, the part of Lebanon where Kahlil Gibran lived. It’s official: when it comes to plotting serious literary travel adventures, this site is the go-to guy.

Of course, Durham Cathedral (see picture) is represented. Travel writer Bill Bryson, being the Chancellor of nearby Durham University and President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, has a particular fondness for the old pile. Its most salient literary feature is the tomb of the historian known as the Venerable Bede. He died in 735 and no, there isn’t a numeral missing from that year. One of the folks interred there is Cyril Argentine Alington, headmaster of Eton College and author of more than 50 books. Sir Walter Scott said of the edifice, “This view is unsurpassed in England”

Grand old Durham Cathedral has made the news, we learn from Mark Tallentire, staff writer for The Northern Echo, by quickly acquiring more Facebook fans than any other cathedral in England. The people who made it so are justifiably proud, but there is one little thing… This piece doesn’t mention that cathedral’s current vogue just might be due to its presence in the Harry Potter movies, in the guise of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

A bit of bad news in the literary tourism realm is the threat to the Muromtsev Dacha, part of the Tsaritsyno park complex in Moscow. This big old house was taken over by the national government when Russia had a revolution, but four years ago ownership was transferred to the city, and what’s been happening since then is not pretty. Ksenia Galouchko reveals what and why in The Moscow Times.

The building is threatened with demolition, which is no good for the six families in residence, some of whom have been there for decades. That’s bad enough, but there are literary associations with Ivan Bunin, a Nobel Prize winning writer, and with the poet Venedikt Yerofeyev who hung out there a lot in the ’70s and ’80s. Some of his notes are available for viewing. A cultural heritage organization has installed a memorial plaque honoring Yerofeyev and suggested turning the place into a museum, but that hasn’t seemed to help.

Here’s what we hope: that the Muromtsev Dacha will be preserved, and show up in the pages of Literary Locales, along with all the other places frequented by the literary greats.

Durham, aka Hogwarts photo courtesy of Glen Bowman , used under this Creative Commons license

Literary Travel Popular as Ever

LimerickBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Literary travel might be one of those concepts that means different things to different people. Many travelers go places to pay homage to their literary idols and draw inspiration from walking in their literal footsteps.

In the Irish Times, Prof. Noel Mulcahy talks about the effect on an Irish city of the memoir written by a recently deceased author:

Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes provided a documented account of 1940s Limerick society, its behaviours and values. It spawned a new tourist product for the city. It offers a focus for literary research way past the foreseeable future.

Noel Mulcahy, incidentally, is a Professor of Industrial Strategy who holds management and technical training courses. He’s into stuff like the role of mathematics in engineering education.

Literary admiration also lures visitors to Madrid, to chase the ghost of the great travel writer Corpus Barga. At Wonders and Marvels, we learn from Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon that even Virginia Woolf was not immune to the fascination of literary travel. She made a pilgrimage to Haworth, home of the Bronte sisters, and wrote about it for The Guardian back in 1904. This present-day piece mentions some other world-class writers who traveled to partake of the atmosphere frequented by their own literary idols.

In Massachusetts, tourists are drawn to the homes of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Louisa May Alcott, James Russell Lowell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and (a guy with only two names, for a change) Rudyard Kipling. And that’s not even the whole list. Several other prominent writers, and painters too, frequented the North Shore area of that fine state, as explicated by Jim McAllister of The Salem News.

Speaking of Longfellow, tourists flock to Nova Scotia in French Canada, because Evangeline, an entirely fictional person and the heroine of his poem, lived there. In New Brunswick, there’s a hybrid theme park and historical reconstruction called Le Pays de la Sagouine, founded by novelist Antonine Maillet, who was so enthralled by her cultural heritage that she wrote 40 novels to commemorate the Acadian lifestyle.

Veteran journalist Stephen Mansfield mixed literature and travel in another way. As a youth, he slaked his appetite for foreign shores by becoming an English teacher (and rock musician) in Spain. There’s a great interview with Mansfield, conducted by Ulara Nakagawa, in The Japan Times.

Please suggest original conjunctions of place and literature!

Limerick photo courtesy of gabig 58, used under this Creative Commons license

Literary Travel and Spiritual Journeys in Japan

japanBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga has earned well-deserved awards for her work, which mainly explores the theme of why some people feel compelled to leave their native culture and find a new one. At The Red Room, she interviews Todd Shimoda, author of the novel Oh!: A Mystery of Mono No Aware, which Tokunaga calls:

…a fascinating and compelling book that weaves themes of both traditional and modern Japanese culture. You’ll be drawn in by Shimoda’s spare but elegant prose, which reminds me of the writing style of Haruki Murakami.

It’s about Zack Hara, a young man in Los Angeles whose life is stalled in a void of apathy and depression. In search of his roots and himself, he goes to Japan, and things get worse before they get better. (Reviewer Jeff Snodgrass calls the novel “metaphysics in the guise of a pulp mystery.”) In real life, Shimoda has done incredibly abstruse work in the fields of Artificial Intelligence and so on. In this interview, he explains the concept of mono no aware, a mindfulness that incorporates intense emotional reaction to things.

Apparently, one of the less desirable avenues through which confused souls try to approach this state is the suicide club. Another avenue, a very wide and broad one, is art, which brings up the incredible, impeccable artwork by Linda Shimoda that illustrates Oh!: A Mystery of Mono No Aware.

Some people travel because of inner needs. To connect with one’s own ancestors is a frequent reason to go from one place to another. And then there are people who simply feel they were born in the wrong place. And the ones who are on some kind of vision quest. And those who just want to see a big robot, or a big Buddha. When Japan is the destination, a seeker might contemplate Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and war and peace.

In this strange story called “The World Tour Compatibility Test,” by Elizabeth Koch, two young lovers, Westerners in Japan, are in search of their own relationship. Along the way, they visit the Todai-Ji Temple, on the recommendation of none other than Kevin Dolgin. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Nostril: The Daibutsu, Nara, Japan,” is the name of the essay where they they got this idea. What people do is try to slide their bodies through the nostril of the Buddha. As Kevin notes, “the intricacies of Japanese religious practice are impenetrable.”

Daibutsu means “Big Buddha,” and Joshua Williams tells us everything a civilized person needs to know about giant Buddha statues. That’s the spiritual side. On the literary side, a writer might want to mingle with her colleagues, as Karen Kay describes in “Tokyo, Japan and the wonderland world of the Thumb Tribe.” Kay analyzes not only the literary scene but the many-faceted culture:

Japan’s new literary elite gather to sip espressos or cocktails and work on their latest bestselling novels…. sophisticated, designer-clad authors who tap out their blockbusters on their mobile phone handsets

Artists go on their own kinds of quests. They might want to track down the ancient art of Bunraku rather than depend on the imported version. Robed puppeteers in teams of three manipulate large puppets, while a narrator tells the story. Associated Press writer Alan Scher Zagier provides an in-depth explanation of this art form at Yahoo! Canada, among other places. Artists like to go see things like the giant robots or mecha that are sprouting up all over Japan. At Cartoon Leap, there’s a wonderful photo sequence of how to build one of these things.

photo courtesy of digika , used under this Creative Commons license