Tag Archives: Graham Greene

Naughty Mayfair, in London, England

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By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Not long ago, we noted the popularity of London as one of Student Universe’s Top Ten Party Destinations. Taking a closer look, we find that the great British capitol has always been a place where young and old could find something disreputable to pass the time, especially if they were wealthy and titled. In “Mayfair’s dark secrets laid bare,” Jasper Gerard unearths some facts and rumors about a venerable building called Albany. He says:

So savagely do Albany grandees protect their privacy that even snappers photographing the place have found themselves at the wrong end of a porter’s boot… One resident, a Mr. Gundry, was so aggressive he horsewhipped someone in Hyde Park for brushing against his shoulder a year earlier.

That revenge for bruised honor occurred, of course, quite some time in the past. But that’s the point. This structure seems to have a cumulative history of anarchic behavior well cloaked behind a veil of respectability. Remember the Chelsea Hotel in New York, when all the rock stars stayed there? Albany was, in its glory days, kind of like that — only with servants who would carry an inebriated resident to bed and tuck him in. Hookers came and went freely and,  according to a certain painter who called Albany home for a couple of years, they still do. Tradition and discretion don’t come cheap; it costs about £1,500 or about $2,500 USD per week to live there.

The reason why all this came to Gerard’s attention is an art show that includes 40 paintings by Keith Coventry. The whole series is called “Echoes of Albany” and the pictures bring back the days of chippies, tarts, absinthe, serious recreational drugs, women who wore tuxedos and courted other women, and much, much more. If you’re in the neighborhood of Burlington Gardens, the exhibit runs through August 15 at the Haunch of Venison gallery.

Gerard, incidentally, has had an interesting and varied journalistic career. It’s easy to be sidetracked into something like, for instance, his interview with novelist Ian McEwan. But no. This is about the famous old mansion where three of England’s prime ministers have lived, along with a number of titled aristocrats and upper-echelon stage actors such as Terence Stamp. Antony Armstrong-Jones, the photographer who was married to Queen Elizabeth’s sister Margaret, once lived there. So did art historian Sir Kenneth Clark. The poet Lord Byron was once a resident, as were novelists Aldous Huxley and Graham Greene, playwright Terence Rattigan, and esteemed travel writer Bruce Chatwin.mayfair mural

Speaking of London nightlife, there’s trouble in paradise as burlesque dancers take to the streets to protest unfair laws that impede their ability to make a living and entertain the rest of us. And check out this site for a handy guide to “student nights” in London clubs.

And in the daytime, be sure to observe the statues. Yes, the sculptures in public places which, as we know, are of abiding interest to Kevin Dolgin as he makes his way through the cities of the world. In London, he found plenty to write about, in “Forgotten Heroes: London, England” which of course is one of the pieces in The Third Tower Up From the Road.

Albany photo courtesy of Wolfiewolf , used under this Creative Commons license. Mayfair mural photo courtesy of danielle_blue , used under this Creative Commons license

Literary Tourism: Moscow and Beyond

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By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Vit Wagner engages in the purest kind of literary tourism. He travels to another place and, while there, reads a novel set in that place. His essay in The Star, “Journalist’s novel way of exploring the literary landscape,” goes into more detail:

If memory serves, reading The Sun Also Rises in Spain was pretty much the entire purpose of the trip – never mind that I had already devoured the Hemingway masterpiece at least three previous times. As luck would have it, the same adventure later took me to Paris where – since an important part of the novel is also set there – I read it again. Bonus!

In Havana, Cuba, Wagner stayed at the Hotel Sevilla, a place where both Graham Green and his fictional Our Man in Havana character used to hang out. He interviews a fellow named Ben Walsh, of Nicholas Hoare Books, which is in Toronto, Canada. Here’s the thing: the store hosts a book club of a very special type. For six months, the people read books about, for instance, India. Then, they go together on a trip to India.

The theory, and we’re quoting Ben Walsh here, is that literary preparation equips a person with “tools and skills” for a richer travel experience. The mental background “enhances acclimation.” He gives the example of Moscow, where literary tourists will look for a certain narrow alley that hides the entrance to a brothel. This is because they have read Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, described here as a “devilishly sly satire” of Stalinist Russia. One of Walsh’s friends told him the novel is “a key that opens doors to so many conversations in Russia. People are excited that you’ve read books that they value so highly.” Kind of like how, in the Sixties, counterculture people bonded over their shared appreciation of Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, or Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.

The Master and Margarita, incidentally, is a work taken very seriously by a lot of very serious people. Aside from being funny, that is. It just might leap to the top of your must-read list, if it hasn’t already. We don’t have space here to explain why, but check out Jan Vanhellemont’s captivating multimedia website about it.

Naturally, we consulted the pages of The Third Tower Up From the Road, by our favorite travel oracle, Kevin Dolgin. He’s been to Moscow, too, and describes such spots as Manezh Square, where young folks like to congregate. “Between the trees are expanses of grass, upon which sit or lie couples in various stages of relationship-building, ranging from stilted conversation to sucking on each other’s tongues.” This is the in-depth, quality reportage for which we have come to count on him. He also takes us to New Arbat Street, which continues to be the same kind of “in crowd” part of town as it was in the Soviet days.

Which brings up another novel… Children of the Arbat, by Anatoli Rybakov. That would be a terrific one to read before going to Russia, or while there, or any time at all, actually.

But why should we have all the fun, matching up novels with destinations? This conjunction of fiction and actual travel interests us so much, we’d like to hear of some more examples. So please share your literary tourism memories…or fantasies.

photo courtesy of Photocapy , used under this Creative Commons license