Tag Archives: Moscow

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

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Literary Tourism: Moscow and Beyond

reading
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