Saturday, 14 April 2007

Another inspiration, for sure

"And I think Chatwin spent a lot more time in libraries than he did on the road, and that is not a very glamorous thing to remind people of. But he spent years in libraries all over the world reading in many different languages, many different disciplines, and he puts most of the British writers to shame with the amount of energy and curiosity that he had and applied to each book."
Biographer, Nicholas Shakespeare on Chatwin's secret

From an edited version of Books and Writing, recorded at the Perth Writers Festival and first broadcast on 25/02/01 on Radio National.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Backwards Travel

September 1st


W.H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
'I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,'
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.



August 1937

Steep roads, a tunnel through chalk downs, are the approaches;
A ruined pharos overlooks a constructed bay;
The sea-front is almost elegant; all the show
Has, inland somewhere, a vague and dirty root:
Nothing is made in this town.

A Norman castle, dominant, flood-lit at night,
Trains which fume in a station built on the sea
Testify to the interests of its regular life:
Here dwell the experts on what the soldiers want.

And who the travellers are
Whom ships carry in and out between the lighthouses,
Which guard for ever the made privacy of this bay
Like twin stone dogs opposed on a gentleman’s gate.
Within these breakwaters English is properly spoken,
Outside an atlas of tongues.

The eyes of departing migrants are fixed on the sea,
Conjuring destinies out of impersonal water:
“I see an important decision made on a lake,
An illness, a beard, Arabia found in a bed,
Nanny defeated, Money.”

Red after years of failure or bright with fame,
The eyes of homecomers thank these historical cliffs:
“The mirror can no longer lie nor the clock reproach;
In the shadow under the yew, at the children’s party,
Everything must be explained.”

The Old Town with its Keep and Georgian houses
Has built its routine upon such unusual moments;
Vows, tears, emotional farewell gestures,
Are common here, unremarkable actions
Like ploughing or a tipsy song.

Soldiers crowd into the pubs in their pretty clothes,
As pink and silly as girls from a high-class academy;
The Lion, The Rose, The Crown, will not ask them to die,
Not here, not now; all they are killing is time,
A pauper civilian future.

Above them, expensive, shiny as a rich boy’s bike,
Aeroplanes drone through the new European air
On the edge of a sky that makes England of minor importance;
And tides warn bronzing bathers of a cooling star
With half its history done.

High over France, a full moon, cold and exciting
Like one of those dangerous flatterers we meet and love
When we are utterly wretched, returns our stare:
The night has found many recruits; to thousands of pilgrims
The Mecca is coldness of heart.

The cries of the gulls are sad like work:
The soldier guards the traveller who pays for the soldier,
Each pays in a similar way for himself, but neither
Controls the years or the weather. Some may be heroes:
Not all of us are unhappy.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007


"The second half of a man's life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half".

Fyodor Dostoevsky

"Let us possesse our world, each hath one, and is one"

The Good Morrow
John Donne
(Written one year after Coryat’s return from Venice)

MAY 14TH 2007

399 years ago today an under-employed Englishman whose London drinking friends included William Shakespeare, Ben Johnson, John Donne and the teenage Prince of Wales, set out alone on a walking trip across Europe.

On May 14, 1608, Thomas Coryat, a Somerset-born bachelor of 32 and house wit to eminent royal and artistic circles in London, began his trip in Calais after a nauseous crossing of the English Channel. He travelled, mostly by foot, up to Paris, down through Lyon, across the Alps into Italy, then made for Venice where he was to stay for a month and a half. The return journey took the traveller through Switzerland, Germany and Holland. On October 3rd Coryat returned to London after a three-day boat journey from Flushing on the Dutch coast, bringing with him news of a great new Italian invention: the fork.

Coryat was neither diplomat nor solider; scholar nor merchant; spy nor smuggler. He travelled not for profit or politics or position at court, but merely for pleasure itself; the more the better. He was the first pure English tourist. The record of his trip, Coryate’s Crudities, was published in 1611 and is the first tourist’s account of Europe. It was groundbreaking work of un-scholarly enjoyment, as Volpone’s author, Ben Johnson, wrote in an introduction (one of over 150 authors who wrote a preface for Tom Coryate!).

Today I begin the same trip, also by foot (trains and buses may stand in for horses from time to time – we shall see). Unlike Thomas Coryat, who wrote in a notebook with a quill pen and whose preparation for the trip amounted to little more than watching The Merchant of Venice and joking with Shakespeare, I have several additional tools at my disposal. These include an Apple laptop computer, Leica cameras, a Tri-band mobile, an I-Pod, microphone and a blogger account.

So I travel with a serious advantage. Firstly this technology gives me access whenever I want and wherever I am, to information – routes, tour guides, descriptions of artists and architects, train time-tables and pieces of literature, works of art – and also access to many kinds of people. When I reach a town or a city I will already be in contact with some of its inhabitants through my blog: I will talk to them first online, and then set up meetings in person. In this way I will meet with a new kind of wired European, virtually and physically.

Secondly, technology gives me the ability to communicate my trip in several ways: in word, through sound, and by image. The result: a daily blog, with PODCAST and pictures. And in the period after the journey I will have a large source of material to create a radio series, a photographic exhibition, and a book.

I want to capture both the moment of Europe now and catch the echoes of its many histories. Trace the threads of European culture, and investigate some of the ways it has been depicted by writers, photographers, film-makers, broadcasters, printers, painters, sculptors, philosophers, new media mavens, exiles and cosmopolitans. By travellers like me.

I can’t expect to enjoy the same sense of stupefied wonder that Thomas Coryat esq. must have felt setting out from Dover in 1608. But I will revel in what can now be achieved thanks to technology, guide books and the works, writings, and creations of previous travellers. My journey will be about a rediscovery of lost Europes as much as a celebration of a twenty-first century Europe. But I will look also at contemporary Cities, Towns and Countrysides where the nexus of communications, cheap travel, and career nomadism make the entire continent appear, at times, no more complex to navigate than Coryat’s birthplace, the village of Odcombe in Devon.

At the core of the journey will be people. People I meet and travel with; people alive and long dead; fictional heroes and villains; artists who have shaped our vision of what it means to be European. From my grandfather, William Avery OBE, who sailed his boat eight times across the Channel during the Dunkirk evacuations of 1940 to jazz giant, Miles Davis. Nelson’s mistress and the first real paparazzi victim, Emma Hamilton. Tracey Emin, Victor Hugo, Goethe, Visconti, (or Isaac Casaubonus, Europe’s greatest classical scholar and inspiration for George Eliot’s tortured dry scholar, Edward Casaubon). Jarvis Cocker and Edmund White’s Paris, Jan Morris’s Trieste…From Leslie Caron, actress, dancer and inn-keeper to the mystic, Hildegarde of Bingen, or the singer Juliette Greco, the modernist playboy Laurence Vail, first husband to Peggy Guggenheim. Gutenberg the printer and Tim Berners-Lee, the guru of the World Wide Web. Pamela Harriman – the courtesan of the century; and Casanova (ditto, just another century).

I will visit: the birthplace of printing and the world wide web; surrealism, dada and romanticism. Will see the real-life locations of the first social, crime, serial killer & fantasy novels; explore Nick Roeg’s Venice (and Thomas Mann’s), and Marianne Faithful’s Heidelberg (and Erica Jong’s); Turner’s Rhine and Dan Brown’s Paris; Deng Xiaoping and Zhou Enlai’s French village and Bon Jovi’s Strasbourg. I will visit, enjoy and make connections that are only possible through the new technologies – when combined with the very oldest of journalistic techniques..

Pablo Picasso, who will appear in this story soon enough, once said that whilst the good artist merely copies, the great one steals outright. And so a confession: whilst making no claims for greatness here, this is an act of grand theft: the trip has been mapped out not just by Thomas Coryat and a thousand and one Grand Tourists following after, but also six years ago by the writer, Tim Moore (who made the journey in a velvet suit, driving a Rolls Royce and camping rather too much). His book, Continental Drifter tells one kind of sour travel story about modern Europe; here on this blog you will find many different kinds of stories: texts, essays, descriptions, photographs and recordings.


Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Dover Beach

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; - on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night air!

Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch’d land
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin and cease, and then again begin
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round Earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating to the breath
Of the night wind, down the cast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world

Ah love, let us be true
To one another! For the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams
So various, so beautiful, so new
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight
Where ignorant armies clash by night