citybooks | The experimental tour

Written by Max Urai on 21 August 2017

A few times a year, the Flemish-Dutch House deBuren (“the neighbours”) sends a group of writers and a photographer to a city and gives them two weeks to look around and think. We put the stories and pictures they bring back with them on the citybooks website, which is now starting to bear a strong resemblance to a small city itself. For his internship at deBuren, Max Urai wrote a travel guide about that virtual city.



In our tour today, we’ll be guided through four texts that try something new in terms of form, technique or style.


It’s always about love

We start in Lisbon with They’re all love stories: one of the surprisingly few citybooks about animals. In this case it’s about a stray dog – a dead stray dog – that takes possession over Dulce Maria Cardoso as she tries to write her story. In between the dog’s stories we find a couple of openings that Cardoso tried out for her story before she was possessed. It’s a peculiar set-up, but Cardoso takes her time to work it out. And in a strange way, it works.

‘From years spent living on the streets, I’d learned that the worst dangers often come disguised as generosity. I was a cautious dog. João would move away so that I’d eat, although she hung around and watched me from a distance, hiding behind some cars. As soon as I sniffed the food, my hunger grew all the more and it was impossible to resist. João always waited until I’d finish the food. It didn’t take long, I was a greedy dog.’

Read They’re all love stories

 

Gustaaf Peek’s ‘9 letters to Maria M.’

Our second citybook is 9 letters to Maria M. by Gustaaf Peek, about Semarang. I didn’t include this story because of its epistolary form – plenty people have used that before – but because of Peek’s cold, observing tone which gives the story a strange Kafkaesque intimacy. I know this seems like a contradiction in terms; that’s why this story is part of this tour.

‘My dear,
Today to the market in the Chinese quarter. Flies on the chicken, ripe-smelling scallops, the whirring of the meat mincer’s engine. Clean carrots and tomatoes, melinjo, fat strings of petai beans, everything leaf and plastic and oil paper. No men at the tables, only me and I didn’t count. Squid in black water, it was already eight, too late in the day for ice. Parasols and unfolded boxes as cardboard awnings to provide shade over the central aisle.’

Read 9 letters to Maria M.




© David Bocking (citybook Sheffield)


Chris van Camp writes a dialogue in the Rue aux Juifs

Our next stop is Chartres, where we find the theatre text 32, Rue aux Juifs. A dialogue by Chris van Camp. The two characters – Marcel and Isis – once had an affair together, and instead of talking to each other, they both sit next to each other on a stage and address the public.

'Marcel
She’s trying so hard not to let go. I’m so empty; I can offer her nothing more than delay. Hence my quest for strength, for the new spiritual flame that will restore joy to my life. Joy would be something else to share. At the moment we share nothing more than the little two-room flat in the Rue aux Juifs.

Isis
His fall was inconvenient. That sounds obvious: things that are tiresome or painful are never convenient. But this is more complex than you might think; a question of bad timing. I feel guilty. Totally irrational, of course, but my magical thinking has a habit of putting a creative spin on cause and effect.’

Read 32, Rue aux Juifs. A dialogue

 

Àgnes Lehóczky’s ‘Parasite of Town’

We wrap up our tour today with one of the most intense, brain-wrecking set of poems on the website. Àgnes Lehóczky is born in Hungary, but has been writing in English for years. Her Parasite of Town, from Sheffield, consists of six dense text blocks. It’s a coincidence maybe, but I was listening to old Bob Dylan songs while I was writing this tour, and now I cannot separate the two anymore. Just like Helen Mort’s God of Gaps (featured in the culinary tour), I recommend that you read this text in the original English version. It’s something else.

'And so we left with five small and ragged avocados, a cardboard egg box of six local eggs and one shiny Braeburn apple from some Yorkshire orchard. All at once blown out into the streets towards the district, where, you said, the Wicker began to stretch out into nowhere. To the edge of the heart. To the periphery where ghost kids kick phantom football and dark-clothed locals group at corners laconically nodding at you gesturing that they know how to inhabit this town without words.'

Read Parasite of Town

 

With this we have come to the end of this tour. Thank you for reading and don’t forget the guide.

 

Also read

- The slums tour
- The tour of hometown authors
- The first historical tour

 


Translated from Dutch by Annelies Dotselaere, who did an internship at deBuren as part of her Master in Translation at the KU Leuven Campus Brussels.