In which I talk, in rather rushed fashion, to great Canadian author and “bad” feminist Margaret Atwood about literary tourism: ‘place’ and her novel MaddAddam, Harvard and The Handmaid’s Tale, and the Kingston Penitentiary and Alias Grace, also the real and the imaginary, the unreliability of eye witnesses, following the research, Samuel Johnson, Ernest Hemingway, food and underclothing, bodies, space and smell, plus the importance of plumbing.
Literary Tourist in Barcelona
Matthew Tree is a writer in English and Catalan. He has lived in Barcelona since 1984. In addition to publishing both fiction and non-fiction, he contributes to various newspapers and magazines including Catalonia Today, The Times Literary Supplement, Barcelona INK, Altaïr, El Punt Avui and L’Esguard. He appears on various Catalan language radio and TV stations and is currently a monthly guest on Catalunya Ràdio’s chat show L’Oracle. In 2005 and 2006 he scripted and presented two series of the infotainment programme Passatgers for TV3 (Catalan Public Television).
I caught up with Matthew on a blustery afternoon, to talk about cool literary things to do while in Barcelona.
Books mentioned during our conversation include:
George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia
John Langdon Davis’s Behind the Spanish Barricades
Merce Rodoreda’s In Diamond Square
I am presently moved
by sundrenched Parthenopea,
my thanks are for you, Ischia,
to whom a fair wind has brought me
rejoicing with dear friends
from soiled productive cities.
How well you correct our injured eyes,
how gently you train us to see things
and men in perspective
underneath your uniform light
From ‘Ischia’ by W. H. Auden, June 1948
While in Washington last month at BookExpo America doing what I love best – interviewing smart book people for my podcast – I received an email from a friend who lives in Ischia, Italy, inviting me there to report on Pesce azzuro & Baccal, a first annual tourist festival celebrating the island’s ancient food and fishing tradition. I tell him that books are my singular obsession these days, and that they, if anything, will be the subject of whatever writing may come from my visit. He approves, and so I’m here, swept over by fair winds, living the maxim that ‘like attracts like’; experiencing gusts of bibliophilic synchronicity as never before.
W.H. Auden, a revered poet whose work I just happen to collect, summered here from 1948 to 1957 and wrote a poem called ‘Ischia’. Some of the finest Continue reading “Feature: Literary Ischia”
Christopher Hitchens died last December at Houston’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
I re-read his Letters to a Young Contrarian on the flight down here. The next day I took the light rail train from our hotel in to town. It passed by the Center. Just seeing the place for those fleeting seconds was a very moving, emotional experience.
The relationships we establish with writers can be pretty intense. Visiting places described in their works where births, childhoods, marriages and deaths – real or imagined – take place, helps us to ‘connect’ with our literary heroes. It’s hardly rational, but I know from experience that it can be very powerful.
Christopher Hitchens’s writing and debating touched and influenced many. It stimulated a lot of important public discussion. Though his ties with Houston may be limited – all he did here was die – he will always be associated with the place.
So will Donald Barthelme. He’s probably the best Continue reading “Feature: Literary Houston”