Where Are You Going to, this Summer?


By URBACT, on July 15th, 2014

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Summer approaching, members of the URBACT Secretariat were asked by this blog’s editors for books, which they felt had a strong connection with one city or one aspect of life in cities. Here are their picks on Barcelona, Venice, New York, Dublin, Shanghai, Alexandria, Mumbai, Berlin… and a couple of imaginary or invisible cities made it on that list. Enjoy reading… and tell us about your favourite books!


« The first one that comes to mind is Barcelona in the novels of Carlos Ruiz Zavon, particularly ‘The Shadow of the Wind’. Evocative of Gothic Barcelona…. »

 “The air seemed poisoned with fear and hatred. People eyed one another suspiciously, and the streets smelled of a silence that knotted your stomach.”


« ‘Death in Venice’ of course, Thomas Mann » –

“The city’s evil secret mingled with the one in the depths of his heart—and he would have staked all he possessed to keep it, since in his infatuation he cared for nothing but to keep Tadzio here, and owned to himself not without horror, that he could not exist were the lad to pass from his sight.”

« A silly but summer relevant suggestion… there is a crime series on Commissario Brunetti by Donna Leon. Brunetti is police officer in Venice, Italy. With these books, besides interesting crime stories, the reader can explore Venice in all its aspects: history, tourism, high culture, food, family, but also violent crime and political corruption… »

“Vianello had the knack of getting people to talk. Especially if they were Venetians, the people he interviewed invariably warmed to this large, sweet-tempered man who gave every appearance of speaking Italian reluctantly, who was only too glad to lapse into their common dialect, a linguistic change that often carried its speakers along to unconscious revelation. ”

 New York

“Three books, all for the same place… NYC!”

JD Salinger – ‘the Catcher in the Rye’,

“And I have one of those very loud, stupid laughs. I mean if I ever sat behind myself in a movie or something, I’d probably lean over and tell myself to please shut up.”

 Truman Capote – ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’

 “I don’t want to own anything until I know I’ve found the place where me and things belong together. I’m not quite sure where that is just yet. But I know what it’s like.”

Teju Cole – ‘Open City’

“Each neighborhood of the city appeared to be made of a different substance, each seemed to have a different air pressure, a different psychic weight: the bright lights and shuttered shops, the housing projects and luxury hotels, the fire escapes and city parks.”

« I love all the books of Junòt Diaz, because you feel right inside the Dominican communities of New York and New Jersey. ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’ is brilliant. »

“You really want to know what being an X-Man feels like? Just be a smart bookish boy of color in a contemporary U.S. ghetto. Mamma mia! Like having bat wings or a pair of tentacles growing out of your chest.”


« ‘Ulysses’ – James Joyce on Dublin »

“You suspect, Stephen retorted with a sort of a half laugh, that I may be important because I belong to the fauborgh Saint Patrice called Ireland for short.

—I would go a step farther, Mr Bloom insinuated.

—But I suspect, Stephen interrupted, that Ireland must be important because it belongs to me.”


« ‘Five Star Billionaire’- Tash Awe brilliant account of life in modern Shanghai »

“Yinghui recognised a restlessness in the banker’s face, a mixture of excitement and apprehension that people exhibited when still new in Shanghai, in search of something, even though they could not articulate what that something was – maybe it was money, or status, or, God forbid, even love – but whatever it was, Shanghai was not about to give it to them. The city held its promises just out of your reach, waiting to see how far you were willing to go to get what you wanted how long you were prepared to wait.


« ‘Alexandria Quartet’ – Gerald Durrell, four accounts of same story set in Alexandria »

“A city becomes a world when one loves one of its inhabitants. ”


« ‘Behind the beautiful forevers’Katherine Boo set in Mumbai »

“What was unfolding in Mumbai was unfolding elsewhere, too. In the age of global market capitalism, hopes and grievances were narrowly conceived, which blunted a sense of common predicament. Poor people didn’t unite; they competed ferociously amongst themselves for gains as slender as they were provisional. And this undercity strife created only the faintest ripple in the fabric of the society at large. The gates of the rich, occasionally rattled, remained unbreached. The politicians held forth on the middle class. The poor took down one another, and the world’s great, unequal cities soldiered on in relative peace.”’


«Berlin Alexanderplatz’ by Alfred Döblin – it’s a complete immersion in Berlin before the war, before the wall and before the « Fernsehturm »… you don’t encounter that often in fiction!’»

“And if you ask again whether there is any justice in the world, you’ll have to be satisfied with the reply: Not for the time being; at any rate, not up to this Friday.”

Cities of Transit

«In the collective book ‘Letters of Transit: Reflections on Exile, Identity, Language, and Loss’, André Aciman reveals how an almost non-place in his current hometown New York brings him back to where he once was – in Rome, in Paris, in Egypt – and how several places must collide into one to create an ellusive feeling which is the closest thing to being home he is left with…»

“Depending on where I sat, or on which corner I moved to within the park, I could be in any of four to five countries and never for a second be in the one I couldn’t avoid hearing, seeing, and smelling. This, I think, is when I started to love, if love is the word for it, New York. I would return to Straus Park every day, because returning was itself now part of the ritual of remembering the shadow cities hidden here—so that I, who had put myself there, the way squatters put themselves somewhere and start to build on nothing, with nothing, would return for no reason other than perhaps to run into my own footprints.”

« Some other more modern books give a strong flavour of the experience of living in a particular neighbourhood, rather than a city. ‘Pigeon English’ by Stephen Kelman tells the story, in his own words, of a young Ghanian migrant to United Kingdom, living in an inner housing estate, trying to get used to his new life. »

“What your problem is, you’re all just a raindrop. One of an endless number. If only you’d just accept it, things would be so much easier. Say it with me: I am a drop in the ocean. I am neighbour, nation, north, and nowhere. I am one among many and we all fall together. Or maybe I’m just a rat with wings and I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

« In ‘Le città invisibili’ (The invisible Cities ), Italo Calvino imagines Marco Polo reporting his adventures in fantastic cities to Gengis Khan. The book is made of small stories but they’re all full of metaphors about the main characters of modern cities. »

“You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.”

And if Summer to You Means Taking a Break from Reading…

« Cheating a bit,  the best TV series drama that is superlative in telling the story of city- its communities, economy, drug crime, police, schools, politicians, media-  is Baltimore in ‘The Wire’. Written by the Baltimore Sun crime writer David Simon. What a genius… »

2 Responses to “Where Are You Going to, this Summer?”

  1. Mary says:

    I can say from personal experience that one of the most amazing places in the world is Barcelona. Live there for 8 years and I think that is one of the most modern cities and a freer spirit than many others.
    Perfect for traveling with family or friends.

  2. Louis says:

    El ultimo verano estuve en la isla de Mykonos y quedé muy impresionado por la belleza del lugar. Esta isla situada en Grecia, desprende vida con el color blanco y verde de las calles que se mezclan con ventanas repletas de flores. Un regalo para la vista que pretendo volver a disfrutar este año.

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