The old droll definition of an Argentine—an Italian who speaks Spanish, lives in a French house, and thinks he's an English gentleman—does not appear anywhere in Buenos Aires: The Biography of a City. James Gardner's history of the Argentine capital is a serious work that, inevitably, brings that assessment frequently to mind.
An art, architecture, and culture critic, and frequent contributor to these pages, Gardner traveled to Buenos Aires for the first time in 1999 and—like many visitors—fell under its spell, a great part of which has to do with its extreme unlikeliness. For it is a European city set down improbably in the Western Hemisphere.Read more
It is occasionally noted that Florida has replaced California as the legitimate home of the nation’s nuts, but what is left unmentioned is that Floridians, unlike Californians, embrace the title—sort of the way England cherishes its eccentrics, though they are generally a more lovable group.Read more
Tim Parks has followed in that predominantly British literary tradition of making another country one’s home and then making that home one’s principal subject. Gerald Brenan chose Spain; Lawrence Durrell and Patrick Leigh Fermor shared Greece; William Dalrymple has claimed India. For the last three decades, Parks—with books like Italian Neighbors, A Season with Verona, Medici Money, and a number of novels—has taken it upon himself to explain Italy to the English-speaking world.Read more
We all know that books are vessels, transporting us to other worlds. Less celebrated is how travel, our real-life discovery of the world, leads us to books.
I’m not talking about airport novels. I am always struck not just by the large number of passengers who don’t read—all those people staring not even into space (which would be understandable, given the circumstances) but into the seat backs in front of them—but by travelers who read books that have no connection to where they’re going.Read more
There are roads that are as storied as rivers, though the reasons for their notoriety are much more varied. The Silk Road (which was really a collection of roads) stands forever as a conduit, of goods and ideas, between East and West. The Tokaido lives on, in the prints of Hiroshige, as a pastoral passageway connecting Kyoto to Edo. South Asia’s Grand Trunk Road—of which Kipling wrote, “such a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world”—is famous today for being if anything even more manic. Route 66, though decades defunct, remains a symbol of Americans’ love affair with the automobile, and our 20th-centuryRead more
Last year I gave a reading in New York City, and talking to people afterwards I was struck by how many were also travel writers, or at least survivors of a travel-writing course. It was refreshing to be around literate travelers. At home in Florida I usually address seniors, who like to ask me about cruise lines.Read more
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