A Traveller’s Cities

That inveterate traveller, Jan Morris, has published 40 books and now at 83 years of age, yet another is in the bookshops. In it she confesses that her books have concentrated more on places than people, and now in this new book, ‘Contact’, she remedies that with glimpses of some of the people who have illuminated her travels. In yesterday’s Sunday Observer she reflects on the cities she has known.

A Traveller's Cities

‘Preoccupied as I have always been by the look of places, their histories and their municipal postures, I have all too often neglected to write about their citizens.’

‘To my mind cities are distillations of human life itself, with all its contradictions and anomalies, changing from one year to another… changing above all in one’s personal responses.

’ She considers such cities as Sydney, Trieste and Indian cities, but then reflects on two of the cities referred to in the small list on these blogs. London, for example.

She says.’ When she steps off the train in Euston she finds herself entering a different city altogether than the one that used to thrill her, but strangely although she loves London less than she used to, she likes it more. ‘‘I like the glitter and fizz of it, the jumble of manners, the pace and the bitter brilliance and the kaleidoscopic parade of faces…when once it welcomed me like a dowager to her run- down stately home, now its greeting is more like the air-kiss of a tabloid celebrity’.

She has second thoughts about Venice.

‘Physically, by the nature of its geography, few of the world’s ancient cities have changed less in my time. Its shape is the same, most of its buildings are unchanged, you must still walk about it, or take a boat to supper…’ but now stepping on to the Piazzetta you ‘find it enveloped in a caterwauling nightmarish jam of fellow visitors, blocking the bridges, drowning the café orchestras, all but hiding from view the facades of the Basilica’. She is tempted to leave it all and ‘go home to Wales; but no, love conquers all, and I never do.’

In our long experience of London – as work place and home –and our brief visit to Venice, her opinions underline how I feel about both, and perhaps cities in general. They are alwasy changing. So much depends on the moment and the mood. But on our visits I think place and people have always been interwoven.

As I have reacted to a place I have watched the faces of people, not visitors as we have been, but residents. We shall do the same next month when we visit London again. And a second, proper visit to Venice? Perhaps never.