Just got hold of a recent National Geographic magazine featuring their top 10 literary cities. Which are (not sure if they're in order of specialness or not): Edinburgh, Dublin, London, Paris, St Petersburg, Santiago, Melbourne, Washington DC, Portland, Oregon and Stockholm.
Check out the feature at http://travel.nationalgeographic.co.uk/travel/top-10/literary-cities/
But would be good to know what their criterion are. Number of world class writers, past and present? Number of Nobel Prize winners? Number of writer home and museums? Number of publishers? Number of bookshops? Number of live readings and performances? We could go on ... Maybe there should be different top tens for all these categories.
And we're not carping or anything but we do feel New Yor, Isanbul and Berlin should have got a look in.
Do let us know what you think. We think this one will run and run.
Melbourne remains the best city in the world to live in, having overtaken the Canadian city, Vancouver, last year. In liveability terms a silver medal is awarded to Vienna in Austria, which scored just 0.1 percentage points lower than Melbourne. Vancouver gets bronze for ranking third.
Melbourne's score of 97.5% is just 2.5% from a perfect score, with the city only losing points for climate, culture and petty crime. Sydney's score is unchanged since our last assessment and is just 1.4% lower than that of Melbourne. Nonetheless, Australia's largest city has now been overtaken by Adelaide. Adelaide rose 3 places to joint 5th in the ranking thanks to an improvement in the South Australian capital's infrastructure score, which pushed Sydney down one place to 7th..
“Australian cities continue to thrive in terms of liveability: Not only do they benefit from the natural advantages of low population density, but they have continued to improve with some high profile infrastructure investments," Economist Intelligence Unit survey editor Jon Copestake said from London. "In Adelaide projects completed in recent years under the Strategic Infrastructure Plan for South Australia have been enough to move the city above Sydney, whose score is unchanged."
“Melbourne may claim national bragging rights, but four of the five Australian cities surveyed are in the top ten of the global index and are separated by just 1.6 percentage points," He added.
The latest liveability ranking comes soon after the release of a parallel Economist Intelligence Unit ranking looking for the world's "best cities". That light-hearted ranking was the result of a competition where entrants were invited to combine liveability with other factors to come up with rankings of their own. The winning entry put Hong Kong top, although the Chinese administrative region lies in 31st place in the current liveability ranking. Sydney came 5th in the "best cities" competition—other Australian cities were not included in that ranking
Elsewhere in the world the impact of the Arab Spring and fallout from the Eurozone crisis is still being felt. Many cities in the Middle East and North Africa have seen downward revisions of their scores due to civil unrest. The ongoing civil war in Syria saw the capital Damascus fall furthest as violence intensified, dropping 13 places to 130th out of 140 cities surveyed and into the very bottom tier of liveability with a score of 46.3%.
London, which hosted this year's Olympic Games, saw a drop in score as a result of riots that took place in the UK last year. As a result, the city fell 2 places to 55th in the ranking.
Dhaka in Bangladesh has the unenviable title of being the least liveable location surveyed.
The liveability report surveys 140 locations around the world to assess the best or the worst living conditions. It originated as a means of testing whether Human Resource Departments needed to assign a hardship allowance as part of expatriate relocation packages. It has since evolved as a broad benchmarking tool used by city councils, organisations or corporate entities looking to test locations against one another.
Cities are scored on political and social stability, crime rates and access to quality health care. It also measures the diversity and standard of cultural events and the natural environment; education (school and university); and the standard of infrastructure, including public transport
London’s Hatton Garden, the centre of the UK’s diamond trade, has been called one of the city’s most secret streets. Even that most intrepid of London wanderers, Iain Sinclair, admits to never being able to pluck the heart out of its mystery.
An exciting journey then for reader and author Rachel Lichtenstein, who following her On Brick Lane, now moves further west to a tiny village-like part of Clerkenwell and Farringdon that teems with rich layers and layers of buried history and the hidden River Fleet.
At the heart of the book is the author’s Jewish family who worked in Hatton Garden – her husband continues to manage their jewellery business there. Through her personal connections Rachel Lichtenstein is able to give us a compelling and atmospheric picture of the street’s almost one hundred per cent Jewish past and present, through its craft workers and traders – a recommended career route for young Jewish men from the East End.
In many ways the end of an era - as the old craftsmen die off and the diamond business faces globalisation – the lives of master workers such as the eccentric Mitziman are lovingly and painstakingly recreated. It was only after the Second World War that the street’s shops sold direct to the public. Before then it was an even more secretive place, with its surrounding streets and alleys, a warren of overcrowded and sweaty workshops and studios, producing some of the most priceless jewellery for the English and European aristocracy.
It is this theme of hardship, struggle and survival for most that links Hatton’s Garden’s near-present with its past. Most of its Jews lived in East London and it was the area’s Italian and Irish immigrant population which contributed to the place’s torrid street life. The latter joined natives in a part of London that for centuries had been infamous for its crime, poverty and disease and where Jonathan Wild, Dick Turpin and, who knows, Moll Flanders once rubbed shoulders.
It is the threat of crime that, understandably, still keeps the street a secretive place, together with its closed and guarded protectors – the female author only just manages to enter the even more secretive Diamond Bourse. Unlike Brick Lane Hatton Garden doesn’t wear its rich multicultural history on its sleeve. But for a London street that one often takes for granted, Rachel Lichtenstein reveals to us in wonderful detail the fascinating place that Hatton Garden is.
Diamond Street: The Hidden World of Hatton Garden by Rachel Lichtenstein is published by Hamish Hamilton on 7 June 2012, £20.00 hardback
1. London Review of Books Bookshop, 14 Bury Place, WC1A2JL
A wonderfully serious, but seriously wonderful bookshop close to the British Museum and a favourite of academic types. Founded by the London Review of Books, it has a very popular café attached where you can read, drink and eat or just chat with friends.
2. Foyles Bookshop, 113-119 Charing Cross Road, WC2H OEB
London’s biggest independent bookseller is a part of Britain’s bookselling mythology and a real delight. It now has six branches (Westfield Stratford City beside the Olympic site opened recently) but Charing Cross Road is the flagship. It claims to have the widest range of titles of any bookshop in the UK and has year-round events, plus the excellent Ray’s Jazz Café and gallery.
3.Waterstone’s Piccadilly, 203 – 206 Piccadilly, W1J9LE
Six floors dedicated to books … 150,000 titles in stock …. over eight-and-a-half miles of shelving … what’s not to love in Europe’s largest bookshop and the flagship store of the Waterstone’s group. Once home to the Simpson’s department store, it has a café and a fab fifth floor bar with great views, plenty of comfy sofas and frequent big name celebrity author events.
4. Daunt Books, 83 Marylebone High Street, W1U 4QW
A highly recommended bookshop famous for its brilliant travel department, which brings non-fiction and fiction titles together for countries and cities. Daunt Books Marylebone is an original Edwardian bookshop with beautiful oak galleries and skylights.
5. Hatchards, 187 Piccaddilly, WIJ 9LE
Booksellers since 1797, Hatchards is the oldest surviving bookshop in London whose customers have included Queen Charlotte, Wellington, Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde (the store displays a Royal coat of arms as bookseller to the Royal Family). Often attracts a distinguished clientele, as befits its location next door to Fortnum and Mason and opposite the Royal Academy.
6. Stanfords Travel Bookshop, 12 – 14 Long Acre, WC2E 9LP
From Florence Nightingale to Michael Palin, Stanfords claims over 150 years’ experience helping travellers plan their journeys. Everything for the serious and armchair traveller and the world’s largest stock of maps and travel books, plus a highly tempting café.
7. Victoria and Albert Museum Bookshop, Cromwell Road, SW72RL
For fashion, design and the decorative arts, the V & A bookshop is an art lovers’ delight! A thoughtful mix of the glossy and the academic, including the museum’s own publishing imprint, with special promotions around current exhibitions.
8. Tate Modern Bookshop, Summer Street, SE1 9TG
Together with Tate Britain in Pimlico, the best bookshop in London for quality art books and exhibition books, catalogues and others from Tate Publishing. Also has an excellent selection of high quality children’s books and the kind of quirky gifts you might end up buying for yourself!
9. National Theatre Bookshop, South Bank SE1 9Px
Everything you ever wanted to read about the performing arts – play texts, biographies and criticism and much more. All National Theatre publications are available, plus titles and related books for current productions. Restaurants, cafes and free Platform Performances are just round the corner in the theatre.
10. BFI Filmstore, Belvedere Road, South Bank, SE1 8XT
From books and magazines to DVDs, the British Film Institute’s Filmstore is a cineaste’s dream. Includes titles from across the world, together with the complete range of BFI titles. Outside is the BFI’s mediatheque and also the best bar and café on the South Bank with views to kill and free Wi Fi.
Technorati Tags: 000 titles in stock …. over eight-and-a-half miles of shelving … what’s not to love in Europe’s largest bookshop and the flagship store of the Waterstone’s group. Once home to the Simpson’s department store, 113-119 Charing Cross Road, 12 – 14 Long Acre, 14 Bury Place, 187 Piccaddilly, 203 – 206 Piccadilly, 83 Marylebone High Street, as befits its location next door to Fortnum and Mason and opposite the Royal Academy. www.hatchards.co.uk 6. Stanfords Travel Bookshop, Belvedere Road, biographies and criticism and much more. All National Theatre publications are available, but seriously wonderful bookshop close to the British Museum and a favourite of academic types. Founded by the London Review of Books, cafes and free Platform Performances are just round the corner in the theatre. www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/bookshop 10. BFI Filmstore, catalogues and others from Tate Publishing. Also has an excellent selection of high quality children’s books and the kind of quirky gifts you might end up buying for yourself! www.tate.org.uk 9. National Theatre Bookshop, Cromwell Road, design and the decorative arts, drink and eat or just chat with friends. www.lrbshop.co.uk 2. Foyles Bookshop, Hatchards is the oldest surviving bookshop in London whose customers have included Queen Charlotte, including the museum’s own publishing imprint, it has a café and a fab fifth floor bar with great views, it has a very popular café attached where you can read, London’s ten best … bookshops 1. London Review of Books Bookshop, Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde (the store displays a Royal coat of arms as bookseller to the Royal Family). Often attracts a distinguished clientele, plenty of comfy sofas and frequent big name celebrity author events. www.waterstones.com 4. Daunt Books, plus a highly tempting café. www.stanfords.co.uk 7. Victoria and Albert Museum Bookshop, plus the excellent Ray’s Jazz Café and gallery. www.foyles.co.uk 3.Waterstone’s Piccadilly, plus titles and related books for current productions. Restaurants, SE1 8XT From books and magazines to DVDs, SE1 9TG Together with Tate Britain in Pimlico, South Bank, South Bank SE1 9Px Everything you ever wanted to read about the performing arts – play texts, Stanfords claims over 150 years’ experience helping travellers plan their journeys. Everything for the serious and armchair traveller and the world’s largest stock of maps and travel books, Summer Street, SW72RL For fashion, the best bookshop in London for quality art books and exhibition books, the British Film Institute’s Filmstore is a cineaste’s dream. Includes titles from across the world, the V & A bookshop is an art lovers’ delight! A thoughtful mix of the glossy and the academic, together with the complete range of BFI titles. Outside is the BFI’s mediatheque and also the best bar and café on the South Bank with views to kill and free Wi Fi. www.filmstore.bfi.org.uk, W1J9LE Six floors dedicated to books … 150, W1U 4QW A highly recommended bookshop famous for its brilliant travel department, WC1A2JL A wonderfully serious, WC2E 9LP From Florence Nightingale to Michael Palin, WC2H OEB London’s biggest independent bookseller is a part of Britain’s bookselling mythology and a real delight. It now has six branches (Westfield Stratford City beside the Olympic site opened recently) but Charing Cross Road is the flagship. It claims to have the widest range of titles of any bookshop in the UK and has year-round events, Wellington, which brings non-fiction and fiction titles together for countries and cities. Daunt Books Marylebone is an original Edwardian bookshop with beautiful oak galleries and skylights. www.dauntbooks.co.uk 5. Hatchards, WIJ 9LE Booksellers since 1797, with special promotions around current exhibitions. www.vandshop.com 8. Tate Modern Bookshop
Every city has so many different sides. It’s what makes them so exhilarating – and sometimes exasperating.
Keith Ridgway makes a fine job of enumerating Dublin’s multiple personalities in his wonderful 2003 novel, The Parts, included in our city-pick Dublin. Here’s the start of the opening chapter:
Plural proper noun.
There is a Dublin of the rich of course, and a Dublin of the poor. That’s standard stuff. But there’s more than that. The rich like a little multiplicity after all; the poor are wealthy in variation. And then there’s the neither rich nor poor — the getting by, the middle mass, the bulk. Where do they live?
They live in Dublin with the others. A million kittens in a sack, down by the river.
Working Dublin, queer Dublin, junkie Dublin, media Dublin, party Dublin, executive Dublin, homeless Dublin, suburban Dublin, teenage Dublin, gangland Dublin, Dublin with the flags out, mother Dublin, culchie Dublin, Muslim Dublin, the wind ripped rain at eleven o’clock in the morning on Pearse Street in February Dublin, drunken Dublin, hungry Dublin, Dublin of the vice squad and the syphilis outbreak, dancing Dublin, pro-Cathedral Dublin, writer’s Dublin, politician’s Dublin, Dublin on the telly, Bono’s Dublin, Ronnie Drew’s Dublin, Bloomsday Dublin, the Dublin of Arbour Hill and Kilmainham Jail, Gandon’s Dublin, Durcan’s Dublin, Teaching English as a Foreign Language Dublin, Jewish Dublin, the emigrant’s Dublin, the immigrant’s Dublin, Dublin where they beat you up, railings Dublin, Dublin where they rob you, fanlight Dublin, Dublin where they rape you, golf club Dublin, Dublin where they kill you, the American Dublin, the St Patrick’s Day Dublin, the Phoenix Park Dublin, serial killer’s Dublin, paradise, scary Dublin, money in brown envelopes Dublin, traffic jam Dublin, property Dublin, inept Dublin, the Dublin you can’t afford, the Dublin that needs you, the Dublin that doesn’t, Dublin with its view of the hills, Dublin with the sea in the bay and the river stumbling towards it, drunk.
But Ridgway’s list has got us thinking how this approach might work for other cities. London, for instance.
That’s why we’re asking for ideas towards a 360 degrees portrait of the UK capital. We’ll be awarding copies of city-lit London for the best contributions – the deadline is 20 May. Just tweet us at #thecitylitcafe or send to malcolm.burgess3@ btopenworld.com We’ll be putting all the entries on our blog site.
And to get you started here are some ideas we’ve already received …
Cornish pasty shop London, boring animals on the outside of Regent’s Park Zoo that you can see for free London, white bicycle London, Shakespeare’s London, seeing Timothy Spall saying hallo to a beggar London, Her Majesty’s London, two mile an hour London, vinyl record shop London, Barbican geraniums in January microclimate London, Jack the Ripper London, chugger London, woman not working in Tower Hamlets London, woman not working in Holland Park London, psychogeographer’s London, buying £500 worth of make-up in Selfridges because you’re depressed London, Anthony Gormley sculpture London, riding on Rotten Row London, Occupy London, being an unemployed actor in Crouch End London, eating in a Garfunkel’s wearing a plastic policeman’s hat London, pigeon with one foot London, Caribbean liming London, freegan London …
In its daily blogposts, Spitalfields Life aims to portray the full colour of life in London's East End. But who is the mysterious 'Gentle Author' behind this extraordinary work of social history? Patrick Barkham in The Guardian investigates.
Every day for the past-two-and-a-half years, an anonymous author has written a story about a place or a person in the East End of London. In 900,000 words, and pictures that tell at least another 900,000, are lovingly drawn portraits of remarkable, ordinary folk, from Maurice Franklin, a 93-year-old wood-turner, to Myra Love, who lives in a one-bedroom flat in Bethnal Green but also happens to be a Maori princess. There is a chestnut seller, a jewel thief, a pigeon flyer, curry chefs, trendsetters, oddballs, artists, umbrella makers and Sandra Esquilant, the landlady of the Golden Heart, who is in many locals' eyes the de facto Queen of Spitalfields.
The author of this fascinating and herculean social history, which forms an ongoing blog, Spitalfields Life, now turned into a book, is known only as "the Gentle Author". I have been summoned to meet him or her at E Pellicci, an Italian cafe run by Maria Pellicci, who features in the book. Maria's son Nevio is a fan of the Gentle Author (or GA), despite having his eyebrows likened to Groucho Marx's. "S/he writes so nicely about people," says Nevio.
When GA arrives, they are pathologically reluctant to discuss their age, family, working life or whether they live with anybody at all (apart from, as readers of the blog will know, Mr Pussy). "All readers need to know is that the writer's intention is benign," they say. To make a readable story, I assumed I would identify GA's gender but s/he looks so mortified when I mention this that I relent. Plenty of blogs have thrived on the frisson of anonymity, most notably Belle de Jour, but this does not feel like a publicity stunt. GA stresses their sincere commitment to placing their subjects, not their self, in the spotlight. Besides, some readers have such a firm conception of GA as female or male that unmasking their gender would be like ripping the false beard off Father Christmas in front of a small child.
"I'm not being mean. I think it's not part of this story," says the Gentle Author about their identity and background. But GA, who I feel obliged to record is a fragile-looking middle-aged bohemian with pale blue eyes and a terrible cough that is the remnant of pneumonia, eventually reveals some of the motivations behind what is a deeply personal project. An only child, after GA's father died, s/he moved back to their childhood home in Devon to care for their mother. She had dementia and her only child cared for her for five years. She was paralysed for the final two years; GA fed her with a spoon. "I lived in the presence of death for two years," s/he says. "I made a promise to my mother that she would be able to die at home. Then I made a new promise, which was to write about the people around me and record their stories."Paul the Urban Shepherd in Spitalfields Market, Spitalfields, London. Photograph: Jeremy Freedman/Spitalfields Life
GA calculated there were 10,000 days until they were the same age as when their parents died. Rather crazily, s/he vowed to write a story for every day left. After GA's parents died, s/he sold their house and with the proceeds bought a tiny cottage in Spitalfields. Finding people with tales to tell has not proved difficult. Dining in E Pellicci quickly illustrates how the East End is rich in stories. As we eat steak-and-kidney pudding, another diner, Henrietta Keeper, stands up and clears her throat. She is tiny, in her 80s and she sings A Beautiful Night for Love. The cafe claps and cheers. You couldn't make it up. The Gentle Author rushes over, notepad in hand, and requests an interview.
"I believe in microcosm, that everything in the world is here," says GA. Everything in the world might be in the East End but could such fascinating stories really be found in more insular, monochrome communities? "There is something extra here," admits GA, who nevertheless argues it could be replicated anywhere because people are infinitely fascinating. "I don't understand why everybody isn't doing what I'm doing. I don't understand why this isn't everywhere. It's free to do. It just takes time."
However, GA admits to being in a privileged position, without dependants or mortgage, devoting all hours to the blog and leading an ascetic life based on the sale of a few online adverts and on charity – receiving a veg box from a local grocer and a weekly chicken from another friend. "Only someone as privileged as me could be as poor as me." Spitalfields Life, they say dryly, has been "a catastrophic success".
The East End may be crowded with interesting characters but writing 900,000 well-crafted words in less than three years is a towering achievement. GA seems extraordinarily driven and has barely left the East End, except to interview a 90-year-old former sea cadet in Dover and Crayfish Bob on the Thames. They are now assisted by a younger writer who sets up interviews (a time-consuming process) and local photographers happy to publish their work online. Last year GA took two weeks off to work on the book; two other writers took over chronicling duties.
Reminiscent of other projects giving voice to ordinary people, such as Ronald Blythe's Akenfield, the story of a Suffolk village in the 1960s, and Craig Taylor's updating of the format in last year's Londoners, Spitalfields Life is undoubtedly a significant work of social history. The blog is being archived in both digital and printed form by the British Library and the Bishopsgate Institute. Rather than a stereotypical portrayal of East End poverty, GA calls it "a history of resourcefulness", of "people inventing their own ways to live in an extraordinary and infinite variety".Sammy Minzly serving beigels at his Beigel Bake shop in Spitalfields, east London. Photograph: The Gentle Author/Spitalfields Life
It is also a riposte to the conventions of the arts, history and media. GA insists they would never accept, for instance, Arts Council funding, believing that government grants compromise an artist's freedom of choice. The internet has created a "great liberation", GA believes, in which "the means of printing and distribution has been given to writers to write what they choose". But most writers in mainstream publishing tend to focus on celebrities. "There's this sense, which I reject, that famous people are more interesting than non-famous people," says GA.
The Gentle Author's gentle style is rapturously received by a loyal band of readers around the world. "There is a great appetite for people who have led self-respecting lives," GA thinks. It might seem churlish to criticise such a heartfelt exercise but Spitalfields Life does not dwell on dissent in the community. The author admits they were "too frightened" to leave their house and bear witness to last summer's riots. What about the dark side? GA says s/he avoids featuring anyone they "can't feel sympathy for" and so Spitalfields Life does not feature any crooks or bankers. The whole approach is to "not be wiser" than the person they are interviewing; does this mean no critical scrutiny?
"I'm not presuming to be objective. My subjectivity is very apparent," says GA. "You always allow people to say what they want to say and sometimes people say contentious things." There is some shade amid all this light – Spitalfields Life records one local's battle with horrific racism and another who was tortured by Reggie Kray – and GA harbours strong critical feelings about, for instance, the "pretty iniquitous" displacement of local businesses by the Olympics. "Nobody I know in the East End has managed to get a ticket." The Olympics' impact on the East End has been interrogated through some blogposts, with GA thundering about the "autocratic caprices" of the Olympic Delivery Authority in one about the Eton Mission, a historic rowing club not permitted to use the River Lea for weeks around the games because of a supposed security risk.
A sense of documenting the last of things pervades Spitalfields Life. GA says they don't intend it to be elegiac but tries to catch things before they disappear. Older interviewees also have more stories. GA does not, however, fear the East End itself is coming to an end. The area is constantly changing but doesn't gentrification threaten a more permanent kind of change, tidying up the chaos and throttling the creativity? "That's what I thought before I started but the strength of culture is such that people who come here tend to go native. I have complete faith in the tenacity of people here to overcome the tyranny of any circumstances. All the people who have moved around, and all the buildings that have gone, you would think this place should have been wiped out culturally and it hasn't."
And so the Gentle Author slips into the East End beyond E Pellicci's, a slightly stooped, rather shy figure, in search of a mere 9,100 more stories. "Without me wanting to sound like a sentimentalist, I write about the things that delight me," s/he says. "It's given me a beautiful life."
Wonderful selection of London novels currently on display in Hatchards Piccadilly. But what really caught caught our eye was the inclusion of David Szalay’s brilliant London and the South-East. There are of course lots of great London novels but there aren’t many that take us into the deep and bitter interstices of the London workplace.
David Szalay worked in tele-sales in London for several years before writing London and the South-East and it shows. His book quotes from Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet’s salesman drama, that ‘a man is his job’ and is one of the few novels to write about this world full stop.
‘A sales office is a very dramatic environment; it’s all or nothing, and is quite different from a normal office,’ he says. Everything is stripped away – it’s all about success or failure and this made it fascinating to write about. But I was also interested in how we spend so much time at work and how it’s inevitable that its methods and mores get into us and affect our social definitions and how other people see us.’
The office politics, the crises, the targets, the redundancies, the worse next job, the terrible commute, the drinks with colleagues (the Old Cheshire Cheese off Fleet Street will never be the same again), all London working life is here. The London lives that most of us live – and with increased hours – but most novelists don’t seem that interested in. Except David Szalay. For which much thanks – and to Hatchards of course (and to our city-lit London we guess, as we included an excerpt from it too)