Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Vatican City

Well, I am two thirds of the way through my stint in the Vatican City.
As I was unable to find a book by a native author (hardly surprising in a tiny state with a population of 800 and a penchant for secrecy), I turned to John Follain's true account of a triple murder among the Holy See's Swiss Guard in 1998. The main event regards the murder of Col. Alois Estermann, commander of the Swiss Guards, the Vatican force that protects the pope, who was found shot dead in his apartment inside Vatican City, along with his wife. Also shot dead in the room was a young Swiss guardsman, Cedric Tornay. Three hours after the bodies were discovered, the Vatican released a statement naming Tornay as the killer, his motive a "fit of madness." Hmmm.

My impressions so far are that this has formed a useful insight into the inner workings of the Vatican, although Follaine is frustrated in really getting to the higher eschalons of this city-state; relying instead on a procession of second hand witnesses and - frankly - dubious contacts. I have not yet finished this book so cannot comment on his conclusions but he does seem to be drifting towards a general sense that the Vatican investigation jumped the gun and was sloppily done, but was probably not far from the truth - save for a supression of a possible homosexual relationship between Estermann and Tornay (hardly a journalistic coup: this IS the Vatican we are talking about).

Still, a well written insight into the workings and paranoia of both the Vatican City and the Swiss Guard (and I now finally know why this Roman enclave has guards exclusively from Switzerland!). I will sum my thoughts up when I finish, which will be in the next few days...after which I shall be heading to Malta.

I now have a full round the world route mapped out, and am continuing to seek future destinations. You can find these listed at: www.webspinners.org.uk/roundtheworld/future_plans.htm - any suggestions for filling in the blanks, or comments on my chosen books are more than welcome!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

San Marino - a brief visit

Firstly, I should acknowledge Mr Colin Leckey from Lancaster, an who individual took it upon himself to visit the 7 smallest locations of Europe and - in doing this - saved me from a huge headache in having no representation of San Marino during my sojourn in Italy.

Colin's book is a very worthwhile tome if you can find it (Grosvenor House Publishing books are more available online than in Waterstones). His book basically does what it says on the tin - he is an English guy visiting Europe's five smallest states and 2 self-governing territories, and is very eloquent in doing so (although with - perhaps overly-high - English expectations of service!).

As for San Marino.. well, due to a quirk of weather during Colin's visit it remained shrouded in fog and his over-riding impression in the gloom was of a plethora of tourist shops, although he made a spirited attempt to circumnavigate the citidel's towers in the gloom...I note that this was the shortest chapter in the book and get a sense that Coin did not really engage with the place. Which is not a criticism of Mr Leckey - indeed I get a sense from other research that San Marino is not interested in engaging itself with outsiders as a tourist trap as, say, Monaco does...which no doubt explains why its entry in my global trip is restricted to a single chapter in a book by an English foreigner!

I shall leave the summary of this tiny state to Mr Leckey: "The streets of San Marino town are twisting and narrow, and if you were to scrunch up your eyes and allow your thoughts to wander a little, you could imagine life here in medieval times, the landscape not having changed all that much down the centuries. Eye-scrunching and thought-wandering are very necessary, however, as... contemporary San Marino is overwhelmingly the preserve of tourists, shopping for keepsakes from an astonishingly large number of souvenir shops. There scarely seemed to be any other shops at all, just mile after mile of emporia stocking all kinds of tourist tat."

Oh well. At least this account is nearer than I've ever got to the City State in the flesh, and its location within Italy led neatly on to an equally landlocked and locked-off state on my journey: the Vatican City.

Again, Colin never really got anywhere near to this tiny state; but let's face it - that is the experience of most tourists... And his chapter on the City also formed a nice introduction to the "Vatican City: City Of Secrets" book by John Follain.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Leaving Italy.... well sort of.....!!

I have finished my Italian visit today, i.e: "The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana" by Umberto Eco.

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.. to be fair this was more about WWII-era Italy (through the memories of a 21st century Milanese bookseller in a coma) but I cannot complain. If this is - as reports suggest - the last ever novel by Umberto Eco, then I am delighted that it came along at just the right time to represent Italy.

Of course Italy is a bit more complex than that! It also emcompasses two of Europe's tiniest states: San Marino and the Vatican City...

I was really struggling to find a representative work for San Marino and was very lucky to come across a book called "Dots on the Map" - a book by a certain Lancastrian called Colin Leckey, who travelled recently to the 7 smallest states of Europe.

Having finished with Italy I was delighted to have this tome to allow me to travel on to San Marino... though I also made the effort to read the chapters on my previously visited "Andorra" and "Monaco" countries; and found both of these chapters added a huge amount to my knowledge gleamed from the books relating to these countries that I read earlier on in my travels.

This book is a very engaging travelogue and - as well as being the sole representation of San Marino - it will serve as an additional resource to the later small 'states' I intend to visit (Vatican City, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar and the Faroe Islands)

In fact, without the inspiration of this book, Gibraltar and the Faroe Islands would not have featured in my list of places to visit, so many thanks to Colin for that also!

I'll catch up after my sojourn in San Marino!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Thank you to the National Library of Estonia

Just a quick note to give thanks to the National Library of Estonia - in particular Mari Kannusaar (Chief Specialist, International Relations) and Maire Liivamets (Maire Liivamets, Literary Consultant) - who kindly replied to my request for a representative book for Estonia - which obviously has a thriving literary movement.

They have suggested a number of interesting books and as a result I have a shortlist for Estonia, which I will decide on nearer my time of arrival there on my tour...I am looking forward to it!

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Still in Italy!

Just an update to let you know that I'm still here!
Well, still in Italy for the purposes of this blog...although the amnesiac protagonist has moved from Milan to his childhood home in Solara to try to reconstruct his lost memories through the eclectic literature of his childhood.

Along the way we find out as much about the schizophrenic nature of life in fascist / monarchist life in Italy during WWII, as his own personal life...

I have to say it is fascinating for me personally as, whilst I was taught the usual British / US / French / German perspectives of the second world war, I have never really had an insight into the Italian experience... and Eco is an ideal writer to sensitively introduce one to the human experience of these dark times..

Also, his narrative device of a 21st century individual delving through his 30s/40s mementoes is a highly effective way of examining modern Italy in the light of how the events of 50 years ago shaped it...an ideal choice to represent Italy on this trip, in my opinion.

And I have good news re: San Marino! No native writer has emerged I'm afraid, however I have found a very useful little book called "Dots on the Map" by UK writer Colin Leckey who travelled to Europe's five smallest states (Liechtenstein, San Marino, the Vatican City, Monaco and Andorra), and two smallest self-governing territories (the Faroe Islands and Gibraltar).
As a result I now have a representative text for San Marino and shall add the Faroe Islands & Gibraltar to my journey. I have already been through Andorra & Monaco, and I have books lined up for the other states listed; but I shall read the chapters from this book alongside those works, and will make a retrospective note on the relevant sections on this blog...

Still struggling to find a book for Montenegro though!!