Recently by Michael Gorra:

I first read A.J. Liebling while lying in a bathtub at the Château Frontenac in Quebec. It was an August evening, not yet half-a-lifetime ago, and I had spent the afternoon driving in the rain from Montreal in the company of a woman to whom I am no longer married. The days were already perceptibly shorter than they were at home in Massachusetts, and though the rain had broken by the time we arrived, the wind was up and the fading sun over the St. Lawrence gave an orange tint to the broken clouds. We were timid travelers. I remember worrying about where to put the car — there didn’t seem to be a parking lot, I couldn’t find the valet, and even if I had I wouldn’t have known how to tip him. But with our new graduate degrees and good jobs we took ourselves very seriously, and ate… More…

One hot and, for Hamburg, uncharacteristically sunny afternoon we turn left out the door of our apartment building and head toward the Innenstadt for a bit of shopping — “downtown,” that is, and not the “inner city” of a literal translation. Down the Rothenbaumchaussee and then cross to cut through Dammtor station; up and over the flying bridge that comes down by the Holocaust memorial, past the Livotto Eis gelateria and then the opera house, through the Gansemarkt and along Jungfernstieg, the city’s Fifth Avenue promenade; past the Alster Pavilion café, in whose band Brahms’ father had played the horn. We’ve been here a week and we’re looking for sheets, and perhaps predictably we end up not at Karstadt’s or the Alsterhaus — not at the German stores — but at Habitat. Half the staff seems to be 20-something Brits speaking German; the others are Germans speaking English. We find… More…

Once I met a man who did not travel. He lived in the Swiss city of Locarno, on Lago Maggiore — the city, famous now for its film festival, that Hemingway’s Frederic Henry rows across the Italian border to reach in A Farewell to Arms, making his sad separate peace with the Great War. It is a city of transit, a place to hide money, and probably my acquaintance knew about all that, for he was an investment counselor from an old family, a local pol, too, a man who looked as comfortable in a good suit as the rest of us do in jeans. But he did not travel. His wife might go to India or America, his children as well; he couldn’t even be bothered to cover the hour or so to Milan. Locarno had all the cultural and commercial amenities he needed, the lake was beautiful, and… More…

The Bryant Free Library sits on a now-busy state road in Cummington, Massachusetts, tucked into the trees at the bottom of a hill. Climb the hill and you’ll reach the sprawling boyhood home of the man for whom it’s named, the 19th-century poet and journalist William Cullen Bryant. He was born here in 1794, but he made his career in New York as the crusading editor of the Evening Post, and as a founder of the party that once was Lincoln’s. Bryant, as in Bryant Park. Yet he never forgot these hills, and in 1872, just a few years before his death, the old man came back to Cummington, a hundred miles west of Boston, and gave the town a library.

The Bryant is a cube-shaped mass of brick and rusticated stone that looks defensible, more like a military blockhouse than a seat of learning. Only a sign announces the… More…

In the street below my window the crowds flow on, an unending stream from the Duomo to the Uffizi and back again. They shoal for gelato, they pause in the shops that seem (but don’t) to sell every Chianti known to man, they look at leather and shirts and even at the statues in the niches of Orsanmichele. There’s an occasional bicycle or man in a suit, but otherwise almost everyone on the pedestrianized Via Calzauoli in Florence this morning is a tourist. There are groups of middle-aged Japanese, though not so many as one might expect, and of course a lot of Americans, the men given away by their shorts, even though it’s only April. Yet most of the people below me are, curiously enough, Italian, who turn out to be great tourists in their own country — retirees, flocks of teenagers on school trips, packaged parties of all… More…