People often ask me: ‘What is the best city you have lived in, apart obviously from Manchester? Is it London? Berlin? Moscow? Istanbul? Kyiv? Or Vienna?’
I usually answer with Oscar Wilde: ‘Comparisons are odious.’
Vienna has much to recommend it, including lovely countryside nearby
I thought of Oscar Wilde when I heard that that Vienna had this year taken first place in the annual Economist Intelligence Unit’s global liveability index – the first time a European city has ever won. I certainly can confirm that Vienna is a magnificent place to live, offering everything from terrific cafes (see my cafe reviews) to awesome local countryside, great outdoor pools, and – my favourite – outdoor cinemas, comparable with Berlin’s. I am very happy here.
When I was deciding in 2011 whether to try and move to Istanbul, I was influenced by a report in the Financial Times which made fun of rankings such as that of the EIU, or the widely quoted Mercer quality of living survey (where Vienna also came top in 2018 – for the ninth consecutive year). The FT said that not all of the cities which tended to do well in such surveys were actually cities where people want to live – Osaka, Calgary, Toronto or Zurich were all fine cities but not on everyone’s bucket lists. Cities where people did actually want to live, such as New York or London (48th on this year’s EIU survey) tended to do poorly because the surveys gave great weight to security, stability and convenience – eg healthcare and education – rather than, say, rock music, excitement, job opportunities and chances of meeting your future partner.
The FT therefore polled its readers, who voted Istanbul, straddling Europe and Asia in the top left corner of Turkey, the best city on earth.
Back in 2011, FT readers voted Istanbul the world’s best city
I lived in Istanbul from 2012 to 2016, and can confirm that it is no-holds-barred wonderful. It sprawls spectacularly over hills on each side of the beautiful Bosphorus, a body of water linking the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. It has thousands of years of history and archaeological remains which put all other cities on earth to shame (before travelling there, I read a history of Turkey and was bemused to be half way through before we reached the year zero). The food is great; the weather delightful; and the people terrific.
On the other hand, Istanbul is a city of over sixteen million people and does not necessarily score highly on the measures which Mercer and the EIU treasure most.
I, for my part, have certainly enjoyed hugely living in all of the cities listed in the first paragraph. I also have a soft spot for Salzburg, where I spent a month in August 2016. But which city do you think is the best on earth? Answers in the comments section below, please.
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Many years ago I worked alongside a young woman who, long before in another city, had had a relationship with a man who now worked in the building we were in. Whenever she spoke of him, her voice quavered and her eyes brimmed with tears. She was sure he was in love with her, but was dismayed that he showed no interest. She longed for him, but had not spoken to him for years. At certain times of day, when he might be due to leave work, she would go to the window and gaze out, hoping to catch a glimpse of him in the distance.
The cover of my (borrowed) copy of Prep
I thought of that colleague when I read “Prep” by Curtis Sittenfeld, published in 2005. The book follows a 14 year-old girl, Lee Fiora, who leaves her family home in Indiana to take up a scholarship at Ault, an elite boarding school on the US East Coast. Through her four years at the school, she obsesses about her relationships and develops a crush on a boy.
What a crush. (more…)
The influential gallery director sits down with the visiting guest in a museum cafe. Both are speaking English but only the guest is a native speaker.
‘This place is epic,’ the guest begins, meaning the museum. ‘Back home, the Arts Council is doing its bit but they don’t have the oomph to shift the dial. ITV has done a whole series on cock-ups in UK local authority arts funding but it’s a dog’s breakfast. You are blessed!’
Anish Kapoor show in Istanbul. But the conversation could be about business, politics, or anything at all.
‘We are very lucky, yes,’ the local gallery director says, cautiously. She has understood: her guest thinks the gallery director is fortunate, and something about a dog.
We live in an age where English is spoken to a high level as a second language by large numbers of people. But native English speakers often make no allowances for (more…)
The woman at the entrance seems delighted to see me. Having sold me a ticket, she rises from her seat and accompanies me to the first room of the museum, highlighted key exhibits.
The “Third Man Museum” in Vienna’s 4th District (Pressgasse 25) is one of the finest small museums in the city. Interested in the film? Want to know more about post-WW2 Viennese history? Want to see what obsession can achieve?
Look no further.
The first surprise about the Museum is its breadth. Part 1, comprising seven rooms, is packed with fascinating detail about The Third Man: clips, shooting locations (including the sewers and the Central Cemetery), and the stars of the classic 1948 film often described as the best movie ever (see my review at the link). I noted a fine quote from Orson Wells: “My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four… unless there are three other people”.
Film stills and publicity stills from Room 1
Part 2 focuses on the music of the film, including the famous “Third Man theme” played on the zither. A mighty 1930s cinema projector (more…)
All I saw was the dame standing there in the glare of the headlights waving her arms like a huge puppet and the curse I spit out filled the car and my own ears. I wrenched the wheel over, felt the rear end start to slide, brought it out with a splash of power and almost ran up the side of the cliff as the car fishtailed.
My 1960 Signet edition of “Kiss Me, Deadly”, swapped on a Greek ferry*
The opening lines of Mickey Spillane’s 1952 Kiss Me, Deadly are arresting. So is the blurb: “Mike Hammer swears to avenge the killing of a satin-skinned blonde and rips into the vicious Mafia mob to run down her murderer”.
When I first read Kiss Me, Deadly in the ’80s, I was shocked by the casual violence and sexism. (more…)
Those who know the code of the Pimms will know that the blogs on this site are consistently honest. No fake news here, or indeed fake reviews.
So I have to report, sadly, that “Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves” was not my favourite P G Wodehouse book.
In fact, of the mouth-watering shelf-full of Wodehouse I have enjoyed so far since 2017, it comes some way behind Thank You, Jeeves, Ring for Jeeves, Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen or indeed Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, all of which I have reviewed on this site (click on links above) and all of which positively heaved with quotables.
The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves”
To say that Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves is less hilarious than some other P G Wodehouse masterpieces, however, is not to say it lacks humour. I feel it has less of a (more…)
It has been a good run.
Since 12 August 2017 I have written a blog every week, usually published on a Saturday afternoon, in addition to writing my new novel and one or two other writing projects such as the Hotel Stories.
Thanks to all my readers for clicking on robertpimm.com, and sometimes the links in the blogs. It makes me happy when you do so.
And should I update my author pic from the 1981 black and white version?
It is not always easy to produce a blog every week. Today, for example, I have written my novel for a couple of hours, have 30 minutes to write my blog, then am going out for a walk and to watch the England-Sweden game.
Usually my blogs take 2-3 hours to write – time when I could be writing that novel!
So I have a couple of questions for you. You do not have to answer all or indeed any of them, but feedback would be welcome. You can find a “comments” form at the bottom of this page. Or you can write to me privately using the “Contact me” tab at the top of the page.
(i) does the regularity of my blogs, ie one a week on a Saturday afternoon, make any difference to you, (more…)