Join Clive James on His Classic Television Trips to Paris, LA, Tokyo, Rio, Cairo & Beyond

After a morn­ing’s girl­watch­ing in ParisClive James goes for a leisure­ly yet har­row­ing dri­ve with Bon­jour Tristesse author Françoise Sagan at the wheel, walks out on the opera, pays respects to the graves of Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, and Mar­cel Proust, seeks the def­i­n­i­tion of a “fash­ion vic­tim,” denounces I.M. Pei’s pyra­mid atop the Lou­vre, and descends into the dance clubs beneath the streets. On the coast of Los Ange­les, he endures a celebri­ty-grade work­out, com­mis­sions a toupee from Bev­er­ly Hills styl­ist José Eber and his most trust­ed “hair unit” crafts­man, under­goes a plas­tic surgery con­sul­ta­tion, and meets the most cheer­ful (and no doubt most suc­cess­ful) car-park­er alive. At the height of Japan’s eco­nom­ic bub­ble, he does bat­tle with his own chop­sticks, los­es him­self in Shun­juku despite mean­ing to lose him­self in the Gin­za, beds down unsuc­cess­ful­ly in a love hotel, holds in his breath as he wedges him­self into a com­muter train, strug­gles to accept hos­pi­tal­i­ty from robots, puts him­self at the utter mer­cy of a game show, and gets drunk amidst junior geisha.

Why, you might ask, would a respect­ed man of let­ters like James – author, most recent­ly, of a new trans­la­tion of Dan­te’s Divine Com­e­dy — do all this prat­fall-inten­sive glo­be­trot­ting, much less on the BBC for all to see? I would sub­mit, as a long­time fol­low­er of the man’s work, that it has to do with his twin dri­ves to, with his wise­crack­ing­ly illu­mi­nat­ing turns of phrase, keep his audi­ences laugh­ing as well as think­ing, no mat­ter the medi­um in which he works. He fills the role of the enter­tain­er, cer­tain­ly, but simul­ta­ne­ous­ly fills the role of the intel­lec­tu­al. An untir­ing­ly curi­ous poly­glot, not that you’d know it by the exag­ger­at­ed inep­ti­tude with which he asks for direc­tions in Tokyo or inter­views French star­lets, James plays both low and high at all times, and you can see it in all these tele­vi­su­al jour­neys to CairoRomeMia­miRioChica­goBerlinShang­haiNew YorkBom­bayHong Kong, and even the Syd­ney of James’ native Aus­tralia. You can also see it in James’ trav­el pieces for the Observ­er that served as their tem­plates, all freely avail­able on his web site.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pan Am’s 1960s and 70s Trav­el Films: Vis­it 11 Places, in 7 Lan­guages

Mashup Artist “Kuti­man” Trav­els to Tokyo and Cre­ates an Incred­i­ble Musi­cal Post­card

Five Cul­tur­al Tours of Los Ange­les

Al Jazeera Trav­el Show Explores World Cities Through Their Street Food

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, lit­er­a­ture, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Face­book page.

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