Pico Iyer Journeys

City Sketches

Beirut's Designs

I walked through the streets of East Beirut on a Saturday evening, and felt like a yokel suddenly translated to a cosmopolis. Sushi bars and tapas bars and a cafe where girls with glitter around their eyes were deep in this month’s copy of Vanity Fair; boites bathed in blue light, and cigar bars, and […]

Honolulu Overheard

A craggy man with leathery skin–from the American West, I’m guessing–is telling his slightly younger female friend about the world. I’m sitting at the next table from them at La Cucaracha restaurant in Waikiki, trying not to ask myself what Mexican restaurant, anywhere, names itself after a cockroach. “I’ll have two enchiladas a la carte,” […]

Among the Mist-Wreathed Mountains

You know you’re in somewhere special when the bathroom in your hotel offers, along with shower cap, razor and “vanity kit,” some condoms. The people you meet are speaking English (French, Italian) as if they’ve just stepped out of a conference-room in Paris with Umberto Eco and Susan Sontag, and the light is picking out […]

Sydney: Onscreen City

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that the artist most constantly invoked on my first day at the Sydney Readers’ and Writers’ Festival this spring was not Patrick White or Orhan Pamuk or W.G. Sebald, but that mumbling icon known as Robert De Niro. “I don’t want to start thinking of novels as if […]

The Idea of Disorder in Key West

The air, sultry, pulsing, hot even along the pitch-black streets, is redolent of Cuba. The two-storey gingerbread white houses, their leafy verandahs looking out on swampy gardens, hammocks swaying under Gothic extravagances, make you think you are in Haiti. On one car on sleepy Fleming Street, defiant outlaw legends painted all over it, one of […]

The City of Angels at 3:00 A.M.

The night in Bangkok is like nowhere else. The smell of mint, of jasmine and perfume as I step outside the airport a little before midnight. Stalls still lining the streets, fragrant with lemongrass and tangerines. Long-legged ladies stepping over streets turned into rivers by the night’s downpour, as dainty as duchesses about to be […]

La Paz, Bolivia

You touch down two and a half miles above the sea, in the world’s highest international airport, and the city below is a bowl of shining light cradled between snowcaps. The cholas, or Indian women, are tromping along in their multicoloured ponchos and bowler hats as if no one had told them that this was […]

Saigon: City of Night

From the air, as one descends, Saigon looks to be a vast and scattered web of white and yellow lights, coming up from shacks and tiny houses, notably impoverished, not flashy, the graceful curve of the Saigon River breaking up the grid and reminding you of the paucity of clustered lights and high-rises. But as […]

Nagano 1998: Into The Heartland

For many of us, Japan has come to mean crowded trains, high-tech gadgets, efficient systems, cool reserve–a neon blur, in the imagination, of pencil-thin high-rises in which traders in dark suits mutter into cell phones. Or, if not the hard realism of Tokyo’s office blocks, then the gossamer romance of Kyoto’s teahouses, all exquisite restraint […]

Scroll to top