Postcards from the Observer 1976-83
"Flying Visits is written with a riveting mix of wit, humour, satire and above all, penetrating observation. Here we have the triumvirate of fact, imagination and eloquence which does for the mind what a jumbo jet does for the body. You may never get to Peking, for instance, but this book works as a considerable consolation. Atmosphere is always as valid as cold fact when recalling a foreign visit and James manufactures mood with unequalled mastery." - Irish Independent
"Clive James' collection is of unashamed first reactions to cities and countries after you get off the plane. He writes with such wisecracking intelligence that you're happy to be taken around with him - whether to Japan, Los Angeles, or Sydney." - The Guardian
"Following Mrs Thatcher round China, dazzling a posse of Russian hotel maids with his ability to say, with the help of a phrase book, 'The bath illuminations have been destroyed', rocking in the slipstream of Washington's joggers, he is a sympathetic traveller and a shrewd pinpointer of the funny, frightening, surreal or otherwise significant detail." - Options
"His distinctive contribution to the gaiety of nations has been to discern high comedy in the low compromises of kitsch. James on Dallas, or any other variety of soap (beauty competitions, fashion shows, media-hungry politicians), was as good as Peacock on Shelley, Flann O'Brien on the Gaelic League, Tom Wolfe on radical chic. James is the ideal common viewer, with whom we rejoice to concur." - London Magazine
First Paragraph from the Introduction
There is a bad kind of travel writer who complains that the airport he leaves from herds him like a sheep, that the airliner he travels on feeds and lulls him like a veal calf, and that the airport he arrives at herds him like a sheep all over again, with the additional insult of somehow concealing all the allegedly exotic wonders that would have been revealed to him had he been allowed to make landfall by sampan or on the back of a camel.
To complain that modern travel has become a cliché is a cliché in itself. It is also an especially conceited brand of romanticism, by which you imagine yourself in the curled shoes and flowing robes of Sir Richard Burton or T.E. Lawrence. Such adventures were already beyond recapture when they were first heard about, since new ground can be broken only once. Anyway, in this as in any other field, reality should be romance enough. I like airports and airliners. Nor is this a case of frankly admitting to myself, as with my fond feelings for television, an enthusiasm, that was always there but masked by intellectual snobbery. There was never any hope of generating enough intellectual snobbery to cover up my keeness for the airways.
From the Picador paperback edition, 1985.
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Last modified: January 2, 2002.