Visit the world’s thrilling cities with Ian Fleming.
February 14, 2014
Dateline: London, October 1959
Assignment: “Make a trip of the most exciting cities of the world and describe them in beautiful, beautiful prose — within a month.”
Reporter: Ian Fleming
Fleming, a self-described “world’s worst sight-seer” that had advocated the provision of roller-skates at the entrances to museums and art galleries, accepted the assignment, dubiously. How could anyone be expected to report either beautifully or accurately averaging three days per city?
The creator of James Bond takes readers on an interesting and revealing journey that begins in Hong Kong. By the time he’s done, we have visited six cities in Europe and seven around the world. The final publication, Thrilling Cities, is the result of two trips. Several of the cities in Europe, Fleming reached as he said, by “motorcar.”
An entertaining commonality of each stop is Fleming’s encounter with “Our man in ________.” The Sunday Times had some charming and well connected characters representing them all over the world in late 1959 and 1960. In several instances, Fleming presented his host with a list of places he wanted to see and things he wanted to do. In some cases, he let his host set the agenda. In each of the thirteen cities, we discover an interesting connection Fleming had there.
For instance, he writes that he had visited New York City annually after (as well as during) World War II. In Las Vegas and Monte Carlo, Fleming shared gambling tips. Memories of the war also surface in Tokyo, Hamburg (where the Bismarck was built), and of course, Berlin. Rather than taking readers to the well known tourist venues and traps, Ian Fleming brings us with him on a personal journey made even more so by his stories and experiences.
Travel back in time to an era where BOAC still operated and dispensed Elizabeth Arden and Yardley products to their passengers — and there was still a “smoking section” in the aircraft.
The flight from Tokyo to Honolulu includes a “double Friday the thirteenth” and, to no surprise, mechanical problems causing an impromptu visit to Wake Island. In Los Angeles, we meet a detective that advised both authors (Raymond Chandler) and producers (Dragnet). In Chicago, representatives of Playboy magazine guide author and reader to the theater that played host to John Dillinger’s rendezvous with fate.
Each “thrilling city” gets it’s own chapter (except L.A. and Vegas share one) in what Fleming describes as “mood” pieces. Several pages recount his adventures, meetings with famous and infamous personalities, and sight seeing. Each chapter concludes with “Incidental Intelligence” wherein we become privy to inside information and Fleming’s personal recommendations for hotels, restaurants, and localized tips for each city.
Thrilling Cities holds up rather well after over 50 years. All thirteen cities survived the cold war and are still on the map. Of course, some of the hotels and restaurants are either gone or changed beyond recognition, but many are still around. A quick Google search takes us to many of them that now have their own web sites. Whether you’ve visited any or all of these cities, this classic book from a great writer will satisfy today’s readers and encourage contemporary adventures. The book is available through Amazon and is filled with “beautiful, beautiful prose.”
Note: Thrilling Cities includes a seldom seen essay, “007 in New York.” Fleming included it out of concern that his “grim feelings” expressed for New York. He wrote that this “minor adventure may prove more cheerful in the reading.”
Bonus: The recipe for scrambled eggs, “James Bond” which serves four.
Please click the book cover image to read more about FCEtier and his novels.