By David Swatling
Born in Brussels in 1942, Eric de Kuyper moved to Antwerp as an adolescent and returned to Brussels to study theatre. His passion for film took him to Amsterdam where he was Deputy Director of the Netherlands Film Museum.
He taught film theory at the University of Nijmegen and in 1984 published Filmische hartstochten (Cinematic Passions) about his love for Hollywood movies. Films he wrote and directed, like Naughty Boys and Pink Ulysses, were more experimental in style and content.
Memoir and family stories
He made his literary debut in 1988 with Aan zee (By the Sea) chronicling his childhood in Brussels. He continued writing about his early years in Antwerp and his return to Brussels in several more memoirs, always written in third person.
"He had always managed to move between the two languages, Dutch and French. At home the language used was more or less Dutch and Dutch culture was not entirely unknown. Still, they would let themselves be fed mainly by anything that came from the South... Moreover, he had attended a Dutch-speaking Jesuit college. Like an invisible net, French culture was stretched over their daily actions and thoughts. Even though they spoke Dutch, they thought in French and felt the more subtle emotions in that language."
"Cities inspire me," says de Kuyper. "That's a fact." His writing often makes comparisons between two cities, turning seemingly insignificant observations into revealing characteristics. In his 1991 memoir Grand Hotel Solitude he details the difference between film posters: impressionistic in Antwerp versus expressionistic in Brussels.
In 1996 he published Drie zusters in Londen (Three Sisters in London) based on family stories. During World War I his grandfather's position with the railways took him and his family to London where they spent the war years in the luxurious Cannon Street Hotel.
Opera and observations
His most recent book Het teruggevonden kind (The Recovered Child) wanders through several authors' childhood years as told in their autobiographies. He also wrote the libretto of an opera which premiered in 2008 based on Federico Fellini's legendary road movie La Strada.
In his RadioBooks story, de Kuyper turns his observations to all things German as a Dutchman takes a train trip to Frankfurt and has an unusual chance encounter on a railway platform in Cologne.
"The ticket inspector came. ‘Ich bedanke mich,' he said politely. Strange that in German you thank yourself. For a long time he had pondered why the custom differed so much from that of other languages. In French, English and Dutch you thank the other person, and not yourself. Ultimately he'd reached the conclusion that it wasn't so much a direct expression of thanks as a form of courtesy in which I declare myself to be thankful. Of course, you could always just say ‘Danke schön'."
The Wrong Newspaper: A travel story by Eric de Kuyper was translated by Michael Blass. It is read by Chris Chambers.