In Ho Chi Min City, there remain plenty of references to Saigon, which is the same place but also its other self - the city as it existed before the Vietnam War and the city as I first encountered it quite a while before I visited, in Graham Greene's novel The Quiet American.
I wasn't sure how The Continental Hotel, which figures strongly in the novel, would wear its presence in this past. But there are pictures of Greene hanging in the hallways and in a courtyard restaurant with cast iron tables where you have breakfast. Outside the hotel, it's busy and noisy with moped traffic; the heat is tropical and still and flavoured by petrol and smoke. But the courtyard is a quieter moment in the 1950s, when Greene was here and perhaps the hotel was at its peak.
|A room at Hotel Continental|
|Ho Chi Min Museum of Fine Arts|
In Zadie Smith's introduction to The Quiet American for the Vintage edition (available in The Guardian newspaper) she considers, almost as a final aside, the relationship between Greene and conceptions of literary writing. She writes: English writers these days work in spasms, both in quantity and quality, and so keen are they to separate "entertainments" from "literature" that they end up writing neither. That was not Greene. He wrote a lot and he wrote for his readers. He also produced different kinds of writing, and, in the case of this book, all at once. It is a book of many voices and many techniques - archways and separate areas and tightness, and also sudden openness and space.
|Ho Chi Min|
(Travels past are past travels that I didn't manage to write about then.)