The publishing house Taschen is noted for lavish art books for all budgets, from four-figure limited editions to affordable pocket-sized editions. (Though fans of Pop surrealist Mark Ryden will be disappointed to learn that the standard edition of his new Taschen collection, Pinxit, is $1000, and the deluxe model is $6000.) Four Cities is a curious hybrid, a slipcased set of 12 modest softcover books full of travel tips for for the well-heeled traveller bound for New York, London, Paris, and Berlin. Separate guides for hotels, restaurants, and shops are provided for each city, and multilingual descriptions are provided for French and German speakers.
I have travelled to three of the showcased cities but was hard pressed to find more than a handful of hotels in the entire series I could afford to even consider. Yet there are a few relatively inexpensive surprises among the haute couture houses and four-star hotels, and the handsome presentation, from illustration to photography, makes this one of the more attractive options for the armchair traveller.
One curiosity among the pricy Berlin shops is Knopf, which specializes in buttons. While this is an arcane if practical interest, editor Angelika Taschen knows her market. The aesthetically inclined reader is dying to know what a Berlin buttonshop looks like, and the shop is treated to a generous photo-spread of button-lined drawers and boxes for every kind of fastener.
Still, class considerations are unavoidable. The assertion, “Bohemian never felt so cozy,” closes the short blurb describing the Bowery Hotel. It’s a sentiment that would send native New Yorkers (or frequent visitors like myself) into a fit as it’s just one example of the uber-gentrification of old New York that has been occurring under the Michael Bloomberg administration. But most travellers won’t care about the the city’s history disappearing to what some bloggers have called the Sex and the Cityfication of Manhattan.
That said, Taschen’s take on Gotham City includes helpful tips for those who would never dream of staying at the Plaza. The Parker Meridien is an expensive hotel but Taschen plugs the excellent and affordable burger joint that’s run out of the back of their lobby. The City Bakery is home to an annual hot chocolate festival and my favorite chocolate chip cookie in the city. And Katz’s Delicatessen sits in for what’s left of the old Lower East Side, though the guide’s “X-factor” points out the likely reason for its inclusion: the deli is the site where Meg Ryan performed her fake orgasm in When Harry Met Sally. For the rom-com buff or the theatrically minded, a sign in Katz’s points to the very spot.