Maps and books in London

On Tuesday evening, we took a train to London and as normality had been restored after the previous day’s strike, it was only a short Tube journey to reach our hotel. We had come down to see an exhibition at the British Library so that was our first destination on Wednesday morning. En route, I popped into Waterstones near UCL as it sells remainders and some secondhand books as well as new. However, I did not find anything on this occasion. We have an extensive collection of old maps but this exhibition focussed on the 20th century when the use of maps became widespread and was influenced by war and peace, trade, the movement of people and technological development. There was a large collection of many different maps, some familiar, many not and the exhibition is is on until 1 March. Photography was not allowed so this is an image from the exhibition website:
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Afterwards, we walked to Spitalfields and visited what has been described as ‘London’s newest and innovative bookshop’. Libreria opened in 2016 and the books are organised in a very idiosyncratic way with some mini-collections curated by different people. They also hold events from time to time. When I came to pay for my purchase, two attempts to do this electronically failed due to problems with their broadband and I had to use cash. This was quite a surprise as I am used to very slow broadband speeds at home but did not expect to find this in London.
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Spitalfields has lots of street art, curry houses and vintage stores on Brick Lane which warrant further exploration at some point.
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I find specialist shops fascinating and spotted this bag shop on Commercial Street.
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Walking back towards Bloomsbury on the road called London Wall, it is possible to see fragments of the old wall near the Museum of London and the Barbican. There is another section near Tower Hill Tube Station. The hoardings around the Crossrail works had signs listing the archaeological finds dug up during the seemingly never-ending construction project. I also spotted this bindery on Clerkenwell Road that I had photographed a couple of years ago:
Bindery shop Clerkenwell
On the way back to Euston I called in at Skoob Books in the Brunswick Centre. which claims to be the largest secondhand bookshop in London and found a few books. I have never been disappointed here> they once gave me a bag as I was such a good customer.

Southwards over the moors

Roadside sunflowers accompanied us much of the way on Route 66. On Sunday’s southbound journey it was the seed heads of Rosebay Willowherb (known as Fireweed in the USA) which waved in the wind alongside fields, moors and forests.
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We had spent the remainder of our time in Edinburgh catching up with a few things in town and cleaning the flat. One of the antique map sellers who used to be in the Canongate (the Carson Clark Gallery), then St Mary St, has moved to the New Town on the corner of Northumberland Street and Dundas Street. He is next to the Wally Dug, a pub that has been serving there since 1811. Chatting to the proprietor, we discovered that the reason behind his move was that his previous landlord had doubled the rent. He said that his business had been replaced with shops selling ‘tourist tat’. We browsed for a while but with diminishing free wall space, did not buy any more old maps.
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We did find several books and some more music in Stockbridge and fortified by coffee, then walked back up the hill to the flat. After a rest, we were at the Filmhouse to see ‘I, Daniel Blake’, a very powerful and emotional film that our government should see.

Rain was forecast for most of the East Lothian coast on Sunday morning so a beach walk was out. We drove south towards Peebles and could see snow on the top of the Moorfoot Hills. It arrived a couple of weeks ago in the Cairngorms and last weekend the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue team were out. Driving through Traquair, we heard the travel news on the radio announce the first road closure of winter due to snow: the A939 between Cockbridge and Tomintoul. Later we heard of ferry cancellations between Oban, Barra and South Uist. I was interested to revisit this road (the B709) as it will be on my Smallwood to Edinburgh walk which I am planning to do in around 18 months time. The Gordon Arms Hotel by the Yarrow River and Mountbenger will be one overnight stop. Before we reached Eskdalemuir, there was a sign warning us of red squirrels crossing. We did not see any but did come across several buzzards who were feeding on a road kill while others were flying overhead. We also saw lots of pheasants by the roadside and James spotted a red grouse. One of my long walk stops will be at the Samye Ling Monastery,a centre of Tibetan Buddhism in the Scottish moors. Scaffolding was covering the Stupa today so here is a shot of the Buddha. The Fairy Hill opposite the monastery also has a shrine but exploration of that and the rest of the monastery will have to wait for another day.
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Continuing southwards towards Langholm we heard that two mattresses had fallen off a vehicle on the M56 near Manchester Airport so the road was closed. James commented that perhaps they had been to Ikea, reminding me of a trip many years ago to the Ikea store at Warrington. James was too mean to pay the delivery charge so I was hanging on to flat pack bookshelves that were sticking out of the sun roof on a very windy day as we drove across the Thelwall Viaduct. We did make it home without mishap on that occasion. Langholm has a racecourse but nothing was happening on a winter Sunday afternoon. We were soon back on the motorway and home to continue planning our travels in 2017.

Maps indoors and art outdoors

Those who know us well will appreciate that we had to go and view the National Library of Scotland’s exhibition of maps ‘You are here’. We have a very eclectic collection of maps dating from the 16th century: places we have lived and visited, mainly with some we just loved when we saw them. My most recent acquisition was a 19th century map of the Gulf Stream which I found in Denver. I don’t have permission to reproduce any of the maps in the exhibition so here is one of ours:
Scotland map  Aug 2016-1
One of the interesting things in the exhibition was a display of the development of depicting contours in the landscape. Yesterday, before heading back down south we visited Jupiter Artland in West Lothian. On the way out of town, a van driver who had ‘Obi Van Kenobi’ written above the windscreen raised a smile. Numerous works from a variety of artists including Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Cornelia Parker and others. We even got in for free as the park was nominated for the Art Fund Museum of the Year Award. Despite not winning they decided to allow Art Fund members in for free instead of the usual 50% reduction on the entrance price. The works are surrounded by woodland and wildflowers but the strong winds made flower photography impossible. I was a little unsettled walking through the woods in the strong wind as a guy wild camping in the woods near the Dean Village in Edinburgh was killed when a tree fell on the tent during the night. His mate who was also in the tent was injured. I don’t think I would have pitched my tent under trees in those conditions. There is so much to take in, including exhibitions indoors back at the ticket office/cafe area.
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Jupiter Artland 1 7 Aug 2016-1
Jupiter Artland 26 7 Aug 2016-1

Winter weather and modern art

It had snowed overnight but not as heavily as in other parts of the US and the UK.
Central Park in snow 5 March 2016 (1 of 1)
It was still lying on the grass in Central Park but the heat of the concrete in the streets was melting it and the flakes that continued to fall until mid-morning. We wandered through Grand Central, which was busy with commuters and then into St Patrick’s Cathedral. It was built in the 1880s but looks like a much older Gothic building from Europe. I was pleased to see that they were happy to let homeless people sleep on the pews out of the cold.
St Patricks Cathedral 5 March 2016 (1 of 1)

St Thomas’s Episcopalian Church had an amazing decorative carved screen behind the altar. We also found the Old Print Shop on Lexington Avenue and purchased two maps from 1660 of the Western Isles which we will have to find wall space for when we return home. One of our tasks for today was to find the marker of the start of the Lincoln Highway which I had read was at Broadway and West 42nd St at Times Square. Eventually I spotted the very small sign attached to a post and which we would never have found in June when we are driving through the city on our way to Philadelphia. At one point on our total of 15 miles around the city, we saw some members of the NYPD Counter-Terrorism Unit near the Rockefeller Plaza armed with guns. Quite why they were there was not obvious but one brave tourist was taking a photograph of them. Police do not usually like that & I have only been brave enough to photograph a sleeping policeman on the floating police station on Lake Tonle Sap in Cambodia. In the late afternoon we joined the scrum sampling the delights of the Museum of Modern Art for free. This happens every Friday from 4pm to 8pm and involves lots of queues. The first, which no-one tells you about and is 300m long when you find it, is outside, to collect a free ticket. You then have to stand in another queue to deposit bags deemed too large to take inside and yet another to have your ticket inspected before you can enter the galleries. It is obviously a popular event and a great way of familiarising yourself with the layout and the collection but if you want quiet contemplation of the works, come at another time and pay your $25. I discovered a Belgian artist I had not known of before, Marcel Broodthaers, who worked in a wide variety of media, including poetry. Here is a work entitled Armoire blanche et table blanche’ painted furniture with eggshells.
Armoire blanche avec table blance MOMA 5 March 2016 (1 of 1)
He used a wide array of different media over the years. Other works were old favourites especially the abstract expressionists such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock.
White Light Jackson Pollok MOMA 5 March 2016 (1 of 1)
There was a wide variety of works to see including photography but after a couple of hours it was time to head away from the crowds (who were still queuing to come in) to go for dinner and a more relaxing evening back at the hotel. Part of me is already in the Sierra Nevada as I am halfway through reading a selection of John Muir’s writings that James gave me for Christmas. John Muir was born in Dunbar in Scotland, a very familiar place, and emigrated to the USA aged 11. The paperback I have contains the first two of his books and a selection from the remainder. Today I found a biography of Ansel Adams whose landscape photography I have admired for some time. So I have plenty of reading material for winter evenings.

Leaving the Aeolian Islands and discovering the Ionian coast

Breakfast was at 6am on Friday morning as we had to catch the 7.20am ferry back to Milazzo. The sun was rising as we arrived at the port, just in time to hit the morning rush hour but were were soon on the autostrada towards Taormina. The original plan was to walk from Castelmola to the top of Monte Venere, a limestone mountain nearby.
Castelmola from Taormina for blog (1 of 1)

As it was forecast to be at least 32 degrees, a few of us decided that was too hot for the climb on bare rock and opted to explore Taormina instead. The walkers were dropped off close to 10am and it was already very hot. We were taken to the town and after a coffee, started to explore, coming across a photography exhibition of work by Letizia Battaglia. She documented life in 1970s Palermo and this exhibition was entitled ‘Rompere il muro de silencio’ (Breaking the wall of silence). She was one of the people interviewed by the author of a book I am currently reading: Midnight in Sicily – on art, food, history, travel and Cosa Nostra by Peter Robb who lived in southern Italy for 15 years from the late 1970s and returned in 1995 to write the book . Our walk around the town led to the discovery of an old portion of Hellenic mosaic, many intriguing alleys, old churches and an antique map shop. We found one to add to our collection: a French map of Sicily in the time of the Greeks published in 1806. The Teatro Antico was on a high point with views of Mount Etna and the coast and quite amazing despite being prepared for a concert.

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There is also a large public garden with an interesting tale about its development by a woman banished from the UK by Queen Victoria as she was deemed an unsuitable mate for her son Edward. She later married the mayor of Taormina and created the gardens before dying at the age of 55. Things we did not expect to find in Taormina were an Irish pub and someone wearing a Manchester United shirt.

Afterwards,we met up with the others. They had got to the top of Monte Venere but had to take a bus back down because of the heat. A public bus took us down to Giardini Naxos which is less pricey than Taormina. It is very much a beach resort with hotels, stalls and a lot of tourists but on Saturday morning we found the archaeological park and museum which documented the earliest settlement here. It has the remains of houses outside and two museum buildings with the house contents and those of an early shipwreck. We met an Irish couple who told us about a large Roman villa in the centre of Sicily that has some very good mosaics and has taken several years to restore. That will need to be left to the next trip to this part of the world. The garden nearby provided welcome shade from the heat.

It was then time to head to the airport. We could have enough material from our time there to contribute to Little Britain’s ‘Come Fly With Me’. The staff at the bag drop desks were having a prolonged conversation despite the long line of people waiting. When we got to passport control there was no-one there. Eventually a dour-faced man appeared and spent ten minutes logging into the system. I got no response to my ‘buongiorno’ and he glanced at my passport and shoved it back to me without making eye contact. Fortunately we were soon in the air bidding goodbye to Mount Etna and watching the sunset over France.

Sunset

Think Smarter with Nicholas Carr: Welcome to Nowheresville

Penguin Blog

Author of The Glass Cage, Nicholas Carr, on where automation is taking us and the effect our increasing reliance on digital maps may be having on our minds.  For a chance to win the Think Smarter reading list, sign up to the newsletter by 31st January.

Sat nav devices and digital maps may make our lives easier, but they also steal something important from us.

Nicholas Carr

For ages, human beings have been inventing tools to reduce the strain of travel. History is, among other things, a record of the discovery of ingenious new ways to ease our passage through our environs, to make it possible to cross greater and more daunting distances without getting lost, roughed up, or eaten. Simple maps and trail markers came first, then star maps and nautical charts, then instruments like astrolabes, compasses, and sextants. Lighthouses were erected along shorelines, buoys set in coastal waters. Roads…

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