So what does the map say?

Mangroves at the southern boundary of Everglades National Park

In a few days’ time I’ll be donning my big hat, a linen shirt and worn-through cut-off denim shorts. I’ll be in the depths of the Everglades again and despite having been there many times I’m spending hours poring over maps and atlases, planning routes, checking out small roads for anything that looks interesting and marking tracks and hiking trails. What I’m doing, as I always do, is indulging myself in anticipation of a forthcoming trip – reading the map.

Maps fascinate me. I don’t know of a time when they didn’t captivate me and stir my imagination so I’m taking them to bed with me and absorbing detailed information over cups of tea in my office; they’ll be beside me at dinner, in a stack on the coffee table and, of course, a constant companion in the smallest room.

A map of the Everglades showing Lake Okeechobee to Bahia Ponce de Leon and Whitewater Bay in 1859. Although the old U.S. Army forts are gone the area designated as Indian hunting grounds remains as reservations, housing, retail outlets and, er, Miami. It’s overflowing with wildlife, natural wonder and historical sites yet a SatNav in a car I drove through here once instructed me to ‘turn west onto Tamiami Trail at junction 25 and continue for 87.8 miles’ without mentioning anything on either side of the road. This is from the Library of Congress map division.

There’s real joy in reading a map, in examining small details and discovering something that had evaded one previously, in gaining what I think of as the ‘big picture’ and it’s because of this that I’m perplexed when I find someone has driven from point A to point B by following directions provided through a gadget on the dashboard. I’m not against the provision of important traffic information – far from it – but for me it’s essential that I choose my route and find road junctions rather than being told what to do when I encounter them. I just don’t get the attachment to SatNav instructions as it’s very important to me that, along the way, I don’t miss – even if I don’t intend to visit – a church or a building, a natural feature or a place of interest that isn’t highlighted because it’s off the route and not relevant.

Driving patterns change, of course, and I’m comfortable with a new generation of drivers taking ownership of the M25 queues, the endless rows of traffic cones, increasing fuel costs and diminishing road maintenance as they ‘continue on this road for the next one hundred and fifty kilometres’. In some ways, however, I can’t avoid the feeling that the monotonous tones and garish graphics of a SatNav that places value on reaching a destination without distraction are metaphors for a lot in life today. I’m by no means a Luddite but how many new drivers today will suffer the dubious and bitter-sweet agony of watching his wife reading a map upside down so that the picture faces the right way? How less rich will a relationship be if you don’t have to make up after an argument because a husband didn’t ask for directions?

Many years ago I met a chap who carried in his car a collection of Ordnance Survey one-inch maps that covered most of England. His neatly-stacked box held, literally, dozens. They all looked grubby and well-thumbed until a close inspection showed that the margins and plain areas weren’t actually dirty – they were filled with hundreds of tiny notes in neat, small handwriting. Over years of travel he had carefully recorded the memorable minutia along the routes of innumerable journeys such that his scribblings ranged from roadside artefacts and ancient buildings to uplifting vistas and barmaids’ knockers. Each time he turned the ignition key he was beginning an adventure and his maps were an intrinsic part. They were more than a mere means of finding directions between two points. In a counterintuitive attempt to improve the place to place ‘driving experience’, SatNavs will now provide sightseeing software that is not only portable, allowing you to walk away from your vehicle while retaining contact with your virtual companion, but which also records where your vehicle stopped, in case a short time in un-conditioned air disorientates you.

In Robert Harris’ book ‘The Ghost,’ the eponymous character, a ghost-writer, finds himself in a vehicle following the GPS route used by his dead – at that point presumed murdered – predecessor. In the movie version of the episode, a Teutonic and efficient female voice urges him on until he arrives, a long way off the beaten track, at the gates of an isolated house deep in the woods of New England. It’s a pivotal point in the plot and, to me, all the more sinister because of the unemotional and slightly disassociated tones emanating from a little piece of electronic gadgetry. It seems perfectly reasonable, however, for him to ‘turn left at the next junction and continue for one hundred and twenty metres’ even when it does send him down an unpaved track in the forest.

Whilst that particular journey was crucial to the pace and tension of a novel it is perfectly normal for people to suspend usual levels of caution and self-preservation as they blindly follow the instructions that a SatNav gives them. Turning left or right at the next junction when a gadget tells you to has proved to be dangerous and sometimes fatal and although I’m never surprised at how witless people can be I am astounded that apparently otherwise sensible individuals will state – usually in evidence – that the SatNav was to blame. We could perhaps have accepted that as the case in January 2012, when a coronal mass ejection – that’s a solar flare to the less scientifically verbose – threatened to take down parts of theGPSnetwork. That’s when I expected roundabouts to be blocked for hours while hapless drivers circled, anxiously awaiting instructions on which exit to take. Alas, there were no reported incidents.

I’m looking forward to my trip and know some of the routes through the ‘Glades by heart now but I’ll be taking a few back roads and will be off the beaten track so maps are essential. Although it’s a vast place I will eschew all efforts by the car rental company to impose on me the very latest, interactive, high definition, comprehensively-programmed SatNav unit. I love my maps and using them is part of the adventure. No, I don’t want one in my car unless, of course, it sounds like Sean Young. In that case I’d go more or less anywhere it told me to.

A Black Vulture at the side of the road...
...and a Sherman's Fox Squirrel in the dry pineland at the north of the park.

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I am just going outside and may be some time…

…or a walk around the village…

After mild weather in Scandinavia that produced only a token dusting of snow I expected to find England balmy, full of birdsong and our woodland carpeted in snowdrops. And so it was for a few days before tentative forecasts of snow began to surface. Despite spring being in the air we were told to expect arctic conditions that would bring life as we know it to a frozen and ice-bound halt. I’m a sceptical sort of chap and take such warnings – the Met Office issued an Amber alert – in my stride but found myself glancing at the horizon to see if the distant spires of Cambridge were disappearing, Mordor-like, under dark clouds.

As the weather front approached us Heathrow Airport cancelled first a third and then half its flights; the BBC warned of icy conditions, road closures and probable accidents; concerned spokespeople wrung their hands in angst during hastily-arranged interviews as they implored us to pay extra attention to our elderly neighbours and the wireless advised us to stay tuned to our local station for weather updates. The tension mounted and the weather dominated the news – reporters ‘live’ at a silent Heathrow and various points around the country gazed upward into clear skies and down at deserted roads as they explained how serious it was going to be. When temperatures began to drop I wondered if I should I head over to our 24-hour Tesco store and stock up with essential provisions but worried that, if the snow hit, I might become trapped in a nightmare world of clueless staff, special offers and tasteless cheese. As Sky News reported that the snow had started falling in the north and was moving south we lit candles, turned up the heating and drew the curtains in what were probably futile gestures against the forces of nature.

It snowed during the night. At least 10cm lay on the ground and the biggest problem I faced was negotiating around the neighbour’s kids’ snowman on the way to pick up my croissants. Ben and Emily came in for hot chocolate later and, somehow, against the odds it seems, we all managed to survive without the aid of the emergency services.

Marie after lunch and both kinds of music; country and western

Copenhagen, as I’ve probably written before, can be many things but on the whole it is wonderful and I love it. There’s a lot on offer and last week on two separate visits – when it was far too cold for my favourite pastime of watching girls on bicycles – I dipped into different ends of the cultural spectrum.

I take every opportunity I can to spend time with a Danish lady who enchanted me when I first encountered her more than twenty years ago and who continues to fascinate me. I had arranged to see her again last week and, although you couldn’t describe what we have as a relationship, it is most certainly an affaire d’amour, albeit one-sided. My admiration is unrequited while she remains distant and unattainable so, when we are together, I have some mixed feelings to deal with. I wasn’t due to see her until after lunch so Mission Control and I enjoyed a very pleasant couple of hours in Bistro Boheme. This is another Danish café that presents a sort of faux French ambience and, in doing so, isn’t quite one thing or the other.  Nonetheless, the food’s good, the atmosphere better and the wine list excellent. Smart and attentive staff in the ubiquitous black outfit served us fried cod’s roe, fois gras and a passable Boeuf Parisienne with a really good Cote de Beaune.

After the pleasant interlude we wrapped-up against the cold and headed up the road, rosy-cheeked from the biting wind or the third glass of wine, I’m not sure which. Although I was on my way to ‘Den Hirschsprungske Samling’ to see Marie again it was actually her husband, Peder, who was the main attraction. Peder Severin Krøyer is the most well-known of the Skagen painters and, in celebration of its centenary, the Hirschspung Collection is holding an exhibition* of his work. The Skagen painters were an eponymous group of Scandinavian artists and writers who lived and worked in the northernmost part of Denmark at the end of the nineteenth century. The landscape and quality of light there is perfectly suited to working in the open and it encouraged the establishment of a small school of painting that drew influence from both the Impressionists and French realists that included Degas and Manet. A lot of Krøyer’s paintings and sketches feature his wife, Marie, and capture a beauty and inner calm that I find both fascinating and irresistible. I never tire of the apparent serenity that flows from the images of her. The Krøyer’s marriage ended badly; he struggled with mental instability brought on by syphilis and died nearly blind at only 58. By that time she had left him to live with and then marry Hugo Alfvén, a Swedish composer. She died in 1940 after living in Tällberg, Sweden – by coincidence, the same place that featured in Barrowboy in winter – and years later cast a spell on me during my first visit to Scandinavia. I’m not the only one that sees something special in Marie Krøyer; a new Danish film – The Passion of Marie – will tell the story of the Krøyers’ relationship when it’s released in November 2012.

‘Roser’ – the exquisite Marie sits in the garden with Rapp the dog. 1893

This is the garden in Skagen depicted in the painting shown above. Krøyer became very interested in photography

and used photographs to fill-in details on his paintings.

‘Hip Hip Hurra’ – Kroyer’s well-known painting of Skagen painters has Marie with her back

to us at the front and the artist fourth from left. 1888

Marie, Rapp and Peder Severin Krøyer

And so from the truly sublime to the, well, other kind of sublime. There’s a lot of music in Copenhagen and an advantage in having family there, especially when a stopover between Sweden and Kastrup airport offers the twin attractions of a late Friday night [an excellent single malt included] and breakfast on Saturday morning. But there’s something else, too; a brother-in-law who has, on the one hand, his own recording studio – fully kitted-out with the latest techno-geekery – and, on the other, a desire to share it with an inclusive and disarming enthusiasm. We’ve enjoyed quite a few soirees over the years and whether it’s picking over vintage R&B, browsing YouTube, recording some not-too-difficult favourites – a pastime not recommended if you think you can carry a tune but don’t like surprises – or simply listening to Lars play guitar or keyboards, it is way up there as an enjoyable means of spending an evening. So, glass in hand and stepping a careful path between guitars, mics, keyboards, speakers, a Hammond B3 and knee-deep song sheets, we immersed ourselves in a surround-sound, twin screen, HD replay of the Earth, Wind and Fire / Chicago concert at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles in 2004. [Here’s a sample] Yes, of course it’s shamefully nostalgia but there isn’t a lot of music produced today that can raise the hairs on your arms in the way that combined brass section does.  Sometimes you have to agree that the old stuff was better.

LA Studios – Lars selects another clip that cannot be missed!

It was 3.00am before we were done with those guys and a few others; I remember Chaka Khan and The End of a Love Affair; singing along with Hall and Oates; Boz Scaggs and a cool Swedish guitarist called Andreas Oberg but the rest has faded.

Copenhagen can be many different things.

* The exhibition lasts until 10 April 2012 and the 140 works feature many important paintings and sketches that have been loaned from other collections, including some private ones. It represents a major collection of work across a lifetime spent travelling in Europe as well as living and working in Skagen. The exhibition will be in Skagen after Copenhagen, from 4 May to 2 September 2012