Islands + Other Imaginary Places

In 2010 I was in the South of France, on a small mountain, where I spent hours every day reading about islands. It was very cold for May and even snowed once; the building had no heat other than small wood-burning stoves, so the best way to pass the day was to wrap up in wool blankets and drink tea by a fire alongside the restless dogs. I had grown up near the ocean and something about being perched atop a little snow-dusted mountain made me want to think about the sea. 

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First I read all the books in the old chateau's library, then I puddle jumped links about increasingly obscure islands, and in researching inaccessible islands I landed on the Inaccessible Island, and then its brother, Tristan da Cunha, which boasts one of the strangest and best histories of small islands, including: an active volcano, patois, a penguin cleaning station, Lewis Carroll's brother on a missionary trip, and a brief resettlement in wintry England during an eruption. I'd suggest we meet there during the total solar eclipse expected over the island in 2048, but they probably don't want us. 

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Now I'm reading and loving Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will by Judith Schalansky, a Berlin artist, art historian and typographer. The egg blue hardback devotes two pages to each island, one a map laced in yolk orange markers, the other a timeline and compendium of loose facts that read like a prose-poem. 

It is a certain type of person who needs to dream of places that don't exist, or to create imaginary histories for places that do exist. A butcher's son who survived London's Great Plague, Great Fire, and Great Storm, Daniel Defoe was notable for visiting the places he wrote about in A Tour Thro The Whole Island of Great Britain, never visited the South Seas, the setting for his most famous island tale, based on Alexander Selkirk's marooning on Juan Fernandez Islands, rebranded Robinson Crusoe Island by the Chilean government in 1966.