Hy-Brasil Is Wherever You Want It to Be, and Other News


On the Shelf

Hy-Brasil in Petrus Plancius’s “Orbis Terrarum Typus de Integro Multis in Locis Emendatus,” Amsterdam, 1594. Image via Mapping Boston Foundation and Hyperallergic

  • Today in cartographical howlers: a new exhibition in Boston, “Hy-Brasil: Mapping a Mythical Island,” chronicles the exciting centuries when no one really knew where anything was and mapmakers had carte blanche to draw whole islands anywhere they damn well pleased: “O Brazil, or Hy-Brasil as it was frequently labeled, had haunted maps since the fourteenth century, first as a mistake, then as a mythological tribute. Its size and shape often morphed, its location wandered from Ireland to North America, and its name varied, but for five centuries it endured in Western cartography … There are all sorts of legends attached to Hy-Brasil, including giant black rabbits that lived with a sorcerer, gods hidden by the mists, lost civilizations, and, more recently, UFOs. However, its greatest connection is to Irish folklore, particularly the belief in the ‘Otherworld’ and its Elysium, a ‘Land of Youth.’ When it first was illustrated on a 1325 map, Hy-Brasil was considered to only be visible once every seven years due to the heavy mists, its land housing an immortal race of people.”
  • Planning your next family vacation? Why not force your loved ones to embark on a literary pilgrimage of Russia? You can tour the places where Dostoyevsky suffered, and where Tolstoy suffered, and then you can bicker among yourselves about which one of them suffered more productively. Jacqueline Carey did it, and she makes it sound more appealing: “We had the chance to visit the place where [The Brothers Karamazov] was written—Dostoyevsky’s last apartment, now a museum … Tea was always kept hot in the samovar, and he thought only he could make it right. When he drank tea made by his wife, he would say, ‘Oh, how wretched I am.’ He died on the couch, gazing at the Bible … In the Tolstoys’ sixteen-room winter house were many objects: books, a chess set, a piano, a tiger skin, a closet of clothes. On the landing an upright stuffed bear held a plate for visiting cards. Tolstoy was a man of obsessive enthusiasms. At the back of the house was a workroom with his cobbler tools, which he used to make shoes, including a pair for his oldest daughter Tatyana’s future husband.” 

  • Alex Abramovich has watched Ron Howard’s new Beatles doc so we don’t have to, and he reports back with the interesting part: this one time in 1964 when the Beatles more or less unwittingly helped to end segregation in Jacksonville, Florida. They gave a press conference and said, emphatically, that they didn’t much care for segregation. And that was that: “The show’s organizers relented. On 11 September 1964, the Beatles performed for an integrated audience in Jacksonville … Howard’s film tells us, matter-of-factly, that as a result, stadiums across the South were integrated. Maybe so. The Civil Rights Act passed earlier that summer would have already mandated it, but as Jacksonville showed, Southern concert promoters were in no rush to comply. The Beatles themselves never made a big deal out of the Jacksonville show. The officially sanctioned Beatles Anthology quotes John Lennon: ‘We had a marvelous time waterskiing in Florida.’ It’s the only time, for all of 1964, that Florida’s mentioned.”
  • A few months ago, in this space, I mentioned chaohuan, a new school of Chinese literature roughly translated as “ultra-unrealism.” It sounded cool, as literary subgenres with ultra in them often do, but no one could really say what it was. Now we know a little more: “Like magic realism, the ultra-unreal reflects the experience of daily life in communities often dominated by centralized powers, wherein bizarre events become normalized. However, rather than introducing actual magic into its narratives, the ultra-unreal focuses on real-life events, not supernatural occurrences … One example of this real-life magic realism is the existence of rural villages that have been abandoned, save for young children and their grandparents … Another is the explosive development of urban centers, which evoke a sense of fragile, transitional space.”
  • Carla Hayden is the new Librarian of Congress—a big job. Everyone is wondering: just who is this soi-disant “librarian”? How did she rise through the ranks of librarians everywhere to secure this most coveted of positions? It doesn’t sound like we have anything to fear: “During her first job, as a children’s public librarian in Chicago, she met a boy named Leonard. He had a cleft lip, and ‘he was teased a lot,’ she said. Leonard soon became a library regular, and Hayden gave him small tasks like organizing the card catalogue (which, as it happens, used the Library of Congress classification system). Each day, Leonard would wordlessly sit down and pick up where he’d left off. He seemed to take comfort in ‘the security and the safety of that library,’ Hayden recalled. ‘He had a place.’ ”