Mapping My Ignorance

Posted by at 14:48

My father used to drive a Volvo Amazon. A station wagon. White. I have an old movie of him herding the three of us into the back of the car. He then closes the hatch and waves to my mother (camera-mom, who once mystified the entire family by filming two minutes of blurry, close-up footage of her gold tooth). Perhaps cars, like dogs, start to resemble their owners as time goes by. Whenever I see the characteristic Amazon headlights and grille, they immediately bring to mind my father’s face. I don’t remember much else about the car, but he drove it all over Europe, as far north as Trondheim and as far south as Athens.

My father also had a map of the world in his office at home. On it he had marked his journeys by sea from the Netherlands to Indonesia, where he was born and raised in a Dutch colonial family. The red routes ran through the Mediterranean and Suez Canal into the Red Sea and on around India, or southwards around the Cape of Good Hope and then up through the Indian Ocean. He also used a marker and ruler to chart his air travel, but he soon stopped because most of Western Europe had been blotted out with black stripes.

It was hardly surprising that my father found it difficult to sit still in the Netherlands. We emigrated to South Africa when I was four and settled in Johannesburg, where we regularly received proof that hyperactivity ran in the family, with birthday and Christmas cards arriving from all corners of the globe. Very soon I had a rather impressive stamp collection and an irrepressible desire to travel. At the age of seventeen, I decided to study journalism and dreamed of working as a correspondent in all of the world’s greatest cities. When I returned to the Netherlands in the mid-1980s, however, it took me so long to re-establish myself that I began to doubt whether my youthful ambition would bring me much joy. And so I remain firmly rooted in Amsterdam.

Today, I am little more than a desk-chair traveller, who prefers to watch a good documentary about Mumbai or Beijing rather than directly experiencing the sights, sounds and scents of their bustling streets. But my desire to explore and discover is undiminished and I have found a cheaper, safer, more eco-friendly way to criss-cross the planet. It’s called the worldwide web and it allows me to visit several continents in a single day, without moving more than ten metres from my fridge. And so I will be mapping my ignorance of the world’s cities from my desk chair, in the hope that their inhabitants and other readers will help fill the vast gaps in my knowledge with entertaining and enlightening anecdotes. You may even rekindle my boyhood dream.

When may father passed away, I took it upon myself to search through the thousands of slides documenting his travels. We loved looking at those slides when we were younger. Little portraits of far-off places we might visit someday. To my dismay, I discovered that my father hadn’t been an exceptional photographer. I eventually discarded two garbage bags full of standard holiday snapshots featuring his sole travelling companion – the Volvo overlooking a fjord, the Volvo under autumn trees, the Volvo beside a vineyard, a snow-capped mountain range framed by the Volvo’s window. The best photo I could find was taken by someone else. A dramatic portrait of my father in Rome (I think).

24 Responses to Mapping My Ignorance

  1. Andrew Bergman

    Nope, not Rome, Athens:)

  2. Andrew Bergman

    Nope, not Rome, Athens:)

  3. brn

    The pic of your dad is great…that would make an awesome painting…

  4. brn

    The pic of your dad is great…that would make an awesome painting…

  5. Guido

    As for mapping flight routes on a map: in the internet age there’s (of course) a website for that: http://www.flightmemory.com/
    If you’re nostalgic for a physical poster, they can even send you that :)

  6. Massimo Maiuolo

    Hi Richard, lovely article and a great pic of the old man.
    But not Rome; should be Athens

  7. Massimo Maiuolo

    Hi Richard, lovely article and a great pic of the old man.
    But not Rome; should be Athens

  8. Jan Ruijsink

    Hi Richard, lovely article. Nice to see a formal picture of our Dad.
    Marja Ruijsink-de Nooy

  9. Jan Ruijsink

    Hi Richard, lovely article. Nice to see a formal picture of our Dad.
    Marja Ruijsink-de Nooy

  10. Richard de Nooy

    Thanks for your comments, everyone. And my apologies to the inhabitants of Rome and Athens for kicking off with such a weak joke. Now that I look at the photo more closely, I see there are in fact two ‘temples’, which is confirmed by this photo: http://is.gd/gIgfBe. But which one is the Acropolis? And where exactly is my dad standing?

  11. Nicci Lenferna

    Looking forward to next weeks blog already!

  12. Nicci Lenferna

    Looking forward to next weeks blog already!

  13. Karin

    Would love to see some of the Volvo photos! I’m afraid mine won’t make it to Athens nor Rome….

  14. Karin

    Would love to see some of the Volvo photos! I’m afraid mine won’t make it to Athens nor Rome….

  15. Peggy Giannouli

    Hi Richard and all, I am KLM staff in Athens, and this is my first visit to the blog. I can confirm that this picture is definitely Athens, and taking into consideration the size of the columns, your dad was probably standing at the Acropolis, and looking towards the Erechtehio temple (the one in the front of the picture.). This is where the Karyatides stand. The temple at the left is probably the temple of Athina, Apterou Nikis (wingless victory.
    Despite all the controversy around Athens and Greece these day, WORTH VISITING!!
    Peggy Giannouli

  16. Peggy Giannouli

    Hi Richard and all, I am KLM staff in Athens, and this is my first visit to the blog. I can confirm that this picture is definitely Athens, and taking into consideration the size of the columns, your dad was probably standing at the Acropolis, and looking towards the Erechtehio temple (the one in the front of the picture.). This is where the Karyatides stand. The temple at the left is probably the temple of Athina, Apterou Nikis (wingless victory.
    Despite all the controversy around Athens and Greece these day, WORTH VISITING!!
    Peggy Giannouli

  17. Elisabeth

    Hi I m Elisabeth from AF-KL Greece.Beautiful writing and very nostalgic.The picture is beautiful and rare, as for years now it is forbidden to walk so close to the temple in Acropolis!So, your dad was very lucky!
    Hope you visit Acropolis one day, as a tribute to your father.

  18. Elisabeth

    Hi I m Elisabeth from AF-KL Greece.Beautiful writing and very nostalgic.The picture is beautiful and rare, as for years now it is forbidden to walk so close to the temple in Acropolis!So, your dad was very lucky!
    Hope you visit Acropolis one day, as a tribute to your father.

  19. Epic Boy

    I am a Chinese.

  20. Epic Boy

    I am a Chinese.

  21. Epic Boy

    Hi, Rechard. I am Epic Boy who loves to study your posts. I am Chinese. After reading your post. I have a question. I am also writing various blogs on the internet, but mostly of them featuring on traveling. Just like you, I haven’t been to many places, but how can I write better? I really apprecited your art humurous when I see your words, the feeling generated from the truth, especially the one – Christmas in Paris. As you father went to many places, don’t you want to visit those places instead of being a desk-chair?

  22. Epic Boy

    Hi, Rechard. I am Epic Boy who loves to study your posts. I am Chinese. After reading your post. I have a question. I am also writing various blogs on the internet, but mostly of them featuring on traveling. Just like you, I haven’t been to many places, but how can I write better? I really apprecited your art humurous when I see your words, the feeling generated from the truth, especially the one – Christmas in Paris. As you father went to many places, don’t you want to visit those places instead of being a desk-chair?

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