From August to September, Eames Demetrios, Geographer-at-Large for Kcymaerxthaere, is serving as the Geographer-in-Residence at Atlas Obscura. Here he explores the lines between Kcymaerxthaere, a world parallel to our own, and Atlas Obscura.
When I tell people I am a Geographer-in-Residence at Atlas Obscura, they think it is virtual. And I can understand that. But the Atlas involves a community, and that humanity is part of what, for me, makes it mostly a real-world residency, because the energy of everyone, visitors, stewards, and creator, is tied to the physicality of the world. The interaction is virtual, the ultimate actions taken are physical.
I say this, paradoxically, because, for this post, I wanted, as the storyteller of Kcymaerxthaere, to turn inward and explore the magic Atlas place database a bit. I cheerfully read through the site, the same way I used to read Peter Freuchen’s Book of the Seven Seas as a kid. I have used the Atlas a lot, but always felt a little bashful about commenting on places. So the least I can do is get over that for two months.
I planned to comment on some of the Atlas places I’ve been to. I’ve noted some of my own sites as ones I have visited, and I will add to them piecemeal over the course of my residency. I also thought I should contribute some sites — besides my own Kcymaerxthaere.
But as I began to understand that my Traveler’s Map will be a kind of canvas whose only paint is the reality of five actions (where I’ve been, where I want to go, what I have added, what I have edited, and my articles), I continued to browse.
First, I made seven pairs of sites. I wanted to find sites I loved that were already on the Atlas, and are near Kcymaerxthaere sites.
Noah Purifoy Site (all images courtesy the author)
In Namibia, if you’re on your way to Sossusvlei (and there you must see the Dead Vlei), then you will probably go through Solitaire. Get out and see Each and Every Word — and send us a picture, we haven’t seen one recently!
In the Melbourne Area (and this is a stretch, but we haven’t uploaded all the Australia sites yet!): A visit to Loch Ard Gorge (which is very cool to see), could be rationally followed by a trip to the spas of Daylesford and, more important, a moment of reflection over A Precinct for Gods.
In Patagonia, Chile: There is only one road from Punta Arenas to the Atlas Obscura site, Port Famine, so look out for the Aonni bottling facility (which is pretty cool in its own right) and check out Sin Palabra (Speechless), after a short hike up the hill.
Grand Rapids, Michigan: While you are figuring out how to get into the Old Public Museum, which is amazing (and you should see what Paul Amenta and his partners in crime at SiTE:LAB did during ArtPrize; and stay tuned to hear more about the Kcymaerxthaere/AtlasObscura caravan this year, but I digress), walk over to the Erailen Gwome marker.
Haw Par Villa
Singapore: One of my favorite places anywhere — I was so happy to see it on Atlas Obscura — is Haw Par Villa in Singapore, a place created with great conviction and yet so over-the-top as to seem comical (while still haunting the nightmares of people forced to visit when they were seven). And when you recover from the trauma, by all means look for some good food in Chinatown and take in Place of Refuge.
Creating this list took a bit of surfing the Atlas. And I ended up clicking on things, and then I looked up (or somehow I clicked on a link) the Kerguelen Islands (some say named for Kirguellin, one of the saviors of the xthaere).
Then I clicked on the islands tag and I got a kind of chill, I clicked to the next page to be sure.
I was sure. I was looking at something that would scare anyone with even a passing knowledge of the 158 languages. This is the screen I saw:
In our linear cultures, 78 is a pretty neutral number. But in the languages of the 158s, in most contexts, 78 means “an ombudsman who has been gutted like a fish” or “to be a victim of violence.” It is kind of like the fact there are hardly any 13th floors in the US and 4th floors in China. (By the way: 77 isn’t a great number either in 158s, but that is another story.)
The good news is that 79 means “hovering zephyrs” which generally refers to winds in the ferylemt, which is a quality of existence as different from Time and Space as they are from each other. So all we need is another island. But first a little explanation.
Now, if you are not familiar with the 158s, 158s are languages where numbers are words and words are numbers. For example, 14 means “good health.” But it is not the symbol “14” that means it — though as a short hand it is useful — it is actually that 14 of anything means “good health.” So if a 158 speaker sees 14 birds in flight (and 158 speakers are instantaneous counters) that means “good health” — as does 14 people in a restaurant. So they don’t view them as omens, but rather as literal communications.
As an aside: a 158 speaker ends up mastering two forms of speaking: one with sounds like “shøaf” which signifies 14 (so essentially like our spoken words), and then another where their tongues beat out precisely 14 beats on the inside of their left cheek (only one of the ways they create the precise repetitive sounds), a cricket-like sound almost indistinguishable — to the non-native speaker — from the 11 beats that means “South.”
You can experience more about these folks if you visit the Shøaf Kepl Poets site near Baihe, Taiwan. There is an installation there which includes a quadrilingual glossary. It has always been a little controversial whether the language you speak impacts the way you think, but for me that controversy ends when you get to know a culture like 8672, the community that flourished in this southern part of what we call Taiwan. Because, when the number-word 78 means “an ombudsman who has been gutted like a fish,” you have to wonder what happened culturally where that was one of the top 100 most useful words to have. Crazy. But it is great number word!
Looking at Atlas Obscura from this perspective, one wonders what other messages a 158 speaker would get. And yet, I also wonder, if they would start to lose their connection to the physical world because they would not be counting as much, but rather relying on the counting skills of the computer.
Though we are still fine tuning some of the harder-to-read slabs, it is still quite informative even now. Be sure to look at both stones when you are at the location — one has the story, and one has another story you can decode through the slabs.
The 158s are really some of my favorite languages in Kcymaerxthaere, and so when I saw that 78 it took my breath away.
So in the spirit of the 158s I will create five (which means “path”) new Atlas Obscura places, one of which will be tagged islands, which in turn will change the number to 79, which is far more pleasant. They will be as fo
No Man’s Land Museum, Goodwell, Oklahoma
National Museum of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia
Bennesse ArtSite, Naoshima, Japan [island]
Roofless Church, New Harmony, Indiana
Parajanov Museum, Yerevan, Armenia
I am thrilled to have saved us all from a 78, and will be vigilant that none remain — at least on my Traveler’s Map.
Until next time: