Agloe, the Paper Town Stronger than Fiction

Fiction becomes reality.

Truth is stranger than fiction. Especially if that truth is caused by fiction. Consider the strange case of Agloe, a place name that started appearing on maps of New York State in the 1930s.

An insignificant little fleck, Agloe was shown somewhere in the Catskills, at the junction of an unnamed country road with NY 206, just about where that state route crosses Beaver Kill. Both the stream and the route are tributaries of larger arteries: just to the south in Roscoe, they meet the Willowemoc Creek and New York State Route 17, respectively.

But Agloe was fake – a deliberate fake. The toponym was scrambled from the initials of Otto G. Lindberg, the director of the General Drafting Company, and his assistant Ernest Alpers. The mapmaking company was putting together a road map of New York State, and wanted to make sure that all its hard work wouldn’t just be copied over by its competitors.

Sex and Drugs and Border Changes

A 21st century tale.


A combination of sex and drugs (and possibly rock ‘n roll) is forcing two governments to change the border that divides them. The Presqu’ile de l’Islal, a small Belgian peninsula stranded on the Dutch bank of the river Meuse, is to change hands to eliminate a zone that is, to all practical effects, quite literally beyond the law.

Because of its political status, the uninhabited peninsula is off limits for Dutch police. And because of its geographic isolation, it is out of reach for their Belgian colleagues. These circumstances conspire to make the peninsula a sanctuary for unlicensed sunbathing, loud bacchanalia and unrestricted drug dealing. All of which might frighten the wild horses that are the only permanent residents of the wider area – officially a nature reserve, on both sides of the border.


Said Egbert Hanssen, spokesperson for the Dutch province of Limburg:

“The nature reserve on the peninsula has become a meeting area for the gay community, who use the area for nudism and occasionally exhibit inappropriate behaviour. They have parties in the area, and leave a lot of refuse in the reservation. But the Dutch police can’t do anything about this, as the area is still officially Belgian. Inversely, the Belgian police can’t really effectively control the area, as it has to make a giant detour to get there”.

Mr. Rompelberg, the local tenant farmer, has had his fence destroyed more times than he cares to count. Each complaint to the Visé police goes unheeded: the only way they could make it over in time to catch the culprits would be by river speedboat. Which they lack.


If the federal parliament in Brussels votes yes, it will violate the spirit and the letter of at least one version of the Brabançonne, the country’s national anthem:

“Never shall we cede even the smallest plot of land / If but one Belgian, be he Fleming or Walloon, remains alive.”

Except, it seems, if that plot of land is used for sex parties and drug dealing – a possibility probably overlooked by the anthem’s composers.

All this, over nudists / public-fornicators, junkies, and litterbugs.

The Lost World of the Hippie Trail

Far out, man.


(Image taken from here at David Lansing’s website.)

Hippiedom was dealt a devastating double blow in 1979. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Islamist revolution in Iran closed off large segments of the so-called Hippie Trail. Bereft of its major route of pilgrimage, the once-dominant counterculture of the West fizzled out, its remnants ridiculed by a new wave of youth rebellions replacing it.

Using older trade routes as a template, the Hippie Trail had been the favoured grand tour for members of the beat and hippie subculture from the 1950s onwards. It consisted of several starting points in Europe (often London, Athens or Istanbul) and a handful of termini in the Indian subcontinent (Goa, Delhi, Kathmandu) or beyond (Bangkok). From Istanbul, a northern route branched out via Tehran, Kabul and Lahore into India, a southern route passed through Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran and southern Pakistan.

A network of hostels, cafes and shops frequented by like-minded travellers was essential to keep the trip as cheap and as ‘real’ as possible. That network was irreparably breached in 1979.

The hippie philosophy that embraces peace, love and an understanding of various types of hallucinogenics hasn’t completely gone out of fashion. Nor has its taste for the exotic. But for today’s bohemians, it’s all about the destination, not the journey. The sensual and the spiritual dimensions of destinations like Goa, Thailand or Bali are just a plane ride away.

What sounds exotic now is that the Hippie Trail, a.k.a. the Overland, once existed at all: given the current state of the world, it’s hard to imagine a constant stream of hedonistic twentysomethings hitching rides from London to Kathmandu, scoring dope in Tehran and Kabul, and generally exhibiting lascivious behaviour with the wild abandon that gets you in trouble with the locals faster than you can say ‘angry flash mob’.



Strange Maps of France

Crazy ‘artist’; crazier French courtiers…

This is a work by the French artist Annette Messager. One of her recurrent themes is the ambivalence of childhood, that magical era of firsts. Never again will joy and terror be so fresh, so intense. It’s also a phase of life bounded by the comforts of innocence, and the thrills of experience. Not neatly separated, but intermingling. Hence the chopped-up teddies. But there’s a twist to the work, and the clue is in the cartographic form it represents – and in its title, the delightfully French expression: Faire des cartes de France.

The expression goes back to the reign of Louis XIII (b. 1601 – d. 1643), who ascended to the throne as a nine-year-old. When the adolescent king reached puberty and had his first wet dreams, his courtiers euphemistically referred to the young king’s nighttime soiling of the bedsheets as ‘making maps of France’. Which is not merely a poetical way of describing those stains – probably not neatly hexagonal, but France back then wasn’t either – but also calculatingly political: considering the future of the kingdom depended on Louis XIII’s loins, the phrase also expressed the hope that he would measure up to the physical practicalities of dynastic succession.