the third pole


I came to the Himalayas not because of a dream of mountains or of animals, but because of a map. I first encountered it in the municipal library I visited as a child. It was a looming sandstone affair, the type beloved of Andrew Carnegie, ornamented and buttressed in a grand Victorian style. You entered directly from the street through varnished wooden doors heavy with brass and glass. There was a grand corridor, a cool mineral smell, and stairs of pale granite scuffed by a century of soles. Thanks to the indulgence of my parents, as well as the egalitarianism of the Scots library system, I was given a ticket to enter the adult library from the age of eight. Once there, I’d often sit down on the scratchy brown carpet tiles and lose myself in the reference atlas. One of the most astonishing features of the atlas was that nearly half of it was index – an infinity of names, in microscopic print, of towns and villages, rivers and mountains, that I could never hope to see. Even at that age I knew it was unlikely I’d ever walk the streets of Télé or Tele, or wake up in Telele or Telén*, though I still held out hopes for New York, Cairo, or Montevideo.

more from Gavin Francis at Granta here.