‘A Line in the World’ (Pushkin Press) by Dorthe Nors – Book Review (NetGalley)

When I was small my grandma used to tell me ‘we are Danes.’

I was brought up on the opposite side of that wild expanse, the west side of the North Sea in eastern England. A thousand years ago much of the language, even culture in my part of the world was Danish, Viking, and it was called the Danelaw.

And there are still archaic words of old Norse in use today in our rapidly disappearing dialect. So maybe we are, in some ways, still Danes.

Perhaps that’s why, when I began to read this ARC, I immediately felt at home. Although Jutland’s west coast from Skagen to the German border is north and west facing, opposite to our own, the author’s loose, short sentenced yet lucid impressionistic streams of consciousness took me not only across the divide of the North Sea, but also into the past, my own childhood often spent at the windswept seaside and walking wrapped up in barren marshland where the sky towers above you.

In the flat lands of eastern England there is indeed a psychology at play, much like the writer explains; the quietude does not disguise or distract you from the demons inside like a city does. Here you are more with yourself, and it can be difficult, even depressing, particularly in the winter.

She says ‘Our brown calves are wet with cuckoo spit’, fairly typical of her language which is immediate and sensory, creating a timelessness where past and present merge together, much like the schism of land and sea. She says, throughout the book, that we are defined by schism and I think I know what she means. A country is defined by its border; our selves from one another. A home has its boundary, which is both porous and selective.

In this book the elements are like beings, sometimes friends, but always needing to be respected; the waves like mythological Valkyries: the Norse gods, like Odin, remain in the collective memory of Scandinavians – and isn’t Odin rather ‘Christ-like’, hanging from that ash tree, the Yggdrasil, even if he put himself up there? Yes, our ‘civilisation is a snapshot’; we try to understand, perhaps make a mark and then we are gone.

Like my own coastline, Jutland is bedecked with massive wind turbine farms, which to my eye, have become a blot on the seascape as well as the land. Clean energy is to be encouraged, naturally, but these structures which she describes as white trees with circular branches, only have a limited lifespan. Once defunct they will cause a massive landfill problem – and the wind doesn’t always blow either.

But I particularly like the way she talks of the past in the present tense in many places, so fitting for this every changing, yet eternal landscape, which has had so many shipwrecks (the Iron Coast) and natural disasters through storms.

I loved her tour of the churches too with the artist, the maker of sketches for this book. My own part of the world is noted for its churches too, but in a different way. And I was not aware that the Reformation in Denmark was slower to whitewash church frescoes than in England and Holland, all very fascinating.

I like the way she describes paths in the landscape as being like memories, connections in the brain, synapses perhaps, testimony to human interaction with the environment and shaping it organically.

Her descriptions of the Wadden Sea, the island life, the bird life, are all beautiful too. I very much relate to the area here being a haven for wading birds, pretty much like my own part of the world.

But ultimately it is Skagen, the very northern tip of Denmark where North Sea meets Baltic, the spiritual pinnacle of the Danish and Scandinavian experience. The schism of seas, between land and sea, our selves from one another: life and death.

Like many, I have only visited Copenhagen when in Denmark, but this great city is in no way representative of Denmark any more than London is of England.

One day, perhaps sooner than I envisage, I wish to visit Denmark again, Jutland in particular, and take that trip from Skagen to Esbjerg and beyond towards the Frisian islands. I think I owe it to myself. Thank you Dorthe Nors for enlightening me – I have never felt more like a Dane.


Copyright Francis 2022

Tarot Cards Review: ‘Ancien Tarot de Marseille’, Grimaud Cartomancie

I have been fascinated by, if not the greatest practitioner of tarot since I was a teenager.

My love of astrology has generally kept me from continually using tarot over the last thirty years or so. This is no excuse, as both methods of divination are generally complementary.

For a time, somewhere in the 1980s, I did use a deck called ‘astro tarot’, which I think you can still buy, but I ‘lost’ these years ago.

In more recent times, particularly over the last few years, I have been drawn more fully into the mysterious and magical world of tarot, its practise and its disputed history.

Most particularly I have learned to respect and invariably use Tarot de Marseille (TDM), rather than the more well known Rider-Waite style tarot decks.

I much prefer the ‘unillustrated’ pip cards of TDM; I don’t like my intuition being influenced too much by the more illustrative and suggestive Rider-Waite, particularly in the swords suit, where, for example, if one draws the Nine of Swords, this can leave people quite worried!

No, I much prefer to stick to basics: swords is the mind, our thoughts and 9 is attainment. It is up to the tarot reader to interpret this. But more of this in another piece some other time.

One particular deck I’ve enjoyed for some time is the Grimaud Cartomancie TDM, ‘Ancien Tarot de Marseille’. It comes in a beautifully presented, sturdy box, with the usual mini-book with basic interpretive ideas – in French.

The illustrations are very clear and basic, with strong colours and bold black linework. The word is emphatic, which I like. The card stock is likewise quite sturdy with a grey-blue patterning on the reverse.

The history of TDM, like all tarot, is complex. There are many variations of TDM but this overall style developed, as the name suggests, in the south of France, but also has strong links to northern Italy, Switzerland and even southern Germany over the years.

In other words, this card style does not owe everything to the city of Marseilles, which could be regarded as a name of convenience – and it sounds good too, doesn’t it? After developing from the seventeenth century onwards, it was in 1930 when Paul Marteau of the Grimaud family truly established and perpetuated this particular artistic style of TDM.

I am very glad that he did, as these cards are a particular favourite of mine and I would very much recommend them.

Copyright Francis 2021

January 19, 1524 — Today’s Luther (Reblog)

Martin Luther writes to Lambert Thorn, an Augustinian monk, in the Netherlands. Thorn (or von Thorn) was probably the third of the trio of Augustinians who had been arrested at Antwerp and tried for heresy. The other two, Heinrich Voes (or Vos) and Johann Esch (or van den Esschen), had been burned at Brussels. Thorn […]

January 19, 1524 — Today’s Luther

January 14, 1524 — Today’s Luther (Reblog)

Martin Luther writes to George Spalatin in Nuremberg, [1] reminding him of Luther’s request for Spalatin to write some hymns in German and sending some other news. Quotation: Master George Spalatin, court evangelist, my dearest friend in the Lord: Grace and peace! I have no news to write you, my dear Spalatin, except that I […]

January 14, 1524 — Today’s Luther