#994 Letters from the Pandemic 8: Dear readers of history

LETTER: Dear Readers of History, and all that Jazz
by Mariken van Nimwegen


Peter Frankopan, The Silk Roads (Bloomsbury, 2015)

What does the Oxford historian Peter Frankopan’s hefty 2015 book The Silk Roads have in common with “Vancouver man about town,” Andreas Nothiger’s skinny 1984 synchronoptical World History Chart?

I think I have a case, and a story.

Frankopan gives us an epic review of events in Asia and the Middle East, from Alexander the Great right up to today, a fresh take on the world beyond the Eurocentric focus of “Western Civilization.” It’s a great read, but it rambles in places where he easily jumps up fifty or more years from the last sentence, and back again to an anecdote from before that first event. So you, the reader, have to pay attention and not lose the timeline in your head, with these frequent “meanwhile, back in” interludes.

Nothiger’s work, meanwhile, consists of a chronological timeline of everything happening simultaneously in the various parts of the world. This unbelievably intricate graphic is 1.3 metres long and includes a timeline of civilizations, as well as maps of places, empires and migrations. Very clear, very helpful.

Portion of Nothiger, World History Chart (1991)
Cover of Nothiger, World History Chart (Penguin Canada: 1991). Courtesy eBay

So when, during our Zoom meeting, one of our book club members held up the Chart for us, suggesting its usefulness while reading Frankopan, I jumped up. Of course! I worked as an editorial illustrator at the Vancouver Sun, where the writer provided the words and I created the illustration to complement the text with a visual idea. The old adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words” applies succinctly to a comparison of Andreas Nothiger and Peter Frankopan’s works.

And Andreas is my friend! We go back to the seventies when I arrived here from the Netherlands. At that time, he was the proprietor of the “Classical Joint” in Gastown, a little jazz café filled with intellectual bohemians of all plumage. This was my living room well into the eighties — the place where most of our local jazz-playing aristocracy came of age.

Mariken van Nimwegen. Classical Joint, Gastown, Vancouver, 1985
Mariken van Nimwegen, Hugh Fraser and Bob Murphy, 1988
Mariken van Nimwegen, Linton Garner, 1989












Mariken van Nimwegen, Dick Smith, 1988

My skill is portable: I draw. At the “Joint” I began to draw musicians in action. Here’s the drawing I did of the Classical Joint in full swing, with Andreas standing to the right. And I drew a few well-known Joint denizens: Hugh Fraser and Bob Murphy, and Dick Smith. Plus, a portrait of dear Linton Garner, Erroll’s brother, who played the piano beautifully around town for many years.

Andreas is a Swiss guy with a heavy accent to this day, the proverbial “true eccentric” who is one of the most interesting individuals I know. Architect-trained, he was part of the creation of the underground Sedgwick library at UBC before he got into jazz.

Running the café almost drove him to the brink. He never made a red cent with it over the two decades of its existence: it involved the kind of dedicated labour of love that only an Andreas would do. He indulged the various misfits in his establishment, never closed the door to anybody (except to overly loud drummers!), even by the time the area became increasingly dicey in the eighties. It was a coffee house — no liquor licence — but you could always order a “dark coffee,” which meant there’d be a shot of whiskey in it.

Andreas Northiger

Quietly, though, during the daytime alone in his East Van apartment near my place, Andreas worked away at his Timeline project which finally rescued him from poverty: it was published, well received, and later picked up by Penguin which gave him a modest pension to live on. I still see him regularly around the music scene, always full of engaging stories of an interesting life. In 2010, we organized a reunion to honour his role in fostering local jazz. 150 musicians showed up for the jam and it was, of course, a memorable, joyous event for this city.

Fast forward to my 2020, my Co-Void year.

No live concerts, no Jazz Festival, no Folk Fest: none of it. I miss the music and the drawing.

The future is unknown — but now is a good time to dive into History.


Mariken van Nimwegen

Mariken Van Nimwegen is a member of the 2001 Graduate Liberal Studies cohort and graduated in 2006. These were some of the best years of her life. The tradition carries on: Covid be damned!


Editor’s note: to view all the “Letters from the Pandemic” in the Graduate Liberal Studies Journal, see here.


The Ormsby Review. More Books. More Reviews. More Often.

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

The Ormsby Review is a journal service for in-depth coverage of B.C. books and authors. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Wade Davis, Hugh Johnston, Patricia Roy, David Stouck, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC

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5 comments on “#994 Letters from the Pandemic 8: Dear readers of history

  1. Thanks so much Mariken, This is so nostalgic, and oh I miss those days! I worked at the Joint in the mid 1980s and just loved it. I was introduced to Andreas in 1977 by classical piano player John Blair. We had travelled down from the Cheakamus Valley where we were living in a little squatter’s cabin, hauling water up from the river. I knew nothing about the west then, but did fall for the mountains, ocean, forest and rivers, and never turned back. The 1980s was a time of fun, music, and late nights. After the Joint music ended, I would walk over to the Smiling Buddha. Upstairs there was a little after hours club with a disco ball swinging round. I loved to dance. Once the lonely Covid-19 era is over, I think it’s time for another Classical Joint reunion! It is very isolating over here on the North Shore and I have not danced all year.

  2. Dear Mariken, Thanks for the fab illustrations, memories, and photos of the Joint in its heyday. What a place we had to go to back to back then, eh? It was the unofficial community centre for Vancouver’s unaffiliated bohemians, and I made the decision to quit my day-job and become a writer while sitting at the raised table for two just inside the front door to the right — so I guess I can blame everything that happened after that on Andreas, or on Henry Young and his band who were swinging on metabolic scales that night, right? When I finally morphed back into the salaried economy teaching, Andreas’ “synchronoptical history” chart was my secret weapon in prepping lectures. There’s nothing like it. And let’s not forget the literary events that Andreas hosted there as well — some international greats passed through those doors. Wonderful to be reminded of those unsurpassable times! CO-OP radio’s live Sunday night show from those smoky red-brick walls sure had the right title–“The Joint Is Jumping!”

    Trev Carolan

  3. Hi Mariken, I love the drawings! I wish I had visited the CJ more often. I can imagine the Time Line extending into this Covid period, and published as a poster and fold out book — digital or hard copy, perhaps Mariken, Andreas and Friends. This could be a new year project. If so, any volunteers needed?!

  4. I remember a Histo Map of the world from the 50s. I was aware that Andreas was working on something similar. I would like to know where I could purchase one. I have many fond memories of the Classical Joint, such an intimate setting for jazz and folk music.

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