Maps are one of my favorite things. I used to keep a stack of maps in my car, along with a road atlas. The maps were kept in a manilla envelope in my trunk. I never had to use them very often, but there were occasions when they came in quite handy. The way of the Digital Data Faeries has replaced them.
I’ve always liked maps since I was a little kid. In our house on Bruce Avenue, there was sort of an “open hallway” between our living room and kitchen. On that long wall, we always had a couple of large maps hanging there. One was of the United States, and the other was a World Map. Sometimes, I would walk up to the World Map, close my eyes, and point to a place. Then, no matter where it was, I would try to look it up in the Encyclopedia Brittanica, which we kept in a bookcase, in the dining room. The bookcase had been painted a dark green color. I suppose to match our green carpet.
When we lived down in Charleston, South Carolina, I used to love this little out-of-the-way and obscure map store. It was nestled in an old two story brick on Church Street. They had all sorts of maps that were collectibles. Serious collectibles. It seems that one of the maps in the store was more than $60,000. That’s a pretty penny for a map. Yet, people have paid more. The most expensive map ever sold went for just under $2.1 million. It happened at Christie’s in 2010. It was a 1789 map of America by Abel Buell.
The other thing I did as a kid, when I’d point, was imagine the people there. First, I would point to Dayton, Ohio, and think about what all was encompassed on our little dot. I thought about my school, and about going downtown, and up to the swimming pool. I pictured all the houses on all the streets, just in my neighborhood. And when I thought about all those people, I ‘d point to another dot on the map, and wonder about their houses, and their streets, and their downtowns. Like in Hangzhou, China. Or Lofoten, Norway.
Now it is kind of fun to do that same thing in Google Earth. I just Google-Earthed that Lofoten, Norway. I found out they have a bowling alley there. I bet they have a bunch of bowling teams and leagues. Like a team named “Pin Bowl Wizards” and another named “The Spare Changers.” Sven rolled a 300 last week in the Tuesday Night “Bowl Me Over” League.
They’ve been around a long time. Since the days of cave paintings. In the French caves of Lascaux, to be exact. Those French cavemen or cavewomen painted a map of the stars that’s believed to be 16,500 years old.
But the ancient maps got pretty serious, pretty quickly. There is one called the Turn Papyrus Map. It is a map of Egypt created around 1160 BCE. It gets the distinction of being the first road map, because it actually shows where people could travel around river bends.
There is a lot of history about maps, and how they came to be where they are today. Names of the early cartographers, who set the guidelines, like Gerardus Mercator. And Arno Peters.
But these days, the good old paper map is pretty much non-existent. They used to be in every home or glove box, though. Starting in the 1930s, maps were given out for free in American gas stations. About 8 billion were given out to travelers, or so they estimate. I think they should still give them out, for free, with a full tank of gas.
The good old map. I miss them.
And like every good map, here is where I fold.
Travel well today. Follow your road, wherever it takes you.
“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”
― Anita Desai
“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.”
― Anaïs Nin,
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
― Marcel Proust