Mapping History, a modern quest

I suppose my dad was doing it to educate us, and not simply to stave away boredom with bouts of torture.  Back then I thought it was more like the latter, or that he had some sort of tic, and when he saw a map he couldn’t help but to begin interrogating us on capitals. 

And he would never pick easy countries.  God forbid he’d say France so I could pipe up with Paris and he could gaze proudly at his progeny.  Oh no.  It was always places like Uganda, Laos or the Canary Islands.  And Iceland.  Rejkjavik was my brother’s one weak-point; and he was my eternal opponent in these games which showed off some innate talent of his that I lacked—maybe memory?  I don’t recall.

The result of these childhood games has been catastrophic.  I now play capital city pop quizzes with my own students; turns out it’s not torture but riotous fun.  Who knew. 

Yesterday I called up HR to ask a question about benefits.  The woman who picked up asked me to spell my name.  I did what I always do, and spelt it out using country names.  (If you had a D in your name, would you say dog?  No.)  Obviously I use Dominican Republic, which is much more worthy indeed. 

Hey, at least I don’t wait for others to amuse me.

Anyway, turns out this woman was a Geography major in college.  Hm.  I forced myself to ask about my benefits and not take up the diverting news.  Ooh, I succeeded mightily well, I thought as I hung up, my question answered. 

I commended myself on my focus, and on my grasp of priorities and professionalism.  I continued to objectively commend myself some several minutes longer–December, after all, is a month for decadence.  And it was pleasantly distracting.  It was possible to completely forget the allure of a Geography major so close at hand.

Indeed, I had quite forgotten it, and it meant nothing at all to me.

Do you believe me yet? 

Flash forward two seconds after hanging up:  I’m at the computer again.

But the woman is a walking map, I thought to myself, tapping away on the keyboard.  How could I possibly let the opportunity pass to ask her questions of great import and irrelevance?  I mean, would that be the responsible thing to do?  Obviously not.  Not on a global level, at any rate. 

My head cleared.  I knew what I had to do. 

Yes, gentle Reader:  I called her back. 

“Uh, could you tell me the history of cartography, and also its modern execution?”

First she used words I’d never heard before–I scribbled anxiously, unable to figure out spelling or language of origin–and then she cracked my little dreams thoroughly—“you mean all cartography is done on computers these days and no-one romantically pencils maps?  Not even hot antique-looking ones in sepia?”

“No,” she answered, unmoved by the death of romanticism.

At my strangled sigh, she explained doing it by hand was impractical.  Then she offered to lend me a book on cartography, which, she warned me, “might be a little over your head.”  I nodded over the phone; technology is not my strong suite.

Ah well.  That was yesterday.  Today I have the book in my grubby paws, and am gleeful at its (temporary) acquisition.  I love these trinkets, these treasures that everyone has, if you just ask the right questions.

An hour after we hung up, a student came in to take care of a quick matter.  As he gave me the necessary paperwork I asked him, “What do you know about cartography?”

“What do you need to know?” he asked.

“Everything.”  Catsmile.  “Spill.”

"There's a road," he'd said, pointing. There was no road. But that's another tale.


About sputnitsa

Born in the US, I grew up in Africa and the West Indies, and returned stateside in my teens. After a decade in international development, democracy work, and inclusivity training for domestic NGOs, I joined Peace Corps, and after a year, experienced my first Russian invasion. I followed that up by volunteering with refugees and youth, and after some vacation time climbing minarets and mountains, I returned to New York City, where today I work on social justice with college students, produce short films, and write.
This entry was posted in childhood memories, learning from others, literacy, maps, Marneuli, whatnot and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Mapping History, a modern quest

  1. ralfast says:

    I love maps, geography was one of my best subjects in school.

    BTW, thank you for the kind words and Merry Christmas.

    • sputnitsa says:

      What aspect excites you most about them? Lines delineating countries, or topography or imagining people moving in days of yore, or…? 🙂

      • ralfast says:

        The sense of scale and place. To know of faraway places and what people there do, speak and live. Contour lines were mountains meet the sea. Questions such as, what it would be like to walk the vast dunes of Arabia or fill the cold Arctic chill of a Siberia winter whip my face and maybe meet a tiger face to face in the tropical forest of India.

        Too know that there is a Beyond…. 😀

        (Wow! I just had a pseudo-poetic moment there, go figure!)

  2. Beth says:

    Maps are wonderful! For my birthday one year, my parents gave me a collection of battle site maps from the early 19th century. I need to dig that book out again…hmm…

    Happy Christmas!

  3. Hmm…shall have to remember this spelling out thy name by country. Transylvania, Albania….yes, there is potential in this.

    • sputnitsa says:

      Hee hee. It’s much more fun than the usual. I should start picking more far-out places, I think. The more outlandish, the better.

      Oh, the other day I found myself spelling it out again, and the C was “C as in Chicago.” 🙂 Which is so not how my C’s pronounced… Ah well. 🙂

  4. sputnitsa says:

    Ralfast–dayum! Awesome description of what pulls you to maps 🙂

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