Monday, January 30, 2012

Fondness For Maps

The Muensterberger theory got me thinking. I don’t know if the association he notes would hold up under scrutiny, but it at least makes some intuitive sense and becomes worthy of subjective comment.

I learned something new about maps and myself when I first went to Romania – how much I valued, and indeed depended on, knowing where I am in space. We would go out every morning to one village or another for medical clinic and return late, and I would try to keep intuitive sense of how far we had traveled and in what direction. The only map I had was rather pathetic, small-scale, showing few towns or roads. I sought better maps on market day, but encountered an even larger problem. This was 1998, and most maps were still based on communist-era data and unreliable. Roads, even paved roads, would be marked where no roads existed, because they were proposed, and should be there. Towns would be unrecorded because they were scheduled to be emptied to relocate people (gypsies, usually). Text size was only whimsically related to population because a) population was often secret and/or highly approximate, and b) importance is an elastic concept under communism. All this in addition to unfamiliar spelling and pronunciation, so that “We are going to shtay” actually meant Ştei, a small city to the SE. We would go somewhere and come back, and I would be unable to discover where we had been, even though it was in a 50-kilometer* radius and I had name, direction, travel time, and landmarks. It was powerfully uncomfortable for me. I might go somewhere and not be able to navigate myself out. Relatedly, I was conscious that I could in no way drive to my family, no matter how much time and effort I put in. I would have to go up in a plane (and thus at someone else’s mercy and under their control) at some point. I had been aware of this can’t-drive-home feeling on previous trips abroad, but I was in each instance with my family, solving the major dislocation and fear. Even after returning to the states I kept looking for reliable maps of Transilvania, hoping to find a town just off the E60, maybe near Tileagd that I could point to and say there!

A second map fasination is wondering where the roads used to be. Was this always the route from Brown’s Corner or was there another, now disused? Did that barred lane used to be important, or just a short jaunt for the farmer to a back field? This in turn is part of further history – was this area field or forest? Did the Pennacooks use this spot much? Rather like Schliemann and the seven levels of Troy. Included in that is the streamlining of routes, cutting off windings and corners. I once did a road rally puzzle based on an obsolete map of Bedford, with locations glaringly marked, but on roads that had moved a bit or were no longer approached in the same way. I wonder these things with historical maps as well. My boys came from around Marghita, which would be about there on this map of 15th C Transilvania. Does the blood of that invading tribe run in their veins, then? Karrde mentioned something similar in the previous comments.

*At the end of two weeks I naturally thought of Romanian distances in km rather than converting them to miles. For Bihor County, I still do, but everything else I have to switch back and forth.

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