Friday, November 09, 2007

Ma-a-a-a-a-a-aps, Wait! I Don't Love You Like They Love You.

A few nights ago, I went to an event that celebrated the launch of the Festival of Maps, a first-of-its-kind exhibition that spans several institutions here in Chicago.

I have to admit that until very recently, I really hated maps. I didn't rebel too much growing up, but my dad was always a big fan of maps and so my way of protesting against authority was to never know where in the hell I was--I would refuse to look at any maps. Smart, huh? It backfired on me later in life big-time when I got my husband (who was at that point my new boyfriend) and I pretty seriously lost in a really bad part of the outskirts of New York City. A year after that, I took a trip around the world for work essentially by myself, and I had to take a crash course in figuring out how to read all kinds of maps right away, so as to not get lost in, say, the bowels of the Tokyo subway system. Now I hate to admit that I think reading maps can be fun (but truth be told, I still gravitate toward the kind that have the little cartoon drawings of famous spots for any given city).

At the festival's launch dinner, one of the hosts talked about how he grew up with a huge map of the world on his wall, while another talked of how he also had a huge map on his bedroom wall as a kid, "but it was only of my small county in England, so I thought that was the whole world." Over time, these men, as well as many others involved in the event, started collecting maps. Eventually they all got together and decided that between their maps and the "famous" maps that many museums and institutions around the globe had stored in relative obscurity, they had a pretty interesting collection. And so that's how the festival came to be.

The maps are housed in several locations across Chicago (there is, of course, a map of the whole thing on the web site that you can download). We were at the Newberry Library site. I can't lie to you and tell you that my original motivation for going to the dinner was anything other than seeing where "Henry" worked in The Time Traveler's Wife (yes, I know he's not real). But it turned out to be a fascinating night--all of the "big names" in the map world were there like some of the members of the McNally family, but the main attraction was the original Lewis and Clark map of 1810 (which is technically attributed only to Clark). There it was, just ink on paper, laying out the country with all of these little hand-written notes all over it. Amazing. I couldn't get over how any of these maps from way back in the day could be even remotely accurate when there was no ability to look from above. But then again, I'm the same person who has been known to get lost in shopping malls...

- e

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