For my sixth birthday, my grandparents bought me globe. It sat on the desk, tilted at that attractive, precarious angle. I loved that the mountain ranges were palpable beneath my fingertips. Their intention with this gift was to aid my transition into the realm of proper education. I had just begun the first grade.
This was late September 1989.
Within two months, the globe was out of date in the most drastic way possible. (Until global warming inevitably creates Waterworld: The Sequel.) The Berlin Wall fell and half the Soviet Union descended into capital-R Revolution.
But we never got another globe. That was the one we had in our house for years. Just this little piece of history, rotating slowly, collecting dust.
It is odd to think of now, as our apartment is adorned with three world maps (sure, one is a shower curtain, but still), how big that chunk of the USSR was. It seems like it took up half the globe. That was the legacy I was born into: the legacy of the Cold War. Nothing substantial, but a permanent memory of a giant, abstract chunk of the Earth.
The maps we have up in our place are all out-dated. Husband found it a fun project to analyze the maps to slowly parse out changes. He managed, based on colonial holdings, to date one map to a specific range of three years. 1929 to 1932, I think. That takes an historical precision that’s beyond me. Especially just while standing there staring at it.
I think of those memes currently floating around the internet: the first where people try to fill in the US states on an empty map; the second, the countries of Europe. It’s hard, but maps mean something, don’t they?
Is it easier or harder, in this “day and age” to forget our spatial relationship to the world? One might argue that the speed of modern communication and air travel has rendered distance near-negligible. But tell that to people who reblog pictures of places around the world that they will never get to visit. Because the reality is, no matter the fact that I can eat breakfast in Vancouver and have dinner in New York City, those distances exist in a way that borders abstraction.
We form places in our mind long before we see them, through the influences of pop culture and history. But these images in our mind are like looking at the stars. What we see in that light emanating before our very eyes is actually the past. That star might be dead.
The New York City in the public consciousness is not the New York City that exists now in this very moment. The New York City in the public consciousness is the collective creation of years of history and television and films and music and art. The New York City in the public consciousness is the light from a star.
Perhaps that is the saddest thing about travel, and definitely what makes it most worthwhile: the illusion breaks.
Our knowledge of the world is an old map. We’re caught in a time vortex, always lagging behind. Because borders are changing all the time; it’s a constant evolution.
Any globe will be out of date in a few months, even if the information written on it is not.