From the Toronto Star: Travel Column: Keep your GPS, I’ll take a map
My favourite book is the atlas.
My nickname at one time was Mr. Geography.
My basement has two clear plastic boxes filled to the brim with maps of places I’ve been. And a few I haven’t.
I’m not a Luddite when it comes to
technology. I don’t mind GPS systems. I’ve used one on occasion; mostly
recently a year and-a-half ago when I was in Ireland and wanted to take a
lot of small country roads. Other than suggesting I make an immediate
left turn into a concrete barrier the middle of a divided highway at 100
km/hour it worked pretty well.
You might read it incorrectly, but a
good, old-fashioned map will never override your common sense and
suggest that massive cliff out the passenger window is actually a
shortcut to Highway 123. A map doesn’t require a charged battery or a
Wi-Fi connection. A map can be tucked in your knapsack or your car’s
glove compartment without worrying about it getting stolen. And you
won’t see signs on the subway suggesting you keep your map hidden away
from other riders in case you might tempt them into an act of robbery.
You can’t pick up your iPhone and
close your eyes and run your finger over the screen and then open your
eyes to see where you’re going to live when you get older, either.
There are a couple drawbacks to a
map. For one, it’s expensive to get a good one of downtown St. Pete’s
and also Dunedin and Tampa and Orlando. Also, you’ll look like a tourist
if you pull out your map while walking in Manhattan in a way you
wouldn’t by consulting your Blackberry. And, yes, some tourist maps are
pure evil. The scale is ridiculous and they only show some of the
streets in Paris and leave you wandering for hours in search of that
charming bistro you were told about on Rue Mouffetard that you promised
your wife you’d take her to make up for the fact you forgot July 24 was
your anniversary and had to explain why you were driving with your
buddies to Buffalo for a chicken wing festival.
But most maps are wonderful creations
with perfect information that’s easy to digest and follow and I love
them. Not only do they help you figure out where to go, they often have
cool photos or illustrations; castles and towering, green palm trees and
world-renowned architectural wonders.
I love the history I have with my
maps, and the stories they tell me. When I rummage through my North
America map box (I have one for Canada and the U.S. and the other box is
for further flung destinations, and it’s probably the only act of
organization in my house that I’m responsible for), I can see the
squiggles of a line in faded yellow and see the words “Sky Harbor” and
immediately know that’s my map of Phoenix, which I had when we took a
family trip there and my young daughter fell on the sidewalk and got a
rather serious scratch that ran down the length of her nose.
I’ve got another one of Sacramento
from 1975, which reminds me of rafting trips we used to take down the
Sacramento River and how my girlfriend’s roommate once told a mutual
friend of ours that she had a surprise for him and walked into the room
stark naked, or so he said.
Some of the maps are bent and folded and mutilated and torn enough to resemble a Florida election ballot, but I love them.
I have in my collection a huge map of
Nice, France, which always reminds me of how I booked a room on the
Promenade des Anglais in 1979 and was given a tiny bed in what literally
was a janitors? closet and then went to a fabulous courtyard café
nearby and ordered a salad that I thought had a few tomatoes but was
instead, much to my horror, a salad made up entirely of tomatoes, a
fruit I consider (in its uncooked state) to be as vile as anything on
An atlas, on the other hand, is all
the glories of a map times, like, 1,000. The entire world is the atlas;
maps of Kazakhstani mountains and Ecuadorian lakes and Stockholm
islands. And maps of the ocean floors and of both sides of the moon,
which has features named Grissom and Chretien in case you didn’t know. I
have an old Readers Digest atlas from about 1965 or so that shows the
built-up form of Toronto and there are vast stretches of rural land all
around what is now the bustling Scarborough Town Centre.
You can pick up a National Geographic
Atlas and find the average day-time high in Moscow in January is
minus-9 with an average 16 days of precipitation, while in Santiago
Chile it’s plus-29 with an average number of precipitation days of zero.
How can you beat that?