2010-03-11 / News

Mapping out my life

Flotsam and Jetsam
By Donna Drago

When I was in the fourth grade in 1969, my teacher asked everyone in the class what we’d like to be when we all grew up. I was somewhat undecided at the time, but I answered that it would be “either a cartographer or a Playboy bunny.”

You can imagine the reaction.

Most of the class had no idea what a cartographer was, so all the teasing was about the bunny notion. Neither idea panned out as a legitimate career choice for me, but while I have permanently hung up my ears and tail, I have never stopped loving maps.

I don’t exactly have a collection of maps per se, but if anyone asks me to produce a map of say Delaware, Vanuatu or San Marino, I would be able to pull out a map depicting all of those places in a relatively short period of time.

Several years ago, my husband bought me an atlas of the world. It is a formidable book that weighs at least 15 pounds. It’s much too big to put on my lap, so I have to set it on a table in order to use it. This book includes not just the world, but maps of outer space as well. It was a wonderful present.

For the United States, I have a pile of AAA maps, which – since I am a member – I can obtain for free. Every few years, I update my collection to include the entire country. Even though I have never been to parts of the Midwest or to the northwestern states, with my AAA maps, I am always ready to go.

When I travel, I collect tourist maps of various cities I have visited. Italy does a really good job with these and they are available in virtually every small town at the tourist office. I may or may not refer to them while I am actually visiting a place, but when I get back home, they become a way to conjure up memories of the trip. I also love subway and metro maps, and the one from the London Tube is my favorite – it’s very colorful and a perfect size for my wallet.

My first trip to Europe was in the mid-1990s and I have been back more than a dozen times since then. I bought a map of all of Western Europe before the first trip. When open, it covers an area about as big as my dining room table. I actually have to walk around it to see all the places that interest me. It has been opened and refolded so many times that nearly all the corners have split. Every time I take it out, I have to get out a roll of tape and fix more splits. Some of the names of towns don’t line up anymore and it doesn’t lie flat. The older tape repairs are turning yellow, but I love this map.

A friend of mine once told me that she envied the way I always seem to know where I am going, whether I am in Jamestown or traveling outside the country. I hadn’t given this much thought until she brought it up, but it occurred to me that my passion for maps has a great deal to do with it.

Before I go anywhere unfamiliar, I look at a map. These days, it’s usually a map on the Internet – like on Google or Multimap. I find my destination and then I take an imaginary walk around the area. The Internet maps often have interactive features and when you click on an icon, you get a photo of the area or a list of pizza parlors, etc. When I think I have “seen it all,” I close the map. Then when I actually go to the town, I feel like I have already been there and can wander around as if I am walking through Jamestown or some other familiar place.

While I prefer paper maps to those on the Internet, I absolutely love the Google feature called My Maps.

To use this feature, you need a gmail account. You sign in and let’s say you call up a map of Jamestown. Once you have your base map, the program allows you to customize it and share it with friends. So, for example, if you want to create a walking tour of Jamestown, you could put an icon at the marina and then draw a line up Narragansett Avenue, highlighting all the important stops like coffee shops, the fire station, Town Hall, etc. When you are finished putting in all the icons, you can make detailed comments about each place and add sound or photos, too. It’s a great rainy day project for both adults and kids.

I fear that printed maps will be one of the casualties of the paperless information age. But right now, I have hoarded enough to ensure that I will be able to find my way around the world – right from my dining room table.

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