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Mares: Map Flap

(Host) Electronic maps have their place - but not in the heart of writer, former state legislator and commentator Bill Mares.

(Mares)I confess. The recent flap over mistakes in the new Apple MAPS system leaves me cold. At the risk of sounding like a buggy-whip maker at the dawn of the auto age, I want to put in a word for traditional maps, ones you can hold and fold, where there is space for notes and imagination.

I grew up on maps: city maps, state maps, world maps, hiking maps; maps you could pore over as if you were an explorer or a general. I was the navigator for family trips. As a high school teacher, I loved using maps to teach history, from ancient Ptolemy, through the golden age of Dutch exploration to modern efforts to put information in cartographic form onto two- dimensional sheets of paper.

I collect maps in a small way, mostly books of maps. At a yard sale, I once found a Civil War era map which allowed a person to follow the course of battles in Virginia according to the latest telegraph dispatches. Another map shows the city of Burlington in 1867, in which the viewer can see the newly-built breakwater.

Among the New Yorker covers papering our bathroom wall is one by Saul Steinberg in 1976, that shows The World from Ninth Avenue. Two thirds of the purported map is the city - leaving just one third for all the rest of the world, including tiny reference points for places like Frisco, China and Russia.

In 1980, Larry Feign a young graduate of Goddard College drew a similarly idiosyncratic geo-centric post card of Vermont and near neighbors. The Deep South was Boston, Lake Champlain stretched across half the U.S. and the Adirondacks replaced the Rockies. He satirizes Vermont cities like Montpeculiar, Gay Barree, St. J. and Rutln - spelled R-U-T-L-N.

Several years ago, my wife gave me a book called STRANGE MAPS: an atlas of cartographic curiosities It's full of ingenious and disingenuous efforts to amuse, inform and mis-lead. One shows 47 national claimants to Antarctica, as a pie chart. Another shows the map of an Eastern European nation, Carpatho-Ukraine, that existed for only 24 hours, really.

In this election year, a famous depiction of vote-rigging begs mention. In 1812, Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry devised such a convoluted re-drawing of a county, that the artist Gilbert Stuart drew it as a salamander. No, said a newspaper editor, That's a Gerrymander! a name and practice, we still have to this day.

The book also reprints my favorite map of all time, showing Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia. In stark graphics, engineer Charles Minard showed six data points: direction, date, distance, number of men, rough geography, and temperature as Napoleon's army of 430,000 marched off in June and returned six months later with only 25,000 survivors.

I give the final word to Shakespeare, in a line from King Henry VI: In thy face I see the map of honour, truth and loyalty.

Writer Bill Mares of Burlington is also a former teacher and state legislator. His most recent book is a collection of his VPR commentaries, titled "3:14 And Out."
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