Saturday, 7 July 2012

The Map and The Territory

When he was a boy, there was a topographical globe at home. Occasionally he would spin the whole world, close his eyes, and let his fingers trace journeys over a braille of landscape and sea. The sharp bump of the Himalayas, the smooth slope of the Sahara. These pregnant pauses in which he waited to decipher something, until the globe and all that it represented would fall completely still, silent. And it was here, at this point, that he would imagine trying to inhabit the distant location where his fingers had landed, a place he may or may not have heard of, but certainly never visited. There were very few frames of reference in the pre-internet age for places like Stockholm, Salamanca, and Svalsbard. Kristianstad, Kyoto, and Kent. Bethlehem, Botswana. What were the people like there? What did they dream of, and in what language? How did they feel and what did they love? It was like a passenger train coming, slowly, to a surprise halt in the middle of the night: those drowsy seconds you spend gawping out a window and spotting, in the middle-distance, the lights of houses, vague interiors; the realisation that whole other lives are always taking place, secretly, out there.
Now, with the advent of Google Maps, he finds himself late at night, doing similar things, making similar expeditions. He will randomly drop the little yellow figurine someplace on the globe and find himself hurtling down to street level in some unknown place, feeling again that old battered globe under his fingers. Still, even now, even as a man, trying to unlock something always just beyond the reach of his fingertips.

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