Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Maps and me

I love travel. From my first airplane flights (age 6, a company trip to Mexico from Burbank), to my most recent trip (Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco for 3 days with my sister), I love packing late at night and early morning coffee and driving to the airport and the moment when the plane’s wheels leave the ground and you can relax entirely because you did it, you got away.

I love planning the trip, planning long travel days on Mondays because those are the days that the museums are closed. I like finding out the best ways to use the Roman subway and finding out how long people generally spend in Florence’s Uffizi museum, and where the nearest great lunch spot is, the one where local workmen line the curb outside with a glass of wine or beer in the left hand and a delicious sandwich in the right.

And I love the maps. There is something a little compulsive in me about knowing where we are. Maybe it was my dad who, on long road trips when I was little make me find out where we were on the map using the highway signs and the name of the last town we passed as clues, who passed on the love of seeing that (now-familiar, thanks to GPS technology) imaginary moving dot traverse the highway lines.

When my sister and I and two dear friends planned a trip to Italy, I pored over the maps, trying to get a mental image of Florence, my especial planning assignment. The Arno River and its bridges, splitting the city into the main old town and the OltreArno district became real entities in my mind, the coffee shops and restaurants we would try, the Uffizi Museum, the Medici Chapel, the ‘Cathedral in Pajamas’, the cloisters of Santa Maria Novello, the train station, and the Monastery of San Marco where Fra Angelico frescoed the walls of the monks’ cells with his masterpieces, and where Savonarola’s name seems to float through the halls like the ash of books burning.


The problem though, is that I found myself on my first big international travel expedition, often living in the map instead of the moment. The burden of knowing where we were and where we were going and all of the surrounding details pressed in on me. You can even see it in the pictures:

Recently, in San Francisco
Poring over road maps in Lucca

Il Campo di Miracoli, Pisa, sitting on the steps of the Baptistry with the guidebook.

me and my guidebook in Siena




Lap full of maps in Florence

planning out the next day in Florence.

Being in the map instead of the moment in Florence

Figuring out directions in the background

Florence was kind of confusing, map wise...

Guidebook firmly in hand.

Il Campo in Siena

map queens in Florence.

This would have been a better moment if I had actually
been reading something other than my guidebook.

Keeping map close at the Pantheon in Rome

In between wings of the Vatican

keeping the guidebook close in the Egyptian wing of the Vatican
I'm not so sure why I cling so much to my own knowledge when on the road. I know there are times for perspective and planning and thinking about where my little dot is on the road map. But I'm finding it ever more important to, as Mumford and Sons sings it, 'love my ground'. I need to learn more of that, and how to ask the wondering questions instead of the factual ones. 



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