Maps and Territories

An occasional blog by an amateur map lover.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Lacoste is tiny and austere: a handful of severe stone houses lining stony streets zigzagging up a steep slope, with occasional stairways between levels. Cars can negotiate only the lowest streets. Above the town, at the end of the uppermost street, is the ruined castle of the Marquis de Sade. Below is a wide flat valley, disciplined by the geometry of grapevines, punctuated by scattered farms and houses—prime tourist and expatriate country, these days, but from this vantage point still seemingly rural and unspoiled. In the distance are snowcapped mountains, and across the valley, a slightly larger town, like Lacoste reflected in a magnifying mirror. Founded in the seventeenth century by Huguenots fleeing violence after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Lacoste doesn’t appear on maps, unless they are very local indeed. It is not, I am told, considered to be of any architectural significance. The refugees first sheltered in the caves that riddle the steep limestone hill, later building houses around them...The larger, mirror image town is Bonnieux, the Catholic counterpart of Lacoste; it appears on maps.

-- Karen Willikin "Letter from Provence," The Hudson Review, Summer 2003

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Saturday, November 22, 2003

The Aran Islands

I have come over for a few days to the south island, and, as usual, my voyage was not favourable.

The morning was fine, and seemed to promise one of the peculiarly hushed, pellucid days that occur sometimes before rain in early winter. From the first gleam of dawn the sky was covered with white cloud, and the tranquility was so complete that every sound seemed to float away by itself across the silence of the bay. Lines of blue smoke were going up in spirals over the village, and further off heavy fragments of rain-cloud were lying on the horizon. We started early in the day, and, although the sea looked calm from a distance, we met a considerable roll coming from the south-west when we got out from the shore.

Near the middle of the sound the man who was rowing in the bow broke his oar-pin, and the proper management of the canoe became a matter of some difficulty. We had only a three-oared curagh, and if the sea had gone much higher we should have run a good deal of danger. Our progress was so slow that clouds came up with a rise in the wind before we reached the shore, and rain began to fall in large single drops. The black curagh working slowly through this world of grey, and the soft hissing of the rain gave me one of the moods in which we realise with immense distress the short moment we have left us to experience all the wonder and beauty of the world.

-- From The Aran Islands by J.M Synge.

Thanks to Richard Silverstein for the inspiration.

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Thursday, November 20, 2003

"The really beautiful coast is in the west," Gabriel continued. "Cornwall, too, is land edged toward the Atlantic Ocean by fields of heather. What happens on that coast is a battle. Rock pushes against ocean, and ocean against rock. As you might suppose, the ocean ends up winning. The water is fluid, and generous in that it's always offering form; the land is hard, and scarred, but the encounter is magnificent. Granite cliffs rise almost three hundred feet above the sea; they resist the Atlantic battering them mercilessly, but in their whole formation is the work of that incessant attack of pounding surf. There are advantages."

Gabriel put his arm across the singer's shoulders. This cold early morning facing the sea. She did not reject it.

"The land defends itself against the sea with its ancient stone. There are caves everywhere. The sand is silvery. They say that the caves were smugglers' dens. But footprints in the sand betray. Best of all, the weather is very mild and the vegetation abundant, thanks to the Gulf Stream, the heating system for Europe."

She looked at him, moving a little from the embrace.

-- Carlos Fuentes, Inez, p. 34

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Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Part of the Luo Homeland

A poem from Wole Soyinka:

Luo Plains

Of comet tails, of bled horizons
Where egrets home a sky-lane for
Worlds to turn on pennants

On her shadeless dugs, parched
At waterhole. Veils. Molten silver
Down cloudflies of alchemist sun...
A lake's grey slave at dawn?

That dawn
Her eyes were tipped with sunset spears
Seasons' quills upon her parchment, yet
The hidden lake of her


For she has milked a cycle of
Red sunset spears, sucked reeds of poison
To a cowherd's flute. The plains
Are swift again on migrant wings
And the cactus
Flowers the eagle sentinel.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Barrage Map of Vimy Ridge from the National Archives of Canada

It's Remembrance Day in Canada. From the CBC backgrounder on Vimy Ridge:

The fight to take Vimy Ridge cost Canada dearly, but it would become the cornerstone of the nation's image of its place in the world. In four days, 3,600 Canadian soldiers died, another 5,000 were wounded. But the ridge was taken, much of it in the first day. The valour of the troops, the originality of the plan, the success where larger, more established armies had failed, all contributed to a new nation's pride.

The battle was hailed as the first allied success of the long war, achieved mostly due to the innovation of using a creeping, continuous massive artillery barrage to protect squads of advancing troops. Both sides used the tactic in future battles.

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Saturday, November 08, 2003

Map of southern Bavaria, 1882 from the FEEFHS Map Room

In the middle of the nineteenth century, in the small village of Inzell, Bavaria, the wonderfully named Pater Archangel Gstir had no opinions about difficult architecture. In fact, Father Gstir was such a contented young man, a young man filled with such happy certainties, that beyond his faith and his fierce desire for a suitable bell to adorn the Romanesque belfry of the little parish church of St. Michael where he was pastor, he had few strong feelings about anything at all. He was troubled by neither women, nor fashion, nor financial insecurities - the usual afflictions of young men. In his church he was surrounded by a devout and devoted flock of parishioners, and once he stepped outside he was presented with a view of some of the finest mountain scenery in Bavaria, a region not now, and certainly not then, impoverished when it came to ravishing landscape. He spent his weekdays after morning mass cheerfully encouraging German-speaking boys in the study of classical languages, history, natural science and liturgy. He ate well, enjoying Bavarian beer and his choice of European wines with his meals, and after these meals he took long walks along the edges of the gorgeous scenic Knappensteig, where he was able to admire the peaks of the Watzmann, the Hochkalter, the Hocheisspitze, and the Reiter Alpe. It was his habit on these promenades to pray to the Creator of all this beauty at the charming outdoor shrines and crosses scattered liberally across the hills and mountains...

Until Pater Archangel Gstir came to Canada, he had been able to walk along the edges of the beautiful Knappensteig. He had been an observer, albeit an appreciator. The mountain tracks he trod were lined with wildflowers; the views were gorgeous and distant. He loved climbing up to the heights, but even more he loved gazing into the depths. He turned from prayer at an outdoor shrine and looked down into deep green valleys. He stood in the alter and smiled upon his parishioners. Occasionally he climbed the miraculous belfry to inspect the faulty bell, and then he was able to look down on the whole village as it went about its business. All this would change when he cam to Canada. He would become, as a result of geological, geographical and meteorological necessity, a participator.

-- Jane Urquhart, The Stone Carvers pp 7-8, 10-11.

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