I recently listened to an interview on one of my favorite podcasts, On Being, with artist/writer Maira Kalman. (This link has both the audio interview and a written transcript.) Kalman talked about a map of the United States her immigrant mother, Sara Berman, drew (below). It is clearly not an accurate representation of the US.
I also have a favorite short story about map-making, The Mappist, by Barry Lopez. The mappist of the story, Corlis Benefideo, is the opposite of Sara Berman. His maps show minutely detailed layers of information and history, from a Tokyo map showing the point of view of each of Hiroshige’s One Hundred Views paintings, to how topsoil composition in North Dakota was changed by German and Scandinavian farmers.
But there are similarities between Berman and Benefideo: their maps are ultimately about people. Berman’s map is about the impact of places on one person, while Benefideo’s measure the impact of humans on places. Benefideo says “This information is what we need, you know. This shows history and how people fit the places they occupy. It’s about what gets erased and what comes to replace it. These maps reveal the foundations beneath the ephemera.” Berman’s map is all about epherma. For Kalman it represents imagination instead of facts, experience over knowledge, moments instead of history.
The podcast got me thinking about what I would map if I was going to draw a map of my world. Maybe I would draw a food map. That would include Costa Rica, where I had the best banana pancakes ever because the bananas were grown right there. And the best smoothie ever after a long, hot boat ride to a sea turtle sanctuary that was not accessible by road. Incredibly, surprisingly good food in Amsterdam (including risotto at the Cafe George, top photo). The ice cream stand in Paris where I first tasted salted caramel ice cream. Pesto in Italy and olives in southern France. Peaches from my favorite farmer at Cadillac’s farmers market. Almost every meal I’ve ever eaten outside. So much ice cream when I was pregnant that I named one large butt cheek Ben and the other Jerry. And my short stay in Thailand in the Peace Corps, where a café across the street from the volunteers’ hotel served nasty pizza and heavenly coconut ice cream.
I could make a shoe map! Starting with the shiny blue boots I got for Christmas in the 1970s, very much like the ones in the photo, and I rocked those babies at 10 or 11 years old. My college collection of Tretorn sneakers in perky 80s colors, and which I still collect but now in gray and black. The time my luggage got lost on the way to Paris and I had only the Clarks I wore on the plane, which gave me a quarter-sized blister after my long city walks. The shoes I got in Paris to replace the Clarks, which fit my swollen feet at the time but are really too big. The pointy-toed girl shoes I love and can’t wear on my bunion-y old lady feet any longer, especially the metallic bronze pair with the kitten heels.
Or would I make a map of my heart, with the people and dogs who’ve taught me unconditional love, friends and strangers who’ve shown me kindness, my people who put up with my crazy and still love me? It would have to include the heartbreaks and losses, disappointments, the relationships that ended without closure and forgiveness. And grace, so much grace.
What about your map: what would it look like? Please share if you like, either in the comments below or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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#mairakalman #sarabermanmap #ordinaryvirtues #themappist
This is another favorite map I could have drawn. If, you know, I had any artistic talent.