Saturday, March 20, 2010

Maps and Puzzles

I discovered two unforgettable things on the free-time play shelf in the fourth grade. One was a book with blocks of words lined up in rows like a column of soldiers, and words at the end of certain lines sounded a lot like words from other lines. This really got my attention, and I would keep the book at my desk and sneak peaks at it even while the teacher did pluses and minuses and times tables on the blackboard. I played almost exclusively with my other favorite item from the game shelf: the jig-saw puzzle map of the United States. Each state in the shape of its borders. Long California. Florida with a fat handle. Square Colorado, and Wyoming. Idaho like Florida standing on its head. Giant Texas. There were only 48 states, all manifestly destined between Canada and Mexico. Georgia and Alabama fit neatly on top of Florida. Texas rode easy as a saddle over Mexico. Nevada snuggled into the sharp-angle side of California. Utah between Nevada and Colorado. Arizona and New Mexico underneath. I assembled the puzzle so many times that I tried turning it upside-down, just for the challenge and for fun, with the Gulf of Mexico flowing into the Mississippi River.

There was also a world globe in the classroom. I liked it as well, twirled and stopped it with my finger, then read in the encyclopedia about whatever it said under my finger and nearby. Oceans, mountains, countries, cities. The Indian Ocean. Brazil. China. Mt. Everest. The Nile. Cairo. It was not as good as a jigsaw map, but there was something about all these places and names that made me wonder about them.

Nowadays, in the age of the internet, The Central Intelligence Agency maintains a wonderful website, The World Factbook, with great maps and useful information. Sometimes I just pick something off their list, to see what it looks like, what the CIA chooses to say about it, even what name it goes by. Geography stays pretty still, but borders move, names change. I still have a World Atlas published half a century ago, and the covers are falling off in my hands, it has been pawed so much. On the map of the Middle East, there is Israel, Gaza, and Jordan, but no West Bank. No Palestine. Beijing used to be Peking. Stalingrad, U.S.S.R., of my 1950’s atlas, was the once and future St. Petersburg, Russia.

Iran, ancient Persia, is there on maps old and new, shoulder to shoulder with Iraq on one side, Afghanistan on the other, focus of the U.S. war machine to the tune of a trillion dollars over the past 7 years, more than the estimated cost of the Health Care Bill. I don‘t know. Some folks think we can have it all, anything we take a yen for, as long as we can get a Yuan. However, Brave New Foundation says, “We know that there will be no economic recovery here at home as long as we're spending $100 billion a year on another war that isn't making us any safer - the war in Afghanistan.”

1 comment:

Tina said...

Yep, US map puzzles were a lot of fun except that Rhode Island always got lost !!


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