Holy shit, look at this map!

Homann's Scandinavia of 1730

Homann’s Scandinavia of 1730

As soon as I saw today’s featured picture on Wikipedia, I knew I had to rave about it somewhere.  Wikipedia has no “like” buttons, probably for a good reason, but thanks to it and the beautiful institution of the Public Domain, I can copy it here.  Does the internet get any better than this?

I’ve seen my share of old maps, not only as popular backgrounds to everything, overblown to pixelation, but in the flesh, and way out of my price range, at the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair.  This one is in a special class, though.  Without egregious distortions of the physical terrain, it presents an unfamiliar political division.  What is going on in Sweden?  Look at the tastefully subtle coloration.  Visit Wikimedia Commons here, and zoom in on the original.  Are all of these places real?  Didn’t I read about some of them in Egil’s Saga?  Are they all still there?  Look at the forests and mountain ranges.  At this level of detail, the stylization hardly seems to matter.  Written three hundred years ago in Latin, French, and German, it is still utterly intelligible.

Perhaps you understand why I find geography so fascinating, why I cover my walls in maps and learn them by heart?


Night Climbing

The London Review of Books has a regular back page feature called “Diary”.  Sometimes it is just that: Every so often, established contributors put together a selection of dated passages about their everyday lives.  Sometimes, it’s a short memoir. One writer described his time in the Air Force working with nuclear weapons, his growing obsession with accidental detonation, and his eventual discharge.  (You can read it here.)  He was nobody I’d heard of, but obviously it was memorable.  And sometimes, the diary is so much like regular political reporting that I can’t tell why they run it there.  Sometimes, though, they’ll run something wonderfully odd.  A couple of years ago there was a surprising piece on fan fiction by an American undergraduate (here).

A recent issue’s diary (here) is on “night climbing”, which means sneaking up and climbing whatever building you like, in the dark and without a rope.  In this case, it’s a colossal, doomed industrial landmark in London.  I’m not scandalized by this, not at all… except, well, I do sort of like the way it’s tucked in with the LRB’s usual, much admired mix of involved articles on parliamentary politics, the Magna Carta, French detective fiction, and so forth.  The author, Katherine Rundell, is a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, a school so elite that there are no students, only professors.  Before reading this piece, I thought All Souls was mostly occupied by likes of the airy theologian of Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist. (I thought it was Alvin Plantinga, but I think I’m mixing up my deolaters, and that’s another post.)  In any case, Rundell has me intrigued.  Her only publication listed by the LRB appears to be a children’s book about night climbing.  If I’m not mistaken, she also is a specialist in seventeenth century English poetry, but I imagine her rock climbing skills came in handy getting into All Souls?

Two questions I’m interested in:  We know basically what a diary or a journal is, but how far can the form be pushed?  And are there great diaries?  There’s Pepys of course, and otherwise famous writers have kept diaries, Woolf for example, but is there room in the canon for the great diaries?  I’m paging through a calendrical anthology called The Assassin’s Cloak; it’s interesting reading, but kind of overwhelming.