Navigating Time Travel

Reading a street map is becoming a lost art. Is that OK? I rely on my phone, too. It’s like having a wife who sits in the passenger seat with a map and tells me where to turn. I’m sorry for the sexist remark “wife” here but in my life that person was either my mom or me so it isn’t all that sexist. When I was in Switzerland with my friend L I opted NOT to pay extra for GPS because I was going to have a “wife” who could navigate. I wasn’t thinking that, 1) L drives everywhere in her life because 2) her husband is blind and 3) not everyone LIKES maps as much as I do and 4) she wasn’t really good at reading a map and 5) Switzerland is what one from out here where the second largest town in an area as large as Connecticut has only 4000 people, well, we might call Switzerland “compressed.” Where the next town HERE might be 14 miles away, in Switzerland it might be half a mile.

I can tell you, it led to some pretty ugly moments, but we always got there, and L got better at map reading. All was well.

As for me here in the wild and woollies, my cell phone service data plan doesn’t cover the San Luis Valley. I have a Rand McNally road atlas in my car, but with no co-pilot that’s a bit of a problem but there is this little trick of pulling over and looking at the map. I’m pretty good at that.

Maps fascinate me. In the process of writing my historical novels, I found old maps to be like time machines. While writing The Brothers Path I tried to imagine the moment when Felix Manz was drowned in the Limmat and what kind of panic that might have inspired in some people — including my characters. In fact, the first line I wrote of that book was THAT moment, the moment when the brothers Thomann and Andreas realized they were about to witness something that had never, ever, ever happened before* and one of them, Thomann, quickly apprehended that it could result in a lot more deaths if not a riot. Thomann told his brother to run. In fact, the first line I wrote of that novel was, “Andreas! Run!”

But where? Zürich today is not Zürich of the 16th century. It was a walled city — and it had been walled more than once, a series of walls ever reaching outward as the city grew. I found a map. A beautiful 16th century map with the names of the various gates clearly marked. I saw the roads (old, old roads, still there, paved, lined, traffic filled, but old) that would have taken them out of the city that horrible day. There was a squat little tower called the Ketzitzturli (sp) that would have put him right on the road home.

Many of the streets in Zürich carry the names of the towers to once they led. I found it pretty easy to drive in Zürich because I knew this old map so well.

*The leader of the Reformed church, Huldrych Zwingli, executed his former friend, the Anabaptist, Felix Manz. It was the first execution of a Protestant by a Protestant and it happened only 3 years after the beginning of the Reformation. Both men had once been priests.

13 thoughts on “Navigating Time Travel

  1. Of course I loved your map of Zürich, but driving in Zürich? Only by tram for me and that is the problem in Zürich. There are too many tram lines. I lived in Zürich in the Aemtlerstrasse where there is a Zwingli church (it was opposite my room) and also the Crematorium. It was in Kreis 3 and Kreis Cheib (Kreis 4) was not far away, the place where the ladies do their nightly business and where there is the highest concentration of bars on the Langstrasse. My landlady in Zürich could drive everywhere without a problem. I think you have to be a Zürcher to do it.

    • I guess that proves it. I have never had a problem driving in Zürich (though there’s no point — I only rented a car so Lois and I could get more places in the short time we had…). I found a $700 ticket for September. I am thinking seriously about this. I’m so HOMEsick…

  2. Maps fascinate me — I want to know where I am in relationship to where other people/things/places might be. I want to know where in the world the news is happening (i often have a map on the fridge door with magnets!). And I want to know how to get where I’m going. It’s a travesty that kids are not taught map reading in school — just part of the lack of geography knowledge!

    • You’d love my high school. In September some teacher has his/her students go out to the immense sidewalk in front and draw maps of the world on the concrete with chalk. No one spells Antarctica right, but I don’t care. I just LOVE to see it.

  3. Yikes — I’m not sure I could do that any more — maybe part of it and some general outlines! When I was in grade school, we had a wall with map of the US painted on it — the students repainted that every couple of years, and it was a great learning project. I’d LOVE to see your HS project!!!

  4. I am the navigator. But that’s fine because I’d much rather navigate than drive. And I love maps. It is getting really difficult to get maps that show ALL the road, not just primary roads. You used to be able to pick up maps at gas stations or local shops, but you pretty much don’t see them anymore and the big atlases of which I have a full set, don’t show enough local roads to be useful. I use a combination of printed directions (MapQuest, usually — more accurate than Google), sometimes stuff from AAA (they ARE accurate) … and whatever I can make out from the map that has managed to eliminate about half the functioning roads.

    What’s worse is that the GPS is even LESS accurate than the atlases.

  5. I don’t trust the GPS. I’ve ended up going some weird and wonderful ways with the GPS. The Brothers’ Path sounds interesting. I’ve downloaded it, but I’ve just come to a slight halt with the book reading.

  6. Love maps. I studied cartography when I went to college straight out of high school, but that was by chance and I didn’t do a whole lot with it. Cartography has changed so much since I studied it! We always take maps on road trips. I love planning the route..just something so satisfying about having the map in your hands. However, I will use my phone in the city. It is just easier in traffic, especially when you’ve got to be somewhere at a specific time.

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