Cartographies

Cartographies

Cartographies

Cartographies

Excerpt

It has always been this way with the mapmakers: from their first scratches on the cave wall to show the migration patterns of the herds, they have traced lines and lived inside them. After a meal of scorched meat and a few hours of fitful sleep in the smoky corners of the cave, they felt the antelope trot through their arteries, then crept out into the night and followed the tracks, so intent on the pursuit that they missed the hoots of the night birds calling to each other in the grasses all around them. In Babylonia, suzerains hired them to draw maps of fertile valleys with sharp sticks in clay tablets, showing the streams and the well-worn paths between the plots of grain. Then the scribes and planners dropped their sticks to follow the paths in single file or hand in hand in pairs. Ptolemy called for their assistance with his eight-volume Guide to Geography, asking them to copy neatly his list of 8,000 places. At their tables in the library in Alexandria, the names they scribbled called up wide expanses of blue water, the colored sands of different ports, the movements of whole navies across the Mediterranean, the flags flying at the boats' sterns, the cracked tooth in a sailor's mouth. In the New World, the mapmakers painted a plan of Mexico and a map of the gulf whose waters they had never seen. Montezuma gave these to Cortez so the conqueror could travel more easily from one island to another, from one tiered temple to the next, and, thus, charts facilitated the demise of one empire and the birth of another. Swords slicing easily through brown skin, Cortez' cavalry thundered through the jungle, and the mapmakers ran into the uncharted depths of the trees and vines to escape. In 1554, Mercator rolled the earth into a cylinder, coaxing it between his palms, sticky, like a ball of clay. As he spread it out flat, his apprentices watched the continents fall squarely into place. In themselves they felt the lines draw taut, parallel and perpendicular. Ever more accurate, maps are now made with the trimetrogon process. A

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