San Diego in Three Dimensions
Maps have fascinated me since childhood. Globes, aerial photographs, choreographic floor plans, house blueprints, graphic organizers, apps that show you the driver approaching your house—lay it out for me spatially and you have me hooked.
So my first question after checking into my San Diego hotel last week, on respite from the polar vortex, was, “Which way is north?” The answer, together with the maps I’d pored over in advance, let me roam with confidence by foot, bus, and trolley.
Two-dimensional maps didn’t prepare me for the wonders of Balboa Park. A walkway in the Japanese Friendship Garden descends by switchbacks to the pond in this photo, far below the entrance. The Palm Garden nestles in another canyon across the road. A visit to the panda began with a long outdoor elevator ride into the depths of the zoo. To relish the third dimension, sometimes you have to be there.
3/11/2019 06:51:28 pm
I've attended a certain book discussion group for the better part of 20 years. One time we had a U.W. meteorologist come in to talk about his book on Antarctica, where he'd been about seven times at that time (probably a few more by now). When you are at the south pole, "Which way is north" has an eerie answer. About half way through his presentation (complete with maps and photos), I got a genuine case of vertigo, which I had to reason myself out of. I mean, when EVERYWHERE YOU LOOK is north, that is so weird.
Wow, I can imagine the sense of vertigo. It’s so deeply ingrained, in me at least, to have that mental map in two dimensions - north/south and east/west, that to be somewhere that doesn’t hold could be utterly disorienting, enough to make everything spin. In perhaps a related way, I had a Chicago friend who said she got practically nauseous in the partly of downtown Chicago that are on two levels, where ground level doesn’t exist. She later went to grad school in geography.
3/12/2019 08:37:12 am
Ya, and we have terms in our language to orient us. "Sitting on top of the world..." from where we presumably would not fall off... "True north..." And we could literally walk to the North Pole from here. Antarctica is surrounded by liquid water. So when you are at the South Pole (or close enough, and for that matter the North Pole too), which way is east or west? And how far east would you have to go to be back where you started? It's just all weird. We need these orientations, but they aren't universal.
Lisa, we do need the orientations in one form or another, and our language seems to shape how we experience the world in this and other ways. At first I was startled to think they're not universal, but - growing up in the West Virginia hills, the terms north, south, east, and west didn't hold much meaning for me. They might describe the position of the sun at different times of day, but you'd never use them to give or find directions. Directions were more like "downstream," "up Decker's Creek", or "out toward Kingwood."
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.