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Maps and Travel: Changing the way you see the world

Mark Twain wrote in his book Innocents Abroad: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Since Covid-19, travel has been difficult to impossible for most people. Maybe the discord in our present world, both at home and abroad, is related to our inability to leave home, meet new people and experience new sights, sounds and tastes. The next best thing to taking a real trip is to read a book. As Anna Quindlen wrote, “Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” The following three books are not only about travel, but they reflect both real and imagined people whose outlook changed due to the journeys they took.

Fiction: Written when the Suez Canal was new and before the days of air travel, Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days is the classic story of Phileas Fogg, an OCD British man of means, who bets the bulk of his wealth that he can travel around the world in just 80 days. Fogg brings along his French valet, Passepartout, who is his polar opposite in temperament. Although Passepartout is an exemplary manservant under normal circumstances and meets Fogg’s exacting standards, he is no Jeeves, and actually gets himself into several scrapes along the way around the globe. To complicate matters, 55,000 pounds was stolen from a bank in London the very same day Phileas Fogg and Passepartout set out on their great race. Not only does Phileas Fogg need to worry about making the right train or boat connections to stay on pace, he must also elude the persistent Detective Fix. If you haven’t read it, I will try not to spoil the end. However, do remember that the book was first published in 1872 when you come across the parts of the book that aren’t exactly politically correct. Enjoy the changes in Fogg that come about because he left home and his familiar routine. Will you agree with the last line: ”Truly, would you not for less than that make the tour around the world?" (170)

Nonfiction: Most of us do not take a trip without consulting a map at some point. Maps and travel go hand in hand. They tell us where the journey began, help us as we choose a route, and indicate where we end up. And just as travel affects the way we look at the world, so maps both dictate and reflect our change in vision. On the Map: A Mind Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks by Simon Garfield traces the history of maps from ancient cave paintings, believed to be maps of hunting grounds, to the most modern development of Google maps and GPS. It includes Ptolemy’s development of the first grid, and Mercator’s solution to a flat representation of a round earth. Written with a dry, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, I particularly enjoyed the chapters on the controversy over the authenticity of Yale University’s Viking map of Vinland, how mapping cholera cases in London helped discover its cause, and the difference between how men and women read maps and give directions. Despite the light tone, this book was not a fast read, and though it had pictures of maps throughout, many of them were hard to see due to size and reproduction quality.

Children’s Book: Only the fifth blog in and I am going to break the “rules”; I will talk about two books for this category. Both are about Nellie Bly and her record breaking race around the globe in 1889-1890. Nellie Bly was a reporter for the newspaper, The New York World. As a publicity stunt, Bly proposed she attempt to circumnavigate the world in less than 80 days, the time it had taken the fictional character, Phileas Fogg, in the novel Around the World in 80 Days. The first book is a chapter book for independent readers entitled It Can’t be Done, Nellie Bly! by Nancy Butcher. Using both primary and secondary sources, the author was able to provide fun details not only about the trip, but also about Nellie Bly, her background, and also the unexpected competition from another woman, Elizabeth Bisland, reporter for the Cosmopolitan. One of my favorite anecdotes is from the voyage between Japan and San Francisco when they encountered a bad storm. Nellie had a pet monkey on board which was thought to bring bad luck. She was asked if she would allow them to throw the monkey overboard (like Jonah). “Then she found out that ministers were also believed to be Jonahs . . . Nellie Bly calmly announced that if the ministers were thrown overboard, her monkey could be thrown overboard, too” (71). The only downside to this book is that there are no pictures or illustrations throughout the chapters. I wish the author or publisher had interspersed some of the photographs and illustrations in the additional information section throughout the chapters.

The second book is entitled A Race Around the World: The True Story of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Biswell by Caroline Starr Rose. After an abrupt, disorienting start, this colorful picture book with illustrations by Alexandra Bye, divides the narrative equally between the two women reporters. While there are extreme differences between Bly and Biswell in background and temperament, both are praised for their accomplishments. I came away from the book eager to learn more about Elizabeth Biswell, as she seemed to be the one most affected by her experience. In the “Author’s Note”, Rose writes that “just months after the race, Elizabeth returned to England . . . [and] returned to countries she had visited years before.”

Tea: Because Phileas Fogg spent significant time in India, and Nellie Bly enjoyed tea in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), chai, a mixture of black tea, spices (particularly cardamom), milk and sugar, is the tea of choice for these reading selections. The first time I remember drinking chai was at an Indian restaurant which offered masala chai tea. To me it tasted like Christmas in a cup because I associate all of the spices - cinnamon, ginger, cloves, etc. - with the holiday season. It was so, so good. I have since discovered that there are many different versions of chai, each with their own mixture of spices.

VAHDAM tea company offers a sampler of ten different chai blends including a green tea and herbal turmeric blend. My most recent cup of chai was purchased at the Bar a Beurre in Montreal. The blend was called the noir chai. At first I could not smell the spices, but once brewed the mild blend certainly came through. I have also found that making your own chai with whole spices and almost any variety of black tea (I have used Irish Breakfast tea), has only produced wonderful results. My only caution is to guard against leaving the tea in too long otherwise it can get bitter. There are several recipes online. Making large quantities and having leftovers is not a problem as iced chai is also really delicious.


Artwork credited to Aurora Draws - contact for more details

All photographs by the author

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