When I saw this antique map reproduction, I knew I had to have it.
First off, it’s gorgeous. The clean lines, the pure geometric, the sharply contrasting lights and darks: all of these speak to my aesthetic sense.
Also, I’ve been there, back in the summer of 2006 with Gwen and three of our friends. We walked almost the whole width of this map, crossing the river and strolling along the waterfront before hiking up to the cathedral square. We ate there, at a crêperie in a building that’s on this map. The city as it’s shown is a bit different than when we were there, but I suppose that’s what the passage of a century and a half will do.
And that’s what grabs me most about the map: This is Geneva, the home of the Red Cross, the European headquarters of the United Nations, the so-called “Peace Capital” of the world — and the map is dominated by massive Vauban-style fortifications. Part of this attraction is personal irony: On that trip six years ago, after a particularly long and hot day of travel, there was almost a fight between members of our own group in front of the International Red Cross & Red Crescent Museum. We’d miscalculated how long it would take to get there, so it was closed when we arrived, which led to a flaring of tempers that was not helped by our hot and slightly dehydrated states. Fortunately, by the time we’d finished our meal at the aforementioned crêperie, all was forgiven.
But the irony works at the level of the city as well. We tend to see things at this scope as largely unchanging, thinking that places and cities always express the same ideas and values, even if the way those are expressed change over time. We forget that Switzerland was home to some of most intense religious struggles of the Protestant Reformation, that modern Germany and Italy were largely constructions of the mid-19th Century, and that for the first half of the Twentieth Century there was considerable open space and distance between Los Angeles and Pasadena (as Raymond Chandler fans will realize). Maps like remind me that the more things stay the same, the more they change.
Or something like that.