Saturday, January 29, 2011

"To Map-making!"

There's a scene in Anthony Minghella's visually exquisite "The English Patient", based on Michael Ondaatje's book of the same title, that I can't forget.

Katherine, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, is with the crew of men made rugged and even cuter by the desert: the would-be patient played by Ralph Fiennes; her husband, played by Colin Firth; and a few others. They're all gathered by the campfire, wrapped in blankets to keep warm against the desert's nighttime chill, and passing the time with wine (or maybe whiskey) and telling each other stories. After some round of speculative fiction they come to tales of adventure and daring into unmapped territories — it may have been their jobs were to the map the North African region and its nearby deserts. This is all so hazy as its been a while since I'd seen that movie but I remember vividly that towards the end of that scene, they all make a toast: "To map-making!" someone says, raising a glass. And in the darkness, their faces glowing by the light of the campfire, the rest echo him, "To map-making!" and raise their glasses as well.

At a time and place when so much was to be discovered, and that the only thing you were guaranteed on any attempt to do so was that there would be danger, this strikes me as a beautiful and romantic statement to make. A seemingly throwaway toast with a world of pioneering adventure and history-in-the-making attached to it. I would have loved to be around that desert campfire somewhere in the North African Sahara, in the closing month of World War II, taking a break from literally mapping a place otherwise relatively unknown to the rest of the world.

I'm remembering it today because in two hours I'm going to make a different kind of map, one better suited to my life and times and circumstances: I am me, I live in a city, and these days most of my hourly challenges aren't about whether not a lion will leap at me from a bush (not that I ever really had to worry about that, even in the old days).

In two hours I'm going to make a map of the year ahead with two girls, Luz and Pinky, both of whom I deeply admire for their sense of daring and adventure. I can't share their stories because those are theirs to tell, but I will say this: they've dared travel far and wide, and dug deep wherever they went.

Instead of a desert we will be in the cool confines of a coffee shop in Burgos Circle, The Fort. And instead of campfire, maybe a little afternoon fondue. But there will be coffee and there will be tales to tale. And places and lives to be mapped out.

Another drawing/mapping/visualizing day. These are the things that make me really happy. Happy Saturday, world!

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