Thursday 25th June 2020
Following on from my map porn the other day, made some more, this time from our sceptred isles. I think this exercise embodies a scope from being holed up in our vicinities, that looks outwards and onwards. That for too long we only see our immediate and cannot imagine what lies beyond. The lockdown has reinforced that whilst simultaneously reporting on the outside world, and the universality of our thoughts, experiences, fears, divisions and togetherness across the globe.
The traditional atlases of the world always have distortions, such is the nature of translating a 3 dimensional globe onto a flattened 2D plane. Thus the notorious Mercator version (used as a dartboard among geographers), that was traditionally used to increase the size of northern (read: Western) countries has been accused of long peddling the incorrect sizes of landmasses to millions in generation after generation, and we’re not just talking physical size and distances, but the map as envisaged in the political mind. Any map that say elevates Eurocentrism, or puts China in the centre, or the US (thus splitting Europe and Asia to opposite sides) can be equally accused -yet which is most correct?
In truth, countries compared… you’ll need to be a bit of an atlas-savvy nerd to appreciate the differences in size of some of these comparison, but onwards -gwaan, learn something new:
Ecuador, that tiny cut in the western side of South America is actually bigger than the UK. Fun fact, it is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries despite its small size, more so than say the US.
Also, it’s capital Quito has fantastic potential as a destination, and one of the world’s truly undiscovered next big thangs, should it ever clean up and get the flower baskets out. It’s blessed with one of the world’s largest and most encompassing Old City’s that swamps over numerous hills and mountain vistas, like San Fran but with more grit, crime, streetkids etc. Actually exactly like San Fran:
Koreans would come in at a 76 million count were they ever to reunite. The difference would be stark within the new populace – not just in culture and clothing, even in height where the Southerners would average a 3-5 inch difference thanks to the North Korean famine during the 90s. But it’s also said the Northerners are a happy, convivial bunch contrary to assumption, and the opposite holds truer for the south. The closest we’ve gotten to believing ourselves in paradise are those living in Pyongyang.
Next off, England will get compared.
Sri Lanka. Until as late as 1480 Sri Lanka was connected to India by Adam’s Bridge, a 50 km/ 30 mile limestone shoal that is now about 1-3 metres underwater. Quite a hike, paddle and swim but bring your shark net. Where no boat ever dares:
Tasmania, with a population of only 537,000 is very sparsely populated. Its original inhabitants were wiped out within 30 years of British conquest, and one of the few human ethnicities (distinct from Mainland Aborigines for 12,000 years) to become extinct. But yeah, don’t let that little footnote in history hold you back. An extraordinarly beautiful island, also a little known pinnacle of fresh, inordinately organic produce from seafood to wine to bush tucker.
Svalbard (popularised by its largest island, Spitzbergen) is Norway’s northern archipelago and a wondrous, tortured landscape of mountains, glaciers, pinnacles and ice. Only 2,700 people live across the archipelago, making it third in place from Antarctica and Greenland as the least populated land spot in the world. One of its most arresting sights are the annual waterfalls that form mile-long walls of water pouring off the melting glaciers, and the fact the inhabitants have to tote guns everywhere they walk for fear of polar bears, even if it is to take the rubbish out. Actually ESPECIALLY if you’re taking the rubbish out, such is the attraction for foraging ice monsters.
Newfoundland floats in the world’s largest estuary, islanded also as an English speaking outpost (one of the Maritime Provinces) before French Canada takes over. Its accent is still discernibly Irish sounding as is its old sea shanty laden history -about 70% of its population claims some ancestry from the British Isles, compared to the 6% from France who they probably try to stone. Small towns and fishing villages create a sleepy backwater of an island, the first part of North America (other than Greenland) discovered by Europeans, complete with a Norse settlement about a millennium ago – take that Columbus! [/snappy Geonerd speak circa 1992 school video].
Tunisia, the northernmost country of Africa and an even mix of Berber and Arab worlds. It is classified as the only ‘Free’ country on the continent and the only full democracy in the Arab World, in part helped by igniting the Arab Spring in 2011, and the martyrdom of lowly market trader, Mohamed Bouazizi. Thousands of years of culture, from Phoenician to Roman to Berber to Arab to Ottoman to French -and it’s more famous for the scenes shot for the Star Wars franchise. I mean, fuck the ruins.
Panama‘s 80km (50 mile) canal carved out in the 19th – 20th centuries connects the Atlantic with the Pacific without the rigmarole of going round the whole of South / North America, a journey saving thousands of km and untold hazards from sea ice to stormy straits to financial lawyers. It contributes a full 40% to the economy, though that’s now diversifying into conservative banking and luxe tax haven, notably exposed by the Panama Papers . Panama City currently looks like condo heaven for the part.
Guatemala, the most populous of the Central American states (with 17 million) and the core of the former Mayan civilisation. About 45% remain indigenous, while the rest are mixed. They happen to be one of the world’s shortest countries, where women average 4″10 (147cm) and men about 5″3 (160cm). It’s also one of the youngest countries outside Africa, whose median age is about 20 – almost half of all people are kids. Like kid kids. Like the Dino exhibit in the Natural History Museum in Half Term with Santa Claus riding the T Rex over an Easter Egg Hunt on Disney Nite. Everywhere.
Denmark‘s size is the most varying of the world’s nation, due to whether you’d include self ruling Greenland. From 130th position it can be propelled to the 12th largest territory, overtaking Mexico or Saudi Arabia, or equivalent to 6 Germany’s. Even if you were to take just that little poky nib pointing out of Germany as the be all and end all, thanks to the exactitude of how coastlines are measured it comes in as having one neverending seaside longer than Chile‘s (who measures things quite laxly, doesn’t take in so many indents and doesn’t quite give a fuck unlike map nerds). Geo-porn right here.
Iceland is so sparsely populated it stands at 3 people per sq km for its 364,000 inhabitants, mostly in the capital Reykjavik. The island is powered by geothermal energy, and almost completely renewable, plus the first on the Global Peace Index, though to be fair it’s sitting on a giant bubbling vat of energy as the one place on the planet still being formed, and there’s plenty to go round for a pool of people so small there aren’t enough wankers to get pissed off about. Even the dating apps have to run the gamut of ancestry/ DNA tools that alert you (giant flashing letters, industrial screaming, pop up of Michael Jackson’s face) if you inadvertently swipe right on your cousin.
Hawaii is the planet’s most distant island, that takes multiple continent sized expanses of water in every direction to reach. Slap bang in the middle of the Pacific (half the world’s water area and about a third of the planet surface) it’s so hard to reach only a few birds made the up to 10,000 km /6,000 mile journeys about 8 million years ago, and evolved in utter isolation into 140 different species. No mammals made it other than a flying bat, and of course the genius of Polynesian explorers in 300 AD and another wave in 1100. Imagine rafting up your belongings, pigs and family, saying goodbye to your relatives (who’ll never know your fate) and striking out from the Isle of Wight, in a hope you’ll get an angle right to reach a spot of land near Tehran, if everything in between and all around and in every direction is ocean. For all their expertise with finding land (based on clouds, currents, birds etc) hundreds of flotillas likely never made it.
The last major spot made habitable by humans on the planet New Zealand was recently discovered to be the mountaintops of a previously undiscovered continent that now lies beneath the seas. Separated by 1700km / 1000 miles from Australia the islands also enjoyed unique wildlife that propagated in isolation before humans hit it in 1350. They entered a wondrous land (world’s most varied in terms of topography and climate types, on par with the entirety of the US), where birds ruled the roost, filling the niches of mousey pickers (kiwis), giant grazers (11ft moas) and the predators that swooped on them (eagles that stood a metre tall and whose spine-snapping talons were the size of tiger paws). None of them, many who nested on the ground, were prepared for the human, rodential and livestock onslaught that followed.
Japan is -typically dichotomous for its culture -one of the worlds most densely populated yet also most forested and mountainous countries. Tree cover accounts for 70% of the land, while the 125 million-strong population crams into the strip of coastal cities on the Kanto and Osaka plains, including the world’s singularly largest – Tokyo with 39 million inhabitants. But look again at the size of the islands, each massive -just so riddled with topography humans are islanded again.
Somalia, with the longest coastline on Mainland Africa is the continent’s most homogenous country, standing out in a panoply of states in the world’s most diverse region, that will normally count hundreds of languages and ethnicities within any border. 85% are Somali, albeit divided into 8 tribal/ chieftain groups. In the north Somaliland has declared itself independent, a functioning, peaceful state, as opposed to the civil war decimating the rest.
Yes, this is what I do with my time. OMGaaahd. And after all this, Beyond all this, Under all this…
Is this a distraction? An excuse for meaning in the hours. We’ve been here before, map after map over humanity, outside my life.
It is perhaps telling that it has been wasted, that there’s nothing much more to say, nor connected to life, to anything going on outside. It is a representation of some realm beyond the every day, conceptually imagining as far from this small, harboured life to the other lives and loves battling it out on the spinner.
This abstraction is key: is this the end of my scope? Dearie me, it may be time to put down the pen.