Those old sepia maps showing unvisited lands & seas and replete with words like terra incognita and mare usque, have always fascinated me. The hold a promise unfulfilled and unfulfillable—the promise of a strange land far away where dwell the dragons, monsters, and heroes.
These long-lost emotions and ambitions were aroused today when I looked at the new InfoMine map of southern Africa. None of the mines, towns, provinces, or places that I knew growing up are there. I found not the lovely old name Transvaal, meaning across the dirty river. Nor East Geduld which means patience. Nor all those evocative springs, rands, ridges, or kloofs where we played. Not even Brakpan, where I was born, and which translates as dirty pool (of water I suppose.)
True the map locates over 400 mines. But as one scallywag joked: “Enjoy them, for in ten years, the way things are going, there could be only 200.” And this map, so new and vital today, could in but a decade be a collector’s item of historical value. As good a reason as any to buy one fast. Maybe it will appreciate faster than gold or silver. For mining engineers are getting older and in ten years we will be in our dotage and ready to spend inordinate sums on memorabilia.
That map is not beautiful in the way those old, old maps were. I know the lady who made up the map, and I know she put her heart into it. Her skill shines, but the demands of modern commerce intrude to detract from the craft she has and put into this map. Do we really want all those adverts surrounding something you might choose to frame and put up on a wall? I put a previous map on my wall, but let it lie when it fell down. For I hated it: it made my office look like a bus station or a stand at a second rate conference.
Maps can be art; maps have been art; this map is art if you could only cut out the clutter and commerce. Oh well. If you need it solely for fact, then this is your map. But I think that is sad: for maps should be collector’s items; an icon of an historical moment; a reminder long years hence of a time and place that never was, is no longer, and will never return.