from the world's big
Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth
- J.R.R. Tolkien himself hinted that his stories are set in a really ancient version of Europe.
- But a fantasy realm can be inspired by a variety of places; and perhaps so is Tolkien's world.
- These intriguing similarities with Asian topography show that it may be time to 'decolonise' Middle-earth.
Mental decolonisation<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM0OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDU4Mjg3N30.pKS1PLxKYeJ6WDPAcleg7NCxzDn7Pddcg9rSJaul6no/img.png?width=980" id="56ee5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1d2ba98946accd12f7e0070c8d10154d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Menu page for Arda.ir, the website of the Persian Tolkien Society." />
Menu page for Arda.ir, the website of the Persian Tolkien Society.
Image: Arda.ir<p>Where on earth was Middle-earth? Based on a few hints by Tolkien himself, we've always sort-of assumed that his stories of <em>The Hobbit</em> and <em>Lord of the Rings</em> were centered on Europe, but so long ago that the shape of the coasts and the land has changed. </p><p>But perhaps that's too easy, too euro-centric an assumption; perhaps, like so many other things these days, Tolkien's fantasy realm too is in dire need of mental decolonisation.</p><p>And here's an excellent occasion: an Iranian tolkienologist has found intriguing hints that the writer based some of Middle-earth's topography on mountains, rivers and islands located in and near present-day Pakistan. </p><p>As mentioned in a previous article – recently reposted on the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/VeryStrangeMaps" target="_blank">Strange Maps Facebook page</a> on the occasion of the death of Ian Holm – Tolkien admitted that "The Shire is based on rural England, and not on any other country in the world;" and that "the action of the story takes place in the North-West of 'Middle-earth', equivalent in latitude to the coastlands of Europe and the north shores of the Mediterranean."<br></p>
Non-European topography<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1MC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ4MzcyMX0.891LPW42L78fdrwUhXdgOab7cbhs3YOqZK4ukIQx-Rw/img.png?width=980" id="6741c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f0e720018e3f9f7bec4260fe7151816e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="If you look at it like that, yes: that does resemble Mordor..." />
If you look at it like that, yes: that does resemble Mordor...
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>Extrapolating from the location of the Shire in Middle-earth and from other clues dropped by Tolkien, geophysics and geology professor Peter Bird matched the geography of Middle-earth with that of Europe (more about that in the <a href="https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/121-where-on-earth-was-middle-earth?utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&fbclid=IwAR0ZFYK1EXrf4J3B3X5_U4hSAgidgBs24ZNTYV9QEFbz2qI34OA_DpZsn70#Echobox=1592583835" target="_blank">aforementioned article</a>).</p><p>However, seeing Middle-earth as a mere palimpsest for present-day Europe is to place an undue limit on the imagination of its creator. As Tolkien also said about the shape of his world: "(It) was devised 'dramatically' rather than geologically or paleontologically."</p><p>In other words, certain parts of Middle-earth may very well have been inspired by other places than European ones. It is telling that it took a non-European connoisseur of Tolkien's topography to find some examples. <br></p>
"Seen that map before"<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1MS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTQ3Njc3NH0.azDO1_NWm9q9FwMpmqBOV2troOX0ajAXS4lP2bLstJI/img.png?width=980" id="1b193" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="565b62df93cef8936c8f348cdb059db8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bThe Indus river is a prominent geographical feature of Pakistan. Its course is similar to that of the Anduin, the Great River of Middle-earth." />
The Indus river is a prominent geographical feature of Pakistan. Its course is similar to that of the Anduin, the Great River of Middle-earth.
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>In an article published on <a href="https://arda.ir/" target="_blank">Arda.ir</a>, the web page for the Persian Tolkien Society, Mohammad Reza Kamali writes that during several years of cartographic study, "I found that maybe there are real lands (that) could have inspired Professor Tolkien, and some of them are not in Europe."</p><p>Around 2012, Mr Kamali's eye stopped when it came across a Google Map of Central Asia that showed the mountain chain of the Himalayas, the peaks of the Pamirs bunched together in an almost circular area, and the huge, flat oval of the Takla Makan desert, bounded to the north by the Tian-Shan mountains. </p><p>"I had seen that map before," he writes. "This is of course Mordor, the land of Sauron and the dark powers of Middle-earth, where Frodo and Sam destroy the One Ring." </p><p>In <a href="http://lotrproject.com/map" target="_blank">Tolkien's world</a>, the Himalayas transform into Ephel Duath, the Mountains of Shadow; and the Tian Shan into Ered Lithui, the Ash Mountains. And the circle-shaped Pamirs "are the same shape and in exactly the same corner as the Udûn of Mordor, where Frodo and Sam originally tried getting into Mordor, via the Black Gate."<br></p>
Similar shapes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDQyODMzNX0.KHrY7rDCNNaKKJQz-xn431APM2TqxGPCaMsqNvBe1xA/img.jpg?width=980" id="7a9fa" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="642e135455b2067ac4425e6984bcc697" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="A U.S. Marine Corps CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter flies near the Tarbela Dam in Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, Aug. 27, 2010. Defense Department officials announced Aug. 30, 2010, the deployment of 18 helicopters to Pakistan from the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, based at Fort Wainwright, Alaska." />
A US Marine Corps helicopter flying over the Tarbela Dam on the Indus river in Pakistan. At its center: a former river island which may have been the inspiration for Cair Andros, a ship-shaped island in Middle-earth's Anduin river.
Image: Paul Duncan (USMC), public domain<p>Mulling over these similarities, Mr Kamali became convinced that Tolkien's map work was heavily inspired by Asia. Looking further, he found more evidence. Consider Anduin, the Great River of Middle-earth, in whose waters the One Ring was lost for more than two thousand years. </p><p>On Tolkien's map, the Anduin bends toward the sea in a shape similar to that of another great river: the Indus, which runs the length of Pakistan. Like the Anduin, it flows to the west of a major mountain chain. A prominent feature of the Anduin is the river island of Cair Andros, just north of Osgiliath. Its name means 'Ship of Long Foam', a reference to its long and narrow shape, and the sharpness of its rocks, which split the waters of the Anduin like a prow. <br></p><p>Mr Kamali is not entirely sure, but proposes that Tolkien may have been inspired by a similar-shaped island in the Indus. Now integrated into the Tarbela Dam, which was inaugurated in 1976, it would still have been a separate island in the 1930s and 40s, when Tolkien dreamed up his map.</p>
Kutch as Tolfalas Island<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1NC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwOTU5NjcyNn0.869W8iiowQb9_T3laFKOUe5o5UMXuMlSITb1VxRlC2g/img.png?width=980" id="9c49e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0d1e386474d99b19a50b740112ad199f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="During the rainy season, the coastal region of Kutch, near the mouth of the Indus, turns into an island that resembles Tolfalas Island, near the mouth of the Anduin." />
During the rainy season, the coastal region of Kutch, near the mouth of the Indus, turns into an island that resembles Tolfalas Island, near the mouth of the Anduin.
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>Turning our eyes to the mouth of the Anduin and Indus, we see another pair of islands, and Mr Kamali is more certain about the real one having inspired the fictional one. The fictional one is Tolfalas Island, the largest island in Belfalas Bay. <br></p><p>At first glance, it doesn't seem to have a real-life counterpart near where the Indus joins the Arabian Sea. But take a look at the coastal part of the Indian state of Gujarat. It is known as <em>Kutch</em>, a name which apparently refers to its alternately wet and dry states. In the rainy season, the shallow wetlands flood and Kutch becomes an island – the biggest island in the Gulf of Kutch, and not too dissimilar to Tolfalas Island. </p>
General knowledge<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDIwODkyOH0.aInJedv3tiQo1LmW-M6D5LV699oeWNltxeYcVKWwtF0/img.jpg?width=980" id="9bc6e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="01d97d3941f9ba732b4df35c3aedd977" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="British Indian Empire 1909 Imperial Gazetteer of India" />
1909 map showing British India in pink (direct British control) and yellow (princely states). Circled: Kutch, clearly recognisable as an island.
Image: Edinburgh Geographical Institute; J. G. Bartholomew and Sons, public domain<p>But are these similarities really more than coincidences? Why would Tolkien, who was based in Cambridge and steeped in English lore and Germanic mythology, turn to the Indian subcontinent for topographical inspiration? Perhaps because cartographic knowledge of that part of the world was far more general in Britain then than it is now. Until the late 1940s, the countries we know today as India and Pakistan were part of the British Empire. Detailed maps of the region would have been standard fare for British atlases. </p><p>Mr Kamali is convinced that the topographical features on Tolkien's map of Middle-earth are not mere fantasy, but derive from actual places in our world, and were 'riddled' onto the map. In that case, we may look forward to more discoveries of Tolkien's real-world inspiration. <br></p>
From Frodingham to Frodo<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5NzgzMzE2OH0.uMd43VxS9WQSWr1Z0IQ-UxIhBYkERhxTU7hoPvNachk/img.jpg?width=980" id="05037" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="753c410e12164cb59f27e56bcc743e1b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Image based on a photograph of J. R. R. Tolkien in army uniform (taken in 1916, when Tolkien was aged 24). This image is a digitally modified version with cut-out contours, added gradient "shadow" around the contours, and noise reduction." />
J.R.R. Tolkien in 1916, when he was 24. Around that time, he was stationed near the village of Frodingham, which may have given him the inspiration for the name of the main protagonist in Lord of the Rings.
Image: public domain<p>Here's one example of tolkienography - if that's what we can call the effect of actual geography on this particular writer's imagination - which I gleaned myself, some years ago in East Yorkshire. A local historian told me that Tolkien had been stationed in the area during the First World War, and had apparently stored away some local place names for later use. The name Frodo, he said, derived from a town where he had attended a few dances – Frodingham, a village across the Humber in northern Lincolnshire, not far from Scunthorpe (<em>Scunto</em>? We dodged a bullet there). </p><p>Whether that story is entirely true or not is beside the point. As fantasy fans know, any grail quest is ultimately about the quest, not the grail. In fact, to quote Mr Kamali, the treasure is important only because it's well hidden, "by a clever professor who enjoys riddles."</p><p><em>Unless otherwise indicated, illustrations are from Mr Kamali's <a href="https://arda.ir/the-tale-of-the-annotated-map-and-tolkien-hidden-riddles/?fbclid=IwAR3RmtU0ZdyzQGlK-iCsUjho4LA2W279fwO9dt8vv90FX2IeO3zrfMuMToU" target="_blank">article</a> on <a href="https://arda.ir/" target="_blank">Arda.ir</a>, reproduced with kind permission. </em><br></p><p><strong>Strange Maps #1036</strong></p><p><em>Got a strange map? Let me know at </em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a><em>.</em></p>
To get a sense of faraway places, these 'atlases' let the locals give you their perspective.
- Most atlases are terrible: nothing more than glorified road maps.
- These 'Subjective Atlases' offer bottom-up views of places, provided by people who actually live there.
- Each of the 12 atlases so far is unique, and surprising – but don't expect to drive by them.
Fuzzy and messy, but more life-like<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzMyODQzNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMDQwNzQzOX0.bdz8_STCZdGY9hYdqa5pDGqm4HXS9riIUBYIT5a3C3s/img.jpg?width=980" id="f638c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="11e57a971655bc4ee31d6b43a65b03e4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt=""Subjective Atlas of the Netherlands" cover" />
The cover of the Subjective Atlas of the Netherlands, a composite of maps drawn from memory.
Image: Subjective Atlas, reproduced with kind permission.<p>As a map-lover, this is not easy for me to admit, but: most atlases are terrible. Glorified road maps that could have been made by satellites with slightly varying interests. What if an atlas really – <em>really</em> – tried to reflect the place it depicts? Then perhaps you'd end up with something like this series of books. </p><p>Called "Subjective Atlases," they don't present a top-down picture, like most atlases do, but a bottom-up one: a mosaic made by people who actually live there, each offering an individual, original, and genuine take on what that's like. What you get is a fuzzy, messy portrait that somehow feels more life-like than any neat collection of straight-lined maps could.</p><p>The series is edited by Dutch graphic designer Annelys de Vet, who published the first "Subjective Atlas" in 2003, and has since collaborated and workshopped with artists, designers, and other interested citizens of 12 locations around the world. Each atlas is a unique blend of perspectives, expressed in maps and photos, graphs, and collages. The latest atlas, on Luxembourg, was launched in October of last year.</p><p>Yes, we need road maps. And okay, some atlases are real pretty to look at. But their subjective cousins are a much better way to get a sense of the people who live in these places far and near – all more exotic than we thought. Here's a small sample of the variety of perspectives offered in the Atlases. For more, go to the <a href="http://subjectiveatlas.info/" target="_blank" style="">Subjective Atlas</a> page. </p>
UFO sightings in the EU<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzMyODQ0OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNDAyNDY0MH0.csRDD3PiWE5mkfxFaKSy2RY7yZkaaZ1-1cCw9LvsZXA/img.png?width=980" id="b9539" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4234324d497f13639cc1babb54a9d017" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of UFO sightings in the EU, as reported by Larry Hatch" />
France reported nearly double as many UFO sightings as the UK and Ireland combined.
Image: Subjective Atlas, reproduced with kind permission.<p>Are aliens really that different from other foreign visitors to Europe? Not really, as shown by this map of UFO sightings across the EU (after the accession of Poland, but before Romania, so 2004-2007).</p><p><span></span>Like most other tourists, E.T. just loves France (2,247 sightings), really likes the UK and Ireland (1,192), but is not super into Italy (530). Spain? Meh (351). Germany – double meh (111). </p><p><span></span>That's (western) Europe's Big Five accounted for, but what about the smaller countries? Belgium is the clear favorite (205), followed by Sweden (153), Portugal (122), and Denmark (110). Surprisingly unpopular is Austria (37) and the Netherlands (22). And Luxembourg (0), you must be doing something wrong. </p><p><span></span>UFO sightings are noticeably rarer in eastern Europe: single-digit results in the Baltics, Slovenia, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, and nowhere more than Poland's anemic 47 sightings.</p><p><span></span>How come? The "Subjective Atlas of the EU" notes that the stats, provided by UFO investigator Larry Hatch, do not simply reflect sightings. Other factors are at play as well, in particular "the freedom of information, and the willingness of people to act on those freedoms."</p><p>Notable factors:</p><ul><li>Political: Soviet-era reticence made it nearly impossible to get good data from eastern Europe (Side note: There is no info on the period for which these figures apply).</li><li>Social: In some countries, the stigma attached to reporting something as 'crazy' as a UFO sighting is prohibitive. Germany, we're all looking at you.</li><li>Infrastructural: Some poorer countries may lack the means to report sightings.</li><li>Awareness: France and the UK in particular have (or had) active UFO researchers. Other countries lack similar degrees of awareness. </li></ul>
All dressed up, nowhere to go<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzMyODQ1OC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5OTAwOTA2Nn0.C3hJ99ayDWZjLcF-KKgQTmeUExIKk2qSx-51CzwAyRA/img.png?width=980" id="38710" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3db4cbf535d5e5d0a44b8790ca848177" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="A map of the obstructions and obstacles imposed on Ramallah by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank." />
You can't drive anywhere from Ramallah's city center without hitting an obstacle within 25 minutes.
Image: Subjective Atlas, reproduced with kind permission.<p>Located 10 km north of Jerusalem, Ramallah serves as the <em>de facto</em> capital of Palestine. In a slightly parallel universe, its location and function would make it an attractive destination and a desirable place of residence. In ours, however, Ramallah's potential is sapped by the restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. </p><p><span></span>Although Ramallah itself is located in the Palestinian self-governing area (so-called Area A), the city is surrounded by Israeli settlements and hemmed in by Israel's Security Wall. That can give city residents more than a touch of claustrophobia. As shown by this map. </p><ul><li>Drive 25 minutes north, and you're at Surda. Beyond that Palestinian village, you've reached an Israeli checkpoint. Go back to start. </li><li>Drive west, then. After 20 minutes, you hit a couple of villages with their backs against the wall. Literally. Another road branches off north, but it's a dead end.</li><li>South? Two options: southwest, either to a dead-end road, or an Israeli jail. Take the southeast option, and 20 minutes later, a familiar tableau – some villages, then the wall. </li><li>Okay, let's try east. Option one: a 10-minute drive, then an Israeli military base. Option two: a 15-minute drive, then the wall.</li></ul><p>If you get all dressed up in Ramallah, there'd better be something happening downtown. Because there's nowhere else to go.<br></p>
Boot scrapes of Luxembourg City<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzMyODQ2Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTQyNTc5NX0.gbXb7Apj19FI5R0WD1qxdFww2iLSaIogCluteheygVw/img.jpg?width=980" id="1d816" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4cae177ee53b36c136e96c40f7252fb8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Various boot scrapes in Luxembourg City." />
Boot scrape envy leads to an interesting anecdote about horse manure.
Image: Subjective Atlas, reproduced with kind permission.<p>The "Subjective Atlas of Luxembourg" (the country) features two pages filled with photographs of mysterious objects found on the streets of Luxembourg (the capital city). Dean Baldwin, who took the pictures, explains: </p><p>"Living in Montreal, which receives more than two metres of annual snowfall, we are constantly dealing with the crud of the streets that we transfer from our exterior to interior spaces. In our homes we remove footwear as we enter, but in public places like the theatre we must all deal with the snow and slush frozen from our feet as it thaws. Seeing these boot scrapes in Luxembourg made me envy them."</p><p>"Relaying my appreciation for these architectural protrusions, an actress recounted the story of how the phrase <em>Bonne Merde</em> ('good shit') is used in the theatre. I had always understood it to be an inverse of <em>Good Luck</em>, like the counter-jinx <em>break-a-leg</em>, used to wish the opposite of a bad thing happening." </p><p>"But in the 19th century, when horse-drawn carriages were common, so too was horse shit in the streets. More carriages in front of the theatre meant more shit would come into the building on audience members' shoes. After the show, with the crowd dispersed, all that remained was the shit. More shit meant a popular show, thus the goodwill expression: <em>Bonne Merde</em>!"</p>
Bird-watching in Brussels<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzMyODQ5Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNjkzODMyOX0.qQvLQXUhIXeIS3hN160KZnTGFsuh-J6Atq-ZgJbCB-k/img.jpg?width=980" id="0eb21" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2a6366113c563da4b117404a14ee524a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bTo each their own: an overview of the favorite locations of some bird species in the \u00c9tangs d'Ixelles." />
To each their own: an overview of the favorite locations of some bird species in the Étangs d'Ixelles.
Image: Subjective Atlas, reproduced with kind permission.<p>Birds of a feather flock together. That's why we have Chinatowns and Little Italies, rich and poor neighborhoods, hipster zones and religious enclaves. The principle also works for birds themselves, as observed at the <em>Étangs d'Ixelles</em>, two lakes in the south of Brussels, on the northern edge of the Bois de la Cambre (the local version of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris). <br></p><p>The map shows the lower of the two, and the preferred perches of some of the species that frequent the area, as observed by a local resident:</p><ol><li>Top left: the Egyptian goose (<em>Alopochen aegyptica</em>)</li><li>Top right: the goose (<em>Anser fabalis</em>)</li><li>Middle left: the swan (<em>Cygnus olor</em>)</li><li>Middle right: the mallard (<em>Anas platyrhynchos</em>)</li><li>Bottom: the coot (<em>Fulica atra</em>)</li></ol>
Elsewhere, Colombia<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzMyODQ3Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5NzY5NTMzN30.GSnw6_vCx3zY0ojiJ7g4sP0Qi82vRMWXEwGDT5MkRFs/img.jpg?width=980" id="67f42" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7afd91c02f04a5f624cf67bdf79b41ee" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bNames of residential buildings in the north of Baranquilla, Colombia." />
Names of residential buildings in the north of Baranquilla.
Image: Subjective Atlas, reproduced with kind permission.<p>Location, as any real estate honcho will tell you, is everything. But what is 'location'? It's both inescapably objective, in a ground-beneath-your-feet kind of way, and as fluid and malleable as the fanciest flights of our imagination. Your feet may be stomping in the sticks, but with some helpful atmospherics – a nice memory, a good wine, the right song – you might as well be sauntering down the Champs Élysées. </p><p><span></span>This transporting effect is well known to city planners and – again – real estate people, and often used to amplify the appeal of the locations in their care. Hence the frequent references in street names to faraway, glamorous locations. Glamorous <em>because</em> they're faraway, to be precise, as even the most renowned cities and countries often lose somewhat of their exotic appeal upon closer inspection. </p><p>The developers of Baranquilla are also quite familiar with the effect, as this sample will attest. These are the names of some of the residential buildings in the north of the city. Their inherent appeal is further spiced up with references to places whose names resonate with cosmopolitanism and class – at least from the perspective of a Caribbean port city.</p><ul><li>North American cities like Toronto, Montreal, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Malibu.</li><li>European emblems of refinement like Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, Zurich, and Denmark (<em>Dinamarca</em>).</li><li>Destinations for an exotic beach holiday, such as Bahamas, Ibiza, Mallorca, Santorini, Mykonos, and Palm Beach.</li><li>And locations referencing historical ties to the Iberian Peninsula, including Lisboa, Cadiz, Sevilla, Galicia, and Bilbao. </li></ul><p>The odd one out: Lulu (first column, second from the bottom). Isn't that a person's (nick)name rather than a place name? It is, upon further reading, in fact both: There are places called Lulu in Florida, Colorado, and Missouri. It's a bay and a town on the Caribbean island of Navassa. An island in British Columbia – and another one in Abu Dhabi. And it's the nickname of the German town of <em>Ludwigslust</em>. </p><p>Imagining locations can take you to strange places. Although perhaps not necessarily to Baranquilla. It would surprise us greatly if any of the cities or countries mentioned above had a street, a square or even a block of flats named after Colombia's fourth-largest city. <br></p>
Bike-stealing in Amsterdam<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzMyODUxMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5NTA2NjIwM30.FxLrW1YKQS-Y-zI9zFSj9PrAEHmyR1IbYEkkfKucgD8/img.png?width=980" id="239e3" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6dbb4b4f0c247fcdf379b64c5e40f792" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of bike-stealing hotspots in Amsterdam" />
Worst places in Amsterdam to park your bike (or best places to steal one?)
Image: Subjective Atlas, reproduced with kind permission.<p>The Dutch sure love to cycle. The Netherlands has more bicycles (23 million) than people (17.5 million). Together, they cycle about 15 billion km (9.3 billion miles) each year – that's an average of 888 km (552 miles) per capita. Sure, there are plenty of good things to say about cycling. It's a healthy alternative to driving. It's better for the environment. It reduces congestion. And you generally don't have a problem finding a parking spot. </p><p><span></span>But there's a dark side to that cycling goodness; a yang to all that yin. Because the Dutch also love to <em>steal</em> bicycles. Bike theft is the most prevalent form of property crime in the Netherlands. An average of 1,500 bicycles are stolen each day, adding up to more than half a million each year. </p><p><span></span>Amsterdam is a hotspot of bicycle crime in the Netherlands and, according to this map, these are the bike theft hotspots in Amsterdam. Darker colors denote higher risk. Darkest red is the area around the Centraal Station. Also, you don't want to leave you bike near Nieuwe Voorburgwal or at Muntplein. Leidseplein and Waterlooplein are risky propositions too. The safest areas, although surely that's a relative concept, are Jordaan, Pijp and Plantage. </p><p>Based on a survey of bike crime victims, the map also indicates – using colored bicycles – how the victims felt when they noticed their steel horses had bolted: "anger", "irritation", "resignation", "despair", "vengefulness". <br></p>
From fishing village to world city<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzMyODUyMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNjM5MTAyMH0.xK6nTmKela1ArK3mxznpZw33ZDeYqK6N_riD9bkMix0/img.jpg?width=980" id="87fa3" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="af4aac0e59aa7aa8ceafa9a1edfca504" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bColor-coded overview of the origins of Old Karachi's street names." />
Color-coded overview of the origins of Old Karachi's street names.
Image: Subjective Atlas, reproduced with kind permission.<p>In the early 1700s, a woman named Mai Kolachi settles near the delta of the Indus River to raise her family, and a small fishing village named after her springs up around her house. Another story recounts that Mai Kolachi's fisher husband is lost at sea in a heavy storm. Against the advice of the villagers and without their help, she sets out to find him – and she does. In her honour, the village is given her name. In another version, six of Mai Kolachi's seven sons get eaten by a crocodile; the seventh kills the creature, after which the grateful locals rename their village after her. </p><p><span></span>Whatever the origin, <em>Kolachi</em> becomes <em>Karachi</em>, and the humble village turns into Pakistan's biggest city. With 15 million inhabitants, it's the seventh-biggest city in the entire world. It was the British who transformed the village into a fort, then a port, then a railway hub. But they were just one of the many ingredients that turned Karachi into a major trading, financial and manufacturing center. That happened thanks to a truly cosmopolitan mix of talents, contributed by Muslims and Hindus, Jews and Parsis, and many others. </p><p>Today, Karachi's port handles almost all of Pakistan's foreign trade. The city alone generates around 20% of the country's entire GDP. However, cosmopolitanism has suffered following the Indian subcontinent's Partition along religious lines in 1947. As the caption for this map explains, "the country acquired a monolithic Islamic identity. Many prominent streets and roads were renamed to commemorate national personalities or evoke a romanticised Muslim heritage or in some cases to de-commemorate, e.g. Motilal Nehru Road (the father of India's post-Partition leader, Nehru) which was renamed Jigar Muradabadi Road after a national poet."</p><p>However, many old names survive. The street signs in the old city reflect its origins, with names indicating a link with Karachi's diverse heritage:</p><ul><li>British (light blue), e.g.: Montgomery Street, Love Lane, Robson Road.</li><li>Christian (dark blue), e.g.: Nazareth Road, St Mary Street, Father Giminez Street.</li><li>Hindu (brown), e.g.: Ramchandra Temple Road, Hanuman Street, Ram Bharti Street.</li><li>Jewish (purple), e.g.: Moses ibn Ezra Street, Solomon David Street, Ashkenazi Street. </li><li>Muslim (green), e.g.: Akbar Road, Majid Road, Aga Khan Street.</li><li>Parsi (grey), e.g.: Jehangi Punthakey Road, Mama Parsi Road, Jamshed Mehta Road.</li></ul>"Is it because these areas are 'below the radar'? Does it indicate an acceptance and assimilation of the city's true history?"<p><br></p><p><em>Images reproduced with kind permission. For more, visit the <a href="http://subjectiveatlas.info/" target="_blank">Subjective Atlas</a> page.</em></p><p><strong>Strange Maps #1031</strong></p><p><em>Got a strange map? Let me know at </em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a><em>.</em></p>
Love a good villain? It says a lot about you.
- People tend to be attracted to others with similar positive traits, but recoil from those with similar negative traits.
- This tendency doesn't exist with villains, who we like even if we share negative traits with them.
- This finding may led to new studies on how we process personality traits, story processing, and your internet browsing history.
I wonder which villains the authors of this study are fond of.<p>The researchers turned to the website CharacTour.com to help determine which villains people were most like. This site, which has 232,500 members, allows people to rate their personal traits on a scale that is also used for various characters that users can compare themselves to and become "fans" of. The database has nearly 4,000 characters who are categorized in multiple ways, such as if they are quiet or talkative or if they are villainous or heroic. </p><p>Reviewing the data on this site demonstrated that people do tend to like villains who share their traits, people became fans of villains who were similar to them at higher rates than they became fans of heroes who were like them. However, this data did not demonstrate that this was <em>why </em>people liked those villains. </p><p>However, the third experiment in this study looked into the causal relationship between similarities and liking. In this test, participants read a scenario about a new television show featuring a character named Sam. Different test subjects were given different ideas about Sam from the reading; in some cases, they were a hero, in some a villain, in some cases designed to be similar to the test subject and in others very different. Test subjects then filled out a form describing their interest in watching the show and how similar they thought they were to Sam.</p><p>The results were clear; people wanted to see more of Sam when they were similar to them, by similar margins for both the heroic and villainous manifestations. This demonstrates that at least some of the attraction people have to villains is trait-based and not, for example, just because they look cool. </p> Other experiments in the study focused on the storytelling element, how threatened we feel by those we are similar to, and further explored how and why we like villains like us.
So what does this mean for me? And how worried should I be if I like a good villain?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="5FAva26Q" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="25ff3d8f1be6841876da568a5cff571a"> <div id="botr_5FAva26Q_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/5FAva26Q-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/5FAva26Q-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/5FAva26Q-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The key finding of all of this is that there is something about villains being fictional that lets us drop our guard and like the ones who share our negative traits, which we have difficulty doing for real people. This opens up several areas for future studies, such as how our brains process stories, how interpersonal relationships can be affected by positive and negative personality traits, and how hard people will work to keep up the positive view of themselves.</p><p>Because this study was done using information gathered by an online quiz, the authors also speculate that "big data from people's online experience can be used to offer insights about their everyday behavior." This tidbit is at once the opportunity for beneficial information that can help people better understand themselves and truly personal data that commercial interests will be able to use to know even more about you from seemingly benign online interactions. </p><p>The more self-reflective of you might be able to use this information for personal insight, though it might take a while to figure out precisely what you have in common with your favorite villains. I rather like Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker in Christopher Nolan's <em>The Dark Knight, </em>but I'm not totally sure what I'm supposed to have in common with him. </p><p>Furthermore, there is no reason to think this is limited to stories alone; the authors suspect we might do the same thing with "secure attachment figures." This information might also be helpful for those who are fully aware of the flaws of your loved ones but go on loving them anyway. </p><p>We try to view ourselves as good, and as a result, we often recoil from people that remind us that we need to work on a few parts of ourselves. For whatever reason, we do the very opposite when faced with a fictitious villain to compare ourselves to. While this study probably won't lead to an army of Hollywood writers starting to devise villains who don't call their parents enough or who never quite get around to their to-do list, it might provide us a way to know a little bit more about ourselves. </p>
We wouldn't want to live without it, so how can we create art that's durable?
- You cannot kill the arts. This is particularly true when you talk about poetry, which does well in a world of social media as its easy to digest in its short form.
- Measuring success in art can be tricky, though. Impact and influence can be felt immediately, so how does art find that everlasting durability?
- Philanthropy can encourage and enable art, and as a result, potentially lengthen its lifespan. If we can find ways to measure art in its own terms, we can effectively give a platform to new voices who complete the cultural picture.
It's normal if you're not productive in your creativity all the time. Even the greats took breaks.
- Creative types can feel an overwhelming sense of pressure to be prolific, especially in times like these when, in theory, free time is abundant. Creativity is a resource that takes different forms and like other resources, it has its limits.
- According to Elizabeth Alexander, poet and president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, it's common for artists to have gaps in the chronology of their work. Familial commitments, depression, and health troubles are among the very valid reasons to not be producing creative works.
- Borrowing a term from jazz musicians, Alexander explains that creatives can also go through a period of 'woodshedding,' a term that refers to the practice of working on one's craft and experimenting in a private place (like a wood shed) until it is ready to be shared with the world.