Jazzberry Blue is an artist who creates consistently pleasing abstract art. Jazzberry Blue’s recently released abstract art pieces based on cities around the world have impressed the art community. Something I find especially cool about the cities chosen so far for this project is that they are all great destinations for viewing abstract art. Coincidence? Maybe. Either way, these beautiful renderings of cities as abstract art warrant a list of the best place to view abstract art in each respective city. Meta? Definitely.
Once the lords of the back of in-flight magazines, loopy-lined flight route maps appear to be quietly disappearing on some major airlines’ websites. One possible explanation is the fact that many online airline shoppers have already done their homework by the time they arrive at the airline’s site to book a flight. But some travelers are clinging to the old way, saying flight maps are one of the quickest and easiest ways to determine direct routes and hub cities.
Meanwhile, flight routes are finding a new use online, not for planning your next connection, but in a really cool data visualization project by Contrailz. The developers collected plane tracking data from Planefinder.net and mapped the routes and altitudes followed by jets. Zoomed in, you can see the individual paths flown by planes approaching airports, while on a larger scale it’s an abstract, artistic look at the way we fly.
New York is introducing wayfinding map kiosks throughout the city, a godsend for anyone who has ever emerged from a subway exit disoriented (don’t be ashamed, that’s pretty much everyone who has set foot in the city). The maps are not only helpful, but also match the graphic language established in the 1960s for the subway system, as Michael Bierut from design team Pentagram explains to Wired:
“All of this was deliberately echoing the way the subways look… We wanted people to be able to ride the subway, come out and orient themselves.”
The new monolith-style kiosks display two maps, a zoomed-in glimpse of what’s within a five-minute radius, and an overview of the location in relation to a larger patch of the city. The first kiosk was installed last week in Chinatown, with more to follow soon. In a city where an estimated 30 percent of all trips are made by foot, we can’t be the only ones excited this subway improvement is here. With the recent addition of free solar-powered cellphone charging stations, the city seems to be getting more tourist-friendly every day.
Want to be an explorer? Want to see places nobody has ever seen? You have three options: become an astronaut, become a deep-sea diver or become a caver.
The first isn’t going to happen for a man my age and the second is expensive, so it’s a good thing I live in one of the best regions in the world to do the third. Cantabria in northern Spain has a large amount of karst, a type of stone that often has caves.
One of them is Luna Llena (“Full Moon”), which has yet to be fully mapped. In my fourth caving expedition in Spain I was part of a team that went to look for new passages. I was thrilled. Seeing unexplored parts of the subterranean world was one of the reasons I got into caving. I didn’t think the payoff would come so quickly.
Luna Llena is at the bottom of an abandoned galena mine from the 1920s. The miners were blasting with dynamite one day and opened up a hole into an unknown cave. It’s been regularly explored ever since but there are still many blank spots on its map.
The mineshaft slopes sharply down into the bedrock. Walking along an old narrow-gauge track past ore wagons and rusted equipment, we soon arrived at the cave. There were four of us, two experienced cavers who would be doing the bulk of the mapping, myself, and another relative newbie named Nacho. I quickly discovered that this would be the toughest cave I’d faced in any country.Karst often forms narrow, deep passageways, the product of underground streams cutting away the stone. These passageways can be five, ten, a hundred meters high. There’s no real floor, just a gradual narrowing until you reach water at the bottom. The only way to traverse these is a technique called “chimneying,” in which you straddle the passage with a hand and a foot on each wall. If it gets a bit too wide you press your feet against one wall and your back against the other. You keep tied into a rope running along the wall so you don’t risk falling into the abyss.
This workout led to a payoff – a low chamber filled with soda straws, thin little tubes hanging on the ceiling that eventually form stalactites. We had to crawl on our hands and knees below these beautiful formations for several minutes before getting to a place where we could stand up.
A little more exploring brought us to a long, high passageway. Several small tunnels led away from it, several blanks on the map. We picked one and crawled inside.
This is where it really got interesting. We were off the map in a place nobody had ever seen. Sadly I didn’t have my camera. My Instamatic died the previous week and I wasn’t going to risk my SLR in these conditions. Nacho brought his, but since he was behind me the only shots he got of me were of the bottom of my boots. The tunnel was too small for anything else.
It was almost too small for us to move. Crawling along in a military low crawl, the tops of our helmets scraping against the roof, we came to a spot where the tunnel pinched.
One of the more experienced cavers turned and looked at me.
“You sure you want to do this?” she asked. “Stop and think about it.”
“Of course I want to do it.”
“You’re not claustrophobic?” she asked.
“If I was claustrophobic I would have started freaking out ten meters ago.”
She shrugged and wormed her way into the tunnel. I gave her time to get through and then went in myself. The only way to enter this part was to have both arms stretched out ahead of me. Even then my shoulders barely made it through. I edged my way forward with my forearms and feet, the tunnel pressing in on all sides. Breathing became difficult. There wasn’t enough room to inhale fully, but I was exerting myself and needed the air. Every move was an effort. I wondered if I would make it through. I didn’t panic, though. My only worry was that Nacho was going to have to grab my boots and haul me out.
Any lingering doubt that I have claustrophobia was snuffed out when my headlamp suffered the same fate. An outcropping in the rock hit the power button and the tiny space I was in plunged into darkness.
It didn’t matter. I hadn’t been seeing anything but the rock an inch in front of my nose anyway. Continuing by feel, I made it to a slightly wider part of the tunnel where I could bend my arm and switch on my light. Ahead of me was an even tinier tunnel turning at an acute angle. The caver ahead of me called back.
“Come on through. It’s like a second birth!”
The birth canal I actually had to push off with my legs and force my body through. I exhaled, crushing my chest as flat as it could go. My head and arms emerged in a little cyst in which sat two of our team. Another push and my shoulders made it. A final effort to get the stomach through, swearing all the way to give up beer. I felt the cave walls pressing against my stomach and the small of my back and then I let out a tremendous fart. The cave literally squeezed it out of me.
Poor Nacho. He was right behind me and had nowhere to run. I hoped he didn’t asphyxiate. He was my ride.
We all gathered in the cyst, Nacho looking a bit green around the gills. During all this time our more experienced leaders had been mapping the passageway. Now we got a chance. This was basic mapping, with a compass, tape measure, and clinometer. It was meticulous work in cramped conditions, yet highly rewarding. All my life I’ve studied maps, especially old ones with their tempting blank spots marked Terra Incognita. And now here I was in Subterra Incognita.
I studied every fissure and formation, hoping to find another passage branching away form the one we were in. None were wide enough to push through. The tunnel soon turned back and rejoined one of the main mapped passageways. We’d mapped maybe a couple of hundred meters. In the annals of discovery this is a very minor footnote. I didn’t care. It made all the scrapes and bruises worth it.
So if you want to be an explorer, consider caving. It’s not as hard as you think. I’m 43 years old and only moderately fit. Chances are you can do what I do. If you live in the U.S., the best way to get into it is to join the National Speleological Society. With more than 10,000 members and about 250 local chapters (called “grottoes”), there’s probably a group near you.
Before a 15-year-old Tim Gravenstreter hopped on a Trailways bus for his first solo trip to the Windy City, his father gave him a piece of advice he still follows.
“Don’t stand on a street corner looking at a map trying to figure out where you are,” the elder Gravenstreter said. “People will mark you for a rube and take advantage of you.”
Although Tim had studied the Chicago map in the days before his trip, the teen was a bit overwhelmed after he stepped off the bus and wasn’t immediately able to place where he was. So he walked into a nearby department store and asked for directions … to the men’s room.
“When I got into the stall, I opened the map and figured out where I was and where I needed to go,” Gravenstreter said. “I really haven’t had a problem finding my way around since.”
Nearly a half-century later, portable GPS units, smart phones and the Internet have made paper maps a virtual relic. Although a few headstrong folks like my brother-in-law Sean steadfastly refuse to give up their dog-eared Rand-McNally road atlas, more and more people rely on technology to get them from Point A to Point B. If you’re under the age of 25, you may have never had to navigate using a traditional map, let alone use a compass.
Gravenstreter saw the writing on the wall last year, closing the Indianapolis map shop he and his wife Dayle had owned for nearly 30 years. First-time visitors were often overwhelmed when they walked into the Odyssey Map Store for the first time, the smell of fresh paper greeting them as they walked through the door. Thousands of maps from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe were stacked neatly on shelves and displays throughout the small shop on Delaware Street. Photos of Midwestern street corners lined the walls next to vintage globes and brightly colored geography puzzles for school children.
“I’ve met so many wonderful people,” Dayle Gravenstreter told me one autumn afternoon before they shuttered their doors for good. “African cab drivers who point out where they’re from on the map, a lot of military families, people going into the Peace Corps,” she said. “Everyone has a story and I’ve enjoyed listening to them all.”
One of those men came in seeking a map of Mars.”When we asked him why he needed it, he said he was building a spaceship in his backyard,” Dayle said. She never saw the man again. A knowing smile crossed her lips as she declined to guess if he managed to make it to his desired destination.
There was also the man who bought an antique-looking six-panel map of Paris at a Salvation Army store. He brought into the store to see what it might be worth. A lot, it turned out.
“It’d been commissioned by Louis XIV and created by the Royal Academy of Sciences and Sir Isaac Newton,” Dayle said. “There were 12-16 originals in existence. He paid $5 for it and it was worth between $1 million and $10 million.”
Customers planning major family trips had been the core of Odyssey’s business, but in its last remaining years, those people stayed home to do their research on the computer. Map collectors became the primary base, but antique globes and reproductions of 17th-century seafarers maps couldn’t keep the doors open. Dayle pulled one of the reproductions from the shelf, lovingly pointing out specific details, like the scary-looking sea monster trolling the southern Atlantic Ocean. Besides the map’s aesthetic appearance, she just likes the feel of it in her hands.
“I like to see things on paper, to get that larger view that you can’t get from a GPS screen,” she said.
Dayle lamented that many younger people might never know the pleasing heft of an atlas or the musty smell of an old glove box map; that old technology is no match for the instant gratification of a Garmin’s lifeless drone telling you where to turn.
I wonder what Tim Gravenstreter’s old man would say about that?