Beyond convention or geography - maps for voyages of the mind

Everyone knows a map is not the place any more than a menu is the meal.

Even so, a map all by itself can create and command its own fascinating sense of place.

Between the covers of Magnolia resident Kitty Harmon's new book, "You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination," map lovers will find a lavishly illustrated paradise of nearly 200 pages.

As Harmon's title suggests, these are very much maps of the imagination. Just as two cartographers mapping the same terrain will produce different results, each pair of eyes walking around in the world looks out from very different inner universes.

When those subjective perceptions are mapped, visual justice is rendered to the world's strangeness.

The book "shows the range of ways that people use maps other than getting from one place to another," Harmon said. "These places don't exist."

There is a map from the "Land of Matrimony"; "A Map of My Day," starting with a big red toothbrush on the left; a corkscrew "Road to Success" winding, tongue-in cheek, past places like Hotel Know It All, a Hot Air balloon, a river called Failure running beneath a bridge of Short Cuts. The Holy Grail is a cheap, harp-like instrument at the top of the hill la-beled "Success." There is a 1937 "Whimsical Map of Hollywood," which looks down with childlike simplicity at Tinseltown's famous landmarks and stars of the day, including, in miniature caricatures, Robert Taylor, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Shirley Temple and Eleanor Powell.

Some maps are simply beautiful works of art. Others take jabs at pop culture or explore myth.

A Chukchi drawing from 19th-century Siberia, executed with white lines on a black background, depicts stars, a moon, and strange, people-like figures. The map captures the lineaments of the dreaming soul.

Harmon's caption reports: "The Chukchi are an indigenous Siberian people ... this map lays out paths to dreamed destinations. The roads lead to middle earth, the heavens, and the underworld.... The map uses notations that are collectively understood to guide others in their dreams and prevent them from becoming lost."

The subject matter could get heavy, even Jungian for those so inclined, but in Harmon's hands exploring the world of maps is fun.

Like her previous book, "The Pacific Northwest Landscape, a Painted History," "You Are Here" combines Harmon's love of the written word and powerful image. She likes her books to lack pretense.

"I get discouraged by heavy academic writing," Harmon said.

"You Are Here," published by Princeton Architectural Press, is in its third printing, following a first press run of 8,000 and a second run of 5,000 - testimony to the kind of diversity still possible, if endangered, in the book-publishing world.

Obviously, there's just something about maps.

Robert Louis Stevenson ("I am told there are people who do not care for maps, and I find it hard to believe"), Leonardo da Vinci, Lewis Carroll, Roald Dahl, all quoted in the book, felt it.

There are people who can gaze at maps for hours. And there are those maddening others who, ensconced in the passenger seat, can ride through the countryside gazing down at a map of the place.

We can all close our eyes and imagine an Odyssean map to return us to our childhood home. Or maybe we can imagine the heart of our first love, or the visual summing-up of our favorite taste or song.

As Harmon says, these places don't exist.

But as the 100 or so artists featured in "You Are Here" testify, in a way they very vividly do.[[In-content Ad]]