If You Can’t Create Your Own Reality, Just Custom Order It

August 15th, 2007at 06:13pm Posted by Eli

This is kinda cool, in a depressing, what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-people kind of way:

“The problems of cartography are the same that exist in diplomatic relations,” said Stefano Strata, a co-director of Nova Rico, a company that has been making custom globes for 50 years in this small town near Florence better known for its terra cotta.

For mapmakers like Nova Rico, geographic disputes are commonplace. For a Turkish customer, Cyprus is shown split in two, a division that Greek Cypriots do not recognize. On one globe, Chile is given parts of Antarctica that on another globe go to Argentina. And in much of the Arab world, Israel is nonexistent.


When working on a commission, Mr. Strata and his business partner, Riccardo Donati, receive precise instructions, sometimes from government officials. In the 1980s, President Saddam Hussein of Iraq commissioned Nova Rico to draft a globe with all the Arab countries colored orange and the rest of the world yellow. Iraqi military advisers came to Impruneta to monitor production.

“It was clearly a political globe,” Mr. Strata said.

Sometimes, the problem is in the name. Mr. Donati recalled an Iranian diplomat who threatened to boycott a globe that called the gulf between Saudi Arabia and Iran the Arabian Gulf, instead of the Persian Gulf.

(Threatened to boycott a globe? What does that even mean???)

Vladimiro Valerio, an expert in the history of cartography on the architecture faculty at the University of Venice, called mapmaking a blend of science and art. “Maps aren’t faithful portraits of reality but subjective constructions,” he said. “Maps reflect the design for which they are to be used. They reflect who commissioned it.”

In sum, he said, “cartographers don’t lie, but they take a position.”


Three centuries ago, said James R. Akerman of the Newberry Library in Chicago, “political boundaries were not as defined on maps in many instances, as they are now, and were often more fluid in practice, so cartographers did not give them the same level of attention that they do now.”

But changes like the breakup of the Soviet Union and the fragmentation of Yugoslavia have kept Nova Rico and other mapmakers in motion. “From the end of World War II to 1989 nothing changed, and we thought things would stay the same for another 100 years,” Mr. Donati said. “Luckily we are small and flexible, so things didn’t go so badly.”

Dubya will no doubt be ordering up a globe with “The United States Of Iraq” on it for the Oval Office any day now. He will stroke it continuously.

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Politics

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