Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Story of a Russian Map

Actually I don't know the story. I wish I did. I'm often drawn to strange and unusual things in antique stores and junk shops. This map was found in a darling Memphis shop, Bingham and Broad. They carry a delightful combination of new handcrafted items, interesting goodies, and vintage must-haves.

I mean, clearly, a map of all of North America's natural resources published at the height of the cold war in Moscow is a need, not a want.

I spotted it at a sidewalk sale and was smitten. Three years ago my husband and I traveled to St. Petersburg with friends. My daughter couldn't understand the appeal. She failed to see why we kept going on and on about the fact that we'd been there.

"Imagine it's 30 years from now and you are going on vacation to Afghanistan or Iran. It's like that." 

I stood on the sidewalk in the Memphis humidity on a sunny afternoon and imagined all the rooms and places it would look cool, including over a bed.

"Mom, I'm pretty sure putting a map of nuclear missile sites over a bed would be terrible feng shui."

I'd wrongly assumed the symbol for radiation was signifying nuclear missile sites or power plants.

I laughed and joked,  "How do you know when the marriage is over? When your wife brings home a map of nuclear missile sites and hangs it over the bed."

Okay, well I wasn't planning on hanging it there anyway. Or buying it at all. I imagined the hipster who had never seen USSR in his social studies book buying it as a conversation piece. I left it there and went home. I tried to forget about it and a few days later while my husband and I were discussing some vintage nautical maps I bought last year, (Okay, I might have a problem) I mentioned it to him.

"Why didn't you buy it?"

Really? If you are a wife (or husband) who likes unusual items that others might call junk, you never hear that question. The question you always hear is "What are you going to do with that?"

But apparently I had passed up on something that even my husband thought fascinating.

"Call them tomorrow and see if they still have it. If they do I'll buy it for you."

After all these years that man is still full of surprises. 

We picked it up on the way to our daughter and son in law's housewarming party. The next morning I sat in the floor with Google Translate and the map for two hours translating it the best I could.

Turns out it isn't a map of our nuclear missile sites but of all our natural resources and major population centers. Here's the best I could do by way of a translation:

"North America Physical Training Map/ Natural Resources/ Contingent Symbols Population Settlements/ Note State Capitols (and something I can't decipher) 

The legend in bottom left has symbols representing things like coal mines, oil fields, every kind of "ore" (iron, manganese, nickel, molybdenum, aluminum, copper, silver, polymettalic, gold platinum, and uranium) asbestos, phosphorous, sulphur, and flammable gases. 

 Made by Management Geological Cartographer, USSR Council of Ministers, Moscow 1980

Anyone read and write Russian or have knowledge of Soviet military history? Let me know what you think the map was used for and any translation that is incorrect.

Until then it is by far the most interesting conversation piece we've picked up in a while. And when you are a beekeeper that's saying something.

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