Wednesday, July 27, 2016

mapping Rochester

in August 1996, on my Russian map of the world, Rochester, NY looked like a big black dot on the shore of lake Ontario: a city with over a million people. as my father was quick to remind me, in the Soviet Union, a city with over a million residents qualified for the construction of the underground metro. (In contemporary Russia, seven cities have at least one-line subways).
My family members tried to locate Rochester in an encyclopedia and in an atlas. Information was scant. My grandmother with the atlas reported that Rochester lay nearly on the same latitude as Yalta, Crimea: I was going far, far South! A good thing, because I had no room for a winter jacket in my luggage.
I couldn't think "Rochester" without picturing Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre: English, noble with major character flaws, blind.
What else did I know? The names of all the five Great Lakes--we'd memorized them for an exam in my English class. The Pathfinder, a much-beloved novel by James Fenimore Cooper, was set on the shore of Lake Ontario. Niagara Falls.
I recall being surprised that "New York" was a name of a state, as well as a city. I recall being confused about the nature of "states" (America is America is America.) I recall hearing rumors that cities in the US were so clean, people wore white socks outdoors.
Adventurers before me had set forth on far less information.
Rochester, however, turned out nearly beside the point. The town I landed in was Henrietta, NY, where Rochester Institute of Technology's campus was located.
Oh, and speaking of James Fenimore Cooper, let's not forget Mark Twain's essay, "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses." According to Twain, Cooper commits 114 out of possible 115 offenses against literary art. To summarize, Twain didn't think much of Cooper's attention to detail.

Olga Zilberbourg's photo. 
Olga Zilberbourg's photo.

No comments:

Post a Comment