Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Weather is Here, I Wish You Were Fine

Before Google Earth I had never seen Cuba terribly well.  I had never seen its farmlands, replete with stone walls, obviously agricultural buildings, irrigation ponds, and crossroads where any man might meet his Marxist Mephistopheles.  Before Google Earth I had heard of, and perhaps scanned across in maps, but had never seen even the furthest uninhabited shore of mainland China.  I had never even seen the city Chang Du on a map, for I had no idea where in China it was.  I had never seen the close, seething quarters of the new new thing in an ancient country.  Chang Du has streets that sell nothing but computer printers next to streets that sell nothing but watches next to streets that specialize in monitors and televisions.  Miles and miles of merchandise cascading and slipping, following every tendon and muscle of that great Long Tail.  In this case, of course, it's the tail of the dragon.  I'd never seen it.  Until Google earth, through the thick of its industrial purges, like the last efforts of yeast in a high gravity Begium beer brew dying in its own alcohol piss, down through the dark Hollywood atmospherics to the pillbug raceway of the streets of Chang Du.  The moment you see it, that the Google viewer stops, drops and rolls up to the clouds of Chang Du, you know it is real.  Nothing else looks that much like industry, save very old pictures of the previous Industrial Revolution.  It is an astonishment.  
I had put my finger on my fathers globe in his library as a child.  If you have children and you have a globe in your house, they will place their fingers on the globe, they will spin the globe.  Eventually they will ask of Mexico, Canada, the Ocean, and maybe China, or Antarctica.  They will spin the globe and place their finger down, and where the globe stops will seem like fate.  Eventually they will learn to press hard before they come to land so as to stop the globe while on land.  Stopping on the great expanses of blue water leaves little to ask questions about.  Pushing hard with the finger while spinning the globe makes it stop on things you have never heard of, somehow real in the world, and yet for the moment, undecided: slipping on a shape of chance.  While doing this as a child, once, my finger came to a stop.  "Can I goto the USSR?" I asked my Father.  He said he really doubted it.  This is where I learned that maps, and globes, were infested with a narrative consequence, that so bone dry their sense of humor, they only spilled it when played with, brought close to the nose, speculated from the far corner of the room, map on the carpet, you crouching, stalking even, from the arm of a torn wingback chair.  This explains the terrible consequence of puberty on globe fondling.  How many grown men ever ask you, "Can I go to Iran?"  They already know the answers.  They will not climb wingback chairs.  
All of this goes a long way toward explaining why I was so surprised six years ago when I first discovered Keyhole and what it turned into at Google:  Earth.  I had always liked Landsat images, and big books of satellite pictures.  I remember being amazed with the rest of you when Beyond 2000 (the Australian futurist series that The Discovery Channel played constantly in its infancy) showcased that electronic map of the Earth, Mercator projected without clouds.  Look how strange the Earth looks without her blanket of water vapor I marveled.  Well...
When you open Google Earth it beams down, cascades down upon the earth in a manner anyone familiar with Wolf Blitzer or Anderson Cooper has seen a million times now.  No matter how trite the vertiginous ride has become, it really is a thing of beauty, and an apt doorway through the wardrobe.  To what?  Well.  The Earth sits before you, if you haven't told the program where to start, and if you'd like you can grab the earth with your cursor, and give her a spin.  It's a lovely effect, if you don't do it too hard.  The earth spins and spins.  And you can click down where you like, and depending, ask a question deeper in a thousand ways than I ever could have asked my Dad.  But really, it is the same question.  Can I go there?  And unlike all the other times when you put such childish notions away with all the other enthusiasms of wonder, with Google Earth, you can go to China, Cuba, Iran, and North Korea till your axles just squeal.  Then tell Mommy and Daddy all about it.

Andy Coffey

PS:  The title of the Blog was heard on Prairie Home Companion tonight while I ate dinner with Robert in the kitchen.  Robert had just taken a slug of his ice water as we sat back listening to Garrison read his traditional mid-show call outs from folks in the audience to their loved ones at home.  One of the call outs said, "Hello to whomever in wherever, the weather is here, I wish you were fine."  Robert heard this and flinched in embarrassment at the fact that his brain really liked such a clever phrase, but his moral compass was spinning uncomfortably through the expression on his face.  I was laughing with deep pleasure, as certain of my souls safety as the captain of the Titanic.  Then I noticed Robert started to chuckle as well, except, his mouth was full of water, so now he had two dangers to contend with because of that stupid phrase.  Well, by and by, he calmed down and swallowed his water.  About twenty minutes later I asked him, "What was it Garrison read, 'The weather is fair...?"  Robert quickly, with no hesitation told me.  I don't even try to keep up with him.  I went into my room and put the phrase in my brain, my notebook.  
Lastly, earlier in the evening, right after I got home from work, while my food was cooking on the stove, Robert came and knocked on my door.  "Can I ask five minutes of your attention?" he asked me.  "Sure," I said, wondering what was up.  So I went into the kitchen and asked Robert what he needed, and noticed with a little surge of self pity that he was awfully close to the back door to the porch.  I didn't much want to go out in the wintry weather.  But then Robert said, "Come and look out this window, Andy.  Just look what the snow has done." We stood there together, for probably five minutes.  Then ate our dinner to a radio show the both of us have heard for over twenty years.