Indy and Bad Geography

interviewing roller girl at Blaine KErn\'sAt the roller derby in the Mardi Gras float warehouse on Saturday night (and what a wonderful and eclectic life I live to be able to begin a sentence with those words), Gregory was interviewing one of the Big Easy Roller Girls. The beautiful woman with tight blond braids is a Dutch psycho-therapist who moved here some 13 years ago and found a sisterhood with fellow skaters in the roller derby that takes place among the floats and caricatures from parades past.

She introduced herself, giving both her real name and her derby name, and explained that she was from The Netherlands.

“That’s in Europe,” she added.

We laughed. And she apologized; said she didn’t say it because she thought we were dense.

But maybe she felt compelled to say it because people have asked her in the past where The Netherlands is (are?). Hard to believe, but the surveys do show that we in the lower 48 have become notoriously bad at Geography these days. And the Dutch do call their country by more than one name, which may trip people up.

The Netherlands… is that near Holland?

Hollywood doesn’t help. There are countless misconceptions about the world that have been proctored by movies, from the Hope and Crosby road movies, that had little to do with the reality of the actual roads and destinations they portrayed, to the latest Indiana Jones movie.

Cate Blanchett and Harrison Ford in Indiana JonesOkay, Indy is fiction. His exploits are far-fetched. Aliens with crystal skeletons and all. That’s part of the fun. But if the archaeologist cum adventurer and his son Mutt are going to put the Harley motorbike on a DC-3 and fly to Peru, they should land in a place that is at least within a few hours of their destination. The iconic map, with the red line tracing the path as the images of vintage aircraft ghost through, takes them from the U.S. to Cusco, Peru. But in the next scene, they are in Nazca, near the famous lines that can be only seen from the air.

Nazca is near the coast, a drive of a few hours south of Lima.

Cusco is in the mountains, far, far from the Nazca lines, but close to the amazing Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. I’m fortunate to have seen both.

Cusco to Nazca would be quite a hike, even on a Harley.

Last week, a communist party leader in St. Petersburg wrote an open letter to Harrison Ford and Cate Blanchett, complaining of their portrayal of Soviets as villains. “Your work in this film is an insult to the Soviet and Russian people,” the letter said, “who remember the difficult Fifties when our country was concluding its reconstruction after the Great War, but did not send merciless terrorists to the USA.”

He said they were no longer welcome in Russia.

Cate Blanchett and harrison FordYou do expect the Cate Blanchett character, with her thick Ukrainian accent and high camp dialog, to start complaining about Moose and Squirrel.

And in Australia, a head of an archaeological society has accused Dr. Jones of being a pillager. (Reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw in a dorm window at Princeton: “Remember: pillage first, then burn!”)

Maybe the American Association of Geographers should write its own open letter. And give the filmmakers a better map and Google directions to the Nazca lines.

And I can’t resist one more pictures of the float heads.


One thought on “Indy and Bad Geography

  1. Willard Duff

    Haven’t felt up to going to the Indiana Jones movie yet but intend to. You spent a long time in Peru on your tour of South America. And Laura also visited you there in Micchu Pichu. Bet you couldn’t get the Harley up to Micchu Pichu. I don’t rmrmber how to spell Micchu Pichu, Sorry. New Orleans is quitre a place too isn’t it.

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