Monday, August 01, 2011

How Places Get to Be Iconic

I flatter myself that I don't make a lot of impulse buys, but there's only so much accuracy in that notion. Recently I came home with Landmarks, a set of A+ brand flash cards. Only $1 at a certain big box retailer, which is a steep discount off the list price of $2.95 -- a sum I wouldn't have paid. The sense that you're getting a deal is an important factor in impulse purchases.

Still, I'm out a dollar, so what did I get for it? Thirty-six flash cards picturing famed places around the world. Distributed by Dalmatian Press of Franklin, Tenn. (a suburb of Nashville) but -- I love the precision of the label, right on the box -- "Printed in Ningbo, Zhejiang, China."

Each card features a picture on one side with no description. The other side has the name of the place and a canned description. Wherever it was printed, I assume that Dalmatian Press created the deck, so American landmarks are heavily represented: 11 of the 36 are fully within the United States, with one more, Niagara Falls, being shared with Canada. Nine are in Europe, six are in Asia, and three are in Africa, and I'm counting the Suez Canal as Africa. Three are also in South America, if you count the Moai of Easter Island, and I do. Two are in Australia and one is in Mexico -- count that as North America.

How many did I recognize without looking? The places are so iconic that it wasn't that hard. I suppose that repeated exposure is the real secret of achieving iconic status (or clich├ęd status, take your pick). Anyway, there were only two that I couldn't name: Kuwait City Towers, because -- what's it doing on this list? Also, Diamond Head on Oahu, because I'd never seen it from that particular angle. It looks like it could be any number of islands in a warm climate. I didn't recognize the Suez Canal immediately, but was able to guess correctly. Likewise with a card with shot of Kilimanjaro.

I've seen 20 of the 36 sites in person, probably because it's weighed so heavily in favor of U.S. sites -- I've been to all of them. I could have taken the pictures myself except for that oddball shot of Diamond Head.

But the cards aren't really for my edification. I showed them one at a time to Ann, then Lilly. They showed age-appropriate familiarity. Ann didn't know many names, except for the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. She said she recognized more by sight than that, however, such as the Alamo, Mount Rushmore, the Gateway Arch, the White House, Big Ben and the Pyramids of Giza. Except for the Alamo and the Gateway Arch, which she has seen within the last few years, I figure she's seen the others on cartoons or other TV shows.

Lilly knew more places, both recognition and by name, though I didn't keep count. Yet for a fair number of them, the cards were clearly an introduction to the place for her -- the likes of Angkor Wat, Ayers Rock, Christ the Redeemer in Rio, the Dome of the Rock, Hoover Dam, Kilimanjaro, Machu Picchu, the Moai, Petra, St. Basil's, St. Peter's and the Sydney Opera House.

I could go on about this, such as wondering where some of the omitted iconic places are (Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, the French Quarter of New Orleans, the Grand Coulee Dam, the Panama Canal, Angel Falls, the Brandenburg Gate, the Arc de Triomphe, Pompeii, the strange manmade islands of Dubai, Graceland, etc., etc.) but I have work to do. Still, for all the food for thought we got, I'd say my dollar was well spent.

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