Posted by: ktzefr | August 31, 2011

Crossing Lines at the Center of the Earth

“So far, yet so near, two persons, one in the Northern Hemisphere, the other in the Southern Hemisphere, may shake hands, kiss each other or embrace while they remain within their respective hemisphere.”

~inscription at La Mitad del Mundo

An invisible line divides the world.  It crosses the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, from the Galapagos to Gabon, Kenya to Borneo.  In Ecuador you can stand on it, straddle it, or hold hands with someone who is technically on the opposite part of the earth.  Near Quito, the capital city, there’s a museum devoted to the center of the world.  Although folks in New York City, say Times Square at midnight, appear to be the fastest moving people on the planet, this is not entirely so.  Signs at the Mitad state that on the Equator you move (while standing still) at a pace of 1.667 kilometres per hour, which is faster than you would be moving anywhere else on the globe.

The US Navy, Royal Navy, and others have a Crossing the Line Ceremony the first time a new sailor crosses the Equator.  Sailors who have “been there, done that” are called Sons of Neptune; the newbies are pollywogs.  When I was growing up in Kentucky we referred to tadpoles as pollywogs.  If new sailors are tadpoles, are old sailors frogs?  I couldn’t find a name for a person who walks, rather than floats, across the Equator.

The snowy cone of Cayambe volcano, Cayambe, Ecuador; Photo:MFawcett

No matter where we are on the earth, we are surrounded by invisible lines —  zero latitude at the Equator; zero longitude at the Prime Meridian; and the lines, by degrees, that fall between.  At the moment, I’m sitting on my back porch with the laptop aimed so I can watch the hummingbirds come to the feeders while I work.  A scientifically-minded middle schooler could figure out my exact position on the globe to the last degree, hour, minute.  Not that it matters, but still…

I think about the invisible lines that separate people and places and ways of life.  Once in the early 70s we were in Austria and we took a drive from Vienna into the countryside to a spot where we could see Hungary — behind the Iron Curtain.  I’m not sure what I expected (I was pretty naive at the time), but the view was beautiful, from woods to rolling green meadows to vineyards.  The Iron Curtain was invisible, except for a distant fence.  In March of 1989 Hungary decided to have free elections and they took down the fence.   Sometimes it’s a good feeling when invisible lines are removed.

Little boys used to draw lines on the playground, visible lines in the sand or dirt, one daring another to cross it and get punched.  A brave boy would step across and the line would either get drawn again, somebody would get punched, or the argument would dissolve.  The real dispute, however, usually involved some invisible line that had already been crossed.

Little boys jumping hemispheres at one of the Equatorial Line monuments in Ecuador

Sometimes “crossing the line” has to do with “the straw that broke the camel’s back” or a slipping of standards or values.  Crossing the line is different from crossing the bridge when you come to it.  How do non-English speakers ever learn the crazy nuances of this language?

The Appalachia I grew up in had a rich spoken language, an old saying for just about any point you needed to make, some full of wisdom and others just outright smart-alecky.   One of my favorites is said in reference to a person who would “gag at a gnat and swallow a camel.”  When I was growing up in Kentucky I had no idea what this meant.  I learned quickly, however, when I moved to DC.  People had never heard of this saying, but we sure did — and do — have an abundance of gnat and camel folks.

In a eucalyptus grove above Laguna San Pablo, Ecuador; Photo:KFawcett

When we first arrived in Ecuador we were met outside the airport by a tall wire fence with hundreds of faces peering at us from the other side.  Some people in line with us were uncomfortable with the mob scene and didn’t realize this gathering was a regular event.  Folks came to the airport on Saturday nights to watch the big jets land and the people disembark.  As a “tour guide” for family and friends in DC one of my favorite excursions is still the rush-hour stop at a place called Gravelly Point, which is situated at the end of the runway at Reagan National Airport.   It’s always amusing to watch planes and people.

That day in Ecuador, after crossing the Equator several times, we had a picnic in the woods, 8,000 feet in the Andes, near an icy blue colored, high-altitude lake where the village in the valley below (miniature in the distance) came right out of a storybook.  I like to think that I crossed a bunch of invisible lines during the days that followed.  I learned to love Nutella sandwiches (which I can easily duplicate at home) and ripe Chirimoya (which I can’t; every one of these fruits that I have bought in the States has been either overripe to rotten or underripe with no prospects of ripening).  If I ever want to taste a perfectly ripe chirimoya again, I guess I’ll  have to go back to Guayllabamba.  It was there, too, that I first fell in love with the haunting Andean melodies.  I have CDs, but there’s nothing like listening to the real deal.  And I was especially humbled by the generosity of people who have little to offer.  Making friends sometimes requires a leap across barriers and into other hemispheres.


So…a line is a line is a line.  Like fences.  Some need to be crossed, others taken down.

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