A few months before my class was about to graduate from high school, our biology teacher told us to enjoy the time we had left there. Those were, she said, the best days of our lives.
“And remember, you will never be as smart as you’re right now,” she said.
We all laughed, as I guess we were supposed to. After all, we did know everything about everything, like all 18-year-olds everywhere in the world. We also knew that we’d just get smarter and wiser, and that there was no stopping us.
I knew a lot of stuff back then. For example, when I was a boy, teachers – more than one – used to tell us that if you stuck a knitting needle in Finland, and through the earth, it would come out in New Zealand. That, exactly on the other side of the planet from Finland, there was a country called New Zealand.
I always liked that. New Zealand, instead of China that people always say. New Zealand, a small country like Finland, and a long one, sort of like Finland. Also, New Zealand was so surprising, and so special, that it had to be true.
Yesterday, I was in the park with Daughter, who was digging something in the sand, using a big rock. Never one to miss an opportunity to spread my wisdom, I saw this as a good time to teach her something.
“You’re like people during the stone age, when they used rocks and stones and bones to do things like that,” I told her.
“Yeah, Dad,” she said, and kept digging.
“What are you doing anyway?”
“Digging a hole.”
“You digging a hole to China?” I said.
She stopped digging, threw her rock away, and looked at me.
“No,” she said. “I’d need a shovel for that.”
“That’s right, baby,” I said, sort of proud of her ability to think for herself, but sort of disappointed with the fact that I had said “China”. Because … yes, as we all know now, if you dig from Finland (or Sweden) straight through the planet, you will end up in New Zealand.
“New Zealand,” I said.
Daughter was already running to the swings, so I had to yell a little louder.
She waved to me from the swing. I waved back. Walking back home with her, still feeling pretty good about myself, I realized that I’d actually never checked if New Zealand truly is on the other side of the world from us. And now, as a non-teenager, I had to do it and I found www.antipodemap.com.
I carefully moved the Google Maps pointer to Helsinki, while nervously watching the map just below it on the screen, showing me the spot on the other side of the world. It was completely blue, and blue – I know – is water. As I zoomed out, I saw that the marker was in the middle of the ocean.
New Zealand was close, but the Antarctica was almost just as close. That was a problem.
New Zealand sure was close, but just not enough for me to keep saying that a tunnel from Finland would take you there, not without mentioning that you’d have to make a slight left turn on the way. I also knew that I’d have to tell Daughter that I had been slightly mistaken, so I wanted to find the true antipode of Wellington, New Zealand.
It is Alaejos, a small, Spanish town (pop. 1600) two hours northwest of Madrid, that “might have been founded by the Castilian monarchs as a hamlet in the reconquered territories during the Reconquista”.
That I didn’t know when I was in high school.