04 Stonehenge

Stonehenge visitor center: To navigate on Google Maps, mouse over the small map in the lower left hand corner on the Google Maps screen. The blue dots are static images, such as this one. The viewer can look around, but can’t walk anywhere. For the ability to move, click on one of the blue lines in the small lower-left map and then either click farther along the blue line, or click on the map image.

 

In light of the potentially disrupting news from the House of Representatives today, I needed to get away for a while. The easiest way to do this, and also to be able to sleep in my own bed, is by taking a trip on Google Maps. Tonight’s visit is to Stonehenge.

The interesting aspect of virtually visiting Stonehenge is that in addition to driving around the henge on the local roads that have been maintained as smaller secondary roads, the viewer can also take a walking tour among the stones.

The picture in the screen shot is of the Visitor Center and shows what I think are representative dwellings where the people who built Stonehenge lived. To get to Stonehenge itself, click on the small lower-left map at Google Maps and navigate by following the blue lines (it’s a bit of a ‘drive’ to the right) and blue dots. Or click here if you’re in a hurry.

I enjoyed the drive from the village to the east and my stroll around the monument. I hope you do, too.

Tonight’s virtual visit was to the island of Shetland. This visit was inspired by the televised version of Ann Cleeves’s story, Dead Water, on Netflix.

At the link, click on the road to “drive” into the town of Lerwick. If you turn around (use the cursor to pull the picture one way or the other), you’ll be facing the sea. I can imagine the Vikings coming over the horizon.

Can you see them, too?

Google Maps view of the ocean from just outside Lerwick, Shetland.

My evening hobby is traveling via Google Maps. It’s cheap. It’s easy. I get to sleep in my own bed when the journey is over.

I like visiting places where I’ve lived and with fifty addresses over a life in and around the military, I have plenty to choose from. My former home in Belgium now has new living room windows; one of my German homes has solar panels on its roof; other homes no longer exist.

I like to take virtual trips to places where friends live or have lived. My best friend when I was 11 moved to Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada when his dad was transferred, so I made a virtual visit the other night although I’m sure he no longer lives there. None of us live where we used to.

I also like “driving” to places I want to visit — (cue Abbot & Costello) Ni-Ag-Ara Falls!

Tonight’s visit is to Agatha Christie’s home, Greenway. I lived in England when I was a child, but, of course, no one ever took me to visit Mrs. Christie. I don’t know that either of us would have got much out of a visit.

On searching Google Maps for Greenway, I was thrilled to find that the service has a 360 degree view of the front lawn of Greenway, an interactive street view drive down two of the lanes leading to the home, and the 360 degree view on the dock on the River Dart.

 

Google Map’s panoramic view of the front lawn of Greenway.

Seeing where my favorite author lived and wrote the books I so enjoy adds a layer of appreciation to my reading.

 

Other Greenway websites:

 

Anyone looking at the blog will see a big gap this year in published blog posts. Things went off course for me when, in January, I volunteered to do the homeowners association newsletter. I’d written newsletters before, I knew how to tweak my antique Microsoft Publisher program and make pretty PDFs to upload rather than print, and I could set my own schedule. How hard could it be?

What I learned (again) is that me splitting my writing focus isn’t something I do very well. Although both projects involve writing (i.e., typing), real estate legal stuff for a newsletter is a different critter than mystery-writing legal stuff for a story. I was jumping back and forth between subjects, which wasn’t good for either of them.

Now add in the presidential campaign. I’m not actively involved in campaigning, but oh, my goodness, where did the time go?

Now that the election is winding down (one hopes), I’m slowly righting my fictional writing ship that had foundered and I’m getting back on course. The short story I was working on is nearing completion (just a short story?!?) so that’s one more brick in that story wall. Me not being a natural born killer made sorting out the story’s howdunnit challenging. I thought that all my years of reading mysteries and watching detective programs had given me a good grounding in fictional crime. Sadly, writing mysteries is more difficult than reading and watching them.

While I’ve been nudging my fictional ship back on course, I’ve also assembled a nice little play-acting company of amenable, uncomplaining plastic actresses and actors courtesy of the talented and persnickety engineers at Playmobil. The detail of the accessories that come with the little actresses and actors is a great aid to memory and imagination.

And now, having taken a step in getting up after I’ve fallen down, on to completing the story.

 

The general setup for the stories:

The apartment building is to the left, with an office area in front of it. The office and its garages (which doubles as offices when needed) are in the center. The Border is behind them. Above it all is the castle on the hill, which also looks down on the church across from the office. The church bell takes getting used to for the story characters.

The apartment building is to the left, with an office area in front of it. The office and its garages (which doubles as offices when needed) are in the center. The Border is behind them. Above it all is the castle on the hill, which also looks down on the church across from the office. The church bell takes getting used to for the story characters.

 

Where the characters live

Although my stories rarely involve the family members of the characters, having someplace for the characters to live when they aren't in a scene adds depth to my thinking.

Although my stories rarely involve the family members of the characters, having someplace for the characters to live when they aren’t in a scene adds depth to my thinking.

 

 

Cold War Germany

The red and white barriers are reminiscent of the barriers that were on the actual border before the German Reunification. Off to the left is the train station -- track numbers, schedules, and a map -- which usually wasn't so close to the border, but my table top has limited real estate.

The red and white barriers are reminiscent of the barriers that were on the actual border before the German Reunification.
Off to the left is the train station — track numbers, schedules, and a map — which usually wasn’t so close to the border, but my table top has limited real estate.

 

 

Items my actresses and actors could use for mischief

Possible weapons

Possible weapons

 

Story scenes:

The picnic scene

The office is having a picnic for the U.S. Bicentennial. Naturally, because conflict is what drives fiction, a fight breaks out at the picnic.

The office is having a picnic for the U.S. Bicentennial. Naturally, because conflict is what drives fiction, a fight breaks out at the picnic.

 

The office scene

A colleague of my brown-haired main character tells her how he overheard what the red-head said. The colleague has his name taped on his back as the other characters do. That way, they don't get mixed up with each other.

A colleague of my brown-haired main character tells her how he overheard what the red-head said.
The colleague has his name taped on his back as the other characters do. That way, they don’t get mixed up with each other.

 

Finding the body

My main character (the brown haired character at the back) and her colleagues are surprised to find the missing man outside their office, lying in a stairwell near the road (the white stripes are a pedestrian crossing). The back wall of the "office" is open (it's a child's play set), so I had to put in a paper wall to ever so slightly increase the realism.

My main character (the brown haired character at the back) and her colleagues are surprised to find the missing man outside their office, lying in a stairwell near the road (the white stripes are a pedestrian crossing).
The back wall of the “office” is open (it’s a child’s play set), so I had to put in a paper wall to ever so slightly increase the realism.

 

Interlude after the body was found

The main character had errands to run. The other office members were left to talk to the police after the military police gave her permission to leave.

The main character had errands to run. The other office members were left to talk to the police after the military police gave her permission to leave.

 

No, I’m not giving away the ending.

When I’m writing a story, sometimes I get stuck. I’ll forget where my characters are in relation to each other. I’ll forget the exact sequence of events. I’ll forget where the characters are standing. I’ll forget how many people are even in a room.

When I have these lapses, I’m almost cheerful because that’s when I can legitimately play with some toys I (said I) bought for the grandkids — Playmobil playsets.

The two men on the (invisible) motorcycle are about to throw a Molotov cocktail at the car. My heroine, the woman on the balcony, will roust a colleague and they'll be finding fire extinguishers to put out the fire before the car can go up in flames.

The two men on the (invisible) motorcycle are about to throw a Molotov cocktail at the car. My heroine, the woman on the balcony, will roust a colleague and they’ll be finding fire extinguishers to put out the fire before the car can go up in flames.

 

I first found Playmobil toys in 1976 after we moved to Germany for the second time.  My husband and I gave our son two sets of them for Christmas.  In the years since then, the company has expanded their range of playsets so that people like me can now use them in ways the designers probably didn’t imagine. At the moment, I have a motorcycle policeman on order. In future, my characters won’t be riding invisible motorcycles.

I’m happy to say that when my little characters aren’t busy getting up to no good in my imaginary worlds, they’re happily inhabiting the more innocent stories of little children.

The Veterans Writing Project picked up my story “Beer Here” for their publication, O-Dark-Thirty.

Procession from the Kreuzberg monastery up to the crosses on the mountain.   Picture courtesy of Wikpedia.

Procession from the Kreuzberg monastery up to the crosses on the mountain. Picture courtesy of Wikpedia.

Beer Here

Barb Hoskins, a Cold War-era CI investigator runs into a platoon-mate from Basic who is on her way back to the Land of the Round Doorknob. They go out for a last-minute fling at a monastery, famed for its beer, and wind up with more action than they bargained for.

The story is one of a series that will be part of a book, Culture Shock.

In regards to questions as to why everyone is concerned about Paris, but not about Beirut, the Russian plane, or (the months-ago attack on) Kenya, I think much of it is because so many of us have absorbed “Paris” over the years.

The French capital has what is probably the most iconic landmark ever, one that most westerners recognize. I doubt that the Houses of Parliament in London (hey, a big building!) are as instantly recognizable, nor the Washington Monument (hey, an obelisk!). People who have lived in Munich will recognize the Frauenkirche, but otherwise it looks “like a European cathedral.” Prague’s Charles Bridge is a bridge. Edinburgh’s castle is a castle. King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein (the model for Sleeping Beauty’s castle) might be as recognizable, but many people won’t know just where it is. The same, even, for Mount Rushmore — what’s the closest city? (Air Force brats from Ellsworth AFB, you’re ineligible to play)

The Eiffel Tower, though — everyone knows what it is and everyone knows where it is.

In music, we have the song “I Love Paris,” but not “I Love Beirut.”
Gershwin embraced “An American in Paris,” but not “An American in Lebanon.”
Louis Armstrong played “April in Paris,” but not “April in Syria.”
Nelson Riddle blamed it on Paree, but didn’t blame Jerusalem (neither Palestinian nor Israeli).

In the realm of the seductive, many 1950s mothers were honored on birthdays and Mothers Day with eau de Cologne named Evening in Paris, but I don’t think anyone ever received cedar-scented Evening in Lebanon.

Cinematically, we do have From Russia With Love, and Dr. Zhivago. Out of Africa, based on Isak Dinesin’s stories, was gorgeous. Those movies are iconic, but reflect the few filmed stories about specific places. New York probably is as well-filmed as Paris, but I don’t know that The Big Apple has the same aura as The City of Light.  The list of movies set in Paris is, to be trite, a laundry list.

Funny Face
Sabrina
Gigi
Irma la Douce
Amelie
Julie and Julia
Three Men and a Cradle
The Red Balloon
Around the World in 80 Days
Midnight in Paris
Moulin Rouge
An American in Paris
The da Vinci Code
Last Tango in Paris
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Les Miserables
Phantom of the Opera
The Pink Panther
The Aristocats
Ratatouille
The Day of the Jackal
and many more

The recent attacks that didn’t get the spotlight that has shone on Paris are just as tragically important. The people who died in the other attacks died just as horribly and uselessly as those who died in Paris. Their families are equally devastated. They need to be recognized and work needs to continue to keep anyone from being mown down, decapitated, executed, or blown up. It is a long work.

What we probably don’t need to do is unnecessarily beat ourselves up for not feeling those attacks as viscerally as we did the attacks in Paris. We know about the other places, but we love Paris.

Let us use that to recognize the human suffering among all people who were attacked.