DEBORAH CROMBIE: We all had geography in school, right? (Do they still teach geography in schools?) To be honest, I don't remember much about those geography lessons, except maybe the big map of the US on the classroom wall. What I do remember is the hours I spent with my grandmother at home, the two of us devoted and enthusiastic armchair geographers. Every month we went through National Geographic from cover to cover, and we found all the places mentioned in the articles on a globe that lit up from the inside. Then we used highlighters to draw the trips we wanted to make on the globe itself. (You might guess that my grandmother had been a teacher.)
I was particularly fascinated by Africa. I dreamed of seeing the
Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert, of the Great Rift, of Kenya and Tanzania, of Egypt and Istanbul.
But I got older, that dream faded, and eventually my geography got very rusty, too. The places in news stories about war-torn Africa became just names to me.
Then, recently, we began watching a television series that for the first three seasons was filmed primarily in South Africa, but has scenes set in other African countries as well. The show is called STRIKE BACK. It was produced for Cinemax but is available to buy or stream from Amazon. (It's very R-rated--imagine 24, MI 5, and Zero Dark Thirty on steroids, with lots of SEX--but it's terrifically done and guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat.) And you might notice from the photo that the male leads are just a bit hunky, too...
But the vision of Africa is stunning, fascinating, and terrifying. I got out my globe. (Yes, I do appreciate the wonderfulness of Google Maps and Google Earth--I use them every day in the research for my own books.) But a globe is different. It's tactile, and three dimensional. Perhaps in a way the difference is like that between reading a "real" book and a virtual book. I now know the names of the countries again, and how they fit together in the puzzle of the continent. I remember that the Kalahari Desert is in Botswana and touches the norther border of beautiful South Africa. I know where Cape Town sits above the sea on its own promontory just below the 30th parallel. I know how the Great Rift Valley runs down through Tanzania and into Mozambique, and that Johannesburg is over 5000 feet high, about like Denver.
And I wonder if one day I will see Kenya.
REDS, do you remember your geography? And is there some place that captured your imagination that you haven't--yet--managed to visit?
LUCY BURDETTE: I wouldn't say I remember my geography, because the world has changed so much! But I do love studying maps. (Those sessions with your grandmother sound wonderful Debs!) And I love planning trips (to be honest, I probably love the planning more than the trips themselves.) This year we are really looking forward to visiting the place I haven't seen that I'd most like to see--Japan. We are going with a group rather than just us, as it would seem overwhelming to manage a language that different from ours. I know I'll have other trips on my horizon, as my hub's been bitten by the travel bug lately.:) He teases me that I'd go back to Paris every time rather than try something new--it's probably true...
RHYS BOWEN: I was born with a wanderlust. I couldn't wait to get to Europe. When I was twelve I was put on a train in London and traveled to Vienna alone to stay with friends. This involved finding the right ship across the channel and the right train out of Ostend. I wasn't particularly worried about being alone on a foreign train. Geography was my best subject in school but the geography teacher was horrible. It was all maps and statistics, nothing that brought places to life.
My big fascination was Australia. I had an uncle there and every Christmas he sent me an illustrated book called "Wonders of Australia" or similar. I'd gaze at the Outback, the beaches, and decide I had to go there one day. I tried to persuade a school friend to join me and drive to Australia in a Bubble Car (a glorified motor scooter thing) so that I could write a book called "Around the World in a Bubble". Wisely she declined. But when I was invited to Australia by Australian Broadcasting I jumped at the chance. My brother followed me and settled there, then my parents followed him. Unfortunately I met John, who was on his way to California, so I left. But I still enjoy my visits there. Feels like home.
And the one place on my bucket list is Africa--safari to Kenya and Tanzania.
HALLIE EPHRON: Debs, I love that you and our grandmother plotted your trips on the globe -- like that movie trope where you see a dashed line showing characters on a plane crossing the ocean.
I love maps, but in school geography was never my strong suit. All I remember is that we had to color maps, and I was (am) lousy at coloring within the lines. My husband was a stamp collector when he was a kid, and he knows every country and every capitol. He can also color within the lines. Still, U.S. geography I know pretty well because we had puzzle when I was little that I must have put it together a thousand times, so I know most states by their shape and size as well as where they are.
DEBS: Rhys, I want to do that luxury safari to Kenya! We have a friend who did--she said it was amazing. Unfortunately, she's quite a bit better off than your average writer...
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'm terrible at geography-bee type questions - ask me to name the islands comprising Japan or the body of water Illinois borders on and I'm hopeless - but I'm quite good at reading maps. As a matter of fact, I don't yet have a GPS in the car, preferring to navigate the old-fashioned way. (And, occasionally, doubling back because I've missed my turn.)
The place I dream of traveling? Northern India is near the top of my bucket list. I'd love to take Indian rail across the continent to Kalka, then ride the narrow-gauge Kalka-Shimla railway to the capitol of Himachal Pradesh. "Eyes of blue -- the Simla Hills; Silvered with the moonlight hoar" as Kipling wrote. I'd stay in a hillside cottage, visit all the remnants of old colonial Briton and then later travel overland to Kashmir, to while away the weeks in a houseboat on Lake Dal, touring the Shalimar gardens, buying sweet-smelling sandlewood bangles, eating ices made from Himalayan snows.
Yes, I did read too much Victorian literature in my youth. Why do you ask?
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Three fast things. I remember going on road trips with my family, when I was oh, say, eight. We had these things called TripTic from AAA--which had a yellow line through a spiral notebook of specially made maps that told directions. I spent more time looking at the maps then out the window.
I so completely remember the day I said to my dad, who was driving… How do the maps tell you where to go?
And he told me how the highway numbers on the maps coincided with the highway numbers on the road.
This was an absolute revelation!
And I must say I'm still fascinated with map-making and geography. I spend a while on each airplane flight examining the maps in the in-flight magazines… Trying to figure out where everything is in relation to everything else.
I still don't know all the countries in Africa, I admit. But my 11-year-old grandson does!
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I remember looking at old-fashioned maps and loving the mermaids and sea monsters that the mapmaker would paint into the oceans. I think I was so distracted by them that I didn't look as closely at the actual geography!
One of my favorite short stories is called "Isle of the Mapmaker's
Wife," by Marilyn Sides. Publisher's Weekly said: "The swirling, erotic title tale, a 1990 O. Henry Prize Story, follows C.M. Descotes, a "rather young woman" who deals in antique maps, as she travels from Boston to Amsterdam, seeking to acquire two particularly fine illuminated maps. A man catches her attention while she dines alone in a pub, but, with quiet pride, she remains concentrated on business. When he turns out to be the map dealer in whose possession lies the most desirable map she's ever seen, however, business and sexual passion become carnally intertwined. In sophisticated and graceful prose lush with sensual detail, the remaining four stories also describe obsessive romantic attachments." Gorgeous writing, and you'll never look at a map the same way again.
DEBS: You are all so fabulous! Julia, I read Kipling, too! And wanted to see all those things. Still do. (I also have a real obsession with Mount Everest, which I may have talked about before... But no desire to actually go there!)
I wonder now if one of the things that sparked my love for maps in books were Tolkien's maps in The Lord of the Rings...
And Susan, I ordered The Isle of the Mapmaker's Wife. Irresistible!
Hank, we had TripTic, too!
Readers, how's your geography? And are there places not yet seen that tickle your imagination?