Books in Progress, Story, Writing

Mapping a Memory


Luckily, the Google people are about finished roaming every passable thoroughfare in the western world. By its industry, I’ve roamed such disparate lands as Belgian woodland (rumored to contain abandoned cars from WWII), Chinese riverbanks (until the roads ran out), French sea coast towns (where I’ll live someday), and what parts of Australia that are mapped (because my brother and sister-in-law honeymooned there). My favorite pastime, though, is exploring virtually the places I’ve been, and the surrounds where I did not venture. I get to open up my map of a place, without having the cash to do so in person. Some people go to Youtube for their rabbit hole; I go to maps.

I have always loved maps. My wall is adorned with maps of Europe and details of cities. Cut outs of Denmark, Malta and Munich are découpaged onto a mail-sorting box on my shelf. Sheaves of old leaflets outlining river cruises on the Rhine and the Seine are sorted into envelopes for future collages. I gravitate to the atlases at the second hand bookstore and search out defunct Eastern European borders for my own amusement. I draw detailed maps, like for my honeymoon intinerary, complete with contact information hovering above. I’m very visually oriented, and can keep track of a lot of information, if I know where a place is.

I’ve sewn a skirt with a patchwork of a map for my burlesque dancing class, with borders, and with sequins that demark towns. A huge cluster of crystals for Paris and Vienna for instance, but singles or trios for Bern, Calais, and Venice. My character in that show was an international spy of unknown origin, and she contained her map in the skirt lining. This rather describes what I feel about my social persona, as well. I keep up a good song and dance, but really, I am holding my need to travel under wraps until I can, someday soon, reveal my true passion.


Googlemaps is the best program ever. The streetview is my favorite feature, so I can go driving around the country without a car, or a care in the world. At night, particularly, I partake in a streetview tour. I can waste hours! Today, I looked up a friend’s address in order to write a postcard. And I wandered the streets I used to walk when I lived in his rooms for a while. When I finally saw the familiar blue door, I zoomed in and plucked out the number, et voilà, the remainder of the numbers show in the address directions window. Then I can take a walk around in changing weather, seeing how the construction of a wall, or changing of a storefront compare to what my memory held. If I forget how I got from place to place, I can wander the streets until I remember. But places you can walk are not always places the camera could have traversed. It can’t take me down every wynd, or go up one way streets the wrong way, for instance, so there is a small limitation.

Often, I remind myself how far I’ve walked, because I can look up the mileage between places I frequented. The route I took to get to the west end from Stockbridge, and the various roads through which I got lost in doing it. Upwards of 1.4 miles uphill. If I walk 1.4 miles in Los Angeles, I am barely in the same neighborhood. In Edinburgh, the distance afforded you a change of almost 4 neighborhoods of four different characters.

My favorite fantasy was along that route. My future house—I stopped in awe to look for minutes at a time at a set of windows off Moray Place, much like any other windows in a gray Georgian block. “That’s my place,” I’d chant to myself. I don’t know what exactly drew me, but it must have been the way the sun hit it, or the aspect of SSE direction. Maybe it was because the side was the face, and the door was about half a level lower than its front-side neighbor’s door. A thing slightly “other” than usual. The back half of the block is a storey lower than the front, so a back garden is sunken, and another flat’s door appears. This looks like a block where the neighbors keep a pretty flower garden, and have tea parties amongst their well dressed children. Definitely not my desired lifestyle—I am still puzzled as to why I may be interested in such a place! Yet, over and over, I pinpoint it in Google and visit, as I had before.

Of course, I would open up the windows that have been blocked up. Expensive, yes, but why shut out any sun in such a drizzly country? Perhaps it was a “window tax” or some such that persuaded some long-time resident to do it, during some depression. Maybe the only way to still afford this tenement, was to forego the light? Privacy, too, might have been the motive. There are nearby houses that Google has completely blurred away—I propose that they may be residences of diplomats, or ambassadors, for their own safety obscured from my prying eyes.


It’s such a tease when you want to see a building façade, but just at the moment of the picture, a white panel van has driven through. Blocked. You can see people who were walking to the shop making headway, or suddenly disappearing. Sometimes I think I will recognize someone in the street view, and know exactly what they were doing at the moment the webcam caught them in the act of it.

I do feel a bit of a spy when I look in. I’ve zoomed in on my erstwhile date, David from Scone. The cottage still looks well kept. The lands aren’t exactly available by search, but the satellite view shows me the topography. The satellite is of course, constantly refreshed, but the street view is dated to when the camera rolled by, and sometimes it’s months or maybe years since the original snap was taken. I have no interest in breaking in on the man himself—especially not! I’m happy not to know too much of his private affairs. This is not why I go.

All this voyeurism is not for my current curiosity. It’s to fill in memories that I naturally don’t completely have. I remember meeting Pasco in the Florentine Café—but do I remember that it was named Florentine? I can go to Googlemaps and streetview for the bright yellow façade, if they have not painted it another color in four years. When my friends mention that they heard some music at Whighams Wine Cellar, I can look up that bar, and remember that yes, I have been there, too! Then, something can catch my eye on the map, and I can go remind myself that I once walked by there.

Pathetic? Is it any more pathetic than buying used travel books by writers who remember Scotland? Or wanting to upholster a chair in tartan? Maybe. My map habit is probably exactly the same. I’m probably lingering when I’d be better served by fomenting a trip somewhere new. But at least I’m not ordering oatcakes in the mail anymore for seven times their price. Yes, at least I’m not doing that anymore. And maybe it’s time to also give up the single malt. Because that isn’t doing me any favors either. Scotch will never taste the same as it did at—what’s the name of that place?

Hang on a second while I consult street view.

2 thoughts on “Mapping a Memory”

  1. I think Craig shares your love of maps, though maybe not as strongly. Whenever we go someplace for vacation, the first thing your brother has to do it go buy a local map (if we don’t already have one). We did that in Australia (not our honeymoon, by the way), & again in Greece (our honeymoon). I’m sure we’ll have to do it when we go on our vacation this year. So before too long, you’ll be able to peruse our collection of city maps like we were said used book store. :o)

    1. Well, maps are a bit of fantasy, no? You aren’t particularly eager to devour maps, as we do?

      p.s. I was short-handing your travels, sorry if I wasn’t technically correct.
      LOve, K

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s