Landmarking: A Real-World Example

Yesterday, I talked about how to make a place a landmark, literal or narrative. I’m going to illustrate—not with a fictional example, but with an old story.

Back when I was turning four years old (and only just getting into the stage where I was remembering things long-term), my parents went on a trip to Britain, visiting places in England, Scotland, and Wales. Most of it I don’t remember the specifics of; I vaguely remember learning the hard way that swans really aren’t as nice as their publicists would have you believe, tromping through a mess of cathedrals, hitting a few vaguely important places that I’d recognize if someone gave me a picture, and running around in the dark looking for a place to get dinner that wasn’t full and being told that I shouldn’t eat the blackberries growing nearby because we couldn’t tell if they were ripe or not. My strongest memories, though, come from a manor house in Wales.

We hadn’t even meant to go there. The plan was to stay at a local bed and breakfast, but the family running the place had taken ill. They rerouted us to a nearby manor house called Cors-y-gedol (one that I spent the next couple decades unsure how to spell), and there we spent the next few days.

The first thing I remember about it was the tigerskin over the railing on the second floor landing (would you believe it’s still there?). At my age, that was really scary—until Mrs. Bailey, the caretaker, showed me that you could come up behind it on the second floor and pet it. I suppose soft things weren’t allowed to be scary. Gotta love child-logic.

Twenty years later, I remember stopping into a cold room somewhere in the manor, in which Charles II had supposedly slept (though mostly I remember wondering how anyone could get sleep anywhere that cold). I grew up with stories about my father staring at the coat of arms hanging in the dining room for several days before realizing that the thing he couldn’t quite put a finger on was that it was for Queen Elizabeth the First, not the Second (“No two!”). History? You’d better believe it.

There was, of course, the resident element: our hostess, whom we knew as Mrs. Bailey. I don’t remember her very well—a vague impression of gray hair, mostly. (Four year old kid, bad facial memory, what can I say?) But she took a shine to us in general, and me in particular. I think she might have been the one who gave me the woodcut puzzle with the four cats.

It’s harder to talk plot in real events, but I think one could still make a case for it, starting with the fact that staying there wasn’t in the plan to begin with. We’d done a decent amount of go somewhere, stay at a B&B for a couple of days while seeing the sights nearby, move to new region, repeat, but this one actually feels like time. I read and did Criss Cross puzzles (you’d know them as Fill-ins), we celebrated my birthday with party crackers—things happened there, and not just at the castles and cathedrals we had spent the entire trip exploring.

And if those sorts of elements are enough to make a child barely getting the hang of putting memories in long term to remember a place she can’t even spell, imagine what more coherent uses of said elements could do!

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