by Peggy Hanson
Peggy Hanson is the author of two travel mysteries.
My daughter puts it this way: “I worry a little when Mom goes to dangerous places like Yemen. But then I think, ‘she’ll die doing something she loves.’ And it’s all right!”
Isn’t that the goal, really? To die the way we want to? And, in the case of writers, to have said what they wanted to say before they die.
Like everyone else, I don’t know what the proper way to die is, exactly. So I travel. In a few weeks I will go to Egypt, where my husband has an assignment. I will hail cabs on the corner and use my bad Arabic to tell them to take me to the Khan el-Kalili. I will go out of Cairo to visit pyramids, now largely neglected by tourists, who gave up going to Egypt three years ago during the Arab Spring.
I will visit women’s projects in Upper Egypt set up after tourist-related salaries of men went away. And I will write a travel blog to encourage others to go to Egypt. At least, that’s what I think I will write. We’ll have to see. And I will take notes for my planned Deadline Egypt mystery, which has to wait until I’ve written at least two other books, Deadline Indonesia (partly written) and Unholy Death On The Orient Express.
The latter has begun with about 20 pages and is first in the Mary Matthews Victorian missionary sleuth series (based on my Great Aunt Mary’s life in the Balkans.) Aunt Mary took the Orient Express from London to Constantinople in 1888, when the luxury train was in its infancy. I trust she won’t mind my killing off one of her berth-mates. “The woman wore more red on her lips than any respectable female should do.” Aunt Mary, of course, will have to solve the crime, as the train is stuck somewhere remote between stations. That’s no obstacle: Aunt Mary is a problem-solver.
It was a good thing she had courage and common sense. In World War I, with the Germans bombarding her city for almost three years, she was the only American to stay. She provided shelter for forty people in her school’s basement. She went to the market to obtain supplies for her refugees and took a dark lantern up to check the damage when a shell hit the roof.
As it was for Aunt Mary, travel is a part of me. By some trick of fate, I was assigned to Turkey as a Peace Corps volunteer in the early ‘60s, at about the same age Aunt Mary was when she went off to Constantinople. Monastir, Macedonia was a part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire much of the time Aunt Mary lived there. Last spring when I went to Monastir (now Bitola) to get background on Aunt Mary, I found that in more than one case, Turkish was the only language in which I could communicate.
Travel is also a part of my writing. I wrote the first draft of Deadline Istanbul while living in Indonesia; Deadline Yemen was sketched out while I lived in India. Going back–both in imagination and in reality to places I have known in the past– provides cohesion to a nomadic life.
My daughter understands. Her great-great Aunt Mary would also understand. And because I am a writer, I have to try to capture the travel and share it–or, in the case of the old Orient Express, make a lot of it up!
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