A Trip Down the Spanish Steps

In my recent thriller, To Die Again (see description at end of blog), the characters of my story are evading bad guys and do the unthinkable…they drive their small car (think Smart Car) down the famous Spanish Steps in Rome, Italy. Since I just spent some time in Rome and stayed not far from the Spanish Steps, I snapped a few shots to share and take you on a short journey down the famous Spanish Steps.

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Few people are out because it is early in the morning. A neat piece of trivia. In the bottom right of photo you can barely see the top corner of a door. John Keats lived and died in an apartment there. (Photo S. Parks)

Considering the pride the Italians have for their historic landmarks, and the millions of dollars that have been put into restorations over the years, driving anything down the steps is an unthinkable act (and can land you in a boatload of trouble$). Drinking or eating lunch on the steps is discouraged. The steps have been, however, a prime meeting place for young and old alike, since their construction (see the crowds below).

The Spanish Steps on a summer evening 2018. (Photo S. Parks)

A little history might help to understand the what, why, and where of the Spanish Steps. The steps are technically called “Scalinata di Trinita dei Monti.” The 135 steps are located in Rome, Italy, and were built on the steep hillside to connect the Piazza Trinita dei Monti (under patronage of French king) at the top to the Piazza di Spagna (Spain) at the bottom. Or you could say it linked the Spanish Embassy at the bottom (which is now off the end of the plaza) to the Trinita dei Monti church up above. How old are these steps? Plans and ideas for the steps began in the 1500s but due to funding, and social and political disagreements, they did not get built until the 1700s. They were designed by Francesco de Sanctis and constructed from 1723-25. Now let’s start at the top of the stairs and work our way down. The explanations are in the photo captions.

At the top of the stairs is a plaza with the church Santissima Trinita dei Monti overlooking the hill. A road covered in square black pavers passes right in front of it. There also stands an obelisk, which is not Egyptian, but a copy made by Romans of an Egyptian obelisk sometime in the 1st to 4th centuries. It is believed to have been used in a private (ruling class) Roman garden. It was erected here in 1798. (Photo S. Parks)

The large convex curve in front of the obelisk is actually the top of the Spanish stairs. This vantage point offers a wonderful view of the city, including the dome of St. Peters. When the day gets busy you will see vendors here, selling flowers and paintings. On each side of the curve are entrances to the stairs as can be seen in the next photo. (Photo S. Parks)

This is one of the two entrances from the top of the Spanish Steps via the Piazza Trinita dei Monti. You can see a vendors umbrella not yet opened.

After you walk down one of the two upper entrance staircases (one can be seen on the left), they coalesce and end in the first of several platforms on the stairs. In the background, you can see the top floors of buildings constructed on the hillside along the stairs.

On each side of the platform above there are again stairs to each side and they continue down to a narrower platform.

This is the second platform from the top. I love the graceful curves and how easy these steps are to take. You hardly feel the climb going up.

This last section has a central and side staircases bringing it down to the piazza at the bottom. Also note the street straight ahead. It is one of the most upscale shopping streets in Rome. The taxi driver who dropped us off in the area told my hubby it wasn’t safe for me to be on the streets until after 7:30 at night. He then winked and said that was when the stores ($$$$) closed.

Much to my surprise, the early Baroque fountain at the bottom was actually built a hundred years before the steps in 1627-29. I’ve seen Fontana della Barcaccia referred to as the fountain of the long or old boat. It is believed to have been designed by Pietro Bernini (the father to the more famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini). The design was also supposed to be that of a sinking boat, and it is certainly sinking into the street.

Other fun facts about the Spanish steps:

-English poet John Keats lived and died (1821 at 25) in a house on the right at the bottom of the steps (26 Piazza di Spagna). I believe it is the Keats-Shelley House museum now.

-The last restoration of the Spanish Steps was in 2016 and Bulgari donated 1.5 mil toward the cause.

-The steps became famous to Americans after the 1953 film Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. For younger folks, they also showed up in The Talented Mr. Ripley starring Matt Damon.

∞  ∞  ∞

If you’re wondering about the book in which I used the Spanish Steps and parts of Rome as a setting for several scenes, check out TO DIE AGAIN, a modern day thriller with science fiction and romantic elements. Links to Amazon and other retailers can be found on my website by clicking here BOOKPAGE.

A woman who doesn’t die.

A human who isn’t easy to kill.

A man who murders for power.

Death doesn’t come easy to Dr. Mona Signoretti, who is closing in on a killer she has tracked for two thousand years. As part of a special FBI unit, her failure to stop him puts at risk the population of Earth as well as the mission to save her part-human race from destruction. When Mona’s undercover role is discovered, and her life-sustaining energy threatened, human FBI agent, Grant Thornton, is assigned to work the case and keep her alive—not an easy task in a world where enemies refuse to die.

Book one of this modern-day thriller series set in the ordinary world, mixes adventure with technology, and politics with science fiction. If you enjoy memorable characters, strong heroes and heroines, and a touch of romance, then dive into the world of Infinitas. Pick up To Die Again by an author of four national writing awards.

The day B-24 Liberator “White Y” didn’t come home

Tens crews launched their B-24 Liberators into the dark, cold morning air on March 14, 1945 from Pantanella field in Italy. Copilot Lt. William Bradley flew next to Lt. Martz, who commanded the aircraft as they headed to bomb the Marshaling Yard at Nove Zamky, Hungary. Their crew of twelve included two navigators, a radar nav, bombardier, engineer, radio operator, and four gunners. The overall mission was deemed a success, but the only man to survive on Martz’s crew had a dramatic tale to tell.

The crew of Martz (pilot) and Bradley (co-pilot)

Memorial Day, where we remember those who have died in battle, seemed an appropriate time to tell a story about a distant Parks relative, Lt. William Bradley, who died in World War II. My husband had become particularly interested in him (a cousin once removed) after he discovered William and his brother were fellow Georgia Tech yellow jackets. The oldest brother graduated in 1941, and William entered that year as a freshman. William left college two years later in 1943, as many young men did, to go to war.

He was commissioned a 2LT in the Army Air Corp in 1943 and assigned to the 781st Bomb Squadron, 465 Bomb Group, 15th Air Force, flying B-24 Liberators. The the unit trained at McCook field Nebraska and operated until the war in Europe ended in 1945.

The only man to survive William Bradley’s last flight was engineer, T/Sgt. Beeson, who told his story about the fateful flight. Today that story and many others are printed in a booklet of the unit’s history published by the 781st Bomb Squadron Association. Below is an abbreviated version of that event told by Beeson in 1987.

The bombing run to the marshaling yard was not different than many others. The flak, while not as heavy as they’d encountered before, had pegged the formation’s location. The crew successfully unloaded their bombs over the target and were preparing to turn and head home. The tail gunner reported flak following their line of flight, bursting closer and closer.

B-24 Liberator over Ploesti oil fields, Romania 1943

An explosion shook their craft. Fire burst on the pilot’s side as flak came up from underneath his seat. A single glance revealed Martz had died. The last thing Beeson saw on the flight deck as he hit the bailout alarm was Lt. Bradley attempting to control the damaged aircraft. Beeson grabbed his chute and dropped into the bomb bay where the bombardier joined him with chute in hand. The plane lurched, and Beeson fell out, facing up where he could see the plane above going around and around. He never saw where it crashed. Other aircraft reported three or four chutes leaving the plane, but the unfriendly Hungarians below with their town in flames likely left them no chance for survival. Beeson lived to tell the tale because he was “rescued” from the villagers’ hands by a German soldier.

So many people have died in WWII and other wars our nation has fought. I appreciate their sacrifice to allow my friends and family to live in this great country.

An Artist Room in Tokyo

On a recent visit to Japan, our last few nights in Tokyo involved a unique twist on hotel rooms. We stayed on the 31st floor of the Park Hotel with an amazing view of the city. What made this room unique from other floors of the hotel, though, had nothing to do with the view or room size. The entire floor is known as the “Artist Floor” where the walls of rooms have been painted by special artists. Each room has a special theme and design brought to life by a selected artist. These are not the designer stylish type themes you might imagine with fine decorating, but are wistful, bold, and playful worlds. Some themes had 3-D touches, bold colors, or even night stars. Can you guess our theme from this photo?

Does sleeping in the Zodiac room mean a year of good luck?

Yep, we were in the Zodiac room. A special placard on the wall had a message from the artist, Ryosuke Yasumoto, that explained a few interpretive twists he added to theme. The English translation isn’t the greatest, but that makes the message all the more fun.

“Welcome to the Zodiac room! 2014, when this artist’s room was created, is the year of the horse, and I was also born in the year of the horse. I just happened to fill this room with items from the Zodiac. I don’t know if I can paint it well, but I just let my brush run free. I painted a cat which was cheated by a rat so that it wasn’t included in the Zodiac. By the grace of God, I also painted a weasel. The 1st day of the month has a similar pronunciation to “weasel” in Japanese. I would be delighted for you to experience the interesting story of the Zodiac from long, long ago.”

The artist’s point about there being no cat in the Zodiac gave me pause. I’d never thought about that before. Cats have been our pets and helpers through the millennia, so why aren’t they in the Zodiac (or did the tiger take their place)? The Japanese zodiac (imported from China but with variations) has a twelve-year cycle with each year having a symbolic animal that corresponds to the year: Rat (born 2008, 1996, 1984, 1872, 1960, 1948, 1936, 1924, 1912), Ox (2009, 1997, 1985, 1973, 1961, 1949, 1937, 1925, 1913), Tiger (1998, 1986, 1974, 1962, 1950, 1938, 1926, 1914), Rabbit (1999, 1987, 1975, 1963, 1951, 1939, 1927, 1915), Dragon (2000, 1988, 1976, 1964, 1952, 1940, 1928), Snake (2001, 1989, 1977, 1965, 1953, 1941, 1929, 1917), Horse (2002, 1990, 1978, 1966, 1954, 1943, 1930, 1918, 1906) , Sheep (2003, 1991, 1979, 1967, 1955, 1943, 1931, 1919, 1907), Monkey (2004, 1992, 1980, 1968, 1956, 1944, 1932, 1920, 1908), Rooster (2005, 1993, 1981, 1969, 1957, 1945, 1933, 1921, 1909), Dog (2006, 1994, 1982, 1970, 1958, 1946, 1934, 1922, 1910), and Boar (2007, 1995, 1983, 1971, 1959, 1947, 1935, 1923, 1911). So what’s your year?

My hubby and I had fun following the artist’s design around the room and bathroom (where the rat played). A dragon took in the entire scene from the ceiling, a snake climbed the wall by the bed, a cat lingered near the window, and a mouse skittered near the headboard. You cans see the ox, horse, rooster, head of the rabbit, dog, mice (rat was bigger and in the bathroom), and tiger in the first photo. Here are a few more for you to enjoy.

The cat with a leash held by a monkey.

Love the forked tongue on the snake.

Here’s the sheep and another cat. The only animal I couldn’t find in the photos is the boar (and the mentioned weasel).

Lots of little mice played in the room.

Various themes on the 31st floor include Samurai, Lucky Cat, Bamboo, Castle, Kabuki, Haiku, Wabi-Sabi, Otafuku Face, Geisha Goldfish, Mount Fuji, and, our room, Zodiac. All the rooms can be seen on a page of the hotel website (click here). Thanks for stopping by True Airspeed Blog. Consider picking up one of my books for your travels.

 

 

Three Generations of Blue

Welcome again to guest blogger (and niece) Katy. Her stories of flying and life in the military are inspiring. Enjoy!

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Hello again!

Flying is the family business. First, it was my Grandfathers’ business, with my patient & loving Grandmothers trailing along keeping everything going at home. Both of my grandfathers, Willie B. Craig, & William F. Moffett, went through pilot training in the 1950’s along with thousands of other men. My dad told me once that my grandfather was the top of his pilot training class–of a thousand! (No pressure or anything). My Mom’s Dad went from being enlisted to becoming an Aviation Cadet. They had to live in barracks and tents while going through pilot training! If I’m ever feeling scared or shocked at something the Air Force has asked me to do, or something that’s happened, I call my Grandpa. His response is usually something along the lines of. “That’s nothing, let me tell you about this one time.” And believe me, he’s always right.

This is only part of my flying family. L-R: Uncle Scott, Grandpa, me, and Dad.

For example, I went on my first overseas combat mission with only 9 hours in the C-17. Most of the initial qualification training is in the simulator, and the simulator is really good. But for someone who had only set foot on a C-17 a handful of times, the prospect seemed daunting. When I told my grandfather, he chuckled wisely, in the way that Colonel Moffett of the old Strategic Air Command days only can. “That’s nothing,” he said, and proceeded to tell me the story of how his checkride in an airplane was the first time he’d set foot in it.

My first mission as an Aircraft Commander of the C-17. We were doing a Joint NATO Med-evac exercise with a british helicopter unit in England. I’m just supervising, making sure no one gets close enough to hit the plane.

According to my Grandpa, the instructor gave him the manual the night before, and he and another pilot did a co-checkride in the plane. He did the takeoff, the other guy did the landing. The next day, the squadron put him on a mission to fly the aircraft across the ocean to Hawaii to preposition it for Vietnam. Upon arriving, my grandfather noticed that the flight orders had a Lt Col flying with him, and he felt relieved. “Hopefully this guy knows how to fly the damn airplane!” He thought. Turns out, the Lt Col hadn’t flown a single hour in the plane, and had the same dashed hope! Together, they had to navigate across the ocean in an airplane they’d never landed before to a base they’d never been to.

It gives new meaning to the phrase “back when it was hard”. I didn’t feel so bad after he told me that story.

In the second generation, it was my Dad’s business.  My father was a navigator in the FB-111, and has a brain for conceptual strategy like I have never seen. We don’t play monopoly with my dad. And most other board games we only play if he’s at some kind of obvious disadvantage, like never having played the game before. It doesn’t always help. My Dad was one of the brightest young navigators in his day, and his team won the AF-wide “bombs on target” competition back in SAC.  These days, he quietly retired from his second career in Security, plays golf, and edits my Aunts’ books for military correctness. I call him if I don’t know what to do in any situation, and he literally always has the best advice, even if isn’t what I want to hear.

And then there’s me: I’m technically too short to be an Air Force pilot. I needed a waiver for a quarter of an inch (5’3 ¾”, instead of 5’4″). Apparently, “big AF” hasn’t figured out how much fuel they save per pound less I weigh than your standard six-foot tall guy pilot, or else they’d be handing out a LOT more waivers.  I’m definitely not what most people expect from an “Air Force Pilot”, with a capital “P”. Once, two years ago, one of my loadmasters posted a picture of me in the C-17 cockpit. One of his family members commented something along the lines of, “How nice of you to show a child around the cockpit of the C-17”.  I didn’t take offense, the photo is a close-up, but it isn’t the first time someone’s said something along those lines to me over the course of six years flying.

In the meantime,  these days I fly every day, most days twice a day, “around the flagpole” with brand-new pilot trainees. I try to laugh a lot in the airplane with students, and most days I taxi in with a smile on my face. I’ve got a great job, and I only fly when the weather is good and I’ve gotten a good night’s sleep.

The family business is a pretty great one.

Greetings from the air!

The following is the first in a series of guest blog posts written by my niece, Katy, who flies as an Air Force instructor pilot.

Hello World!

Some of you may know me from Sandy’s previous blog posts–specifically about my husband and I’s wedding back in 2015, or my pilot training graduation back in 2013. My husband, Josh, and I are both Air Force pilots who met during pilot training in 2011 and have been inseparable since. Over the years, we’ve had some pretty unique experiences that I’d love to share with you.  It’s funny, when you do something everyday, you lose track of how spectacular and unique certain things are until you reflect on them later. I just hope that my crazy life brings you some enjoyment–or maybe a little belief and trust in the strength and love that my family has for what we do to serve our country.

Oh yeah, and some sweet airplane pictures!

 

More to come — including how many times Josh and I have been able to fly together, my most memorable flights, and the story of how Josh and I by chance were able to fly a refueling mission with each other. Not sure how many married couples can say they’ve flown two mult-million dollar airplanes through the sky physically connected at 305 mph (265 knots).

As always, thanks for reading, and fly safe!

Katy

Under The Radar Giveaway

This contest has ended and we have winners! Yes, winners. The response exceeded my expectations so I’m giving away an ebook copy of Under the Radar to the second and third place names drawn by a random generator. I have emailed the winners so please check your spam folders. Happy reading!

Winner of the print book: Pat Widder

Winners of an ebook: Pierre Borlase & Diane (no last name)

*  *  *

If a click on the link in my newsletter brought you here, your name has now been entered to win a print copy of the first book in my latest series.

Please check back on Saturday April 8, 2017. I’ll be posting the name of the winner and will contact them by email.

Happy reading!

*If you are dropping in on this blog and reading this message and like to read thrillers (with adventure, exotic places, and a little romantic tension), sign up for my newsletter by clicking HERE and get the FREE ebook Repossessed.

 

Visit to the San Diego Zoo

My last clear memory of a visit to the San Diego zoo had been thirty years ago when my husband and I pushed my beloved, and adventurous, grandmother in a wheel chair up and down the hills of the rambling zoo. No buses (that I can remember) ran in those days inside the park. Since I was in San Diego for a writers’ convention a day early, a fellow author and I decided to check out the zoo again and see how it had changed.

Welcome to the San Diego Zoo

I will admit to sticker shock at seeing typical entertainment park prices, but the facilities, transportation, and animal conservation efforts made up for the price. The only drawback we discovered was not having a kid along to see the wonder in their eyes as they hunted out where the animals were “hiding” in their respective enclosures. Whether timing for feedings or weather for that day, a high percentage of the animals were easy to see and moving around.

A mellow-fellow (monkey).

A favorite was the small red panda which walked along a log perch and then shyly  climbed up a small eucalyptus tree into the foliage. His/her coat was a beautiful tawny red. The much larger black and white panda common in Asia (China) was napping belly up on a ledge behind a log in the next exhibit.

The red panda climbing around its enclosure and headed toward a favorite perch.

The red panda headed toward a favorite perch.

The African savannah and other range animals in the collection were numerous. The zoo is almost finished with a vast new range/display for them to roam which should open soon.

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A curious baby giraffe.

Gazelles. This one happily munching and keeping a close eye on me.

Gazelles. This one happily munching and keeping a close eye on me.

 

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African elephant with the larger ears.

For those curious about African versus Asian elephants, the zoo had both. The ears are the biggest difference between the two, but also the Asian elephant has two bumps on its head, smoother skin, and eats mainly grass (African elephants eat leaves).

Asian elephant with the small ears.

Asian elephant with the small ears.

As usual, the meerkats were active, wrestling with one another and ultimately posing for photos. Their endless energy and sentinel, upright stance on their hind legs, makes for great photos. Years ago while visiting South Africa, I had a chance to see these creatures at a wildlife reserve. Two had gotten inside the reserve manager’s house and were standing in the picture window looking out at us. Delightfully rambunctious creatures.

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Ever seen Meerkat Manor?

As the day wound down, we stopped by the Koalas. Native to Australia, they are delightful marsupials  to watch, and their cuddly expressions are priceless.

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The day ended with the rhinos. While I’ve seen them in the wild, it was fun to have a close up look at their thick, armored hide.

I also used a rhino midden in my latest romantic thriller novel OFF THE CHART which takes place in South Africa and Zimbabwe. A rhino midden is a huge rut or depression where rhinos defecate. The dominate male uses it to also mark his dominance. These two rhinos looked like I felt after spending the entire sunny day walking around the zoo.

If you enjoy reading novels with thrills, adventure, and a touch of mystery and romance, check out my newest TAKING RISKS SERIES which includes the novels UNDER THE RADAR and OFF THE CHART. It takes place in Africa where my characters might well run into a few of these creatures. Thanks for stopping by. Comments  are appreciated.