Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Memories of Scotland

Robert Lewis Stevenson once wrote, “Street after street, and all the folks asleep – street after street, all lighted up as if for a procession and all as empty as a church – till at last I got into that state of mind when a man listens and listens and begins to long for the sight of a policeman.” While I believe his infamous ego-dueling duo was set in London, I have no doubt that he gained his inspiration for those lines from the streets of Scotland when they are set upon by a heavy ocean mist.

I find Edinburgh in no way scary, though as the heavy dusky veil falls upon the city and the fog sneaks into every jagged crack and back alley, it’s not hard to imagine a time when conditions were different and walking through a similar heavy mist would have been petrifying. Not only did Stevenson gain inspiration from Edinburgh, but he also got the basis of his character from a man who lived there. This man, whose name now escapes me, was a very prominent member in society, on the city council, well to do, and a cabinet maker. However, by night he would frequent the pubs, get rough with the roughest, and entertain the most brazen of hussies. So the template for Stevenson’s multi-ego protagonist was cast in Edinburgh mold. With but a few tweaks to the character’s details and some elaborative rhetoric, Stevenson introduced Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

I happened to adore that book, and it’s nice to see that the Scottish appreciate it as much as I. References to it inundate the city; some of the pubs are named in honour of the characters while alternatively, the National Library of Scotland has this month announced that the common book will be The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, complete with events ranging from book readings, poetry, performances, and movie showings all related to the book. Very cool.

Edinburgh suits me much like Berlin did, perhaps even more snugly. However, while Berlin felt great to be in, I’d never felt like I’d been there before; it was all new to me because I had no idea what the city had to offer. Edinburgh and Berlin shared that common quality; I had basically no preconceived notion of how it was going to be because I’d seen no pictures of it, and heard very vague descriptions such as “It’s incredible”.

I cannot say the moment I got off the train I felt at home in Edinburgh as I was burdened with an incredible load. Not only did I have my normal backpack on my chest with computer inside, but I had my hiking backpack, (which I lovingly refer to as my rucksack), on my back. To add to the already awkward way to travel, I had to bring a rolling suitcase behind me which held four months of paperwork, clothes, some trinkets from my travels, and a collection of mugs from varying coffee shops in Bristol. Needless to say, it’s heavy. It’s nice that it has wheels, but they’re useless for stairs and to get out of Edinburgh Waverley you have to go up a lot of stairs! So my first impression of Edinburgh didn’t really exist because I was too preoccupied with the strain of my luggage and oblivious to the wondrous city I was in. However, in the morning I got a taste that I’ll never forget.

I woke up after sleeping with the stillness of a dead man. In the morning we were meant to go on a free tour of the city, but after our bus took about twenty minutes longer than it said, we arrived very short on time. As I was still very tired, and quite grouchy, I told Kate to go off without me. That was probably the best thing I could have done. I needed my alone time. I’ve needed my alone time with increasing regularity as this trip has progressed. I think it’s made the trip better for both of us as we’ve discovered that we don’t travel very well together. While I still love Kate very much, I would surmise that this trip has not met either of our expectations; our modes of travel and our visions of the trip vary to a large degree. It’s been frustrating for me, and I can tell frustrating for her. I’ve tried to bring up dialogue about it, but there isn’t much to say I guess. We’re just baring through it and doing our own thing. That’s fine. I only hope that our relationship can survive this test and not hold resentment in the future.

I know that I haven’t made it easy for Kate, and she hasn’t made it easy for me. However, I think that if you’re traveling with the right person, it can make all the different. I had an absolutely chill and fabulous time on my other excursions and I made them with three separate women. I think that Kate and I just clash and I cannot figure out the reason. It’s not like we explode at each other, it just sort tension that lingers beneath the surface, a tension whose origins escape me.

Well, continuing on, my first taste of Edinburgh was like a bite of forbidden fruit; once taken I ached for more. The sun was shining and the sky clear when I found a coffee shop. After entering into the warm bubble of coffee aroma, I ushered in my good spirits with a latte and some reading. After weeks of battling with The Picture of Dorian Gray, I was finally able to get into it again. After a portion of time I collected my effects and strolled deeper into the city.

Not at all surprising to me, though I felt that it should have been, was the fact that the mist had settled on the city by the time I left. It had gone from clear skies to a mist so thick you couldn’t see ten metres in front of you. It had come from the ocean and rolled over Arthurs Seat to find it’s resting place amongst the wondrous buildings of the “Old Town”. I climbed up to the top of a nearby hill to see if there was anything to see, and I also wanted a bit of a hike. However, when I got to the top, there was absolutely zero visibility down to the city, but there were some monuments on the top of the hill; one to Lord Nelson, and the other to Scottish independence. I trotted back down the hill and was determined to find the Scottish parliament. I’d seen a sign for it pointing off into the deeper part of the glen.

Winding down the paths and backstreets I found myself at the bottom of High Street, more popularly known as the Royal Mile. It goes from the Scottish palace at the bottom of the glen, to the top of the hill where Edinburgh Castle sits. I didn’t go inside Parliament because it was closed but it is one of the coolest modern buildings I’ve ever seen. I’d love to work there if I were a politician. As for the Palace, I thought I might see that with Kate and it didn’t interest me terribly, so I opted to forgo it and instead began climbing up a road parallel to the royal mile.

The royal mile is full of the most posh stores and largest tourist trinket stops; naturally I wanted to avoid it. It was along the side street that I stumbled into Edinburgh University. It’s hard not to do as it’s spread out over half the city, but rather providentially I found myself next to the social sciences building. I wanted to find the student union building but when I asked a passerby I found that it was about halfway across the city. I wanted to see a few other things first so I moved on.

I basically made my way around to all the free attractions that day and got my bearings on the city. It wasn’t hard because, as I mentioned earlier, I felt like I’d been there before. There was something about the city that didn’t awe me like other cities did. That’s not to say it’s not awe-inspiring, as it very much is, but I just feel like I’ve lived here for a long long time. Like I grew up around the old stone buildings and belonged to its majesty. That feeling of being home was reinforced when I made my way into the highlands and into Lothian over the next two days.

Mid Lothian is where my Clan is from, Clan Ramsay, and I believe it includes Edinburgh. It was on Monday, when we went on our first tour, that I got to know this area better. The tour we’d signed up for was to see Rosslyn Chapel and various places along the way. However, it seems that Fate was a little cranky from her weekend partying, and dealt us some unexpected monday morning cards. For example, the fog was so thick that day that our driver, Bryan, could barely see the road ahead of us, and concurrently, our view of the lovely lowlands was hindered. Bryan, wanting to end with Rosslyn Chapel in hopes the fog would burn off, decided to take us first to a whiskey distillery.

When we arrived and walked into the reception, the man behind the counter looked a little baffled. We said that we’d like to have a tour and he said… sorry, we don’t open until midday, which wasn’t for another 45 minutes. Oops. Well Bryan, being a seasoned veteran in the guidance of tours, asked if he could just take us into the building for a second and tell us a bit about it. The man said normally that would be fine, but the big wigs of the company were showing up and they were going to be in the same building as us, so the blunt answer was no. Bummer.

So we left for Rosslyn Chapel which Bryan was a bit upset about because he usually likes to finish it. Fate, it seemed, had sobered up a bit by then and took pity our discouraged faces, because she then dealt us a very cool alternative. The road to Rosslyn chapel was cut off due to road construction, and while this detour card seemed to be of ill luck, it turned into possibly my favourite part of the trip.

We were driving along and we stopped at a roundabout. I noticed a sign across the road that said “Dalhousie Castle”. I had been doing some research on the Clan Ramsay the previous night and I remembered that Dalhousie was the Ramsey Clan’s castle.

So I asked Brian, “Is that the Dalhousie Castle?”

“Yes it is” he said in his amazing Scottish accent.

“Isn’t that the Clan Ramsay’s castle?”

“Sure is, why do you ask?”

“That’s my clan, Ramsay clan!”

“Get out! You’re joking!” he said in a way that echoed Sean Connery in Goldfinger.

“No, I’m completely serious, blue tartan and everything!”

“Ha! I almost wore my Ramsay tie today. Well then” he said, “there’s only one thing to do! Let’s go take a look!”

So we went. He drove right up to the entrance. I was devastated that my camera was dead but luckily Bryan had a camera and he took some pictures of me in front of the castle and inside. He and I ducked in and grabbed some information on the place. There is a lot of history in that Castle, that’s a rather obvious thing to say as it’s so old. However, this castle was taken by Edward the First of England who marched against William Wallace. He stayed in the castle on his way to the battle where he would eventually defeat William Wallace’s forces. After a time, Ramsay Clan and another clan joined together under one chief and the centre for the Ramsay Clan moved north of the Firth of Fourth. The castle was sold and now it’s a hotel for hoity rich folk and business retreats. Still, it was wonderful to see my clan’s historical castle.

We saw another castle that day that we actually got to romp around in. That castles name escapes me but I’ll try and look it up. It might have been the castle sterling but I’m not sure. However, the point of the entire tour was Rosslyn Chapel and we did finally make it there. Bryan had been doing this tour for years and he knew all the little tidbits. He’s a wonderful older gentleman and I’m happy we got to meet him. Before we went into the church, we went to Roslin Castle (the name has been anglicized but it’s not proper to change the name of a church). That was very cool and majestic. The fog was still lingering but the sun was beating through dissipating the cloud. The Castle was very organic, as if it had always been part of the mound it rested upon. Its stones were made of red sandstone and it gave it the most earthen appearance. I just cannot describe it; it is a place to be experienced. As if the Castle wasn’t enough, the Chapel was breathtaking.

I’ve never seen such intricacy in a church before, and while this one is very small in comparison to the churches I’ve seen, it is perhaps my favourite one of all. It has a large history with the Knights Templar and the Stone Masons. You can see this in the structure. The Templar’s were almost eradicated after the pope issued a decree for their annihilation, but they sought refuge in Scotland and found it. There, they went about sharing their secrets of warfare and construction with the Scots and thus Rosslyn Chapel came to be. In it are the three classic pillars of the Stone Masons; the apprentice, the craftsman, and the master. There is quite a tale about the apprentice and master pillars, perhaps I’ll tell that later, but everything about the place screams organic. There are leaves and flowers, the pagan nature face, there are scriptures carved in stone, the seven deadly sins and virtues, there are imps and the devil, and Jesus waving down at you from the vaulted ceiling. This church had everything that a church should and should not have; it went against the customs of the age because by this time Scotland had separated from the pope.

Well, that day was wonderful and ended well. Everything Edinburgh has to offer has been uplifting and unforgettable, and yet, it’s been unable to restore my energy. Perhaps if I was not running to and fro trying to experience everything Edinburgh has to offer then I could recharge my reserves, but as of now I still feel worn by my previous travels.

Still, the next day brought another stunning adventure. Early in the morning Kate and I were off to the Highlands! Our trip started at about 7:15 in the morning and we didn’t return until at least that time. I cannot tell you all the things I saw that day, or the magnificent names of those places, but I’ll attempt to.

We headed West, towards the ocean, out of the Lowlands and into the “mountains” of the west. To anyone who’s seen the Rockies, these are not mountains, but they’re as big as you’ll see in the UK. We took these mountains up the west coast to Fort William, and then eventually to Inverness. We the drove back down through the fields of heather straight back to Edinburgh. It was definitely a nice introduction to Scotland, and it only inflamed in me a desire to stay here for longer, but there were some disadvantages to seeing it through a bus window. For one, we took a lot of pictures, but taking them from inside a bus doesn’t do the highlands justice in any way. So if you do see my pictures on picasa or in person, please forgive them, they’re a feeble attempt at conveying the incredibility of this place.

On this journey, we passed Ben Nevis, the UK’s largest mountain, as well as the glen where the Campbell’s exterminated another clan and tarnished their name forever. We passed one location of Haggrids hut in the Harry Potter films, as well as the glen where they filmed the village scenes in Braveheart. We stopped at Fort William which was one of the British attempt to control the Scots, and eventually made our way to Inverness, which sits quaintly next to the famous expanse of water known as Loch Ness. I didn’t get to go out on the water despite the beautiful day; the sun was out and the wind was tickling the water in a way which would have been perfect for sailing. Ultimately, every place we passed was soaked in history, sitting beautifully amongst the present and whispering of its past. I have to go back, and for longer than a day, which leads me nicely to my newest dream.

I want to live in Edinburgh. I know I know! I’ve said that about many cities, but I’ve narrowed it down to Edinburgh and Berlin first, then we’ll see about Paris and London. It would be lovely if I could work in the U.S. Embassy and go between each city developing new connections and better understanding each respective culture. If there is a cultural department or some job related to culture, community, and collaboration between the countries, then I’m in. If I could meet people, work together with them, speak in public, inspire community leaders to come together for the betterment of the city/world (I know, I know, ambitious… let me dream) Then that would be the job for me. What job is there then, that would allow me to create community events, work on cultural relations, build personal and world connections, and speak in front of a great many people, or even a small group of people! I’m rambling because I’m excited. I’m excited to get my degree, I’m excited to travel again, I’m excited to do my part in making the world a better place. As a tour guide of mine here said, and as a philosophy I believe in, there’s positive in every negative; our world has created a lot of negatives recently but it’s merely a chance to create more positives.

Ok, enough babble. I’m sure you got enough of that boundless hopeful enthusiasm from my Obama letter! I made a list first of things I wanted to speak of, but I’ve yet to touch on any of them. So I’ll give them each a short section in this entry. I’ll start by saying the world is so very small.

When we were up in Inverness on our second round of touring, I was sitting by the lakeside with my new friend from Ireland (I’ll get to that), when a bus pulls up into the parking lot right next to us. I look inside and much to my surprise is Bryan, my tour guide from the previous day! So I ran up and rapped on the door with a gigantic grin on my face. Bryan opened up and I shook his hand and thanked him again for a great tour the day before. He smiled back and told me it was his pleasure. We made small talk for a bit and then he was off again. I have his email and I’m going to email him right after this. He’s going to send me those pictures like I said earlier. However, continuing on with the small world bit, it was the same day just down the road when another incredible connection happened. We did a pit stop at a little whiskey shop and I was going around tasting the different malts when I chanced upon Nicki. Nicki was a gal that I’d met in our hostel, a nice Australian gal who wanted to listen to my guitar playing. Well we got to talking and eventually I met her friend Guy. They were just beginning their tour of Europe and I was on my final hurrah, so we shared information – or rather, I talked at them for a while – but both of us neglected to get each others’ information! Well, we weren’t about to make the same mistake twice so right then and there we swapped names and emails. She was going to find me on Facebook, or I her. But WOW! Twice in one day! Fate, what an absolutely brilliant woman you are! (I don’t know why Fate is always a woman in my imagination)

Ok, only a few more things. If you’ve come this far I know I’ve hooked you, but I’ll be more kind from now on. I met a nice gal on the tour through the Highlands. She’s sweet and classy, Canadian, and doesn’t know what she wants to do with herself. Her name escapes me even after I tried desperately to remember it. Callie or something along those lines I think, I could be severely off though. Anyway, we chatted of all things, I talked her ear off as I was excited to make a new friend, but eventually I quelled my rudeness and asked her more questions. She was living in Cork, Ireland, or just very near it. She was working at a boarding school as a teacher’s assistant. She had forgone university to do that because she didn’t know what she wanted to do with herself. She got this job which gives her room and board, as well as a weekly allowance, which she was saving and using for traveling. She has a boyfriend of six months and was flying back the day before Valentine’s day to be with him. She had big plans to travel Europe. We talked of great things like classic books and movies. We agreed that Swiss Family Robinson basically encompasses both of our childhoods. We smiled exuberantly when, simultaneously, we recalled the amazing tree house! She was a good friend and I hope to see her again. I gave her my contact info and we parted ways. I’ve been beating myself up all day for not asking her out for a drink or at least a wander. Now she’s gone back to Ireland. I can only hope she finds me on Facebook or calls me if she’s even in Seattle.

On a sadder note, I lost my beloved Klean Kanteen. It was Sunday night and I couldn’t tell you where. I know I had it at the National Museum of Scotland which closed at five. I retraced all my steps, went in every store and sifted through their lost properties boxes, but to no avail. I sent out emails, made calls, and queries in person but it seems to have been taken or left absentmindedly somewhere in the vastness that is Edinburgh. It will be sorely missed. It’s been with me through Bristol, London, Rome, Barcelona, Wales, Cornwall, Amsterdam, Paris, Normandy, Saint Raphael, Rome again, Venice, Berlin, Bristol again, and it saw its final days with me in Scotland. I only hope that someone, who was in desperate need of a beautiful stainless steel canteen, has lovingly adopted it and will continue taking it on adventures for many years to come. I miss you my lovely canteen, I hope you’re safe and well wherever you are! (Seriously, this is devastating for me).

Ending on a lighter note, yes I’m ending, I’ve finished Dorian Gray! Oh thank god, that book seemed to drag on and on! However, I forced myself to read it and amazingly it became exciting again! The quarrel I had with the famous piece of literature was its egoism. I’d spent a semester studying Karl Marx and his views on Egoism, of which none of them are good, and to be honest, I shared some of his disgust in the selfishness of man, albeit to a lesser degree; I’m not going to dedicate my life to preaching against it. Though, I digress. There comes a point in the book when it speaks of Dorian’s selfishness, and his progression into the evil creature he’d eventually become. It didn’t interest me very much; I like inspiration and good and become disenchanted with the evil. Evil makes wondrous villains and advances plotlines nicely, but this is the main character and for a great while he seems to have no inner turmoil about the atrocities he is committing. Towards the end, he begins to resent his actions, and tried to atone for his sins, and that’s when things got interesting for me again. This internal struggle for good gave me hope in the character again, not simply disgust and disillusionment. The ending was great, it was the perfect ending for this story and I’m happy how it ended, though I wanted Dorian to be able to change and become good again. It seems that Wilde thought the return to good impossible, at least for this character. The end is suiting for the book, but it leaves me for want of something else, something better, the hope for change I suppose. I guess I’m just in the mood right now!



No comments: