The Scottish Saltire

The Scottish Saltire

Friday, May 29, 2009

Bonk! Bonk! Bonk!

OK, I know I've gone a bit video crazy lately, but this one is just too cute not to post!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Ballet...or...Dancing With The Stars

When Barbara and Peter invited me to go to the ballet I assumed it would be a classical performance. Having never been to a ballet before, I enthusiastically accepted their invitation. But as it turned out tonight's performance was not classical at all. It was a performance by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago a modern dance troupe from, well....Chicago. Afterward, Barbara explained to me that there really isn't a distinction made between the different types of dance that one might see when attending the Mannheim Ballet. So tonight was not what I had expected at all. No ballet slippers, no tutus, no swans. But, rather, a high energy show by a group of amazing young dancers accompanied by really good music. I was not in the least disappointed. I love modern dance. I am always amazed at the beauty that can be created by the movement of the human body. The first part of the performance had a very classical feel to it, though. Very smooth and romantic dances but definitely with a modern flair. The curtain came down for the first intermission and I was pleased with the show so far and looking forward to the the next two segments.

After about a 20 minute intermission we settled back down into our seats for the second part of the performance. It was at this point that the dancers really ratcheted up the energy level. The next 15 or 16 minutes was a chaotic visual feast. All 12-14 dancers were on stage at the same time. Sometimes they were all moving; sometimes only 1 or 2...or 4 or 5. They were all wearing jeans or dark khakis or some other nondescript type of pants. What really caught my eye, though, were their shirts. Nothing special, just what you might see anyone wearing walking down the street. But each one was a different solid color. This use of color combined with the energetic dance movements of so many people at once looked to me like a rainbow of popping corn. It was fabulous!

After the second intermission about 9 of the dancers came out wearing oversized dark men's suits and hats. Their dancing was less frenetic than before but no less athletic or amazing. Then they all suddenly walked down the steps and off the stage. They positioned themselves at various points in the audience with one young man standing right next to me. Hmmm....thinks me. I wonder what they're doing? Next thing I know this young man held out his hand to me and beckoned me to come with him! As did the other dancers, each to a different audience member. As I put my hand in his and left my seat I heard myself thinking, Oh this might not be such a good idea. But he put his other arm around me and, oh so gracefully, escorted me up on the stage. I had no idea what to expect but it was certainly too late at this point to chicken out so I just decided to have fun with it....whatever it was! It was great! We were like interactive props. They danced around us, with us, and at us. All to the music of the Bossanova. All I could think of at that moment was the movie Born Romantic and wished I had, at some point in my life, taken Latin dance lessons. They had us up there for probably ten minutes, most of which are truthfully kind of blur to me, but I'm pretty sure I had fun. One by one, they released us to go back to our seats where we all watched the rest of the show wondering, What the hell just happened to me?

As we were leaving the theater, afterward, Barbara, Peter and I were laughing about the whole thing and Peter showed me the picture he had taken with his phone of me on stage. I asked him to email it to me. I'll add it to this post when I get it but for now suffice to say that it was a wonderful dance performance (theirs, not mine!) and my unexpected little excursion into the spotlight definitely made it an evening to remember!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

An Amazing Voice

So you all know that I love everything Scottish. Why else would I have quit my job, sold my house and dismantled my life in Arizona to chase my dream of living in The Scottish Highlands and studying the history of this amazing country?

When I think of spending my days in an academic environment with other people who are just as daft about the history of Scotland as I am I feel like a little kid waiting for the first day of school. Wait....I am. Well, not a little kid, certainly, but waiting for the first day of school, definitely (Sept 7th)! I have learned so much of Scotland's history on my own but I can't wait to get into the classroom where there are teachers who know a hell of a lot more than I do and who are there to share their knowledge!

But there is much more to Scotland than just her political and social history. Like music! When the twins and I were in Inverness in July of '07 we saw a traditional folk band called Shiehallion. They blew my socks off. Just three on the pipes, one on the accordion and the front man, Kenny Jamieson. Kenny plays the acoustic guitar and the bodhran and is the sole singer in the group. He has a powerful voice that, in my opinion, is so perfectly suited for the music he sings. Songs about Scottish battles and patriots, songs about home and identity and cultural pride. I bought a compilation CD that night of a variety of traditional artists who have played at that venue and I really enjoy the entire CD but my favorite song has always been the song that Kenny sings, called Hush, Hush, about the Highland Clearances. Shiehallion recently released their own CD and Nikki surprised me with a copy of it last month. I have to admit that it's a good thing it's not on vinyl. It would be worn out by now. I listen to it all the time.

Ok, here's where I have to make a confession. Kenny has such a strong and wonderful Scottish accent that my American ears have difficulty understanding what he's singing. Not to be deterred, I have seached out the song lyrics, some from Shiehallion's website, others from different Internet sites. It's funny how, once I know the words, the songs sound so clear to me. I can't imagine how I couldn't have gotten the lyrics just by listening!

The website administrator has put a bunch of live performance videos on YouTube and there is a link to them from the website. Shiehallion does some great rousing songs, too, but the ballads are my favorites.

Here are a couple of samples.

I can't wait to get to Inverness and be able to listen live whenever I want. Student by day, Barfly by night!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Law and Order BFD

I can't believe I found this before Michael did!

Law And Order: BFD from This American Life on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!......

How many talk show hosts would hang their dignity out to dry like this?

...and one more

I crack up every time I watch those.

Friday, May 1, 2009

BA (Hons) Scottish History at UHI

I was just surfing the college's website and drooling over the classes for the Scottish History program. I'm sooo excited! Take a peek if you want to see what I'm going to be studying over the next 4 years.

Beltane and Robin Gibb

They really have nothing to do with one another except that today is May 1st - Beltane and I saw Robin Gibb (a real live Bee Gee!) at Luisenpark this afternoon.

I have a real love-hate relationship with my memory of the Bee Gees. I love their early stuff..."Massachusetts", "I've Gotta Get a Message To You", "How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?" and, of course, "Words". But they are also the poster children for that ugliest of times in American music history...the Disco era. When people think of the music of the '70s they think of Disco. Truth be told, there was great music in the '70s but in 1977 a little movie called Saturday Night Fever and it's soundtrack (sung by the Bee Gees) gave new life to what had been, up to that point, a sidestream of American music - and a dying sidestream at that - Disco. The Disco era took off and the Bee Gees led the charge. Gag me with platform shoes and polyester! Good music was drowned out in the presence of the dance beat. Like I said, I have a real love-hate relationship with my memory of the Bee Gees. So when I saw Robin Gibb at the park today (he's playing a concert here in Mannheim on Sunday night) I didn't know whether to stalk him and ask for an autograph or cuss him out for his part in running good music off the radio when I was 20 years old. In the end I just left him and his companoin to their park exploration and continued on with my own.

Luisenpark was alive with people today. May 1st is a public holiday. I'm not sure what the German name for today is but in the States we just call it May Day, a day to recognize the changing of the seasons. Many cultures have some sort of deeply rooted historical celebration of Spring and the coming year. For the ancient Celts it was Beltane, a time when they celebrated the fertility of the coming year and believed that the "door" between the earthly world and the spirit world opened.

In Irish mythology, the beginning of the summer season for the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Milesians started at Bealtaine. Great bonfires would mark a time of purification and transition, heralding in the season in the hope of a good harvest later in the year, and were accompanied with ritual acts to protect the people from any harm by Otherworldly spirits, such as the Aos Sí. Like the festival of Samhain, opposite Beltane on October 31 Beltane was also a time when the Otherworld was seen as particularly close at hand.

Early Gaelic sources from around the 10th century state that the druids of the community would create a need-fire on top of a hill on this day and drive the village's cattle through the fires to purify them and bring luck (Eadar dà theine Bhealltainn in Scottish Gaelic, 'Between two fires of Beltane'). This term is also found in Irish and is used as a turn of phrase to describe a situation which is difficult to escape from. In Scotland, boughs of juniper were sometimes thrown on the fires to add an additional element of purification and blessing to the smoke. People would also pass between the two fires to purify themselves. This was echoed throughout history after Christianization, with lay people instead of Druid priests creating the need-fire. The festival persisted widely up until the 1950s, and in some places the celebration of Beltane continues today.

The largest Beltane celebration takes place in Edinburgh, Scotland. One more thing to add to my calender next year!

I Am Grateful For This Past Year

A year ago today, I was uncertain about what the future held for me. The only thing I was sure about was that I was having surgery that morning to remove a grapefruit sized tumor from my right ovary. Was it benign or was it ovarian cancer? Would I be able to carry on with my Journey to the Highlands or would I first have to journey through that horrible world of radiation and chemotherapy. And if the second was my destiny, would I come out the other side victorious and healed or would I not make it to the other side at all? I was scared yet somehow still unbelieving. It just didn't seem possible that this could be happening to me...but it was. The surgeon was a gynecological oncologist and that was my name on his schedule that morning.

I thought about my children. They are the light of my life and there was so much life for us still to share. I thought about my dream of moving to Scotland. So close but suddenly so tenuous. I had shed tears of fear, let my mind wander to the scariest places and played the what if game.

I had given the tumor a title to make it a little less scary. I called it my little invader. Chief Engineer Scott to Captain James T. Kirk: "Captain, we have an invader!" Then you would see several nameless crew members running through the corridors of the Enterprise to confront and capture the invader. I was the mother ship and I had my own invader. The doctor and his surgical team were about to storm my corridors to confront and capture the enemy (stupid, I know, but it helped). As I sat there on the bed, in my hospital gown, waiting to be wheeled away, I wasn't dreading the surgery. I wanted to get it over with and get on to the next step...whatever that next step turned out to be.

The next three days in the hospital weren't a lot of fun. This was the 5th time in my life I had had some kind of abdominal surgery. You don't realize how much you use those muscles until after you've been cut open. Those core stomach muscles are an integral part of every movement your body makes. Add to that one of my infamous migraine headaches and the whole experience was pretty ugly. Nikki was my angel. She had flown in from Germany and stayed 10 days with me. She helped me in and out of bed and to the bathroom; she cagoled me into eating and even kept up my blog.

As crappy as it was, though, it wasn't as crappy as it could have been. The pathology tests came back... and the tumor was benign. All I had to do was recuperate from the surgery. My future would not include chemotherapy, radiation, hair loss and cancer doctors....

As I look back on last summer, I think about how different it could have been. As it was, though, it was a wonderful summer. I traveled to Seattle, to Colorado, to Germany and to the Caribbean. I spent several weekends throughout the summer with Paul in Virginia and I moved back to Germany in October.

Living in Germany again has been an unexpected gift. So different from the last time. Not better or worse, just a different kind of experience. I spent a month in Berlin learning to be an English language teacher and made some wonderful friends there. I love my little apt here in Mannheim. I rent from Barbara and Peter who live downstairs and who have become friends. They invite me for Sunday lunch on a regular basis and we've spent several lovely afternoons hiking through the local forests together. I teach on Tues, Wed and Thurs. What a great job! It certainly doesn't feel like work. My students are great and are all very motivated. And I've become a regular visitor to Luisenpark. It's just beautiful in the Spring and is the perfect place for my walks.

The best part of living here, though, is being able to spend time with Nikki. She called the other day and said, "Hey Mom, I need to return those shoes this afternoon. Wanna meet me at Paradeplatz?" So we met up downtown and returned her shoes. We also went to the post office and the bank. Then we went to a cafe that we had discovered a few weeks ago where they have these wonderful salads. After that she went to her French class and I went to the grocery store. It's just being able to do the little things together that we are both enjoying so much.

Bert was gone last weekend so Nikki and I went to check out McClaren's Irish Pub on Thursday night. She slept at my place that night and the next morning we decided, on the spur of the moment, to go to Strasbourgh for the day. It's only about an hour and a half away by train and I hadn't been there since the last time I lived here. Nikki had never been but had really been wanting to check it out. So off we went! The weather was gorgeous and we had such a good time. We had breakfast on the train and played tourist once we arrived. We did the self guided tour around the Altstadt that the Tourist Information lady recommended, we climbed the cathedral, shopped and had dinner at an outdoor cafe. While we were eating, a summer shower popped up and caught all the shoppers by surprise. We watched them all scramble for cover as we sat there under the awning dry and comfy. On the train on the way home Nikki and I were sharing the earbuds to my iPod to listen to Shiehallion, a traditional Scottish band from Inverness. I started laughing. "Nik, do realize that we are two Americans, on a train in Germany, listening to Scottish music?" "On our way back from France!" she added. The smiles were pretty big. Travel will never get old to either one of us.

As I said, I am so grateful for this past year. And now I'm planning my long awaited move to Scotland......