The Scottish Saltire

The Scottish Saltire

Monday, November 23, 2009

My Monthly Ramblings

        I started my blog so that anyone who was interested could keep up with my adventures once I got to Scotland. During my time in PA and then in Germany I was pretty consistent about posting. But since I arrived in Inverness I've been so busy that it's been difficult to find the time for my blog! But if you check in here very often and I haven't posted for a while, it's certainly not because I've lost interest. It's only cause I struggle to find the time. I suppose I should just post shorter entries but more often. In the future I'll try that. In the meantime..............

        My last post was about a month ago and I was getting ready to attend the "Scotland's Global Impact" conference. It was wonderful! three days of listening to some of the most eminent historians in Scotland, not to mention speakers from Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Canada and the good ole' U.S. of A.! Some one called it an intellectual ceilidh and I think that's just about right. For those of you who don't know what a ceilidh (pronouced kaylee)  is, it's an Irish or Scottish social gathering with traditional music, dancing, and storytelling.
The highlight of the conference for me though was the day after it ended. Dr. Tony Pollard (who spoke at the conference) is from Glasgow University and he is one of Scotland's preeminent experts in battlefield archaeology. If you've followed my blog much you'll know that I post about the Battle of Culloden every year on April 16th (the day of the battle in 1746). It was a pivotal battle in the history of Scotland and the battlefield is just a few miles from Inverness. I've been there several times but the day after the conference Tony took about 16 of us on a little field trip to Culloden. I felt like I was being handed a walk the battlefield with someone who knows just about everything there is know about what happened that day according to the archaeological evidence. He explained about what has been found and what the artifacts tell us about the battle...information that you don't get by just doing the tourist thing in the visitor's center. We walked all over Culloden Moor and at one point he took us to a far corner where tourists wouldn't think to go and then said, "Now, turn around. What do you see?" "Not much." I said. "Exactly!' said Tony, and then launched into why this was a crucial positioning point in the battle. It was drizzly that day and we all got a bit wet but WOW! It was great!

        School is keeping me very busy. So far my grades are pretty good but I sure spend an awful lot of time, outside of class, working on papers and doing all the required reading for my classes. I have an in-class presentation to give on Thursday this week on the relationship between Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I of England. It's a subject that has always interested me so the presentation wasn't too hard to prepare for and I just finished a paper on 'brochs' (pronounced sort of like brocks), dry stone tower dwellings that were unique to Scotland and built around the turn of the first millennium. It was fun to write about the Broch village of Gurness because Nikki, Shauna and I visited the site when we were in Orkney a couple of years ago. I wish I knew then what I know now. I'm definitely going back!

        My social life is as fun as ever. Inverness may be small but it's a very lively town. Besides getting to listening to Kenny and the boys play several times a week, there are a couple of other local musicians who I've gotten to know and whose music I really enjoy. One of my favorites is Kevin Fraser. Kevin drives up from Glasgow a few times a month to play gigs in and around Inverness. He always stops by the house for a cup of coffee when he's in town and I always try to make it out to hear him play. He plays just good old rock n' roll. He has a really heavy Glaswegian accent and last week he told me that I'm getting better at understanding, that I don't say "huh?" or "what?" or "say that again." nearly as much anymore. It's my goal to be able to understand everyone no matter what part of Scotland they come from. For such a small country it's amazing how many different accents there are here. People who live as little as 10 miles apart can sound completely different. I have 4 or 5 guy friends who are a real challenge for me to understand. But I'm getting better!

        My American accent has turned out to be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it's a great conversation starter. All I have to do is open my mouth and anyone can hear that I'm American. Occasionally someone will guess Canadian and even once Australian! but usually they assume American. Everyone here is so friendly that they immediately want to know if I'm on 'holiday' and if so where in the States I'm from. When I tell them that I'm not on holiday, that I live here, then they want to know the whole story of why I chose to move to Scotland and why Inverness in particular and do I plan to stay and how do I like it and do I have Scottish ancestry and why Scottish History and and and....
That's all very nice but sometimes I want to just be able to talk without drawing attention to myself! I'm getting a wee bit tired of telling my story over and over and over. I sometimes think I'd like to have a recording of it so I could just hit the play button, walk away, and come back after they've finished listening to it. Then we could just get on with talking about something else! That sounds very uncharitable doesn't it? It's just people's way of being friendly and getting to know someone new. But I still wish it wasn't the automatic first conversation I have with everyone.
In contrast to that, is how comfortable it is to talk around my friends (who already know the whole story!). I get a bit of teasing now and then but my accent isn't the central theme of conversation. I can just talk freely in a group and even though I sound different they're all used to it now. They obviously still hear the accent but it's like their attitude is "Oh yeah, that's Connie. She may sound different but she's still just one of us."

        I've also been taking ceilidh dance classes. They are great fun. There are usually between 15-20 people each week. Obviously I'm the only American and I thought I'd be at a real disadvantage but most of the Scots are just as clueless as I am, and we just crack ourselves up sometimes trying to get these traditional dances right. It's a real workout, too.

        A couple of weeks ago was bonfire night. Early in the 17th century there was a plot to blow up parliament with gunpowder. The culprits were caught and the tradition of burning an effigy of one of the guys, Guy Fawkes, has evolved into an annual event all over the UK on Nov 5th each year.  So that evening Iain, Tobi, Chris and I converged on the local community park, along with scores of other Invernessians to watch the hugest bonfire I have ever seen! It was enormous and once it got going it lit the whole park up, not to mention making us all nice and toasty! After the fire then there was a fireworks display. I'm like a little kid when it comes to getting to experience the local traditions.

        Speaking of local traditions! I've been invited to attend a Burns Supper in January! Robert Burns is Scotland's most famous poet. He is known as Scotland's Bard. Burns was born on Jan. 25th, 1759 and all over Scotland his birthday is celebrated each year with a 'Supper'. Actually there are Burns Suppers all over the world each year....even in the States. I did a blog entry about Robert Burns last January. This coming January, though, I get to participate in remembering his birthday, not just write about it!

        On the same topic of traditions....this Thursday is Thanksgiving! I think I mentioned that I'm having a houseful for dinner. I was in Germany last year and Nikki and I didn't get to do Thanksgiving. Thursday was a normal workday for both of us so we just went to a wine festival that weekend to celebrate! The year before that I was in Pittsburgh and had dinner with Sherry's family, so it's been a couple of years since I've actually gotten to make dinner myself for a crowd of people, as is my usual tradition. I'm looking forward to showing my friends a little bit of my own culture. They have, of course, all heard of Thanksgiving but none of them have ever participated in our most yummy of holidays. I plan to make 4 pumpkin pies as well as 2 apple pies. Everyone is really curious about the pumpkin pies so I want to be sure there is plenty for second helpings and then some left over for later.
I finished my shopping list this morning and it occurred to me that the grocery store won't be the madhouse that we're all used to this time of year. It's probably a safe bet to say that I will be the only American shopping for Thanksgiving dinner in Tesco's this afternoon!

        Here's a funny observation.... The turkey is native to North America. Benjamin Franklin even lobbied for the turkey as our national bird. Glad that didn't work out. It wouldn't be very seemly to make a such a tradition out of consuming ones national bird each year! Anyway, you can't always find fresh or frozen turkeys in American grocery stores, with the exception of from now til after Christmas so I was concerned about whether I could get one here. No problem. They are available all year round! Obviously what I couldn't get was canned pumpkin for the pies. And don't start on me about using a fresh pumpkin! I have enough to do at Thanksgiving without carving pumpkins, too! Good canned pumpkin is just pure pumpkin that has already been cooked and pureed. Anyway, thanks to Shauna and international mail service, I have in my possession two large cans of the heavenly goop! Not to mention a few packages of Hidden Valley Ranch mix to make dip. Nobody here has even heard of ranch dip. So the first American goody they will try on Thursday is a veggie tray with ranch. Not to mention chips and dip. Chips are called crisps here and french fries are called chips. I try to remember to use the local terminology but this Thursday we are celebrating that most American of holidays so our little potato wafers will be called chips! I'm going to make them all say it, too! hee hee!


1 comment:

Nikki said...

I *loved* reading this entry! I can just hear you talking, Mom. ("Two large cans of the heavenly goop!") And oh my goodness, YES about having to tell your story over and over and over again! The first year or so here, I started cringing away from the prospect of meeting new people.

For some reason it's better now -- maybe because I so overtly attempt to gloss over it ("Hey, are you from the States?" "Yep," subject change); but on the other hand, somehow I *do* still want people to know that I'm a foreigner so as to explain any language tics. That would all just be so much easier if I had a stronger accent; but we've talked about this before.

Anyway, just wanted to say that I simply cannot wait to see you in 2.5 weeks, and good luck with all your schoolwork until then. We *told* you you'd rock them studies!!