|Jeremy, the last excursion of the last day|
Rousted the students at 8 for a morning with Marianna Lines, Pictish stones expert. Here she is explaining the Cauldron. Basically, as far as anyone can tell, there are symbols that recur on stones - the Mirror, the Comb, the Stag - but not in the same formations and without any Rosetta Stone to tell us what they mean. So we can say 'til we're blue in the face (haha get it, the Picts used to use woad in battle, oh never mind) that the Mirror is a magic symbol that appears at the front of stones, but then it shows up on one's side and bang, back to the drawing stone.
Marianna wrote a wonderful book on Pictish Stones (out of print, now) which you can still get on half.com or Amazon.
|The Lundin Links standing stones (at the LL Ladies' Golf Course!) appear to predate and outsize Stonehenge. A Neolithic cairn was recently discovered at Hole 1, which explains, as three lady golfers told us, why no one likes that green. The site is being explored. Above, Marianna explains the possible calendar use of the stones as Amber tastes the lichen. Below, Marianna led the students clockwise around the stone circle before letting anyone into it. You might infer from our clothing that this was the coldest day of the tour - but still, no rain!|
From Lundin Links we made the world's fastest detour through New Gilston, where my students cooed over the two-room school, which happens to stand next to the home where Jack and I set up housekeeping as newlyweds. (They cooed over that too.) Over the hill, I spotted Linda's husband Alan on his tractor. Colin tooted the bus horn, I jumped out, Alan hopped down, and we did a center-of-the-road hug before leaping back into our respective vehicles to resume our regularly scheduled lives. One can only imagine what the neighbors thought, but it was nice to see Alan.
And then it was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (yes, I know; we have brombies, Ireland has leprechauns): Edinburgh. We raced traffic--Colin taught the college kids several new Scots words--and delivered them with 1:15 to spare before the castle closed. They're young; they ran from exhibit to exhibit and emerged breathless at 5:15. Truth be told, the castle is such an international tourism point that just standing at the entrance watching the groups come and go is an adventure in itself. I counted 12 languages in five minutes.
David I (by now my students were sick of him and his whole dysfunctional Canmore family) was the first of the Scottish succession line to inhabit the castle, although it looks like the area has a settlement predating written history. Given its volcanic plug strategic position--ain't nobody getting up the side of that cliff without you noticing--that makes sense. The students were ordered to be sure they saw St. Margaret's Chapel, important because Dr. Wendy has a Mags/Mal fettish, and because it's one of the few buildings that dates back to before the 1571 Lang Seige, when the castle was basically under attack for two years by the Guardians of the infant James VI, who wanted "him" on the throne instead of Mary (that's Mary of Guise's and James V's daughter). Secretary Grange, holding it in Queen Mary's name, wound up raiding the town for supplies, plus drawing the ire of the townspeople for bringing the war to their backyard. When peace was finally negotiated, Grange was hung for his troubles. Never defend someone who won't defend you.
After supper we ensconced ourselves in the biggest hostel yet: Edinburgh Castle Rock (those familiar with Scottish confectionery will get the joke). Our room of 14 held not only our nine selves, but five Madrid lads of pleasing countenance. I closed my eyes and opened my last bottle of wine as the girls began applying make-up.
Edinburgh being my former playground, I took the kids on a "get oriented" walking tour in the gathering dusk, showing them St. Giles Cathedral, Greyfriar's Bobby and the Kirkyard (so important to Covenanter History) and the "World's End Close." Edinnburgh's Royal Mile, castle at one end, city gate at the other, is like a human spine from which little vertebraes--closes, wynds and alleys--shoot off in both directions. Back when I lived in Scotland, as 1999 drew to a close, one could see tour buses dropping groups off at the entrance to the World's End for requisite photographs.
They loved Princes Street, where shopping was practically invented.This street is so famous that Scandinavians will literally get a "weekend shopper hopper" down, do their Christmas shopping here, and return to their well-run-but-overpriced countries in triumph. The kids were suitably impressed. Of course, ever the Communist optimist, I pointed out St. John the Divine at the end of The Mound, with its free trade shop, thrift store and tea shop. (Never miss a teaching moment...)
The team wanted to stay together for supper, so we squeezed into the Tass--one of Edinburgh's former watering holes for traditional singers and storytellers, but on this night the place to be for Football fans--that's soccer to you. The girls were enthralled; "these are the cutest boys we've ever seen," said one, staring at a tall lad bellying up to the bar.
I glanced at the scarf around his neck: Glasgow team colors. "He's not local," I said without thinking, and they looked at me as though I were oracle of Delphi. "I'm a folklorist," I reminded them to their amazed faces. "We rule the world."
Perhaps some of them will switch from pre-med.
The bar was crowded, the server harried and unhappy. She was impressively rude to everyone, enchanting the kids. By the time our six pear ciders, two cokes, four fish suppers, three steak-n-ale pies and a mac-n-cheese (Rachel stayed vegetarian) arrived, they were in high spirits. The waitress, shoving past us with looks that could kill, dropped a beer glass. As she went for a cloth, Amber leaned quietly over and said, "Karma's a bitch." We laughed so loud, the rest of the bar was temporarily shushed in awe. One man sitting nearby looked over and caught my eye. "Americans," he sniffed.
I leaned over to his table. "Nyet. Paruski," I said, smiling broadly and taking his hand in a death grip. "Scotland is vonderful place. Is good. You like-y da Pear Cider?"
Hey, why should the locals have all the fun?
Before leaving the bar I thanked the waitress "for giving us a quintessential Scottish experience" and we did the unScottish thing of tipping her. Anyone who knows that many colorful invectives should be compensated for her mastery.
With dire warnings to my students not to descend via the Grassmarket into Cowgate by night - all the nice Italians were up on the High Street and the Scottish retired men with drinking issues hang out at the Gate pubs - I turned the crew loose after dinner, wondering if any would decide the last night of freedom should be memorable for the wrong reasons.
Three headed for a ghost tour, one went to wander lonely as a cloud, and three made a beeline for Team Madrid back at our hostel.
That left Amber, full of energy and rarin' to go. Down to the Grassmarket we descended (well, she was with me!) where I once did a wonderful two-week residency with Dancebase. Disappointment: the market is now full of oxygen bars and yuppie watering holes, 100 people outside one trying to prove they were unique enough to belong to this gathering of conformity. Depressed, Amber and I climbed Bow Street.
Bow Street, just off George IV Bridge, used to be full of antiquated shops selling specialty items: lace, bread, cheese, woodwork. It was disheartening to find the dear old man with the apron and bow tie gone, his brush shop replaced by one selling posters.The woodwork store had transformed into a trendy women's clothing outlet. The bread shop was a restaurant called The Granary. Only the coffee store remained, selling baby bodums and mugs made in China. We're moving faster, sure; but are we making progress? I bought a China Mug showing a map of Scotland. It seemed like the thing to do.
Finally worn out enough to sleep, we returned to the hostel, where I climbed into my flannel jammies. A nose count indicated two were facebooking with the outside world, three face-to-facing with the Madridians. That left three on the ghost tour...they could take care of themselves. I closed my eyes and leaned back against the pillow.
The door burst open. "Wendy, Wendy, we got bit by a vampire!"
If there is a quote designed to bring a professor from dead sleep to waking action....
I sat up. "Did he break the skin?" Okay, so I'm lame. But I had alcohol wipes. They recounted the tour in gruesome detail, including the vaults under the city, the plague years, and the guy in a black cape who ran past trying--successfully--to make them scream when they turned out the lights underground. The guide informed Sarah that, being blond, she was at risk for the poltergeist. But their favorite was the skinhead vampire who, after asking permission to film while biting, presented his card for the movie being made. Sarah and Rachel are even now in some cult classic showing on the backstreets of Edinburgh....
The next morning I walked Amber over to Stockbridge, where the good charity shops are, and we trundled our way through a lovely selection of rich peoples' cast-offs. Back on the High Street I watched the parade of the returning regiment from Afghanistan. They marched behind a full pipe band from Castle to Gate, where the queen's representative met them. Onlookers applauded and yelled "Hurrah!" No protesters, no "bad war," just "good on ya, lads and lasses." Sigh....
Gathered in the ducklings and loaded their now-bulging luggage into the groaning van. Jeremy had bought a sweater. Off we drove to the other much-anticipated excursion, Rosslyn Chapel. Several of the students had mentioned their excitement at this part of the tour; not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, I hadn't asked if it were due to The Book, or The History.
|"I told you to pack light for a reason..."|
If you haven't seen Rosslyn Chapel, you can view its interior here. Flash photography isn't allowed inside. http://www.rosslynchapel.org.uk/history.php
Among the many things to be seen are three devils -- unusual for the 1400s, as he was rarely depicted then--the death mask of Robert the Bruce, the Green Man growing on a vine from cradle to grave, the death dance, an angel playing the bagpipes(!!!), corn (some fifty years before it should have been known in Scotland?!?) and Margaret of Hungary being brought to Scotland by William St. Clair, cousin of William of Normandy (1066 an' a' that) one of Canmore's faithful retainers.
The St. Clairs likely came to Scotland via the Orkney/Norway route, either aggressively with the Vikings, or peaceably through trade. They made themselves agreeable to the royals, and William's son was knighted by Malcolm's son David I (my students hated him in earnest now). But there were Rosslyn barons at almost every important event in Scottish history: Malcolm's defeat at Alnwick, the Crusades, Bannockburn, Royal Guardians to the young James I. And of course, by the time the chapel's founder William started building in 1446, he was so powerful that his brother-in-law James II found him threatening. (William's sister was married to the king's brother.) William may not have been the nicest guy on the planet, as he built the chapel as a kind of "make-it-up" present to God for the first half of his life.
He also died before it was finished, and since he had six sons and four daughters, you just know succession wasn't going to be simple. He divided his estate between his three oldest sons, giving his oldest son by his second wife the best of everything. This did not escape the older half-brother's notice, but times were growing more civil, and the dispute was settled in court rather than in battle. William Junior got part of Fife, which should be enough to keep anyone happy. Still, William must not have been that impressed, because the considerable money his father left him to put into the chapel simply vanished. Perhaps the slighted feeling went away as he squandered it. Family dynamics haven't changed much between centuries....
This divvying up led to the Sinclair branch, the St. Clair of Rosslyn branch, and the St. Clair of Dysart branch of the family, giving Dan Brown ample material and a whopping good time writing the DaVinci code some six hundred years later.
But the chapel was all that was ever built of William's bribe to God to overlook a few things. It is an incredible place, full of detail, and a good story or two. A favorite stems from the pillars up front, one straight and simple, the other sporting a twisting vine and designs around it. The story is that while the master carved the straight one, then while he was gone learning to do some detailing for the chapel, his apprentice carved the more intricate one next to it. In a fit of rage the master smashed his apprentice's skull with his stone hammer, and was hung. Their two faces are carved above the door, each looking at the other one's pillar.
And in the middle of all that carving, so intricate it really does look like Belgian lace, Jordan found her own moment of beauty. This tiny little education major--so quiet that "Where's Jordan" became my refrain in assessing van occupancy--spotted a young man, tall, straight and true, screwed her courage to the sticking point, and walked up to him. "Hi. I just have to tell you, I think you are beautiful."
He didn't speak English. But after a moment, he figured it out, and the two of them ambled hand-in-hand toward the gift shop. We will draw the veil of privacy here. Go Jordan!
We climbed Arthur's Seat as a last hurrah to the glories of Auld Edinburg Toun. At its summit, I watched my fledglings spread their arms into the wind and laugh out loud. And on top of this mountain that shouts God's glory, and inspires the aspirations of humanity, I found myself thinking, "Which one will fall off?"
Well, it had been such a perfect trip: great weather, great students, great opportunities appearing from nowhere. Something had to go wrong....
But it didn't. My Scottish pessimism burned away under the still-glorious sunshine we'd enjoyed all week. Even the morning fogs had lifted for us. The students posed for each other, exchanged facebook addresses with other groups atop the summit, and finally, reluctantly now, realizing the trip was almost over, headed down again.
|Is it regret that nothing gold can stay?|
|That's tiny little Jordan, who will rule the world someday, in the left corner.|
From The Seat we drove to Linlithgow for a final pub supper: five fish and chips, two steak and ale pies, and a mac-n-cheese, please - oh, and six pear ciders and two cokes. A last desperate rush of a Sainsbury's - finishing as we started - and then to Glasgow, where we piled into an overpriced hotel a literal two minutes' walk from the airport. And tried to close our luggage. I was beginning to regret the Christmas Crackers and two-pound tin of shortbread I'd gotten on Princes Street.
After a sleep all too brief, we had the world's worst hotel breakfast--if you're the only place within walking distance of the airport, you really don't have to try to hard--and I discovered just how tired I was. Having lectured my students again and again about liquids in their carry-ons, I stuck a bottle of elderflower cordial ($5, and pretty close to unobtainable in the US) in my carry-on next to the liter bottle of Irn Bru I was bringing my husband.
Lunacy is spelled "Professor-on-field-trip." But since we had over an hour until our flight left, they let me go back through and put the offending items in my bag. Of course, when I got back to the main part of the airport, it was in lockdown: steel, doors, evacuated staff and all. An alarm had gone off. Oh great; where were my students, and how panicked were they?
But I could move neither up nor down in the airport's bowels, so there was nothing for it but to wait, and finally return to my hatchlings with twenty minutes to go before our flight was scheduled to leave. Turns out they'd had no alarm up there at all. Go figure.
Now, the reason we'd had so much extra time at the airport had been a bargain struck with the students earlier in the trip: I would not take up time in Edinburgh lecturing on Covenanters, or Mary Queen of Scots and her ungrateful wretch of a son James (6 or 1, depending on which side of the border you were on) in return for their undivided attention at the gate. So with the flight boarding around us, I called the group to order. In disbelief, they assembled notepads. With a line forming around us and the plane filling, I delivered the mother load on Covenanters: their non-rebellious rebellion, and Charles I's determination to kill them all, despite their non-violent claims toward righteousness.
The last martyr went to her eternal reward as the flight attendant, now pointedly staring at us, spoke into the intercom: "This is the LAST CALL for flight 47..."
We boarded, and I like to think those students will never forget the Covenanters. No one should, poor sweet things. Brie told me later that was the best lecture she'd ever expect from her college career. So there.
In Heathrow we discovered that we must have missed something on the news, because our flight to Chicago was in the corner of Terminal 3, isolated behind bulletproof glass, with a lone sandwich stall just outside. The last time I saw that kind of security was for a flight to Somalia. But we boarded, and we lived to tell the tale.
And I like to think the students have some tales to tell now: they saw so much, they were so open to the experiences and opportunities around them, and they even learned a few things from various sources. Colin, our driver, e-mailed that an hour after we left Scotland, the heavens opened and it poured for two days. He now believes I have an in with the Almighty. Well yes, but it's not about weather...
So for all intents and purposes, this trip was as close to perfect as it could get, and in all honesty I don't think I can lead another one. The mature students, the brilliant weather, and the constant stream of sudden opportunities are the standard to which all future trips will measure, and I just wonder if they can ever be as good.
|Chicago, the last leg: still counting eight....|