Monday, October 25, 2010

Days Five and Six, Plus Half of Seven: Pictish Vampires, Italian Boys, and a bottle of Irn Bru

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 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....

Although technically this is two days, it was really one long Edinburgh siege interrupted by sleep, so it's a single blog post. I had a hard time sleeping again after the "Wendy, Wendy" moment--kept dreaming I couldn't find my alcohol wipes while the students ran toward me--but there was a period of quiet. I don't say inactivity, because Team Madrid and several of my crew were out for a very long time. Oh, to be young and in a hostel full of international students....

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.

 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....

In short, had a great time, wish we were still there.

Parting shot

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Day Four: The Zombies of St Andrews, the Bluegrass of Falkland

Off bright and early to St. Andrews, one of the oldest university towns in Scotland, and site of some REALLY great charity shops. Priorities, priorities. When Prince William announced his intention of going to St. Andrews, applications from American female students increased four-fold. Hope springs eternal.....

St. Andrews is also known as the home of golf and the 700-year cathedral (started building in the late 800s, Reformation got it in the early 1500s.) As Jack's and my home in Scotland was only 10 minutes from St. Andrews, it was one of my favorite places for soul-calming walks and cups of tea in sidewalk cafes. So I oriented the students, as Colin navigated the 12' high bus under an 11'6" archway, and turned them loose. It was heartening to walk past historic sites and see them studying plaques, photographing stones, and laughing. Below are the ruins of the requisite palace and cathedral. I did not photograph the martyrdom site of George Wishart, a Protestant pastor betrayed during the Reformation by a Catholic pal. It just wasn't a good time to make anyone mad, then. As the stone above Abbot House said, subtly poking reproach at James V and Mary of Guise, Since Word is Thrall, and Thought is Free, Keep Well Thy Tongue I Counsel Thee. Quiet people live longer, but what world will the meek inherit?

A charity shop whirlwind tour later--what on earth does an American tourist want with secondhand egg cups and a toast rack, one could see the Barnados clerk wondering--I entered one of my favorite secondhand bookstores at the end of the High street to find three of my crew chatting with the proprietor. Colin had just (thoughtfully) bought me a volume of Scottish fairy tales, which I already had. On learning this,Travis plucked it from his hand and gave him three pounds with a gleeful smile. A polite kid, he was too nice to say he'd wanted it when Colin spotted it. We snared Colin a history of his native Aberdeen, and I found Jack a nice volume of Scots humor, so everyone scored.

Back at the cathedral, we took what became known as the Zombie series. It's Pavlovian; once students--from anywhere--see those open graves, they just have to get in them. And since UVA Wise, the home university for my crew, is having a Zombie exhibit over Halloween, well, the Scots zombie team will be well-represented. Another of my favorite photos is of my crew chatting happily as they head straight a bottle dungeon, or oubliette--one of those prisons where they throw you in and don't worry too much about getting you out again.

From Falkland we went to Anstruther for the world-famous Fish-n-Chips and a tour of the Lifeboat shop. I didn't make too much mandatory this trip, but everyone was required to visit the Lifeboat station for a brief talk. One of the best examples of Scottish character is that the lifeboats that cover the fishing towns are completely funded by the towns themselves. It wasn't always that way. While many in the UK refer to living in a "Nanny State" where taxes actually pay for services, there are some things the government is basically no longer allowed to handle.

In 1988, the Piper Alpha, an oil drilling station off the coast of Aberdeen, exploded (around 9 p.m. on July 6, to be precise-ish).  By just after midnight, the whole platform was gone, as flames up to 100 feet in height shot skyward. The ruin would continue burning for three weeks.

Just before this disaster, the company OPCAL had done away with keeping emergency helicopters on the rigs themselves, arguing that it was too expensive and that the choppers were in harm's way on the stations; this had been sanctioned by the ministry overseeing safety. Instead, the copters would be called if needed, from nearby safe locations. Rescue boats were still on hand, but the sea around the platform was also burning--largely because the nearby rigs that pumped oil to the Piper hadn't shut off their pumps. They hadn't been ordered to.  (Dear God help us all; 100 foot flames and you're waiting for a bloody order?!)

More than 200 men worked on this platform; 159 were killed. Of these, 30 bodies were never recovered. While some 70 were killed in the initial blast, most of the rest had to choose between staying on the platform and burning, or jumping 80 or so feet into the sea and praying the impact killed them, since the sea was burning, too.

A rescue helicopter did come, but could do nothing because the flames had gotten so high so quickly in the wind. Had it been there from the get-go, perhaps things might have turned out different. Perhaps not. In addition to the many crew lost, two rescue workers from a three-man boat died.

In the aftermath, inquiries and accusations flew. Nancy Nicholson, a respected Scottish songwriter, wrote the poignant "Who Will Pay the Piper?" asking questions about cost of money versus cost of life. And women up and down the fishing villages took comfort in their foresight. For the safety of their fishing fleet communities, they'd held bake sales and harvest dinners and other ingenious activities, to fund their own, independently owned and operated lifeboats. (They also wrote some pretty hefty grants.) Their brothers, husbands, sons and fathers would not be the victims of the lowest successful bid--or of someone far away refusing to give an order or pay for a safety net.

The Anstruther lifeboat is a thing of beauty in and of itself, but also because of what it and its sisters stand for: a group of ordinary citizens who gave their own Declaration of Arbroath to the government. "We understand your authority, and we hope you understand ours, because this is where their boundaries meet." The Arbroath document says no man loses his freedom except he lose his honor first; the lifeboats say that women know how to take care of what's theirs.

I didn't photograph the lifeboat. You can see it here.
They look happy, don't they? From Left, Travis, Amber, Brie, Jordan, MK and Jeremy

From Ainster we cut cross-country to Falkland, turning the kids loose for an afternoon at the Palace. This is one of the Stuart dynasty's hunting lodges. A dear friend, Jean Lockhart, says she can never go near the tennis courts here without feeling creeping evil overpowering her; she wonders how many state assassinations were plotted down there. Certainly the Stuarts were not known for restraint or cool-headedness.

While the students shopped and stared, I met my old friend Bun Brough, a veteran crafter and longtime storyteller. We closed down Kind Kyttock's tearoom, sharing more millionaire shortbread than could be weighed on a scale, and enough tea to leave us sloshing. Bun was on the creative team for Scotland's first storytelling yurt, a felted and portable Mongolian traditional dwelling. She and I had done everything there was to do in the story world, twice, and she was board chair for the non-profit Storytelling Unplugged when I was its executive director.

The students enjoyed her tour of Falkland, showing them the marriage stones at door lentils, the crow-step gables and thatching stones, the haunted houses and the plastic bag factory--a painful reminder that Falkland's most powerful days may lay behind it, as this is the biggest employer in the town now. That evening we herded the students into the Stag Inn for a traditional music session. High Speed Grass has been playing since 1969, and may not sound traditional, but they've done every TMSA (Traditional Music and Song Association) festival in Scotland.

The funny part was, as they began to play some Scottish music for my students, the kids said, "Oh, bluegrass." It's a small world. When Jack first moved to the States the oldtime community was astonished at how many American tunes he knew. He gave up trying to explain that American root music is actually the wings of Scottish roots. It's just more fun to let people think he's a jam session genius.

My friend Linda, from New Gilston, managed to join Bun and me for part of the evening. There's nothing like three old friends in a pub. Ah, sweetness of life unrivaled by pear cider. And so, to bed, with fiddle tunes echoing in our brains.

Day Three: Malcolm, Margaret, and Me


Amber never met a stranger

 From Pitlochry we made a real cultural excursion to Edradour distillery, the last independent one in Scotland. The students toured the facility while Colin and I sat in the coffeeshop, sniffing appreciatively as the wind changed and potent fumes drifted by. I snagged Jack two bottles of Cameron Brig, Fife's only locally-produced single malt. The students also got to see one of the last Traubies in the UK--those little Eastern European cars that dent when you push on them with your finger. Not remembering Communism as anything--they were mostly born in the 1990s--the car was more an oddity than the cultural icon Colin and I saw. Funny how, even looking at the same thing, people see something different according to experience.
MK wonders if this photo will harm her medical school application

Then it was off to Fife, my husband's home county and my old stomping grounds. We headed straight for Dunfermline Abbey, where I used to tell stories in the garden each summer and lead "Mouse Tours" through Abbot House, a beloved national historic site. And of course, any balladeer, on hearing "Dunfermline," starts to sing: "Oh, the king sits in Dunfermlin Toun, drinkin' the bluid red wine...."  I did this ballad for the students, who seemed more taken with the extortionate squirrels in the park, approaching from every direction. One (apparently urban-born) student held her hand out, saying, "Here, baby," and as the squirrel came perilously close to her naked fingers, mouth open, another student commented, "Thus the process of natural selection runs its course. This year's Darwin award goes to..." Passersby stared at the laughing-too-loud Americans and wondered why we couldn't behave with more dignity and decorum. (At left, Travis stands atop Pittencrief Park's ancient Canmore tower of the ballad, using his cell phone.)

Okay, I will admit to a certain bias about this next bit. The king referred to is Malcolm Canmore, and I have a real thing for him and his second wife, Margaret of Hungary. These two were unstoppable. He a warrior, she an intellectual, he reigned 35 years with her increasing help. Basically, at that time in Scottish history, they followed the Klingon Succession Theory: if you could kill the guy on it, you could take the throne. Just before Malcolm, Lulach the Fool reigned one year (more about him in a minute) and after Malcolm came a rapid succession of Donald Ban for a year, Duncan II for a whopping six months, then Donald and Edmund jointly for three years (before being overthrown by Edgar the Peaceable - oh, the irony!).

One of the funniest things about Malcolm Canmore's reign is how Shakespeare missed it for a lesser--and factually inaccurate--story. Mal defeated Macbeth (who actually was no' bad and reigned 17 years) in 1054, but left him on his throne until 1057. One of the surest signs of a great leader is that they give up power when it's offered to them. Then, rather than seizing it for himself, he made his not-o'er-bright stepson King, but when Lulach proved a disaster, Malcolm removed him and became a graciously reluctant ruler. Okay, so it's kinda romantic, but George Washington is one of the few other men to ever refuse power, so let's recognize this not-very-medieval trait while it shows up in history.

But what does Shakespeare take as his text? The wretched Macbeth killing Duncan I. Assassinating a king was just not that unusual in a long and lusty line of blood feuds that had uncles and cousins at each other's throats from the Alpins through the Dunkeld family. As the old saying goes, "It is easy to get a thing, hard to keep it." Truer words were never spoken about the kingdom of Scotia, which waxed and waned with swordplay and wordplay in battlefields real and diplomatic.

So finally Malcolm takes the throne, but his first wife dies. Maybe he'd met Margaret when her family was in exile in Norway; there are suggestions he had, though she must have been almost young enough for him to rock her cradle. Maybe he met her in the English court when her poor dad got recalled to be the next King of England (but didn't get on because of illness, poison, or just dying from terror at the thought). Maybe he never met her; authorities differ. But the fact remains that a strategic alliance appears, by all surviving accounts, to have turned into a love match. It's rather like that bit from Fiddler on the Roof: it doesn't change the fact that we're married for life, but it's still nice to know you love me.

Margaret did a lot for poor people and women (often overlapping subsets). She established hospitals, educational sites, trade schools for girls, and charity centers for the poor. Of course, everything comes at a cost. She did this at the expense of the wildly disorganized, Christian-cum-pagan-cum-Highlands-muddle Celtic church. A disorganized octopus, the Celtic Christian church had some ways and means to it that were autonomous for different regions, and these Margaret saw as counterproductive. She organized them, as she had pretty much organized Malcolm, and while it wasn't a killing spree, it laid foundation for one centuries later. What's that famous piece of wisdom: the crack in a foundation doesn't look like much until it has to bear weight, but by then it's too late?

Margaret didn't cause the Reformation, some 500 years later, but the corruption that ran rampant through her organized Catholic church was enabled by her carefully setting into place hierarchies and infrastructures that would be sorely abused in generations to come. Had Scotland kept its Celtic church, there might have been yet another franchise in the Christian community. Celtic Orthodoxy: the mind boggles.

Was that her fault? She'd have had to be part witch to see the abuses that would follow, but since she was a saint (one of the few to be canonized by the Anglican and Catholic churches of later centuries) what she did see was need, and she met it with all the economic and intellectual resources available to her. It may be taken as a sign of his esteem for her that her husband opened his coffers to her reform efforts, and supported them. Husbands say they love you, but when they give you money to start your own business, you know they respect you, too.

 The students seemed awed by Malcolm and Margaret and their mega-palace and cathedral at Dunfermline--or maybe they were just afraid to ask questions because I'd gone on about the pair so long. But they loved the Cathedral, especially when I showed them how it would have been a riot of colors in honor of God's glory. The austerity factor came much later. Just imagine this place, awash in every color humans could make at the time. It must have dazzled the eyes.

In the working church we saw the grave of Robert the Bruce's body (his heart is in Melrose Abbey) and gave the tour guide an unexpected laugh. Dunfermline being my husband's hometown, and the Abbey being next to a site where I worked for three years, we often visited the cathedral, and Jack always pointed out that the lion resting at The Bruce's feet was sniffing his armored shoe in a most dubious manner. "What did this geek step in?" the lion's face practically shouts. I said as much to the students (in penance for the mother load lecture on Mal and Mags) and behind me the tour guide hooted with laughter and said she'd be using that in future. Ah, how glorious it is to leave a legacy....

Visit if you want to see the lion sniffing Bruce's foot.

We also studied a copy of the Declaration of Arbroath, and the students were suitably impressed with its meaning and legacy, especially when they recognized language from the American Declaration of Independence, which owes a great deal to this unusual document of non-rebellious rebellion.

We didn't visit Abbot House, although I'd intended to for old times' sake, having worked there as a storytelling interpreter. The place has changed hands and missions, so we gave it a miss. I did tell the students the funny story about the House gate leading to the gardens. Back when Jack and I were newlyweds, I used to let children who came for storytelling workshops in the garden choose an animal from the many on the gate, as the subject of our workshop. One weekend we had colleagues from Spain visit who wanted a night out. Jack and I offered to drop them in Dunfermline near the pubs--of which there are many by Abbey and House, including the Creepy Wee Pub, where my brother-but-for-genetics Mike closed the bar the night before my wedding.

With Emilio and his wife, wwe saw a side of Dunfermline that Saturday afternoon in a historic property doesn't often reflect, including drunks staggering about spewing fluids from various orifices. One was doing pee target practice on my ornate animal gate. "That man is urinating," said Emilio, carefully practicing his English. He and his wife decided to just go back to the hotel after all.

The next day was Sunday, so I had a workshop on. The children raced to the gate, "My turn! My turn!" but I headed them off, screeching. "Don't touch that!" and made them all go inside and wash their hands.

For a picture of the story gate, visit here. I didn't take one this trip.

For the evening's finale, a chance circumstance led to a cultural event. It surfaced that only one of my Virginians had eaten that most Scottish of meals, an Indian curry. I did a quick financial tally, determined the budget could swing this, and took them to A Taste of India in Rosyth, where Jack and I shared many a happy meal. As we pulled up to the restaurant, an ambulance arrived from the other direction and two paramedics rushed into the building. The students, busily photographing the town about them, barely noticed. It turned out a woman had collapsed due to diabetes complications. Order was quickly restored--and then violated as our happy band of 10 squealed their way through the menu. Six naans, five main courses, three side dishes. copious amounts of raita, and a plate of complimentary bhajis disappeared in minutes. My favorite quote was Mary Katherine's: "Whatever I just ate, I loved it."

Blissed out by unusual foods, the students went back to their hotel--and discovered the 24-hour ASDA across the street. This is Wal-Mart disguised by its European name, and once they knew that, there was no stopping them. The spree ended at 10:30 with fresh stores of Nutella and shortbread laid in for the days ahead.

Brie didn't miss any shots