|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.
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 http://www.itraveluk.co.uk/photos/showphoto/photo/1468.php 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. http://www.abbothouse.co.uk/gallery.php
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|