25  Feb
Scottish Excursion

There is a phenomenom, some kind of synchronicity or other that I am sure someone already labelled and overanalyzed but I still get a huge kick out of it.  It’s when you buy a book randomly at an airport and, by coincidence, the main character gets a hanging toenail in the first ten pages, and you also get a hanging toenail by tripping on the lion-shaped metal foot of the medieval four-poster bed at the hotel that same night.  Say you trip on the cumbersome and sharp-edged thingie before you get to the page about the character getting his toenail clipped off, so you couldn’t have possibly subconsciously caused it.

I am sitting in the cloistered courtyard within Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, sipping sweet potato curried soup.  The toenail hurts.  The book is at home so I am alone in my pain and am forced to write.  There are families with kids and really old ladies sitting besides me.  The rain is subsiding and the sun is peaking out.  Through glass, I watch the tourists cross the square towards the two-story buildings of “really-old” rock.  If I was JK Rowling or Sir Conan Doyle I could tell you the exact colour and shape of the towers (they’re the pointy kinds) but besides not having a thesaurus, my inspiration is clouded by the renovation marquee covering parts of the buildings.  Ugly metal poles, blue nets.

Earlier, I marvelled at the Royal Honours at the castle: crown, sceptre, sword and Destiny stone, amazing jewels, sitting in a glass box under extremely low lighting, in a tiny vault room.  These are objects that have been used in many Coronation Rituals for many centuries, and that at one point were lost in a box, completely “misplaced” and forgotten, tucked away from the world’s fascination and awe.

You somewhat understand how power goes about corrupting people when you take in the effect that such objects have over any innocent bystander.

The grandeur of the encrusted sword and the sheer history of the otherwise common piece of stone that so many Monarchs have sat upon at the moment of their coronation impress even the most jaded holidaymakers.

If I was a historian, anthropologist or even a gemologist, I could put a measure to how much greed these object have generated since they were forged.  Understandably, they were coveted by wise men and fools alike, who watched these objects bestowed upon infants who inherited the throne at a young age through no fault of their own.

Stepping outside and heading to St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in the Castle, I was still so dazed by the surrounding towers that I tripped on a cannonball.  Who leaves a freaking cannonball lying around?  Note to self:  when roaming Scottish castles watch out for artillery debris sitting on the cobblestones in front of 11th Century chapels.  I got that one down.  I’m ready for the climb up Arthur’s Seat.

The rain over Edinburgh is intermittent. I’ve now climbed Arthur’ seats in a fortunate window of space between clouds. At the top of the climb the light was shining through a minor slit between clouds directly over St. Margaret’s chapel in the castle (and probably all the cannonballs that I couldn’t see from here)
As I descended the steep path (covered in treacherous rolling pebbles) my iPod went dead. To understand how this felt, just bear in mind that I am not the kind of person that is daunted by altitudes, speed, darkness, enclosed spaces, challenges or long distances to cross. I’m not daunted by solitude or the unknown. By I am daunted by silence. The second the music goes off I panic and look around. I cant hear the wind blowing or the rain falling, they’ve gone still. The other people within sight are too far above me or too far below, little sillouettes like Plato’s shadows on the walls of the cave. I reach for my phone and thank God that I have reception. I dial maniacally and tell people how ecstatic I am to be in Scotland, I let the human voices warm me to the core and relieve the weight of this place’s history off my shoulders. In silence, I’d feel the weight of the stories of a thousand people that walked this path before me, in times or war, sickness or cholera.
It’s dusk and I follow my friends’ advice and pick up the pace to get out of there. I throw a couple of rocks down hill and it feels good to hear their sound rolling down. My silence phobia is at bay. It would be a great idea for Pfizer or someone to diagnose it and come up with a fancy name for it and pills that can cure it. They would sell it alongside those prescribed for Restless Leg Syndrome. “Restless Soul Syndrome” or Sonoromaniac. I picture groups of “us people” having “meetings” to cope with our strange dysfunction.
At any rate, I pass by Holyrood House again and see the old ladies falling asleep on their chairs and spilling their tea. The clatter of china breaking is like music to my ears.
I walk back up the Royal Mile towards Deacon Brodies. The pub is a couple of hundred years old, the source of inspiration to the writing of Jekyll & Hyde. So appropriate. Successful and seemingly average people with strange phobias triggered by historical energy on Arthur’s Seats surely will suit the mood.
At Deacon Brodies, an anthropologist or sociologist with an interest in clashing cultures and pop pulp, or post-modernism would have a field day. I don’t have a field day, just a glass of wine and a laugh. They are playing Steppenwolf and there are about ten men in kilts standing by the bar. I remember Oktobeberfest and all the Germans dressed in Liederhosen and whatever the other traditional Bavarian outfits are called. The chatter in the room gets louder and I catch bits and pieces of the conversations in the vicinities. They mention the Six Nation football match that is on at half five. Some girl called Julia has broken off an engagement. Older men speak of betting…
There was a bartender in New York, Willian Fitch, who was really an undercover writer, who didn’t need the money from the bartender gig. I remember him telling me about the amazing conversations he struck with innocent bystanders who became inspiration for characters later on.
The men in kilts are staring at me, they are so charming and remind me of Axl Rose running around on stages in his Kilt and heavy boots.
When you find yourself in Scotland, remember to have a good look at the North Sea, go to the water before you hit the watering hole.
Then allow yourself to consider the history behind every rock, every book, bag pipes, hardworking people, heroic knights and monarchs.
Life is very vibrant in young countries, especially in beach towns, like Rio or Sydney, where the colors of the landscape and the weather make for the dazzling effect. And in those kinds of environments you feel like the one making history, recording moments of your existence as groves on the ground; leaving a legacy for posterity.
In the countryside of Brazil, in the Planalto Central, or in the Australian outback, or even on the sand dunes along Sagaponack in the Hamptons, one can feel like the maker of techniques and civilization. (God Bless Lewis Mumford) Those are not virgin grounds, but definitely still in their infancy compared to Edinburgh.
This Scottish air smells of drawbridges, forged metal made into swords, whiskey, blood, sweat and tears. If that sounds depressing, it is soon redeemed by the thought of queens who died of a broken heart after their husbands died in battle. Edinburgh is romantic: the handcrafted articles, the street markets, the gardens, the fabulous restaurants, the bagpipe players outside the Churches, the Writers’ museum and the knowledge that so many world-renowned characters were born right here.
I head to the airport thinking of how fortunate I am to have seen “the world beyond New York”.

Posted by Kaz, filed under

. Date: February 25, 2008, 8:49 pm | 1 Comment »

25  Sep
Away with Words

Paragliding Every trip starts with a thought. A simple thought that one dares to voice. Another person agrees with. It soon turns into a game of calendar crossword and budget juggling and as soon as the credit card digits go through you know you are really going. You write e-mails telling your contacts or trying to make new ones at the destination. Departing is always a function of finding the right words to map out your take-off and landing. When you get to a place you have never been to, and one that is very different from your own surroundings, you find you are out of words to describe it. The ineptitude of your own vocabulary makes you feel as though you are unworthy of journalistic depictions of this journey, which has certainly been made by so many others before.

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Posted by Kaz, filed under

. Date: September 25, 2007, 3:55 am | No Comments »