Of all the decisions we made about where to travel after Paris, the least logical was to go to Scotland and Ireland. “It will be cooler there so it makes sense to go closer to the summer” was one piece of logic. “It is where the McCloys came from” was a piece of reasoning. (Ariana’s maiden name is McCloy). But “no reason” was the most likely. So we flew from Paris to Edinburgh.
Near the University of Edinburgh we found an Airbnb in a very modern apartment building that was being rented out by a student. It was extremely clean and comfortable with a grocery store and nice places to eat nearby. Places to eat are essential and finding them is actually a very difficult process.
A word about selecting restaurants.
Ariana is highly allergic to celleriac – the root of the celery plant but not at all allergic to what most people eat – the green celery stalks. Therefore every restaurant we enter involves an interview. I carry a photo of the celery root on my phone and we display it like an unwanted poster. The conversation goes something like this.
“She is highly allergic to this root (displaying the root photo) usually called celery root or celeriac do you have any of this in your kitchen?”
Waiter :”I don’t think so.”
Me: “Sorry but you have to know so because a small amount could kill her.”
Waiter (eyes getting bigger now): “Oh I will check with the chef. May I take the photo?”
Me: (I send my iPhone off in the hands of a stranger)
Waiter: “No we definitely do not have this in the kitchen or in any of the ingredients.”
Or as sometimes happens. “I’m sorry we can’t serve you because we can’t be 100% certain.” You can hardly blame them.
Or as happened one time “We definitely do not have this in any of our ingredients but we would like you to sign this form so we will not be held liable. (For your almost certain death).”
This conversation has taken place mostly in English but sometimes with help from our multilingual friends or with strangers who translated with Italians, Spaniards, Swiss Germans, Germans, French, and now Scottish waiters. So far Ariana is still alive but I have a tendency to want to come back to the same place the eat each day which is not usually possible.
Whenever I start to go crazy around restaurant selection I like to take brief side trips on my own. In Ediburgh I took two of them. One was to a monument to Sir Walter Scott called “Scott Monument”. Sir Walter was more than just a writer but I know him from reading “Ivanhoe”. He also coined the phrase “Oh what a tangled web we weave we first we practice to deceive.” He is very popular in Scotland so they built this huge monument to him.
It’s so tall that on the way up you get a special certificate that says you climbed the tower. The stairs are so narrow that it would be difficult to turn back and cheat because people are behind you coming up.
It’s a couple of hundred feet tall. The stairs towards the top get especially narrow. At the very top the opening to the peak platform is so narrow that I had to turn my shoulders sideways to get through the opening. At the top people apologized for having to touch each other which is understandable as you were either likely to get pushed into the monument’s vertical wall or into the waist high stone rail which caused you to lean out slightly into space (see photo). When I came down I asked the ticket booth guy if anyone had gotten stuck in the narrow places. He said “Not yet.”
I wasn’t convinced.
The whole experience was actually a little scary because of the contrast in space. You come up through a tight, constricted and dark passage into a small high platform far into space with little above you but blue sky.
I commented to a fellow traveler when we got to earth that the tower experience was good test of one’s tendency to both claustrophia and agriphobia. She agreed.
The tower is the largest monument to a writer in the world, according to the Scotts who never lie or tell tall tales.
The Scotts love their writers. I went to a writers museum and, on a tour, went to many of the places that J.K. Rowlings frequented – more about her later.
On my own again I went to a museum that featured objects and photos regarding three famous Scottish writers: Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Lewis Stevenson.
But I was a bit disappointed that the section on Robert Lewis Stevenson held mostly photos and few actual objects he would have held. I did like this photo of Stevenson: Which seems to show some of his intensity. He died fairly young at 44 on a Pacific Island but left us “Treasure Island” and Long John Silver.
He also wrote this poem:
UNDER the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
I met a young woman in the Stevenson section and we talked for about an hour. We had a long conversation about our lives. She was interested in becoming a teacher (she already had a degree in law). We talked about special education and students with autism – work that we had both enjoyed. She seemed to be heading into teaching in a profession I had just left. This subject gave us a lot to talk about but there was more to our conversation. Surrounded as we were by the objects and photos that attempted to summarize a life, we each summarized our life up to that point. Were we being inspired by the work of this artist or was there something else in the atmosphere that allowed two complete strangers to share some pretty deep things?
I have often noticed a phenonmnon when two people come together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and admiration – a third presence is created that is very inclusive and loving and is charged with a new creation. In any case this is what I felt.