Interstitial Moment:

From a piece I wrote some time ago, the introduction. It says a lot about my love of Scotland.

A few years ago, friends of mine in St Andrews dubbed me a part–time Caledonian because I live in Scotland 4-6 months of the year. Actually, I was a Scotophile even before setting a foot past Hadrian’s Wall. But unlike my husband and children and grandchildren, I do not have an ounce of Scottish blood in me, though there may be Scandinavian through the Ukraine connection, because Kiev was a great Viking trading center. (That would certainly explain my grandmother Yolen’s red hair and blue eyes.) And remembering how many Vikings gave their genes and their vocabulary to Scotland, perhaps I can claim to be a clan cousin of sorts.

The first thing that happens to visitors who discover Scotland is that they fall in love with the landscape—the sheep-dotted hillsides, the brown and purple heather on the mountains, the stone walls like dragon spines defining the fields, the harled and whitewashed cottages huddled together, the dark ruins of a castle on a headland, the sea mist (the “haar”) that strides across gardens and obscures the road.

Then the visitors fall in love with the Scottish people. Wiry shepherds whistling up their dogs on a Highland hillside. A storyteller in a cafe explaining the real history of Argyll. A bevy of old darlings on a gossipy tea break. Three men in a pub alternately arguing football, rugby, and politics. A crusty caddy at the Old Course cursing the R&A. A professor of computational science coaching young runners in his spare time. University students in red robes walking along the stone weir. Women at the drying lines chatting as they put up their clothes. The shop girl who thanks the customer not once but twice for buying something. The owner of a porridge oats mill showing off his machinery with pride. Fishermen in a small harbor readying their nets while talking of the weather. The farmer walking his crop line. The minister who takes  time to show an interested tourist around his church.

Then the visitors fall in love with the history, the blood and guts of it, the sheep and cattle raids and red-letter days, the battle for Independence, the sinister politicking, the lairds who valued sheep over clan, the Darien scheme that broke the country’s bank and heart, the Stuarts who had more charisma than brains. Enough for thousands of books (and you can find them) and plays and movies (and you can see them) and songs. And you can hear those songs still sung with the vigour and passion as when they were first made, in pubs and at ceildhas and in the streets at Festival time.

And some of us even fall in love with the food. I know, hard to believe. But I happen to love haggis. (There is a vegetarian haggis that fair misses the point!) And a bowl of porridge to start my morning makes me fall in love all over again. How about Arbroath smokies and venison steak,  potato and leek soup, cullen skink? And the fish and lamb dishes are to be treasured indeed. Don’t forget Scottish strawberries, the best in the world. And cheeses to die for. Be sure to try a cranachan for dessert. Yes, it’s made with the ubiquitous porridge oats, but even if you don’t like the sound of that, you will love the dish. Trust me. Did I forget to mention single malt whiskeys? Well, since I’m not a drinker, they don’t rush to the front of my mind. But there are more single malts to be tried while you are here than you have days for it, especially if you are only visiting for a month.

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