We’ve been away, indulging in a week medieval revels in the remains of Raglan Castle, Wales.
That’s right; American wars are held at campgrounds, British ones in castles. To be sure, this occasionally backfires, as when said castle has neither modern conveniences nor medieval ones (see: fires in February), but in the summer, it’s downright spectacular.
For now, we’re busy settling back in: doing 14 loads of laundry, draping tents on anything in sight, slowly excavating the living room… also, resuming regular posting on the blog. This was our last big trip of the summer, so watch this space; pictures of all three will appear here soon.
It was a glorious week of living outdoors. The constant exposure to fresh air, light, and actual sunsets did away with the insomnia that’s troubled me off and on (except the one night I got chilled and couldn’t sleep until I broke out the heat packs. Yes, in August. 2am in Wales is like that). In an effort to bring more than just souvenirs (and dirty laundry) home, I’ve decided to make a few changes around here.
Breakfast in the park around the corner. The morning is often the sunniest part of the day in Edinburgh, and it’s a shame to waste it. Exposure to 360-degree daylight helps the body realize that it really is day time. Throwing on my cloak in the morning is impractical with the wind, but I may have to go for polar fleece tomorrow! A willingness to do practical things outside regardless of weather was a major feature of the week-long campout.
Mumsy Dearest and one of my little sisters came to visit us in Scotland, which is one of the reasons I’ve been so little around lately. Wave hello:
We found a phone box.
We spent the first few days seeing the sights in Edinburgh while they got acclimated to the climate and the time zone. Happily, those first few days were dry and even, on occasion, sunny. I believe they started with the impression that we had exaggerated the extremes of Scotland’s summers. (They were disabused of this notion the first night we set up a tent. But that’s later.)
The first night, we walked around a bit to get a feeling for the city.
This is Edinburgh Castle. You’ll see it again.
Look at all the phone boxes!
Truly, we are now in Britain. (But not England. Definitely not England.)
The photos from this trip are a collaborative effort, in that we have no idea who took most of them.
A public garden, established circa 1912.
Stay tuned for further adventures and gratuitous photographic evidence!
I spent much of May in the US. Naturally, I thought of nothing but taking pictures for the blog, and especially for you, Dear Reader. When I got back to Scotland, I was too excited about travel and being back in Scotland to sum of my vacation coherently. (So much happened, actually, I’m still not sure I can sum it up coherently. It’s a good thing I took pictures so I can reconstruct the narrative in my head. The Accuracy of memory is highly overrated, anyway–all memory is narrative, reconstructed from what we felt and visualised the last time we accessed the memory. But don’t let that stop you.) Now that I’m revising multiple iterations of a paper, though, it seems like a great time to give you a virtual tour through my memories.
A wildlife sanctuary in eastern MA.
Old Sturbridge Village. In the US, June is actually summer, and the weather was as perfect as it looks.
Mumsy Dearest is fabulous, naturally.
In sunglasses, no on can see you squint. Or blink. Sneezing they might notice.
A very young infant has no conception of objects that exist outside of her immediate awareness. (Just how young has yet to be determined.) That’s why a parent’s “reappearance” in peek-a-boo, so mundane to us, is such a miracle to the child: the parent doesn’t exist, and then she does. It’s a classic early childhood game. With such high existential stakes, though, I can’t help but wonder if it induces some level of stress for the infant. But perhaps the joy of seeing the parent again is worth the existential doubt of separation. At any rate, she must get used to it.
On some level, the flush of homesickness in someone* leaving home for a long period of time is caused by a failure of object permanence. One some deep level of the mind, I don’t quite believe that I’ll ever again see the people and places I’m leaving.
* When I say “someone”, I mean “me”, but I can’t be alone on this one.
For immigrants, especially in times when wooden or steam ships were the only way to cross the ocean, this would have been the case. Even today, refugees and desperately poor seeking a new life say good-bye to their homes forever. But I’m one of the lucky ones, so home is really just a tram ride, a flight, another flight, customs, and a long car ride away. Less than a day, end-to-end.
But when I came over two years ago, I didn’t believe it. Not really. Not in the painful countdown to Christmas, when I actually contemplated buying vastly inflated last-minute plane tickets and showing up unexpectedly on the doorstep. (I suspect part of that was the incredible stress of exams. I have never had such a tense exam schedule as that first December, including my first semester of college, when I wrote four exams in two days and had to switch to my left hand on the last one because my right hand hurt too much. In the UK, your entire grade may be based on the final exam/paper, and it sucks substantially.)
Not during the long phone calls. Maybe a little during the round-robin calls, where the phone would be passed from person to person as Mumsy Dearest and my sisters tried to make cookies and dinner while talking on the phone.
Not when I searched the internet for pictures of Maine in the summer, and then Maine in the autumn.
It wasn’t until after my masters year ended, and I went back home and came back again to Edinburgh, that I was quite certain that everything I loved still existed, and would continue to exist until I was there to see it again.
This is not true, of course. Favorite pizza places close, as NTS discovered this trip. Family pets grow terminally old; expecting a dog to live past fifteen is not really reasonable. People are not immortal either, but of all the realities an expat has to confront, this is the one my mind avoids, and the only one that can’t be avoided. What if something happens, and we’re on the other side of an ocean? The only thing to do about it is to stay home, and expats agree–if not everyone else does–that that’s no way to live. As with many smaller things in travel and in life, you can only make your decisions, trust to luck, and try to accept what comes. And enjoy every minute while you have it. When travelling, all minutes are fleeting. You may not be there when they come around again, so you take them now.
Big things, though–back roads in Maine in the summer, apple orchards, friends in Boston and western MA–these are never going away. Not in my lifetime. That’s what trips home remind me. These places, these things, are there, whether I’m there to see them or not. And more importantly, they’ll be there when I get back.
We saw some picturesque stone houses in the village by Bolton Castle.
In fact, that entire section of Yorkshire seems to consist of nothing but violently rolling dales and houses made of old grey stone (and sometimes flowers).
I started to explore the castle. Much of it had been closed off when were were there in February, and it turned out that the castle was much bigger than I had realized. About four times as large, really, as the on intact section was mirrored by three now-defunct towers, all facing on a courtyard.
Before I could explore thoroughly, however, I got distracted by the forge. I was drafted as a blacksmith’s apprentice. I have always been fascinated by blacksmithery at living history museums like Sturbridge, Colonial Williamsburg and Leonards Mills. (Never heard of that one, have you? It’s a pioneer outpost in Maine with a working stream-powered sawmill. Daddy used to do axe demonstrations, and occasionally I helped. Nothing like peeling logs on a Saturday afternoon in the fall.) The smiths are understandably reluctant to hand over tools and yellow-hot iron to members of the public, though, so I’d never gotten my hands dirty before.
But this time I wasn’t a member of the public, and my hands got dirty, sweaty, and before I got the knack of the hammer, slightly bloody. It was a good day.
It’s tiring work, but very satisfying in the end. It also goes a lot faster once you get the knack of using the hammer correctly. Needless to say, I hadn’t, but I did improve toward the end.
I helped make these. Not just pumping the bellows, either. Among other things, I did the twisty handle on the end of the fire rake. It was a lot easier to manage the forge fire once we had finished that.
From The Fiery Cross:
“We were talking of birds; he bein’ uncommon fond of them. I asked him why it was that in the late summer, the birds sing at night–the nights are shorter then, ye’d think they’d want their rest, but no. There’s rustling and twittering and all manner o’ carryings-on, all the night long in the hedges and the trees.”
… “And did he have an answer?”
… “What he did was to capture a number of the birds, and shut them up in cages lined with blotting paper… only on the floor,” he explained. “He put out a wee plate on the floor filled with ink and cup of seed in the middle, so that they couldna feed without getting ink on their feet. Then as they hopped to and fro, their footprints would show on the blotting paper.”
“Umm. And what, precisely, did that show–other than black footprints?”
… “There were a great many footprints, Sassenach–but most of them were on one side of the cage. In all the cages… And it seems that all the night through, the birds were hopping and striving toward the southeast–which is the direction in which the migrate, come the fall.”
“That’s very interesting.” I pulled my hair back into a tail, lifting it off my neck for coolness. “But it’s not quite the time to migrate, is it, in late summer? And they don’t fly at night, do they, even when they migrate?”
“No. It was as though they felt the imminence of flight, and the pull of it–and that disturbed their rest. The stranger it was, because most of the birds that he had were young ones, who had never yet made the journey; they hadna seen the place where they were bound, and yet the felt it there–calling to them, perhaps, rousing them from sleep.”
…”Zugunruhe,” he said softly… “The wakefulness of the wee birds, getting ready to leave on their long flight.”
“Does it mean anything in particular?”
“Aye. ‘Ruhe’ is stillness, rest. And ‘zug’ is a journey of some sort. So ‘zugunruhe’ is a restlessness–the restlessness before a long journey.”
-Diana Gabaldon, The Fiery Cross
Condensed for your reading convenience
o O o
Tomorrow we fly for home and another wedding, NTS’s sister’s. I’m well pleased with this development, as I find the groom an excellent young man, and am delighted that we will be keeping him, so to speak. I’m also delighted to be seeing all of our friends and family again, especially now that (as of half an hour ago) all of the arrangements are finally made. Coordinating a family gathering from a different continent when not in possession of a house, car or cell phone is not easy, but it’s done now. Mostly perforce: If you can’t reach me to tell me about it, the problem doesn’t exist.
I’m so excited. And with it, completely useless for anything not directly related to travel. Or for much related to travel. I’ve been packing for three days, as packing the night before never fails to engender in me a strong feeling of antipathy for the trip in general and my luggage in particular. I’m still not sure exactly how to pack a silk dress to avoid wrinkles. I’m not sure it can be done, and am looking forward to ironing out the wrinkles in the heat of a Connecticut summer. NTS is certain he shall melt. To be sure, every time the weather turns nice,we have the conversation that goes like this:
BRID Looks like it’s going to be eighteen degrees tomorrow.
NTS Sooo hooottttt. Oh wait, that’s only 64 Fahrenheit. Never mind.
BRID Wow, you’ve really gone native. Let me check your ears, I think there may be haggis leaking out of them.
If the natives are leery of temperatures over 20 C, it’s no surprise: the record high in Edinburgh is 31.4 C (88.5 F). The average high for August is just 18.9 C (66 F).
I grudgingly dug into the back of my wardrobe for my two skimpiest tank tops, saved specially for this occasion. That is, the occasion of summer. I shall not so much melt as burn to a fiery crisp, sunscreen notwithstanding.
It was in a bone-melting August that I first packed for Scotland, with the result that my arrival in . Now, in the cool and breezy summer of Scotland, I dig into my memories of that time and root in the wardrobe for the clothes that I mistakenly packed then, that get so little use here and are so appropriate to summer in (southern) New England. I shall, no doubt, complain of the heat within the first hour, but at the moment it remains an interesting concept, a distant and hazy memory of another life.
Although the haziness may have been caused by humidity, not time.
Sometimes we like to go to castles and re-enact the Middle Ages. Sometimes our friends come with us.
And when it’s
really nice even adequate outside, we like to camp. You can sleep in the castle, in the room where Mary, Queen of Scots once slept (we did, in February), but it’s awfully dusty.
So this time we camped. Given my tendencies in this direction, it was the obvious choice. We (I) regret nothing.
The company was especially good.
I left the kitchen sink outside the tent in hopes that it would dry. Or at the very least, be wet outside the tent instead of inside. I put it out clean, but in the morning, it seemed rather muddier inside than the mild overnight rain would account for. I suspected fowl play. (I still regret nothing.)
NTS reported that during the night, the runner ducks had huddled under the eaves of our tent, enjoying the shelter of the rain fly. Though you wouldn’t think ducks would mind the rain much. When they started pecking at the walls of the tent, though, he unzipped the door a few inches and waved them off. (Ok, I regret that I didn’t see that. I bet it was hilarious.) I like the idea of cuddling up with ducks.
A day and a half after my return to Scotland, I departed for the Netherlands and a splendid conference. The conference was an interdisciplinary look at the place and period I’m working in. It gave me some great context for my research.
It also meant that I spent the night before in conclave with one of the archaeology students, making sure my presentation on the implications of certain linguistic features would make sense to archaeologists.
The last day of the conferences was an excursion of archaeological sites. At our first site, the archaeologist leading the tour led off thus:
“I know a lot of you are archaeologists, so you’ll be used to the way sites look where things have been found and excavated. So I won’t worry too much about showing you sites where there’s nothing to see.”
So he did. But we didn’t get out of the bus to walk around on things that weren’t there to walk around on.
The next site had a more interesting feature: a church built smack in the middle. Relevant finds in the Netherlands tend to be on mounds that raise the living structures above flood levels, which makes them attractive building sites for later periods. The mound in this particular area was partially dug up in the 19th century for the peat it contained, before the archaeologists took over and (slowly) dug up the rest.
Despite popular conception, it appears that there is at least one Dutchman who doesn’t like windmills.
Our guide expressed some regret that the diocese refused to let them dig under the church itself so they could finish their excavation. I suppose you can’t have everything.
Greetings, fair Reader, from the Colonies! (Use of the word “Colonies” went out of fashion about the same time as erratic Capitalization. But never one to be halted by a mere accident of chronology, I soldier gamely on.) Some highlights (from a pictoral standpoint, anyway):
I’ll be back in Edinburgh in early June, so posting may be erratic until then. Enjoy the start of summer!