S C O T L A N D : D A Y 2
AUGUST 20 (Sunday) -- Glasgow to Edinburgh
My next challenge was to figure out how to get from Glasgow to Edinburgh. I had been given to understand that there was a train station nearby, so I walked to the station and tried to puzzle out what needed to be done. It seemed pretty simple; I got my ticket, looked for the train marked "Edinburgh," and sat down in the nearest train car (with my two suitcases taking up a seat of their own, as I wasn't about to let them out of my sight). The car was empty. I had no idea if I was doing anything wrong.
Eventually the car began filling up with people, all of whom were too polite to say what they were thinking, which must have been, "Who does this idiot think he is, taking up a whole seat with all his luggage instead of leaving it at the back of the car like everybody else?" Then the train pulled out, and I got my first good look at the Scottish countryside. This was fun for a while, but eventually my neck got tired so I went back to my book--anything to avoid seeing the laser-like glares of my fellow travelers.
Finally we arrived in Edinburgh at Waverly Station. From here I needed to find the Marrakech Hotel, where I was to meet the rest of my party. After asking directions of a smiling woman in one of the many Thomas Cook offices, I set off, a suitcase in either hand and sunlight and crowds all around me.
And I walked. And I kept walking. Then I walked some more. About this time I decided that it might have been a good idea to get over my fear of embarrassing myself by taking a taxi to the hotel (it wasn't something I'd done before; I didn't know how it worked). But of course I was sure I must be "close" now... so I kept walking, and the crowds kept milling all around me (and none of them had suitcases), and the sun kept beating down.
The suitcases began to slip out of my sweating palms every fifty paces or so, forcing me to stop repeatedly. Not only could I not find the hotel, I couldn't even locate the street that the Thomas Cook woman had said I couldn't miss seeing. ("You can't miss it" must be the Scottish version of the Cosa Nostra's "Kiss of Death.") Nearing the end of my patience, I broke down again and asked directions, learning that the street I wanted was several blocks in the direction from which I'd just come. I walked some more. I still couldn't find the street.
Cursing, I flagged down a cab, whose amused driver told me that several more steps would lead me to the street I wanted. ("You can't miss it!") I hate to admit it, but at that point I actually found myself considering hiring the cab to take me there. But drawing from some reserve of pigheadedness, I thanked him and sent him on his way. Then I picked up my suitcases (each of which now weighed approximately three tons) and set forth again, determined to find my own way.
I turned the corner and found myself virtually at the foot of my hotel, its beige façade indistinguishable from all the others to which it was attached. Stepping into the cool, dark lobby was wonderful; I felt like a Bedouin who'd just stumbled onto a life-saving oasis.
Even better--once I'd checked in, the proprietor Mr. Maghrour earned his reward in Heaven by bringing me at no charge an ice-cold can of Coke. "This is more like it," I thought, cleaning up and pressing the cool can to my fevered brow. "I'll just lie down for a while; it should be several hours before I have to meet the people from the Lifestyles forum."
They knocked on my door ten minutes later.
I'd driven up to Philadelphia for an enjoyable visit to meet Beth a few weeks before, but this was the first time I'd met Ann, Gin or Bill. Not quite sure what to expect, I was a little nervous as I always am when meeting new people. I needn't have worried. Within seconds I felt as though I was visiting old friends that I'd known for years, a feeling that persisted throughout the entire time we were together and that made the entire journey infinitely more enjoyable for me than it ever could have been otherwise. I generally don't warm up to people very rapidly; I never have. With this lot, it wasn't even an issue. I warmed to them immediately. To work with Gin's deafness, I learned that I needed to face her when speaking to her so that she could see my lips moving. This quickly became second nature to everyone in the group. In what seemed like no time at all, even those of us with intact hearing began to find ourselves turning to face each other when speaking to one another! In an odd way, the fact that Gin is so phenomenally adept at reading lips led to our repeatedly forgetting that she could not hear the things that the rest of us were hearing. This had to have been indescribably frustrating to her, yet she was never anything but gentle when reminding us of what we took for granted. As memorable as the myriad sights of Scotland were, this pause to consider the gifts we use without even thinking about them may prove to be the most important and longest-lasting legacy of our journey.
After some getting-acquainted time, we headed out to begin sampling Edinburgh's many cultural offerings. Our first cultural offering was a sunny bar catering to thin little men with thin little mustaches, many of whom watched us file in... and turn and file right back out again. (I'm not sure who was more amused at this, us or them.) Not content with this adventure, we decided to try Indian cuisine for supper, which meant piling the table with large quantities of foods whose names we couldn't pronounce but which were delicious anyway.
When preparing our itinerary, I'd arranged for us to arrive in Edinburgh during the Festival season. During this time of cultural exhibitionism, there are various programs going on all the time, so we found ourselves that night watching a play detailing the lives of several Irish men in the early days of World War I. I really wasn't expecting much, so it was a very pleasant surprise to find that each of the players did an excellent job with his character; the interactions between the men were highly believable (with the exception of the gratuitous-but-obligatory-in-the-modern-arts-world homosexual love scene). Even the costuming and lighting were entirely professional. I had to get up and walk around the back of the theater a couple of times because my knees were hurting, which rudeness thoroughly embarrassed me, but the play was well worth it all.
Then we took in a selection of folk songs of northeastern Scotland as collected years ago by Belle Robertson, sung by three women (two of them quite good, and one of them outstanding). Some of the songs were funny, some were sad and poignant, and one or two slyly ribald, but what struck me was not the songs themselves but that several people in the audience were softly singing along. Some of these tunes were no doubt being hummed over two centuries ago, yet here were people, young and old, singing them as though the stories being told had happened just the day before in the next glen over.
Later on I realized that our own cultural heritage here in America is pretty much limited to whatever we saw last night on TV. What happens to a culture that has no history?
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