So, I went to Scotland. Highlands and Islands – the whole enchilada (The whole Haggis?) – with my mother and my wife. And I truly expected it to be everything I’d dreamed of for so long. I expected it to exceed my expectations…but not by so much.
From the beginning. My grandfather was born and raised in Scotland – a small town just outside Glasgow called New Mains. It was an industrial town. Not thrilled with the prospect of working in a coal mine or steel mill all his life, he, Alexander McCammon, came to California, got a job working at the San Pablo Dam, married, had three kids, lived long enough to see one of them (my mother, Sandra) bear him a grandson (me), then drowned one night in a water sample tank under circumstances never satisfactorily explained to anyone.
But that’s another story. And that’s enough background. Suffice it to say that Scotland has always been my holy grail…the homeland that I have wanted to see and experience for as long as I can remember. And it finally happened. We made it happen. And we made the pilgrimage: Summer, 2008.
OK. Stifle the gag reflex and bear with my borderline-maudlin metaphoric lapses. I found me in Scotland. I breathed each city and town and highland and island and touched it, walked it, lived it for an all-too-brief moment in time and I came away…different. Different in many ways which remain essentially inexpressible, but real nonetheless.
The truth is, Scotland changed me.
History wraps itself around you there. No choice. Weathered, moss covered stone that speaks to you when you touch it – telling the tales of all those who touched that stone before you, bled on it, loved and lived and died beneath it. Difficult to approach the notion of a palpable sense of history (particularly after living for any length of time in Los Angeles, the city that paves over the past)…but that’s what it is.
Not to mention beautiful. Green. Simple. Fluid. Breathtaking. And lots of sheep. Sheep everywhere – in the road, by the road, grazing near stone walls built by druids. Yes, druids. Villages built on foundations laid by Roman legionnaires. Roads that actually take you through a neighborhood so closely, so intimately, you could reach out and touch the people that live in the houses and mind the shops (and tend the sheep). Gardens everywhere — little squared off things, well tended and proper and pumping color. And flowers in every window…and I mean every window. When's the last time you saw that?
From the “In Case Anybody Ever Asks” Department: A “Traditional Scottish Breakfast” is the same everywhere (and I mean everywhere) you go — beans, poached eggs, fried potatoes, haggis (you don’t want to know), boiled potatoes, black pudding (you really don’t want to know), roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes, more fried potatoes, biscuits with marmalade. And that comes with potatoes. God…no wonder these people do nothing but drink, smoke and wheeze when they go up the stairs.
Interesting Side Note Even Though I Told You You Wouldn't Want to Know: Found out what makes Black Pudding black. Blood. Yes, really. A breakfast food, shaped like a hockey puck and made from oatmeal and sheep's blood. How…unique.
I had never walked through history before Scotland…never walked down a narrow cobblestone street with grand Georgian giants all around — from Royal Exchange to the Bank of Scotland to the Scottish Museum and then down some weathered sandstone steps or through a cobbled entryway and into a clutch of tiny local shops and tea rooms, tiny pubs and Punjabi restaurants redolent of curry and cumin.
I walked to the burial place of Greyfriars Bobby, remembering the Disney film of my youth that had made me cry more than Old Yeller. Then through an alleyway past Jimmy Chungs Chinese Buffet and into a castle courtyard and around the corner into a churchyard where Robert Louis Stevenson often walked and then for lunch at The Elephants Trunk (where J.K. Rowling wrote about somebody named Harry Potter) just down the street from Deacon’s Pub — frequented by Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott and Sean Connery (just not at the same time).
I walked Edinburgh like that. And I felt like it was my city…that it was there for me…that I was meant to be there and think there and thrive there. It never gets old here. It just gets more.
It felt like home. After three days, it felt like home.
I walked the waterfronts of Inverness and Ullapool and Tobermory…sailed to Iona and cruised Loch Ness and made the crossing to the Orkneys and it was like being in a painting…and it was like I belonged there – inside that beautiful painting that takes your breath away…and makes you cry when you find yourself lost in its depths and complexities.
And I knew then and I know now that I won’t ever feel that way again…until I return to Scotland. And I will return to Scotland.