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Half asleep, leaning against the window and listening to a David Sedaris audio book, I am rudely interrupted by the pilot. Although I have steeled myself to endure another few hours of Ryanair’s comfortless seating and lack of in-flight entertainment, it seems that I have over-prepared. Who knew Denmark was so close to Scotland? Probably someone, but not me. And so we land.

Sandra is waiting for me at the gate. I thought she might be hard to find, hidden in waves of blonde-haired cute-nosed Scandinavians, but luckily (shockingly?) not every Danish person looks the same. It is pretty fantastic to see my partner-in-adventuring after a year and a half, and it is possible that I talk incessantly all the way back to her parents’ home in Jutland. There must be a brief pause at some point because she manages to introduce me to her father, Leif, and to feed me some bruschetta she has kindly brought along to assuage my hunger. Upon arriving at the house we step quickly inside, I meet Sandra’s mom, Renate, and then we pile back into the car to head to church. A Christmas Eve-but-in-the-afternoon service is the traditional way to kick off the evening’s festivities, so the tiny whitewashed church is packed. I am baffled and amused by the intricate model ship hanging from the sanctuary ceiling, and am further amused to discover that the sanctuary itself is called the ‘ship’ in Danish. These nautical folks with their anchor-covered churches are my kind of people.

I am soon slumped in my pew, pinching my arms in a desperate attempt to keep my eyes open.  I am discovering that Danish – though hilarious to listen to at first, with its sound of someone speaking German while mumbling a lot of misshapen vowels – does not hold up as a form of entertainment in itself when one is unable to understand it. I struggle to hold on to a consciousness-maintaining level of fascination with this Muppet-chef type of speech, but it is no good. I am falling asleep even as the minister (hard to take seriously in his traditional paper Victorian-clown-ruff collar) shakes his fists directly at me. He seems angry about something, although I am later informed that his sermon focused on loving thy neighbour. I am pulled to my feet abruptly as the organ jumps into the first hymn, and then have to fight back my laughter at the dirty looks I receive from the small girl in the pew in front of me, who takes offence at my silence when everyone else is singing quite lustily. But at least I am awake!

At the end of the service we file slowly out of the church; every member of the congregation exchanges “Glædlig Jul”s with the minister and spends a moment talking to him, probably asking what the deal is with his collar (or so I imagine). I would ask him the same question myself, but my sad inability to speak his native tongue forces me to settle for just shaking his hand and smiling at him in the most Danish way I can muster; willing my hair to turn a shade lighter and my skin to rapidly pale. This is a smile I will have much opportunity to perfect.

Back at the Nielsen family home, it is time to get Christmas started in earnest. I have accidentally disclosed my overwhelming affection for all things marzipan (hoping that it would be a traditional Christmas-type thing to eat in Denmark, seeing as it is so close to Germany and all), and now the family will not rest until my desires have been satisfied. They wring their hands and bemoan their untimely decision to cut marzipan out of the snacking picture this year, and then eventually uncover a huge roll of the stuff in a kitchen cupboard. I am all for slicing it up and just eating it like that, but the funny looks I am given suggest that there are more civilised ways of doing things. Soon Sandra and I are settled at the kitchen table with a bowl of melted chocolate, bits of various nuts, pieces of apple, and, of course, the marzipan. We proceed to make a whole tray full of edible sculptures, which are unappetizing enough in their appearance that we are the only ones who will consume any. Perfect.

We sit down to a traditional meal that is fairly similar to a Canadian one, though there is a lot more cabbage and a lot less stuffing. My favourite dish on the table is a plate full of boiled, halved apples, the core having been replaced with a dollop of cowberry jam (there is much speculation about why I have never heard of cowberries. The most likely reason seems to be that, while Canadian cows just wander around compulsively eating the berries they find, Danish cows are a lot more polite and less gluttonous, and will just stand mooing at them so the farmers can find and enjoy them). I think to myself that my shameful habit of discarding apples when their texture is not up to snuff will be solved by this genius "recipe". Boiling apples in water, lemon juice, and a bit of sugar is my new favourite pastime.

We finish off the meal with bowls of delicious rice pudding (a Danish tradition that I fully support), though there is a bit of a twist to the dessert. There is a whole almond hidden somewhere in the pudding, and whoever finds it gets a little prize. The Nielsens enjoy eating their pudding as slowly as possible, while the almond-finder is meant to conceal it in their mouth until everyone is finished, at which point everyone tries to guess who has it. Renate is the lucky winner of a delicious box of chocolates which she kindly shares with us all. But the fun doesn’t stop there... next thing I know, I am holding Sandra’s hand and dancing (well, walking, but dancing is apparently the traditional thing to do and I would have been entirely up for it) around the Christmas tree while singing an English accompaniment to the Danish carols everyone else is giving voice to. I nearly trip the whole thing up by trying to multitask, taking photos whilst singing and walking, but give up just before falling flat on my face. All in all it is a very festive and entertaining experience, and nothing could do more to get one full of goodwill and merry cheer.

The evening continues with plenty of gift-giving, snack-eating and tea-drinking. I am pleasantly shocked to discover that both Sandra`s parents and her brother, Brian, have gone to the trouble of getting me gifts, despite never having met me before. It makes me feel a bit shamefaced about not bringing along the customary hostess gift, but thanks to Ryanair`s ridiculous luggage policies I just didn`t have the space. I plan to remedy the situation immediately upon my return to Glasgow.

I have brought along all the cards I`ve received from my lovely relatives, restraining myself and not opening any of them early. They provide a perfect stack of openable and enjoyable things to further include me in the night of gift opening. I am amazed and pleased that I manage to get through the whole evening without feeling sad at all – it is a testament to the wonderful quality of the Nielsen`s friendliness and hospitality.  We eventually retire to our beds around 1:30 in the morning. I fall asleep under a ceiling of glow-in-the-dark stars, blurred to indistinct dots by my gross nearsightedness. The odd part is that, instead of feeling as though I’m camped out in the open, the first thing I think of is that I could be sleeping under an overturned colander.  This is how my mind works.

Christmas Day dawns bright and frigid, and despite the cold weather I am glad when we soon head for the beach. I miss my family, but I suddenly find that I am more in need of a distraction from thoughts about stöllen than anything else. It is probably available somewhere in Denmark, but it doesn`t seem to be part of the traditional fare, more`s the pity.

The tide is out when we arrive at the beach, and there are a surprising number of people driving aimlessly over the sometimes-seabed or wandering along the shore sifting through piles of shells. It is a little bit surreal to be driving on the sand, and I find myself wishing I was behind the wheel so I could really make the most of the rule-free situation. We park near some other randomly placed vehicles, then slowly start making our way along the shore. Leif shows us how to kick apart piles of seaweed to look for amber, which will apparently be blown away if it`s not trapped by something. My childlike hope of stumbling across some must be written all over my face, because I am quickly informed that finding amber is a rare and unlikely occurrence; evidently there are people who get up at ungodly hours to comb the beaches for what little does wash ashore. I am characteristically undaunted by this information and continue to examine every pile of seaweed and to pick up every yellow or orangeish shell. As this beach has more in the way of shells than any beach I have previously encountered, my progress is painfully slow and slightly ridiculous.

Suddenly I am aware that the bit of yellow I hold in my hand is not a seashell. I shake my head to clear my vision, and then I`m suddenly afraid to open my eyes in case the amber I think I might have found disappears. I painstakingly raise my eyelids with glacial slowness, fearing the worst... but no! Yes?! Hooray! There is a tiny rough chunk of amber in the palm of my hand!

Quite the propitious holiday this is shaping up to be.

 

 




Epic Tales from Scotland - Volume V, Chapter I

Posted on 2008.12.04 at 17:01
The lengthy and confused road leading to my departure has wound its way through every delay it could think of, has doubled back more times than I thought possible, and has at long last gotten sick of me and decided to let me leave.

I have packed over 85 kilos of clothes, shoes, toiletries, chocolate, and other necessities into a backpack and a cardboard box. I have stuffed my guitar full of socks, and cushioned its case with scarves and underwear. My carry-on “bag” is comprised of three separate bags: a camera bag containing my digital SLR, an extra lens, loads of batteries, an external flash, cables, and various battery chargers; a large vintage bag (occasionally used as an outsized purse) which encases my laptop computer, my fancy new Lumix LX3 camera, two enormous novels, an external hard drive, and all the various bits of things you need when traveling like gum and passports and water; and finally an even larger vintage bag (into which my dad has ingeniously packed the other two bags) that I had planned to leave behind, but which I couldn’t, in the end, face saying goodbye to.

I am wearing two (fancy) hats and many layers of clothing. I have a pair of USB headphones strung around my neck despite their lack of utility onboard an aircraft. There are 13 boxes, an enormous wooden crate, a new flat, a new job, and lots of lovely people waiting for me in Scotland.

I think it is time to go.

Having maintained a shocking level of composure throughout my farewells thus far, it is somewhat inevitable that the airport goodbye will be my undoing. Little do I realize that, thanks to being unbelievably stressed out for the past few months, I will cry at the drop of the proverbial hat (although the dropping of one of my own very real hats would likely end the same way).

It is this over-emotional state that sees me crying quietly for no discernible reason on the way to the airport, then embarrassingly bursting into tears at the check-in desk when informed that a $250 fee will be required if I want to bring my guitar, and finally sobbing into my mother’s shoulder as I try to gather up the necessary willpower to go through security. It is all rather exhausting and a little bit ridiculous, and it makes me even more frustrated about all the delays this trip has faced in the last few months. I’m quite certain that if I’d left when I originally planned to, it would have been much less soul-wrenching to tear myself away. But there’s nothing can be done about it now, so I finally pull myself together, step through the metal detectors, and enter a brave new world of miracles and unexpected ease. That is to say: I step through the metal detectors and am not told to unpack my entire carry-on bag! In all my many travels, this has never once happened to me – perhaps it’s the respectable double-hatted look I have going? I volunteer to remove my shoes, turn on all of my electronic devices, and lay out my belongings in order from most dangerous to least, but they decline my offer and wave me through. The shock is so severe that my recovery time is greater than my unpacking-and-repacking time would have been. Still I can see, in theory, how such an effortless security clearance could potentially save one considerable time and annoyance.

My bag is so heavy that I have to take frequent rest stops on the way to the departure gate. When I finally get there I am gratified to find that the airport does indeed offer free wifi access, despite my dad’s iPhone having told him otherwise. Probably it just got tired of accessing icanhascheezburger.com so frequently and begged off for a holiday.

I spend an hour or so sending last-minute Facebook messages to people and pre-emptively changing my network from Toronto to Glasgow, and then it’s time for me to board the flight early along with the elderly, the families with small children, and the extremely wealthy. You might be wondering why exactly this privilege has been extended to me, and it’s a valid question. I am certainly none of those things (and I’m not even wearing my pearls!). But what I am is a person who enjoys flouting established carry-on baggage rules, and apparently this gets me all kinds of respect and special attention. The captain himself kisses my hand and then escorts my guitar into the cockpit for safekeeping (never mentioning $250), and I am free to slowly bump and crash my awkward way down the narrow aisle to my seat, never having to worry that I will decapitate or otherwise injure other passengers who might be in my way. I settle in, and in a shocking and unprecedented move am asleep before takeoff.

The trip is fairly uneventful, although when changing planes at Heathrow I have to take the inter-terminal buses back and forth numerous times, as my half-asleep state has compromised my numeric recognition skills. My oversized luggage is the first to come onto the baggage carousel, and everything seems quite dandy until I realize: oh dear goodness. My wonderful new jacket – which was given to me by a friend, altered to fit like a glove, and was well on its way to becoming my favourite piece of outerwear – is GONE. Just completely disappeared without a trace. I am instantly berating myself for not wearing it under my other huge winter coat as I had thought I might need to, although to be honest between the weight of two coats, two hats, and that ridiculous carry-on baggage I would never have made it to Scotland at all. But OH the tragedy. You don’t even realize how nice that coat was. *Sob*.

I am still in mourning when the cab pulls up in front of the church hall, a familiar building in which I have played many games of floor hockey, and in which I will be living for the foreseeable future. I wait about for awhile until Ann – the hall organizer, and a regular teacher of ballet classes within the hall – is free to let me in to the flat. She kindly supplies me with a handful of teabags, a little dish of sugar, and a small jug of milk from the hall kitchen, and then as an afterthought also gives me my keys. I make my way through the large room that serves as an entryway to the flat and up a flight of stairs. A long hallway greets me, unashamedly clad in a pinkish-red shade of carpeting. I suppress a shudder and step through the first of four doorways to my right... and thus step into a flat of ridiculous and overwhelming size. (What follows is a not-terribly-interesting account of my flat. Feel free to skip it, unless you want to know where you’ll be staying when you inevitably fly over to the UK because you miss me.)

Room 1: A very spacious room sharing some traits with the rest of the flat, such as 12-foot ceilings, pinkish carpets, and beige walls, but also having some characteristics all its own. There is a freakishly shallow closet (seriously... it’s maybe 20cm deep) that is nicely wood-paneled on the inside, a boarded-up fireplace that has been tiled over in a pretty shade of green, an old and slightly ugly entertainment unit, and a sort of cupboard built into one corner that probably used to house hymnals (the building was once a church). This room I plan to use as a photography studio, where I can leave a backdrop and lights set up all the time unless there are more than 2 people visiting, in which case it will also be a bedroom.

Room 2: Another generously-proportioned space, free of distinguishing features in itself but currently housing a double bed, a wardrobe, and a dresser. There is a lot of empty space, enough that I can also add a couch, a desk, a second dresser, and all of my instruments without any cramping at all. This is my bedroom... or will be, once I have painted the walls and removed the purple curtains and somehow tried to make the best of that shocking carpet. It is a double bed, so if we’re really good friends and there are already 8 or 9 people visiting when you arrive you can probably fit in here.

Room 3: Also quite roomy. This is where the first of the wonderful friends and family who will no doubt be visiting soon can stay. There are two single beds, two dressers, and a wardrobe. I will attempt not to store anything in this room, and it will generally be unused until you come to visit.

Room 4: The biggest of all the rooms, this is the kitchen/dining room/den. There is a big u-shaped counter with plenty of cupboard space, a microwave, and even (gasp!) a washing machine. Then there is a corner which comfortably fits a dining table and 4 chairs, and the corner opposite that has no problem being home to a few couches and a TV, if you’re in to that sort of thing. This is where I will cook, eat, and lounge, in case that wasn’t clear. Also the couch can be slept upon, in case of many many visitors.

And finally, there is the necessary Room 5 at the end of the hall, which offers a sink, a toilet, and an honest-to-goodness real live bathtub. This means I won’t have to arrange bathtimes at other people’s houses, and is very exciting. I have heard of people sleeping in bathtubs, and I believe if we utilize all of the possible sleeping options we can fit everyone on this mailing list into my flat at once.

One would think that it should take me a while to feel properly at home here, but amazingly it feels like I never left. I may know fewer people here than I would like; I may be depressingly far away from family and friends. I might be cold (that special unending Glaswegian kind of cold), a bit uncertain about the future, and kind of hungry because the only thing in my cupboards is tea. But after a mere 5 hours in the country, having seen only the airport, the highway, and the church hall, I am already quite certain that I have made the right choice in coming back here. I think about drawing a Scottish flag on my cheek and doing a little jig, but settle for just the jig. My stress has melted away into the damp and foggy Glaswegian air.


Epic Tales from Scotland - Volume IV, Chapter I

Posted on 2007.06.20 at 17:02
I, as is often the case with me, am broke. Skint. Penniless. The job I supposedly had “lined up” here in Glasgow has fallen through and left me scrambling madly, looking for work. Enter, Temp Agency.

The first job the agency gives me I am forced to turn down due to an insufficient wardrobe. They needed me in black trousers, shoes, and shirt – 3 things I either don’t own or didn’t bring to Glasgow with me. Unfortunately they call me after all the shops have closed, and need me for the next day. No such luck.

The second job I am offered has similar requirements, but as they give me a bit more notice this time, I am able to go out and purchase the necessary attire. It seems unfortunate that I should have to first spend money in order to make some, but it’s five days of work and I only spend about half a day’s wages, so it all works out. Crisply clad in my Primark-purchased outfit, I head off to what is likely going to be the most exciting, exhausting 5 days of my life.

The European Stroke Conference is held in a different city every year, and this year, for reasons unknown, it is gracing Glasgow with its doctorial presence. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 5,000 doctors (most of whom are neurologists) are convening at the Scottish Exhibition Centre for a week of exciting presentations, seminars, and ugly vinyl shoulder bags full of complimentary pamphlets and pens. I have been selected from the huge pool of qualified candidates to hostess one of the meeting rooms for the length of the seminar. Such an honour may never come my way again, and I am determined to do my utmost to be the best hostess these neurologists have ever seen. It starts with my shiny new clothes, and from there I go to the effort of putting on makeup, wearing a few bits of jewellery, and making my dreads look as presentable as possible. I arrive ready to work hard like never before, and am not disappointed. At the beginning of each session, I have the arduous task of placing paper name cards in front of the distinguished folk who will be chairing it. I then stumble exhaustedly back to my seat, where I am given a mere hour and a half to recover before I am forced to walk around the room with a wireless microphone, handing it to anyone with a question. This process lasts a full five to ten minutes, during which my energy is mercilessly sucked away, so that when I am finally able to sit down I sink into a dreamless sleep for the ½ hour before the next session convenes. I endure these hardships all day, every day, for an entire week. I thought I might be able to accomplish other things while working at the conference, but was sorely mistaken, as I only manage to read 5 novels in my 5 days there. Busier and more draining work I have never encountered.

After finishing work (quite early, as it is the last day of the conference) on Friday, I change into something a little more rugged and rush off to Central Station to meet my friend Sandra, with whom I have an Adventure planned for the afternoon. We are meant to be heading to Dundee, as we’ve heard that the train ride is absolutely beautiful, and it’s always nice to go places on the coast. Having checked the prices of our tickets a few days ago, we are shocked to discover that the man in the booth wants more than 3 times as much as the website claimed! We retreat from the ticket counter and regroup outside the station. What to do?!
With a little more investigation we discover that we can take a train to Helensburgh for a mere 5 pounds return. I’ve been to Helensburgh before, but as it was rather long ago and I did quite like it I figure it’s worth a return visit. We wander around the city for a while, stopping to watch pigeons in George Square, getting delicious fruit smoothies from a juice bar, and generally dilly-dallying as we wait for our scheduled departure time. Soon enough it is upon us. We board the train without incident, settling into the tiny restrictive seats that make one wish for the return of the railway cabin. The cars are surprisingly full, and we have the great good fortune of sharing ours with an entire team of North American players-of-some-unidentifi
ed-sport. They are rowdy and boisterous and a good source of inexpensive entertainment; indeed the only thing I ‘spend’ as a result of their presence is 1 of the 700-odd photos my memory card will hold, in order to capture for posterity the image of 12 teenaged boys all leaning out the train’s windows with their tiny sleek digital cameras. For some reason I find this vastly amusing.

With the astoundingly beautiful countryside rolling by around us, Sandra and I are lulled into a false sense of security and well-being that cannot last.
We roll by Helensburgh Upper station. I comment that when I last went to Helensburgh I most definitely disembarked at Helensburgh CENTRAL station, and so we rest confidently in our crampéd seats, waiting for the centre of town to find us.

11 minutes later, we stop at Garelochhead.
20 minutes after that, we find ourselves in Arrochar & Tarbet.
A further 25 minutes on, the name ‘Ardlui’ on the station sign indicates our location.

We begin to concede that we may have missed our destination.

I am all for staying on the train as long as possible, as I have no pressing need to get back to the city, and unplanned travel is some of the best travel in my books. Sandra, however, has different ideas (such as one where she has to pick her cousin up at the airport tomorrow), so we decide to get off at the next station that presents itself.

16 minutes go by. Crianlarich.

We nervously alight (because that’s what it’s called if you get off a train in Scotland). We seem to be surrounded by trees, and hills, and fields. The few fellow passengers who got off the train have mysteriously vanished in a great hurry. There’s a tea room on the platform, so we lay extensive plans to go inside, find a member of staff, and ask them if there is a pub, or a shop, or anything at all in this “Crianlarich” place. We execute these plans with speed and agility.

Soon we find ourselves in a convenience store/post office, which seems to be one of 3 commercial buildings in this village (there are also 2 pubs). I dash off a quick friendly postcard to my folks, because I know they will appreciate being kept abreast of the situation, and we politely enquire as to whether there is a loch or other body of water nearby that we can visit. The elderly and somewhat embittered post office worker I’ve put the question to stares at me. She looks down. She stares at me again, and gives me my change.
She says nothing.

I raise my eyebrows and generally arrange my face into an expression of incredulity, and leave the shop.

She wouldn’t even answer me!!!

We walk in a bit of a huff down a nearby hill, entirely aghast at the nerve of the woman. We must recover our dignity and have some lunch in a pub.
Just then, we hear rapid footsteps behind us. As they get nearer, we can fool ourselves no longer: that sound is someone running. And they’re running after US.
Before I can complete the cartoon-like windup of my legs, which would undoubtedly have carried me away at lightning speed, we are set upon by the gentleman who was in line behind us at the post office.
“Are you looking for a loch?” he asks, slightly breathlessly. And despite the unorthodox nature of his pick-up line, we chat with him for a while and discover that there are not one but TWO lochs within walking distance. We thank him warmly and continue on our merry pub bound way.

After being fed in a somewhat sub par manner at the Rod and Reel we head in the loch-filled direction indicated by our erstwhile pursuer. We soon encounter a river, though we see no signs of a loch. We creep timidly along the narrow shoulder of a country road, which in the tradition of country roads everywhere is mostly populated by people driving REALLY fast. Much to my relief, a broken-down bit of fence eventually presents itself, offering us a pretty woodland path instead of the danger-filled road. I cross over and check it out, calling back to Sandra to come join me. Sandra, however, is skeptical (she later claims she couldn’t see the path from her vantage point).
“What if we get lost?” She enquires. I look around me... the cool, mossy path blazes a very clear trail forward, following the road all the way. I suspect it would be difficult to get lost even if one were to try.
“Unlikely, at best.” I reply.
“Let’s just stay on the road” Sandra pleads.
“And get hit by a car?”
“Well....”
“I’d rather get hit by a cow. Come on.” And so we follow the new, marginally safer route I have discovered, and are, amazingly, hit by neither cow nor car.

We spend the next few hours walking about, wading in a river, jumping on a springy fallen tree trunk, and generally being silly. We are unable to locate a place to hire a boat, so we eventually give up and turn around. All of the countryside we walk through is incredibly beautiful, but nothing much of note actually happens, and so without any further story-worthy events we arrive (via a quick stop at an inn for coffee and chips) back at the train station far too early. We occupy ourselves by taking 302 photos of ourselves, the platform, the train tracks, the sky, and some trees. When the train finally arrives, we find ourselves to be most fortunate in the company’s choice of ticket collector for the day. When he comes to take our tickets, I explain our earlier mishap of accidentally staying on the train an hour too long, and he looks about in a sketchy manner before whispering conspiratorially,
“I never saw you.” and taking off for the back of the train.
Hooray! No extra fare to pay for our somewhat lengthier-than-intended journey. It is in a mood of celebration that we pass the train ride to Helensburgh. And this time we intend to get off at the first Helensburgh-related station that presents itself.

I take an additional 257 photos of Sandra and her reflection in the train window.

We soon arrive at Helensburgh Upper for the second time that day, but this time we collect our things and hurry onto the platform. It turns out that the distance between Helensburgh Upper and Helensburgh Central is about a 1 kilometer walk down a huge hill. Apparently no train stops at both stations.
Good to know.

A bit of Indian food and a walk along the waterfront later we actually enter Helensburgh Central, a mere 10 hours behind schedule, and feel that our day has finally been made complete. More train-waiting photo-taking is inevitable, but we get through it with remarkable ease and aplomb and soon find ourselves lulled to sleep on the train back to Glasgow.

Hopefully we’ll wake up at the right stop.



An Epic Tale from the South of France

Posted on 2007.05.20 at 16:53
Current Location: La Couronne
Current Mood: adventurous
Current Music: Birds & waves

The Trip to France Experience begins at 2:13 am, when I am awoken by the insistent, repetitive thought: “Bathing Suit”. Finally admitting that I can no longer ignore it, I roll over, reach blindly into a dresser drawer, and pull out a bathing suit. I throw it on the floor. I roll over again, and go back to sleep.

 

I am next awoken at 3:30 am, this time by my alarm clock. I stumble around the house, packing last minute items (including a bathing suit) and trying not to fall asleep standing in the shower. Stuart arrives and we blearily leave for Prestwick Airport. It should be illegal to schedule flights so early. All I can think, when I’m awake enough to do so, is that the pilot can’t be in much better shape than I am, and I certainly wouldn’t trust me to fly a plane in this condition. The whole flight experience is, really, a bit of trial, thanks to my fear of waking up during landing thinking the plane is crashing (and screaming at the top of my lungs, which has been known to happen) and Stuart’s apparently habitual fear that he will one day wet himself whilst asleep on a plane.

Against all odds, the plane lands in France without any embarrassing accidents or nightmarish bouts of terror, and we are treated to a lovely view of the coast the airport is situated on. The French seem to care very little for their coastlines, judging by the amount of space this airport has been allowed to take up. We will soon realize that there is more than enough coastline to go around, however, as virtually all the parts of France where land meets sea seem to be made up of it. Astounding.

 

Within 60 seconds of leaving the airport we spot a man in a beret eating a huge, bakery-fresh baguette. We laugh so hard we nearly fall down. This country is already amazing.

 

Somewhere en route to La Couronne we realize that neither of us has thought to write down directions to the campground we are planning to stay at. Very shoddy trip planning, the trademark of most of my adventures. Fortunately we can recall that it is somewhere along the ample coast, so upon alighting from the train we just head towards the Mediterranean. If you are ever lost, I highly recommend this method of navigation as it found us a campground with a minimum of fuss. We are soon pitching our tent on a nice soft bed of old pine needles, a [longish] stone’s throw from the sea. Sadly the French, so thoughtful in positioning campgrounds in obvious places for the unprepared traveler, are found lacking when it comes to offers of help in pitching these same travelers’ tents. By the time we are done most of our pegs could double as bangles, so effectively have we bent, rather than driven, them into the rocky soil. We estimate that there is a 50/50 chance of our tent blowing clean away, so strong is the wind and so poorly have we pegged it. But I’m not fazed; I’ve always been a bit of a risk taker.

 

Now it’s time to get down to one of the most important aspects of our trip: French food and drink.

A walk into the village yields a lot of bread, wine, and cheese, which will make up our staple diet whilst in France. The various wines we try are always good, and each day we have one tastier than the day before. The amazing thing is that we never pay more than 3 euros for a bottle. Unfortunately we forget to bring an entire case home when we leave.

The cheeses are equally satisfying. We try a deliciously buttery brie, an aged cheddar, a soft cheese full of herbs and garlic, a sharp gouda, and many other varieties. My allergies protest briefly before giving up and lying low for a while.

Bread? Well, we all know how good French bread can be, but do we all know how good their croissants and pain au chocolat are!? My goodness. I thought Italy and Spain had a good thing going, but I was mistaken. We accidentally eat far too many of these tasty treats, finding it hard to stop when the world’s best pain au chocolat is a mere 35 cents.

My small one-man camping stove, purchased with an excess of excitement at MEC before I left Toronto, quickly becomes my new best friend. I love it so much, in fact, that I am seriously considering sending one to all of my other, non-stove friends. We cook entire complicated meals on it, never caring if it takes us half the day to prepare our supper of mashed potatoes and soup (which is, incidentally, probably the only meal we eat that contains neither bread nor cheese). The loveliest part is that we can carry it to our waterfront destinations, such as caves, beaches, and jagged rocky ledges. There we proceed to awe onlookers with our miniature culinary expertise. We are thinking of starting a TV show.

 

We aren’t very far into our trip when it becomes clear to me that leaving this coast will be very difficult. It’s not just the sun, the balmy temperatures, the breathtaking scenery, or the heart attack-inducing food. It’s something entirely unexpected... it seems we are camping right on the trail of the Camino de Santiago! Before I left Toronto, I was a mess of indecision, trying to work out whether I could walk the Camino for a second time while in Europe. In the end I decided that my trip to Glasgow wouldn’t be much of a trip to Glasgow if I was only there for 3 out of 8 weeks, so the Camino was ruled out. But here I am, unwittingly thrown into the path of a pilgrimage that I would dearly like to walk again, and I even have all the necessary equipment with me! It’s quite difficult not to keep walking along the coast towards Spain, what with the little red-and-white striped Camino symbol staring out at me from every rock, tree, and fencepost I pass. I have to actively suppress my natural instinct to just follow the symbols, an instinct bred in me during the long weeks I spent on the trail two years ago. I miss having my path in life marked out so clearly, I must admit.

Stuart takes to pegging my sleeping bag to the ground, thus preventing me from wandering off during the night. An extreme but necessary precaution that keeps me on track for our continued holiday in the south of France.

 

You would think that eight years of French class would have lodged at least a few helpful phrases into my English-speaking brain, but the longer I am in France the more confused I am getting. It seems that taking German lessons in grade 10 was my downfall. When Stuart and I are at the market, or in the bar trying to order a lemonade, I am displaying a startling and unfortunate tendency to construct sentences that are half French and half German. It takes me a moment to realize what I’ve done, after approaching an unwary Frenchman in the street to say “Bonjour! Wo ist la supermarche?” and then shouting a hearty “Danke shon!” in response. I am usually understood, as it seems to be just the connecting phrases that I Germanize, but it is embarrassing and ridiculous nonetheless. It gets worse, as most things do, under the influence of rather too much wine and whisky.

 

While at the “supermarche”, Stuart and I decide that we have become a little too Frenchified and need to get back to our Scottish roots by purchasing some whisky. Sadly, the French seem to have a fondness for Grant’s; in fact it is the only whisky we’ve seen, and it’s even advertised on mirrors and posters in misguided bars. Neither of us has ever tried Grant’s, and we are swayed by the knowledge that it’s made by the good people who have given us Glenfiddich.

It turns out to be a most regrettable purchase.

Gladly (well, possibly sadly, depending on your point of view) we have been made mellow by a nice rose wine with dinner, so that the Grant’s initially goes down quite well.

We’re lying on the cement ping-pong table we are accustomed to using as a kitchen, watching ants try to fit huge chunks of charitable brie down holes much too small. This is a surprisingly entertaining pastime, even without the benefit of alcohol, when one is as relaxed and lazy as one tends to be after a day in the Mediterranean sun. We have a game of poker planned as a way to spend the rest of the evening (when the ants cease to entertain us, that is), and all is looking good.

Things take a turn for the worse when the whisky starts to taste awful. I’m not sure how it gets worse as time goes on, but get worse it does, until we are forced to dilute it with 50% water. Somehow, just not drinking it at all doesn’t enter our heads. We are then in the dangerous position of drinking watered-down scotch (though it doesn’t deserve the name) that, while it doesn’t taste great, goes down too easily to reliably keep track of.

The next thing you know, Stuart and I are playing a rowdy game of poker in our cramped 2-man tent, spilling whisky all over our cards and sleeping bags and then giggling like children until we spill more. I know you’re thinking that this sounds bad enough, but you’re wrong. I’ve spent my day reading a novel called Buddha Da, a novel, as it happens, that is written entirely in Glaswegian dialect. When you combine this with my Canadian heritage and the fact that I’ve been speaking German-French in France, you get a real multicultural shindig going on in our whisky-soaked tent. Ah’ve started talkin like a mad auld hen, an’ ah’m no gonnae stop till ah’ve had a bit ae fresh air an mebbe a guid night’s sleep. We heid oot the tent, shooshin eachother an carryin on somethin awful. Stuart’s havin a right guid laugh at mah sorry attempts tae be Scottish, gigglin like a wee bairn what’s been given a new toy. We lay daun oot by th’ water an ah slowly recall ah’m no Scottish, tho Stuart says it isnae for lack o’ tryin. Ah think we lay oot their for two hours, whit aw we talk aboot ah couldnae say. Knackered as we are we’re right tae sleep soon as we climb intae oor sleepin bags.

 

Luckily for everyone involved, my poor Glaswegian accent abandons me overnight and I’m a quite normal French-German speaking Canadian again come morning.

 

Most of the remainder of our trip consists of more walking, eating, and sunbathing, although we do go in the sea a few times to spice things up. It’s bone-chillingly cold, and after nearly breaking our ankles trying to run out of the frigid water on the shifting stones that make up the sea bottom we abandon that particular beach. We’re lucky enough to find a nice sandy cove that makes swimming a much more enjoyable experience; all you have to do is brace yourself, run in, and wait until you go numb, and then you can enjoy hours of salty water fun.

After an exhausting day of numbly playing in the Mediterranean it’s nice to just sit for a few hours as the sun goes down, watching the myriad games of beach volleyball with eyes that are desperately trying to broadcast, in French, the message “I would really love to play if you guys are short a player! Come on, you know you need me”. Sadly the French are impervious to such messages. Defeated, we head back to our campsite, where we dejectedly pack up most of our things in preparation for another early morning flight. It’s a long night, made sleepless by the howling wind and drunken shouts of our neighbours. But everything is made better, despite our imminent departure, by the ingestion of delicious cafe au laits and croissants as we wait for the train.

 

Upon arrival at the airport, we fail to see any figure that is as perfect an ending as the beret-and-baguette man was a beginning to our trip (although what figure could that be, really? A hatless man regurgitating bread?). We are satisfied nonetheless. We use our last Euro change to purchase some newspapers and snacks for the flight, and then head on our sunburned way back to a dismal and rainy Glasgow. Stuart doesn’t wet himself and I don’t wake up screaming: our trip is a success.

 



epic tales from SPAIN!!! volume III, chapter III -- a briefish and primarily serious interlude, #1

Posted on 2005.10.01 at 00:24
Current Location: pamplona
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Current Music: birdsong and sunshine
i have decided to attempt a short(ish) “summary” of the deeper aspects of the camino, so as not to attempt to relive every moment with you as i endeavor to tell my story. some things about the pilgrimage, no matter how eloquent i may wax, will never translate to anyone who has not walked the camino, as i think all of my fellow pilgrims would agree. it is truly a unique and partially incommunicable experience (as all good ones are), and i would recommend that if ever you find yourself with 30 days and nothing to do, fly to spain and start walking. i mean it. and now, the “story”.

one of the first things that strikes me about the trail is the common goal. with only a single exception, everyone i meet has begun the camino in an attempt to find something: most commonly some type of spiritual enlightenment, release, or rejuvenation. even in any church or similar gathering i’ve ever attended, i had yet to find such an overwhelming sense of common purpose until i began my walk. for myriad reasons, these people hailing from the world over are gathered together to better themselves and their lives. some struggle to overcome the loss of a spouse or child, and some simply seek a chance to reset their lives in a radical way when all other options have been exhausted. my own purposes are multiple: to rekindle my relationship with an ever-less-heeded God, and generally to better realize the importance of relationships in my life at a time when my preoccupation with the music industry seems to be taking over. i hope to achieve these things with the help of lots of ‘free’ time with nothing better to do than think or pray, and with the company of a few like-minded people. imagine my shock as the camino progresses and i, with my slipping and backgrounded faith, continue to be the most ‘religious’ person i encounter on the trail. there are scores of people interested in all kinds of spirituality, but not a traditionalist in sight! fortunately, i would term myself more of a ‘spiritualist’ than a ‘religionist’ (which clearly isn’t a word), and thus get on very well with most of the pilgrims, as many of them have been scared off christianity (and christians!) long before. a strange group of people to be walking the road to santiago; i had assumed i would be primarily in the company of devout catholics. but this free-thinking, open-minded bunch of people constitutes the ideal setting for anyone trying to learn a little about themselves and the world around them. with everyone searching whole-heartedly for greater truths, there is no energy expended on masks or pretenses, and the people you meet are truly the people they seem. how entirely refreshing!

a mere 2 days of walking have passed before i have an inkling of the first lesson i will begin to learn. i have already met some folk i would normally try to spend as much time as possible with: fun-loving, accepting, joyful people who are out to get the most from life. but it is instantly entirely clear that there is a) no way to spend the desired amount of time with everyone, and b) no chance of staying in touch with even a third of the pilgrims i would like to seriously befriend. i have always been a devout keep-in-toucher, writing letters and emails and making phone calls in an attempt never to lose a connection made. sometimes i have wondered whether my constant yearning for more of everything and everyone is healthy, but as with most small thoughts that pass through one’s head in a busy day, i have never thought much further on the subject. but now it’s staring me in the face. in the course of a regular camino-day, i might meet anywhere from five to fifteen or even twenty new pilgrims. and with the molasses-like slowness of the days, every day a lifetime and every hour a year, even a few hours with any given person often results in my feeling that they somehow know me better (and vice versa) than even my closest friends and relatives. having decided to walk the trail primarily on my own, i am more likely to strike up friendships with people gathered in the kitchen of an evening than en route, but even people i’ve walked with for a little while end up tearing away pieces of my heart when i, or they, move ahead or drop behind. the first few days of this are excruciating – i try so hard to damp down my instinct to exchange contact details with everyone i encounter, and for the most part i succeed, but i miss them all so much already! it is clear from early on that anyone met on the trail might never be seen again, considering the different paces, habits and planned routes of us all. it’s terribly difficult for me to understand and really feel that i need to be grateful for even the shortest time with any of these people; instead of mourning their immediate loss and wishing things could be different, i struggle to appreciate the gift of their existence in my life for whatever period of time, and to be content with this. a valuable lesson to someone for whom nothing and no one is ever enough.


epic tales from SPAIN!!! volume III, chapter II

Posted on 2005.09.29 at 06:49
Current Mood: accomplished and sore
Current Music: whatever nature provides
in the misty pre-dawn half light i am walking, feeling shadowy and insubstantial as a ghost. despite having befriended many of my hostel room mates, i am still starting the pilgrimage on my own: it gives me time to think about what i’m doing and why, without the distraction of other people. even if they’re very nice other people. this will set the precedent for the first half of my camino. which, by the way, means “journey” in spanish, just in case i hadn’t explained that before.
the sun slowly rises as i march determinedly forward along a straight, even path through the forest. if this first hour is a sample of the terrain i’ll be faced with, i should be done walking within the week! but my hopes are soon dashed, as roncesvalles is, after all, in the pyrenees, and i do somehow have to get out of them. you would think that getting off of a mountain range would involve a lot of downhill tumbling, but instead what i am finding is that i have to climb, panting and sweating, up ridiculously steep hills before i get to slide clumsily down the other side. between the ups and downs i encounter all day, i logically should end up at about the same altitude as i started from.
during the first few hours of the first day, i am continuously passing and being passed by the same pilgrims. the language barriers and the repetitive nature of this ensure that soon i am chuckling merrily to myself every time i pass/am passed, because the greetings are always the same, and are unavoidable. it won’t be until much further along the trail that we are comfortable enough with our pilgrim-selves to studiously pretend not to notice when we see the same people passing by, and thus avoid awkward repetitive conversation. i don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. but this first day does stand out among the others in regards to seeing-the-same-people-all-day, because after a few days, everyone has settled in to their walking pace and generally you are only passed if you have stopped for a meal or something.
i labour exhaustedly up and down hills for the better part of the day. i am joined by a cat, jumping unexpectedly from a nearby wall to my backpack, for a little while and think that my dream of finding a kitten to walk the camino with has come true. but the cat soon realizes that all i have to offer (other than love, of course) are some dried apricots, crackers, and water. not exactly up the cat’s alley, it decides to abandon me for someone with better provisions. but i am not disheartened! for i soon hear the merry sounds of the new year advancing upon me...
but wait a second. it’s the end of september, and it’s the middle of the afternoon. is there a particular reason i seem to think that midnight on december 31st , with its pot-and-pan-banging, is bearing down on me with great speed???
SHEEP!!! yes, it is merely a large flock of sheep careening wildly down the mountainside, nearly running me over on their way past. i jump into a ditch at the side of the trail, only to find that i have become ensnared in a complicated manner in a bunch of thorn bushes – bushes which i will come to know and loathe during my trip. the sheep are safely below me, and i can continue, but first i am obliged to spend half an hour disentangling my skirt from the thorns. the skirt loses some of its “glorious-idea” status. but it still undeniably has its good points: much quicker and easier for roadside “rest stops”, much more comfortable, better looking, cooler (in both temperature and hipness), and let’s not forget the height-of-fashion aspect. so perhaps if i refrain from jumping into ditches, the skirt will prevail.
the day passes rather uneventfully. it’s hard to write much about walking, as it has a sort of sameness about it when you’re doing it for 8 – 10 hours per day.
i pass the town most people have said they’ll be stopping in, feeling the need to press on and finish where my guidebook says i should. my 3-liter water bladder is empty, but i am so tired and weak-in-the-knees i can’t even contemplate refilling it and having to carry it on my back. so i continue.
a few kilometers down the road i stop by a fountain for a rest, and give in and fill the bladder. i haul my pack onto my back once more, groaning under the weight of it, my legs shaky and unsteady as i try to keep walking. i don’t really know how much further i need to go, but i hope it’s not far as my legs clearly cannot hold me up much longer.
i crawl up and stumble down hills for another half hour. i am repeatedly forced to rely on the walking stick i purchased from an enterprising local man who sold me one in the middle of a forest, for fear of actually falling down a hill and injuring myself badly.
and then, in front of me: LARRASOANA! a wooden sign makes it clear that i have arrived at my destination. i want to sit down under the sign and cry, i am that tired. from what i’ve heard, most people do some kind of intensive training before beginning the camino. i had every intention of doing something similar, but time just seemed to run out on me, leaving me with muscles well-developed for biking through forests in brampton, but not so good for walking 30 kilometers of mountain terrain with a pack. my feet and legs feel like those really thin stems you’ll sometimes see on flowers, bending under the weight of a grossly oversized blossom. if “flop” were a feeling, well, that’s how i’m feeling.
i barely make it up the steps to the albergue check-in. they assign me a bed, stamp my credenciale, and sell me a bag of pasta with a can of tomato sauce because there isn’t a grocery store anywhere in the town. i proceed to feebly cook up the food and share it with a lovely australian girl i’ve met, who later convinces me to put on my sandals and go for a walk to the restaurant. this is when i discover the “pilgrim-stagger”: a walk involving legs permanently bent, with a lot of swinging of hips from side to side in an attempt to propel one’s legs forward without actually utilizing the muscles in the leg. this walk is most often seen between the hours of 7:30-8:30am, when pilgrims are just settling in for another day’s walk and their nerves have yet to go numb, or any time after 6:00pm, when the pilgrims have arrived and rested, only to change into different shoes and attempt a stroll through the city. by this time their muscles have seized up and their nerves have started functioning again, which means that walking is a terribly slow and painful experience.
we pilgrim-stagger to the restaraunt, where we chat with some other pilgrims until the talk turns to american politics, on which note we stagger back to the albergue.
it is at this point that my very first camino-“coincidence” occurs. i will soon cease thinking of them as coincidences, because they are so freakishly common on the trail that they become almost run-of-the-mill.
before i left for the camino, i had cheekily emailed the publishing company who print “the message”, which is a version of the bible in contemporary language, and asked them if they wanted to send me a pocket-sized copy. i explained that i had very little money, and that i was beginning a pilgrimage. they emailed me back and asked what colour i wanted and where could they send it to? i had been absolutely beside myself with glee at their generosity, and anxiously awaited the bible’s arrival at my flat in glasgow.
unfortunately, it failed to arrive in time.
so upon leaving for spain, i went into every bookshop i could find, prepared to part with some hard-earned cash if i could find a copy of the message. no luck! and that is how i came to be in larrasoaña without it...
or so i thought.
every albergue, especially at the beginning of the trail, provides a bookshelf or a table or something where pilgrims can leave books they now realize they should never have attempted to carry. and other pilgrims, if they so desire, are welcome to add to their load by taking on any of these abandoned books as their own.
as i walk past this ever-changing bookshelf on my way to bed, i suddenly spot it. right there, between a german romance novel and a dutch/spanish dictionary. the message! pocket sized!!! in ENGLISH, even!!! i can hardly believe it. nobody in europe appears to have ever heard of the message, never mind know where i can get a copy, and then suddenly here it is. mine for the taking, from a cluttered bookshelf in larrasoaña.
perhaps this is to reassure me of the rightness of what i’m doing, after yesterday’s disastrous communion-taking experience.
i consider myself reassured, and go gratefully to bed.


epic tales from SPAIN!!! volume III, chapter I.

Posted on 2005.09.28 at 07:49
Current Mood: excited-and-nervous
Current Music: the catholic church variety
there are exotic, spanish particles digging painfully into my forearms as i lie uncomfortably on this bench. unfortunately they are particles of filth, and are undeniably causing much of my discomfort, and so the “spanish” factor has lost most of its novelty.
but i am in pamplona, so even dirt and hard benches can’t quite kill the excitement. although it is 10:00 and there seems to be no chance of my procuring a bed for the night, the smallest recollection of ernest hemingway or james michener makes me feel astoundingly educated and literarily relevant. these are both things most people might argue i am not, but since there’s no one here to stop me from feeling i am, i have the last word. hah.
a family of ice cream eaters is slowly and inconspicuously moving away from me, from one bench to the next, and i am beginning to wonder what the public pamplonian opinion of street people is. can i reasonably spend the night on this bench, or am i likely to get arrested, mugged, tickled, doused, or otherwise bothered? i notice for the first time that the temperature has dropped considerably since i first lay down, and contemplate pulling out my sleeping bag. that would mean i was truly committed to spending the night outdoors...
hm.
i decide to take one last round of the city’s hostels – which were all full or closed when i previously checked – just to make sure there isn’t an empty bed for hire somewhere before i resign myself to sleeping on cold hard slats of wood.
there isn’t.
on my annoyed and somewhat scared way back to my bench for the night, i pass two nuns. i’m really not looking forward to spending the night in the middle of pamplona on a bench...
i pass TWO NUNS! if anyone outside the red light district will know where a bed can be had at 11:00 pm, i’d like to think that it might be a couple of nuns. isn’t that what convents and churches and stuff are for? weary bedless travelers?
i find myself chasing the nuns down the street, grabbing one of them by the habit to get her attention.
as it turns out they’re both peruvian and can’t speak a word of spanish, but neither can i so it’s not really an issue. i embarrassedly mime my way clear of language barriers, indicating the severe dearth of places to spend the night in this city. they grin at me, at one another, and at the world in general before they both grasp my arms and lead me away in silence. it would be an eerie silence, but the gleeful way they beamed upon realizing they could be of assistance has convinced me that they’re not out to harm an innocent (or relatively so) foreigner.

ten minutes later i am standing in a shocked stupor in the foyer of a large stone building. why a shocked stupor, you’d like to know? well, of all the unlikely things, the nuns have escorted me directly to the pamplonian pilgrim’s refuge, kindly run by the “friends of the camino” society i will come to know and love over the next 30 days. i’ve not even begun my pilgrimage, but am blessed enough to be staying, for a mere 3 euros, in the very refuge i will soon spend three days walking to. it is, perhaps, slightly insane to spend 5 euros on a bus ticket out of a city only to spend three days hiking eighty kilometers to return to it again, but sanity was never one of my strongest points. in which case i think i’ll just find myself a bunk, unroll my sleeping bag, and recline till morning.

*** insert unplanned day of pamplona-wandering here. this break is the reason you should, if you’re ever planning to walk the camino, be aware that the pamplona-roncesvalles bus only leaves once a day. in the EVENING. so don’t arrive at night and expect to be in roncesvalles the same day, as it won’t work out. ***

the wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, etc. etc.
all the way to roncesvalles. sitting on the bus with my fellow would-be pilgrims, passing the lucky folk on the side of the road who started a few days earlier, i long to be out of the bus and walking anywhere! now that i’m so close to beginning, the final 12 hours of waiting seem unbearable. as does the bus ride in general...
we are careening madly up the mountain, following the viciously swerving path back and forth on the kinds of turns that have misleadingly been christened ‘hairpin’. a ‘hairpin’ curve sounds like it should be an everyday, found-it-in-the-bottom-of-the-drawer sort of curve, but this is clearly not the case. these turns are so maniacally tight one begins to wonder if they aren’t some effort to appease the locals; a few busloads of pilgrims per year gone over the edge, and the villagers will let the survivors pass through safely. it’s not too far-fetched, really.
the terrifying minutes go by with unnecessary slowness, until i suddenly realize that i am nearly lying on the floor. in a subconscious effort to keep the towering bus’s center of gravity low, i have been quietly sliding down in my seat until i am almost entirely beneath it. it hasn’t helped. with every turn we are still coming far too close to tumbling off the mountain.
every village we pass through has me clutching my hands to my heart in hope, wishing and hoping and praying that this village with be the one where the death-defying bus ride stops, and where the pilgrimage begins. after going through about 12 such villages, just when my belief in roncesvalles is beginning to wane, we finally arrive! i tumble off the bus in a state of blessed relief, into a ‘village’ that seems to consist of an albergue, a hostel, 2 cathedrals and a restaurant. the group of us are greeted by a lady who apparently runs the place, who ushers us into some kind of office to fill out official documents and buy our credentials (somewhat like a passport; you get it stamped in the towns you walk through to prove you’ve been pilgrimaging). we are informed that the albergue is closed, so we are forced to spend a whopping 7 euros on a bed for the night in the hostel. arrrg.
she also lets us know that there is a ‘blessing of the pilgrims’ mass at 8:00, if we are interested in going along to be blessed before dinner. most of us decide to attend, as there is not much in the way of diversions, plus it seems like a very appropriate start to a pilgrimage.
i’ve never been to mass before...


the organ thunders madly in the darkened cathedral. the priests sing in beautifully ominous tones. the congregation, almost entirely unsuitably attired, seems for the most part to have no idea what to do. we stand up and sit down in ragged bunches, and there are camera flashes inappropriately going off every few seconds. dang tourists!
there is a lot of spanish speaking (though it sounds more like chanting) going on, which is hard to understand but sounds quite nice. i catch the word “peregrino” (“pilgrim”) every few minutes, and also a list of countries. soon we are grouped at the front of the cathedral while the priest blesses us – though for all i know he could be reciting shel sylverstein poems, then having a laugh after the service with the rest of the priests in the back room – and the singing continues. the lights fade to darkness, leaving only a small island of light to illuminate the statues at the front of the cathedral. standing there in the dark, with the waves of organ music crashing over my head and surrounded by a whole mass of like-minded people, i am overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. i am filled with excitement for the journey ahead; for the people i’ll meet, the places i’ll see, and the changes within me that are bound to occur. it’s times like these that i have trouble believing in the life i’m living – how many people are this fortunate? i can’t help but think i’m one of the blessed few.
we return to our pews for a while, and then communion is offered. i decide to go up and take it; despite not being particularly catholic, it is after all still what i believe, so it must be okay. i have watched as the priest blessed the wine and the wafers. i crane my neck in an attempt to observe the communion-taking style of the people in front of me, but there are too many of them and it’s too dim to see what’s really going on. it’s the kind of moment where i usually feel as though i’m about to embarrass myself by not inclining my head correctly, or otherwise omitting some vital part of the ceremony. but for once i’m feeling confident, not minding any slight mistakes i may make. the foreign air will do that to a person.
and so i approach the priest. i put my hand out for the wafer. i look around for the wine.

i look around for the wine... where’s the wine? i know i saw it being blessed. and i know i saw the priest drink some. where did it get to?
as i hesitate, the priest reaches out and viciously snatches the wafer from my hands.
“ARE YOU CATHOLIC!?!????” he screams at me, in spanish.
i make a slight affirmative whimpering noise, not knowing what else to do.
“MANGE! MANGE!!!” he yells, shoving the wafer back into my hands and rolling his eyes heavenward in a most disgusted fashion; he cannot believe my stupidity and lack of piety.
i cower. i eat the wafer. i cringe back to my pew and sit down, a little less sure of myself, and little less sure of things in general. surely this isn’t a good way to begin a pilgrimage?


epic tales from. . . brampton???

Posted on 2005.09.18 at 20:36
11:30 am sunlight packs a brighter punch than, say, the 7:00 variety. i groan in protest and twist around in my duvet, only to accidentally plant my face into the wall. that wakes me up a little more effectively. suddenly, despite my smarting face, i realize something.
i am not supposed to feel this good.

having struggled with what we finally assumed to be chronic fatigue for the past 8 months, i have really just not been myself. despite various cleanses, supplements and even taking copious ammounts of magnesium, up until yesterday, i was still feeling rather mediocre.
BUT! what´s this? i can get up out of bed feeling excited about the day???! granted, it´s 11:30, but still. there´s something unusual going on here. something unusually good.
i spring joyfully out of bed and sprint to the door. i open it, then dance and jump with vigour into the hallway. fortunately, everyone is at school or at work, and there´s no one around to watch me caper. so i find myself standing on tiptoe in the bathroom, turning pirouettes to the best of my ability, before i suddenly run out and dash down the stairs like the house is on fire. then i run back up them again. and back down. and back up, just to see if i can do it (i can).
WOOOOOOHOOOO!!!!!!! and also, YEEEEHAW!!!
this is what i´m talking about. feeling GOOD.
i cavort back up to my room and put on my favourite lucksmiths song, the better to dance wildly to. ahhh yes.

THREE DAYS LATER

well my tickets are booked. i had resigned myself to spending a reasonable, sensible autumn in brampton, working diligently to make some money to get myself back to scotland.
and yet...
once one starts to feel good, suddenly spirits soar, plans change, and tickets get booked.
mostly, tickets to glasgow, then to london, and then...to SPAIN.
to santander, to be precise. where i will board some buses and get myself to a little place in the pyrennes they called ´roncesvalles´(and it really is only ´they´ that call it that, seeing as i can´t pronounce it correctly to save my life), and begin an 800km pilgrimage to santiago de compostela.
WHAT? you say?
AREN´T YOU SICK? you say?
YOU´RE COMPLETELY, CERTIFIABLY INSANE!!! you say.

hm. well you´re probably right, at least on the ´certifiably insane´ front. but i figure, who can know better than i how i feel? likely noone. and how i feel is that i haven´t felt THIS good in a really, really long time -- maybe EVER. and so what better time to go on a pilgrimage?
as it turns out, i have been contemplating this particular trek (commonly known as the ´camino de santiago´, or the ´way to santiago´) ever since i read a very strange and slightly mind-bending book by shirley mcclaine (well, okay, so it´s the strangest book i´ve ever read...but it still had its strong points!).
there´s not really much to the idea... basically one simply walks anywhere from 20-35 km per day, spending the night in various refuges, or ´albergues´, until one finds oneself in santiago, where the remains of st. james were supposedly found. i don´t know what i think about that, but i DO think that this kind of a journey couldn´t be a bad idea, regardless of who´s buried, or entombed or whatever, at the end.
you see, glasgow has been almost too kind to me, and it seems that all i can think about these days is music, music, and more music. so perhaps it´s time to step outside of my regular life for a while, and try to remember some other important aspects of being.

sounds good to me.


epic tales from scotland! volume II, chapter IV

Posted on 2005.05.02 at 07:47
Current Mood: happily worn out
Current Music: mostly my own, these days
scotland has never seen such beautiful weather. after enduring 3 ½ weeks of solidly cold, gray, wettish-type treatment by the elements, we are finally being blessed with a reprieve! for two whole days now, the sun has been shining uncontested in matchless skies of blue, while the entire city runs about outdoors with reckless abandon. countless business people have been suddenly struck with mysterious illnesses rendering them unable to work, but there is no one for them to call in sick to because the receptionists, the other middlemen, and the big bosses alike all seem to be experiencing the same difficulties. i begin to understand that scotland’s typically shoddy weather is necessary for the economic survival of the country – the whole population has developed an intolerance for being indoors if the sun is shining, which makes work in good weather difficult.
i find that i have developed this same intolerance in a remarkably short time. thus i have spent the last two days lying in the soft park grass until it finally starts to get dark at about 9:00, and even a brief trip inside to prepare a meal (which will then be consumed in the park) feels like something to be ashamed of. i have finally worked out that scotland’s parks exist and are kept in good shape necessarily to accommodate the “indoor-guilt” that is experienced on a national level when the skies are blue. this country-wide phenomenon also renders it difficult to find a bare patch of grass on which to park your sun-drowsied self, unless you are especially susceptible to the guilt and get yourself to the hills as the sun goes up. it is truly a wonderful sight: thousands of glaswegians converging on the green spots of the city, to lunch happily together and befriend total strangers simply because they all have the good weather in common. i’ve never seen people so affected by weather before...but after spending the winter here i can quite easily understand it.

and so it is in the midst of all this glorious sun-revelry that i find myself looking for a place to sit. it’s not yet noon, and a brief spell of rain during the night has resulted in the grass being a less-than-desirable resting place, at least for the moment. i suddenly recall that one of my very favourite things to do in this world is to sit in trees, and decide that i will attempt to make this dream a reality.
kelvingrove park is enormous, and is conveniently placed in the middle of the city so that you can work in a cross-park trip on your way to almost anywhere. generally following the route of the kelvin river, it also spans many valleys and hills. mostly hills, though. it is on some of the very steepest hills that i decide to scout my tree, because much as i love to sit in trees, i am still not terribly adept at getting myself into them, and like to avoid if at all possible giving people the opportunity to watch me make a fool of myself. i guess correctly that these upper regions of the park will be more sparsely populated, and i soon spot a dandy tree. conveniently growing out of a very steep hillside, the tree appears easy to swing oneself into, if one will merely takes advantage of the sharply banking hill for leverage. i scan the surrounding hills for any signs of human life and, finding none, begin my ascent. just as i am hanging awkwardly off the side of the trunk, searching desperately for a higher handhold, i spot from the corner of my eye the figure of an elderly gentleman rounding a corner. i concentrate on my tree. i look back a few seconds later, and discover – much to my chagrin – that there are about 47 additional elderly gentlefolk accompanying the first man, plus a walking-stick-bearing tour guide. oh dear. they all cluster into a group disconcertingly close to the foot of my tree, and don’t even bother with a pretense of looking anywhere else. the tour guide gives up on the park’s history in mid-sentence, meanwhile i try to come to grips with the startling fact that i have become the center of this group’s attention without letting myself fall, in disgrace, to the ground. i eventually haul myself up into the tree, sparking an outburst of applause from the watching tourists. i wave regally from my seat. they continue on their way.

a few hours later, after i have conversed from on high with everyone who walks by – people in glasgow aren’t able to pass something ‘unusual’ with talking about it – i suddenly find myself under, or rather over, the intense scrutiny of some passing rangers. they don’t look terribly happy about finding me in their tree. they are surprisingly kind and sensible about the whole thing, not even asking me to get down from the tree right away. they explain that while i may not be doing the tree any harm, if the kids (read: neds) see me they will start getting ideas and the next thing you know the trees will be all carved up with john’s declarations of love for jane. i agree that this would not be a desirable outcome, and the rangers thank me for my understanding and continue on their way. i am quite impressed with their civility, as my last experience on the wrong side of ranger law led me to believe they were all power-crazed lunatics. this is clearly not the case. i take advantage of their one-time leniency by finishing my sandwich in a leisurely manner, and then realize that my posterior is rather sore and decide to get down. this is easier thought than done. when i climbed up into the tree, i also tossed up my jacket and my rather heavy bag, which can’t really be tossed down again for fear of things getting muddy and/or broken. i devise a strategy of waiting for someone to come by so i can enlist their help. the first people i see are a group of architecture students from leeds, and i fail to realize that they haven’t seen me. i hail them loudly, causing the fellow nearest to my tree to fall to his knees in the mud and gaze in a terrified manner towards the sky. i call to him again, “over here!” and he quickly gets back to his feet after discovering that he isn’t being called by some higher power in the clouds. he smiles quite shame-facedly while his cohorts laugh hysterically at him. i ask him gently, so as not to startle him further, if he would mind catching my jacket and my bag while i try to get myself out of the tree. he readily agrees, and then proceeds to stand around waiting for me to get down. this was not part of the plan, this having five decently-attractive young men watch me slide gracelessly from my tree, no it certainly was not. but it seems that i have no choice, so i begin my awkward descent. the boys make it all the more difficult for me by yelling contradictory advice about the best place to step next, and eventually i just throw myself out of the tree, feeling that i am quite certain to hit the ground. i am correct in my assumptions: the mud is quite solid – in a smooshy sort of way – under me. a laughing circle of leedsmen surrounds me as i pick myself up and try in vain to get the mud from my trousers. they hand me back my belongings, and we stand around for a while just shooting the good old breeze. eventually our topics of conversation (trees, and girls in them) are exhausted, so we bid one another farewell and i head off towards my flat, holding my jacket strategically over my muddied backside.

on my way home i begin to pass the strategically-located cafe, ‘offshore’. i have just recently discovered that the lovely folk at this cafe offer free wireless internet to any laptop owner willing to buy at least one item per hour. i have become one of the most willing laptop owners they’ve ever seen. the only problem, really, is my relative lack of funding. it is due to all of this that i am amassing a huge collection of still-full coke cans – cans of coke are by far the cheapest thing on offer, so it seems a good call to buy them instead of other things, even though i won’t actually touch them myself. perhaps i can sell them back to other people, outside the cafe. i’ve tried sitting sneakily outside the cafe, sneaking onto their wireless network – unfortunately it’s too nice of a day today for that, because their patio is actually being used and people would notice. not that they care, really, and most of the staff are actually my friends... ah well. i will continue to pay for my internet privileges, and build a drawer for my homeless cutlery with the coke cans. that would be useful.

all too soon the beautiful day is drawing to a close, which means that it’s time for me to head out! it’s a monday, so i have no choice – the ever-alert aspiring musician within me will not let me relax at home while there is a perfectly good open mic night occurring in the neighbourhood. i sling my guitar over my shoulder and try to look like i have some energy as i walk the 25 minutes over to nice ‘n sleazy’s. i am surprisingly and uncharacteristically early, and end up with the opportunity to play two songs as compensation for having to play one of them while the bar isn’t yet full to bursting. i am glad of this opportunity, as it ensures that i stay later in the night to await my other turn, which allows the following to take place: just after i finish my second number a rather good looking, blonde-bearded young fellow takes the stage and announces that he is still looking for acts to play at ‘songs vs. bombs’, a charity gig taking place in two days’ time. i snag him by the trousers as he passes my seat on the floor, and soon we are arranging my next booking in furtive whispers – trying desperately to avoid being embarrassingly ‘shush-ed’ by jerry, the ever-vigilant host who is every open-mic night performer’s dream. we manage to hammer out the arrangements without disturbing the peace, and the young man (tim? tom? arnold? i can’t quite recall...) disappears into the dark corners of the pub.
wednesday night rolls around quick as quick can be, and after an evening spent working out harmonies for one of my most pretentiously-titled songs (‘eager hearts: your day must come soon’) with a certain guitarist/singer/harmonica player extraordinaire known as stevie jackson, i am once again on my way to sleazy’s for a night’s worth of musical involvement. i arrive just after 10:00, like i promised i would, and the gent who’s name i can’t recall welcomes me graciously. we chat for a bit about nothing much (he’s in a band called dead fly buchowski. who would’ve thought?) and then he informs me that i’ll be on after the next act. the ‘next act’ turns out to be a moderately talented guitarist/violinist duo, who start strong but are flagging noticeably by the time our nameless friend practically has to drag them off the stage, so addicted to the glow of the spotlight are they. by the time they reluctantly step down, the bar has filled up a little more, although being a charity gig and actually having an entrance fee ensures that sleazy’s isn’t nearly as full as it would be on your typical monday night. ah, those notoriously cheap glaswegians!!!
i unpack my guitar and take the stage, gratefully leaving behind the dubious company of two drunken, middle-aged men who felt compelled to sit with me. as i go through my set of about 7 songs, the venue fills up noticeably, which is rather encouraging. i finish feeling as though i’ve played one of my best gigs in ages, and judging from the enthusiastic applause the audience just might agree. no-name-man jumps up on stage after me and thanks all of the musicians before bidding everyone a good night, meanwhile i return my guitar to its case and begin to head for the door to start the walk home. however, i am accosted by people from all sides. i speak with a canadian girl and her boyfriend (huge fans of the weakerthans cover i played), a group of 12 design students from ayrshire or somewhere who buy 6 cds between them, a small cluster of appreciative performers left over from earlier in the evening, and eventually, inevitably, the two drunken fellows from ‘my’ table. the more talkative of the two insists that i sit down for a moment, even though i’m all bundled up in coat and mittens and stress the fact that i have to get home sometime tonight. he won’t leave me alone, so i agree to go back to the table where i perch temporarily on the edge of a chair. he grasps my mittened hand and gazes at me with alcohol-bedewed eyes.
“you were fantastic. bloody MARVELOUS. you know, you actually know how to...how to, how to play a GUITAR!” he sputters enthusedly. i thank him and try to get up.
“no, no, REALLY now. i mean it. the guitar! you! can play! it!” he says again, and again, i thank him without letting my amusement show and pull my hand free.
“i really need to get going.” i say, with an air of disappointment, as though all i really want in the world is to hang about with him and his drunken companion for the rest of the night.
“wait, wait – ally, dontcha think so?? it was...her... ehhmmm, you know – the guitar playing! simply unlike the other guys. because she could PLAY, you know, the... the, GUITAR!!!” i start laughing openly, as i realize that he’s probably too far gone to understand what i’m laughing at, or he wouldn’t have been repeating himself so ridiculously in the first place. i stand up to take my leave, and he feels the need to totter along behind me as i head for the door.
“you know, lassie, i think what you... what you, you DO that puts you above those other guys... it’s the way you, you PLAY that guitar, you can PLAY it...” as i disappear through the doors i can still hear him delivering his inarticulate soliloquy about guitar playing to anyone who will listen. which is likely nobody.
i walk, smiling to myself, through the relatively clean and entirely un-govan-like streets to my flat; i think of all the encouraging and kind (if slightly repetitive) things that have been said to me in the past few hours, and i get the feeling that it has been a successful evening indeed.


epic tales from scotland! volume II, chapter III

Posted on 2005.04.29 at 10:01
Current Mood: accomplished
Current Music: the delgados
a casual stroll down otago street in the late afternoon of march 29th, 2005, reveals that a flat is available ‘to let’. a little bit of background on otago street, for those of you who have never travelled to scotland.
otago street is located in what is known as the “west end” of glasgow, the part of the city in which the universities make their homes, thus of necessity also the part of the city with all the kickin’ good times of a university town. otago street is a mostly residential street, with many lanes to either side where one can find antique book shops, retro clothing shops, tea houses, and many other places of interest. on one end of otago street we find great western road, which offers many coffee shops, convenience stores, grocery stores, and, most importantly: roots and fruits. a spectacular source of all things organic, vegan, and generally HEALTHY, roots and fruits is open at all the most convenient times and offers almost anything you could ever want to eat (if you were allergic to most things and had weird dietary necessities). at the other end of otago street we discover an entrance to kelvingrove park, a startlingly large and perpetually green park through which one can walk to gain access to nearly any area of glasgow that one might wish to go. kelvingrove park also offers a nice array of winding paths, surrounded by attractive scenery, for any glaswegians with a hankering for a nice jog without fear of getting mugged by govan youths. in short, i think we can agree that otago street and the surrounding area would be a nice place to raise a family. or not, depending on what you want to do. but let’s get back to the story.

marisa and i have just spent a few hours wandering aimlessly through the west end, hoping against hope that some small bookshop or antique store will want to hire me. thanks to my perpetual struggle with fatigue, i am quite keen to find a laid-back, stress-free environment in which to earn a little bit of cash. it does not seem to be happening. but i don’t fret for long, because i am soon distracted by the “to let” sign propped in the window of the tenement building that is #57 otago street. i should be forwarned by the fact that “to let” is only one letter away from “toilet”, but i stupidly head back to marisa’s flat to use her phone and immediately call the number on the sign. without asking any questions, such as “what’s the rent?” or “how many bedrooms?”, i arrange a viewing for the very same evening, and eventually return to govan feeling what i can only describe as “a very good feeling” about all of this.
a few short hours later, kat and i have said the words that will eventually get us moved in to a new flat, all our own: “we’ll take it”. the flat itself is much, MUCH bigger than our flat on shaw street (but then, most people’s bathrooms are much MUCH bigger than our flat on shaw street), consisting of a largish entryway, two very good-sized rooms, a hallway wide enough to fit a dining table, a bathroom that HAS A TUB!!!, and a kitchen with a lot more counter space than i’ve ‘encountered’ (teehee) since leaving canada. there are also two huge storage closets, which is a rarity in this space-starved country. the rent is insanely good, especially considering the area and the size of the flat, and so it is only natural that we agree to take it after only a very small number of minutes spent looking around. we are soon to be the proud inhabitants of a simply terrific flat in the west end, a GROUND FLOOR flat, and we will also be taking control of the garden. ahhh. life is indeed good.
i run hurriedly down the street; i was supposed to meet the landlord 5 minutes ago to give him our deposit and secure the flat. fortunately he is still there (i am, upon reflection, not all THAT late), so we complete our brief transaction and he hands me the keys. this supremely kind man, mr. khan, has just given me the keys to the flat on march 30th, despite the fact that we won’t actually be paying rent till the 1st of may. he seems to actually be sensible – imagine that! – and has conceded that since he has no use for the empty flat between now and the 1st of may, we might as well move in whenever we want. hooray!!! oh glasgow, so full of kind people, what more could we ever ask for?!
i promptly contact my ex-coworker, a certain stuart blaney, who is one of my few car-owning glaswegian friends. he is quite keen on bringing me round to the hire shop so i can pick up a carpet cleaner, which i would otherwise be absolutely helpless to do. and so i find myself pushing a noisy, heavy machine around the new flat, which seems to smell a bit funnier than i remember it doing when we viewed it the first time. ach well, no matter. i get on with cleaning.
i shortly discover that aside from the cheap carpeting all through the hall and in the bedrooms, the KITCHEN and the BATHROOM are carpeted!!! how could i have failed to notice such a disgusting detail!?!?! no wonder the flat smells funny. oh dear, what have we gotten ourselves into? with a characteristic lightning-quick change of heart, i find myself suddenly despairing about the new flat which i have just handed over 300 pounds to secure.
i have begun cleaning the carpet in the kitchen when i accidentally roll back a piece where the carpet hasn’t been properly joined. that is when i discover that under the cheap and dirty carpet, there is a cheap and even dirtier layer of linoleum, followed by the original probably-not-quite-as-cheap stone floor that is the dirtiest of all. it would appear that the former tenants of this flat decided to heave a bucket of finely chopped garbage onto the linoleum before laying the carpet down; perhaps as a form of insulation. it must’ve sounded like a good idea at the time, but it has certainly started to smell and makes me want to vomit everywhere to at least add a personal touch to the mess. instead, i stalwartly finish cleaning the carpet, and manage to do the same in the bathroom even after having a peek at the rotting wood floor beneath the two layers of mould-infested carpeting.
why oh why, glasgow, must you decieve us so?! what have we ever done to deserve this disgusting mess of a flat!!!??! and WHAT ON EARTH ARE WE GOING TO DO NOW!!!??!!!??!!!
i eventually head back to govan, where i spend the night trying to convey to kat the true horror of our situation. we call our mums, as is customary upon accidentally getting ourselves into a stupid situation, and they convince us that while yes, we are rather stupid, the flat can likely be saved with a bit of elbow-grease and some cash. two things that i don’t have much of these days... but i resolve to do my best.

the next week finds us tearing out the carpets in the bathroom and kitchen, scraping out the all of the sealant and grout from the tiles around the tub, and generally just wiping the whole place down with a heavy-on-the-bleach mixture of bleach and water. it’s starting to smell better (i never thought i’d enjoy the smell of bleach, but i promise you that there are a lot of things that smell worse), and we are starting to smell worse thanks to nonstop days of scrubbing and sanding and scraping. i start out cursing whatever inept person installed the tiles before i came round to try to fix them, but after 6 hours of grappling with sealant that has been mislabelled “grout” (i don’t know the difference! how could i!?) i revoke anything less than nice i ever said about people who couldn’t grout tiles to save their lives. all i know is that i am likely far worse at it than anyone who’s ever made the attempt... and i’m also ready to throw myself out the window. fortunately it’s a ground-floor flat, so i only end up bouncing off the mattress which we’ve tossed out in the garden to await furniture-collection day, none the worse for my brush with defenestration. i proceed to have a good, old-fashioned jump on said mattress, much to the amusement of passersby, and soon i am feeling a little bit better and ready to go inside to tackle some other thankless task.
later on i discover my mistake with the grout, thanks to patient parents who don’t even laugh too hard at my ridiculousness, and so the tiles get grouted without further fuss. the bathroom floor is eventually sanded and painted in stunning stripes of mustard yellow and burnt orange, with trim and accents of deep red. it mayn’t be to some people’s taste, but hey!, at least we know it’s clean. the walls are a crisp white, thanks to kat’s painting efforts, and the kitchen floor has been laid with a total of 11 pounds’ worth of sticky-backed fake wood tiles. it looks very class, i assure you. we have cleaned out the fridge, the oven, the windows, and most of the walls, and thanks to the incessant burning of beeswax candles and incense, the flat is even starting to smell a little better. we go back to our flat in govan at the end of the week with a sound feeling of accomplishment, ready for a really good night’s rest before we start packing up and get on with the move. as we round the corner to our door, discussing just how glad we will be to leave govan behind us for good, a soccer ball suddenly comes flying at us from a group of neds across the street and i am WHACKED in the face!!! i am absolutely speechless with surprise as we turn around to give them slightly dirty looks before realizing that they are scary govan youths who outnumber us 15-to-2 – then we turn tail and run as fast as we can to our door. my face remains tender and puffy, a very real reminder of why govan isn’t the nicest place to reside. but also kind of an amusing reminder of what can happen to you when you least expect it......
later on, as we lay in our bunkbeds for the last time, kat and i begin to discuss the arrangement of furniture in our new flat. perhaps it’s the paint fumes, or maybe it’s just over-tiredness, but after 2 hours of incoherent chatter we are helpless with laughter at the thought of a couch residing atop a wardrobe, and a small alcove which – in our minds – is able to fit all of the furniture we don’t know what to do with, including two mattresses, a coffee table, and a wall entertainment unit. it’s a mirth-filled last night in the old flat, and i’m happy to have one last set of cheerful memories involving room-sharing (nestled in with all the not-as-cheerful memories of the same) before moving on to bigger and better things. like separate rooms. yippee!!!

morning comes, and finds kat and i dessembling our bunk bed and eating pastries from the bakery downstairs for the final time. very likely a good thing. most of our possessions are stuffed into gigantic cardboard boxes, happily labelled by me, as i’ve discovered i rather like to label things. a few stray items are gathered up (towels, shampoo, a stray pot lid that got left in the cupboard the first time round) and then we are ready to go. our new friend jim, who is a very distant friend of a friend 6 times removed, has agreed to come by with his panel van to help us move for a mere 40 pounds. and, two hours later, we are indeed moved. oh happy day!
we spend the remaining hours of our first day properly in the new flat painstakingly rearranging furniture, washing newspaper smears off of our dishes, and trying to find a place for the cutlery. in the midst of all the renovating, i somehow managed to miss the fact that there is NOT A SINGLE DRAWER in the entire kitchen!!! how is that even possible!??! the crazy thing is that you would never, when viewing a flat, wander through the kitchen thinking to yourself “well now, are there any drawers in here?” because it is completely UNHEARD OF not to have a drawer – at least one! – in a kitchen. but apparently it could happen to anyone who isn’t properly on their guard, and so here i am, left with a drawerless kitchen and a bowl full of forks.
we manage to finish all our unpacking before it gets too ridiculously late, and soon i am lying in my half of the bunkbed, gazing contentedly at the glow of streetlights seeping through my curtains. i listen carefully: there are no dogs barking, no children swearing in incomprehensible dialects at one another, and no strains of karaoke drifting from the nearest pub. kat isn’t snuffling in her sleep (or maybe she is, but i certainly can’t hear her), and even just the THOUGHT of the organic food shop nearby makes me happier while i relax in my bed. i think that otago street is going to be very good to us... and glasgow, i’m sorry about all those mean things i said about you. i really do love it here, i promise.


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