Posted by: jt | April 14, 2008

obstreperous girl

Initially I just intended to post a photo with a quirky caption, but this bit of writing brings back happy memories for me. Originally written as a mass email – one that spawned numerous “you should have a blog” or “you should write more” comments – this is from my 2006 trip to Europe. For three glorious weeks I lost myself in that continent; the last week, spent in Scotland. In November. I’m just a tich masochistic like that…

Glasgow greeted me with exactly the kind of cold, spitting rain I had hoped for. There was no warm, fuzzy Welcome to Scotland. This was my eagerly anticipated, You’re in Scotland. Fuck off. And I giggled with glee.

Perhaps I should explain.

For most people, I believe Scotland conjures images of ancient highlands, rushing waterfalls, mist-covered villages and sheep-dotted hillsides. After a week in this country, I can affirm – that picture is well-deserved, but my lure to Scotland came from a grittier place. What this may say about my character is debatable, but my Scotland was born of the heroin-streaked nightmares of Irvine Welsh, the working-class violence and alcoholism of Craig Ferguson, the driving tension of Franz Ferdinand and the desolation of Belle and Sebastian.

And I couldn’t wait to get here.

I was looking for a country steeped in loss and defeat. A proud nation held in check by, of all people, the English. Scots are tough. They’ve descended from people who managed to carve out a living without central heating in environment brutal enough to make an 8-year Minnesota veteran layer on three sweaters and a jacket. And it’s not really winter yet.

Seriously. Tony Blair wouldn’t last a day. This kind of strength of character can’t take well to forced subservience to posh London glitz, and it doesn’t. Scots answer to Edinburgh, not London (if laws are passed in parliament in London they don’t officially take effect in Scotland until they’ve been read aloud at the Mercat Cross, Edinburgh’s historic center). They speak differently, act differently and truly are a different nation. A defeated nation.

Growing up in the Deep South with an infinitely political mind (I really can’t help it), you notice a few things about defeated nations that have been forced to remain part of a political state – particularly as a “Yankee” outsider who would never, ever, EVER belong. And honestly didn’t want to belong. The physical boundaries of the two places might be subtle, but the psychological ones are clear. There’s an edge of bitterness that comes with the shame of defeat and a feeling of inferiority that manifests as defiance. State’s rights may be bullshit words to northerners who learned that the Civil War was fought over slavery, but they’re serious business in a culture still determined to prove its relevance and independence.

Accents offer easy evidence for the ongoing inferiority complexes of defeated nations. For no apparent reason, Southern accents are viewed as lesser in the U.S., by north and south alike. Speak with a pronounced Southern accent and you must be intellectually inferior. Educated southerners tend to temper their accents, whether consciously or subconsciously. Northerners have no need to alter their speech, regardless of how caricatured they appear (just think Boston). And though I believe Bill Clinton had once sufficiently disproven the myth of stupidity (though less so of late), the stigma on Southern accents remains.

In Scotland too, speech patterns and flabbergasting pronunciations (I just gave up on understanding the bus driver…and missed my stop.) take a backseat to the posh English accents. This, of course, has nothing to do with intellect, but rather the norms of the victor being held in higher esteem.

I began and ended my time in Scotland in Glasgow – a city I need to come back to. It lacks the architectural charms of Edinburgh and the historical prominence of Stirling, but there’s a palpable edge to the city that draws me in. It’s one that traces superficially to the country’s pop culture and endemically…to somewhere I’m yet to ascertain. Edinburgh may get the glory, but the pulse of Scotland seems to be in Glasgow. The heart of the country, of course, is in the Highlands, of which Scots are rightfully, tremendously proud.

I listened to the Scots this time around and cut my time in Glasgow short. I have no regrets about, hiking mystical trails on the Isle of Skye, but Glasgow needs a bit more of my time in the future.

Possibly my favorite souvenir of all time, this coaster sits on my desk at work. Easily covered if “company” is around, it’s a snarky reminder of that week, which never fails to bring a smile to my face.

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Responses

  1. I love the example sentences on the besom coaster. :)

    And yay for finally publishing this! I remember nudging you to blog after you sent it.

  2. :-) I was thinking of doing a Scotland series, or a series from that whole trip and now I’ve fucked it up by starting at the end. :-) Ah, well. Perhaps it’ll just have to be out of order. There’s stuff that started to write but never sent as well…can’t believe it’s been a year and a half!

    I first saw the “besom” paraphernailia in Edinburgh but it was all mugs and there was no way I was going to try to schlep mugs around in my backpack without breaking them. Then I found the coasters and mousepads on Skye and practically did a little dance in the shop. :-)

    [sigh] Must travel soon. Perhaps San Francisco in a couple of weeks will help…but I need a vacation. A real VACATION. :-P


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