Tuesday, November 18, 2008

If there is a special Hell for writers it would be in the forced contemplation of their own works. - John Dos Passos

And I suppose revising could be included in the 'forced contemplation'. I am sick, sick, sick of the book I just finished. At the same time, I love it. I suppose it's like a rerun of The Office or Friends that I've seen a dozen times but will still sit through because something inside won't let me turn it off. But it's gone now, off somewhere in Manhattan's Upper East Side. Now we wait, and I continue the next book, which has been simmering long enough that it's boiling over. This is a good thing.

We spent the last two weekends in Edinburgh attending a birthday party, the Scotland-New Zealand rugby match (better score than last year) and laughing to the point of exhaustion with old friends. It was great to get away, even better to get to a real city again, and made me miss having friends so very much. I wonder if some sort of shared past is essential to friendships past the age of 28 or so. It's been difficult meeting people here, understandably as so many people my age are transient, but also because Inverness is lacking in the cultural scene and places where I tend to meet like-minded souls. I am lucky to have two fabulous sofas to crash on in Edinburgh to get my future fixes.

The past couple of weekends have also reminded me that I do live in a foreign country. I often lose sight of this because of our shared language - it's far easier to feel an outsider in a place where nothing makes sense until you learn the language. British culture shares more similarities to American culture than most other European nations, but Scottish culture is distinct. Walking along the Royal Mile on Sunday, my friend Joseph and I passed shops peddling tartan everything and blaring electronic bagpipe music, and pubs with placards claiming the 'best haggis and clapshot', and clothing shops offering (cheaply made) kilts for £100 - all cliches, and for good reason. So I tried to think of more obscure parts of Scottish culture.

• Techno music. Even if I pop to the post office for ten minutes, I'll hear at least a few cars blaring speedy techno. The drivers don't move to the beat; they just stare straight ahead.
Irn Bru. Everybody drinks this stuff. The security guard at the consulate, the woman in Prada on the train, the teenagers with pierced cheeks. It's neon orange, and the flavor resembles Hubba Bubba bubble gum.
• Chips and Cheese. Basically a styrofoam sandwich case of thick french fries topped with shredded, semi-melted orange cheese. I mistakenly thought this treat was limited to late-night drunken munchies, but have seen numerous folk walking down the street in daylight shamelessly tucking in to this concoction in Lerwick, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness (which means it's pretty ubiquitous).
• Scantily clad lassies. It doesn't matter how cold/windy/rainy it is, the girls will wear as little as they possibly can. This rule, while somewhat relaxed during the daytime, is in full force once the sun goes down. The boobs are out, the legs are out, the toes are squeezed into stiletto sandals and the makeup is thick. (Weight, height and other seemingly relevant body issues are dismissed.)
• Pay-as-you-use hair straighteners in public bathrooms. Perhaps this phenomenon has hit America, but it's still weird.
• Chat. If you happen to catch the eye of the right person at the right time, they'll talk your ear off. Recent conversations have included a ten-minute diatribe on the merits of Highland winds from a traffic warden in Inverness, a six-minute discussion of her Christmas plans from a woman at an Edinburgh post office and fifteen minutes of why Glasgow is the best place to live in the world from a lovely chap at the Apple store. I love this trait, and love that people do it wherever you are in Scotland.

It's the end of an era. My new passport took three days. I took the info to Edinburgh last Thursday and received it today. Obviously, the election of the Great Obama has already made the State Department more efficient. (That's a joke, Kevin.) It's the tackiest passport I've ever seen; muted color drawings of Mt. Rushmore, the Liberty Bell, a farmer ploughing his fields with cattle, cowboys, a steam train, a totem pole, and a satellite in outer space, among other things. Every two pages has a quote about freedom, the founding of America, etc. And a few pages at the beginning with some words of wisdom. My favorite: #6, page 6: "Avoid violating foreign laws." Um, thanks for that.
I still have to travel with the old one for another 18 months, as it's got my UK visa inside. They were nice and didn't mess up the pages, only the front and back covers. I love my old passport - there's one blank page left even after getting extra pages put in. Stamps clutter every page. It's tangible proof of so many memories, and of the days when borders existed in the EU. Perhaps more poignantly, of the person I've become since making Europe a part of my story.


Erik R. said...

Brilliant post. I can't wait for the eventual posting of an Amazon link to get this book.

That "scantily clad lassies" tradition is Britain-wide. It reminds me of the bizarre ostentatious displays some birds* do in the wild to attract mates. I have a Spanish friend living in England who used to criticize these scantily clad lassies, but she's since broken up with her long-term boyfriend and now she's dressing all slutty too. Funny.

*winged creatures, not British slang for women. In birdland, it's usually the males doing idiotic displays.

Susan Elena said...

Would love to deny your Scottish-isms but I just can't! Every time I hear Cascada blaring from some souped up Peugeot I want to stop them and introduce them to real techno. Their loss.

sgazzetti said...

The "pay-as-you-use hair straightener" is news to me. I can't even quite picture how it might work...

The "scantily clad lassies" bit obtains here as well. A fair proportion of the students at the school bear a striking resemblance to Amsterdam working girls. And it is cold.

And I can relate to your passport nostalgia. I started a new one a few years ago and also had to carry the old one for a while, as it contained my five-year EU visa, and it too needed to have extra pages stapled in because in some corners of the EU the stamping mania lived on; for some reason the Germans insisted on not only stamping it when I flew in from or out to Italy, but stamping it twice every time, so when I was doing the Slovenia-Italy-Germany-Poland R/T commute it filled up fast. But it was fat and full of stamps from countries I'm unlikely to return to, and it was so travel-worn that the eagle was barely visible and it had a certain cachet and the new one is thin, flimsy, sterile, and practically stamp-less.

I just realized I wrote about this very thing here.