Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Edinburgh, 31.7.01: Bidet Battles and Highlanders

Another clear and pretty morning, though the forecast on t.v. last night said the weather will become unsettled today and rainy the next two days, especially in the Highlands, where we’re headed.

Thinking about the Highlanders: I read somewhere that, if you want to find people who see themselves as Scots in a fierce way, you go to the Borders, where Scottish people accentuate their difference from England.

The Highlanders, according to this book, are not so. Their English is less accented, in the stage Scottish way, than that of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow.

That makes me wonder: is part of the explanation that the Celtic people retain another outlook on life that’s difficult to understand or appreciate in the modern context? True, they remember voraciously, and refuse to forget. True, when stirred to battle, they fight with a vengeance.

But they’re also known for their open-handed hospitality, even to the foe. Despite what the English have done to them, the Irish take the English in, along with a plethora of other races and nationalities. They have a genius for cultural absorption, John Ryan says, a genius the English lack.

I wonder about the spiritual roots of that genius. In everyday life, the Irish forgive freely (despite their penchant for holding incredible grudges). Their everyday discourse is full of little sayings to let the offending party off the hook: Ah, well, he does have that little fondness for the drink; ah, well, the poor darlin’s not herself today.

A different outlook on life, a non-modern one: forgive, because you and yourself may end up in the same boat one day. It’s as if Celtic people have retained the ability to see something of a hidden spiritual order we modern folk don’t see. We calculate according to an empirical calculus.

Perhaps they calculate, too, but using a spiritual calculus: forgive, because in the spiritual world, what goes ‘round comes ‘round. You yourself will need forgiveness one day, and every act of unforgiveneness now diminishes your ability to prepare for your time of trial.

The evening light in Edinburgh: we’ve just driven from Tolcross to Stockbridge, where we’re staying, past the National Portrait Gallery—gorgeous light, the sinking sun hitting the turrets of the Gallery, bringing the brown stone to rosy flame. It’s only twilight now, almost 10 P.M. Weather remained clear, fair, beautiful all day, and the evening is cool.

In this northerly clime, far fewer flowers than in Ireland, which, also northerly, is made temperate by the Gulf Stream. I do see buddleias, though not in such profusion as in Ireland. And the hedge (Ligustrum vulgare) is in bloom, making the parks sweet. In Ireland on the coastal roads in Co. Waterford, the wax-leaf ligustrum was in bloom, yielding a heavy fragrance to the air.

Odiferous things are fewer here than in more tropical climates, but seem to have an uncommon sweetness—i.e., those that are sweet. In Lennoxlove House, huge bouquets of lilies from a wedding in the house, with a gorgeous fragrance. I noticed the same in Ireland.

One almost never smells cooking on the streets in Scotland and Ireland. The occasional waft of old grease around a chip shop, but otherwise, nothing. New Orleans by contrast…. It’s partly climate, of course, and then there’s the garlic used nowhere in Scotland or Ireland.

Day spent shopping in St. Stephen’s St., NW Circus, Prince St. Then drove to South Leith church to pick up papers from John A. Pastor was there, a nice-seeming young man. How typical of the church structures to send a young man to this grungy urban parish, and to give him a female assistant pastor and female elders (well, the latter not appointed by the church). Like novice pastors, women are always assigned to what are considered grunt-work parishes. Tea again there, jangling my nerves, since we’d just had tea at Jeffers Dept. Store, and tea and coffee for breakfast a few hours earlier.

Then more shopping….

Bill’s Bidet Battle: the b and b in Haddington had a bidet. No one has ever taught me how to use one. (Is this a skill taught anywhere?) Whenever I see one, I’m fatally fascinated. I want to try it, but feel it’s a slightly naughty thing to do, so I try it shamefully, doors locked, ready to jump at any sound.

I sat on this one several times, contorting my body to twist knobs behind me, trying to regulate the hot-cold (and always shocking myself with a jolt of cold water or scalding myself with hot), and fearing that the stream of water would go flying out of the bidet.

I finally decided one’s meant to sit on the contraption “backwards”—i.e., facing the knobs. Did so, got the water regulated, and found the stream didn’t even go out of the toilet. I bideted myself with total enjoyment.

Next day, another try at it. Alas, I was over-confident. In the first place, with my pants around my ankles, I couldn’t face “backwards,” so I faced front. Jiggled, turned, and to my horror, got myself scalded in a part too delicate to describe.

Off I leapt, followed by a jet of scalding water that drenched the wall, a decorative towel hanging on it, and the carpet around the infernal machine. I’m no nearer to deciphering the mysteries of bidet than I was a week ago.

Sea-birds swirling and crying as I write. I saw them inland in Dumfries, too. No place in Scotland is far from the sea, and the birds remind one of that constantly.

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