Saturday, March 13, 2010

Scotland's Charms

Well, I should be in India right now, right? So then why has my great blog resurrection yielded my first posting from a cozy pub in the northern coast of Scotland? Well, you have my good friend, Rowan, to blame for this. Alternative pedagogy and cutie kiddies will have to wait. For now, just charming coastal towns, old world charm, and sweet, sweet cask ales. Not too shabby.

I studied with Rowan at the University of Washington during my Hindi days and, brilliant and impressive as she is, has taken a fabulous three year research fellowship at the University of Aberdeen. I have really wanted to see Rowan for a while, so I used a screening of my documentary film as an excuse for a two week romp around the British Isles. The attendance for today's screening was modest, and thankfully so, due to so major technical malfunctions. By the end of the screening, that modest crowd was watching the film from my laptop. BUT, the crowd was pretty into the film providing some interesting Q & A.

But, like I said the real reason for coming was to spend some quality time with Rowan and her brilliant and sassy 5th daughter, Avery, who has been showing me around the forest by their apartment giving me a rigorous werewolf training. She is ridiculously adorable; outside the eye of her mother, she will flip into her Scottish accent which she uses with schoolfriends. Despite only being here for about 7 months, her accent is near flawless. Super cute.

First observation about the UK: It is OLD. When I see a building from the late 18th century in America I about faint. Here that's nothing. Take for example, Rowan's apartment, it is a converted army barrack built 150 years ago, pocked by Nazi blitzkriegs during World War II. (other things that makes Rowan's place ridiculous: it is directly adjacent to a immaculate golf course that hosted the Women's British Open a couple weeks back AND is about a ten minute walk to the sandy North Sea beaches). Rowan's office is in a tenth century building over looking the first campus building, a beautiful 6th century church. In fact, wandering around the narrow, cobbled paths of University of Aberdeen feels like being transporting back to a 10th century town. Ridiculous.

Second Observation: Scotland is overwhelming charming, the kind of charming that makes you want to suspend all of your ambitions, purchase a cottage out in the country and live out the rest of your life herding sheep and eating pub lunches. Overly romantic? Perhaps, but you try driving through the pastoral land budding up to breathtaking craggy cliffs, strewn with cobbled cottages and the ruins of 14th century castles. See what that will do to you!

Rowan has been the most gracious host, finishing up her work early to show me around. Yesterday we went to Stonehaven, a quant, coastal town a short walk from Dunnottar, a gorgeous abandoned castle. The stroll was perfect: we snaked along the coastal wheatfields, crisp blue skies and brilliant sun shining down upon the farmers work and the endless North Sea. The Dunnotar fort stood atop of a prominent peninsula, sides battered into interesting and beautiful cliffs from years of abuse for the sea. Unfortunately, the castle was closed, so we snuck around the back side to see if we would be able to breach the high walls like the Jacobbites had done a couple hundreds of years ago. We found a vulnerable spot, scaling a quite sketchy face, but as we climbed higher, the fall became more dramatic. But the more dramatic the climb became, the more broken beer bottles we found. Eventually we decided that we would leave the contemporary invasions to young, fearless, and drunken Scots. No need for an ER visit at the beginning of my trip. Instead we decided to catch up on the beautiful stony beaches that lay below.

After our walk, we decided to head to the pub for a fish supper and a pint. It is probably a good thing that I don't live in Scotland for I would spend all of my time in pub: 12 beers on tap, 8 on cask, darkly lit with cozy fire place, gregarious, portly barkeeps who bring out your meals revealing their 'chip stealing tendencies.' Perfect. Oh, another very important observation. Fish and chips in America are a sham. In the UK, you get a whole fillet of white fish, deep fried perfection; the forearm sized piece of fish can barely fit on the dish. Needless to say, after devouring my plate, as well as a couple pints of delicious cask beer, I was in dire need of a nap.

Observation 3: British food isn't that shabby! I had definite preconceptions of bland British food, but am finding the local cuisine quite tasty. Rowan has been an amazing navigator, cooking us delicious meals nightly. Favourites thus far include steak pie and toads in a hole (worshire pudding with haggis and blood pudding sausages (!)).

Sipping my pint here in the pub right now, it's dawned on me that it is going to be ridiculously hard to leave Scotland, definitely my favourite spot that I have been outside of India. Excited to explore a bit more before heading down to London.

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