Thursday, January 4, 2007

The Best Small Country in the World

Days One and Two

The plane has this nifty graphic display that shows where you start out and where you are going, as well as the distance and latitude and stuff.

It looks sort of like this …if I was going to Bangkok. But you get the picture.

I slept for about three hours. My seatmate was a snorer. I had a nice down throw, as the last time that I had flown I had been freezing. I woke up to find that my nice down throw had shed a million little white feathers onto my black tracksuit. I looked like I was molting. Attempts to pluck off the feathers were not successful. After walking up and down the aisles to ward off a DVT, I sat down and looked out the window.

The sun was just rising and I could see that we were still over the ocean. As I watched, I saw the first bit of land. I asked the flight attendant if that was Ireland, and she said that she was in a plane thousands of feet above the earth, and how would she know? I was a bit taken aback. She said, rather grudgingly, that she would ask the pilot if I really wanted to know, clearly implying that this would be a big imposition. I told her that was not necessary. I managed to brush my teeth and make myself as presentable as possible. I am tired, but not buzzy with it.The land was very green, even at that height. It looked divots from a golf course – velvety and a soft, bright color. It is such an alien color to my Southern California Desert eyes. Edinburgh is on the Firth of Forth, which means that you fly over the water and come in at an angle. We are about forty minutes early. We land and I am welcomed to Scotland.

I get through customs with little difficulty – you have to fill out a landing card that says where you will be staying. I had to say where I was staying and for how long, and how I knew my hostess and for how long I had known her. I just said that we met through a mutual friend (Thanks, GC!).

As I wait to be collected, I people-watch. And listen. When I had thought of coming to the UK, this is what I knew I would do. I knew I would just close my eyes and listen for a little while. The accents are different. I cannot understand some people, which is funny. The airport is surprisingly small. I like the sign over the Chapel near the front door, “Prayers and Questions”. I am glad to know that I can get both taken care of in the same place. It seems efficient.

Rowan comes through the airport, looking for me. I recognize her from her picture. She looks anxious until she sees me, but then we are laughing and hugging each other. We have spoken on the phone a lot, and I know her voice, but it is funny to hear it coming out of a person. We sneak side-long looks at each other. Pierre (Rowan’s stepdad) has kindly offered to take us back to Dundee, which is about an hour away. I have two suitcases and only one fits in the boot. I am slightly embarrassed. The cars are tiny, even though Pierre's car is probably considered a sedan.

Pierre takes a scenic route through the countryside. It is green, green, green. It becomes rural very quickly, and we go through small town after small town in rapid succession. I see fields of what looks like alien plants and find that they are brussels sprouts. The houses are mainly of stone, squarish, with steeply pitched roofs and brightly painted doors. The cars are small and zippy. I keep flinching, because we are on the wrong side of the road and it seems like people are coming to us head-on. A couple of times, I can’t stop myself from gasping in fear. I have to apologize. My thought of renting a car is fading rapidly, as I see the speed and aggression of the drivers. They are like LA drivers in little teeny cars – they make up in bravado what they lack in size. But isn’t that always the case?

We pass through St. Andrews, which is where one or more of the Royal Princes went to school. As a good Scot, Rowan is unimpressed with the royal student and makes mildly disparaging statements about him. The buildings date back to 1410 and the streets are narrow and cobbled off of the main road. I hope that we are able to come back for a closer look.

We stop at Dobbie’s, a local garden center, for lunch. I am surprisingly alert, considering the fact that I have very little sleep in the last three days. The café is full, but we find a nice place to sit. When I order a cup of coffee, the coffee-girl looks at me uncomprehendingly. I repeat my order and she still does not understand my accent. I tell Rowan that I am trying to order coffee with cream and she orders a white coffee for me. We carry our lunch (baked potato for her, soup for me) to our table and chat. The area is filled with older people -- Pierre says that it must be a pensioners day. After getting a stern lecture on the care and feeding of African Violets (in a somewhat hard to understand accent), we drive to Rowan's house.

We drive onto a quiet street with tin-roofed houses. They are small and square, many with red doors. Rowan has a disabled son, and has had to make a number of accommodations to keep her home safe for him. She humorously refers to her home as a locked ward, and that is pretty true. Good thing that I am used to keeping track of whether doors are locked and managing keys. I get to meet Rowan's mom and her daughter. Her mom has a stronger accent -- it is more lilting than Rowan's. Her daughter is about four, and her Scots-toddler accent is charming. I am immediately offered a cup of tea, which I accept. I am asked if I want the milk put in first, and smiling inwardly, I say sure. As if I would even know the difference.

We are planning to head off to London in the morning, so I have to sort through my stuff and consolidate for a three-day stay. Rowan has lost a lot of weight recently and has not had time to do more than shop for some pants that fit. She finds that some of the clothes that she bought are still too big. To complicate matters, I told her that we are doing one fun thing in London that might mean a bit of a dress-up.

After trying on clothes and getting packed, Rowan is knackered. This is the state to which she is reduced after trying on one too many shirts.

We spend a difficult night, because children know when their mothers might have fun without them and Rowan's kids alarms have gone off. No one ended up with very much sleep at all. My sleep total for the past four days is a whopping 12 hours. I am getting a little loopy. Tomorrow -- London, baybee, London!

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