I am Scottish, and some other more complicated things. But I am, on one side, one side of my father’s side, quite simply, Scottish. That means, my proud mom of the more complicated, colourful history, told me, I have my own clan, my own kilt and my own tartan. Not my very own, you understand, but one shared with my wild haired clansmen scattered and diluted across all four corners of the earth like myself.
Now, too many decades later, I am finally visiting the land of my forefathers. They have been waiting a very long time.
I have one day and one night in Edinburgh before starting our drive tour of the Highlands. As we arrive at the Balmoral Hotel I resolve to evolve, let go of the reins a bit, and let our dear old friends, now living in Edinburgh, choose our dinner spot. This is a mistake.
It is the kind of night that summons ancient memories like peat smoke; of chilly drafts in gothic castles, granite grey and slick with rain. Perhaps it’s the gothic weather in this gothic city that makes them choose a gothic themed bar. An impossibly seedy, Vegas style version of a Scottish pub complete with garish goth plaster figures leering like displaced pirates from every wall. The music is the sound a nightmare would make if it were an instrument, the volume cranked really high, and the place completely empty and smelling of very old beer.
The food is exactly what you’d expect to find in such a place; badly battered fish with violated chips. The only high point is when I drop something precious under the table and need to spend some time there, looking for it. It is mercifully quiet under there in the dirty dark. I can briefly shed my ‘fun, fun, fun’, deer in the headlights look, for something more genuine and morose.
Under the table
So this is to be my single memory of food and the night in Edinburgh. It seems impossibly unfair. I seriously consider staying under the table and sulking. Once again I am bowled over by the misplaced tolerance of my very dear companions. We should run from there screaming.
Now it is morning and I have cast off the grizzly remnants of the night before for a dawn filled with the surprise of a call to prayer floating across the slate rooftops, over the Leith, singing to the Scottish sunrise. I am in love with this ancient city, so full of its past, that sings so audaciously to an unimagined future.
Today I will find my clan, or at least, today I will find my tartan. I will hunt it down, buy it and bring it home victorious for my offspring to revel in the fabric of their wild and woolly history. I must hie me to the castle surrounds to seek that very cloth.
It is not hard to spot the tartan shops, down the rain slick cobbled streets with the castle looming behind me as well as the sharp, cold wind. I slip in slick and wet myself, warmed by the bright colors.
Gibson, Gibson, Gibson? I never thought it had a music to it but at least it had a clan. I find it, at least I think that's it and I am relieved. It's more prepossessing in person -- face to face. No, it's not. That's not it. It's the other one. Oh. What can I say? That I'm surprised we ever made any art with such a history of bad taste? That I know what clan, what tartan I want, and it's not the one I have. That I have to force myself to buy the tartan, tiny little pieces, no substantial wooly scarf. No point. Lime green, baby blue, altogether too much yellow. With all due respect, who'd want to wear it now?