Gail Walter

Shall I say what I mean?
MARCH 22, 2012 1:39PM

Tartan Troubles

Rate: 6 Flag
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?  

Author tags:

edinburgh, scotland, travel

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All that and no picture? In the end I was compelled to search for it and, upon viewing, understand completely as to your leaving that image out. Oh well, they can't all be 'Black Watch' now can they? On an upnote you may want to check out your clan badge which, when overlayed on a more muted version of the tartan is quite spectacular in it's own right and something to display with pride and honor.
But, if I'm not mistaken, the Scots gave the world the game of golf.
Well told with the Gail W wit and wile. Enjoyed very much. Sorry about the tartan.
Brad~I did think of putting the picture up but didn't want to encourage a clan controversy. Preferred to leave it as a personal taste thing. You're right about the clan badge, blessedly free of unwanted colors it is far more dignified.
Sarah~ this is true and my dad, for one, is forever grateful. I wonder if my tartan designer had something to do with golfing fashions though, that seems altogether possible.
Rita~Thanks for enjoying and kind of you to apologize for the tartan.
Love the photos - and the wry rest of it. I'm Scottish complicated with other stuff, as well. I wouldn't feel too badly about the tartan - the connections are fairly nebulous if you read the history of tartans - the categorizing and claiming of tartan patterns didn't really happen until the 1800s, and even then was sketchy and, in some cases, lack-a-daisical at best. Most of the tartans sold as this or that aren't claimed by clan chiefs. There's a lot of marketing gimmick woven through tartan lore. I'd pick a tartan that speaks to you, rather than one that (only supposedly, given most clan/sept, etc. history) speaks of you. I wish I could encapsulate the hilarious riff on haggis, Scots and Rabbie Burns my brother did after his return from Scotland - I feel sure you'd appreciate it.
Thank goodness they didn't make you taste the Haggis. They...didn't, did they?
They tried to but they couldn't. Remember I have the safety valve; that colorful part of my genes that isn't the slightest bit Scottish, that fancies a good curry, some duck confit. And not haggis. No, not haggis. My husband tried it and it was hostile in our relationship for awhile but, y'know, one deals with much and buries the rest.
Much wisdom in that last.