Saturday, December 29, 2012

Grandfather's Cousin's Son's Daughter

The Òran Mór in Glasgow's West End, former church and current event space; wedding music; Mhairi and John Wilson; the cheese "cake"; kilts!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Chan eil mi 'tuigsinn

A particularly Scottish flavour of potato chips, and if they hadn't been seasoned with wheat flour I really would have bought some; Bud Neill's comic character Lobey Dosser astride Elfie The Two-Legged Horse (he looks like an almond but those are supposed to be whiskers); painting for sale in a shop down the street, but the reason why anyone would pay $677 for a portrait of Gollum in his youth allowing a garden gnome to suck his thumb truly escapes me; a restroom entirely certain of its sexual identity here in the youth hostel. And yet I still don't understand.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Getting Lost in Glasgow

I'm staying in the Glasgow Youth Hostel at the top of a hill overlooking Kelvingrove Park, in one of a long curved terraced row of tall-ceilinged homes with ornate carvings and old worn wooden staircases. Although it's been carved up into dozens of separate bunk-bed-filled rooms, there are still remnants of its former beauty. There's also a nice upstairs/downstairs feel as the dining area is tucked away underneath the stairs, on the other side of the kitchens. I opted for the continental breakfast this morning, but tomorrow I'm going to go down to a little restaurant in the park, the An Clachan Cafe, to get a more substantial meal. I'd found the name on a suggestion of where to find gluten-free options in Glasgow, and was pleased to find the restaurant itself just down the stairs from the hostel.

The rain held off for the day, but it was still chilly, and I was glad for my Farquharson plaid scarf. After I checked to see when the cafe opens tomorrow morning, I turned around and spotted an intriguing-looking tower towards the west. "What's that?" I wondered. "Oooh, let's go find out!" I replied. Yes, I talk to myself when I'm traveling and there's no one else to talk to, my precious. I like the freedom to wander wherever my fancy takes me without bothering with anyone else's wishes, but I miss sharing things with companions.

Turns out that the tower belongs to the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, a part of a large complex of buildings that make up the University of Glasgow. It's closed for the holidays, but will reopen on the 3rd, and they have three interesting exhibits going right now: on the Antonine Wall, a Roman relic; on the Runciman brothers, 18th-century Scottish artists; and on the history of medicine in Glasgow, including information on the first X-rays. And probably a lot more to look at as well. Definitely on my to-do list next week.

Another interesting building that I'll have to look into later.

I have a map of Glasgow, so I never really got lost per se, but I did end up getting turned around several times and retracing my steps. I needed to go to the bus station to pick up my tickets for my trip to Edinburgh on Monday, and I thought I'd stop in at any place that seemed to have inexpensive boots on sale, but other than that I had no real agenda. I did find a shoe store, but didn't feel like spending time trying any on. I seem to have found a way to lace my hiking shoes so that the left one doesn't bang my big toe any more, and there's no snow in the forecast for this week, so I might postpone that purchase again. I found a used book store and got a silly book for meals and bus rides, and I enjoyed looking around at the stores and buildings and people, listening to English conversations that I barely understood. I never have to spell my last name out to people here.

I lost track of time while I was roaming the streets, but my now-non-queasy stomach was telling me that it was definitely getting to be time to eat. Yesterday was not fun, stomach-wise, and required a purchase of anti-nausea medication at the airport before I left Paris (and even then things were iffy). After my bland bowl of rice last night, which I didn't even finish, I went to bed immediately, at about 6pm. I'd bought a t-shirt to sleep in - they were getting rid of the 2012 versions of the "Glasgow Youth Hostel" shirts for half price - and the guy at the front desk kindly gave me a towel, so I tottered up the stairs and spent about half an hour trying to get my bed in order. Took me ages to get the cover on the duvet, and I had to lie down and catch my breath halfway through. I curled up under the covers and put the towel over my face and drifted in and out of sleep as the other women came in to the room; luckily only five of us in all, and no one took the bunk above my bed, so there was minimal noise. A young woman named Meng was there when I arrived, hunched gloomily over her iPhone. She said that she'd come to Glasgow to see what a big city was like over Christmas but didn't realize that all of the public buildings would be closed. She left for England this morning, but as she didn't seem to want to talk much, I didn't find out where she was going, and if this was a side trip in a year abroad, or a seriously disappointing trip all the way from China. Travel karma was not the greatest yesterday here in the Glasgow Youth Hostel.

However, I woke up this morning feeling much better, and found out from a posting on Facebook by my roommate Seb that I actually got off rather lightly. He and his father and brother-in-law, all of whom shared in la grande bouffe over Christmas, spent a significant amount of time yesterday becoming more closely acquainted with their toilet facilities. I consider myself lucky.

I'd looked up several restaurants where gluten-free food might be available, and one that caught my eye is The Ubiquitous Chip. I'd forgotten to take the address with me, so just kept an eye out for it as I walked around the main part of downtown Glasgow, but when I didn't see it, I asked the clerks at the used book store for directions. They pointed me back towards the Charing Cross area, which was headed back towards the hostel, but when I got there I still didn't see the restaurant. I went into an organic food store (on my mental list of places to go back to, if I need more gluten-free supplies) and the clerk there knew where the restaurant was - on the other side of the hill and park, off Byres Road. Fortunately I was near a subway stop, and could get a ride there, with only a little more back-and-forthing trying to find the hidden alley where the restaurant is.

In a nice bit of cross-cultural journeying, I spent an hour or two eating gluten-free fish and chips (a tender lemon sole) in a Scottish restaurant while reading a book in French which was originally written in English by and about a Japanese woman (Geisha: A Life, the inspiration for Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha). The fish was very tasty, the chips hot and salty, the cider smooth and refreshing, and the ambiance interesting, a sort of cross between a barn and a New York City bistro. There are window-width aquariums along one side of the upstairs seating area hosting a handful of bored fish, and the rooms filled with louder and louder people as the hour got later. Two women at the table in front of me were having an intense discussion over a bottle of wine, an old man with a limp and a cane had a cup of coffee after walking over to another table and borrowing a newspaper from a younger guy who was just finishing his cup, and the number of customers going between the bar and the toilets eventually formed a near-continuous parade down the middle of the room.

I stopped at a Tesco's near the subway station and picked up some supplies for breakfasts and late light dinners: gluten-free Nairn's oatcakes and digestive biscuits, nut-and-fruit bars, vanilla soy pudding, and even gluten-free crumpets that I can toast and spread with jam and honey the next time I get the continental breakfast here.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Living in a Fairy Tale

That's what I thought when I got to the top of the hill and saw this château, a 10th-century castle overlooking the Loire here in the city of Saumur. It's the first one that really made me look around for noble knights on high-stepping horses, or women in jewels and silk with a retinue of maids carrying baskets of flowers. But all I saw were a few other sightseeers and locals out for a walk yesterday afternoon, moving through the ghosts of centuries across the gravel and over the drawbridge to the new vineyards planted on the side of the hill. The city owns the property and manages the tours of the château, which is currently closed for the winter. They've also gotten the first harvest out of the vines, but Sebastien's father wasn't sure how they were going to market the wine. Seb and I came down here through many other vineyards yesterday, along the banks of the Cher and Loire and Vienne rivers. It hasn't been raining a lot in the valley, but up where the Loire has its beginning in the Massif Central there must have been quite a bit, along with melting snow, because the waters are running high and muddy. Seb said that near the town of Chinon, half of the village of Cravant-les-Côteaux was underwater when he tried to make a delivery there this week. He thinks it's going to be a bad year for floods.

We drove through the village of Montsoreau, where half of the houses are built right into the cliffs, and passed the estate of Domaine Filiatreau, where the entire winery is apparently underground. If we hadn't had a box of oysters in the back of the car I would have asked to stop at every picturesque overlook and town along the way. Next summer, provided I find a way to stay here, I'd like to do day trips out of Tours to some of these places, many of which are accessible by bicycle along the bike path that runs for 700 miles or so from near the source of the Loire down to the coast at Nantes.

Seb's parents, Henri and Armelle, live in a house that Armelle's parents had built here in Saumur, which they bought after her parents died. It's a square house that's three stories tall, not including the basement/garage area, with a big yard out back full of fruit trees (and dog poop, on the dogs' side of the yard), a tiny toilet just off the kitchen, which seems to be how residences are designed here, and a narrow spiraling wooden staircase up to the top floors. Armelle has made sure that I can eat everything except the cheese, and they laid in a stock of soy yoghurt for my breakfasts and desserts and soy milk for coffee; she's avoiding butter and using oil on the roast meats, and using coconut cream instead of crème fraîche for the chestnut purée we'll have on toast tonight with the traditional roast turkey, and I brought enough gluten-free bread for the few days we'll be here. The next time I come, Armelle says, she'll make me her famous couscous using the brown-rice variety I found. She's an excellent cook.

After lunch, Seb took a nap and I took advantage of the clear skies to see some of the town, not being sure what the weather would be like today (about the same in fact). They were having an antiques/junk fair in the center of town, and also had some Christmas games set up for the kids, including a snow-free luge ride that was very popular, and an inflatable castle decorated with Disney characters (with writing in Chinese characters) in which several dozen of them were jumping around. I looked for a booth selling hot wine, wanting to compare the local version to that of Tours, but didn't find one, or anyone selling roasted chestnuts. So I walked down to the river instead.

The château is easy to see from the river, and there are helpful signs pointing the way as well, and I walked without really worry about my direction for a while, looking at the local architecture and peering in shop windows and watching the people around me. Since it's late in the season and the château is closed, there weren't a lot of other people headed in that direction, and I had an unimpeded view of the château as I came up through a small park to the top of the hill. The château itself is on the edge of the bluff overlooking the river, but there's a large flat area behind where there are other buildings, and what probably used to be stables, with a well in the the middle of the courtyard. A crumbling wall with arrow slits looks out over the edge of the park, looking every decade of its ten centuries, and a deep moat now contains walking paths and a segment of a local road.

I get into a daily-life routine here in France, and it seems so normal to be speaking French and taking the bus into town for my physical therapy and chatting with the neighbors every Friday afternoon as we wait to get our eggs and chicken from Le Colombier's delivery van. And then I suddenly realize that I am living in France in the culmination of a dream and the beginning of a grand plan for the future, and feel like I have to be careful to not accidentally wake myself up. Of course then there are the other times when I'm corrected in my French pronunciation by a five-year-old and I realize that not only am I here, but I also have a lot of work to do. "Demandes un ruban à ta grand-mère," I said. "Un quoi?" he asked. "Un ruban." "Non, c'est RRRYU-ban." "C'est ce que j'ai dit, un ruban." "Non, RRRYU-ban." "RRU-ban." "RRRRRYUU-BAN!"

Even with all that, I'm very very happy to be here. And tomorrow after an oyster feast I'll go back to Tours and pack for my trip to Scotland, which also makes me very happy. My life is amazing.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Mon Beau Sapin

Mon beau sapin, roi des forêts
Que j'aime ta verdure
Quand par l'hiver, bois et guérets
Sont dépouillés de leurs attraits
Mon beau sapin, roi des forêts
Tu gardes ta parure

Toi que Noël planta chez nous
Au saint-anniversaire
Joli sapin, comme ils sont doux
Et tes bonbons et tes joujoux
Toi que Noël planta chez nous
Tout brillant de lumière

Mon beau sapin, tes verts sommets
Et leur fidèle ombrage
De la foi qui ne ment jamais
De la constance et de la paix
Mon beau sapin, tes verts sommets
M'offrent la douce image

Photo taken at Three Ring Farm, December 2006.