Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Men in Plaid

The first few weeks of this road trip now two months duration, my mind was swimming with everything that was different. Then the rhythm of the road took over.  Change has become routine,  and my daily task is to redefine "normal."
On Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island, bilingual road signs are "normal." And why not Gaelic? After all, Nova Scotia in Latin means New Scotland.  King James VI of Scotland gave New Scotland to Sir William Alexander in 1621. This was confusing to me, since the island had already been claimed by both England and France before James made his gift.  Then I learned that at the time of his bequest, the Scottish king had also succeeded to the thrown of England and become English King James I.

The French were the first to colonize Nova Scotia beginning in 1605.  (This makes it normal to have tourist brochures and informational videos in French as well as English.) The Scots, despite the wishes of James VI,  did not populate Nova Scotia until the next century, after the failed Jacobite revolution, when they sought political and religious asylum. More immigrants arrived after 1759, Highland farmers who had been forced off their rented land to make way for sheep grazing by the British.
I'm glad the Scots came, because this week it has been normal to listen to some Celtic fiddlin'.  My first Celtic fiddler owned a whale watching boat along the Cabot Trail.  He fiddled at the dock, and when we found whales, he fiddled again.   He fiddled up two Pilot whale pods with 'tweens and babies, sociably cruising the cove.
My next Celtic event was a ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee).  In Antigonish, the Highland Games kickoff weekend featured a church luncheon with highland dancing, fiddlin' and square dancing.  St. Joseph's Social Action Committee prepared a fine tea of finger sandwiches, biscuits with jam, and unfamiliar deserts, including a pot of whipped cream with Irish oatmeal.  Lady pipers greeted the party-goers on arrival and young girls River Danced on the makeshift stage of the parish hall.  Then Michael Hall, locally renowned Celtic fiddler, took the stage with a heavily rosined bow.  The early crowd was predominantly ladies,  tapping their feet and nodding in time. Then the hall filled. Everyone was moving to the music, fingers, shoulders, heads and feet keeping a rhythm that was hypnotic.
As the fiddler warmed up, the crowd warmed up too, and soon a group of eight was square dancing.  This was no dosey-doe kind of square dance.  No, that would not be normal in Antigonish.  Their steps were Irish jig, a highlander step.  One couple took the lead, and a complete set included four sequences. I think I could have done it.  My mind said I could have.  It felt normal, a Scottish version of a Czech wedding dance.  Or maybe it is the MacIntosh name somewhere in my mother's family tree.

Over the summer, normal has come to include foot long lupines and naturalizing daylilies blooming in the ditches, blue waves pounding  at rocky shores and lapping in fishing coves with lighthouses round every corner, and fog that curls in on a whim. Normal landscaping includes an old lobster trap, lawn chairs in shades of rainbow sherbet, and a miniature lighthouse. Taco trucks sell fish and chips and I've become a fan of them.  But nonchalance about men in kilts? I'm not quite there yet.

Next weekend when the Highland Games fill the streets of Antigonish with men in kilts playing pipes and competing in tug of war, I could work on acquiring kilt immunity....an entire weekend might innoculate me. I could watch the kirking of the tartans or attend the Clan MacGillivray/Clan Chattan gathering in the town where most street names and building names start with the preface Mac.

I could attend the Halifax Tatoo, an annual production of military precision drills, piping, dancing.... that might build up my kilt callouses. Certainly the ongoing re-creations at the Citadel, the fort high on a hill overlooking Halifax, helped acclimate me today.

Maybe with time a man with nine yards of tartan wrapped around him will look normal. Mel Gibson, Braveheart, I'll call you when I am ready for the big test.  We'll see if I notice you are wearing a kilt.

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