Monday, October 03, 2005

It’s been a trip of last-minute plans. This morning, for instance, my plans ended after “breakfast.” I find that I’m much happier having plans about a day in advance. Here? Not so much. Tonight? Jamie and Hans are playing a concert, and then…? There might be beer happening. I feel like there should be food ever. But I don’t know where I’m sleeping. Which is awesome.

This is actually a good place to be in that situation. There seem to be about 10 bed and breakfasts per square foot, most of which have vacancies. If I’m not crashing with J&H again then I shouldn’t have a problem finding somewhere else.

When Jamie asked B&B Lady if I could stay with them he said I was just saying for one night. I’m not sure if I should take that as a hint or, as Hans proposed, that Jamie didn’t know what would be happening tonight – if I’d be staying.

I guess I’ll find out!

(Much, much later)

Yes! So. Um.

Jamie and Hans had workshops at a school – Inverness Royal Academy, which Invernessians call the IRA. Being as I would have a whole lot of not much to do there I opted to wander around the town, which I was keen to do anyway. Would be a little silly to go all the way up there (it’s way up north, if you were wondering)(waaaaay up north) and not explore. Hans gave me directions back to the B&B from the pub where we had been checking email, and I set off!

I don’t know where I was heading when I started wandering, but it was in the wrong direction. Imagine! No set destination and I still went the wrong way. But I managed to find myself at the loveliest used bookstore I’ve ever seen. There were shelves upon shelves in one great room with a second-floor walkway around the walls. It had the organized disorganization of a good used bookstore and a café up the spiral staircase.

I walked in and out of their little (and sometimes these were tiny) nooks, mouth agape in wonder, because I am a giant nerd.

I ended up settling on a small book, having very little space in my bag for the stacks that I would’ve preferred to take with me, and purchased it, like any good citizen would. I was on my way back outside when I turned around and asked Front Desk Lady, “I have about an hour before I need to meet some friends. Where’s a good place to walk to from here?”

Because as fun as it is to wander around the train station (as I’d done just an hour before)(inadvertently, thank you) I’d like to find something, you know, else.

She didn’t hesitate before drawing me a rudimentary little map to the Inverness Islands. About an hour walk if I didn’t dawdle, and apparently lovely. And it’d put me right where I need to be to head back to the B&B! Jinkies!

I looked at the pencil-drawn map. “So I go out of here and turn left?” “No, you go out to the right.”

Right. Check.

And I did. And holy god, y’all, it was intensely gorgeous. Inverness has a giant river running right through the middle of it (giant is a subjective term here – you should keep in mind that this city has about 60,000 people in it and has only recently been upgraded from “town”), and the Islands are, in fact, little islands that are reachable by footbridges. Bridges that bounce when you walk on them! Oh, it’s fun.

Five minutes in and you can barely see the road. To the left is a perfectly clear stream, and to the right is the river. The trees and foliage is lush and the air is clear. The paths are easy, and there are rough paths where dogs run nearer the water. The second island was overwhelmed with the smell of pine.

It was just amazing. My photos, which will follow within the next three weeks if I continue in the same time frame that I’ve been working in, don’t do it justice. It was incredible.

I finished the loop with plenty of time to meet back up with Jamie and Hans, and set out for the B&B.

Now. The thing you should know about my directional sense is that I don’t have one. I really don’t. It’s kind of embarrassing. I went to the bathroom twice in the pub bathroom (this is on two different days, mind you) and both times – not one time, both times -- I managed to turn the wrong way exiting the bathroom. I can barely find my way around Philadelphia and I lived there for 17 years, and then off-and-on for another six years.

I can’t find my way out of a paper bag without a flashlight, a map, and a pair of scissors.

Well. The directions that Hans gave me? Down Greig st., curve right and take the first left? They were wrong. Really wrong. And he suspected that might be the case and had told me that I would be in about the right place if I followed those directions.

Ho ho.

As I may have stated previously, I am not always the cleverest of people. If I was I might’ve taken with me 1. the name of the B&B, and/or 2. the street name on which it was resting.

Not so clever, me. In my defense I didn’t know I’d be coming back to the hotel at all.

Anyway. I walked for an hour (this is, of course, after having walked for the previous three and a half hours in bad shoes) (I really need to get new shoes) (different shoes – the ones I have are new, but just don’t seem to like me very much). The only thing I knew was that it had a large front yard, the driveway was gravel, there were violet autumn crocuses growing on the left side of the driveway, and it had a black metal gate. That was it. I was screwed (see: 10 B&Bs/sq ft, paragraph 2 – imagine finding one in all of them).

Persistence paid off, as it does occasionally, and I found it and rang the doorbell. Jamie answered. “Where’s Hans?” I asked, “I need to go kill him.” I went upstairs and gave him good-natured hell for his crappy directions, and once that was taken care of we settled in to chat while Jamie practiced in the living room.

We all went off to the church where their concert was taking place, and I snuck off for some dinner, as I was too busy trying to find the B&B to do anything like stop for food. I went to Mr. Chips (which is right next to Mr. Rice) (no, I’m not kidding) and had a healthy order of salt with a side of grease. I think they sprinkled some chicken on top, but I really couldn’t be sure.

They had southern fried chicken there. The south’s culinary contribution to the world! Well done, south!

Their concert was, as always, magnificent. Man, they’re fun to watch. They have a sweet, playful chemistry between them on stage. Hans’ guitar playing has this charged restraint to it, and then it explodes out and through the whole thing you can tell that it’s his favorite thing in the world. And Jamie – he could set a fire with a fiddle. The power in his music is a language unto itself.

And they’re funny! Just watching them play off each other makes me laugh.

I get to hang out with them, they feed and house me and give me beer. And they wonder that I show up to their gigs so often?

They mingled with the audience after the show. I didn’t really have anything to say or anyone in particular to talk to, so I walked through the church and outside. I had a lot on my mind and so enjoyed the quiet.

We went to Promoter Keith’s after the show for some rather late dinner. I didn’t eat much of my salt-and-grease, so I was still pretty peckish. His wife (whose name I’ve forgotten. Sorry, Mrs. Keith!) made us dinner and we – the three of us, plus Keith, Mrs. Keith, their daughter, and another fiddle player – sat around the table and talked. There were off-color jokes. Hurray, awkward half-laughter and alarmed glances!

My things still being at the B&B I went back at the end of the evening. I still wasn’t sure if I was welcome. Hans said I was, of course, but I was wondering if Jamie wasn’t a little keener (did you know keener was a word? I sure didn’t) on some slightly-more-personal time. It being 12:30am I asked Jamie if I could presume to ask if I could spend another night. He smiled and said, “I should think so.”

Oh, good. The thought of waking up B&B Lady and asking for another room (or even wandering the streets for another B&B) was not, as you might guess, tremendously appealing.

There had been talks about what was happening the next day. J&H wanted to see Loch Ness (because, of course, how can you be in this country and not go there?), and given that it’s 8 miles away that seemed as good a time as ever. Keith promised to be guide.

I wanted to join them (see above paragraph on situation appropriateness). However, when the plans were discussed my name was kind of… not mentioned. It was like being with Stephanie and Sarah again. I didn’t know if I should just assume that the invitation was extended to me (Jamie had said I was welcome to hang out with them as long as I was around), or if I should casually make other plans.

I decided to take the passive-aggressive route and just wait and see what happened. And so I ended up joining them. Which I continue to assume was fine all around.

The roads in the city are ridiculous. Going three blocks takes ten minutes by car. Going the eight miles to Loch Ness took 20 minutes.

I had this theory that the popularity of the place would mean scores of hideously out-of-place shops and cafés touting horrendous Nessie paraphernalia, whiskey, and blasting bagpipe music into the world.

And y’all, I was totally right.

Okay, not really. I was completely wrong. The beach where we – Mr. and Mrs. Keith, J&H and I – stopped had a charming stone hotel. The only indication of the pervasive Nessie-culture was an overgrown van parked at the edge of the beach that purported to be a station for the search.

The lake is calm, surrounded by misty blue mountains. The beach was all round white stones and driftwood. It was blustery and chilly, the sky overcast. Clouds were low and streaked the sky with understated blue and white. Twenty-three miles down you could see through the mountains where the river wandered on. All you could hear were the gentle waves and the wind.

We threw stones and driftwood in the water, our group splitting and rejoining as we made our way up and back. Took some pictures and headed to the cars.

Back in town we said goodbye to the Keith duo, picked up our things from the B&B, and there my plans ended again. I’d been talking about my continuing sober thoughts with Hans, and he told me to get into the car when they were heading off. I climbed in and we went back to the internet pub.

When that was done I said goodbye to them and dashed over to the train and took the four-hour ride back to E-burgh.

It was strange coming back. I’m in Edinburgh, climbing out of the train station and I know where I am? How is that possible? Surely I don’t live here or anything, do I? Why does this look familiar? I was on holiday and I left. Why am I back?

I stopped into the Theatre Royal pub for dinner and talked a bit with Graham and, um, what’s her name. They were a little busy so I called greetings to Manager Zoë and immersed myself in a newspaper. Swing Dance Alan called and I have a date for Friday (whoa). And now I’m back in my room. Where I live. In Edinburgh.

How the hell did that happen?

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