Sunday, January 30, 2011

Homage to the Brontë Sisters

Though it was the midst of winter, Pam determined it time to visit Yorkshire to pay homage to the illustrious Brontë sisters. Joining the other 11 ladies in her book club, we took the train north for two nights in the village of Haworth. Various competing accounts of the Brontë's suffering and genius were proffered by our leader and assorted guides. Much mediocre lamb pie and chips were consumed in debate of the various theories. Thoroughly over-informed, we found the best way to clear our heads was by hiking the moors, just as Emily, Charlotte and Anne did when in search of inspiration...

As Pam channeled the steely determination of Jane Eyre in the crisp morning...
...we surveyed the snow-dusted hardscrabble farms from the hanging moorlands:

Looking back, the forlorn village of Haworth, where Mum and all five Brontë girls would be stricken with 'consumption' (tuberculosis) predeceasing their minister father by decades. Also joined by their over-indulged, n'er-do-well brother Branwell, who did himself in with alcohol and opium, thus ending his reign as lord entertainment at The Black Bull (the village pub).

The church where father Patrick ministered, with well-populated village cemetery in the foreground, as seen from the parsonage where the family lived out their lives:

The countryside is traced by forlorn, beautifully built dry-stone walls from another era:

At last we reached our destination: the ruins of a farmhouse widely believed to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heights:

Could it be Catherine and Heathcliff?

(Click on any image to enlarge.)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

We go to a "Ceilidh"

It was the idea of Simone's soccer coach, Mr. Fern, a lively and fun Scotsman, after having been duly impressed with by the soccer parents wild abandon at the nightclubs of Cairo during the girls' varsity tournament in Egypt: We should have a post-season follow-up in London, celebrating Robert Burns' birthday at a traditional "Ceilidh" (kay-lee), a scottish dance party.

So just 8 hours after my arrival at Heathrow, Pam was slipping on her highland plaid stockings (which were summarily vetoed by Simone). Soon we were on the Piccadilly line, headed for the appointed rendezvous at Hammersmith Town Hall. The public event was well-attended, with some 300(?) eager-to-party types, mostly in their 20's and 30's, most claiming some scottish heredity or affiliation. Quite a few of the men, including Mr. Fern and his friend from ASL were sporting kilts. To Pam's dismay, the many plaid stockings were on display by the lasses.

I would describe the event as "square dancing on steroids", with live band and a 'caller' walking us through each rowdy number. It started with a cafeteria-style dinner featuring Haggis (per Wikipedia "a traditional Scottish dish made from minced offal and oatmeal etc, boiled in the stomach of a sheep etc; traditionally served with neeps and tatties and accompanied with whisky"). Many of the men, who were mostly in their 20's and early 30's, were dressed in kilts. At one point the whole show was interrupted by a bagpiper, leading a processing with a plate crowned with a Haggis. Then one kilted gent stepped on stage to perform a recitation of Burns' Address to a Haggis (English translation below...note the pro forma insult of the French) in the most amazing, fully incomprehensible brogue. At the climax of the poem, he violently pierced the Haggis with a blade, and downed several shots of whiskey. Apparently this whole ritual is part of the traditional Burns Dinner, a favorite holiday in Scotland through which they celebrate their national bard.

We whirled and twirled, swilled beer and wine to chase down the Haggis (surprisingly tasty, IMHO), and had a thoroughly excellent time. Welcome home -- gotta love this place!

Good luck to you and your honest, plump face,
Great chieftain of the pudding race!
Above them all you take your place,
gut, stomach-lining, or intestine,
You're well worth a grace

as long as my arm.

The overloaded serving tray there you fill,
Your buttocks shaped like a distant hilltop,
Your wooden skewer could be used to fix a mill
if need be,
While through your pores your juices drip

like liquid gold.

His knife see the serving-man clean,
And then cut you up with great skill,
Making a trench in your bright, gushing guts
To form a ditch,
And then, 0h! What a glorious sight!

Warm, steaming, and rich!

Then, spoonful after spoonful, they eagerly eat,
The devil will get the last bit, on they go,
Until all their well-stretched stomachs, by-and-by,
are bent like drums,
Then the head of the family, about to burst,

murmurs “Thank the Lord".

Is there a pretentious soul who, over his French ragout,
Or Italian cuisine that would make a pig sick,
Or French stew that would make that same pig ill
with complete and utter disgust,
Looks down with a sneering, scornful attitude,

on such a meal? (as Haggis)

Poor devil! See him over his trash!
As feeble as a withered bullrush,
His skinny leg no thicker than a thin rope,
His fist the size of a nut,
Through a river or field to travel,

Completely unfit!

But look at the healthy, Haggis-fed person!
The trembling earth respects him as a man!
Put a knife in his fist,
He'll make it work!
And legs, and arms, and heads will come off,

Like the tops of thistle.

You Powers who look after mankind,
And dish out his bill of fare,
Old Scotland wants no watery, wimpy stuff
That splashes about in little wooden bowls!
But, if You will grant her a grateful prayer,
Give her a Haggis!