Wednesday, September 07, 2011
On some Scottish islands when it's sunny all day they call it "a given day," and I was lucky enough to be given several, all in a row. The best way to convey the beauty of these places would be to hand you my laptop and let you look at the slideshows -- but since I can't do that, I'll add more pictures to this post later, and write now about other things.
I had expected that my last week would be a kind of retreat, but instead, every evening people on the island invited me to things and the last one was on an island even more remote than the one I was on (5 hours by the once-a-day ferry from Oban to reach B., where I was staying, then a long drive across a causeway to V. The causeway was built after a bull drowned while being swum to pasture for the summer on V.).
The town council had thoughtfully hired a bus, to leave from the main square of B. and then drive people home. The family who had invited me had said we were going to a "concert" -- I had asked hopefully if it would be a ceilidh, but they said no. However, on the bus, some young teenagers -- talking in that excited way teenagers talk before a party -- were making jokes about "having some tea at the ceilidh" and giggling, so I began to hope.
We arrived in a long hall: tables with bottles and people of all ages, literally -- from babies held in their parents' arms to people who were at least eighty, and everything in-between. As soon as the band -- THE VATERSAY BOYS (listen here -- and to get an idea of what they played that night, skip the first two songs!) -- started, people JUMPED up and danced. I wish you could see the two girls at the top of the set more clearly -- but even in my blurry picture, their energy (the way they're kicking up their feet!) shows.
And they danced until midnight -- old dances, with sets and patterns and steps (swinging your partners, dancing forwards and backwards and sideways a certain number of steps, clapping in certain places): "Strip the Willow," "The Grand Old Duke of York," "Canadian Barn Dance," I wanted and wanted to dance, but I did NOT want to be the clueless American messing up the steps, so I joined in only to the hokey-pokey, which they did differently than we do....but I could at least do it.
Alas! My pictures are dark and blurry like this, but maybe they convey something of the energy and enthusiasm with which the dancers threw themselves into the sets. The older girls helped the younger children by shoving them in the right direction, or holding out the proper arm with which to grab a partner.
People danced until midnight, getting more and more into it -- even the children didn't flag. The short girl in the dark dress (the one at the top of the set in the first picture, the daughter of one of the band members), in fact, stood on the stage, clapping her hands over her head, making all her friends do it too, urging everyone on -- and then danced more herself. Another band member told me later that at another event, she had a very badly hurt foot,but didn't tell her parents until afterwards because she didn't want to miss the dancing.
The bus was supposed to drop us off at the main square, but instead he drove everyone home, right to their doors -- refusing tips and also telling us we'd never seen him do it. Two men on the bus were really, really drunk; the children were polite to them.
"I'm fine," one of the men said belligerently.
"You seem fine," a student said, smiling in a friendly way.
(Later, he told me that living in Glasgow had taught him how to deal with drunks.
"How?" I said.
"Agree with everything they say and don't look them in the eye.")
Before passing out, the man had given a glass of whisky to a young girl to hold. When she reached her stop, she woke him up and said politely,
"Here's your glass back -- thank you."
When our group got off, and we were discussing the evening, and those two (who were staggering to their door within sight) someone said:
"Only two in the whole crowd -- that's not bad," and her sister added,
"And they were from Glasgow."
Walking home -- I hadn't wanted to be last on the bus with the two men, so I got off with the family who'd invited me and they walked me the rest of the way-- there were more stars than I've ever seen. In bed, I looked out the window for a long time, thinking about how much I love it there,--including spending an evening with people of all ages DOING something together. I want my writing to be for all ages, too; and hope I can capture something of the intense joy and energy and courage of the people I met, and the stories they told me, too.
The next day, there was time for one last long walk -- believe it or not,this is across the road from the airport; behind this field is another beach --
and then I got on the plane (it only lands and leaves at low tide, so the water is way in the background). I will be back: in my mind, in my writing, and I hope, in real life.