Whiskey and Kilts

In London, The Art of Travel Spring 2015, Genius loci by Michael Frazier4 Comments

A poem I wrote as I was on the train back to London from Edinburgh, Scotland:

Cashmere, whiskey, Scots.
Night: loud chants; Day: bag pipes
Wool, haggis, kilts, stone.

Scotland was the peak of Arthur’s seats, the panoramic view of Ben Nevis, the corridors of Edinburgh castle, and the low murmurs of voices in eclectic cafés. It was kilts and the lingering scent of whiskey in front of crowded pubs. It was rows of cashmere shops, and aged stone buildings. It was sheep and ponies who grazed on soft brown grass. Scotland has been one of the best experiences I’ve had since coming to the UK.  Opposed to Scotland, I see a range of cultures, identities, and aesthetic representations in London. To pin down the Genius Loci of London would be to take a star from the sky and name it the universe. It’s definitely possible to define the spirit of London (the intersection video of the East End does a great job of capturing the vintage, hipster scene), but I’m reserving my opinion of London until the end of the semester. It was in Edinburgh that I felt I captured the essence of a peoples in such a short span of time.

My weekend trip was packed. Some highlights: danced at a Ceilidh, climbed Arthur’s seat (an over 800 feet crag), explored Edinburgh castle, learned how whiskey was made and tried my first glass (and bought more of it than I should have), and visited the Elephant House. Even though I only stayed a weekend, I feel as though I had a good taste of the spirits of Scotland. First, kilts are a thing. I saw a number of Scottish and Irish men sporting plaid colored kilts. When I went dancing at the Ceilidh (traditional Gaelic social gathering) I was captivated by these huge guys twirling around in kilts with their female partners. The only people who were perturbed by the number of men wearing kilts were the Americans I was with. With that said, tradition and nationalistic pride is strong! It’s so strong that some of the students in my group were kept up until 3 in the morning listening to Irish guys cheering after the Ireland versus Scotland rugby match (40-10). Sport culture is huge. The narrow streets of new town, Edinburgh were flooded with people standing outside of pubs. Drunk men and women stumbled about at around 9pm, and the group I was with on the night of the game was approached by multiple men spewing random rugby facts and best places to eat. Quite nice.

He was playing the Bagpipe.

He was playing the Bagpipe.

I could see what Scottish style consisted of as I walked down the Royal Mile. Apparently cashmere can be made into anything, and plaid is the default pattern for all garments. During the day, I stopped in the middle of a plaza on the royal miles and looked around me. Nearly everyone had on a lamb wool scarf, or some other hat or glove made out of cashmere or wool. I also noticed a lot of women who wore cashmere from head to toe (very similar to the women in the NYT east end video). Whiskey, the water of life, and the dew of Ben Nevis is also a big part of Scottish culture. I went to a brewery near the mountain Ben Nevis, where I learned how whiskey was made (basically just distilled beer). Whiskey is really strong, and I even got to try Whiskey with the ABV level of 76% (do not suggest for the weary). For the Scottish, however, alcohol is a large part of the culture. The pubs came alive soon after the sun went down, and even in between dances at the Cediliah the bar was steadily occupied. Whiskey permeated into much of the food too. I had whiskey flavored chocolates and there were whiskey flavored meat pies. I grew pretty accustomed to the scent by the end of my trip.

A crag that overlooks Edinburgh.

A crag that overlooks Edinburgh.

The last, and surprising, revelation I had about Scotland was the strong literary scene. Off of the royal mile there was a road oozing with literary genius. The Elephant House, where Rowling started the Harry Potter series, served great food, and I got a view of a grave yard and the Edinburgh castle (which influenced part of the series as well). Next door was a Frankenstein themed bar, which showed Frankenstein films and had a spooky interior. Even the cocktails had a twist–Blood Mary Shelly—haha. Across the street was a large modern-looking library and a Scottish museum. It was inside of the Elephant House, however, that I realized how strong the writer scene is. I paused my picture snapping to look around the café and saw so many people typing and writing. There was an older man slowly writing in a small book, pausing occasionally to look around, a younger man typing away on his laptop, chugging what I assumed to be coffee, and a pair of women were arranging papers over their tabletop as if it was a puzzle. I was mesmerized! Not only is Scotland rich in culture, but it continues to be propelled by the far and near history that surrounds its people.

Where J.K. Rowling started the Harry Potter series.

Where J.K. Rowling started the Harry Potter series.

The bar/restaurant was Frankenstein themed.

The bar/restaurant was Frankenstein themed.

The spirit of Scotland is one that is immersed in its mythical history, and abounds in the pride of its culture. The spirits are made up of pride, the sublime of nature, traditional foods (like Haggis), and marvelous landscapes.

The view Rowling would have had as she wrote the Potter series. You can see a graveyard as well.

The view Rowling would have had as she wrote the Potter series. You can see a graveyard as well.

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Image source

  • Bagpipes and Kilts: Michael Frazier
  • Arthur’s Seat: Michael Frazier
  • Elephant House: Michael Frazier
  • Frankenstein: Michael Frazier
  • Edinburgh Castle: Michael Frazier
  • The Highlands (Scotland): Michael Frazier

Comments

  1. Hi Michael!

    I was so happy you wrote your piece on the NYU Scotland trip! I’ve never been to Edinburgh and I’ve always wanted to go, and since I was in the Highlands this past weekend, I wanted to hear about what other parts of Scotland are like. Everyone I’ve talked to who went on the trip said it was incredible and, from the pictures, it definitely looks like it was stunning!

    Something that we both have touched on in our postings is the mystical quality of Scotland. The land is so important to its genius loci, as if the two are somehow inherently intertwined. And the people have such a strong connection to their nation and their heritage- it’s truly like nowhere else I’ve ever been before. I honestly can’t wait to go back and find new places to explore. Scotland left such a lasting impression on me.

  2. Author

    Thanks Kerry! And yuss it was. Did you enjoy the Highlands? Were you on a tour or did you go solo? And agreed, Scotland is magical–I def need to go back in the future.

  3. Ah, I am so jealous you got to travel up to Scotland. I have penciled in the northern regions of the United Kingdom as my next travel destination. I’d love to embrace both the incredible nature and the lively bar scene while I am there! I loved your poem that you wrote on the way back to London. I think it does a pretty good job of capturing the genius logi of your travels. Perhaps I will try to write poems in similar styles when I continue on my own journey. Thank you for a cool read!

    1. Author

      Thanks Daniel! I def suggest it if you get the chance to go. And poems too, it’s a quick short way to capture a place.

      Cheers,

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