Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Power of the (un?)familiar, or how I dreamed of killing in the name of Frank Sinatra

Well, I made it to Scotland, landing in Glasgow and hanging out for a couple of days with my Sweets in town before heading on to my new hometown, Perth. Side note: y'all, I saw a bunch (20 or so) black folk in Glasgow!! I was even given a card-flyer about the dance hotspot for black folk so you know to expect something on that when I get a chance to attend. There is hope yet!

By anyway...Glasgow is an amazing town. It's extremely cosmopolitan and stylish--loads of great, eclectic, ethnic culinary spots, along with diverse and forms of arts, music, history, architecture. While I expect that in a great city, I also find Glasgow to be unique in its quiet, simmering sense of violence. Walking around, I see classy and alternatively dressed Glasgewians--coming and going with purpose and flair. But some of them make me a little nervous. There are people that look and sound like they just came out of a 19th c. factory--as if the Industrial Revolution only started 20 years before and they're living a hard, hard life. These people have an edge that I find intriguing and a little scary at the same time. Even the bus drivers dare you to cross the street and the wrong time and "test" your reaction time by actually speeding up--like they are trying to hit you! This happened to me 4 times!! And each time, the driver locks eyes with me as if to say "Bitch, you know you shouldn't have tried to cross. I will get you next time."

Even some of the businessmen, make me nervous. Walking down popular and touristy Sauciehall Street, Andy and I saw a man, dressed in business suit. I'm not talking some cheap poly-blend from Sears or JCPenny, people. The suit was an elegant and expensive cut. The weird thing was that the man was had a good, long scar from his left ear to the area above his upper lip. I hadn't seen a scar like that since I lived in Miami and watched a girl cut open another girl's cheek on the Metrobus for picking on her. (Interesting how easily cheek flesh falls open like the pages of an old book when sliced).

Anyhow, I asked Andy about knife fights and he answered that it's extremely common, but a more effective manner of damage is to take a bottle and run it into someone's face until it shatters!
"If more people had guns instead of knives, Glasgow could easily compete for the murder capital of Britain," Andy added.

All I could think of was to make sure I never make a mistake in this town. I kinda like my face as it is.

So, here's where the title of this post relates to my babbling. Friday night, Andy and I got free tickets to see this musician Paul Buchanan at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

Photo of The BLUE NILE band. Paul Buchanan is the one hanging his head...I would hope, in shame.

Paul Buchanan was to perform for three nights to sold out crowds. Now, by no means am I up on every kind of music genre and their relative kings and queens. However, I never heard of this man and was curious to understand what kind of artist would sell out in Glasgow several nights running.

I asked, "So what's the big deal about this Buchanan guy?"
"Buchanan," Andy corrected.
Thoroughly confused, I just stared at him.
"His name is pronounced 'ba can none', not the way you (i.e., Americans) say it: 'bee u can in.'"

My response to typical tomAAto-tomAHto debates, is 'oh'.

To continue, I asked again, what's the deal?

Turns out this guy used to be with a group called Blue Nile (and performed with most of the Blue Nile band members that night) who only churned out 4 albums in 25 years!!

Let me say that again: 4 albums in 25 years!!
Furthermore, he's only toured once a decade making this tour, only his third time live.

The music was...ok. It reminded me of all those atmospheric songs played during a movie montage where the protagonist is driving around the country, trying to look introspective, seeing this and that. Those montages and the music it accompanies, thankfully, usually lasted maybe 30 seconds or a little more.
Well, imagine sitting in the car with that protagonist and actually having to stare at the back of his head for DAYS while he drills that damn AM Gold music into your blood-soaked ears.
That's what I felt.
At one point, I realized that my heart was beating extremely fast--not because the music grew loud and feverish--no, no. It was because the music has lulled me to the point that I stopped breathing and before I slipped into a coma, my heart began screaming for oxygen.

Interestingly enough, the crowd was wild for him. Here, I'm thinking this man could put anyone into an anesthesiatic state, but the crowd LOVED him. These were his fans--like crackheads, really.

And so, I thought 'this is the power of the familiar', much like that strange relationship of dependency and often love, that occurs between the kidnapper and victim. Because the fans have had only 4 albums to play over and over and over for 25 years, anything that could come from this man--no matter how droll or prosaic--was manna from heaven.

Churning this over with Andy, he disagreed with me (as he usually does). He said it's the opposite. It's because Paul B. so rarely connects with the audience, that every little note and word is a surprised gift--an extra 10 presents at Christmas.

Well, whatever. I tried. I wanted to get it maybe I need 25 years to become familiar.

This is why the American music industry does let just any crap on the radio. Granted, we do have a lot of crap, homemade. But maybe music industry does feel a little bit protective of us.

(alright alright...a girl can dream)

So when I believe that I would go into menopause, sitting there for so damn long with such chloroform-soaked tunes seeping into my head, it ended but not without an encore. Oh yes, one must give the crackheads a reason to wait another 10 years for the possibility of a live concert.

And damn it if it didn't get worse.
For his closer, he sang "Strangers in the Night" to the absolute shock and revulsion of me and the deafening cheers of his crackheads. And when he started whining "shoo be do be do..." I wanted to jump down from the balcony, steal up the aisle towards the stage where I would leap up and stab him in the thorax with my knife that I never have on my person. I would let the blood spew from his throat as I yell, "This is for Frank Sinatra!!"

Now, I like a little Frankie in doses, and by no means am I anyone's henchman. But come on! If you were there; if you heard how he butchered that poor, defenseless song... Why? Dear lord, why would he do this?

Hell, if you heard what I heard, not only would you let me take that man out, you would have covered me.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Haitian Haggis

Well, these are my last hours in America. There were so many friends I didn't get to say goodbye to and that pains me. But there's never enough time. But those bitches better come visit me, that's all I have to say about that.

Tonight, I fly to the Shire and try "something new". Already I've been getting the jokes--'so when are you gonna make some Haitian haggis?'
Those who know me, know I LOVE food. Technically, I guess I'd get called a foodie. I don't care about terms. I love food. I love making it, talking about it, studying it, learning its history, its cultural dos and don'ts (for example, we put catsup on our french fries but not in our baked potatoes; nor do we put butter on fries but we need it for the mashed tatters). And of course, I LOVE to eat food. It's one of the few things that makes sense to me.

Food, especially good food, I find, is one of the few things that really brings and holds people together in earnest.

My friends know I love to fuse, meld different culinary traditions--create something delicious between ingredients that often aren't married together.

But in Scotland, I have to first learn their food language. The few times I've been there, I have occasionally been stumped as what some of the dishes were or even recognizing some of the ingredients. Last summer, everyone kept talking about "rocket salads". The hell?! Was this some new leafy green that was unknown in the US? Was it illegal? And with a name like "rocket"...I don't know...did it get you high or something?
Well, after traveling to my future in-laws' cottage in the Highlands and helped picked the greens for our dinner salad from their garden, I found out that rocket was just plain ole arugula. The term rocket must come from a bastardization of the Italian word "rucola".

My move to the Shire will certainly extend my culinary skills. Interestingly enough, most of us (Americans) don't think of the Brits as having a distinct culinary tradition. And by distinct, I mean, delicious. Most of us think of fish and chips, maybe some boiled cabbage with cheap meat, and of course, for Scotland, haggis--something from the inside of a large mammal that got chewed up, spit out into the lining of a sheep's stomach, boiled and forced down the throats of the kilt-wearing, bag-pipe slinging unfortunates.

Oh and don't get me started on all that fried crap: deep-fried unidentifiable whitefish, fried frozen cardboard pizza, and even fried candybars! It's no wonder why they have the highest rates of heart disease in Europe.

But I can't skip the innards contribution to their food. The Brits do have that bad rap for eating haggis with gusto. I guess I can't say much on that, considering I've eaten hot dogs. And I do come from a culture that will and does eat everything off a pig-- "from the rooter to the tooter". Growing up, pig tails in red bean soup was my favorite. So, who was I to slam them for their manner of sausage-making? And anyone who's eaten scrapple (man, how Philadelphians love that stuff) shouldn't talk either!

As for the good stuff, teas, chutneys, jerk chicken, curries, etc., we imagine that it was appropriated when the Brits went a-colonizin'. While the Portuguese and and Spanish wanted new lands, to spread Catholicism, and oh yeah, maybe pick up some gold and silver, we joke that the lack of decent food was the true drive behind British colonization.

Whatever the reasons, I can actually say that I've enjoyed some amazing Brit food.
There are those amazingly creamy yet slightly pungent cheeses, grilled and poached cold Atlantic fish flavored with subtle herbs and vegetables such as thyme, tarragon and leeks. Quail, grouse, partridge roasted with a slab of bacon is hard to turn down. And can they cook some lamb! The Scots can do a lot with the tasty little bah-bahs making succulent, lean cuts that surpass (sometimes)a need for beef on your plate. Let me not forget the potato. Brits do know their way around the spud--whether cooked up in a soup with Haddock and cream, or cut up and baked with fat drippings and onions.
Desserts can be somewhat dense rich like butterscotch tart and pudding cake, or sweet, buttery, and light with scones, shortbread, Scotch pancakes with marmalade or jam.
I'll leave the whiskeys and other spirits for another day.

In the meantime, I gotta go pack.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Countdown to a new life

In less than 7 days, everything in my life will change. Or at least, that's how it feels. Half the time, I wondering 'what am I doing'. I spend the other half wishing time would hurry up and just get me there.

I'm moving to the Shire. Aka, Scotland.
Why? Cause last year, I met someone and well, we fell in love and so I'm moving to be with him, marry him, and start our lives together. It's somewhat of an odd thing to do, if you came from where I did. Haitian Americans who grew up poor during the turbulent and racially violent '80s of Miami just don't go off to someplace like Scotland and marry a Highlander!
But I am.

Funny, I think I was always heading in this direction; this place where many like me used to go-- like back in the 1920s, when the world was starved for jazz and all things black and new (at least for them). Course, many indulged in the croissants, absinthe and wild Parisian nightlife while I'm headed for damn-near tundra-like conditions with haggis and whiskey served at my table. Nevertheless, I always wanted more for my life than what was suppose to be.

Let's put it this way: even when I was young, I was aware of the connection between old age and regret for many. And I wanted none of that. I saw men and women who were brave enough to leave their homeland, the places that they knew and "made sense" to come to another country for the hopes of a better life. Yet, as time went on...I don't know, something happened to many of them. They stopped trying for more and settled to a very simple life, preferrably one surrounded by others like themselves, from their homeland. Often, they only recreated what they already knew just on a microcosm scale; a "Little Haiti" to soften the harshness of a foreign world, a foreign life. That included my parents.
Even then, watching my parents and their friends slowly becoming more and more afraid of the world, of life, I knew that could not, would not be me.

When I'm old, I thought to myself, and crapping in my Depends diaper, I want my memories to keep me laughing and smiling. I want to be that old woman that others look at and wonder why is she so happy in her decrepit shell that only deteriorates faster with each passing minute.

But it is scary to live. It's hard to take a chance on something with no guarantees. Here I am, just short of finishing my PhD in historical archaeology, fell in love with a Highlander and I'm taking off to be with him.

Any job prospects? Nope. Do I even know if I can get an academic job in Scotland. Uh uh. Is there at least a racial and ethnic community for me to bond with and find my own "Lil (black)America"? Yeah, I wish!

I will be the one of the few if not the only negro in the Shire.

And I know...I know my friends and family are thinking I'm a little nuts. I mean, I know they are happy for me but they still must think I never shook that thing that made me such a weird kid.

To some, it's off enough that I'm marrying a white man. "But a Scottish dude, Peggy? I mean, damn! They're only a 1,000 years out of the cave! Shit, they still wear skirts! What about his teeth? You know about them Brits and their jacked-up teeth! If he had to be white, couldn't you stick with an American?"
Well, yeah, my man does wear a kilt on occasion but his teeth are fine. They're all there and facing the right way.

For others, it's the idea of being alone without the support network of other blacks. "Damn, girl! If you were moving to London, I could understand. At least we know there are black folk around. But Scotland? And ain't it really cold there too?! Don't you wear a sweater if the temp. drops below 75? You know that don't make no kinda sense."

And what can I say in response? Not much.
Then they continue, "Have you even seen a black person when you were visiting?"
"Yes, one. A guy."
"One black person in the town?"
"Uh, one black person period."

Then there's the look of horror on their face.

"One black person in 6 weeks?!"
In my most sheepish tone, "Yeah."
"Well, where was that?"
"In the train station in Glasgow."
"Hmph! Yeah, the brother was trying to get the hell up outta there as fast as possible! Girl..." and then I just get the head shake, slowly from side to side with the pursed lips and and heavy sigh, to say 'I don't know what to tell ya'.

Guess there's not much to tell me. I'm just going with my heart. And bless my peoples, they are supporting me through my driven ways.

It is going to be a bit lonely. As much as I love Andy, I need my racial community. I especially need my friends.

But I'm going. I have to go. I have to find my life on my terms.