Thursday, September 14, 2006

And 10 partridges and a plum tree!

September in the Highlands is an interesting place to be. The leaves are starting to lose that vibrant green and you can occasionally be startled by a pheasant (yeah, I did write that) sitting on a stone wall along the road. I'm never really sure how to process any of it. Hell, I'm only just getting comfortable with pulling off to the side to let an oncoming car pass me on a ONE LANE road.

I'm a city girl, for land's sakes. I grew up in Miami when the 1980s witnessed 3 different city-wide race riots. I'm more comfortable with drivebys and hookers on crack cocaine trying to score a trick than I am in the quiet, cool landscapes of cattle and sheep. Thank God, I live in Perth. It's still not the hustle and bustle of Glasgow or Edinburgh but at least, it's a town.

When visiting Andy's folks, I often feel like I'm Joel Fleishman from the show "Northern Exposure"--struggling to make it through the tedium and bizarre world of country-living. Last weekend I felt I was coming apart listening to the stories of runaway cattle and Mc-whatshisname "down in the glen" and his sheep. And can't forget how we have to hear about every little happenings of every single son or daughter in the valley.
But the worse conversations are often about music. Damn it, if one more country bumpkin looks at me like I'm crazy cause I don't like the sounds of bagpipes or Scottish country music, I'm going on a killing spree!
I swear it!

Why do they have to look at me with such confusion and pity?? Do they know anything about any of the music I listen to? HELL NO! Do they know about salsa, Afro-pop, Kompa, Cumbia, or Reggaeton, or even hip-hop? The whole world listens to hip-hop! I have more in common musically, with some little Japanese X-Box-obsessed brats than these mountain folk who prefer the sounds of a cat being strangled (loudly) in a cloth bag! (Incidentally, I borrow that definition of bagpipe music from my girl, S. in DC. Nothing more can torture her than the screeching sounds of the bagpipe).

But when it comes to food, I can deal with these folks. Andy and I found ourselves walking down the road (yes, THE road, not A road) Saturday afternoon when Bert (Andy's father) came zooming up in his truck to offer us a lift. I opened the passenger door and received a mild shock: at the floor were several dead birds. "Oh, sorry! Those are just partridges from today's shoot. Just put them in the back."

Dead partridges: head, tail, feathers and all.

My only reference to such fowls are at Christmas time when one sits in a pear tree.

So, when we got home and placed them in the garage, I learned about the hunting system: beaters (the gamekeepers who stir the game out of hiding), shooters (rich, white men who like to kill things then get drunk and celebrate it), and pick'em up-ers (more gamekeepers with dogs to pick up the deceased). Maybe there are official title names but, that's how Bert refers to it and he's a gamekeeper! He even has to wear a particular tartan/plaid of the estate he works on.

So watching Bert and Andy handle these little dead things had me oscillating between curiosity and discomfort. But I could see my Haitian mother standing there, sucking her teeth at my ridiculous behavior, and yelling 'just pick the damn bird up! It's already dead!'

As a child, my mom used to keep chickens in our huge yard back in Miami. When it was time, she'd reach into the coop, grab a chicken too slow to avoid its ending and the preparation for that night's dinner would begin. I always found it so strange--how cold my mom was when it came to slitting a chicken's neck and watch it run away, spurting blood everywhere until all the life was drained. I never could stomach to eat that poor bird after I watched it scream and screech. Life just seemed to fight too violently. Why couldn't we just have frozen, hormone-injected chicken from the supermarket! It was part of my struggle of negotiating my Haitian parents' ways of life with my American urban way of living.

Anyway...I've grown up some and I appreciate the country ways a bit more than I did as a kid. Bert taught me how to hold and handle the partridge. I couldn't believe I was holding a hunted game--one that has only been more like a fairy tale creature...not much different than a unicorn or dragon or even a dodo bird. Noone knows what partridges look like. Noone's seen one in real life!

It was fascinating to hold someone's dinner in my hands. It seemed a bit more humane: this game wasn't confined and/or tortured before its death. It was killed for someone's sport but others would benefit with a substantial meal.

On the greener side:

Bert has a lovely garden that he tends at every chance. We've scored beets, potatoes, tomatoes, and amazing peas that you can eat right off the vine! Now, it's September and while his garden's yields are waning-- it's now partridge and plums abound! Bert's plums are oval, dark and with slight iridescence. Tender and sweet and ready to be picked. Plums in the US are rounder, bigger with less flavor--obviously more genetic engineering. But these local plums...there's something so lush, juicy, FLESHY about them. I can understand why some English poets connect sex with plums.

So before we left, a bag full of plums was plopped in our rental car. The next day, a friend of Andy's came by bearing...more plums...from his trees. Now, I like a good plum, but I can only eat so many, you know? Maybe in a few years, I'll feel more "British" and start making preserves or canning them or whatever it is they do with them here. For the moment, a plum here or there is enough for me.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Music Festivals Just Don't Stop!!

Hey everyone, sorry it's taken so long to write another. Writing this dissertation takes priority and I'm really not up for my advisor kicking my butt over this. Plus, I've been under the weather for the last few days too. Damn Scottish weather...too many temps and seasons in one day....every day!

Here's a summation of the festivals I've attended lately. We've been busy every weekend with these events. First up is one festival we went to a few weeks ago.

Tartan Heart music festival
We took a 2 1/2 hr. bus ride up to Inverness (home of Nessie the sea monster of Loch Ness) for a music festival.
Scotland never seems to run out of music festivals.
This one was in a little hippy community of Belladrum and it's called: the Tartan Heart Music Festival.
It was very small, nothing like 70,000 raging kids at T in the Park. The Tartan Heart festival is family friendly, engaging kids of all ages.

Music featured was mostly rock, folk, country, indie and some weird crap that shouldn't be played anywhere.
You had your staple festival going groups too: the dirty, drunk-stone kids who roll around in the dirt because...I don't know, because it's there; young couples who find themselves extremely horny when surrounded by several thousand music fans bouncing to the loud, distorted music with occasional screeching feedback from microphones; the young, slutty girls wearing damn-near beach/club wear while it's 52 degrees and raining; the gang of guys that alternate between banging the heads or "wrestling" with their best blokes rather than talk to a girl.

Besides these folk, I also saw various kinds of families. The saddest were the ones where the poor 8 yr olds are having to play caretaker to their too-drunk parents. As I said before, there were old, local hippies in their purple velour pants with tamborines in hand. Some of the older men looked like cast-offs from 1950s motorcycle gangs...except they were in kilts and t-shirts. Their look was typical: rough and long grey beards and ratty ponytails with the three hairs on top of the crown doing a poor job of collecting the highland rain.

Fine people-watching all around!

As for festival food, you know how fatty and greasy fair food can be. So, I was pleasantly shocked to stumble across a Arbroath Smokies area. This was my favorite moment of the entire festival! Arbroath is a fishing town in the council area of Angus in Scotland. They're famous for their smoked fish and bless, I now know why. Andy had the smoked salmon while I was curious to try the haddock--what they are famed for. This tradition of smoking haddock fish -- "smokies"-- goes back to the late 1800s. They head and clean the fish. Cure it with salt overnight. And then they gets to the smokin'!! The old method was done in a barrel heated underground.

But nowadays, it's above ground. They smoked the fish RIGHT THERE on the festival grounds between 45-90 minutes until they are juicy on the inside and golden brown on the outside. Viola! hot, buttery, freshly smoked fish in your hands when you want it. Couldn't have been healthier or tastier! And filling too! You get an entire fish for just a few pounds. Damn, it was DELICIOUS!!

Call me a snob if you must but, I don't do festivals unless I have a guest pass. I'm just too old to deal with lines for toilets, lines for alcohol, no restful area to chill for a bit between acts. Being engaged to someone in the music business gets me that special wristband or necklass passcard. Besides, some of the best people-watching happens backstage in the VIP section.
Hanging out in the VIP area, you get to see a lot of interesting people, including some of the musicians before or after they get on stage. For example, I saw the legendary Lee 'Scratch' Perry and his crew hang out near us after their set. Perry is an icon. He's one of the founders of dub music and was producer for various reggae artists like Bob Marley and the Wailers, Max Romeo, Junior Byles, and The Heptones. I hear he's supposed to be off his rocker but he was kind enough to offer our friend's daughter a grape. But she declined because he's a stranger.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival

After that festival, Andy and I were off to the Fringe festival. Lord, what an insane thing! 12 hours of music, events, comedy in and day out. I was exhausted. One night, I was so severely dehydrated that I thought an ambulance was going to cart me off!
And we only did it for 3 the middle of the week!
I can't imagine how insane the weekend shows must be.

We saw a variety of venues.
Some were so large that they could hold hundreds and hundreds of folk. Some venues were so small that they were (literally) two site construction trailers duct taped together so they could hold 20 people. Really bizarre.
My favorites: I saw a Soul Food show, "performed" by Momma Cherri, Philly-gal who's been living in the UK for thirty years now. She gave a lesson in history and cooking of soul food and had the audience sing a couple of gospel songs.

That was worth the price of admission right there. 50 white Brits clapping off the beat, repeatedly while trying to sign "This Little Light of Mine".

The other was Havana Rhumba. Great story-telling. Great music and dancing to Rhumba, Cha-cha-cha, salsa, Reggaeton, rakataka. And oh yeah, the dancers were as hot as they were talented. The best part of the show was watching them pick random people from the audience to "dance". Some of the funniest stuff I've seen in years.

Ok...I'm not really going to talk that much about the Fringe cause it would take too long. All the acts spanned the globe and spanned the realm of topics and talent. What we ended up seeing mostly (cause Andy has to always be on the lookout for acts to book) were the comedy shows. I'll spare you most of the crap (cause a lot of it was).

But generally, here's what I came away with: the Scots will laugh at ANYTHING!!!
Seriously, I couldn't believe what passes as comedy here. Now, maybe everyone was just drunk the whole time and even a man playing a guitar with strange computer-generated sounds could be entertaining. I thought it was f*cking bullsh*t!

There was another show where the performer just rambled....for a freaking hour! Just mental-consciousness vomit. For whatever reason, people loved it. He even peed on stage into a cup; pretended he was going to drink (but his lips did touch his piss) and he closed his act by standing on top of the stool, hands pressed together as if he was going to dived into the tiny cup. And of course, he leapt and spilled piss everywhere.
No wonder his wife divorced him.
But yet, this man has children. This man has a woman who lets him crawl up into her every night.


There were plenty of quality comedians. But they did like to bash America (and you know if I got picked from the audience, my US accent started something)--easy target and guaranteed to keep the audience on your side. The other interesting thing was all the morality they were constantly trying to push on. They wanted us to have character; for women to bond and stop beating on ourselves, etc. It was kinda strange.

One black female comedian from London was quite odd. Ava Vidal in her show titled "Responsible", talked about how she became a teen mother, all the abusive past boyfriends have been (one tried to stab her in the heart and luckily he only got her hand which still has and always will have that scar), and that she's trying to get her act together now. There were only 10 of us at her show and I felt obliged to laugh at her "jokes". Here again--Strange.

The only other black comedian I caught was "Pride and Prejudice and Niggas" Reginald D. Hunter. Needless to say, his venue was extremely popular...we were in an inflatable upside purple cow! It held several hundred seats. His explanation was putting "niggas" in the title of his show is because it's a word that people do use and don't want to admit so we should.
Uh. ok.

His show was... ok. But it would never work in the States. All his jokes werepretty much whatwe in the US would say..."ok, yeah, so what?" But here in the UK, it's novel; it's deliciously informative and nasty and the same time. Esp. in Scotland. There are so few black people here and just as it is in the States, not too many white people really know blacks personally.

Next year, I'll have a better idea of the shows I want to see. I'm not doing much of the comedy if I can get out of it.

We were supposed to hit another festival, this time in Glasgow. These festivals just don't stop around here! However, I'm sick and we're both tired. Gotta take a break.