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."
Partridges?
Partridges.

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.

4 Comments:

At Sep 14, 2006, 8:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You said it sister!! I hate a cat in bag!! My lord!! 45 minutes of bagpipe music at George Washington's graduation in May was about all I can handle for the rest of my life. I thought I had died and gone to hell. The only thing that gave me some satisfaction was realizing the keynote speaker, George Bush Sr., was suffering just as much me.

Those partridges didn't look like a lot of meat. Perhaps we should try injecting them w/ hormones too. It's enough to make you reconsider vegetarianism ... if not for bacon and beef jerky?

Looking forward to my visit ... no bagpipes, please!!

love,
S, in D.C.

 
At Sep 16, 2006, 5:13:00 PM, Blogger John Schaefer said...

Thanks; Peggy--great posting!

 
At Sep 18, 2006, 3:20:00 AM, Anonymous Lisa K said...

Whee! The little dead pigeons are making me v. sad, but reading the rest of your blog has balanced it out. Peggy! I am so proud of you (for what it's worth)! I thought you rocked the Bobby Flay thingy (Jenn alerted me that you were on) and looked very slim and fetching.

Just thought I'd drop a line and let you know I'm always happy to hear how well you're doing...and so glad it's to be plaid dashikis after all.

Lisa!

 
At Oct 3, 2006, 6:56:00 PM, Blogger Avin said...

Hey Peggy!

I love reading your blog, and I hope things are well in Negroshire!
Its starting to get chilly here in DC so you know there arent any plums to be found for miles. Just apples and Perdue chickens.

Take care,
Avin

 

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