Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Food Movement is Coming North, They Say. Thursday, June 29, 2006

If I had taken Alan, the owner of Nature’s Larder, to heart, then I would have surely missed Hailey who manages the “cheese shop” in Rosemount.

But let me not get ahead of myself, forasmuch as I wish to begin with the first class lunch I had with my charming and most captivating husband at La Bonne Baguette, a modest, plainly decorated café in the business of selling accessible cuisine. By that I mean, the menu offered a selection of “filled baguette with soup” and that’s exactly what you got. A substantial bowl of delicious homemade vegetable soup with a baguette crafted stiff enough to hold a most mouth watering salmon, joined by capers and red onions. It was simple and to the point; nothing prissy or fussy about it. It wasn’t a nouvelle baguette, nor was it a confused baguette that thought it came from Madrid and appeared to you on a Tapas plate. Likewise, it wasn’t a mass produced one who thought its family name was Tesco (the equivalent to Kroger), a baguette who had tragically misplaced its originality, had severed all ties to its soul, a baguette who compromised its point of origin and settled itself onto the plate, soggy and limp, unfit to partner even the most unpalatable tomato, much less the integrity of a succulent North Sea Salmon. In a world that sports the likes of lifeless bread and thinks nothing of it, it was such a pleasure to come across a confident, self assured and unpretentious sandwich. Once we’d ordered the “still” water (spring, not mineral), the total bill including our two entrees of soup and filled baguette, came to around 12 pounds ten ($22.00), a bit pricy for lunch, but we’d make up the difference dining in a night or two.

The subject of conversation was lively. We continued to exchange our observations of the books we’re reading at the moment, Paul, the Colin Wilson autobiography and me, my beloved Virginia, Granite and Rainbow, The Hidden Life of V.Woolf., about Jung and the food movement in Britain.

From all accounts, newspapers, television, and word of mouth, there is quite a flourishing population of those who are resisting the convenience of shopping at the “Huber-Markets” in exchange for the satisfaction of actually knowing where their food comes from, even though the cost be higher and the acquisition of it harder to reach, the movement is growing. In response to this demand, there are specialty shops emerging like I. J. Mellis Chessemonger at 201 Rosemount Place. According to Hailey (manager of I.J. Mellis – Aberdeen), the owner combs Scotland from the Highlands to the Low, from the East to the West and the islands all around, including Wales and Ireland to bring to his customers a cheese of value and personal history. “Every cheese has a story,” boasts Hailey as she takes me on a tour of the impressive number of varieties before me in a space no larger than a postage stamp. “Like this cheese, for example”, she points to a citadel of wedges behind the counter. “This cheese is cultivated by a woman in the Orkneys who has 14 cows and she’s always had only 14 cows. We buy what she has and then age it in our warehouse.” Not just cheeses make their home in this cozy little nook either, but vinegars and chutneys and fresh quince paste, tagged with paper and string and handwritten descriptions.

I like to think that someday we will revolt as a species and tear down the walls of the oppressive corporations that now even dominate what we put in our mouths and demand a new relationship be tilled with the farmer and that we relax our artificial need for materialism in exchange for a dinner brought to table, hand to hand, from the farmer to the mother who picks then prepares the carrots for the evening meal, but then again, Paul and I still read to each other at night. He recites poetry and I bring only what is fresh and made by my hand to the table, even though I recognize the difficulty of this in our modern world and the romanticism of such a notion, still if Jamie Oliver can rail against the inferiority of school lunches in Great Britain and with a clean swipe change what the children are eating, then I believe that one by one, the farmer and the mother can rescue the table from the sterile conditions of the superstores whose shelves are gluttonous with over-processed, sluggish and under nourished offerings.

I must meet a farmer…this is my next mission…meanwhile, I took my first driving lesson yesterday and the City of Aberdeen is still standing, so I think that must mean success. I’d never thought about how unconsciously one drives after so many years of the same roads and familiar traffic laws. I never knew I “coasted” so in a standard. I never knew I “rode the clutch” so, or “bore down on the gears” and I altogether had NO IDEA that I didn’t know anything about steering. Humph. I thought I knew how to steer, and of course I do in the wide open spaces of the States, but not on streets designed for Hobbits and Fairie Folk – this requires a more tempered and precise kind of wheel control. (We wouldn’t want to run over the wee things). It’s a land of the creep and peepers. That’s an expression to describe the approach to a main road from what I call practically a foot path, is to creep up to the road and peep and creep and peep until you’re finally in the flow of traffic. Creep and Peep. I don’t know. I’m such a jittery person, I might decide to take the road by bus or bike or Paul…or foot, for that matter.

Anyway…I’m getting tired and you’ve likely had enough, so I’ll tell you about Foyer, the lovely dinner we had last night on Crown Street – I’ll tell you all about that tomorrow.



PS I'm realizing upon review of this entry that I never followed up on Alan and the connect to Hailey, and how it was a day of sychronicity but I will...I will.


ALL WORK AND SOME PLAY – June 29, 2006

Work, a four letter word that rhymes with other Anglo Saxon words, usually means repetitive drudgery. Unless you pour your soul into it, and I know some accountants who love their work. Costs and profits all in line so neatly presented, brings them a glow of satisfaction. Were I faced with drudgery, and at Exxon all managers are, to see if they can make it – the position is called “planning,” I’d run away very fast. I suspect the assignment is designed to shut down all higher faculties and create a robotic personality that will take orders from above and pass them on.

Happily I’m in a small office with people who have no ambitions other than to be in Aberdeen, and not to miss the football (soccer) game. Mark, my supervisor, disappears on odd afternoons from his office. If I really need to find him I mosey on to the large conference room where I’ll find him with a few others watching the World Cup on a large screen.

The office building has glass walls. Inside there’s a smell of stale paper. Folk are so quiet that I sometimes wonder if I’m alone. Through the window, which I could open to let in fresh air, is a view of nondescript parking spaces. I don’t have to wear a tie to work – that tourniquet we install to decrease the blood flow to our brains. But before I can sit down at my workstation to determine where to drill next on our North Sea lease, I have to jump the usual obstacle course of security badges, computer permissions and processes. It’s beyond any human endeavor to make processes shorter or simpler. The past twenty years many have tried, but they still take two weeks. And the Controls. Big Daddy won’t allow employees to make international calls on their own. Just because. Daddy watches you enter and leave the building, for your safety. There’s the corporate pecking order. Younger employees do not have parking privileges. They’re expected to take the bus to work.

I don’t drive much. The office is a seven minute walk away, past a bustling secondary school where uniformed kids, wearing the school tie and coat of arms, straggle up the pavement. I also pass a couple of pubs, a gambling hall where you’re welcome to lose your money. An alley twenty feet wide with cobbled stones takes me to the office.

For lunch I wolfed down a veggie sandwich at the corner coffee shop on Union Street, and then walked away from the bustling street to Bon Accord Park. Several others were walking along paths that wound under the spreading chestnuts. Unlike in Houston where on my noon walk I felt like a weirdo, since no one there walks, here I had company. That warm afternoon, a few people were lying on the grass – not drunks or bums but folk in white shirts and ties, their jackets folded up under their heads. In the still, peaceful air, it seemed the thing to do, so I found a smooth spot on a slop facing the sun and lay down. Several daisies stared up at me. I hadn’t lain down on bare grass in twenty years. Back in Texas, the grass feels like sandpaper, with fire ants to bite you. Soon you hear the buzz of the attack mosquitoes. Here you can lie on the green for hours, watch the dappled shadows and blue sky, with no one to bother you.

Except for the f***** job that awaits you.

Walking toward the exit, I passed some kids on a bench all talking loudly. The bottles in their hands weren’t soft drink but hard cider and beer. They noticed my attention. A girl shouted after me and when I stopped, she got up and ran up to me, beer can in hand. She couldn’t be more than thirty, yet half her teeth were missing, the other half yellow and about to go. “Can you give me a pound for the bus?” she asked. “No, I can’t do that,” I said. She shrugged and turned away. As I walked back to Union Street I wished I had stopped to talk to them. For a pound, they might have told me an interesting story. That will have to wait until the next time.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006



In Texas, all the world’s a greenhouse – becoming hotter each year. You hardly need to build a large structure with glass walls to concentrate the sun’s energy, and allow you to grow tomatoes, jalapenos or green peppers. Neither can we, when the heat becomes unbearable, open the flaps at the top to let some of the heat escape.

While waiting for our transfer to Aberdeen, I dreamed of greenhouses, such as where I grew up at Old Scone Nursery – not the toy kind you buy prefabricated. They’re set against a solid wall, at least twenty feet high, built of wood that needs to be painted every second year to keep from rotting. (Imagine trying to reach the top panes). The picture shows the Old Scone greenhouse --- well it hadn’t been painted for twenty years. On hot days you have to open the ventilators to keep your plants from wilting. Winter, you need to keep the frost out. We had six inch pipes with circulating hot water fed by a coal boiler. Yes, and guess who had to stoke the fire at ten in the evening?

In the North Country a greenhouse changes your entire gardening style. It’s where your seedlings start until the early-morning frosts are over – sometimes as late as June. The temperature now barely reaches into the 60s F. Also it’s where tomatoes, grapes and all those fruit you take for granted in Texas will grow. And a great place to hang out with a book, among fragrant tomatoes, or work sheltered from the bite of the North Wind.

Walking out of our apartment yesterday we climbed the hill and soon found ourselves among spreading sycamore trees with expansive lawns, trimmed extra short, where kids were playing football. A place where you didn’t hear city traffic, and it was quiet enough to think. At the edge stood two large greenhouses. I tried the door, slightly rotten, and found it open. Mindful of Texas trespassing laws, Amber hung back a moment. Aren’t we trespassing? “They don’t shoot Scotsmen for trespassing,” I said and walked in. The air was several degrees warmer, with a fresh green scent. In the middle hung the long lever to open the ventilator panes. A panorama of unfamiliar landscaping plants that preferred warmer climates grew there. Many succulents such as you see in California. The second greenhouse lay fallow. Whoever gardened had their energies elsewhere.

People here take gardening seriously, no matter how small the plot that needs to be worked, and this usually means more than mowing the lawn. It’s where you connect with the land and its unpredictable climate. If you’re vegetarian, you’d better have your homegrown source of tasty veggies. Eating store veggies with closed eyes, you wouldn’t know if you were eating a tomato or an apple. And several small sprigs of parsley cost you about $3.

Standing in the greenhouse I could see something of what might be. It's fun to dream and even more exciting to make the dream real.

Monday, June 26, 2006


Aberdeen at 11.30 PM -- The view from our apartment

Our Weekend in Scone (Perthshire) – June 26, 2006

Did I tell you that the sun never sets in Aberdeen during the summer that it simply rests itself? After midnight, the sky slumbers in twilight, proffering up brilliant hues of pink and blue and purple as if it might be dreaming of a sunset someplace off the island of Santorini. Fortunately, the curtains in our room are substantial enough to shut out the affects of a nuclear attack, so we’re only befuddled by this phenomenon if we happen to get up in the night for any reason. Further south, the sun sets at the respectable time of eleven or so and doesn’t wake up until about four, as was the case in Perth, where we spent the weekend with Rose and Agata and little Natashia.

Rose’s house is like a sanctuary for me and has been since the day I met her this time last year. The tenderness and ease with which she welcomes you permeates the space like an ancient meditation. The house opens up to you like a river accepting its tributaries and there we retreat from our now active lives in Aberdeen. Agata prepares our favorite Polish treats while Natashia abounds with the energy expected of her 5 ½ years, full of whimsy and playfulness and always ready for a walk to the park. I’m certain of what draws me to Rose is the absence of any trifling petition of my presence there to tranquilize the most challenging road we must all travel into old age and this humility alone, of course, makes me want to move mountains if it made her burden even marginally lighter. She has no idea how much respect and admiration I have for her, nearly to a point of archetypal as she is everything I hope to be in my later years. Her sacrifices have been great, her suffering enormous and her love of all things human is divine. She can bring me to tears (not intentionally) just by the way she puts on her coat. How grateful I am for Rose.

…And, Agata, who teaches me how to make Golabki (pronounced gaw-wump-kee) literally meaning “little pigeons”, cabbages rolls stuffed with rice, wild mushrooms, red and yellow peppers in a tomato sauce and soups and salads that bear an immortal quality all of which she makes for us, these Polish culinary specialties, each time we visit.

Theresa and Iain joined us for dinner on Saturday night and we drank lovely Spanish wine that Iain brought from his father’s house. The table is small and the surroundings are most modest, but the conversation is lively and exciting and even washing up, Agata sings and acts silly making the evening always memorable and fun. (For Johanna and Natalia), Ciocia Terenia and Uncle Iain send their very best, big hugs and can’t wait to see you soon and Rose speaks frequently about how proud of both of you she is, as is your father and I.

Finally, the consecutive walks up Kinnoull Hill restored my soul to its proper place. I’m off on another mission this morning, apart from discovering the most dreadful restaurants in Aberdeen (another of which we uncovered last night – a Tapas eatery owned by McDonald’s, I’m sure) – seriously, a chain of Tapas places called La Tasca, which actually did have decent Sangria and great bread – so, we’d stop for that again and the salsa music as we make our way to the yet discovered treasures that await.

Meanwhile, the locals in Scotland, even as far south and as cosmopolitan as Edinburgh are in protest at what the hyper markets or what Sean F. calls the “Huber stores” are doing to the farming industry here. There is indeed an evolving trend to support local farmers by buying only produce from the farmer’s market and boycotting whenever possible any of the larger stores like ASDA (the equivalent to Wal-Mart). For those of you who know me well, you know I’ve met my heaven.

The plan is to network (and I’ve already met Alan, the owner of Aberdeen’s finest health food store – Nature’s Larder) my way to a local farmer who would let me start a label (working title: The Stone Table – the origin of which rests (a stone table) midway up the climb to the summit of Kinnoull Hill, plus the fact that one can’t think of Scotland without thinking about stones or cairns at any rate), so not only to network my way to the local farmers so as to buy their produce but to proudly preserve their vegetables, can you just see a beautifully decorated jar of beets or carrot jam, plum chutneys, or marinated eggplant boasting the name of a local farmer? We’ll see. I’m most energetic, but I have to first get the facts. I don’t know if there is a market for this or if the market is already saturated, but Theresa and Iain thought the timing was good and even directed me to the Scottish Enterprise Grampian (an organization like the Small Business Administration in the States). Naturally, there would be a book to companion these efforts so I have my work cut out for me this week, not to mention, Paul has signed me up for driving lessons – YIKES – should we alert the City Transportation Dept?

PS – Our house is good and well and leased and we love Roy, our new landlord. The bypass has been debated in the Greenbelt for now forty years. Things move a little bit slower over here – we’re not terribly worried about our living room any more.

Love to you all.


Saturday, June 24, 2006


The three little old ladies sitting near us in the small café drank their tea, while speaking and laughing in loud voices. A man had ordered coffee and a piece of Sara’s baking, then left without paying. When he returned he faced Sara’s wrath. Not a local, but like us, passing through to the highlands. Then we caught snippets of family news, a son or grandson at university and so on.

Balltater sits up against craggy mountains where the Dee cascades out of the hills, widens and continues its path down a long beautiful valley to Aberdeen and the sea. A few intrepid commuters who don’t mind the drive down the one-hour-plus winding road to Aberdeen live here. Down the road is a small deli shop with organic vegetables and specialty items. Then there are trinket shops with expensive woollens and shops with hiking gear, mostly for tourists.

You can tell you’re not in Aberdeen by an awareness in people’s eyes, less preoccupied in solving an impossible problem. Also the relaxed way they drive. In the city, folk don’t have time to be courteous. Too much needs to be done, like now. You’d better wait for the green crossing-light if you don’t want to be honked at. Or mowed down.

In Ballater, we see people content with the life they lead, and where they are. Few have heard of Tolstoy or read “War and Peace.” But then they don’t have the constant urge to be somewhere else or to become something.

Sara and Morris run the small café; Sara bakes all that’s in the display case, lemon pies, a bready cake with raisins and fruit, treacle pie and others. Drinking the tea Amber and I feel new strength after the anxious drive from Aberdeen down the narrow winding road, and we’re ready for the leg over the mountains to Braemar and down into the lowlands, and to Scone for the weekend visit with my mother.

“Do you want a greenhouse?” Sara asks.

“Actually I’m looking for one,” I say. “We’re renting a house with a large vegetable garden near Aberdeen.”

“A man came in saying he wanted to get rid of his, so I told him I’d ask around.”

She hands me a slip of paper with the address: Drumouch Cottage, Invercauld Road. I stare at the paper. No street number. The postman must know the name of every house in the town.

Sara smiles, “You take that road and turn left at the kirk. The house is down the road on the right.”

“What is his name?”

“I don’t know.”

As we get up to leave, I ask Morris, “What do you think of the Aberdeen bypass?”

He laughs. “It’s a running joke as the longest debated route in UK history. They’ve been talking about it for over fifty years now.”

After saying good-bye to Sara and promising to be back soon, we drive down the road, turn left at the kirk – a reddish granite church with a tall steeple. Amber scans the names posted near the doorway to each house while I make sure I don’t hit any cars parked on the two lane road. We find it, and ring the doorbell, but no one replies.

Realizing this isn’t Texas, and we won’t get shot by walking into the back yard, we go through a back gate and find a long grassy space with the greenhouse plopped in the middle – a small generic structure such as you could buy in a garden store. Inside, storage boxes were stacked up, but nothing grew or had grown there recently. The walls had a couple of broken plates that one might repair.

Amber wanted to return to Sara and Morris to get their phone, so we might ask after the greenhouse, but I was ready to move on with our trip. The craggy hills above beckoned us, the total wilderness of nature untouched by human hand.

Friday, June 23, 2006

I thought I could find the humor in sharing my living room with a bypass in the next two years, but alas, I’m exhausted from the idea of considering such a house guest so I’m going to pack for Perth instead. (We’re off to see Rose for the weekend and we’re taking the scenic route through Braemar, by Balmoral Castle and through Blairgowrie, a sweet little town with a great restaurant).

I do know that at least Paul and I have found a joint cause to fight as we’re both very passionate about the landscape not being invaded here in Scotland...trying to look on the bright side of things, hoping all of this works out behind the scenes.

Forgive the short entry. Will post something more cheerful next week. I think I just need a good long climb up Kinnoull Hill.

Have a great weekend. Amber

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Vagabond’s Guide to the Galaxy – June 23

“Come on Mr. Dent, you can’t lie there!”

Where? Mr. Dent was lying in front of a bulldozer that was about to push over his house, to put a bypass through his living room. “Bypass” – the local term for freeway.

“Can’t I? Let’s wait and see who rusts first,” Mr. Dent says.

By a totally odd coincidence, Paul and Amber discover that the city of Aberdeen plans to put a bypass through their new living room. How did they find out? Not because a realtor or the owner of the house alerted them, but because an office coworker (John Gibson) said – Blacktop? Isn’t that where they want to build the new bypass? And so I find out that the city plans to put the bypass near Gairn Park. It’s west of us by a few miles, I say. I look closer. “Crivens! It’s supposed to go through Roy’s ranch. ”By the time I reach our suite, I pull up a more detailed map. Then I look at Amber. “Michty me, they’re putting it through our living room!”

But will it happen? No way, say most people in the office. At any rate not any time soon. Most Aberdonians regard the bypass as a boondoggle foisted on the city by business concerns and folk living in the north who want to visit their kids in Dundee without driving through Aberdeen. Many grassroots orgs are working to stop it. Today it transpired that in budgeting the project, they forgot to add in the taxes. Graffiti on the motorway displayed someone’s butt, with VAT (Value added tax) sticking there. There will be many hearings and court challenges before the project goes ahead. Current plans are to break ground in 2009 – by which time the Vagabond and his Gipsy wife may be due to move on.

I wonder about Roy, our landlord and owner who has put more than thirty years into the area only to see it all torn up. Will he lie down like Arthur Dent in front of the bulldozer? Our concerns are small by comparison. Originally the bypass was supposed to plough through Camphill – a center for the autistic, downs syndrome and otherwise handicapped. Applying the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, a German mystic who lived in the early 20th century and founded Waldorf Schools, Camphill has apparently accomplished marvelous things with the handicapped. They worked against the bypass for 12 years. So the Scottish Executive moved the route over to Cults and Marycoulter, a place well endowed with American expats, because of its proximity to the International School. Oops, too much money, so the bypass moved again to where there’s only beautiful scenery, in fact some of the most spectacular in Aberdeenshire – it’s not well moneyed and it can’t complain.

Well, hell we’re going to help it complain. We’ve already found the “Greenbelt Alliance” that is putting a lot of energy into stopping this project. This is where the beaurocratic Scottish legal system may be our friend. Getting anything done is so impossible that many developers give up trying. And it may be easy to throw up roadblocks at various junctions.

The Camphill community is also still engaged as the bypass route cleaves through their land. We’d like to also contact them. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the loudest voice that questions the blind pursuit of money might arise from some of our community’s most vulnerable?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The banality of it all unless I was to hearken back to M.F.K. Fisher by some clever means to justify my mission in seeking out the absolute best Indian restaurant in Aberdeen City would have overwhelmed me, so Madame Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, I’m guessing this is what you might have done with an empty Tuesday in Provence…

I’d been cooking in the apartment since our arrival on Saturday and in spite of the fact that you had to stand sideways, competing with the washing machine to reach the sink, (whoever designed that space either never washed dishes or ever had to which might point to the possibility that this kitchen was designed by a man) in spite of this petty nuisance all else was well laid out for a City dwelling, certainly manageable enough in such close quarters. The Italian Bread Salad I made on Monday night was memorable; sun dried tomatoes, fresh basil, delicious mix of Mediterranean olives, feta, baby spinach leaves, day old bread, and of course a good douse of olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt and pepper complementing nicely the lentils, potatoes and fresh red and yellow bells which were as ordinary as they sound, but then not everybody can be a star.

Hence it was time to dine out, so that morning before Paul left for work I asked if he wanted Italian, Asian, Indian or Scottish and Indian was the reply.

Of course my first search took me to which surprisingly yielded no response and I’m not quite sure why, but then soon discovered the Guide (a webpage listing local events and restaurant reviews) and successfully recorded the address and phone numbers of each potential candidate before I set out on foot to check out interiors, retrieve take out menus and scrutinize the location altogether, intrepid food sleuth that I am.

Descending the steps of the Skene House deposits you directly at the front of the
Concierge Desk and in all good measure, considering I’m new to Aberdeen and too that I was literally nose to nose with her (the Concierge) I thought it at least a sensible idea to ask where the locals eat Indian and while at it, if nothing else, to get a good foot map, so I briefly explained my proposed odyssey and this lovely young women with the most delightful lilt in her voice suggested I look into Cinnamon, for apparently it had been voted the number one restaurant in Aberdeen City two years running. “Really”, I exclaimed, as I hadn’t run across it in any of my research but be that as it may, I dutifully took down the address and set off…with a foot map, of course.

No ill intent meant to the City of Aberdeen, but after years of traveling and years of opportunity to ask a local where the locals eat, it was Shirley who said to me one day, “How do you know the person you’re asking knows anything about food?” Well, I’d never thought of it like that before, but since can think of it in no other terms, so regarding the choices of the collective from an intuitive angle you will likely fall into the “right 80% of the time” category, which are not bad odds, though something about the interior of Cinnamon screamed “NO” you’re in the 20% zone here, as this wee whisper was vanquished by my own voice requesting dinner reservations for two at 7:30.

But that wasn’t the only thing I had to do that day, which might be why I blazed a trail away from there thinking I had it made. I had yet to stop for a card and flowers and champagne for Paul and then write the poem that had been making noises for days. In all fairness to my sixth sense of the culinary arts, I had romance on my mind and I was just certain that after flowers and champagne and poetry we’d finish off the evening with the best Indian restaurant in Aberdeen City, but alas the 20% category had other things in mind for us.

One of the warning signals was a poorly written, nay, deplorably written restaurant review posted to the board in the vestibule area. Then carelessly stuck up around that were newspaper clippings of silly local celebs shoveling pompadours and what looked like the spicy eggplant into their mouths with green sauce trickling down the side. It gave me the feeling altogether of an Indian pub, if there were such a thing, of a bunch of football fanatics sopping up dal with naan bread sort of thing, even though the interior was cool and well laid out with a hint of unmistakable New York trendy. (Looking back on it though, it was the kind of place that Donald Trump and all of his groupies might have likely landed for an evening to see and be seen and it was that very image which struck me midway during dinner that, had it not been for the tenderness and the humoring of my husband, might have landed me in a shire lock up someplace for unruly disturbance in a public place, like cussing out the chef for starters).

Anyway, as I’ve already told you, I had other things on my mind so I wasn’t paying attention to the warning signs that day which returned us to the door of Cinnamon at a prompt 7:25 to be met by, oh no, it couldn’t be, my eyes deceived me, an East Indian man dressed in full regalia including a neatly wrapped jeweled turban on his head. Where was he when I went by at lunch? My memories raced back to the Greek cousins of the local taverna owners in Athens who are paid handsomely to beckon unsuspecting tourists into an economic culinary nightmare. I’m not even sure if all of this is so politically correct, thinking too shades of colonization, Passage to India and all, but we kept walking toward our destiny. WHAT WAS I THINKING?

Okay, it’s going to get better I comforted myself. Don’t blame the chef for a tacky gimmick over which he had no control of the owner. Let’s just get down to the business of the sag paneer…what?! What do you mean you don’t have sag paneer? No dal? What kind of self respecting Indian restaurant doesn’t have DAL?! We have blah blah blah Spinach blah with blah. I don’t want that, on the verge of homicide. I want sag paneer, oh, never mind, give me back that menu.

And then there it was, the culprit, right in front of my face, like a tiger in prey, “Nouvelle Indian Cuisine.” Oh what have I done? They’re probably going to serve the rice in a timbale form…and they did, and the shrimp sat up so attentively with their split bellies, tails upright in the corner of yes, you guessed it, a square plate, with nouvelle portions of sauce – translated to NOT ENOUGH.

Paul thought the food was fine, but nothing memorable which I think is criminal given all these accolades. Who awards these titles anyway? Best this and that. Somebody who doesn’t know that Sag Paneer and Dal are as much a staple as rice on an Indian menu, that’s who.

But in all fairness, the naan was very good and the walk home delightful. Wish us better luck next time. Tonight we’re staying in for what I consider Paul’s award winning omelet. No complaints here.


GAIRN PARK (Part 1) June 21

From the back of the house you can see very far, twenty five miles or so of rolling hills and meadows. Closer to home several cows raised their heads and stared at us. But my eyes were drawn to a large patch of land scorched by weedkiller to prepare for a gardening project. Rows of potatoes, cabbages, leeks, carrots and whatever would grow there – room for just about everything. And with the open skies, and ten hours of daylight during the summer, several crops could grow in succession. Also – so much sky. On a clear winter night a close view of stars, a busy telescope, and the occasional blaze of Aurora Borealis. Then there was the network of nearby forest trails. To cure cabin fever you could step outside and lose yourself among the trees.

Lady Amber was looking at the house, a large modern-looking stucco structure. On the web she’d been scanning sandstone cottages at least 200 years old and converted steadings, so this house didn’t fit the mold. While we waited for the owner to arrive, she walked over to a complex of sheds lower down, that turned out to be horse stables. One stall was converted to a workshop, the others stored what looked like Mardi Gras memorabilia.

Roy appeared, a man with a reddish complexion. friendly, but cautious as he observed us. Pat, our realtor companion, told us earlier he was a “loon” – in Aberdonian a country kid – not necessarily crazy. Only after we entered the house did we see that whoever designed the place had an artist’s eye, so that the interior blended perfectly with the exterior. In the living room only a wall of glass separated you from the hills and yes – it had a fireplace for real wood and coal, a flame your heart would long for in the middle of Winter. As I stood looking at it, I heard Amber shriek next door, and found her in the dining room, pointing at a bar surmounted with bottles. A metallic Texas star stared at us from the front, and the bumper sticker, “Texas is bigger than France.” Och aye, the present tenants were as Texan as they come.

Walking through each room we saw how the outside connected with the inside through windows and skylights. Amber was smiling. Memories of sandstone houses must have faded as she walked enchanted by the extensive kitchen, guest rooms, places to work, write or entertain. Aberdeen was only a fifteen minute drive away, and a walk across the land would take you to a bus stop or shops. The closest pub was a little father, a two mile walk to Bieldside.

We had seen many beautiful houses earlier that day. One in Cults close to the Dee River also appealed to us, though I found the garden small and shady. I would have to carve the vegetable patch out of the lawn, and even so it might not work. Another one, Huntly House was halfway to Banchory and had acres of well manicured garden that would give you delusions of being a Scottish Lord, until you started to weed it after work, or hired a gardening crew to do the job. A stupendous place, but I’d have to spoil the landscaping by carving out a vegetable patch. It’s a drive from anywhere, the closest town being Drumoak – a town of cookie cutter houses, so new that it’s not on published maps.
Coming from Texas, we hoped to leave behind the car culture where you have to drive bumper to bumper for endless miles to get anywhere.

After walking through the Gairn Park house we stopped outside with Roy, and looked around us, at the small burn flowing past, and a filled-in pond that could become a water garden. We were all smiling.

Link to Gairn Park

Wednesday, June 21, 2006



It was the first hill we had climbed in a few months, only a few hundred feet but that was enough for people coming from the flats where hang-gliding enthusiasts and amateur parachutists have to launch themselves from the freeway overpasses. We stopped often to catch our breaths and look at the hill, admire the golden gorse and broom, then struggle on up toward the ruin on the hill. An elderly couple, the man missing most of his teeth, sauntered down toward us, not showing any effort. “Ye’ve a long way to go!” the man said.

Like most jewels we discover, Dunnideer Hill wasn’t on any map, but rose up in front of us after we drove through Insch, a small town with a railway station halfway between Aberdeen and Huntly. The main street contains a small grocery shop, a chemist, a butcher, a shop with toys for very small children, and that’s it. In the grocery we asked a middle-aged woman stocking the shelves if there was another main street. “Well,” she huffed. “People shop in Inverrurie or Elgin. We’re being squeezed out.” She didn’t think much of the march of economic prosperity and booming oil prices.

The last fifty feet we climbed was not on a natural hill. From its regular contours, we realized that this was an earthwork piled there thousands of years ago to serve a religious or political purpose. Hundreds of people carried the soil there on their backs or dragged it up in primitive sleds. Since then fort after fort was built there and fell into ruin, the last in the thirteenth century. We stood in the shelter of the arch while the rain misted down and washed the grassy hilltop. Rimming the hill stood pieces of an older wall blackened as if by fire. The stones looked scorched and turned to glass as if by some unimaginable heat, possibly fire accompanying the sack of an ancient fortress.

It was a peaceful place, that fed the soul, and we felt sure we’d return there and feed on its mystery. The hill could tell us much of what it had seen, the joys and suffering of many generations. You might also see far away places, things not obvious to us as we scurry around the flatlands in that frenzy which we call life.

From the hill we had a clear view of Inch and realized the town contained two clusters, the old Insch --- houses made of sandstone blocks and the main street. Then there were rectangular streets of clean-looking identical houses of the oil boom. In a distant corner several bulldozers had cleared trees and leveled land for more houses. All short-term. Ten years from now most of the new folk would be gone, and Insch might recover its heart, and no longer be the in-between place.

Monday, June 19, 2006

June 17, 2006


We hadn’t been sitting with our beers for long before the string of uniformed slappers staggered into the Ship’s Inn. Each wore a short pink top, fishnet stockings of various colors, a celebratory banner. They ordered vodka and retired to the patio outside where they smoked and jabbered. We made out a young woman in their midst, a white veil pinned to her hair, and realized that she was no doubt the cause of all the excitement.

We were drawn to the Ship’s Inn at the edge of Stonehaven Harbor by the large crowd of men and women blocking the door and talking noisily. Such a place had to have excellent beer or food, and we hadn’t eaten but a bag of crisps (chips in the US) since landing that morning at Dyce Airport near Aberdeen. Our house in Houston is packed into a container now being loaded onto a boat, leaving us to explore the northern land, taste its food, explore hidden crannies and discover the people and the land’s enchantment. And so we found Stonehaven, a small town built on steep hills, lifted up from the sea by the Highland Fault. In grade school the teacher points to it on the map and says – Stonehaven to Hellensburgh, the line that creates the Scottish Highlands.

We’re surprised to recognize a grayhaired couple in a window seat whom we had encountered earlier on the main street outside a pub. As we considered whether to enter, the man said: “Ye’ll no want tai go in there!” They smiled, seeing that we had found the “right pub.”

The slappers drained their vodka bottles and moved on, heading for the next stop. Above the peaked hill overlooking the harbor the sun broke through the clouds painting the water, fishing boats and stacks of lobster pots with gold. It’s seven in the evening, we’re close to the longest day and the sun won’t set until for four more hours. The bar lady brought us a bowl stacked high with mussels, lobster claws and baked bass with chips. At the first bite, Amber and I looked at each other, and realized that the fresh North Sea catch was of another order. A symphony of flavors you’d better not try and describe. It can only be understood by tasting it. Mussels were steamed in a cream sauce that enhanced their delicate flavor. Lobster claws took all the force of the nutcracker, but the delicate meat rewarded us. From a shelf I picked up an estate publication, and scanned it for properties to lease, not many. A local newspaper sat unread while we savored each morsel.

The World Cup was on everybody’s lips. Go Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil or whoever might defeat England. They discussed players whose names we did not know, but might eventually get to know.

Leaving the Ship’s Inn, we first oriented ourselves by the sun and headed toward the market square. The many shop fronts we passed were darkened. Only the grocery store stayed open past 6 pm. Outside a corner pub we found the uniformed girls, a little more woosy, but unrepentant. The night was young and they had a few more stops waiting for them.

As for Lady Amber:

Yes, well, I think we all know that it’s Sir Paul who orients himself by the sun and for a fact I know too it’s not without the aid of a good map that chaperons him to his destination, but dear me, his wife navigates altogether from a different point of view; indeed miraculous we haven’t had more quarrels considering I can’t even read a map (especially not on the highway at 80 miles an hour) or successfully drive on the wrong side of the road without knocking the tires out of alignment, so I say it’s a good thing he has the sun. Otherwise he wants to know why I’ve told him to turn “here” and my response is a simple, “because it feels like you should turn here, that’s why. What a ridiculous question.”

Anyway, enough of all that, I can’t believe I’m in Europe. I’m finally really actually conclusively doubtless unquestionably in fact in Europe today, on Monday, June 19, 2006….Jordan’s birthday and I’m not on vacation and I’m off to find spices and Palestinian olive oil and good wine and a pulse, my pulse in the City. Meanwhile, everything is stone and old and craggy and uneven and cell phones are expensive and public toilets cost money and the locals drive too fast and they honk their horns all the time, but I’m here in the land of dual faucets and strange looking appliances and T.V. that talks with an accent, I’m blessedly here at last. And so deeply grateful, so genuinely happy. And then there are the seagulls, which will have to wait until tomorrow.

So…there it is for the moment.

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