I can, *ahem*, be a tad obsessive about things. In the months leading up to our Ireland trip last spring I was eating Anne Enright novels for breakfast and had The Frames constantly looping on my iPod. I also spent several train trips gazing at my laminated fold-out map of Dublin, and spent many long baths poring over the tourist booklets I received from the tour company. When that plane took off, I felt prepared.
But I really wasn’t prepared at all. I realized that despite my historical family ties to Ireland, I really didn’t know much about the country’s history. There was the great famine, of course, which is why my great-great-great grandparents left County Kerry for Canada, and I knew a little bit about the Northern Ireland Troubles, but I really had no idea about much else. I guess one could say that learning things is one of the points of traveling, and I did learn some things during our trip, but I found myself really wishing I had spent more time learning about Ireland’s history. I think I would have appreciated certain aspects of the trip more, but also would have had some context and would not have necessarily had to take a guide’s word as the truth.
Next spring I’m going to Scotland. I had hoped to go this fall, but for a whole series of reasons it’s going to have to be next year. Plus, the more I read the more I think I’d rather go in the spring (the best time is the summer, but the prices double/triple). This means that instead of having six months to obsess, I have 15 months! This trip is also fueled by family lineage, though tracing my roots has been difficult. When your mom’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather have the Scottish equivalent of John Smith as their name, it’s almost impossible to figure out whether or not you have the right one. And then there’s the coin toss of a different branch on my family tree; they may have been Irish or Scottish – but every generation seems to have invented a new way of spelling it and, again, good luck figuring it all out. At any rate, while I may be forever cut off from the specifics, there’s still metric tons of Scottish history and culture to learn about, and I’m determined to cram into my brain as much as I can between now and departure time. I’m trying to balance modern culture with the historical stuff, so there’s a smattering of everything right now:
1. Monarch of the Glen (tv series, several seasons available via Netflix on-demand)
2. Dougie Maclean (musician)
3. The Thistle & Shamrock (traditional Scottish and Irish music, often with a twist)
4. Scotland: The Story of A Nation by Magnus Magnusson
5. The Outlander series (fiction)
6. The Stone of Destiny (movie, also available via Netflix)
One of the things I’ve been learning about, other than that Caledonia was what the Romans called Scotland, is Scotland’s upcoming referendum in 2014 on establishing its independence from Great Britain. I’ve seen a couple of pieces here and there on both the BBC Scotland site and in the NY Times, but today’s NY Times opinion section has a great op-ed piece about it that includes some history.
The other thing I have learned? The cat hates the sound of bagpipes.