I stayed longer than I would have ideally but the airfares went up during and around Easter. That bearded one, has a lot to answer for !
Actually, Easter in Scotland, apart from two days public holiday, is generally, religiously and even commercially a bit of a non event. I find it difficult to believe, but even commercially there just isn’t a hard sell even compared to the likes of Mother’s Day or Halloween. We are normally bombarded throughout the year with “must have” buys to celebrate this or that festival and these days, one seamlessly slides into the next. Not so with Easter in Scotland.
The reformation saw to that. Unlike its English counterpart, (which was really all about Henry the something needing a divorce) the Scottish reformation was altogether a different affair and was probably the most extreme in Europe.
Apart from the obvious changes in religious practices and how the church is administered, it was an act of artistic vandalism on a gigantic scale and was systematically carried out throughout the length and breadth of the land. There wasn’t an artistic or religious artifact left after it was finished and there is only one prereformation church intact in Scotland today. It was carried out as a response, I suppose, to the desperate need for change within The Catholic Church – now – what is that law in physics ? – every reaction is equal and opposite to its action. Not only did the reformation put paid to Easter as a spiritual feast but it was common place for men to be working on Christmas day up until the early 1960’s. What’s that expression concerning babies and bathwater ? Christmas is of course different now. Its the biggest spending spree of the lot. The commercial boys sorted that one.
Two weeks was too long though. It broke the rhythm of being in Barga and I became too accustomed to the wonderful face of our Nuova Scozia.
Prestwick airport: arrival area and good coffee, sun dried tomatoes, feta cheese and olive oil on freshly baked bread, not to mention a railway station in the airport. We have come a long way in the last 30 years. There was even a “Welcome to Scotland” sign in amongst some lovely and tasteful images of Scotland. The welcome sign even had its Gaelic translation, “Failte Gu Alba” below the English version albeit in much smaller letters. Is this officially an act of sedition ? – I suspect so !
Is this wonderful language (which was once spoken all over Scotland) and its accompanying culture safe now ? I so hope it is. Successive governments for hundreds of years have been trying to eliminate it. Its now been officially recognised and has its place once more in our Parliament. Its been the churches though (both Catholic and Presbyterian) in The Western Isles who have traditionally been and still are the main champions of the language and what a fantastic job they have done by encouraging Gaelic to be spoken in the family home and conducting their church services and masses in Gaelic.
Scots too as a language is flourishing again. Although not publicly funded to the same extent as Gaelic there is a growing awareness of and pride in this other linguistic string to our bow and there is a great movement to preserve this rich seam of our national culture. It was common place not so long ago to be made to feel stupid for speaking it. I think these days are largely gone now.
Since May when for the first time an S.N.P. government was elected to power (albeit with only a majority of one) it has achieved much, much more for Scotland than Labour did in the previous 10 years. What is even more amazing is that the policies which have been enacted are social democratic ones which Labour are supposed to stand for. They don’t of course. Tony Blair saw to that and with some pretty bad acting skills and some slithery stealth, created a “New Labour” with more right wing policies than the Tories.
Scotland has traditionally always been a socialist country with egalitarian ideals. Cries from opponents to The Scottish National Party have always been that they are “Tartan Tories” ; but listen to this :
Since May of last year with a majority of only one, The S.N.P. have
Ended private sector involvement in The Scottish Health Service. (put there ironically enough by Labour)
Abolished prescription charges.
Saved local Accident and Emergency Units.
Backdated the N.H.S. pay award.
Abolished student fees.
Cut class sizes in schools.
Given equal rights to children of asylum seekers.
Started a pilot scheme for free school meals.
Rejected nuclear power.
Doubled the international aid budget.
Condemned the Iraqi war.
Ended ring fencing of council spending.
Abolished bridge tolls.
As well as all of these new found changes and leaving politics aside my journey home was filled with joy. We celebrated my Dad’s 89th birthday in style. I spent valuable time with family and friends and especially loved seeing the monumental changes in the new wee one, Maura. Actually she is coming to Barga soon and no doubt will, (in true Moore family tradition) be joining in one of the music sessions in Aristos. You can’t start them off too early you know.
I have been at an exceptional night of opera in The Duomo since coming back. A group of young music students from Cardiff are over doing a series of concerts : Rossini , Verdi, Vivaldi, Brahms and Mozart.
So much talent and such beautiful voices. (article here)
But hey – us musicians and singers: we’re all amateurs compared with the birds and most especially the blackies.
And it was the birds, it occurred to me after my return, that linked the trip to Scotland and my return to Barga.
The Curlews with their spine tingling cries had arrived back in the marshy ground surrounding my workshop. The name of my old farm buildings where my workshop is housed is Fungarth. This is a crude (as they all were) cartographer’s Anglicization of a beautiful Gaelic word which tells us so much about the place.
Fionngort – it means “light” (that’s the “fionn” bit and the steading is indeed south facing) peninsula of fertile land in a sea of land which is not quite so fertile ; and its these not quite so fertile bits which provide rich nesting grounds for the curlews.
Oystercatchers were not to be outdone and were joining in and a persistent wood pecker drummed on my huge ash tree. The bonny wee wrens were still hopping along the stone dykes beside me as I walked, before suddenly disappearing off back to their tree stumps and their troglodytic existence. Its hard to believe that they used to be hunted on St. Stephen’s day in Ireland – for sport .
Over the pastoral lands between Auchtermuchty (of the aforementioned Jimmy Shand fame) and Falkland (where that prereformation chapel of the Stewart dynasty still stands) we heard the beautiful sound of the Skye Larks and saw and heard the Piwits (and their name describes their call) diving and weaving their way round the newly ploughed fields. They are the ones who as a diversionary tactic feign a broken wing (and the resultant dives and falls from the sky are spectacular to watch) when anyone comes anywhere near their nest.
On the coast I saw waders and amongst them heard the plaintive call of the Red Shanks. These birds because they spend half their time on the shore and half in the sea were thought by the ancient Gaelic peoples to inhabit a place between this world and the spirit world. Their cry, (peeleeleelyooo) is dominated by the myxolidian flattened 7th of the pipe scale which represents the note of sorrow on that instrument. In fact every note on the pipes is associated with a different emotion: maybe for discussion another day with the relationships of The Launedas from Sardinia to our ancient Pictish Triple Pipe.
A group of six Swans like overladen jumbo jets took for ever to take off over the Tay and their majestic slowly beating wings brought Sibelius’s 5th resounded round my head.
The Wild Geese in their movable V formations were on the move north after overwintering in Scotland and their wondrous honking echoed round their world and mine.
Back in Barga spring had sprung and I quickly moved into my new accommodation, (Latriani) a rustic farm house just to the North east of Barga, with spectacular views overlooking the old city with its sheer cliff face forming one of four sides of this most natural of amphitheaters. It is home to thousands of birds and it was they who welcomed me, with their song resounding round this beautiful acoustic basin. The shear volume of sound is astounding at dawn. There’s even a blue tit who comes and chaps on my kitchen window pane each morning at about 8am : an unusual alarm but effective. The swallows had arrived back in Barga too. They’re not back in Scotland yet but will be soon. I’ve kept a diary note each year of when the swallows arrive and its mind-blowing as to how these tiny creatures manage to fly all that way from Africa across the Sahara and arrive back on the same date (plus or minus one) every year. How do they do it ?
But in song, its the blackbirds really who excel and they are here in abundance in Barga singing their hearts out.
Let me finish with a poem from “The Cycle of Finn” taken from Kenneth White’s book, “On the Atlantic Edge”. It says it all in such few words. (Thanks to my good pal Donald for giving me this book the day before I came back to Barga. I have loved it and am re-reading for second time)
“Your song is sweet, blackbird ,
no where in the world have I heard music sweeter than yours.
You, priest, would do well to listen, you can always go back to your prayers later.
If you knew the real story of the blackbird, priest, you’d weep tears, you might even stop for a moment thinking about your God.
It was in the blue-streamed land of Norway that Finn caught the bird you now see.
And he put it in a wood of the West, in a wood of fine trees where the Fianna loved to take their rest.
Finn loved to lie there listening to the blackbird sing or the stag roar.
He also loved the song of the grouse, the sound made by the otter as it slips into the water, and the screech of the eagle.
He delighted in the noise of the waves in the morning as they rolled over the beach of white pebbles.”
Hamish Moore – Barga – 12th April 2008. – The seventh article from Hamish Moore – the premier small pipes bagpipe maker in Scotland now working in Barga as artist in residence 2008 – all of his articles can be read here