Homecoming Scotland: Glasgow, “A Fiddler in the North”

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Returning to a place that you once knew as home, especially after three years away, can be daunting. I loved my time living in Glasgow in 2010, came to love the city more than most cities I’ve experienced. And yet I knew that part of that love came from my specific, ephemeral experience. My friends in Glasgow were almost all international students. Very few were native Scots, and we all left around the same time, a group that came together and disbanded as quickly as it formed. So how would I feel coming back? Is a place the same without the people who made it? Is it anything at all?

Glasgow was a time of many firsts for me. My first international trip alone. My first non-dormitory apartment. My first experiences with alcohol. My first time actually living in a city other than Albuquerque, New Mexico. My first steady studio practice, and learning to operate by my own timetable as an artist. That exchange semester was a definitive time for me as both a person as an artist, which is likely the reason why I love the city so dearly. I’ve wanted to come back ever since I left.

I can be a fairly private, introverted person. So the fact that I managed to make a stable group of friends in Glasgow is impressive enough. However, coming back to Glasgow today, I realized that my experience of Glasgow was as much internal as it was social. Many of the things I loved here were social memories, but there were also personal moments. My morning runs, winding through the statues and tiered hills of Kelvingrove park with the Glasgow University tower peering out through the trees. Walking down Buchanan street whenever I needed to buy something and hearing pipers from every direction, the sound drifting so often out of silence that I sometimes thought I was hearing them when I wasn’t. The brown, the grey, green moss over brick and stone and water. Nighttime walks down from Hillhead on ice-coated streets, holding folded paper under my arm as I made my way to figure drawing sessions in a basement gallery.

In a time of experiencing new places, of staying in other peoples’ homes and having locals tell you where to go, what to do, I’m given peace of mind in coming to a place where I feel local. I know where the bus stations are, the train stations, the shortest and prettiest walking routes to get from place to place. I know the unnamed bars and tea shops, the coffee shops with art on the walls, the quietest and loudest parts of the city, the places to avoid and seek out. And I’m here with E, who has never experienced Glasgow before, so I get to share a bit of my love of this city with her. It’s familiarity in a time of displacement, memories in a time of new experiences, and above all, it’s my Glasgow, as I remember it.

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And now, some Robert Burns. Just for fun. And Scotland. And the repeating O.

A Fiddler in the North

Robert Burns

Amang the trees, where humming bees,
At buds and flowers were hinging, O,
Auld Caledon drew out her drone,
And to her pipe was singing, O:
‘Twas Pibroch, Sang, Strathspeys, and Reels,
She dirl’d them aff fu’ clearly, O:
When there cam’ a yell o’ foreign squeels,
That dang her tapsalteerie, O.

Their capon craws an’ queer “ha, ha’s,”
They made our lugs grow eerie, O;
The hungry bike did scrape and fyke,
Till we were wae and weary, O:
But a royal ghaist, wha ance was cas’d,
A prisoner, aughteen year awa’,
He fir’d a Fiddler in the North,
That dang them tapsalteerie, O.

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