The Meeting Point Of Two Worlds

I saw Byzantium in a dream, and knew that I would die there.  That vast city seemed to me a living thing: a great golden lion, or a crest serpent, coiled upon a rock, beautiful and deadly.”  So begins the epic story of Aidan, an Irish monk chosen to travel with a company of fellow monks carrying an illuminated manuscript (The Book of Kells) as a gift for the Emperor of all Christendom who resides in Byzantium.  A true story no less, although fictionalized, but a remarkable journey that took far longer and a more circuitous route to complete than was originally envisioned.

Byzantium - Stephen Lawhead

Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul – for generations untold, that fabled city has been a destination or a gateway to the east for travelers.  Our own trip to that legendary city began with a book also – well, a lot of books actually.  We were invited to help deliver school curriculum material to an International School in Istanbul.  On the morning of our departure a perfect crescent moon and bright morning star hung together in the inky blackness of the pre-dawn sky – a reminder that next time we saw it we would be standing on Turkish soil. Our arrival at Ataturk airport was a reminder that Istanbul is (as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk said) “the meeting point of two worlds”.  Middle Eastern culture, customs and people intermingle with those from the west.  We were met by friends at the airport then, after a traffic-jammed ride past blocks of high-rise apartments festooned with air-conditioning units, TV satellite receivers and clean laundry, we found ourselves deposited on the doorstep of a small hotel in the Sultanahmet district.  It was actually quite a pleasant little hotel: clean and quiet (except for a nearby loudspeaker calling the faithful to prayer at about 5:00am) with a helpful and accommodating manager.  It wasn’t the Pera Palace, but then unlike Eric Newby’s account of his stay in A Short Walk In The Hindu Kush as a prelude to his Asian adventure, our plumbing worked quite well.

Hindu Kush Cover Pic“We grew fond of the Pera Palace; the beds had big brass knobs on and were really comfortable.  Our room seemed the setting for some ludicrous comedy that was just about to begin.  Probably it had already been played many times.  It was easy to imagine some bearded minister of Abdul Hamid pursuing a fat girl in black stockings and garters round it and hurting himself on the sharp bits of furniture.  In the bathroom the bath had the unusual facility of filling itself by way of the waste pipe without recourse to the taps.  We watched this process enthralled.”

 As it turned out, this occurrence happened every time the guest next door pulled the plug on his bath causing the water to back up into Newby’s tub.

Our first venture on foot in the narrow, winding roads of the historic section took us past a roadside vendor with his cart squeezing fresh juice from oranges and pomegranates (like this vendor we met in Izmir later in our trip):

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Stores lining the Hippodrome.

We made our way up to the broad promenade of the Hippodrome (an ideal location for people-watching) which was filled with temporary booths for the vendors of food and gifts as it was the season for Ramadan.  The streets were mainly given over to tourists since the locals couldn’t eat, drink or smoke until sundown.

One storekeeper, who spoke excellent English (having worked for some time on Alaskan fishing boats), told us the fasting tended to make the populace a bit cranky. Understandably so, if one is used to coffee and nicotine to start the day!  The Hippodrome is now a large city square – a park-like structure with some interesting monuments commemorating its past history as a race course and the sight of a major massacre:

Throughout the Byzantine period, the Hippodrome was the centre of the city’s social life. Huge amounts were bet on chariot races, and initially four teams took part in these races, each one financially sponsored and supported by a different political party (Deme) within the Roman/Byzantine Senate: The Blues (Venetoi), the Greens (Prasinoi), the Reds (Rousioi) and the Whites (Leukoi). The Reds (Rousioi) and the Whites (Leukoi) gradually weakened and were absorbed by the other two major factions (the Blues and Greens).
A total of up to eight chariots (two chariots per team), powered by four horses each, competed on the racing track of the Hippodrome. These races were not simple sporting events, but also provided some of the rare occasions in which the Emperor and the common citizens could come together in a single venue. Political discussions were often made at the Hippodrome, which could be directly accessed by the Emperor through a passage that connected the Kathisma (Emperor’s Loge at the eastern tribune) with the Great Palace of Constantinople.
The rivalry between the Blues and Greens often became mingled with political or religious rivalries, and sometimes riots, which amounted to civil wars that broke out in the city between them. The most severe of these was the Nika riots of 532, in which an estimated 30,000 people were killed and many important buildings, such as the second Hagia Sophia Church, were destroyed. The current (third) Hagia Sophia was built by Justinian following the Nika Revolt.” (source: Wikipedia)

The Hippodrome was adorned with monuments by the various emperors.  Among the monuments brought was the pink sandstone Obelisk which was erected by Theodosius I in 390 AD.  It was originally made for Thutmose III who reigned in Egypt from 1479 to 1425 BC.

The Obelisk in the Hippodrome

The Obelisk in the Hippodrome

From the Hippodrome we made our way to what may reasonably be called the best known landmark in Istanbul – the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom) – the epitome of Byzantine architecture known for its huge domed ceiling.  It was designed by the Greek scientists Isidore of Miletus, a physicist, and Anthemius of Tralles, a mathematician and stood as the largest cathedral for a thousand years.  From a church to a mosque, it now stands as a museum.

Entering the cool, dim and cavernous interior of the Hagia Sophia from the heat and bright sunshine of the day was taking a step back in time to a bygone era.  The walls, once adorned with gilded Christian iconographic images and subsequently covered with Islamic designs, are slowly being restored and the images are being uncovered once more. From the main level, a cobblestone ramp leads the visitor around the perimeter wall up to the gallery level.

The Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom)

The Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom)

Following in the footsteps of the multitudes who have worn those stones smooth with their feet, keeping ones balance with a steadying hand on the wall, one is swept along by the flow of history. Prelates and princes, worshipers and warriors have all placed their feet on those stones.  Perhaps one of the most fascinating images that remains unchanged (and that harks back to Aiden’s story) is the Viking graffiti that gives testimony to the sacking of the city by Viking raiders.

viking graffiti

The Vikings have hardly been the only trouble the city has seen.  Due to its unique position in the geo-political world it has seen more than its share of turmoil.  With the demise of the Ottoman Empire following the First World War, and the rise of the modern Turkish nation under the leadership of Ataturk (who died in 1938), Turkey chose the path of strict neutrality with the outbreak of World War Two; but as with many neutral cities such as Lisbon and Geneva, Istanbul became a hot bed of espionage and intrigue that carried on past the end of the war and into the Cold War era – a time so vividly captured in Joseph Kanon’s suspenseful novel Istanbul Passage.  Istanbul Passage Cover PicIt is quite apparent that Joseph Kanon has spent some time in Istanbul – he speaks of the layers of history that exist there and captures the geography, the atmosphere and the personality of the city remarkably well. All the famous landmarks are brought to life in his novel – the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar, the University, Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Galata Bridge and even Taksim Square (scene of the recent protests in Istanbul).  From the water traffic on the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus to the Dolmus mini-buses, the commuter rail system and the taxi cabs that run all over the city, Istanbul is a city on the move.  We were advised not to think of renting a car but to rely on taxis for transportation (which we did). Interestingly, the price of a journey is typically negotiated with the driver before the start of the trip. And when you have taken your first taxi ride, you quickly understand why driving yourself is not a good idea!

In addition to the Hippodrome and the Hagia Sophia, we were fortunate enough to visit the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar (sensory overloads for the eyes and the nose!), the Blue Mosque (where we were dogged by a persistent carpet salesman), the Galata Bridge (lined with fishermen standing shoulder to shoulder) and the Galata Tower (which offers a splendid view of the city).  We squeezed in a day trip by flying down to Izmir (arranged by our congenial hotel manager) to visit the ruins of the city of Ephesus and we also crossed over to visit friends on the Asian side prior to taking a tour boat up the Bosphorus to the point where it meets the Black Sea.  You can stand on a hill there with your arms outstretched and have your picture taken as though you are touching two continents – two worlds, as it were.

Istanbul is indeed a legendary city – full of the sights, sounds and smells of East and West converging at the meeting point of two worlds.

The Galata Bridge with the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque seen from the Galata Tower.

The Galata Bridge with the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque with the Sea of Marmara behind as seen from the Galata Tower.

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Of Songs and Maps

A few years ago while rabbit hunting on unfamiliar territory less than an hour from home we made a bad judgement call.  We had been following a creek through the woods which serpentined its way through the trees.  Having followed it for some distance with little or no action we decided to head back toward the trucks and instead of following back the path we had travelled we took a more direct route – so we thought – back to the parking spot.  What we didn’t realize was that while the creek was snaking its way through the woods it was also steadily curving away from us.  We realized our error when five camouflaged men with shotguns and a pack of hounds turned up behind a residential neighborhood.  It took some gumption for two of our number to go and knock on someone’s door and admit that we were lost.  The lady of the house (after enjoying the humor of the moment) was kind enough to give them a ride back to the trucks a couple of miles away.  That was the moment that I first decided to buy a GPS unit.

It’s not only helpful, it’s important to know where you are.  So now, wherever I am, I pretty much know exactly where I am within about 30 feet.  I have a hand-held GPS for the woods, a dash mounted GPS for the truck and a GPS App on my phone.  It would be pretty hard to get lost now.

Knowing one’s place in the world has always been important for mankind for numerous reasons.  As nomads it was important to know routes and mountain passes and pastures and water holes.  As settlers it was necessary to know one’s boundaries.  Good fences, it is said, make for good neighbors.

This month our Reading Group read Bruce Chatwin’s unique travelogue “The Songlines”.  It is a fascinating book – partly a fictionalized account of his experience and part ruminations from his years of journaling about nomadic people, which at one point in time, he was trying to organize into a book.  Sadly he never did.

ImageThe songlines are also known as The Way Of The Law to the indigenous people of Australia known collectively as aborigines but as diverse as the nations of Europe or Africa.  It appears that the main songlines originate in the north or northwest of the country and weave their way southward across the continent.  Chatwin speculates that these lines represent the travels of the first settlers who came to Australia.  Whatever they represent, however, one thing is certain; the traveler moving along a songline knows exactly where he is at any given point in time.  They are called songlines because the journey is undertaken by song.  Every part of the song represents a specific feature of the landscape during the journey.  The song is passed down from generation to generation and the songlines (which often intersect) represent territorial boundaries also.  These songlines were also the means of trade between various people groups.  A fascinating and complex system of mapping one’s environment and interacting with one’s neighbors in a way that is baffling to the western mind.

Conversely, we are used to seeing printed maps which would be meaningless to the Australian Aborigine.  In my early years I was (and still am) fascinated by the detailed maps of Britain know as the Ordnance Survey maps.  A book “Map Of A Nation” has recently been written by Rachel Hewitt on the creation of these maps.

Image The OS maps found their origin in the effort to subjugate the Scottish Highlanders after the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 (Bonnie Prince Charlie etc.).  The efforts of the map makers were further encouraged by the threat of Napoleonic invasion and ultimately the whole of Britain was mapped in remarkable detail.  Like the songlines traveler, a person armed with an OS map of the area they are in, a vantage point from which to see the lay of the land and some basic map reading skills would be hard pressed to get lost.  I recall using OS maps as part of our fieldcraft exercises on the moors of Devon during my years in the Air Training Corps.  Streams, woods, hills, churches, farmhouses, roads and even footpaths are clearly marked.  The maps are a delight to use and to study (well, maybe I’m just a wee bit geeky like that).

This particular sample even shows the individual trees!  Seriously – how could you get lost?  We’ve come a long way from the songlines and navigating by the sun and stars to global positioning satellites and GPS units with the ability to see aerial views of our friends homes on the other side of the world, but the one thing that has remained constant is our need to be able to answer the question, “Are we there yet?”

Adventures in Yellow Cabs

A friend recently blogged about their adventure in a cab in Bangkok, Thailand and it took me back to our trip to Panama in February. Our cab experience is fondly referred to as “the cab ride from Hell”.

Here’s how it went:
Our daughter and son-in-law were heading home a day ahead of us and they had the rental car so we got them to drop us off at the boat dock in order that we might take a day trip to the island of Taboga (picture a very run-down Catalina).  While waiting for the boat to take us there, my wife thought it would be good to know how much it would be to get a cab ride back to our hotel so she wandered over to the taxi stand and next thing I know she’s on the cab driver’s cell phone talking to his dispatcher (because the driver didn’t speak English and she didn’t speak Spanish).  It turned out to be about $14 for the cab ride and we leave knowing we can catch a cab when we get back.

So late in the afternoon we pull back in to the dock on the return boat (there’s only one boat out and one boat back each day) and lo and behold there waits the same cabbie – a fairly big rustic-looking fellow (like a character in a Hemingway story) in his 60s, I’d guess.  He beckons us over and we climb aboard his yellow cab.  We ask him to stop on the way back, close to the boats to pick up some ceviche from a restaurant we had previously dined in, and out of gratitude we buy him some too.  Before we leave the restaurant he indicates the time of day and tries to squeeze more money out of us for the fare because of rush hour traffic (don’t ask me how that was all communicated, but it was somehow!).  My wife says “No – $14!”.  Well, off we go.  “Westin – Playa Bonita” we tell him.  It’s about a 10 minute ride west over the Panama Canal.  The first notion that something wasn’t quite right was when he went past the turn-off to go west.  “Westin – Playa Bonita” we stress again.  He nods his head “Si, si!” (Now there had been a lot of traffic diversions because of the Iron Man triathlon that weekend) so, with some apprehension, we sit back as we head north.

Then the fun really begins.  We turn off the expressway onto an exit ramp that heads east towards a rather seedy-looking part of the city.  Have you seen the movie “Contraband” starring Mark Wahlberg?  Well, a good part of it was filmed in Panama City in those neighborhoods – especially the robbery and big shoot-out scene.  And there we were.  By now I was beginning to wonder if we were being kidnapped to be held for ransom (these thoughts go through your mind at a time like that) and was thinking the only thing I had was my shoe-laces and could I strangle him with one if I had to?  I know – I’ve been watching too many action movies.  Of course, I couldn’t let on to my wife who was getting very stressed out that I was worried – I kept trying to reassure her that everything was fine.

Meanwhile, the neighborhoods got worse as we got further into the city and we began to take a dizzying number of turns and the traffic was getting thicker as the rush hour piled on.  Our cabbie – with typical latin machismo – jostles with every other driver on the road, forcing his way in and out of the traffic while getting noticeably tenser with some steering wheel thumping and gesticulating arms thrown in the air, sprinkled with the occasional “Santa Maria!” and other such ejaculations.  At one point he pulls onto a broad sidewalk and we go flying past pedestrians like something from the “Bourne” movies or “The Italian Job”.  By this time we’re rather wide-eyed and my wife’s finger are leaving deep impressions on my arm.

After about an hour of this we find ourselves back in the downtown area (which is mildly comforting because it doesn’t seem like we’re being kidnapped after all) and we pull up in front of (you’ll never guess!) the Best Western Hotel!  Aaargh!!!  He wants us to get out of the cab and pay him there (and believe me, we were tempted to!), but we were a good distance away from our hotel.  “No, no, no!” my wife says.  “Westin – Playa Bonita – not Best Western!” and shows him a water bottle with the hotel’s name on it.  We should have done that in the first place, in retrospect.  Then he goes ballistic!  Have you ever seen a grown man completely lose it in the middle of the street?  Not a pretty sight!  It was just as well we couldn’t understand what he was saying.  So after he calms down a little we all get back in the cab and he indicates by pointing to his watch and check out ticket that he was due to get his cab back to the lot and didn’t have time to take us to our hotel.

Another hair-raising ride later, we pull into the cab depot and he goes off to speak to his dispatcher.  We scramble from the car which smells like it is ready to burst into flames because the brakes and engine have been so abused and by now my wife is on full meltdown mode.  There is an armed guard on the gate (who doesn’t speak English either) and she is telling him (with much arm waving) that the driver is “Loco!”.  Our driver comes back out and had obviously got an extension to his time in order to take us back and signals for us to get back in the car which my wife adamantly refuses to do.  He becomes somewhat insistent so she takes $17 (all the cash we had on us at that point in time), pushes it into his shirt pocket and starts “going off” on him (with more arm waving) telling him to go away – there was no way she was getting back in his cab.  He wanders off mumbling and complaining while we wait for another driver who understands enough English to get us back to the right hotel.  It cost us another $20 but it was money well spent.  Finally, what should have been a ten-minute cab ride and turned into a two-hour or more adventure came to a close as we pulled back into out hotel.

Looking at it in the rear-view mirror, so to speak, it is rather amusing and is a fun story to recount (but not so much at the time).  I just wonder how successful I would have been with my shoe-lace if it had come down to that?

Flights of Fancy

I would like to say that the current topic was inspired by our zip-lining experience this past weekend (to celebrate my wife’s birthday we all went as a family to http://www.historicbanningmills.com/ which is just 20 minutes down the road from us).  What fun it was – flying through the air hooked on to a steel cable!  Well anyway, I already had this topic in mind but the zip-lining gave me the momentum I needed to get writing. 🙂

Flying has always fascinated me for as long as I can remember.  I can’t recall my earliest interest in aviation but I do know that as a boy my hero was none other than that intrepid airman, Biggles – Bigglesworth of the Royal Flying Corp to be precise.  He was a character created by Captain W.E. Johns and I followed the adventures of he and his compatriots through the two World Wars and the Cold War that followed.  Captain Johns knew how to capture a boy’s imagination.  So much so that when I was old enough, in my early teen years, I joined the Air Training Corp (a youth organization which is part of the Royal Air Force).  There, I was finally able to realize my dream of flying – first in an open cockpit glider then in a small single engine trainer plane.  I can still recall donning the parachute and flying helmet prior to ascending to fly over Southwest England where we performed some aerobatics that had me looking “up” at the earth.  I was hooked!

In the years since then I have taken to the sky in commercial jet liners, in a closed cockpit sailplane over Stone Mountain, GA, in a hot air balloon over Napa Valley, CA and para-sailing over the Gulf of Mexico in Destin, FL.  Give me the opportunity and I’ll take to the sky in a heartbeat.  One item, high on my bucket list, is to fly in an open cockpit biplane – but when I get up there I may not want to come back down!

So, while I’m grounded I love to immerse myself in tales of flying – a holdover from those old Biggles days (and yes, I have a couple of Biggles on my bookshelves including the one shown above).  Among the authors who have fueled my imagination are Beryl Markham of “West With The Night” fame who was the first to fly solo from Europe to North America, Charles and Anne Lindberg who both wrote of their flying in “The Spirit of St. Louis” and “North To The Orient”, Rinker Buck who wrote of his transcontinental flight as a teenager with his brother in the small plane, Richard Bach (best known for “Jonathan Livingstone Seagull”) who was a USAF pilot and wrote extensively of his various flying experiences including a summer as part of a barn-storming troupe with his Stearman biplane, Richard Halliburton the remarkable adventurer who (among his many books) wrote “The Flying Carpet” recounting his fantastic exploits and my favorite of them all, Antoine de Saint-Exupery (best known for “The Little Prince”).  A lot of his flying experiences were expressed in his novels but the classic of all his aviation writing has to be “Wind, Sand and Stars” – a collection of essays wherein he recounts his experiences as a pioneering pilot for Aeropostale carrying the mail deep into the heart of the North African Desert and across the vastness of Patagonia in South America.

As both an accomplished pilot and author his prose is unsurpassed for its beauty as it relates to flying.  Let me share just a brief portion:

“A minor accident had forced me down in the Rio de Oro region, in Spanish Africa.  Landing on one of those  table-lands of the Sahara which fall away steeply at the sides, I found myself on the flat top of the frustrum of a cone, an isolated vestige of a plateau that had crumbled round the edges…Without question, I was the first human being ever to wander over this . . . this iceberg; its sides were remarkably steep, no Arab could have climbed them, and no European had as yet ventured into this wild region.
I was thrilled by the virginity of a soil which no step of man or beast had sullied.  I lingered there, startled by this silence that never had been broken.  The first star began to shine, and I said to myself that this pure surface had lain here thousands of years in sight only of the stars.
But suddenly my musings on this white sheet and these shining stars were endowed with a singular significance.  I had kicked against a hard, black stone, the size of a man’s fist, a sort of moulded rock of lava incredibly present on a bed of shells a thousand feet deep.  A sheet spread beneath an apple-tree can receive only apples; a sheet spread beneath the stars can receive only star-dust.  Never had a stone fallen from the skies made known its origin so unmistakably.
And very naturally, raising my eyes, I said to myself that from the height of this celestial apple-tree there must have dropped other fruits, and that I should find them exactly where they fell, since never from the beginning of time had anything been present to displace them.
Excited by my adventure, I picked up one and then a second and then a third of these stones, finding them at about the rate of one stone to the acre.  And here is where my adventure became magical, for in a striking foreshortening of time that embraced thousands of years, I had become the witness of this miserly rain from the stars.  The marvel of marvels was that there on the rounded back of the planet, between this magnetic sheet and those stars, a human conciousness was present in which as in a mirror that rain could be reflected.”

On days like we’ve been seeing recently when the sky is clear and the mildest of breezes ruffles the fresh green leaves of Spring, the sound of a small plane flying overhead automatically draws my eyes upwards and my breath catches a little as I place myself in the cockpit beside the pilot and gaze out at the broad landscape spread out below and the blue horizon that awaits exploration.

We are earth-bound creatures but how we long to fly like the birds.

Preparation for the journey.

I’m not a very spontaneous person (that may be an understatement) – if you ask my wife she’d probably tell you that I tend to be more on the obsessive-compulsive end of the spectrum.  So, when it comes to traveling, I like to be well prepared for the journey and not leave things to the last minute or to chance.  Some destinations require a visa for entry into the country and that requires some advance preparation in order to get your passport back in time.  Other places require innoculations which are best not left to the last minute.  Of course, there are also the more routine matters of selecting the right clothes, the right luggage and the right accessories for the journey (and for me in particular, which books to pack).  I like to know where I am going, how I am getting there and where my travels will take me along the way, so an itinerary is an important consideration.
A number of years ago, my wife and I decided to make a motor touring vacation of the western isles of Scotland and it quickly became apparent that you can’t just go with a car and expect to catch a ferry.  There are limited sailings and limited space on most of the ferries.  It was necessary to plan out our journey, booking accommodations and spaces on the ferries and calculate distances and driving times in order to see all that we wished to see and to complete our journey successfully.  It worked (with the exception of one missed ferry) and we had a wonderful trip with many great memories.
Just the other day I was asked if I would do the reading at the funeral of a friend’s mother.  There were two passages of scripture and a poem by Robert Frost that she requested I read.  The common thread that held these thoughts together was that life is not a journey to be embarked on carelessly or without thought to the purpose and destination.
I wonder how many people find themselves on the journey of life without realizing how they got there and having given little thought to where they were heading?  I’m rather reminded of foolish hounds (and yes, we’ve had some) who get on the scent of a deer and chase it for miles before coming to a realization that they are lost in the woods.  The Italian poet Durante degli Alighieri (commonly known as Dante) wrote of his sudden awareness at the age of thirty-five that he was lost:
“In the midway of this our mortal life, I found me in a gloomy wood, astray, gone from the path direct…How first I entered it I scarce can say.”  Now, I don’t know what it was that brought him to this awareness, but whatever providence or misfortune awoke him to his dilemma; to it he owed a debt of gratitude for it was then that he was able to change his course, fight his way out through the undergrowth and glimpse the sunlit hill which was the goal he desired to reach.
It has been said that if you have no particular destination in mind any path will take you there and that, sadly, seems to be the case with so many travelers on the road of life.  Even for an obsessive-compulsive person like myself, life has plenty of surprises, detours and hazards along the way that we have to learn to take in stride and adjust for, but an unexamined life is one that leads deep into the heart of the woods.  From there, it is hard to see the sunlit hill that we desire to climb, to rest on its summit and to look back with satisfaction on the journey that took us there.

Puerto Rico

View from a sunlit hill – Puerto Rico

And speaking of wandering…

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Calidonia Street Market

Calidonia, Panama City

My wife and I recently had the pleasure of joining our daughter and son in law on a trip to Panama to celebrate our daughter’s 30th birthday.  I’m not sure why they chose Panama as the destination – perhaps because they could use their points for a nice hotel there.  Well it was a nice hotel and we got to stay for free too, which (we Scots have a reputation to uphold, you realize) was wonderful.
Well, in anticipation of the trip I bought a map of Panama to study the city and to find the places of interest that we might like to visit (us fair-skinned Northern Europeans don’t do beaches very well).  As I perused the map, I was reminded of something my grandfather had often said: No matter where you go in the world, you will always find a Scotsman there.  And it is true – whether by choice or by something like the Highland Clearances we Scots have become a tribe of wanderers.  My maternal grandfather, who worked in a tartan mill in Scotland, was offered the chance to run a textile mill in South America in the 30s or 40s and turned it down – a choice he later regretted.
So what was it about the map that brought that comment back to mind?  It was the discovery of a section of the city called (of all things) Calidonia (latinized spelling, presumably).  That brought to mind the first time I had heard of the Scots in Panama by way of a Celtic folksong about the ill-fated Darien Expedition.  Then just last year I read Tim Severin’s book “In Search Of Robinson Crusoe” where he gave a pretty good account of the misery and suffering inflicted on that group of Scots who had such high hopes of making a good life in the New World.
For anyone interested, you can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darien_scheme
So, how was Calidonia, you ask?  Well, at first glance I thought “This doesn’t feel very much like my Caledonia to me”, but on reflection, is it really that much different to a street market in Glasgow?  People milling around, going about their everyday lives, window shopping, buying groceries for dinner, treating themselves to something from a street vendor, music blaring from the stores.  So, no – it’s not that much different.  Oh, except for the fact that it was warm and sunny in Calidonia which is the norm there… and a rare splendor in my Caledonia. 🙂