Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Highland Games 2007

Last Saturday was the annual Highland Games. There's nothing like the comfort and balm to the soul than a healthy dose of ones ethnic background. First, foremost and always I am an American, but most Americans are made up of the blending of many different tribes of people. As far as I know, I'm a Celtic mutt (Irish, Welsh, English [to no small amount of shame], a wee bit of German and Scottish). I've only ever been to Ireland and was born and raised in California, but I can't help but feel a sense of belonging among my fellow Celts. The Highland Games are a perfect excuse for celebrating heritage, eating haggis and buying merchandise that reflects an idealized inheritance (if there's one thing I learned from my travels in Ireland it's that Irish Americans are often more "Irish" then the inhabitants of Éire).

But there is something about the yearning, echoing call of the bagpipe that feels as if the instrument is filled with the bellows of the heart rather than the lungs. Every year my small mountain town has a parade for Memorial Day to honor our fallen soldiers and veterans. The local Celtic society has always marched, playing their pipes, and I can remember being a little girl and stilling as they strode by. My mother looked down at me and asked, "Do you feel shivers when you hear bagpipes?" I nodded yes. "So do I," she continued, looking back out. "I know it can't be, but I swear it's because it's in our blood."

For most of my childhood, being Scottish meant little to me other than odd family stories. Like the one I just told. I kept my tartan coin purse, scuffed from my brother throwing it, because my grandmother had brought it back for me all the way from a place called Scotland where my aunt nearly got run over and there was a castle that belonged to our family; the Eilean Donan - the most photographed castle in all of Scotland. Once my grandmother sat my brother and I down with a picture of the castle and explained to us how our clan were the guardians of the land, known as "the fighting MacRae's," and how the women of the clan were famous for fighting alongside the men. She showed us the mountainside covered with heather and traced her withered finger along the line of the ridge. When a MacRae died, he or she was carried by his/her fellows up the mountain and buried in a cemetery where all of the headstones bore the same surname. There's something of comfort to that - as Americans we don't have a sense of clan history. Even though I've never been there, it's nice to know that there is a land where my ancestors lived, breathed and died - there's a sense of familiarity with the faceless names that mark where you come from, even if you cannot return.

My grandmother died when I was sixteen and we did the best we could to emulate the funeral processions of our ancestors. Mimicing a distant people of a nation not our own can sound cheap, but there's a heartbeat where ritual transcends a facade and lives and breathes. It becomes a part of your own impassioned life's blood and is no more "cheap" than the celebration of one of our numerous holidays. My dress and hair whipped around me as I stood outside of the building the memorial was to be held in, ignoring the nose-chilling cold. Everyone else filed past and I couldn't understand why they'd ignore something so beautiful as what was before me -- a lone piper silhouetted by the overcast sky, playing a lament for a woman who was a grace to the world.

May I carry her strength, and the strength of my Scottish ancestors (whose motto was Fortitudine - Latin for "fortitude") with me always.

The pictures are from the Highland Games. My favorite band to see live - the Wicked Tinkers. A young golden eagle with an ethereal eye. A wannabe Hedwig. The Caber Toss. Some random old guy, my sister, me, and my older brother watching the Tinkers play. The beautiful Wicked Tinkers. If you ever are blessed enough to see them play, be warned (or maybe this is a selling point) - they wear their kilts regimental style. That means they don't wear anything underneath. And they like to twirl about.

Here's a clip I accidentally filmed of them when I was trying to take a picture. One day I will figure out how to work my new camera.

Melissa - Sounds like you've met some interesting bus people of your own! I don't think I'd know how to take it if someone assumed I was on welfare, either!

Until next time (which will be a few minutes) Slainte! (Irish for good health)

1 comment:

Melissa said...

Bus people weird me out. I once had a guy try and sit on me and then proceed to ask me what he should buy his sixteen year old neices for their birthday.

I'm a celtic mutt too!-Irish, Scottish, English and French...though I was born and rasied in beautiful British Columbia.

Also! :D I have one of my scenes for my movie finished! Only 6bigilion more to go!