Monday, November 10, 2008

A Guy Playing the Bagpipes Near Edinburgh Castle

It seems like it was ages ago that we were in Scotland and in reality, I suppose it was. The trip was relaxing and fun, we met some great people, saw some beautiful places and stayed in some unique and historic locations, including an inn that was literally fifty yards from Rosslyn Chapel (you can actually see Rosslyn Chapel and the inn where we stayed at the end of the movie, The DaVinci Code).

The trip was arranged by the owner of one of the galleries where Scott exhibits his work and he was one of several artists on the trip. There was a couple from Dallas, a couple from New Mexico, Brian (the gallery owner) and John, a Scottish painter who joined us there. Brian arranged for our accommodation through an organization that has bought up historic properties throughout the UK that range from small cottages to castles. Scott and I stayed in hotels in Edinburgh for a night on either end of the trip and then with the group in the inn at Rosslyn for several nights and in a huge manor house in another part of Scotland for several more.

Not only was there no internet access, there was no phone, television or newspaper anywhere we stayed and considering the distraction the election had created in our lives before we left, it was a terrific break from everything.

A few random thoughts on the trip:

1. International air travel was much more fun when I was younger, less creaky and the planes were never full. In the old days, there were always empty seats and I was much more bendy and able to sleep no matter where I sat. I never sleep on flights now and I feel like I'm 90 when I get off.

2. Driving on the left side of the road is terrifying for the first half hour or so. I lived in England in the early 80's and I was in Australia for ten days in 1990, so this wasn't the first time I'd done it, but it might as well have been. The anxiety never really went away, but I'm a nervous driver anyway. I don't even like driving here. Nevertheless, I did all the driving and once we were out of Edinburgh on the second day and we got into the country, I was fine. A word to the wise international traveler: Whenever possible, always rent a car with a navigation system in it. It made all the difference in the world and it had a lovely accent. We called her Emma.

3. Haggis isn't bad, as long as you block what's in it completely out of your mind. I consider it to be in the same category as raw oysters. It was something to try so I could say I ate it.

4. I don't think I've ever visited a country so uncluttered by reminders of the century we're in. There was very little in Edinburgh that seemed out of place with the centuries old buildings and the countryside was uncluttered by billboards or signs of modern life of any type. If not for the occasional petrol station (and they were not a common sight), it might have been 1908, not 2008.

5. Edinburgh is a cosmopolitan city and despite being aware of that, it was still a charming surprise to be served by a waitress with Asian features, speaking in a heavy Scottish accent.

6. The first night I plugged in my laptop and got on line for about 45 minutes. And then my power supply blew up. I didn't get any writing done at all.

Despite the break from the day to day news about the election, there was some talk about politics, but not much. One couple was very conservative and two couples were not. Since we were in a place with such a rich history, I couldn't help thinking about what it all meant relative to what was happening back home. No matter where I've been there seem to be two kinds of people. There are those who are very invested in history, and in particular, their own history and those who just aren't that connected to it. Scotland is full of reminders of the bloody battles the Scottish fought against the English for centuries and it's clear to anyone who has ever met a citizen from the UK that people there are generally proud of and tied to their country and city of origin.

One of the couples had been to Scotland several times and they were gathering information on their ancestors. She talked quite a bit about her family's history in America and how her great-grandfather had traveled west and staked a claim on a homestead and how it had been in her family for many generations.

It made me wonder how best to live with the legacy of the past. There are always two sides to history and there are winners and losers. They say those who forget the past are destined to repeat it but I wonder how we ought to remember it and what we should feel about it.

To forget all of it would be to ignore the achievements of those who came before us and it would negate the suffering of those unjustly treated, often by those we admire. Overzealous pride seems misplaced and in often (to me) insensitive. I've always considered Southern pride and the display of the Confederate flag to be racist gestures. On the other hand, I'm not sure that the legacy of slavery should mean that southerners shouldn't and don't have things to be proud of.

But that pride or shame about the past (and I know I'm a little odd when it comes to this) is something I've never understood. After all, what my great-great-grandparents did, whether good or bad really has nothing to do with me, does it? If he was a genius, it doesn't make me any smarter and if he was a murderer, it doesn't make me a criminal. Yet people do feel very personal connections to distant relatives or to the history of their particular region or ancestral country of origin. It seems to me not unlike the way sports fanatics talk about their teams. When someone who has just watched a football game on television says, "we won" or "I hate the [insert name of team or city here] " I've always been puzzled at what the people on TV have to do with the guy in the chair.

On the other hand, identifying too closely with the victims of the past, whether they were slaves, Native Americans or European immigrants doesn't seem to benefit anyone either. Many people feel a lingering guilt by association for things that happened in the past, whether our ancestors could have been involved or not. Maybe it's because people "like us" did them. And yet it seems wrong to put these events too far behind us because although many of the worst wrongs have been righted, the long term impact of injustice is still with us in very real ways. Since a great deal of racial injustice and oppression is relatively recent, when I see people of a certain age I can't help wondering what they've seen, done or suffered.

Perhaps we haven't yet learned to recognize and identify with both historical sides of the coin.

Maybe I'd feel differently if I knew anything about my ancestors. As far as I know, most or all of my great-grandparents came to this country in the late 19th or early 20th century and they were all ordinary working people. I don't know anything about their English and Irish ancestors and I've never been curious enough to look into it. I was born in Boston and lived in New England until I was nineteen. I confess an affinity and perhaps a certain pride in that area, but I'm sure it has more to do with familiarity and spending my formative years there than anything else.

I love and appreciate being an American because of the freedoms we have, the opportunities we have and because of the unique diversity of culture here. There's nowhere I'd rather live.

America is not a perfect place and there are dark chapters in our history that most of us don't like to think about. In that, we're no different than our neighbors around the globe. Just as there have been amazing achievements from every culture, throughout history all cultures have found ways to treat other human beings terribly.

I admire the many accomplishments that have come from Americans and there is a part of me that feels a certain warm emotion about the great things our nation has done, but I've never been able to relate to the the phrase, "I'm proud to be an American" because I see my place of birth as a happy accident. When I consider how differently my life might have been had I been born elsewhere, I feel very lucky to be an American. My views on sports and ancestors probably make that a predictable sentiment. My pride is limited to only those things I've personally done.

There have been many times I've envied those who feel that strong connection. At times I do feel like an outsider. There is no ethnic or regional identity I strongly associate myself with and the number of living relatives I have is small and somewhat scattered. I'm probably in a minority with my feelings of rootlessness, but the world has become much more mobile and transient, so I have to believe people like me are growing in number.

What about you? Do you identify strongly with your ancestors? Your ethnic identity? The place you're from? If you do feel proud to be an American or a Texan or a New Yorker, where does that emotion come from? What about shame? Do you ever have a sense of guilt over things done before you were born? Why do some of us feel that? If we don't, should we?


Tide Turn said...

Fascinating to get your reaction to this trip, and your perception of those who have an interest in the past and those who don't is broadly correct - though you would have a much stronger sense in Scotland of this rooted identity than in the cosmopolitan centre of London now.

I'm magnetized by our history - but history is a personal interest, and there are plenty of Brits who have a take it or leave it approach and never visit old piles.

I lived until I was 20 in the North of England, the rest in the South - and though there is always a pull back North I don't feel I belong absolutely to either. Being on the blogs has made me realize I am proud of our heritage. Good post - think the fact that this is one of the longest comments I've ever written indicates you've touched a nerve!

(Virtual Voyage)

Melissa Marsh said...

Lots of good stuff in here, Lisa. I'm so glad you had a great trip - I want to visit Scotland some day and even considered popping up to Edinburgh while I was in England, but my BritRail pass was only good for England alone and I couldn't afford another train ticket.

I'm pretty family-oriented, as you've probably seen on my blog. I identify the most with my father's side of the family, the Italians and the Germans-from-Russia, largely because I know the most about them and was around that particular side of the family growing up. My Italian family is very close-knit- most of them stayed in the area where my great-grandparents settled after coming to America. There's a few of us scattered around, but not very far away. But I love the sense of belonging and the traditions we continue to observe with each new generation.

Julie Layne said...

Our GPS lady's name is Gwyneth! We crack up every time she says, "At the roundabout, go straight on, take the second exit."

Maybe not funny, really, but for some reason it makes us laugh. :)

I might have seen that same piper yesterday. We just returned to England from Edinburgh last night. Amazing to see the castle lit up at night from below.

I feel a pretty strong connection to my Scottish ancestry in particular, but have no reason why in particular. I have various other ties. On our way into Edinburgh, we took the scenic route through the Tweed valley and Tweesdmuir, which is really a blink if you miss it kind of place, and where my ancestors supposedly ended up in Scotland after leaving France as Hugenots. I felt a very real sense of connection. I called my dad from the road to tell him where I was and took pictures of the beautiful valley. I do *not* feel quite connected to anywhere at home in the U.S. because of moving so often growing up, so perhaps this accounts for that--a need for a sense of some kind of dramatic roots.

I had the same reaction you did when we went into a convenience store and a Sikh spoke to us with a very broad Scottish accent. We are used to seeing hearing people speak with their native accents in the U.S. and it came as quite a surprise. Perhaps he did have an accent native to another country,too, but the Scots accent overrode it for us, and it was unexpected.

Are you happy to be back in the land of one spigot? ;-) The only place we've had one is the Marriott so far, and I'd guess that might be because they have many American travelers on business where we are.

And I had two seats to myself on the way here, but still didn't sleep. Could be age, but there were plenty of seniors around me snoring. :)

Julie Layne said...

Wow, should have proofread. In addition to several other errors, I did not mean to type, "seeing hearing people speak ..." That could confuse the meaning if read from the perspective of my manuscript characters, several of whom are deaf. :) I think I changed vocabulary midsentence and forgot to tell my fingers.

Charles Gramlich said...

Would love to visit a place with no billboards. sounds wonderful.

As for your question, I never believed in Original Sin and don't feel guilty for things done by any of my ancestors, although I feel guilty for things I myself have done. It's like with your comment about where you were born. Who you were born is also an accident, not one you chose, so why feel guilty? Makes no rational sense to me. Although that certainly wouldn't preclude someone from wanting to help with social justice issues. I've spent my entire adult life teaching in the black community, but it has nothing to do with feeling guilty over slavery.

Larramie said...

All four of my grandparents came to America, met and married here. I appreciate the fact that they chose an opportunity for a better life and instilled that desire and belief of "we can do anything" in my parents who passed it on. That belief and work ethic is not a new hope for me, instead it's probably the cornerstone of why I've always been proud to be an American.

Lisa said...

I got a great email from my uncle (my mother's brother)and I have to post it. He sent it to me, my aunt and my sister:

You covered a lot of ground with this blog. Regarding your travel observations: My guidelines for air travel are fashioned from a poster I saw seven or eight years ago at my travel agents office. It read, “If you can afford to fly First-Class and you don’t….. your children will.”

By the way Lisa, your mother’s mother was French Huguenot, like Julie Layne. So if you look, you can trace some of your family back through – Bosanquet. And if you add my middle name to it, you may see where some of your philosophical leanings might come from. If you trace back using your grandmothers first name, you may find a weird coincidence to how I make almost all of my money, ie. Bence-Jones proteins!

Now see if your aunt knows anything about her Great-Aunt!

love Denis

debra said...

argghhh Blogger ate my comment--again!

Round 2:
I've never felt connected to a particular ethnic group or to a particular country. I truly feel part of a global community---redefining family beyond blood and marriage.
(I was much more eloquent the first time around...)

Patti said...

when my grandmother died, i traveled to ny to attend her funeral. we have an extraordinarily small amount of relatives on that side of the family, most i didn't know well. one of my cousins, who grew up with my father, remarked at how much i reminded him of my father in speech and mannerisms. i was shocked to have a list given to me about how much i was like my father when i had previously believed myself to be my own individual person. so i do believe there are ties that we aren't aware of that run from generation to generation.

in my family there is lots to be proud of (my german grandmother risked her life and her family's to save their jewish friends) and some that i can't believe (the one-armed bootleg rum runner).

am i affected by either? i think so. just knowing the history changes me.

i am a first generation texan. this distinction makes me extremely proud for many reasons. i don't feel shame over it, or my southern roots, or for that matter over my family's less than stellar deeds, at times. i like to draw from the goodness, but learn from the mistakes.

i am also immensely proud and grateful to have been born an american. for the faults we do have, there is no other place i want to be...even today;)

i don't know why some feel such shame. maybe it is a societal reflex. should any of feel that shame? emphathy, saddness for other's misdeeds, determination never to repeat horrors, but not shame. learn and move forward.

and the trip sounds divine.

Lisa said...

This is so cool! And now a note from my Auntie Nancy:

Are you tracing down the family tree? Let me know what you find out. Our (Great) Uncle Harold Hodder was into that stuff big time. He had traced our lineage on (my) Mom's side back to the French Huguenots. Don't know much about Daddy's side of the family, except that he was from Bell Isle, Newfoundland (near St. John's), and he never showed us a birth certificate because he said they had a fire, and the town hall burned down with all the records in it.

Carleen Brice said...

Uh oh, Lisa, sounds like you might be catching the geneology bug. I find that the old I get the more fascinating my family becomes. I also find that I write about my family a LOT, which is teaching me what a profound influence they've had on me. Sounds obvious, but I never would have thought so until I look at what I write.

In my next book, one of the MC's is rootless & longs for family & the other MC is into ancestor reverence (I just made that up--she doesn't really worship them, but she does talk to them.)

By the by, the 2 MCs also have to work out how much of the past they accept blame & shame 4 and if they can let go & move on.

Thanks for the very thoughtful post!

debra said...

My dad and a cousin traced their side of the family back to the 1600's. They were constantly emailing and talking about the latest bit of information either one had unearthed.
He was so proud of what he had found.

Lisa said...

Julie, Good to hear from you and I was hoping I would hear from some people from the UK -- if only to validate or deny my observations about Scotland. :)

Melissa, I have always enjoyed reading about your family gatherings. I knew about the Italians, but not the Germans-from-Russia, so I hope to hear more of that story one day too.

Julie, Those roundabouts were scary! Not so much the little ones, but the ones with multiple lanes and even traffic lights...yikes!

I think pipers probably rumble over the real estate there in front of the National Gallery where we saw this lad. Hey, and we also took a scenic drive along the river Tweed and stopped at a castle ruin near there -- I'd have to check my notes for names, but I think we must have been in the same area!

As you may have seen, I apparently am also descended from French Hugenots who fled to England (and then Canada and then the US). I also moved quite a bit and so it sounds like we have a similar feeling of lack of connectedness to place here that's related to that.

YES on the single spigots!!! The inn and the manor house both had beautifully renovated bathrooms with brand new fixtures, but alas, the dual spigots...I'd forgotten about them. We did have a single spigot at the airport Hilton though :)

Charles, It really was almost magical to be in a place without any of the visual clutter.

I don't believe in original sin on an intellectual level and I don't think I feel necessarily guilty about things I didn't do, but there is something similar to a distant guilt by association feeling I sometimes get that doesn't really make sense, or maybe I feel a more keen awareness of social justice issues than I think some other people do. It's a puzzle and I'm not sure where it comes from.

Larramie, That's a really good point. Most Americans are here because of people who chose to come and even in this day and age, leaving your birth country is a pretty big deal and something most people don't do.

For Denis and Nancy and Julie -- I'm not sure if any of you have ever seen the movie, "The Ref" with Dennis Leary, Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis, but Kevin Spacey's character's name is Lloyd Chausseur and a couple of times people mispronounce it and he makes a point to say "it's 18th century French Huegonot" -- so every time I hear "Hugonot", I think of that line :)

Debra, That's it exactly! I think that's what I couldn't put my finger on. It's that identification with one thing sort of implies a separation that I don't really feel. Thanks for making me recognize that.

Patti, Very good point: "just knowing the history changes me." I suppose perhaps it's the knowing history that appears to make people feel differently about the past. Very good points too about the guilt by association/shame.

Carleen, I think it's interesting, but I don't feel motivated to jump into a search for history. I did "interview" my grandmother before she died and I wrote down everything she could tell me, but the known history doesn't go back very far (at least it didn't with her). Getting older does probably prompt a little more reflection about it though. And I can't wait to read "Children of the Water" (I hope I got the title right!

Debra, Everybody does love a treasure hunt, don't they? A good friend of mine from Rhode Island has been researching her genealogy for years and I think she's got information going back to the 1500's in Europe and the 1600's in's pretty amazing! These days I imagine it's easier to research than it's ever been for somebody who wants to do it.

steve said...

I'm fascinated with history, as you've probably surmised from my blog. But I'm less into geneaology. I appreciate the Black Sheep Society people who write about their less worthy ancestors. My dad told me about a Kentucky forbear who, in the Civil War, stole horses from whatever army was around, then sold them to the other side. He was supposedly wanted by both the U.S. and the Confederacy. I'm not sure if the story's true.

I agree with Charles that we should not feel guilty about our ancestors' misdeeds, but the idea of "sins of the fathers" is not the same as original sin. Original Sin is the sin of Adam, passed down through the generations, but does not encompass the misdeeds of, say, Moses Wilder, a Virginia slaveholder. (I've wondered whether I might be a distant cousin of Douglas Wilder, the first black governor of Virginia. Moses' son Wiley changed the spelling of his name and moved to Illinois.) Because I don't believe in a literal Adam, I see it as our aggressive and destructive tendencies that seem to be with us from birth.

Elizabeth said...

My father's parents were immigrants from southern Italy. My mother's mother was a Southerner, born and raised on a cotton farm in the Mississippi Delta. She met a Syrian immigrant (my grandfather) when he was working as a travelling salesman. I've always had a hard time figuring out just who I am and where I come from, but I have always identified more with the Italian side. Maybe it's because I look just like my father or maybe it's something more. To this day, I have very little attachment to the southern relatives, to that way of life, to the history of the south. I'm sure that I have relatives who did terrible things in the south's dark days, but this isn't who I am and I feel so guilt. It's mainly disattachment. One thing, though --I have always felt a bit envious of those who really identify a home, someplace solid that they completely identify with.

Vesper said...

Lisa, I much enjoyed reading your account of your trip to Scotland. I have yet to go there... it's one of my dreams...

I find history and genealogy fascinating and I think that it's good for people to know where they're coming from.
I believe it is human nature to make associations of the ones that you're mentioning, and that's where pride or shame could come from.

My pride is limited to only those things I've personally done. - That's how it should be, and that's how I feel.

If you don't mind, I think I'll "steal" your Have you ever...? meme. I find it a nice light idea and I loved reading your answers.

Billy said...

Sound slike a delightful trip. I think being out of touch with all technology is what most humans need. I sometimes shut down the PC and turn off the cell to get grounded. As for haggis, I don't think I could ever bring myself to try it. Ugh!!!! :)

Riss said...

I've done a lot of thinking about stuff like that. I remember that I really wanted to connect with my Turkish heritage. And I did-in a way-I'm still learning how to do that but at the same time, what I found waiting for me on the other side was a bit disappointing. Not for any specific reason-though it did lead to some deeper understanding of both myself and my father.

Regarding rootlessness-I've blogged it to death. I have more roots when I'm moving around than I do when I'm sitting still. I feel more connected. I'm kinetic I guess.

And lastly-I don't feel guilty about things that have happened prior to me but I do feel that we have a responsibility to keep those things in the forefronts of our minds so to speak to keep them from happening again. I love history-to the point that I want to teach it-so I may have a different opinion-I tend to see the current generation as the connector between two electrical sources, the past and the future. We are living in the now but that now wouldn't be possible or the same if it weren't for what had already happened. If the south had won, if WWII had gone to Germany, etc. It's our job to make sure it stays somewhat relevant and that we use our knowledge of then, coupled with now to produce a future we can survive in...I dunno. Just thinking outloud.

I'm glad you enjoyed the trip. I totally agree-first 30 minutes I was cringing every time a car came around the corner but after that I was pretty much ok except for the occasional startle. Our brains get programmed to think one way about something-I noticed it messed with my depth perception a bit at first. Anyhoo.

Welcome back.

Yellow said...

Kisa, the thing that struck me about your post was about the confederate flag. Living in the UK, if I see a Union Flag (you mostly hear is called the Union Jack, but it's only a Jack when flown on a navl ship) flying in someone's garden I immediately presume they're members of the BNP (British National Party) and I shudder. The flag of St George, on the other hand, is most often flown by English football supporters. I wonder if the flag's meaning will change when the Olympics comes to Britain.
Wherever I visit, I end up immersing myself in it's history, even on family holidays to Ibiza I was reading up before I wnet & collecting nuggets whilst there. In fact, I seem to adopt places after I've travelled to them.
I've always considered it an accident of birth that I happened to pop out while my parents had their feet on English soil. But, it's like being a member of a gropu, a school, supporting a team, sharing an interest like writing or art, growing up in a particular conuntry. I think that's why, though I'm proud and dare I say it, knowledgable about my country of origin, I'm also interested in people from other places and their history.

stopdrug said...

how many people

Sustenance Scout said...

Lisa, a terrific post! So much to think about. I've always found family history and history of place fascinating; I suspect the comfort I've always found in returning to familiar surroundings and hearing familiar voices and cadences of speech, etc. influence that appreciation. Or maybe I'm just a sentimental sap. :) Probably a little of both!

So glad your trip was such an enjoyable escape! K.

Lana Gramlich said...

Do you identify strongly with your ancestors? Your ethnic identity? As a black market baby, I don't know who my ancestors are or what I even am. I identify somewhat strongly with a feeling of complete rootlessness, a disconnection from the human race, in a sense.

The place you're from? Considering the lack of happy childhood memories, I don't have this feeling, either.

What about shame? Do you ever have a sense of guilt over things done before you were born? No...why should I? I didn't do the things. I might feel sympathy or empathy, but never guilt.

Why do some of us feel that? I find that religion sometimes does that to people. They have Catholic or Jewish guilt, etc.

If we don't, should we? No...we have more important things to do with our time & energy, like moving forward.

pattinase (abbott) said...

We lived in England for a year and never got used to driving on the left. But Edinburgh is in a class by itself.

Ello said...

What a great post! I can't believe I'm only now getting to it. Blame it on me being sick as a dog last week.

I do maintain my Korean roots and am proud of my ethnic background, but I know I am 100% American first and foremost. I would love to visit Korea but I know I could never live there. Here's where I belong and I'm proud of that.


Scotland is wonderful but you must visit wales some day.

Steve Malley said...

Hm. Your closing questions are hard for me to answer. I've been outside America so long, I really do feel like a stranger when I go back for a visit. But no matter what, I'll never be a Kiwi; I was imprinted far too early with a very different mindset.

I guess like my second blog's title suggests, I mostly feel like a stranger in a stranger land...

Barrie said...

I am proud of my roots. I don't feel particularly guilty over events before my birth. Should I? Oh my, something else to worry about. Great post, BTW.

Timothy Hallinan said...

Gosh, Lisa, what a lovely post. Maybe you should travel more and write about it -- you've got the writer's eye and you're wide open to impression.

Love the exploding power backup. Happened to me in Cambodia when I was having such trouble finishing my book (now titled BREATHING WATER) and I got a lovely eight-day vacation before Toshiba sent me a replacement.

And I had ancestors who owned slaves and ancestors who fought to end slavery. I figure they canceled each other out.

Welcome back, belatedly.

Kimberly A. Suta said...

I would love for your blog to be a part of – the world’s first blog-to-film competition. It’s free! All u do is link this blog to for a chance to win 2,000!

– Kimberly (co-creator)

Elizabeth said...

I'm looking forward to your next post!

Lisa said...

Steve, I kind of like those Black Sheep Society stories too. The only thing my father ever really mentioned about his immigrant ancestors was a humorous reference to sheep thieves. And thanks for the clarification on original sin. I hadn't thought of slavery as being tied to it, but when Charles made his comment, I went with it. I'd have to say that despite our best efforts, human beings do seem to have natural destructive tendencies and we don't seem to be evolving away from them.

Elizabeth, I can relate to that envy of those who seem to really identify with something tangible, although perhaps it's more who we are, rather than where we come from that determines whether or not we feel that. If I were a different person, maybe I'd never have left New England and maybe I'd feel a big connection there now.

Vesper, I know you'd love Scotland...and you are welcome to anything you find here, anytime!

Billy, The haggis is much better than it sounds, believe it or not. I am close to cutting off from technology completely. At times, it's been very helpful and useful, but lately, not so much.

Riss, How we feel about our heritage probably has lots to do with how our culture looks at the country of origin. It's pretty easy to know my "people" came from England and Ireland and France, since our country was built primarily on ideas that came from those places. Turkey is much harder. It's very "foreign" and most people don't know anything at all about it. I've been there a couple of times -- would love to talk about it next time you're back in Colorado.

Yellow, Like you I think I tend to be interested in the place where I happen to be. Ibiza! I actually went on a vacation there once when I lived in England. I think it was 1983. It was great -- I didn't see another American all week and that was a first!

Karen, I'm a big sentimental sap too! I think that's why there are things that are only "right" to us when we experience them the way they were in the place where we're from. Like the Thanksgiving stuffing has to the the "right" kind, the cranberry sauce, etc. And Christmas traditions...

Lana, Now that's something I didn't know about you -- and I don't think I've ever met anyone who was a "black market baby", but I'm always curious about how people who are adopted feel about not knowing their own biological roots. It's funny because a friend of mine who is adopted seems to be one of the most content people I know. She's never had any real curiosity about her biological parents, except that she would like to know her medical history. One of her sisters (also adopted) felt completely differently and was very anxious to find her biological mother and seek out her past that way.

I agree with your take on religion and how it relates to guilt.

Patti, I'm amazed at how many people seem to travel back and forth between the US and the UK and adapt to the driving so easily. I think it was easier to drive than to remember which way to look when crossing the street on foot!

Ello, I am not posting or responding in a very timely way these days. I'm always curious about Asian-Americans and how they (you) feel about being American, yet looking physically "foreign". When I was in the AF, I loved traveling around Europe because I felt like I could do so incognito. As long as I didn't open my mouth, nobody had to know I wasn't a local. On the other hand, I was always worried about being stationed someplace where I couldn't blend in and where the alphabet wasn't even the same as ours. I suppose it's a pretty chickenshit way to travel, but it was true. I felt most self-conscious and uncomfortable when I was in eastern Turkey and was clearly a westerner and all that comes with that (including the misconceptions that come with what American women are like to people in Kurdistan). There are lots of Asian Americans obviously, so it's not quite the same thing as visiting a country where they never see westerners, but your American experience is definitely a much different one from mine even from the perspective of how people react to us before we even say anything. I was also very conscious of the fact that during all of the recent discussions about race in America during the election, it mostly came down to black and white, sometimes hispanics were mentioned and only rarely were Asian Americans mentioned. I was aware of the omission and wondered how I'd feel if I were Asian American. One of these days we'll have that cocktail out in DC or VA and maybe you'll tell me.

Archavist, Welcome! My sister's husband's parents are from Wales and she has spent a fair amount of time there. I would definitely love to visit. I've always been intrigued by the language and hope that it's somehow kept alive.

Steve, Your expat feeling of being a stranger in a strange land makes total sense. I think more and more Americans who tend to move around a lot often feel that way even here -- although since you are literally on the other side of the world, I can imagine that feeling can be pretty powerful if you let it be.

Barrie, I don't know that anyone "should" ever feel guilty about anything, but I think sometimes we do anyway. Don't worry! I don't want that on my head :)

Tim, Well thank you. I seem to always find things to wonder about when I'm away from home. Sometimes I just wish I could stop thinking so much!

Kimberly, Wow -- that's an interesting project you've got.

Elizabeth, I'm in a bit of a rut these days so I hope I'll write a new post soon. I am really enjoying your blog though.

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf