Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Cry of Scotland: Freedom!

My son, I tell thee soothfastie,
No gift is like to libertie;
Then never live in slaverie.

William Wallace as taught by his uncle.

It's all for nothing if you don't have freedom.

Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart.

The problem with Scotland, is that it is full of Scots.

Edward I in Braveheart.

The Scots have a long history of quarreling and fighting among themselves but they don't lie down quietly for outside invaders. This lesson could have been learned from the Romans who had a brief foray into Scotland but withdrew and built Hadrian's Wall to keep the "barbarians" in the north where they belonged. Outside of Culloden, no other place in Scotland more represents the Scots' determination to be free than Stirling.

Stirling is not an exceptionally beautiful or rich place. It is strategic. The River Forth, or Firth of Forth - I love to say that name - cuts across Scotland east to west. To control the Highlands in medieval times an invader had to get across the river, and putting an army across the river required a bridge. Happens the Romans built a bridge at Stirling and this was the main point an army could cross into northern Scotland. Farther west than Stirling was too marshy. Secondly, a volcanic crag with sheer face on three sides rises up from the plain, a great place to put a defense and -voila!- there is Stirling Castle on a site likely fortified in some way since the Iron Age. Our castle was first built in the early twelfth century.

On my second day in Scotland, I set off by train from Glasgow to see the castle and walk the grounds of William "Braveheart" Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and countless others who fought the pesky English.

The Wallace Monument rises from Abbey Craig to the north and overlooks Stirling Bridge where in 1297 William Wallace and his buddy, Andrew Moray, led the clansmen - with no cavalry to speak of, poorly armed, and outnumbered five to one - to defeat the English. The English had captured Stirling Castle in 1296 and held control of the cities, but outside the cities was anarchy. Uniting the rabble was William Wallace after his young wife was killed by an English sheriff.

One of my favorite movies, Mel Gibson's Braveheart, captured the spirit of Wallace but had to sacrifice accuracy for a good story. For one thing, Wallace was a youth of about twenty three when he faced the English at Stirling Bridge, not the fortyish age of Mel. Did William Wallace paint his face blue in battle? No, but it was a nice tribute to the Picts. Did Robert the Bruce betray Wallace? No.

And for the sake of movie drama, the armies faced each other across a field. Wallace would have been smushed like an ant were that the case. Instead, the English and Scots faced each other across the River Forth, with the English walking into the trap likely devised by young Moray. The overconfident English began to move their cavalry and archers across the narrow bridge with the Scots seeming to wait patiently. After all, the chivalrous thing to do is wait until the army is fully across before starting the battle. The English hadn't counted on the guerrilla tactics of the Scots. When only half the English were across, the Scots attacked, likely using a schiltron (close formation with pikes) against the English cavalry. The English were massacred or driven back into the river to drown in their armor and a few days later the Castle was surrendered to the Scots.

The heart of Old Town Stirling has that ancient, historical look. It's been a burgh since 1124, Prince Charlie was here during the 'Rising, and John Knox of the Reformation preached at the Holy Rude, but I had one objective at the moment - to see the Castle.

Just up the street from the clock tower I stopped a Scottish gentleman for directions and, as the Scottish are prone to do, that led to more conversation. He asked if I were going to Bannockburn.

"Well, I was really on my way to the castle".

"Get in the car", he said. Usually I don't get in a car at the invitation of a stranger but I was improvising transportation. Besides,he had a cane. I figured I could outrun him if I had to.

I thought I was going to get a lift to the castle, but we were headed to Bannockburn. "Hated the English", he said about the battle at Bannockburn. Slight pause and he added, "still do". He was clearly determined I would see Bannockburn.

My Scottish gentleman dropped me off at Bannockburn a couple miles out of town and while I was wondering how I would get back into town I spotted a man in a kilt. I thought I'd worry later about the town thing and followed the kilt out to the battlefield.

Robert the Bruce was there, right where he likely sat on his horse directing the battle against Edward II.

Stirling Castle had been abandoned back to the English in 1298 after Wallace lost at Falkirk, Robert the Bruce besieged the castle in 1299 and took it back, the English besieged again in 1304 and Robert's brother was again besieging the castle in 1314. Robert showed up to prevent Edward getting reinforcements to the English in the castle and they had a full on battle here at Bannockburn. Robert had 9000 men, almost all infantry, and Edward had 25,000, including cavalry. Not the best odds.

Using the schiltron devised by Wallace the Scots fought a brilliant battle and routed the English. Edward returned to England tail between legs, and Stirling Castle returned to the Scots who destroyed the defenses of the castle to prevent them again being used by the English. Needless to say, this was not the last of Stirling Castle.

It has been besieged or attacked sixteen times at least, and clearly still stands today, visible on its crag from the Bannockburn.

I made my way back to the castle, by this time too tired and damp to think of much more than that the ochre color of some of the buildings would be nice in my bedroom.

But not so tired I couldn't appreciate the rich history, the realtor's dream view, and the many Scots and English that have lived, fought, died, and rejoiced in victory here.

Next post: Good friends and Charles Rennie MacKintosh

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Afoot in San Diego: Imperial Beach, Donuts to Die For

Jennifer and I headed for Imperial Beach today. I wanted mainly to check out the Pier and a donut shop I had seen on Noah Tafolla's Wonderland show on San Diego's KPBS. Jennifer had just finished a morning swim meet. She was tired, more interested in the fish and chips at the end of the Pier, and glad there weren't a lot of historical buildings her Ouma wanted to see.

Imperial Beach is the very southernmost outpost of San Diego. Step across the Tijuana River and you're in Mexico...but first you'll have to get across the Border Fence the separates San Diego from Tijuana, more than 900 miles of fence completed to date but that's a story for another time.

Photo downloaded from Wikipedia

Early Anglo settlement of Imperial Beach was part of the 1887 land boom of San Diego when a couple fellows thought they would build a beach resort for folks looking for relief from the heat of Imperial Valley. If I were to pick a year for time travel in San Diego, it would be 1887. It must have been a jumpin' year. Even Wyatt Earp was here.

It's hard to miss that this is a surfin' town. Monuments, sidewalk surf art, surf shops, surfer dudes everywhere.

We walked down the Dunes, I.B.'s beach, toward the pier. One couple must have been getting practice for I.B.'s annual Sand Castle contest, the US Open of Sand Castle Building. They were adults with a full on man-size shovel, not the usual kid stuff seen on other beaches. Fortunately, the next competition is almost a year off. These guys look like they need a little more practice before getting to the level of the usual entries.

At the end of the pier, we enjoyed some fish and chips at a little outdoor fish place. Even though it was a misty day, we could see down to the Coronado Islands off Mexico.

The culinary highlight, though, was the Stardust Donut Shop on Palm Avenue, a drive in, walk up to the window place in need of a paint job but the donuts and cinnamon rolls are heavenly. Fortunately, they are not the huge Cinnabon type and no heavy frosting. Still, Jennifer and I had the good sense to buy just one glazed donut each for today and a cinnamon roll to save for Sunday morning.

The shop is run by two elderly brothers who have apparently been a fixture for the last thirty years. By now they open up when they get there and close when all the donuts are gone and a gaggle of customers hang around waiting for the next batch.

Jennifer's interest was beginning to wane... the Tijuana Estuary Reserve will have to wait for another time.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I Knew This Day Would Come

Since Number One Grandbaby, Hayley, was little she would come over on the weekend and we would have beauty shop, paint toenails, fix hair, and all those fun girly things.

Note the cottonball toe separators...can't smudge the wet polish

Number Two Grandbaby, Jennifer, came along a couple years later and she joined the Saturday "Breakfast Club".

The years went by and Beauty Shop evolved into Mountain Climbing, Track Practice, Theater, Film School, History Lecture, Cake Class, and don't forget Shopping.

Now Hayley is almost 15, a rower, a singer in a rock band, and a Facebook/iPhoner.

Talking on the phone with Hayley last evening about this weekend's plans, she said "Uh, Ouma, I'm pretty booked on Saturday".

Still another couple years with Jennifer before she is "pretty booked", and another several years with little Isabella in Montana. How lucky we grandmas are to be a part of these extraordinary growing lives.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

On Foot in San Diego: Ocean Beach, the Haight Ashbury of San Diego

I intend to finish my stories about Scotland and Morocco, but I couldn't resist writing about our excursion to Ocean Beach.

This past weekend Hayley, Jennifer and I decided to check out Ocean Beach, a funky little coastal town north northwest of downtown San Diego. On the drive down, I had the girls read the history of the neighborhood - naturally - and they were taken by Wonderland, an amusement park built on the beach in 1913 and washed away by high tides three years later. I was able to locate a photo showing it was quite the structure.

O.B.- residents are OBecians - was laid out by a couple developers, Billy Carlson and Frank Higgins, in 1887, during the first boom of San Diego, at the time Jesse Shepard was building his Villa Montezuma in Sherman Heights on the other side of downtown San Diego. In spite of its beautiful location, the town was a remote and hard to get to place until Interstate 8 connected in 1971. In the 1960's O.B. was the Haight Asbury of San Diego and still has that organic store, mom and pop business atmosphere.

Our plan was to check out any history and sights of the town but I sweetened the deal with a promise to do some shopping in the Newport Avenue vintage shops. I heard some groans when I suggested we browse an antique store - by vintage, they had more in mind some clothes - but they thought the store was pretty cool, and I took advantage of the opportunity to slip in some more historical stuff.

We checked out the clothing shop next door...

Jennifer is always the hat fashionista,

Then we walked the length of the Ocean Beach Pier, 1,971 feet, more than one third mile long, the longest concrete pier on the West Coast.

I wondered why in 1966 they decided to build this pier. No boats around, no harbor. Well, it's purely for the purpose of recreation, walking and fishing. Sounds like something OBecians would do.

We didn't find any feral parrots that hang out in OB, the O.B. "air force", but Hayley and Jennifer checked out the pelicans.

These guys are so regal flying up and down the coast.

End of the day is coming,

Hug your sister, and let's be off to World Famous for dinner.