An illuminated Highland fling


As published in the Fresno Bee Sunday, July 19, 1992

LONDON -- Ross Perot, Ross Perot, everybody wants to know about Ross Perot. Can I ever escape him? After all, one of the purposes of this vacation was to flee the things that really annoy me, but here on this over politicized island they are fascinated by our election . . .

Alright, I confess, I'm not really in London as I write this; I'm sitting on the floor of my flat in the Tower District in Fresno. It's just that I always wanted to have an article with one of those wire-service all-caps place names at the beginning. And I did just get back from a two-week vacation for which London was the touchstone.

You see, my friend Tim lives in London with his wife, Jean, Tim and Jean and I
and they had no problems letting me and my friend Christine use their flat as our home base. We had decided to make London a jumping-off point for side trips to Ireland and EuroDisney. Yes, EuroDisney. Stop snickering; I don't see any Louvre Museum or Eiffel Tower in Los Angeles.

London is not an auto-friendly city. The streets are winding and their names arbitrarily change every few blocks; many intersections have six or seven outlets and there are no crosstown freeways. Obviously, the city has evolved over several hundred years and almost as many wars, but the net result is like something H.R. Giger would design during a particularly terrifying acid trip. To get somewhere, you gotta be John Coltrane behind the wheel: take off in a general direction and improvise like mad. Me in the Tube Or take the underground.

The plan was for Tim, Christine, and I (Jean had to work) to drive up to Ireland via Scotland. Tim had some friends who lived near Edinburgh -- a good day's drive to the North -- and we could stay with them, catch the car ferry to Ireland and motor down to Dublin to drink Guinness beer from the source.

Looking at my globe (and if you have a globe handy, please follow along), I can see that Fresno has a latitude of about 35 degrees north. Edinburgh has a latitude of about 55 degrees north, which means it's 20 degrees closer to the North Pole. I don't exactly what that means, except that we were close enough to have our trip hijacked by The Light at The Top of the World.

So much for plans

The Old Church Let my try to explain: we had driven north all day and were staying at Temple, Scotland -- a tiny you-couldn't-even-call-it-a-village just south of Edinburgh. We had discussed Ross Perot over a wonderful home-cooked dinner. We had played in a tiny abandoned church from the 14th century and had come back in for a couple of shots of whiskey. It was June 23 and none of us had ever been far north during the longer days of the year, so we decided to go outside and see what it was like.

And shot our plans straight to hell.

It was almost midnight yet we could still see daylight lurking behind the mountains on the horizon (hey this is so cool how can they possibly sleep without darkness and look the midnight sun is reachable if we just go to they very top of Scotland!), and suddenly going west to Ireland and drinking Guinness wasn't important at all. The only thing that mattered was going North. Indeed: a mystical magical rendezvous with the gods of illumination that dwelt in the eternal twilight of the Scottish Highlands . . .

He just did it

I didn't plan to go on holiday -- the opportunity arose and I jumped at it without thinking. And yay, because had I given myself the opportunity to think hard I would have come up with a bizillion (mostly financial) reasons not to go. Especially considering the oppressive exchange rate of two dollars to one pound. But I guess I instinctively knew I desperately needed something to spur spontaneous mental combustion. I had forgotten that travel is one of the best mind-altering experiences there is.

Tim and I at the
Highlands Stacked Rocks in the
Highlands True enough, because as I'm sitting here in the midst of the Fresno heat I doubt I can make you understand why we tripped out so hard on the Scottish summer solstice. Or why we ended up driving another day and a half through the Highlands just to stand on a desolate mountaintop -- so desolate that there was no plant, animal or even insect life, just rocks; so desolate that the only noise was the wind, never mind the generic roar of civilization that accompanies even Yosemite; so desolate that there weren't even any empty beer cans, instead, people stacked rocks to signal they'd been there -- and look out over the Atlantic at the islands that guard Northwest Scotland. Trying to explain why this was -- and still is -- so very important is like trying to explain, oh I don't know, cats; or a great smile; or why certain songs sometimes cause me to spontaneously dance around my apartment. Sigh.

You know, it seems like the two weeks I was gone lasted forever. So many events were compacted into such a tiny amount of time I literally feel as if I was gone for months. It's like one of those old science fiction plots in reverse: you know, some space explorer travels near the speed of light for what seems to him like a couple of years but when he comes back he discovers that it's been 80 years on Earth and then he falls in love with his great-granddaughter who is the spitting image of his long-dead wife. Since so much had happened to me in such a short period of time, it only made sense that everything would be different here, too. Nope. Turns out everything's pretty much the same. Big sigh.

The HighlandsWe never did see the midnight sun --
though we did curse the cloudy
and misty midnight gray as we
were trying to sleep the next "night."
But the Highlands themselves were
so mega-beautiful
-- mountains and lakes
and rivers and trees, and sheep,
lots of sheep -- that it was OK.

On the way back, driving past Loch Ness (actually one of the more mundane places in the Highlands), we suddenly wondered how many people took a picture of someone with the lake in the background and captioned it "Actual Photo of the Loch Ness Monster." Even worse, the odds were that every one of those people thought they had come up with the joke.

Oh yeah, we never made it to EuroDisney, either.

-- Jim Connelly

Christine This was written as a love letter to the woman, Christine, mentioned in the piece. At the time I fancied myself head over heels in love with her, and since she was still in Europe, I wrote it to deal with how I was feeling.

And my head was in a weird place: just a week before the surreal Scottish solstice, I had dropped acid for the first (so far) time, and was still kinda dealing with that as a subtext underneath all the travel and lonliness I was dealing with at the time. And I was re-reading The Illuminatus! Trilogy to boot.

Of all of the Bee columns, this is my favorite.

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This document last modified on 02 April, 1996
I was listening to Afghan Whigs -- Black Love