So I am here in Middlebie, Scotland, outside Ecclefechan, pronounced as if you have something stuck in your throat, where Thomas Carlyle was born, visiting my beloved friend Rosie, met at my Quaker Meeting in Paris, when I lived there long-term, 1997. She remembers the date better than I, as her life was in a memorable upheaval which is not my business to write about. I of course had no concept of my life being in upheaval, too, imagining that I could simply get on with things even though my husband had died and my children were grown except in the wisdom and maturity sense, and publishing was getting crazy, and I had no idea what the future would bring, or if, indeed, I had one. Shortly after that I called the Wall Street Journal Europe and connected with Jim Ruane, the editor, who had just started a travel section, and said “I have an idea: Swimming Through Europe,” about all the great hotels with pools. He said “I like it. Send me a couple of graphs.” I said “What is that?” and so began my travel-writing career which lasted at the Journal as long as he did.
I can’t remember why exactly I moved back to Paris, where I had lived shortly after graduating from Bryn Mawr, sung at the Mars Club, with Bob Dorough at the piano, but it was a treat and a challenge and improbable, all three things my life has been. And ‘twas there I met Rosie, a great and insightful soul. It’s been a lot of years since we saw each other, so this is, I suppose you could say, a Godsend. Not knowing what would be the rest of my life, should I have one, this fairly spontaneous plan arose to catch up, here at her cottage with a profusion of flowers outside the kitchen window, the names of which I don’t know but have written about to my grandsons.
Yesterday Rosie took me to the castle of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensbury and has eighty three other titles and 380,000 acres, three castles in Scotland, another down South and a house or two in London, and a guide who took us round the rather barren and cold (what a surprise!) castle, who is obviously a Republican, which does not mean the same thing here as it does to us, but rather, one who seems obviously embittered at the existence of royals, even though they can no longer afford a live-in staff. There are a lot of bloodless portraits all over the walls, the one great painting, the Virgin and the Yarnwinder by Leonardo da Vinci having been stolen, and found in the office of a Glasgow solicitor who was tried, his guilt not proven. But he was, as they say here, struck off, (disbarred) so he’s now suing the Duke for four million pounds because he’s lost his license to practice. A funny country, including the birdyballs , diegestive biscuits and lard my darling friend Rosie rolls by hand and puts in the bird feeders hanging outside the kitchen window, above and alongside an endless glory of flowers with names I’ve never heard before, trollies, a kind of giant buttercup, clematis, a lavendar blossom, azaleas only they’re red, and on and on and up a little hill and down dale. A unique experience, certainly for me.
Rosie, being as wise as she is soft-voiced, has suggested I find myself a spot in Amsterdam, my next stop on this spontaneous and mainly unmarked journey, and set about writing my MEMOIR, (I capitalize it because the word seems pretentious to me though I hope and don’t imagine the writing will be,) which turns out to be the plan even though I didn’t originally have one. England was a borderline disaster about which I will not write yet, except for the warmth and deep-voiced kindness of the fine actor, Simon Jones, in Blithe Spirit, and his lovely wife Nancy with whom I dined, as one does in England, after the play, which is still good, especially with Angela Lansbury, who defines indefatigable. It was my thought, if any I had, which I didn’t really, to go all the way North as suggested by my great college president emeritus (I think you say) Pat McPherson to see the Summer Isles, but they are supposed to be very cold and isolated and I have left almost all my clothes in London so I will not have too much luggage, which I already do in my head.
Rosie having taken pics of the BAA LAMBS as she colorfully calls them in her countrified Scottish, has posted them on her IPad which I would do if I had brought mine with me, and am too e-retarded to do on my Mac. But I will work it out before I leave so you can see the best part of the Duke of Baccleuch's castle, which were the sheep grazing outside.
I am sad to hear that California is ablaze. The real news is usually too bad to hear. I remember once I was writing about a newspaper that printed only good news, so it went out of business. As it is, even the newspapers printing the news that is bad, which almost all of it is, are going out of business as well. So I shall make this trip along with the Wizard of Oz, and pay no attention to the man behind the green curtain. Or the iron one, allegedly down, but now monitored by the biggest bully of my lifetime. 'Tis a better world when even the brightest people in it focus on the BAA lambs.