Without a Sense of an Ending

The lie of regret and of life gone off the rails.  What rails.  The life is the rails.  It is its own rails and it goes where it goes.  It cuts its own path.  My path took me here.

Okay – I will admit it.  I have been a mess the past month with way too much to do, so I utterly failed my goal of trying to read all of the books that were long-listed for the Man Booker Prize before the Short List came out, i.e. before today.

In my younger years – meaning up until now, but I am actively trying to change – I beat myself up about not reaching the goals that I set for myself.  But I’ve started (and before those of you who know me as a crazy type A person write me off, I said started) to realize, that I am human, and it is okay to fail at your goals sometimes.  In fact, goals should be aspirational so that in reaching for them, you accomplish more than what you otherwise would have had done.

What I mean to say, after all that rambling self-reflection, I have decided that instead of thinking that I failed by having a million other things to do that got in the way of my reading list, I’ve decided to be grateful for what I did accomplish – reading two great pieces of literature that I would not have otherwise gotten to had I not tried to read the entire Long List.

AND, I did manage to read one that made the Short List, Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room.  The Mars Room follows a young woman as she makes her way through the criminal justice system, and chronicles her attempt to come to terms with serving two life sentences.  The book was thought-provoking, especially with regards to the American justice system and the so-called “American Dream.”  The story itself, however, was not my cup of tea.

Admittedly, The Mars Room is not the type of book that I would have gone for myself – which is one reason I like reading books that have been nominated for prizes; it gets me out of my comfort zone – but as it is not my favorite type of novel, you do need to take my thoughts on it with a grain of salt.

In the novel, you come face-to-face with the vulgarities of life; strippers, drug dealers, murderers are all featured in the novel. And Words are not minced. Instead, the book breaks through our quixotic illusions of what we think the world is and should be and shows us the realities of a life that has become far too familiar to too many.  The result leaves the reader in a space where he or she must learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Facing reality is usually an uncomfortable business.

In fact, just as the reader is finding him or herself less guarded, opening up to the “family like” network that the characters have created for themselves, google and its vast knowledge of the world upends the unspoken agreement between the author and the reader that the main characters in this story are the protagonists – the wrongly incarcerated who are at the complete – and unfair – mercy of the criminal justice system.  Google tells the story of their crimes.  And some of their crimes are heinous.

It was this moment that I realized why this book had been long listed (and subsequently short listed).  It is Rachel Kushner’s ability to create a story full of multi-dimensional characters that are neither good nor bad, but fully human that sets her apart. Her novel is an ode to reality.  A reality that desperately needs to be acknowledged and has for so long gone unnoticed.

I will say, however, that if you do like your novels to end all wrapped up in a tight bow, you will definitely feel unsatisfied at the end of this book.  It leaves you, to borrow a phrase from Julian Barnes, but one that is especially apt here,  without the “sense of an ending.”

Project Life – The Easy Way To Document Your Life.

So you took all those amazing photos on your trip.  Now what?

Previous me would just leave them on my phone and maybe look at them once or twice over the next couple of weeks… but then never think or look at them again.  But that was previous me; I have since found an answer to all your photograph woes.  Project Life.

One of my girlfriends introduced me to this quick, easy, and simple way to get all your photos into a format that you will actually look at from time to time.  The company that produces the supplies is called Project Life.

First, you order a binder:

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Since I was printing pictures from Scotland, I chose a travel themed binder.

Once you get your binder, you need to get pages.  I usually start by ordering a multi-pack because I never know which types of pages I will want.

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Next – and the part that makes this so easy – you order card inserts.  And the inserts have different themes such as travel, graduation, football, baseball, first day of school, holidays, etc.

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I obviously chose the travel pack.

You will also need to print out and/or order your pictures.  If you have iPhotos, its super easy to order.  You just select your photos, create a “project,” and then choose the sizes you want and click order.  They usually come within a week.

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And finally, you just insert your cards and pictures in any way you want – and you are finished – with a beautiful, well put together photo book to boot.

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I’ve Got Whiskey On The Mind

“Today’s rain is tomorrow’s whiskey.”

One of the best parts of the trip:  the whiskey.

We visited three distilleries and a cooperage (where the barrels are made).  This was my second whiskey tour (I did the bourbon trail with my fiancé a couple of years ago).  So I was already semi-familiar with the distillation process.  For those who aren’t, I’ve tried to sum it up in a diagram – Distillation Process.

Our first stop was Glenlivet, or “Valley of the Smooth Flowing One.”

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Glenlivet officially began distilling in 1824 (although it had long been distilling whiskey illegally prior to that date).  Whiskey distilling started in the Speyside region with tenement farmers, farmers who did not own the land, but instead worked it and paid a percentage of their income to the individual who did own the land.  Many times, the percentage was rather high, and the farmers started to distill whiskey to make some extra cash – free of taxes.  Additionally, due to its remote location in the Highlands, it was easy for farmers to hide their illicit behavior from the customs office.

In 1824, however, legislation was passed to allow whiskey distillation, and George Smith, the founder of Glenlivet, was the first in the Glenlivet parish to get his distiller’s license.  For this, he was harassed by his neighboring distillers and was forced to carry a pair of pistols for the rest of his life.

George Smith’s son had been studying the law when his father died.  He gave up his law career to move home and run the family business.  His law degree informed how he ran the business.  For instance, it was under his leadership that Glenlivet fought a protracted legal battle over the Glenlivet trade mark, giving Glenlivet the right to be called “THE” Glenlivet.  For those of us who are Ohio State fans, you know how important the “THE” can be.

Next was Glenfiddich, or “Valley of the Deer.”

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“Few men have built their own distillery with their own bare hands. But that’s exactly how William Grant started writing our story.”

During the summer of 1886, William Grant and his children built, by hand, what was to become the Glenfiddich Distillery.  Unlike many other distilleries, Glenfiddich actually has its own cooperage on site.  The triangular shape of Glenfiddich bottles was instituted in 1961.  And in 1963, Glenfiddich was the first Scottish Whiskey to be actively promoted outside Scotland.

Before visiting our last distillery for the day, The Macallan, we stopped at Speyside cooperage.

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Speyside cooperage was founded in 1947 by the Taylor family.  It is the largest independent cooperage in the United Kingdom.  It also has branches in Alloa, Kentucky, and Ohio because much of the wood it uses to make barrels actually comes from former bourbon barrels.  Under United States law, bourbon may only be aged in virgin barrels; thus, after one use, the barrel cannot be used again – at least not to make bourbon.  So many bourbon distilleries will sell their barrels on to other whiskey distilleries.

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But, like Bourbon, oak is the only wood that can be used as casks because oak prevents seepage of the whiskey while still allowing the whiskey to “breathe.”  The ability to breathe also produces what is known as the “angels’ share,” i.e. the whiskey that evaporates.

The coopers at Speyside still use all the traditional methods and tools to make the casks.

Finally, we went to The Macallan, which just opened its new distillery this summer.  It was breathtaking in a very modern sense.

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The original name of the area was “Maghellan”, comprised of two Gaelic words: “magh”, meaning fertile ground and “Ellan”, from the Monk St. Fillan.

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The Macallan was founded by Alexander Reid in 1824 on a plateau above the river Spey in north-east Scotland.  In fact, to ensure that the river Spey continued to provide The Macallan Distillery with pure water for its whiskey, the Distillery bought up much of the land that surrounds the river.  Unlike Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, Macallan does not use a Scottish cooperage; instead, they import their barrels from a cooperage in Spain.

Ultimately, my favorite was Glenlivet.  Although I have to admit, my forever favorite will always be Jameson.  And not just because it’s one of my cats’ names.

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Jameson and Guinness

A Reprieve From Scotland: The Man Booker Dozen

Putting a pause in my Scotland Posts (I promise, I only have a couple more of those), the Man Booker Long List (or “Man Booker Dozen”) was announced last week.  The Man Booker prize is given to the “best novel,” written in English and published in the U.K. (a semi recent change of the Rules – previously, the authors had to be from the commonwealth) of the year.

I try to read the winner each year, but this year, I have decided to attempt to read the long-list before the short list is released on September 20th.  As I went to Amazon to order the books, however, some of them have yet to be released, at least in the U.S.  So my goal has been made easier (thank goodness, as I have a small pile of books sitting on my bedside table, and that pile has been slowly growing).

According to the Man Booker website, this year’s longlist include several dystopian books, giving this year’s list a theme of “a world on the brink.”  Additionally, many explore social class, gender, and family.

And so, without more, the “Man Booker Dozen” are:

Belinda Bauer (UK), Snap (Bantam Press): a crime novel about a mother going missing, and the aftermath of her disappearance on the family.

Anna Burns (UK), Milkman (Faber & Faber) (preorder only in the US): a novel that explores the consequences of corrupt political life on one’s domestic/family life.

Nick Drnaso (USA), Sabrina (Granta Books): the first ever graphic novel to be on the long list.  Another disappearance story line, but it is interwoven with how the 24-hour news cycle impacts our lives (a theme also explored by the 2003 Man Booker winner – Vernon God Little, and now, in my opinion, more relevant than ever).

Esi Edugyan (Canada), Washington Black (Serpent’s Tail) (preorder only in the US): a historical novel following an escaped slave on his road to freedom.

Guy Gunaratne (UK), In Our Mad and Furious City (Tinder Press): a novel following friends and their interaction with urban life, focusing on the lives of the marginalized and oppressed.

Daisy Johnson (UK), Everything Under (Jonathan Cape): the story of an absentee mother trying to re-connect with her daughter and of the language they had invented together before the mother left.

Rachel Kushner (USA), The Mars Room (Jonathan Cape): a novel about incarceration in America.  This novel explores the criminal justice system, as well as gender, class, and the failure of the American Dream.

Sophie Mackintosh (Wales, UK), The Water Cure (Hamish Hamilton): likened to the Handmaiden’s Tale, this novel explores the story of a mother and three girls who are kept on an island by the father – until one day the father leaves, and the women are left to survive on their own.

Michael Ondaatje (Canada), Warlight (Jonathan Cape): Ondaatje was just awarded the Golden Man Booker Prize for his novel The English Patient (which has also been turned into an academy award wining film, by the same name; starring Ralph Fiennes, may be better known as Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films).  This novel, however, follows two children after the end of World War II and their mysterious caretaker.

Richard Powers (USA), The Overstory (Willian Heinemann)The Overstory is a story of the environment.  Following nine very different individuals, the novel eventually brings them together as each tries to save the final few trees left in the world.  This novel explores global warming, and its effects on all classes, genders, and races.

Robin Robertson (Scotland, UK), The Long Take (Picador)The Long Take is actually a novel in verse form.  It follows a man suffering from PTSD, and his attempt to cope with live after war.

Sally Rooney (Ireland), Normal People (Faber & Faber) (preorder only in the US): this novel looks at the intersection between classes through the lens of children.  A young middle class girl befriends her parents’ house cleaner’s son.  The story watches them grow up in two distinct social circles while trying to maintain their connection.

Donal Ryan (Ireland), From a Low and Quiet Sea (Doubleday Ireland): Separated into four parts – the first three sections tell the story of three men.  The first, a man deciding whether to flee Syria with his family.  The second, a brokenhearted bus-driver in Ireland. And, lastly, a manipulator searching for forgiveness.  The final sections brings all three together in their search for home and acceptance.

This year’s judges include: Kwame Anthony Appiah (Chair); Val McDermid; Leo Robson; Jacqueline Rose; and Leanne Shapton.

I am still waiting on a couple of the books to get to my house, but, as some of them have arrived, let the reading begin!

From Ladies of the Lake To Loch Storr Monsters

“The Trossachs are often visited by persons of taste, who are desirous of seeing nature in her rudest and most unpolished state.” – Callander parish minister Dr. Robertson (1791).

The next stop on our visit was The Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, Scotland’s first National Park, established in 2002. (Loch is Scotland’s word for lake.)  The Trossachs has inspired many a poem, including several by William Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy, Samuel Coleridge, and Sir Walter Scott.  In fact, Sir Walter Scott’s best selling work, Lady of the Lake, is set in and around Loch Katrine.  Loch Katrine also appears in Jules Verne’s The Underground City.

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The Trossachs is home to allegedly one of the most haunted places in Scotland – the Drover’s Inn.

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If you are into ghosts, click here to read about all the ghost sightings that have been reported (be wary of the video though – it has a trick at the end).  My mom – a major ghost/supernatural believer and avid ghost/bigfoot show watcher – wanted us to do a EVP session (still not sure what that means), but instead of riling the ghosts, we simply had a beer and made sure to be on our way long before nightfall.

Also along our driving tour, we stopped to see the Glencoe Valley, home to mountains known as the “Three Sisters.”

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Afterwards, we stopped at Glenfinnan.  Glenfinnan is known for two very different teenagers: Harry Potter and the Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Well known now as the home to the viaduct that appears in the Harry Potter movies (see picture below), Glenfinnan has a tragic past.  It was here that the Bonnie Prince Charlie first raised his father’s standard.  The monument you see in the pictures below is a memorial for the Highlanders that lost their lives because they supported the Bonnie Prince.  If you are at all interested in the Prince’s claim to the British throne, click here.

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Finally, we visited the Isle of Skye.  Unfortunately, we had terrible weather – at one point, I truly thought I might be blown off the side of a mountain.  So my pictures aren’t what they could have been – as I was trying to protect my camera from the rain – but even in the rain, Scotland is hauntingly beautiful.

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At the end of our climb, my best friend – who is my forever travel partner – claimed she had a “loch” in her boot, thereby proclaiming the creation of Loch Storr, and after spending hours in the downpour and wind, we were its monsters.

 

Bonnie Prince Charlie

Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, was the eldest son of James Francis Edward Stuart, “The Old Pretender,” and grandson of James II of England and Ireland (James VII of Scotland).  James II/VII was deposed and exiled to Continental Europe by his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange in what is now called “The Glorious Revolution.”

After Mary and William’s death, Mary’s sister Anne became Queen until her death in 1714.  During Anne’s reign, Parliament enacted the Act of Settlement, which banned Catholic monarchs from the British throne – effectively disinheriting James Francis Edward Stuart (Mary and Anne’s brother) and the Bonnie Prince Charlie (Mary and Anne’s nephew).  After Anne’s death, the throne passed to a great-grandson of James I, George I of Hanover.

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Obviously feeling slighted, Bonnie Prince Charlie decided to win back the throne for his father.  In 1745, the Prince traveled to Scotland with a force mustered in France to rally the Highlanders to his cause.  Those that answered his call were known as “Jacobites.”

The rebellion (now known as The “Forty-Five”) was ill-fated.  Charles was able to defeat the English government in Scotland and move South to Northern England, but rather than press his advantage and march on London, he turned around and returned to Scotland, closely followed by the British Army, led by Prince William, Duke of Cumberland.

The tired and poorly fed Jacobite troops met the British army at Culloden Moor.  The battle lasted less than an hour, and the Jacobites were routed.  More significant, however, is the aftermath of the battle.  In response to the rebellion, the British government effectively banned Highland culture and massacred the clans that had fought for the Prince.

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Welcome to Edinburgh

Today was my first day back in the real world, and needless to say, I am coming down from my travel high.  What a whirlwind of a trip.  If I could sum up Scotland in a single phrase, it would be: “majestically dramatic.”  The imposing nature of the landscape created both a mysterious and daunting atmosphere – making writing about it similarly daunting.  So I am going to give you my thoughts on a piecemeal basis.  Today, starting with Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Castle

DSC_0016The Sir Walter Scott Monument

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Sir Walter Scott is one of the many authors that was born in Scotland.  He wrote the Waverley novels, including Ivanhoe and Rob Roy.   (Other Scottish literary figures include Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and J.K. Rowling.)  Scott’s work celebrates Highland culture, which – at the time – was in danger of being eradicated, and his work has been attributed to reviving it.

King Arthur’s Seat

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Climbing this hill was one of my favorite things that we did the whole trip.  And the view from the top of the hill – incredible:

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We did make the mistake of not bringing water on our trek.  Major failure.  Bring water.

A fun fact about Edinburgh – if you are a Harry Potter fan – is that it provided inspiration to J.K. Rowling.  For instance, Diagon Alley is said to be based on Victoria Street, Hogwarts is supposedly inspired by an Edinburgh prep school – George Heriot’s, and the names of McGonagall and Tom Riddell come from Greyfriars Kirkyard.

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Victoria’s Street aka Diagon Alley
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Tom Riddell and His Father
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McGonagall’s Grave 
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J.K. Rowling’s Handprints

 

I am currently rereading the Harry Potter books – I am on the Prisoner of Azkaban – for the first time as an adult, and it is fascinating what I missed when I read them as a child/teen.

But, back to Edinburgh, we did a lot of eating and drinking, and I have listed by favorite places below.

Montpeliers Bar & Brasserie

The Dragonfly

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The Grain Store

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We also went to a few others, including Black Pig & Oyster, The Kitchin, and Café Tartine.  All three are in the same stretch near the Royal Britannia , next to a beautiful fountain, with seating outside.

Next up – Trossachs National Park.