Of Pubs and Parliament

Hello, my name is Hector E. Ramos-Ramos, and I intend here to share with you my observations, opinions, and concerns while I am abroad (primarily in Scotland), courtesy of the study abroad program at St. Paul’s own Macalester College.

Although I am not originally from Minnesota, the home of Bunyan and Babe has grown on me in a way I could not have predicted that first winter in 2005. Back then I constantly asked myself why I had forsaken the perpetual balminess of my hometown of San Juan, Puerto Rico, for this. Eventually though, just like the videos at the Light Rail stations tell you, even the harshest winter becomes tolerable after you’ve understood how charming Minnesota really is.

In any case, I’m in Scotland now, at the University of Edinburgh, and I’m behind blogging schedule, so now I have to make up for my laziness with some earnest storytelling.

I left San Juan around noon, was briefly stationed in New York City, flew from there to London (our in-flight movie was Tootsie), and then, it was just a brisk hour-long hop to Edinburgh. It had taken more than a day, but when I arrived at the airport I received my hard-earned prize: torrents of hard, cold sleet. Welcome to Scotland.

I followed a trail of visiting university students. We all piled into a bus. None of us spoke to one another, and everyone seemed exhausted and eager to get some sleep. When I was dropped off at my university flat, the absence of bedding in my room gave me a reason to go out into the Scottish capital and explore.

Highlights from Week One:

The next day, orientation was held at a large lecture hall. I sat next to my flatmate, Vilhelm, from Sweden. He is one of four guys who live in our apartment (from now on, "flat"). We patiently watched some very nice Scottish university employees talk to us about the beauties of their country and the ins and outs of opening a bank account. Their accents were impenetrable, and the only way I sort-of understood what they were saying was by looking at a massive PowerPoint projection.

Pubs happened soon after and would continue throughout the otherwise commitment-free week. Discovering a new pub is like finding a new home away from home away from home. It was during one of these introductions into the world of pubs (accompanied by my new friends, all of them from continental Europe), that I got my first lesson in local drink-culture. I went to order a pint of lager (beer) at the counter, and one of the brands, Tennent’s, caught my eye. I told the man what I wanted, and some young Scotsmen behind me in the queue reacted by chortling. One of them made the reason for my risibility very clear, "Tennent’s is for poofs." Since I have seen a number of British sitcoms, I know that poofs = limp-wristed weenies. Not wanting to be the source of Scottish mirth, I turned to the man behind the counter and said, "Erm, excuse me, could I get a Caledonian instead." No laugh track accompanied my change of drink.

Highlights from Week Two:

Already a week into classes, things had started to get slightly less fancy-free. My friends and I did a fair amount of touristing though. The school provided us the option of paying a few pounds for a daylong trip to the much sung-about Loch Lomond. We decided to bite the bait and hopped on the bus to the Loch. After three hours of cramped travel, we were there — Loch Lomond: 80% mist and 20 % shopping mall. After the fog cleared up and I saw the ducks doing their thing in the vast expanse of grey water, I turned to look at the awful strip mall opposite the Loch and thought to myself "What kind of schmo let this happen?" The Loch is so large that I was told by a park ranger that it would take several days on foot to go around the whole thing; I only had a few hours, so I proceeded to feed most of the ducks in my immediate surroundings. At Loch Lomond, I also found out that my flatmate, Vilhelm, has a mild case of cynophobia. This emerged after I saw him get stiff as a lamppost when two beautiful German Shepherds decided to nuzzle playfully at his feet. Later, he told me with the severity
of a character from a Bergman movie that "dogs get more attention
than they ought to…they don’t deserve it, not one." 

I got to know my other flatmates, Knut and Mathieu, better this week. Knut is from Norway, but he speaks in perfect British "received pronunciation," sometimes sounding like a youthful Richard Attenborough. Mathieu is from France and he is soccer-mad, seemingly planning his life around television matches and trips to see some of his favorite teams play. The first is rather fond of dry humor, and it is comforting to know that we both share a love of classic British comedies like Yes, Minister. Mathieu
is more happy-go-lucky, but he has a marvelously good attitude to everything. 
He makes Marcel Marceau look like an undertaker. 

This week, my friends and I also went to Calton Hill, where many Scottish luminaries are buried. I got a special kick out of seeing the mausoleum David Hume commissioned for himself. I am a big fan of Hume, and I appreciate praise Edinburgh heaps on him, in the form of big buildings named after him and big statues portraying him. On the hill, we also saw the National Monument, a half-finished (yet, indeed, monumental) thing in the style of the Parthenon. Begun in 1822 to commemorate the Scottish soldiers who died for Britain at Waterloo, plans to finally finish construction are tentative. I like it the way it is — aren’t most of those old Greek things in ruins anyway?