Saturday, January 16, 2016

Reading and reality

I'm reading two quite disparate books at the moment. One is Dante's Purgatory (so much lighter, tone-wise, than the Inferno, which I suppose should be expected, really. I like the symmetry, too, of his having cast off a belt in hell and being gird again at the foot of the seven-storey mountain with another belt, this time of humility. I'm making all sorts of fun notes as I read. An English major is always an English major. :) But I digress...), and the other is "Career of Evil," the third in the Cormoran Strike series written by J.K. Rowling under her nom de plume, Robert Galbraith. It was a Christmas gift from my brother Daniel.

As I was reading along last night, Strike, the one of the two main characters, has to follow a lead to Scotland. He takes a train to Edinburgh and then a car borrowed off a friend to Melrose, which is an hourish south. Strike arrives and "deposited the Mini in a car park beside (Melrose) abbey, with its dark red arches against a pale blue sky."

I parked our rental car in that same lot during the trip Mom and I took to Scotland in June, 2014, and the abbey ruins are, indeed, stark and bold against the sky.

The beautiful ruins of Melrose Abbey

Walking through the Wynd, Melrose.
In the book, Strike sets off in search of a house which is addressed on the Wynd. He wanders up the high street "to the central square, where a unicorn-topped pillar stood." When he misses it, he doubles back on the High Street and found the "narrow entrance in the walls to his right, only large enough for a pedestrian, which led to a dim inner courtyard. ... (the) home had a blue front door and was reached by a short flight of steps."

And I knew exactly where he was, because the Wynd is a small alley that cuts through from Bucchleuch Street, where our B&B was, to Melrose's High Street. And in the middle there really is a small courtyard, with a shop, and a museum and that house -- which when I was there, had pots of red flowers on the steps -- that are only accessible from that courtyard.

Toward the end of the chapter, Strike also walks "to Millers of Melrose, a family butcher he had noticed on his troll around the town" where he buys some meat pies for his return journey.

I even have a picture of Millers' butcher shop. Why would I take a picture of a butcher shop, you ask? Well, as my mom and I were walking off our dinner the night we got to Melrose(amazing food at the King's Arms, and banoffee pie for dessert that I still want to try and recreate sometime), we went to the center of town, home of that unicorn-topper pillar, and then wandered a bit before turning in for the night. Close to the center of town was one butcher's shop which bore a rather hoity-toity sign that declared it was owned by "Martin Baird: High Class Family Butcher." It was only when we reached the bottom of the same street that we spotted Miller's. Mom and I were a little tired, still, and in a goofy mood, because I said something about it clearly being the low-class butcher of Melrose, and we both just dissolved in giggles. Maybe you had to be there to find it funny...
Snobby butcher

Millers: butcher to the people.

Anyway, maybe it's because I haven't traveled terribly extensively, but there is still a strange thrill for me reading about places I've now been. It happened after Rome as well, a sense of wonder and of somehow being in on something, in the know because you're not just imagining it, but have seen it and experienced it for yourself. And even, as in this case, when the book is fiction, you know the author (Rowling, although of course she's Scottish herself, so it makes sense) has been there, too. It's a tenuous connection, really, but I also know what it's like to see or experience something, even something tiny, and then include it in something you're writing. It just makes writing, and reading, all the more real.

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