Back to Caithness after a splendid month away. Iain and I visited Iceland – which is very like the countryside of Caithness except that where we have grass and moorland Iceland has moss growing on the lava of many years’ deposit. We watched a geyser erupt forty feet into the air every eight minutes or so. The path to it and beside it was lined with little pools of extremely hot water, erupting themselves, but in miniature. It is an extremely odd and somewhat sinister realisation that the earth’s crust is so thin at these points and particularly so when you stand where the tectonic plates are moving, centimetres at a time, so you aren’t actually conscious of them, but where you can see the ground pushed up into walls and ditches. And while you are considering all this heat, you can see in the distance a huge glacier. The island is surely correctly named the Land of Ice and Fire.
Our next port of call was Boston, USA where kind clansmen Burke and Barbara Wilson met us and drove us to the Highland Games at Loon Mountain, New Hampshire. Not “loon” as in the Caithness word for a young man, but as in the bird that with the mournful cry. The mountain area is beautiful and the Games setting very Scottish. Gunn was the honoured clan this year, the 140th anniversary of the Games, and the clan tent was manned (or personed) by Dean and Margaret Bulpett who looked after us all so beautifully. Margaret oversaw the provisions there and in the hotel where the AGM and dinner were held. We were all very grateful to her.
Rich and Linda Gunn kindly transported us up to Quebec City where we were royally entertained by Ted and Louise. Ted had arranged for a dinner at the Garrison Club – very smart – where we met some delightful friends of theirs. Here I admit to a lot of embarrassment. Many years ago I lived in France for a while and so learned to speak fairly fluently. Well, in Quebec I might just have well have been speaking in Martian. The Quebecois French is completely different from anything I had previously heard. I had a most interesting conversation that evening with a lady weaver, but had to concentrate very hard to follow her. She later admitted to Louise that she had had the same difficulty with me. Mercifully a lot of people speak English, but they are not encouraged to by the Government and the young lady receptionists in our American chain hotel had no English at all. Ken, Ted and Louise’s son, told me that his wife (who is not from Quebec) can’t understand him at all when he is speaking to his old school friends. It really is a whole New World out there.
Still with Rich and Linda we made our way back through Vermont where the leaves were beginning to turn and were enriched by the deep red of the maples. We visited a Ben and Jerry Ice-cream factory, but it rather lost its point as something had gone wrong with one of the mixing machines and strong men in white coats and hairnets were being lowered on harnesses to peer into the depths of the vats. We were still given a taste of the product, though. Delicious.
And who would have thought that a marble museum would have been so interesting? Marble, as in sculpture not as in fireplaces. There was an amazing frieze of the faces of past Presidents of the United States and a beautiful little piece of some children on a swing carved from a single block. It reminded me of the story of a famous sculptor who was asked how he knew what he would carve when faced with a huge stone. “I see a horse in there,” he said, “and I just let it out.”
Our final fling was to go to Puglia in the heel of Italy. Here we found two delightful hotels, had excellent company, food and wine. The daring one among us was the driver of the hired car and submitted to the horrors of being cut up by the Italian drivers as they sailed past, hooting their horns. Together we crept up tiny, narrow streets in ancient towns, not actually sure whether we were in a pedestrianised area or not. Flocks of bus tourists, crowding behind a raised umbrella parted like the Red Sea to let us through. Nobody stopped us, so I suppose we were just about legal. We had a lovely time. So now we are home at the end of an Indian Summer, about to face an American hurricane’s final fury and all the leaves in the garden to sweep up. It’s good to be back.