No, not that kind of dungeon. No vinyl cat-suits, whips, studded dog collars, or handcuffs were involved. Not this time around, anyway.
The dungeon I’m talking about is the one in the Dalhouise Castle, an exquisite 13th century Scottish structure just 20 minutes away from Edinburg (Edinburruh, for you). The castle offers 17 historically themed bedrooms; naturally, we stayed in the William Wallace’s room, the only character from the Scottish history I'm familiar with thanks to BraveHeart. I look around for posters showcasing Mel Gibson’s face (when he was handsome…before he went crazy), all painted blue and puffed up with Hollywood-scripted nationalism, chanting, Freedom! Much to my relief, there are none. Of course. This is Scotland, the real deal.
Back at home in Florida, I sleep on a bed dressed with Bed, Bath and Beyond bargains, Martha Stewart stuff from Wal-Mart and beech sheets bought at Amazon.com. But in the Sir William Wallace’s room at the Dalhouise Castle, I get the royal treatment. I sleep in a Gothic-style canopy bed made of sturdy oak, in a medley of tweed, tartan and twill, surrounded by period furniture and history. Outside the room, from the castle battlements, there is nothing but open fields and a very cold wind that blows furiously from the River South Esk.
And what about the dungeon? Oh, that’s the private restaurant (confirmed reservation only dining). A medieval ancient barrel-vaulted dungeon where dinner by candlelight is served in gothic splendor. Not your TGI Friday’s.
Knowing that I’m wearing nylons and high heels in this very chamber of terror where more than 800 years ago people suffered and died, doesn’t leave a sour taste in my mouth. Quite the opposite. It makes the exuberantly overpriced meal taste better and the wine tingle the back of my throat in a very Scottish kind of way.
When I first visited Paisley Abbey, an old Benedictine monk told me that mass was about to start and that if I wanted to see inside, I'd have to come back after the service. He had on the long, loose, black robe of his order covering the wrists, the ankles and the back of his wrinkled neck. A black cincture barely made it around his round waist, and over the tunic and the cincture, he wore a black scapular. His tonsure (the shaved part of the head) was completed with a round band of fine white hair around his head. I couldn't help but think of Sean Connery and the mysterious monks in the movie "The Name of the Rose."
I wanted to tell the monk that this place was mine, it had waited for me for almost a thousand years and that since I had flown all the way from Florida (via Turkmenistan) for our reunion, I felt a tad entitled to it, it kind of made me a little bit Scottish. Ok, 99.9% Colombian and the rest Scottish and here is why:
1. The Abbey was built in the 6th century.
2. William Wallace (not Mel Gibson) was educated here.
3. A fire destroyed it in 1307.
4. Its restoration took at least fifty years.
5. King Robert II of Scotland was born here; his wives and those of King Robert III are buried here.
6. The Abbey’s central tower collapsed in the 16th century and neither the choir nor the transepts were restored until the 19th and 20th century.
Within its walls were sad monks, burials, self-flagellation sessions in spartan little cells, celestial music, sin, faith, tears and redemption.
See? That’s why I claim ownership over the abbey. It is mine because it has survived for 16 centuries, because its pillars, solid with memories, held it together in one piece for me to walk in, for me to see, for me to be drowned in its silent stained windows.
When I went back to the Abbey, the monk had stepped out of his clerical clothing. He had on a pair of black Levi's Jeans, running shoes (Adidas) and an over-sized fleece hoodie that made him look like a monk in full mid-life crisis. He nearly killed my evocation of Sean Connery and those naughty, naughty monks in the movie, including Salvatore, the terrifying hunchback monk played by Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy).
I tried not to look at him as I entered the abbey and reclaimed it.
It was all mine.
For about 20 minutes.
And there was of course the tree.
just outside the abbey,
and the present.
Things I found at the Garden of Remembrance in the Paisley's Woodside Cemetery, on the outskirts of Glasgow, Scotland
I found this tree against a white sky bursting with clouds. Its leafless branches twisted and bent in wry circuits of dormant life. A rooted testament to the stubbornness of the Scottish Lowlands. Green vines had began to slither above the frozen ground, to creep up the tree trunk, to climb and encroach, claiming back the mantle of verdure covering the dead like a blanket.
I found this tombstone. It was shaped like a heart and its elaborate contours had survived cruel winters, hail storms, and gusty winds. Sculpted inside the heart was a long-haired woman or maybe an angel with wings that looked like auburn tresses. The long-haired/winged angel is holding a cross that seemed untouched by time or nature. Rain water had filled the shallow crevasses and the soft nooks of the heart washing out most of the woman, leaving intact only her hair and a black cross shining in the dimlight like a sword.
I found a Christmas wreath. Acorns, cinnamon bundles, Christmas balls and a green bow made of Paisley-patterned ribbon adorned the wreath. It was left for Susan Simpson, an 18-year old woman who died in 1967. Her parents didn't bring the wreath. I know this much. They died in the eighties and are buried with her in a family mausoleum. Who loves Susan Simpson so much that 45 years after her death she still gets fresh flowers and a lovely wreath? Whoever you were, Susan (can I call you Susy?) here's to you and Merry Christmas.
I am here to meet my mother-in-law for the first time. I stand atop a soft Scottish Hill and wait for her to beckon me. A freezing February wind makes its way under my scarf and a cold current runs from the base of my skull down the highway of my spine. I have been looking forward to meeting her for many years and neither the cold nor the eeariness of the place will deter me from being in her presence. The grass is frozen and makes a crackling noise, like burning twigs, as I walk to our meeting point. I step on someone's memories, I trip on someone's son, I stand casually above someone's first love. I am here to meet the mother of the man I love.
I find a spot on one side of the garden and wait for her. I know she is small and frail looking like a feverish little girl. I know she is thin and anything can blow her away unexpectedly: her children's laughter, Connie Francis, other people's pain, love, and the song A Whiter Shade of Pale. I know she is scattered here where many years ago her children offered her ashes to the wind.
A visitor left a bouquet of wild urchins on a bench. I devote my attention to one flower in particular. My husband's mother is now a lavender urchin.
"I would have loved you," I tell her.
A kinder breeze which seems to come all the way from the Gleniffer Braes brushes past my face. A caress maybe. I think it is her way to tell me, "I would have loved you too."