That voice! That eye!

(Note: This post originally refered to an “Arran” sweater, as I had assumed they were from Arran, Scotland. I have recently learned that indeed, the famous sweaters are from the Aran islands, in Ireland. I have corrected the spelling.)

I’ve had some inquiries about the freckled Scottish lass that I mentioned in my post about fruit (Thursday, 12:30pm). Here’s the story:

In 1993 I had the very sweet job of driving around Great Britain and France for two months photographing for an “interactive” travel guide. My first assignment was Scotland, which was tremendous. I began in Glasgow, then went north to Fort William. Over the next few days I moved through (and lingered in) Kingussie, Aviemore, and Inverness, where I was carried away by the story of the Jacobite uprising of 1745 and the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden moor. Growing up in Nova Scotia I was familiar with the names and the places but the story never really came together for me until I found myself standing there, in the rain, on the battlefield. After Inverness I followed the western shore of Loch Ness south to Drumnadrochit, where I spent the night in a wonderful Victorian B&B complete with peacocks and a view of the lake.

The next day I explored the local “Nessie” lore, and even found a number of people watching the lake with binoculars and video cameras, waiting for a view of the famous monster. Later I explored the ruins of Urquhart castle, including the dungeons. All this history and folklore and talk of lake monsters had my imagination fired up and racing. Unfortunately I had to leave, as I had another destination to get to that day, the Isle of Skye.

All along I had been looking for a good deal on a nice Aran sweater. The shops were full of the standard machine-made ones that they sell to tourists, but I was looking for something a bit nicer. I few times I came close to buying one, but none really sparked me the way I was hoping to be sparked. As I left Drumnadrochit, I took a wrong turn. I drove for a few kilometres before I realized my error, and promptly turned back. Before regaining my route, I passed a crofter’s hut with smoke curling out of the chimney from a peat fire within. It was a small crafts shop, so I stopped to look at their sweater offerings.

I was the only customer in the shop, and the clerk was a young Scottish lass of about 21 with brown and copper hair pulled back into a ponytail. “Good day sir” she sang out as I entered the shop, her melodic voice made even sweeter by her Celtic accent. “Hello”, I replied, already smitten. I looked around the shop for a few minutes, and eventually she asked me if I was looking for anything in particular, so I told her about my quest for a nice Aran sweater. Lucky me, there was a sale on that day, and she showed me a nice selection of good quality sweaters, with cabling on both front and back (unlike the tourist-trap models which are only cabled on the front) and in a variety of colors. I found myself asking many questions about the sweaters because I was so taken by the music that escaped from her lips every time she spoke.

Finally, a green Aran sweater with flecks of brown and copper caught my eye, and I tried it on. It was a bit snug. “It looks lovely on you, but perhaps you’d be more comfortable in this one” she said, handing me an identical sweater but one size larger. It fit perfectly.

As I was paying for the sweater I could see her eyes in better light, and I saw that they were green with flecks of brown and copper, just like my sweater. Also, there was something unusual about her left eye–at the bottom of the pupil there appeared to be a v-shaped plunge into the iris, making the pupil look like a keyhole. I lingered while paying for the sweater, trying to get a closer look into her eyes. My feet were like lead–I couldn’t get them to turn around and walk me out of the store. I kept asking questions about the area, not so much for the answer as just to hear her speak.

Finally, I thanked her and left the store and made my way slowly the 400-some kilometers to Skye. Of course I never saw her again, and unfortunately I lost the sweater about a month later when I left it in a hotel room in the south of France. But I’ll never forget that voice and that keyhole eye.

More Paris…

With all this talk of Paris I’ve been spewing this week (both here and in the Cafe Utne), I’ve got the Paris bug again, big time! I don’t think I’ll be going back any time soon (perhaps next spring), but this buzz has prompted me to scan some pictures I took there in May, such as this hazy view from the top of the Arc de Triomphe…


…and this view of the lavish (garish?) Pont Alexandre III, which I mentioned in post a few days ago…


I took this during my evening boat ride on a bateau mouche. Loyal readers will recall that in my dispatches from Paris I mentioned how high the Siene was–so high the boat ride was truncated because we couldn’t fit under some of the bridges!

For the love of fruit…

And that’s not just because it’s gay pride weekend. I’m just really enjoying eating a lot of fruit lately. It’s one of the joys of summer–the bounty of the market.

Yesterday I bought a big bag of cherries. If you’ve never eaten fresh cherries you’re missing out on one of the greatest pleasures of living. Round and plump and very red, they are bursting with a nice balance of sweetness with just the slightest hint of tart. They’re more addictive than peanuts. Run to the market now and get some! ($3.99/pound at Plantation in the Faubourg Ste. Catherine.)

Two hours ago I ate the best banana I’ve had in years. I bought it Monday morning and it’s been sitting in a bag on my desk ever since. Today it was perfect, completely unbruised, and freckled like the Scottish shopkeeper I fell in love with eight years ago in a peat-smoky crofter’s hut outside of Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness. As the old Chiquita jingle goes, When they’re flecked with brown and have a golden hue, bananas taste the best and are the best for youuu!

This afternoon I will eat a mango, which has also been sitting on my desk ripening since Monday. I’m looking forward to its slippery juices flowing down my chin and into my whiskers.

One of the wonders of fruit is that, unlike money, it does grow on trees!


When I was in Paris back in May, one of my "must do" items was to go to a particular bridge across the Seine. It’s one that is seen near the center of a photograph I took from the top of the Eiffel Tower in 1993. The photograph remains among my favorites–black and white, taken with a pocket camera from the top platform of the tower by pushing myself right up against the anti-suicide mesh, with the lens of the camera poking through. I developed the film myself and painstakingly printed it on warm-toned fibre-based AGFA photo paper (back when I was an art school student at Concordia University). The print now hangs in my living room, and a scan of it is often the background image on my computer desktop.

The photograph is looking north-east, down towards the Siene. There’s a vacant lot down below, and the shadow of the tower slashes through the image. All around are the Haussmannesque boulevards and buildings of Paris. Just off-center there’s this one graceful bridge that always draws my eye.

So one day I woke up, had breakfast, and headed out in search of the bridge. I walked along the Quai des Grands Augustins on the left bank, past Isle Notre Dame and the quaiside booksellers. Past the Pont des Arts and the Institute de France. Along the Quai Anatole France and past the Musée  d’Orsay. At the lavish Pont Alexandre III I paused and wondered if that was the bridge where they filmed the shootout scene early in the DeNiro film Ronin. I continued along to the Pont des Invalides, where I crossed the river to the right bank at Place du Canada, which turned out to be little more than an intersection with a small sign stuck into the ground that says "Place du Canada".

I continued along on the right bank to the next bridge, the Pont de l’Alma, where I discovered to my surprise the Princess Diana crash site, full of flowers, graffitti, and a small crowd of gawkers and hawkers. From there I could see that the next bridge was the one I was seeking.

When I got there I was surprised to see that it was actually quite shabby. A steel-girdered structure in bad need of a paint job, it was underwhelming. On the other hand, it was a pedestrian bridge, so it was very quiet up on the deck. There was a construction site on the other bank, which seemed to divert people away, so even though it was mid-day there were only two or three other people on the bridge, and eventually I was alone.

I grew rather fond of this mutt of a bridge, oddly named the Passerelle Debilly. It reminded me of the magnificent Seal Island Bridge back home on Cape Breton Island. That’s the bridge that started my fascination with these structures, years ago, when my family would go camping at Whycocomagh. From the back seat of the car I knew the bridge was coming up once we passed Boularderie East, and sure enough there it would be, the highest man-made structure I’d ever seen. Tall and gracefull it seemed like the most wonderful thing in the world and I longed to get out of the car and walk across the bridge but my parents would never let me.

That day in Paris, I could see the Eiffel Tower through the girders. I could barely make out the people on the top observation deck, where I had stood eight years earlier, looking in this direction. So I took a picture.