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.