Wednesday, September 17, 2014

did iago strangle desdemona and huckleberry finn?

My friend Dr. Bob sent several of his correspondents, including me, an email concerning tomorrow’s referendum.  You know the one.  The vote that will determine if Scotland makes the term “United Kingdom” an historical footnote.

He urged all of us to do our part in convincing our Scottish acquaintances to vote “no” on independence.  I haven’t mentioned the topic because I have no lines in that scene, even though Scot DNA runs deep in my ancestry.  My people left the outer isles before the fuzz was off the face of Uncle Sam.

I hate to disappoint Dr. Bob, but if I were voting in the referendum, I would most likely vote “yes.”  My prejudice is to support any group of people who do not want to be associated with another group of people.  That made me a supporter of Biafra in the 1960s.  And, of course, of the constituent nations that found freedom from the Soviet Union.

The Scots have an independent (and incredibly turbulent) history.  As an independent nation, it will no longer be part of a “great” state.  If anything, it will join the second tier of European nations.  Something like Serbia of the west.  Even though a group of true reactionaries believe that putting a Stuart king on the Scottish throne would make everything turn out all right.

Most logical arguments would lead to a “no” vote.  But the “no” campaign has been so patronizing and the attempts to sway votes so pandering, plenty of Scots seem to have encapsulated years of slights into this one climactic moment.

But why am I talking about the secession of Scotland from Great Britain when I am touring in Spain?  Because Spain is even more fragmented than the United Kingdom.

Basque and Catalan secessionists are watching the Scottish results with glee.  Both regions would love to be free of the Spanish crown.  And the region we visited yesterday -- Galicia -- is just as antsy.

Galicia is located on the northwest corner of Spain.  People familiar with Oregon would recognize the place immediately.  Green.  Rolling hills.  Plenty of rain.  (It was the first stop in over a week of cruising where we encountered daytime rain.)

But Galicia's culture is not Spanish.  At least, not in the Castilian sense of that word.  It has a distinctive gastronomy and architecture.  More importantly, it has its own language.  Galitian.  Plenty of regions have hung on to the vestiges of dialects.  But a majority of the residents here speak Galitian -- a variant of Portuguese -- in their daily communications.

We arrived in Vigo -- a port sacked by the English three hundred years and was about to be sacked by them again -- at noon.  The only place I wanted to see was Santiago de Compestela.

If you do not know the name, you are probably not catholic.  It is perhaps the most famous pilgrimage site in Spain.

Pilgrims walk miles -- sometimes, hundreds of miles -- to visit the supposed reliquary of Saint James the Greater.  The legend goes that Jesus commissioned James, one of his twelve disciples, to convert the people of Galicia.  James did as he was ordered, but he returned to the Holy Land where he was beheaded.  James’s disciples then placed James's body in a stone boat and returned it to Galicia for burial.

Almost 900 years later a shepherd (led by a star) discovered the burial place.  The local bishop declared the bones to be those of James.  And the rest is history.  Up went a church, and out came the pilgrims.

The current cathedral is a mish-mash of architectural styles -- as are many of these basilicas.  I suppose in the style of “if you build it, the will come.”  And they still do.

The star attraction, of course, is the silver casket containing the reputed bones of James, John the Beloved’s brother.  It is down a narrow staircase to a cramped cellar designed to create an atmosphere of awe.  Claustrophobic was the adjective that jumped to my mind.

I would have shared a shot with you, or a shot of the image of James we were urged to hug, but the “no camera” rule was reiterated with a bit more seriousness in both small spaces.  For once, I complied.

But the cathedral itself is something to see.  Unfortunately, inside and out it is wrapped in restoration tarps that make it look like a stage for the Grateful Dead road tour.  Even though I was disappointed, I know that future generations will appreciate my deprivation.

We were standing in the gift shop and heard the familiar riffs of a jazz guitarist.  I thought it was coming from the sanctuary.  It was outside,  In a corner of the square, this odd apparition was pouring out soulful music to appease the souls that could not find succor inside the cathedral.

And that was our successful tour day.

But, wait a second.  Before you go.  I told you I was going to have dinner with the ship’s singers and dancers.  With no further commentary, here we are.  And here you are.

As for Scottish independence, I guess we will find out later this week.

And the title?  I bet some of you clever lads and lassies can figure it out.  Just imagine what Saint James, Othello, and Huckleberry Finn have in common.

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