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islay.

18 Sep 2010

Back in 1997, when I visited Edinburgh, I also spent a week out on Islay, a wee island off the western coast of Scotland, and source of my favorite single malts — the smoky, peaty varieties that do wonders on a chilly December evening.  It was perhaps the best week of my life, just traipsing around the moors and wandering through the island’s tiny towns.  One day, with time to kill because of a delayed bus, I rented a bike and went up and down the island’s southern coast, sharing the road with just a handful of cars and stumbling upon the Islay Historical Society’s museum of sorts: a one-room house on a hill overlooking the sea, filled with knick-knacks and run by a kind older woman who was a bit astounded to discover that I spoke English.

My most memorable moment, however, was on the second or third day of the trip.  One rainy weekend morning, I found myself waiting for the bus in tiny Port Ellen to take me to the island’s wee capital, Bowmore.  Soon, a bespectacled gentleman also took shelter at the covered bus stop, and after introducing himself to the obvious out of towner, we struck up a conversation.

Ian: What are you waiting for?
Me: The bus to Bowmore.
Ian.  Ah.
Me: What are you waiting for?
Ian: Eleven o’clock.
Me: What happens at eleven?
Ian: [points down the street]  Pub opens.

The next thing I knew, Ian had convinced me to take the 12:30 bus and in the meanwhile join him and his cousin Jimmy at the local pub.  There, at eleven in the morning, about a dozen men were already sitting at little tables drinking wee glasses of vodka+lemonade.  Ian ordered me a whisky.  I protested, pointing out that it was, well, before noon.  Ian’s response: Ah, it’ll set you straight for the day!

The three of us clinked our whiskey glasses, and Ian and Jimmy very sweetly posed for the photograph above.  An hour later, I climbed aboard the rickety bus, my belly warmed with whiskey.

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