Friday, June 17, 2011

Postcard from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia -- For the second time since we got up, it's getting dark again

Didn't get further than the Port of Sydney on Cape Breton Island.  Thought at first that it wouldn't be enough, thought it was a shame trooping upstairs into the close quarters of a small pavilion - the world's largest fiddle standing right outside notwithstanding - to listen to fiddle music.  Our time was so short on Cape Breton.

Fiddles?  Really?

Have you been to a ceilidh before? the man said, the man holding the door open.  You're in for a treat.

Ceilidh is pronounced kaylee - those Celts, ya know.  It's a party with food and drink - usually lots of both.  On the stage conducting this round were the young Fiona, the old Lawrence, and Aaron, Aaron in a maroon tshirt sporting the word HANDSOME. 

They talked - a little island history.  A little about ceilidhs.  Then?  Then they started to play.  Lawrence fiddling hard, Aaron tickling ivories, Fiona beating a Celtic drum, her bangled wrist a blur.

A fine time began to turn into a great time about the time the lovely lass kicked off her rain-stomping boots and danced in her bare feet.  The way we do it anyway, Fiona MacGillivray said.  And my two girls, and their cousin Laura, were happy to join in, dancing there to the side.

I'd forgotten how irresistible the fiddle is - exultant and ecstatic.  Making the grumpiest among us want to dance.  The music makers wanted to show us landlubbers how to do just that, but they needed four couples.  After much prodding, they finally just needed one more dancer.  A man.

No takers.

Karen indicated that I really should take up the challenge - they just needed the one.  I wanted to remind her that she had politely declined when I suggested that we both go up and dance.  Instead, with Karen mouthing Go on, go on, I kicked off my own rain-stomping boots and joined Laura who had already walked on down the line to the square dance.

My walk was accompanied with much applause - mainly all the other guys who were happy it wasn't them.

Funny thing is, once that fiddle took hold, we eight were grinning and swinging our partners and bumping shoulders - all to that fiddle beat.  Beer would've made it better.  Next time I'll know to bring a flask - because if beer would've made it better, whiskey would've sent it over the edge.

The trio started to go over time, and Fiona asked if we were in a hurry.  She let us know that if the Maasdam left port, we could stay with Lawrence.  I've still got six people from the last boat, he told us with a grin.

Kristine and Judy, Wilmar and Laura - all of us had a grand time listening and dancing to this music from Scotland.  Music that the Scots themselves had forgotten how to play, and so fiddlers from Sydney return to Scotland and teach the music back to those who exported it in the first place.

Before Fiona read the Certificate of Induction for the World's Largest Fiddle Association, Lawrence mentioned that during a Ceilidh long past, one gent told another, Look there!  For the second time since we got up, it's getting dark again!  And the second gent thought, What a perfect title for a song.

There's a piper in the corner.
There's a dancer on the floor
Friends around the table,
There's one who calls for more
And there's Gaelic in the fiddle
Like the Gaelic in the glen
And the songs take on new meaning boys
She's getting dark again

And if your feet weren't moving, check for a pulse.  This was the beauty of the music - making the crowd in a stuffy upstairs pavilion think they were in someone's parlor, the music getting louder, the drinks coming soon, chunks of bread getting torn from a warm loaf.  All of us transported because those three on a stage - Cape Breton's tartan running its length - because those three took us there.

There was tea and tunes this morning
Or was it yesterday
When friends and fiddles gathered
Where friends and fiddles played
There were lots of those were good times
And do you remember when
But that was jigs and reels ago
Now it's getting dark again

That's when Fiona read from her Proclamation - inducting us all into that Fiddle Association, the World's Largest.  It should have been silly, but no - we all raised our hands and took that oath as the music echoed in our heads.

Now if any of you were slighted by the deeds that now are done
By the fellowship of music and the fantasy of fun
Well we'd like to say we're sorry
Shed a tear for you but then
We haven't got the time right now 'cause
It's getting dark again

Later, after Elizabeth - instead of just thanking Fiona for the music, instead of just thanking her for the good time - after Elizabeth threw her arms around Fiona's waist instead of just saying thanks, Fiona and Laura chatted about Phantom of the Opera, about Les Mis.  Laura over the moon - talking to another singer - someone who'd met Colm Wilkinson.  Fiona warning Laura not to get her started about him.  Colm Wilkinson? Fiona said.  He started it all, he's the reason I sing.

I knew then that this had become one of those good times they'd just sung about.  That we'd look back on an overcast, spitting day on Cape Breton Island and remember good friends.  The girls dancing, smiles wide.  Wilmar and Karen clapping loud, keeping time.  Judy and Kristine laughing at the dancing girls, dancing so happy.  The words from the Proclamation insinuating themselves:  I undertake that on the anniversary of today's date, June 14th, I will turn toward Cape Breton Island and listen for the sound of the fiddle music being played there, and kick up my heels in a joyful ceilidh-style dance.  I shall also spread the word of its beauty and unique sounds to all my friends.

So that's what I'm doing.  Spreading the word.  When I see you next, ask me to show you how to dance close to the floor. Bring a fiddle if you play, I'll bring a flask.

Getting dark again
Getting dark again
For the second time since we got up
It's getting dark again

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