Saturday, July 27, 2013

Debacle in Shetland: Glimpsing Kirkwall, and Final Reflections

On some nights, the lifeline ferry service stops in Kirkwall on its way back down to Aberdeen. Although it was dark, I got to witness the last few minutes of our transit past Shapinsay into Kirkwall and the pier at Hatston. The observation deck was closed - presumably to stop people from jumping into the North Sea after dark - so I wasn't able to get pictures of Wideford Hill, but if you look carefully at the center of that picture, you can make out the red sandstone exterior of St. Magnus Cathedral. As the debacle in Shetland had ended just a few hours earlier, it was a great thrill to get even a few minutes' glimpse of this island paradise.

The next morning, I arrived back in Aberdeen. In the intervening months, my view of Shetland has softened a bit. As I look back at some of the pictures I took, and as I've written this series of posts about my adventures there, it seems obvious that although Shetland wasn't what I was expecting, part of the debacle involved a lack of due diligence on my part, or simple misunderstandings. Regardless, Shetland boasts some truly breathtaking scenery - like this valley north of Voe, pictured - and genuinely friendly people. And, let's face it, Orkney's a tough standard to meet, so my expectations probably set me up for failure. The whole thing reminds me of an old episode of M*A*S*H titled Period of Adjustment, which had a pretty touching exchange between two great characters.
Colonel Potter: "Let's, uh, clear the air, Klinger. I think we both realize you're no Radar."
Corporal Klinger: "So they tell me, sir."
Colonel Potter: "But by the same token, Radar is no Klinger."
Corporal Klinger: "I don't follow you, sir."
Colonel Potter: "Folks were awfully fond of Henry Blake when he ran this fort, weren't they?"
Corporal Klinger: "Well, sure, the colonel was a top-notch kind of a guy."
Colonel Potter: "You bet he was. And believe me, my first days in his shadow were a mite uneasy. Nobody was jumping for joy over me. I was no Henry Blake, never tried to be. That didn't mean I was better or worse, just different. The people here gave me a chance to get comfortable and to make this job Sherman Potter's. I guess maybe I forgot that when you took over for Radar. What I'm trying to tell you is you need the time to take this job and make it Max Klinger's."
Or, if you prefer an example from Saturday Night Live...
Colin Quinn: You know how you go to your favorite bar, and your local bartender isn't there? You ask, "Where's Jeff?" "Jeff no longer works here, I'm Steve." And you're thinking, "Hey, who's this idiot? I like Jeff." But you still want your drink? And even though Steve doesn't mix your drink the same way you're used to, like Jeff, you still like the same bar, you don't want to have to go to a different bar. And even Steve might feel kinda bad because Jeff trained him. Jeff showed him how to work the cash register, where the tonic was on the soda gun, who tips, who doesn't? Well, I'm Steve. What can I get you?
At any rate, my experience in Shetland was peculiar, but in retrospect, I'm glad for it. In fact, I'm glad that Shetland wasn't like Orkney - it makes Orkney that much more special, because it remains unique, while Shetland has a character all its own. And as with most of my trips, I can say that I've been to a place where almost nobody goes. When you go to interesting and remote places, that's where you encounter the unexpected, and sometimes it leaves you with blisters, sore legs, dirty trouser cuffs, and - this is the good part - a great story to tell.

When my friends back home talk about Scotland, they invariably ask about Edinburgh, because that's all they really know. In all honesty, Edinburgh is aboutthe most boring city I've ever been to - nearly as boring as War and Society in Renaissance Europe 1450-1620 by J.R. Hale; and despite the Geocaching Catastrophe, or the chaos in the south, I have much more vivid memories of two days in Shetland than I have of multiple trips to Edinburgh - save for finding Waldo, of course. And when you figure in the warm hospitality of Bolts Care Hire, the Glen Orchy Guest House, and the Gurkha Kitchen, plus the great musical selections I heard courtesy of Shetland's radio stations, do I really have that much room to complain? Probably not.

I'd still recommend Orkney over Shetland; in fact, I'd recommend Orkney over just about anywhere else in the world. That said, Shetland's got its charms, and you could do a lot worse for a holiday - Beirut, for example.

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