Moon over Scotland.


I was hustling out of the Edinburgh airport, toward the bus stand, sweaty, smelly, with my bags hanging off me and my pockets overflowing, passport, dollars, pounds, boarding passes, printouts, wallet, iPhone, all like puppies trying to climb over each other and escape, when I realized this is the first time I’ve ever set foot in the UK.

It’s ancestral land for me, not only in literary terms, but in literal terms. This past Sunday I went to my Aunt Francie’s house. We sat in the living room overlooking Long Island Sound, and Francie hung ornaments on the Christmas tree while I looked through old photo albums of my mother, my mother’s sisters, my grandmother, my great-grandmother—all of us of a likeness. I asked Francie when we’d come over and she said “Oh, 1670s.” I was startled. I didn’t know our family went back that far in the New World. And when we came, we’d come from England.

On the bus to Waverly Station I tried to remember what it was like when I first traveled abroad. It was January 2002, I was 20, and I was in the Bay of Naples for a class on archaeology. I remember getting there and closing my eyes and trying to discern what was essentially different about this air, this earth, these people. I felt surprised to see the same moon overhead.

There’s a misty half-moon over Edinburgh right now. I’ve strained to sense “essential differences” but can’t, so far—I recognize the cars, the clothes, the commerce. In this phase of my life I feel like I’m a baby picking up everything and licking it and setting it down again, so that, at last, nothing will be unfamiliar.

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