Me with a few of my own paintings
Okay, I must come clean – the title of this post may not be entirely honest, because I don’t believe in destiny. However, I can’t find any another word that quite captures what I want to tell you, so forgive me on this one occasion. I promise that everything else you’ll read here to be written with the utmost honesty.
Following the massively positive response my love letter to Scotland received, with hundreds upon hundreds of tweets, comments and messages that I got both here and over at Wings Over Scotland, where I was invited to share that blog post, I thought I’d expand a bit more about my relationship with Scotland, and how it started very early in my life, when I was just a wean back in Portugal.
My first novel was Scottish
I have an older brother, Tiago, who was born six years before me, in 1985. As a child of the mid-80’s, he started collecting comics from a very early age, and from as long as I can remember, I would take his comics into bed with me and look at the pictures, because I couldn’t yet read. I’m sure I made my own stories about what went on, as most children would’ve done. But the habit of going to bed at night, with a book, something which my I saw my dad doing every single day of his life, is a habit that has never abandoned me.
Transitioning from short comics to my first novel, however, was a huge deal. So huge, in fact, that I will forever remember the moment I first saw that novel, where I was, what I felt, and the excitement of wanting to get home so I could get started. I was around 9 or 10 years old, and I was with my dad at this shop in Vilamoura’s marina, where he used to get the newspapers, cigarettes and stuff. The shop also had a few books, and although I usually went to look at the magazines and comics, on this occasion, I went to the literature section, where I saw a bright blue spine sticking out. I pulled the book and looked at the most awesome cover I’d ever seen: two knights jousting, mounted on their horses, with a medieval castle standing in the background. That book was Ivanhoe, by Walter Scott.
The old Portuguese edition of Ivanhoe that I first read
I remember my dad asking if I was really going to read it, and me promising to do so. So he bought me the book without any resistance at all. I had no idea what it would be about, or who Walter Scott was. In fact, I read Ivanhoe and liked it so much, that I got my dad to buy me Rob Roy afterward. When I tried reading that one, I hated it. It took me until I was a teen to pick it up again and actually enjoy the book. And it was only then, when the internet was already thing, that I googled who Walter Scott was and learned more about this Scottish author who would forever be the person behind my first novel.
Ivanhoe may also be the seed for my love of history, and why I later graduated in this area at University. So this is a story whose ripples have far extended into my life.
I grew up with a “borrowed” Scottish auntie
One of my best friends while growing up was a boy named Luís, a year younger than me. His father is Portuguese, but his mother, Carol, is a Scottish lass born and raised in Edinburgh, who later moved to Portugal. In fact, Luís’s parents became best friends with my own parents, and so we were together all the time. I called him cousin, and his parents were like an aunt and an uncle.
As a young kid, you don’t think too much about these things, so I never took any notice of Carol’s peculiar accent in Portuguese, how she constantly messed up with the gender of the words, or paid any attention to what her being Scottish actually meant. But there were a few things which I markedly remember about her, aside from being a genuinely loving person and to this day and someone I regard very dearly as a family member. It was the way in which she pronounced the name of a brand of cereals: Golden Grahams. I had never quite heard anyone pronounce the name in that manner, with such music. Me and her son loved asking her to say it repeatedly, I assume, much to her despair – but she always indulged us.
Another thing about Carol is that she used to cook Shepherd’s Pie a lot when my parents went over for dinner, especially because my dad loved it. Again, I couldn’t imagine that a part of Scotland’s culture and heritage was literally nourishing me as I grew up. It was something I only realised later, looking back all these years, and which doesn’t fail to amaze me.
My partner Roger, auntie Carol and I in Edinburgh, last year
A love of Celtic music, myth and history
Another weird thing about me growing up, was that I have always been drawn to Celtic music, for no reason in particular. It’s not something that my parents ever heard, it wasn’t something that I was introduced to. I don’t remember exactly how it started, but it was probably with something like Enya, moved on to Celtic Woman, and later Loreena McKennitt. These were mostly Irish songs that I heard, but then, as I matured and also grew out of Enya and Celtic Woman, which I no longer enjoy much. I discovered traditional bagpipes songs from Scotland, and the Runrig songs sung in Scottish Gaelic – An Toll Dubh being my favourite to this day. Braveheart’s soundtrack was also one of those that I went on listening to throughout the years.
Thank goodness for the internet, and how it allowed a young teenager in the south of Portugal to grow up with access to all of this. There were so many songs in Gaelic that I listened to, both Irish and Scottish, some of their lyrics imprinted eternally in my mind, even though I don’t speak the languages.
I guess this love of Celtic culture was borne out of my initial fascination of things like Neo-paganism and Wicca, which I discovered in my teens. As an atheist growing up in an atheist household, I’ve always been fascinated by the mythological and lore-rich aspects of certain religions, and I was deeply fascinanted by these New Age movements that drew influence from Celtic mythology. Alas, I never managed to actually become a believer – the concept of god, even if female, remained utterly bizarre and irrational to me – but I read a lot of books on Irish & Scottish mythology, which perhaps helped me better understand part of the Scottish soul which I now experience on a daily basis.
We must not forget, also, that the Celts migrated through the Iberian Peninsula, and indeed there is some heritage from that culture within Portuguese traditions, particularly in the North. Could that help explain any of this? Who knows.
Life has a way of being constantly fascinating
There are two things in my life, two loves, that grip my soul in profound ways. One, is the love I have for my partner, a love whose flame was ignited on the moment I first laid my eyes upon him, and which hasn’t flickered in the slightest in these almost seven years. I can never rationally explain how I feel like we were meant to be together, because I don’t believe in those things – but, all I can say is that Plato’s theory of the souls being divided by the gods, and us spending a life looking for our other half, is the one that best captures how I feel about Roger, my best friend and love of my life. The one who makes me whole.
The other thing I cannot rationally explain is why I felt like I had finally come home, almost in the same moment I first breathed Scotland’s air after arriving here. I don’t believe in a soul or anything of the sort, but the only way I can describe that feeling, is that it felt like my soul, who had never felt at home in Portugal, could finally breath, for it was now where it belonged. And since that first moment, back in November of 2015, that feeling has remained unchanged.
In fact, when I fly back to Portugal once a year, and although I love to visit the folks back there, I feel sad. Because I am going away from where I want to be, away from the one place where truly feel like myself.
Perhaps it is best that I cannot rationalise these feelings. That they are so deeply emotional may explain their overwhelming power. But the fact is that, in a way, something of Scotland’s spirit grabbed me from a very young age, thousands of kilometers away, and in my hear of hearts I know that this will never cease to be. I may have a Portuguese complexion, and my accent may never be like a native, but I have no doubts that these elements don’t make my soul any less Celtic. Any less Scottish.