Dance Away the Deadlines

November 30, 2021

Hello again! It's been a while since my last weekend recap, as we've been in the thick of deadline season here in St. Andrews. I've been busy writing about Sallust's discussion of virtus in the Bellum Catilinae and preparing a tourism booklet about the Fishbourne Roman Villa, so there hasn't been time to meet the self-imposed deadlines of the blog. Now that all my coursework has been turned in and I have a break before exams start, I can update you on all the exciting non-academic things that have been going on.

Before we get on to the double-weekend recap, let me wish you a Happy St. Andrew's Day! Today, November 30, is the feast of St. Andrew, who happens to be the primary patron saint of Scotland (I would have picked St. Columba, but nobody asked me). Since Scotland doesn't have an independence holiday (yet, but let's not get into that), and since there were no Puritans here to abolish the church calendar, St. Andrew's Day is Scotland's national holiday. There have already been some celebrations around town (more on those later), banks are closed today, and I've just come back from the pier for a traditional oration at sunset with the Celtic Society.

There's a big history nerd smile under that mask.

Friday, November 19

Last Friday is a long way to travel back in time, but I did some cool things that I want to tell you about, so here we go. On Friday afternoon, I had my last archaeology workshop of the semester, which was about conservation and museum curation. Our professor and a research fellow from the University Museum brought in a selection of artifacts from the museum's collections, and we were able to investigate the items and discuss how to present them to various audiences. My group handled an iron-age pottery vessel, a Roman clay oil lamp, and a Byzantine ceramic bowl. I love a good museum, and curation is one of the most interesting topics in archaeology for me, so it was a bit surreal to have a 4,000-year-old vase in my hands, turning it around over a pillow and deducing how it must have been used. I was a little proud of myself for remembering enough from a Byzantine history class a couple years ago to correctly date the bowl: the style in which the person is carved is not realistic enough to be Roman, and he looks similar to mosaic designs in Byzantine churches. I also love how he just doesn't have arms. Imagine the conversation that day in the pottery studio. "I can't draw arms. Can you draw arms?" "Not really, but nobody will notice if you give him a nice stripey poncho."

In the evening, my friend Jess and I went to a concert with the University Big Band (Big BUStA for short) and Wind Band. There was a good turnout, the music was lovely, and it was so nice to hear live music again for the first time since the global you-know-what.

Saturday, November 20

The first part of this Saturday passed in a blur, overshadowed by the main event in the evening. I think I might have made some Greek flashcards, but who remembers? The best part of the day was travelling with the Celtic Society for a Scottish Country Dance in Glasgow! The event was hosted by the Glasgow branch of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society and was geared toward novice dancers. There were about 20 students from St. Andrews in attendance, as well as students from the University of Glasgow and general members of the Glasgow RSCDS.

It was so much fun to dance with friends from Celtic Society and with strangers from Glasgow RSCDS, most of whom were charming older Scotsmen in kilts. One person asked me what tartan I was wearing on my dress; I hope he wasn't disappointed when I told him that it was just something I picked up in Edinburgh. Another asked me whether I had done a certain dance before, with a hint of skepticism on his face (I think I exude incompetence at large social gatherings), so I was pleased when he and I finished the dance without any hiccups. Luckily, all my slip-ups occurred with friends from Celtic Society, who are used to watching me slip up in class and were unphased.

After an evening of dancing, we took a 2-hour bus ride back to St. Andrews, arriving shortly after midnight. There are a few pictures from the dance in an image carousel below.

Celtic Society at Nice and Easy Glasgow

Sunday, November 21

Business as usual this Sunday: church, lunch, take a walk and call Gran, dinner, and the last Scottish Country Dance class of the semester. There were 2 additional events out of the ordinary: I published my reviews of every chai latte in St. Andrews and attended a rehearsal for the Saint Andrews Christian Union carol service later this week.

Pumpkin pie from Fisher and Donaldson

Francis/Stephens family Thanksgiving photo 2021, featuring Ellen ex machina.

Thursday, November 25

I know, I know, this isn't a weekend day, but I would be remiss not to write about my Thanksgiving festivities here in Scotland. As you probably know, Thanksgiving is not observed in the UK, so we had classes and events as usual. However, due to the large population of American students here, St. Andrews does have a handful of Thanksgiving celebrations, and many people host their own Thanksgiving meals with friends. I was well and truly swamped with work by Thursday, so I kept my festivities light but still managed to have a nice day.

Thanksgiving wouldn't be Thanksgiving without pie, so I picked up a small pumpkin pie from Fisher and Donaldson, which they make especially for Thanksgiving. It had a beautiful crust and a decent filling; I didn't have to make it myself, so you'll hear no complaints from me. For lunch, my friend and I picked up turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sandwiches, much like the kind I would make with leftovers, but on a baguette instead of a dinner roll. I also spent some time video calling my family in Tennessee. I made the mistake of calling my mom as she was preparing sweet potato casserole; it's my favorite Thanksgiving dish, so I got a little jealous and hangry! We'll have to eat it with Christmas dinner as well so I can get my fix. Finally, we managed to take a family Thanksgiving photo on FaceTime, with my head in a little box above everyone else, like a little bird up in the clouds.

Then, it was time for Compline, the last regular service this semester, followed by a very late night of writing about mosaic floors and rabbit bones. These lines from Airplane kept forming in my mind, for some reason. There were a few existential crises and much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but also much to be thankful for.

Saturday, November 27

November 30 may be St. Andrew's Day proper, but there are too many festivities to squeeze into one day, so the town hosted several events to celebrate the holiday. Before dinner, my friend Jess and I bundled up and joined a procession to the Old Course, complete with bagpipes, torches, and several people smoking cigars. When we arrived, we watched a short fireworks display, then headed back into town to pick up burgers for dinner.

After dinner, we walked to South Street, where a section of the road had been cordoned off for a street ceilidh. There were 2 acts before the ceilidh band started, and our toes became rather frozen as we stood to listen. When the dancing started, however, everyone quickly warmed up and started taking off gloves, hats, and scarves.

I'm still very much a ceilidh-dancing novice, but we had done all the dances before in Celtic Society. It was mostly fun to know how each dance was supposed to go, but also a little stressful when others had no clue what was going on. With plenty of patience and some improvisation, we avoided any major collisions, and a good time was had by all!

Sunday, November 28

Even though I probably should have slept in, I woke up bright and early Sunday morning and booked it through a light snow flurry to St. Salvator's Chapel for a special service. Every Sunday morning, the BBC broadcasts a worship service on the radio from somewhere in the UK. This Sunday, the broadcast was from here in St. Andrews, so students, faculty, staff, and residents in town were invited to join the congregation. After being seated 25 minutes before the broadcast, we quickly reviewed the order of service and the hymns, including when to stand up and what verses to leave out if the sermon ran long and would put us over time. Once everyone had been briefed, the broadcast started, featuring lovely music from St. Salvator's Chapel choir, a Scripture reading by principal Sally Mapstone, and a fantastic sermon about St. Andrew's Day, Advent, and the Christian call to sacrificial love.

For a limited time, you can listen to a recording of the service here. It's impossible to tell, but I'm there singing along with the hymns!

Following the early-morning radio service, Jess and I grabbed coffee and went for a quick stroll on the pier until it was time for my regular church service to start. Then, it was the normal Sunday ritual: grab lunch and call Gran whilst taking a walk.

Waiting for our BBC debut

On Sunday night, instead of going to Scottish Country Dance class, I went to the Celtic Society's end-of-semester dance. Normally, this dance is slightly above casual, but since there hasn't been a dance in 2 years due to the worldwide personal pan pizza, things were a bit more fancy, giving everyone a dress rehearsal for the dance next semester. I took this as an excuse to wear the fancy dress I brought with me, having altered it to be danceable.

In addition to members from our class, there were dancers from the Dundee RSCDS branch and from the University of Dundee. The evening began with a Grand March, in which a bagpiper led everyone into the hall to line up for the first dance. We had a live band providing the music, and they gave us an encore on several of the dances. This was welcome most of the time, but everyone was quite tired out after dancing the Highland Rambler a second time!

It was so much fun to spend the evening dancing and enjoying everything we've learned this semester. Attending Scottish Country Dance lessons has been one of the highlights of my semester, so it was a bittersweet evening, and I wasn't quite ready for our last dance to end. I'll definitely try to find a place to keep practicing when I return to the US.

Celtic Society Scottish Country Dance class at the end-of-semester dance