Wedding in Scotland

Why am I getting married in Scotland?

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The farm

I fell in love with an American man whose heritage takes him back to Scotland on both sides of his family. Three generations ago, in the mid-1800s, his mom’s grandfather immigrated from the Orkney Islands to Canada. His dad’s Scottish heritage is a bit murky. All we know is that they came to the U.S. through Ireland before the revolutionary war and ended up in Kentucky.

In 2013, we planned a trip to Scotland to search for the family farm on the Orkney Island of Rousey. Through sideways rain we explored ruins ranging from 5,000 to 100 years old. And, with the help of a local, we found the family farm. The place where generations of his family lived. The trip was blessed by the discovery of a third cousin, whom we bumped into at a local artist coop.

When my love proposed to me atop the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, I had no clue where we would get married. Not in Seattle, where we both live, it doesn’t feel like home. Not in Chicago, where I was born, my roots never did go very deep there. And not in Southern California where he was from, let’s just say there are better places for my wedding.

Since leaving Scotland after our brief visit in 2013, I have always wanted to go back. Tears well in my eyes as I recall how touched my love was when viewing his family’s farm. He walked the green slopes overlooking the North Sea in silence, as if communing with his ancestors, thanking them for their sacrifices and gifts. I witnessed a man reconnecting with a heritage he barely knew. A connection that was lost over 100 years ago. I bore witness to a person awakening to the history of his people within his self. It was a very intimate moment.

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Skara Brae

I fell in love with the mystique of the Orkney Islands. This land where Picts, Norse and other people came in search of a new life. To survive despite the harsh climate and rocky shores, they plowed the shallow dirt and somehow fed for generations. Of course some left under unsure circumstances and others left to find a new life in another new world that offered more opportunity and freedoms. I’m sure those who left, did so with heavy hearts because the Orkney Islands beckon you to stay, like the song of the sirens, with her beauty and her secrets.

I am not discounting my heritage with the decision to wed in Scotland. My heritage is skin deep. Both my parents immigrated to the U.S. and I have visited both countries of their birth. Although I continue to explore how I am influenced by my heritage, it is different than discovering it for the first time. My heritage has never been forgotten. Although I love both countries of my heritage, Germany and Cuba, neither of those places have mesmerized me, captured me and beckoned me back like Scotland.

Ok, well one country does, Cuba, but it would actually be a lot more difficult to get married there. Perhaps the honeymoon?

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Instead, my spirit desires to be wed in a land of fairy tales, castles and 4,000+ year old historic sites.

I hope to share my journey as I figure out how to plan a wedding from 4,300 miles away.

Cruising near Cuba

On December 17th, 2014, I was on a cruise ship, sailing to within four miles of the coast of Cuba.Heading to the Windward Passage

I was on a cruise with my mother, my husband and best friend from high school. We just left the Bahamas and were on our way to Ocho Rios Jamaica. I knew the ship would have to travel  through the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti to reach Jamaica directly south of Cuba, but I didn’t know how close.

After lunch, while walking laps on the Promenade deck, I thought I saw land. I went to my stateroom to find our latest location, we were close to the Eastern-most tip of Cuba, Punta Maisí.

Our rickety taxi, a Russian made Lada.
Our rickety taxi, a Russian made Lada.

I was familiar with Punta Maisí because it was a place my mother wanted to visit during our trip to Cuba in 2010. Instead we stayed in Baracoa, about 39 miles away. We learned the roads out to the point were really muddy and with potholes large enough to wreck the already battered Lada sedan of our hired driver.

Perhaps now, while cruising along her shores aboard the luxurious MS NOORDAM, we would be able to see the famous lighthouse at Punta Maisí. Her decks providing us with a sturdy platform to view what we couldn’t get to on land.

I spent the day on deck squinting my eyes to see if I could see something I could recognize, I was hoping to see El Yunque – the famous geologic feature in Baracoa that purportedly led Columbus to Cuba’s shores in 1511. Clouds draped the coastline. I imagined I saw the silhouette of mountains.

If you squint your eyes you can see land in the distance.
If you squint your eyes you can see land in the distance.

The winter sun was low on the horizon, the fluffy tropical white clouds played tricks with my eyes, but finally as if commanded by my desire to see land, a slight wind picked up and – Land Ho!

My heart filled with pride of seeing my mother’s land, my eyes welled with tears, as if I was seeing a long dead relative, coming back for a brief visit. Cuba!

I continued my laps around the Promenade deck as our ship sailed even closer to Cuba’s shores. Each trip I announced to a clueless, yet curious, fellow passenger who was wondering what land we were passing. “That my friend is the most beautiful island in the world! Cuba!” I was proud of my ancestor’s land, despite her political history, it is a place of amazing natural history and made up of a resilient people.

A tiny white line in the middle of the image - is the lighthouse.
A tiny white line in the middle of the image – is the lighthouse.

The land came closer into view and upon checking our location again, about an hour later, I saw we were only miles off her coast, precisely off Punta Maisí. I squinted some more and thought I saw a lighthouse. I used my Iphone 4s camera to zoom in and steadied my arms on the deck railing. I needed another miracle from the clouds and the wind. My eyes played tricks on me, I thought I could see a small white blip in the distance. I took several images, not really knowing what I was taking a photo of. But on some level, I knew it had to be the lighthouse at Maisí.

IMG_4906_2When I got home after the cruise, I looked at all my photos and did a few searches on Google to determine that yes what I saw was Punta Maisí.

We continued to cruise past Cuba until nightfall. When lights onshore, made me wonder, again, where we were. I wondered if we were near Santiago de Cuba. I thought the lights I saw were from El Morro, the Spanish fort at the mouth of Santiago harbor. But when I looked at our location on the ship’s monitor, we were to the east.

Nighttime location when I saw lights onshore.
Nighttime location when I saw lights onshore.

I went back on deck and watched the blinking lights of what I thought would have been the runway at Santiago’s airport, the airport my mother and I flew into back in 2010, an airport slightly east of El Morro. My mind was made up, that was Santiago. Then, I saw more flashing lights, to the west of the “runway” past a dark area. I didn’t remember anything on the other side of Santiago’s harbor mouth. Then it came to me. That must be the mouth of Guantanamo Bay and the lights are from the U.S. naval base. I stood there staring into the darkness, imagining the large natural harbor of that bay, thinking about how one of my great-uncles was killed while trying to swim towards freedom and remembering my visit to the town of Guantanamo, in 2010, the place where my mother was born. Then, I had a vision.

“I can imagine our cruise ship sailing into port here.” I blurted to my husband, stunned by the break in silence.

I learned the next day, December 18th, that my vision may one day be a reality, Obama had announced his plans to reestablish relations with Cuba. A future cruise originating in the U.S., could possibly include Cuba on its itinerary. It will be a fabulous economic opportunity for the people of Cuba and an opportunity for cultural exchange for both Cubans and Americans.

Note: After several months of reading a bunch of articles about travel to Cuba, I read about an entrepreneur from Canada who has already established a cruise around Cuba. Wanna go?!

Preparing for a pilgrimage

Maps – check
Rain gear – check
Thermals – check
Cameras – check
Passport – check

I have been on countless trips, yet I still find packing a challenge. I check the weather. It will be cold and rainy, just like Seattle. I visualize the terrain, hills, beach, mud and sand. What shoes do I bring? I anticipate events, visiting cemeteries, museums, maybe a nice dinner out. What shall I wear?  Can I just wear jeans, a Seahawks knit cap, fleece and hiking boots?

Allied Invasion June 6, 1944

The focus of the trip will be part treasure hunt, belated funeral, and self discovery. The treasure is my grandfather’s grave. The letter from the German government states that his Grablage or grave location is Cemetery of Marigny in Manche within the province of Normandy, France. One of many World War II cemeteries in Normandy.  Block 4, Row 19, Grave 737 – are the coordinates we were given.

The document states he died on July 17th, 1944 at Fort La Varde near the town of St. Malo along the Brittany coast. This contrasts with information in a letter sent by a fellow soldier to my step-great grandfather in 1948. He states my grandfather was killed in Saint Lo, 137 km away.

After the D-Day invasions of June 6th, 1944, Allied forces throughout Normandy and neighboring Brittany, were charged to clean out the rest of the German strongholds such as the coastal outpost at St. Malo and their land-based outpost at St. Lo. The battles that happened in Brittany including St. Malo were to liberate port cities that were held by the German Army. The Allied forces were also concerned the Germans would demolish railroad bridges.

On July 17th, the day my grandfather died, Allied bombs ripped through the area around St. Malo, and Fort La Varde. This would corroborate the information the government sent.  On that same day in a flattened Saint Lo, having been bombarded by Allied air strikes in early July, the letter states my grandfather was in a foxhole with other German solders as Allied tanks advanced.

A flattened Saint Lo July 1944.

Both documents agree my grandfather was killed by artillery shrapnel. The letter being more descriptive, stating the shrapnel hit my grandfather in the neck, killing him instantly.

The government document states my grandfather was in a Panzerjäger an anti-tank company. A frightful job for a man who was an artist, a craftsman, a violin maker. But why was he in a foxhole in Saint Lo? Why wasn’t he in one of those Marder anti-tank tanks?

Anti-tank – tank – Marder I

Luckily, both documents agree his final resting place is the Cemetary in Marigny, location of the funeral. The days between now and the funeral, plus the days afterward will be a journey of self discovery.