Friday, December 12, 2014




It was the fourth day of the new moon ... the Hawk Moon.  A tiny sliver of crescent moon rose over the Kaibab Plateau like a shining scimitar under black glass and Albert Numkena obediently followed the glowing star light through the forest.

Albert adjusted the small leather pack on his back and looked up into the neon November night sky.  There were no clouds and the heavens glistened like water.  He took a deep breath and smelled the aroma of sage, a smell that made him feel much older than his 67 years, and he wondered how many more pilgrimages he would be making to Pota Ve Taka.  Albert shook his head and tried to ignore such melancholy thoughts.

Looking down at the rocky terrain he could see the faint trace of a trail through the darkness.  After so many trips to this place he knew the way by heart but he never remembered there being a path.  Perhaps the local elk and deer had been forced by the new uranium mine to move further into the forest.  Albert frowned and continued walking slowly toward his goal.  He must not let anger cloud his mind.  Tonight required clean thoughts.

A coyote called out in the distance, perhaps a mile to the north, and a chorus of yips and howls filled the silent night with song.

Albert was a Hopi spiritual leader and he answered his brothers' call with the song of the First World.  His voice was hoarse but the words sounded sweet and sad.  It was the timeless legend of paradise lost.

The coyotes stopped their singing to listen and Albert quickened his step as he walked amongst the bushy pinyon pine trees that dotted the landscape.  He sang of the Sun God Taiowa who created the first fire of life and how Spider Woman and the Hero Twins crafted the earth, the people, and all the animals, using dirt and their own spit and the magical Song of Creation.  The story filled Albert’s spirit with great joy and wonder.

Albert carefully climbed a small hill, almost losing his balance as he neared the top.  His heart raced and the legend was stopped short for lack of breath.  Cresting the hill Albert bent over and fought for air, his heart pounding inside his chest like a loud drum.  He was getting too old for this.  Soon, maybe next year, some younger member of his clan would have to claim these lands for his people, but for now the heavy responsibility was his.

Albert felt a great exhilaration as he faced north.  Black Butte rose like a dark sentinel, a lone mountain of basalt, the remnant of a long extinct volcano that had once turned the land around it into a fiery cauldron, only to be swallowed over millennia by a vast inland sea.  According to Hopi mythology, Black Butte was the navel of the earth and the northwestern boundary of Hopiland.  And beneath its near-vertical stone walls lay the secret shrine.

          There were eight major Hopi shrines marking the boundaries of traditional Hopi country.  One was to the east at Tokonave, or Black Mountain (the whites called it Navajo Mountain).  One was to the northeast at Kawestima, near Kayenta.  There were two shrines on the southwest flank; the first one, near Williams, was Tesaktumo, meaning Grass Hill, and another was on the Apache Trail along the Mogollon Rim.  Probably the most sacred shrine was up on the San Francisco Peaks, the home of the all-powerful Kachinas.  Two shrines defined the southeast limit; one was located on Woodruff Mountain south of Holbrook, and the other at a place called Namite near Lupton.  Albert’s destination, Pota Ve Taka, marked the northwest limit and was hidden in a nondescript spot along the rarely visited Supai Trail east of Grand Canyon Village. The boundary shrines marked the lands claimed by the Hopis, a circle of high and dry desert redrock taking up about a fifth of what is known today as the Grand Canyon state of Arizona.

Albert resumed his journey, following the ridge line that ran toward the solitary peak.  The old man's thoughts rambled from his childhood, to his fields of short-eared corn that lined the terraces above Oraibi Wash, of the women of his clan who had helped to guide him down the right path, and how he had ascended the ranks of the spiritual ladder to become a revered member of his clan and tribe.

This last thought was troubling.  It was the trap of false pride, like bragging or pretending you were something special when you really were not, and it was not the way to peace and salvation.  Over the course of long time, such thoughts had nearly destroyed the Hopi people and the first three worlds they had once inhabited.  Wisdom, harmony, and respect for the Guardians were all that really mattered in this, the Fourth World.  Everything else merely clouded the Kachina Way.

The Kachinas guided the spiritual journey of life for the Ancestral Puebloans of the American Southwest, which included the Hopi, Zuni, Tewa Village, Acoma Pueblo, Laguna Pueblo and Isleta, covering a big chunk of northern Arizona and New Mexico.  Kachinas referred to the spirits that represented all sorts of things in the real world – the sun and moon, the wind, food, ancestors, animals, thunderstorms, significant events, and important locations like boundary shrines.  The Hopi recognized almost 500 different Kachinas and the Kachina spirits were known by their distinctive costume – sort of like super heroes.  Some of the Kachinas were similar to their human counterparts; they had families and lived their lives in a parallel universe inhabited by spirits.  Kachinas were not worshipped like gods, but each held a certain power and was not to be trifled with.  Some were very powerful, but regardless of where a Kachina might happen to fall in the pecking order of authority, they were all treated with great honor.  By paying the proper respect to the Kachinas, the Hopi world would be enriched – a family would be blessed with a healthy child, or much-needed rain would be delivered to the dry desert. 

The Hopi personified the Kachinas in two very interesting ways.  First, there were the ceremonial dances where the participants dressed ornately like particular Kachinas and danced in reverent obedience to the Kachina Way.  The second manifestation of this peculiar cosmological world order were the Kachina dolls, tiny wooden figures representing specific Kachinas which were given as gifts to children.  Kachina dolls carved by some of the famous Hopi masters were also sold in the world’s finest art galleries and fetched handsome sums of money.  It was impossible for a Hopi to separate their life from the magical world of the Kachinas.  It was in their DNA.

Albert reached into a small deerskin pouch that hung from his belt and pulled out a pinch of yellow corn meal.  As he walked through the chilly Arizona night he sprinkled the corn meal on the ground in front of him and spit loudly into the air, trying to remove the impurities from his jumbled mind.

To his right, Albert could just make out the faint outline of the crumbling walls of an Anasazi pit house.  He smiled.  The Hopi road of life had passed this way many, many years in the past, when Albert's ancestors had first arrived in this world.  The Ancient Ones had lived atop this ridge around 900AD, overlooking the place of their emergence, and they had practiced spiritual harmony together.  And today their children, the Hopi, followed the same weathered course on their three mesas to the southeast.  For the past thirteen hundred years his people had been retracing their migration path to Pota Ve Taka.  At this exact time every year, on the fourth day of the Hawk Moon, the ceremonial leader of the Fire Clan brought the humble offerings of a thankful people.

How would the gods receive him tonight?

Every year Albert wondered this same thought as he neared the shrine.  For the past thirteen years he had waited anxiously for a sign that the Guardians took notice of his people's allegiance to the creator's plan.  But they never answered his call.

“Why should they?” Albert chided himself.

Was not faith the whole point of this endeavor?  Was not the need for proof yet another example of Albert's unworthiness?

Albert sprinkled his corn meal on the ground in front of where he was walking and spit again in disgust. The evil in each man ran so deep it was hard to separate the good from the bad.

The terrain became rockier as he neared the looming mountain.

Albert focused intently on the ground and prayed he did not fall.  Faith was the key.  He would not stumble because he knew the right path.

Nearing a grove of wind-bent juniper trees, Albert stopped and surveyed the scene.  Junipers symbolized the holiest plant of this, the Fourth World.

Albert approached a misshapen old tree that reminded him of himself.  The tree had stood atop this mesa for several hundred years.  Lightning had recently grazed its side, leaving a sap-filled scar.  Albert caressed the wound and tried to soothe his brother's pain.

“You are old like me, my friend.  Our time is short.  Soon we will return to the dirt where we belong.  But tonight I need your help.  I need a small piece of your arm to give to old Masaw, so that he will know we still love him like a father and are following the true ways.”

A gust of wind came from the west and rustled the branches of the junipers.  The sound was musical, like water trickling over pebbles in a stream.  The smell of cedar filled the air like incense.

As was the Hopi custom, Albert would never take an offering from the first tree he asked.  That would have been disrespectful.  After all, the juniper was being asked to give up a part of itself, and one did not make such a request without truly feeling the pain that would come from such a noble sacrifice.

Albert moved on to a younger and healthier tree that was sheltered from the direct force of the wind.

Again, Albert asked permission of the tree before cutting a small branch with his pocket knife.  A tear ran down his leathery cheek as he gathered the offering and placed it in his weathered old pack.

“Thank you, little one. You are generous beyond your years.  And your sacrifice will light the fires for another long year.”

At the edge of the juniper forest the flat ridge ended and there was a gentle drop-off to a dry wash below.  Albert traversed the gravel slope like he was skiing down a hill and when he reached the bottom of the rocky hill his momentum sent him crashing through the underbrush and up the other side of the wash.  He felt childlike and out of control.

He did not see the stick until he had already tripped over it.  It sent him tumbling to the ground like a bag of old bones.  Albert struggled to his knees and glared at his mystery assailant.

“What is this thing?” he muttered out loud.

Albert reached out to touch the odd wooden object.

Bahana!” growled Albert as he yanked the survey stake out of the ground and angrily flung it into the bushes.

Bahana was a derogatory Hopi word for the white man, and Albert's wrath was directed at the uranium miners who had recently desecrated this hallowed ground with their greedy land claims.

Albert stood up and brushed himself off.  His legs were wobbly and his left side felt like it had been stuck with a hot knife.

The nighttime silence was suddenly broken by the piercing snarl of a mountain lion.  Albert's eyes widened with alarm and wonder.  The mountain lion was one of the guardian spirits of the Fourth World and to hear its call was a sign of great significance.  The hunter was afoot and something was about to die.

Would the lion come for him?

The thought brought laughter.  He would not make much of a meal but it would be an honor to perish at the claws and teeth of Toho, the great cat.

Five minutes passed and nothing happened, so Albert continued his solemn midnight trek.  The first moon was now higher in the eastern sky but it seemed like it was darker than it had been when he first began his walk.  The pinyon pine trees that covered the hill seemed to close in on him and drown out all of the light.  Albert squinted as he wound his way through the towering trees.

Pota Ve Taka was one of the most important shrines in all of Hopi culture, but in comparison to the important places of worship in the Western World it was hardly noticeable, nothing more than a circular pile of rocks with a small opening facing to the east and the rising sun.

Albert laid his pack on the ground and went to work.  He reached into the leather satchel and retrieved four Pahos.  These consisted of the feathers from a golden eagle, wild turkey, and mountain bluebird that had been bound into individual bundles, using yarn spun from native Hopi cotton.

Albert walked up to the nearest pinyon tree and hung one of the Pahos from a low branch.  As he did this he softly sang the Song of Emergence, the story of the Hopis escape by raft from the Third World during the great flood.  Albert's head bobbed rhythmically up and down as he went about his task of tying the prayer feathers to the branches of the surrounding trees.  His bony, arthritic fingers were stiff from the cold but Albert felt no discomfort.  His heart swelled with great joy as his frail voice rose into the night with all of the power and the glory he could summon.

When he had finished this task he turned to face the shrine.  Inside the circle of stones there lay three round balls of black obsidian representing the first three worlds which the Hopis had once inhabited.

Albert embraced the juniper branch and stiffly dropped to his knees.  He grimaced in pain as he planted the shaggy green branch in the center of the circle and then sprinkled some corn meal over the offering.

He had now come to the part of the song where the Hopis made landfall and encountered Masaw.  Masaw had been the God of Death in the Third World, and he greeted them with the news that he was the caretaker of this wonderful world of light and fresh air they had just discovered.  He told them that they were free to live above ground in the Fourth World as long as they treated their new home with respect.  And then he warned them that they would meet an ugly fate if they resumed their old ways.  Before departing for the Underworld, Masaw promised his wayward children that he would always be watching their every move to make sure they lived up to their end of the bargain.

From the darkness to Albert’s left there came the sudden sound of a branch breaking underfoot.  Albert turned to face what was approaching, half-expecting to see a mountain lion come bounding out of the trees.  What greeted him was not animal, but rather, something from an ancient dream.

Vaguely human, the creature approached with great care.  It glanced from left to right, its eyes bulging in their sockets as if they might explode.  Its head and face were colored an ashen gray and crowned with a headdress of black vulture feathers.  The mouth formed a large circle, the bright red lips covering three sharp teeth – two on the top and one on the bottom.  From deep in its throat there came a low growl.  The body of the beast resembled a man, the upper part adorned with bands of exotic seashells and the skulls of small animals like chipmunks and field mice.

MASAW!” cried Albert as he pointed a trembling finger at the fearsome Kachina.

The monster's teeth clicked together as it lurched forward.  From behind its back Masaw produced a long, black obsidian blade that seemed to shine in the faint moonlight.  A sound like hollow laughter filled the air.

“I knew that you would come one day,” said Albert as he kissed the ground in divine worship.

Masaw towered over the prostrate medicine man and slowly raised the blade to the sky.  It hung there for a brief instant before slashing down with deadly accuracy.

The blow was aimed perfectly at the Hopis' wrinkled neck and the results were almost surgical, severing head from shoulders in one clean cut.

Albert's head landed inside Pota Ve Taka's ancient ring of rocks and came to rest with his black eyes staring up at the stars.  A small trickle of blood ran down his chin and his mouth was framed with a tired smile.

Friday, December 5, 2014


Ainhoa Sanchez - VOR
The first leg of the Volvo Ocean race is really five different races rolled into one.
                                                                            David Ramos - VOR

The seven boats left warm and sunny Alicante, Spain, heading west across the choppy Mediterranean before sailing through the Straits of Gibraltar and out into the mighty Atlantic Ocean.
                                                                            Yann Riou - Dong Feng

  Brian Carlin - Vestas
Next they turned south along the coast of West Africa in moderately steady winds until they neared the equator.
                                                               Ainhoa Sanchez - VOR

                                                               Brian Carlin - Vestas

Then it was time to sail west across the spooky equatorial area of wind-sucking storms known as the Doldrums, over to a small island off Brazil, which they rounded like a buoy.
                                                                        Armory Ross - Alvimedica

                                                             Armory Ross - Alvimedica

The fourth race found the boats barreling down the lush South American coast, riding the gentle Trade Winds until they reached the Roaring 40s, where the cold wind and water racing north from Antarctica hit them right in the face.
                                                                           Corinna Halloran - SCA

                                                                      Amory Ross - Alvimedica

Then the final race began with the boats turning their bows to the northeast for the 30-knot roller coaster ride into Capetown, South Africa.
Charlie Shoemaker - VOR


                                                                         Ainhoa Sanchez - VOR

This first leg is generally a four-week crash course in survival. There are rookies and old hands on each boat, thrown together in a 65-foot torture chamber where they are denied sleep and food while getting water-boarded for hours on end.
                                                                     Matt Knighton - Abu Dahabi

                                                                  Matt Knighton - Abu Dahabi

In this chaotic world of water, moisture creeps its way into everything. Every little movement becomes complicated and threatening as sailors try to maintain their slippery balance while the waves smash against the hull. When you fall, there’s usually blood and nasty bruises, like playing rugby on ice in a room with rough edges. Equipment — toilets, rudder, the desalinator, electronics — break without warning; gear gets soaked; and the boats are steadily springing leaks. Sikaflex sealant literally keeps the multi-million-dollar boats afloat.
                                                                   Matt Knighton - Abu Dahabi

                                                                                     SIKA Industry
The first week of this year’s race found the new one-design boats all sailing within sight of one another. Proximity made for an unprecedented and stressful ride. With windy waves constantly pounding the boats, the crews were running around changing sails, trimming and bailing, each trying desperately to grab the lead. No one slept for the first three days. Usually too tired to eat anything more than cereal and protein bars, seasickness brought some to their shaky knees.
                                                                       Francisco Vignale - MAPFRE

                                                                 Marc Bow - VOR                                                                  

Round two was a lick-your-wounds cruise with the sand dunes of the Western Sahara on the left and the lights from small fishing villages twinkling in the dark. Mysterious volcanic worlds, like the mountainous Canary and Cape Verde islands, rose majestically out of the sea. Day and night, the boats dodged small fishing vessels and their rudder-snagging nets. Marvelous sea creatures like dolphins, whales and head-smashing flying fish followed the fleet.
Yann Riou - Dong Feng
 Corinna Halloran - SCA
                                                                                 Stefan Coppers -Brunel

                                                             Armory Ross - Alvimedica

                                                                Brian Carlin - Vestas

As the sailors sailed south, they constantly tacked, trying to be the first to find fresh winds. Every time they tacked — sometimes several times an hour — it was all hands on deck, including those who were off-duty and asleep, shifting several tons of food, sails and gear from one side of the boat to the other, often taking over 15 minutes.

                                                                           Corinna Halloran - SCA

                                                                         Corinna Halloran - SCA

Brian Carlin on Team Vestas described the daily grind: “In the four hours you’re on watch, duties can vary from driving the boat, to trimming sails, making coffee, looking at other boats to spot changes in sail plans, navigating and watching everything — the way the waves might change direction, the clouds change shape, the moon breaking through the clouds to illuminate the competition under its light. Always watching.”
                                                                        Francisco Vignale - MAPRE

                                                                 Armory Ross - Alvimedica

At first, everyone was pretty wigged out by the close-order sailing, more like a never-ending in-shore ocean race. But the novelty of being surrounded by the competition wore off as each boat established its daily rhythm: sunrises, sunsets and thunder-cloud storm cells of intense beauty and power; four hours on and four hours off; savoring some freeze-dried Thai green curry chicken, an orange, or a melted candy bar; and trying not to get hurt.
                                                               Corinna Halloran - SCA

Brian Carlin - Vestas
“We are nine, in a very small space, with all of our things, smells and snoring,” wrote Francisco Vignale, onboard MAPFRE on Day 7.
Brian Carlin - Vestas
Francisco Vignale - MAPRE
The Doldrums brought a whole new set of obstacles as chronicled by Corinna Halloran on SCA. “This morning the boat was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Shortly after sunup we were honking along at 20 knots in a torrential downpour. By late afternoon we were sailing backwards. And who knows what tonight will bring?”
                                                                            Brian Carlin - Vestas

                                                                           Charlie Shoemacker - VOR

The start of the first leg is always the infamous Southern Ocean. After sailing smoothly down the spectacular coast of South America, the Volvos reached the 40th latitude, where the whole world suddenly changed, as best reported by Armory Ross on Alvimedica.
                                                                                Marc Bow - VOR

“As the boat careens through the night like an out of control freight train, carving a trench through the ocean while obliterating every bit of water in its way, it is constantly loud like the rumble of distant thunder. You can actually hear the speed, feel the speed. People on deck are yelling, bags down below are flying, and waves are shooting through the hatch.”
                                                                Brian Carlin - Vestas

                                                                    Matt Knighton - Abu Dahabi

And up on deck?
                                                            Matt Knighton - Abu Dahabi

Yann Riou, on Dong Feng, painted this violent picture. “Reaching in 25-30 knots of wind means that you’re sailing fast and crashing. On deck, you spend your time taking tons of water in the face. You don’t see the waves coming, so you cannot anticipate it. The heeling angle quickly becomes unbearable. To walk across the boat, you’re facing a mobile climbing wall. Three days like this and you’re knocked out.”
                                                                Brian Carlin - Vestas

                                                                    Francisco Vignale - MAPFRE

                                                                            Corinna Halloran - SCA

And then, it’s over. After 25 days, and 6,487 miles, Abu Dhabi won Leg 1, finishing a mere 12 minutes ahead of Dong Feng.

                                                                             Ainhoa Sanchez - VOR

 Nest stop: Abu Dhabi

©Copyright 2013, New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


I have wanted to have my very own kilt for almost twenty years.  I would wear it with style and grace to all special occasions, and I definitely have the legs to pull it off.  But it has been an unfulfilled dream of mine, ever since I started visiting Scotland back in the early 90s.

I am a member of the Baltimore/Annapolis Hash House Harriers.  My hash name is "May'Oral Fixation" and I have a sport kilt adorned with the "Hunting Hasher" tartan that I have been wearing proudly after our Sunday hashes for the past few years.  But that's not the same thing.


When I say that I have dreamed of owning a kilt, I mean a formal kilt with all of the bells and whistles  hose and garters, flashes, black Brogues, sporran, dress shirt and bow tie, formal Prince Charlie jacket, and all of the accompanying jewelry, including the Sgian Dubh dagger.  I knew that such an ensemble would end up costing well over a thousand dollars and that always seemed a bit frivolous.

But when Inna and I attended the Maslenitsa Mardis Gras celebration at the Russian Embassy last year, and I saw all the dignitaries in their colorful native dress, I decided that the time was right.  I could now afford such a purchase and we were planning on a summer trip to Scotland.  So I promised myself then and there, that next year, if we are invited again, I would be styling with my Russian friends in my kilt.

Buying a kilt requires a lot of thought.  But I was lucky.  My family name on my father's side is Kerr and the Kerrs hail from Scotland. 

There are several stories that go with the name.  The one that has stuck over time is that it originally came from the Norse word "kjerr", which meant that we were bog people  up to our asses in mud.  But some folks claim that it comes from the Gaelic word "caerr" meaning left, because my clansmen were predominantly left handed.  The Scots call left handers "Kerr-fisted". 

I am left-handed and my father was left-handed.  When I was growing up, my dad always used the phrase "cori-fisted" to describe a lefty, but I never knew the word's origin until now.

Whatever the actual meaning of the name, it first appears in the historical record in 1190, when a Johannes Kerr bought some land near the town of Peebles, about twenty miles due south of Edinburgh.  The Kerrs were a powerful clan in the Borders, a violent region in southern Scotland where wars and blood feuds raged for hundreds of years without a break.  And the Kerrs were always right in the thick of the fighting.


That probably goes a long way toward explaining my general nature.  I have always been a wee bit confrontational, if you will.

I was actually surprised to find out that the Kerrs were a major clan.  I had never heard them mentioned when I read about Scottish history, so I assumed they were what some refer to as a "minor clan".  And I think I now know why the Kerrs have been given short shrift.  In the deciding Battle of Culodden, when the English finally vanquished the Scottish menace once and for all, the Kerrs fought against their countrymen on the side of the brutal Duke of Cumberland.   But regardless of allegiances, the Kerrs played a major role in the evolution of Scotland.  And Kerrs filled the ranks of Dukes and Earls, Admirals, Judges, Sheriffs, and artists.  The Marquess of Lothian is recognized today as Chief of the Clan Kerr.

Our clan crest features a smiling sun and our somewhat curious motto is,  Sero Sed Serio  which means "Late but in earnest".

For me, the biggest problem with the Kerr Clan is that their tartan looks like, in the words of my lovely wife Inna, "Christmas"  all dark greens and reds.  There are tartans that are definitely much worse, but it really didn't ring my bell.
And you can't just pick a tartan you like because you would be wearing the colors of another family, which is stupid and disrespectful.  It would be like being a Baltimore Ravens fan and wearing a Jacksonville Jaguars jersey because you think it looks cool.  You could get into some serious trouble that way.

Luckily, my dilemma had been solved about ten years ago when Scotland held a national tartan contest and the tartan from the
Isle of Skye was selected as the winner.  It is soft grey with
green and red  accents in a field of purple heather, and unaffiliated with any clan, so as not to offend.

I had originally planned on buying my kilt at one of the old kilt makers in Glasgow.  I love Glasgow, and that was reason enough.  But when we walked up into the old city of Edinburgh and headed toward Edinburgh Castle along the Royal Mile, it was the second day of the month-long Fringe Festival and all hell was breaking loose.  There were Maori singers on the corner of Bank Street, surrounded by drummers, cloggers, chanters, ravers, jugglers, fools, and you couldn't swing a cat without hitting a bagpiper.  It was a total zoo, and the Royal Mile was wall-to-wall tourons on parade.

I'm not good with crowds so I immediately started looking for a port in the storm.  My eyes were drawn to several kilt maker shops lining the insanely-crowded main drag.  They each had mannequins dressed in full kilt regalia, and the one in the Marchbrae window was wearing the Isle of Skye tartan.

I turned to Inna, "That's where I'm going to get my kilt." 
Inna and I stood staring at the kilted figure in the window as a human wave moved up the street, heading for the evening Tattoo (drum and bagpipe laser light show) at the castle. 

"It's lovely," said Inna.

And in we went.
The salesperson was a friendly young Scott from Glasgow named Chris and his eyes lit up when I told him I wanted to purchase an entire kilt outfit.  Kaching!

For the next hour, I had many, many decisions to make:
Which cuff links?
What color shirt?
What kind of collar on the shirt?
Bow tie or straight?
What design for the stick pin and the dagger?
The type of shoes?
Standard belt?
How about the belt buckle?
What color socks?
Leather or fur sporran? 


They had cases filled with kilt-related treasures.  And my head was soon spinning.
I decided to go with a Celtic theme for all of the jewelry, so every item I selected featured a Celtic knot of some sort.

Inna came back in the store after a foray outside to snap some pictures of the craziness going on in the street and when she saw what I was up to, she asked Chris, "Don't you have matching collections for all these different jewelry items, rather than having to mix and match similar pieces?"

Chris nodded and smiled, and then steered us to a large display case filled with fancy boxes containing matched sets of cuff links, stick pins, and daggers.  And there were several with Celtic designs.

This is why a man should never, ever shop for anything formal or expensive without the help of a trusted lady.

After an hour, we had made all of our selections and it was time to start measuring me for each item of clothing.
I'm not a shopper, and the last time I spent an hour getting fitted for clothes was at Hamburgers in Baltimore with my mother when I was about ten years old.  The kilt magic was definitely wearing off and I was losing my patience.

Chris sensed that he was losing me and pointed at his watch.  "Why don't you and your wife take a break, lad.  Go have a pint and get something to eat.  We're open until ten tonight.  So, after you get your second wind, come back and we will measure you for your kilt and jacket."

And that's exactly what we did.  We crossed the swarming Royal Mile and walked down Upper Bow to the curvy Victoria Street where we found a very nice balcony restaurant called Maxies with outdoor tables overlooking the historic Cowgate Market.  And after a few pints of cider and some tasty fish and chips, we returned to Marchbrae's for round two of "Steve Buys A Kilt".

A kilt is personalized piece of clothing made specifically for the owner.  So I first had to don a kilt they had on the rack that generally fit me and determine where the kilt would ride on my rather substantial belly, which would then establish the measurement to where the kilt would ride just above my knees, which in turn would determine the length of the Prince Charlie jacket.  And we didn't want to screw it up because everything would be hand made specifically for me and it was unlikely that I would be coming back to Edinburgh any time soon.  Chris was meticulous in taking his measurements and the whole thing seemed to take forever.

Inna was clearly losing patience and it had started to lightly rain outside.  It was cider thirty.  And we still had to walk the rest of the Royal Mile, down to Hollyroodhouse, the Queen's summer residence, across from Scotland's new and spacy Parliament complex.

By 9 o'clock I had chosen every piece clothing and jewelry imagineable, been prodded and measured, and it was time to pay the bill.  

Chris started sounding like a car salesmen at that point, "We're going to give you an end of summer discount of 60 pounds which we can apply to the VAT tax, which will save you 10 pounds.  And then there's the shipping costs which will run you 80 pounds.  So you will end up saving

I didn't care.

"Chris, here's my credit card.  You have been incredibly patient and helpful.  You have answered all of our questions and accommodated our every request.  But now it's time to celebrate with my wife and we need to depart."

Chris nodded, "Understood, Mr. Carr."

"So, when can I expect to find my kilt package on my doorstep in Annapolis?" I asked.

Chris scratched his chin thoughtfully.  "Well, that's hard to say, sir.  This isn't the busy season for kilts, so our tailors should be able to get to your order pretty quickly if this were the Christmas holiday season it could take months.  I'd say your kilt should arrive in Maryland in six to eight weeks."

"Most excellent," I replied.

We exchanged business cards, and then Inna and I headed west down the Royal Mile, past stunning buildings and the incredible Fringe Festival mayhem. 

By ten, we were finally at the west end of the Royal Mile.  There were no more crowds and the sun was setting beneath the grey clouds over the dark Salisbury Crags, a volcanic sill to the north of town.  The beige stone of the Queen's Palace shone scarlet in the cathedral light and a rainbow suddenly appeared.

"It's all like a dream," I said to Inna as we embraced by the ornate Hollyrood Gates.

"I can't wait to see you in your kilt," smiled Inna.

And exactly 90 days later, I returned from work and found that my dream had finally come true.