It was a game of currents. Striking up, he felt the focus of every line in the hanging and uncertain world towards his arms and fingers; the lines of the technique and the art he knew soothed everything down to the familiar. Outside, the opposite. People half-twisted and caught their breath. A solid, singing, screaming racket
punched in and filled the air, there in the Staromestská radnice in the Old Town
Square in Prague, clogging the big Gothic anteroom with some blue-black aerial filler.
High wires screaming gold at the upper edge. Cracked, derelict old Jimmie paced,
trying to get some agreement in his A’s. Y’r bowffin’, man. Mingin’. Then all that
harsh bodged carpentry of clashing sound settled down, steadying into a long line, or
a match of lines, like the bridges he’d seen ranged one past another into the distance
along the Vltava River.
The slow air, Sine Bhàn, was his own approximate reference to the bride, whose
name was Jana (like all but a few of the female Czechs he’d met); naturally after that
would have to come Mairi’s Wedding. His chest was heaving. Six Chivas’s and a
Drambuie on the plane the day before might not have been the best preparation for
this after all… so hold it down steady man. Fingers operating like a row of intricately-cammed
mechanical rods; apart from him; nothing to do with his brain. Thank God.
And he paced and turned for the march.
Just as his bleary eyes began to notice what everybody else was doing.
Backed up behind an invisible dam, inside the ornamental Gothic doors, all the
guests or passers-by from the Square outside were standing staring a uniform nine to
ten metres away, while he pranced up there alone. The currents jammed. All in some
sort of shock, were they, some ultimate cultural disbelief? The kilt. The brogues,
flashes, sgian dubh, Argyll jacket, Glengarry; the triple-spiked unwieldiness of the
instrument. Can this really be happenin’? News for you, mateys. And suddenly aware,
forced up against a world where others’ eyes existed, he did fluff a line of notes. Well,
it was only beat-up old, kenspeckled Jimmie. The Czech guy who was Reiss’s best
man – Holic, his name? – was hovering nervously in his tails a foot or two away.
Clean stop. The air seemed to vibrate, fracture into silence, as another shudder ran
through the crowd. A wee mite echoey in there. Jimmie started to explain what
everybody should be doing, at least the, what you might call, invited guests. He made
a sweeping motion with his two arms, indicating the way people ought to file past him
to the inner door. And the current, the flow was unleashed at that moment, without the
need for translation; and he fluffed the bag to strike in again, and began on his pièce
de résistance, learned just for the occasion: the competition two-four ‘Highland
Wedding’ by the great Angus Mackay.
Two cultures brushed, two atmospheric streams, as the touched outrageous entity
that had begun to posture strangely in a public place was reduced in their minds to
what he should have been: background, a shouting, cacophonous background; and old
Slavonic formality glided at a mature pace past howling brigandry in the glens and
passes of one more freezing country.