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  • Writer's pictureJohn Dempster

Nourishment at Sunset

Personal reflection on yesterday’s Highland LIT event from John Dempster

Yesterday evening, we had a wonderful HighlandLIT session in the Sunset Café Church Street, Inverness. The event, supported by Book Week Scotland, explored the ‘Breaking Bread’ strand of the Week’s Nourish theme. This was about ‘sharing culture, identities and traditions, international, travel, communities, faith and food, making connections using food and story.

The main emphasis on the evening was on friendship between people of Scottish and Polish origins. We had fine contributions from Philip Paris, Susan Lyon, Sherry Morris, Liz Macrae Shaw, Paul Shanks, Merryn Glover, and Timski, and Marcin from the café and his team did a wonderful job!

Thanks everyone for your contributions, and, Marcin, that stew and cheesecake was marvellous.

There is something about sharing food which draws people together – as someone who is an introvert, and doesn’t always feel a sense of belonging, I felt completely at home last night. I enjoyed all the contributions.

I enjoyed Philip’s contribution about the Italian POW who undertook the decoration of the Italian Chapel in Orkney, but who was confined by the camp commander (who clearly had no sense of humour) to a not-so-nourishing diet of bread and water for three days as a punishment for an exuberant flourish of Italian patriotism involving painting a seagull in Italian colours.

I enjoyed Liz Macrae Shaw’s account of a young, and sickly Robert Louis Stevenson being cared for and counselled by old woman on a remote Scottish island. And I loved Timski’s sharing of a piece of family mythology involving a sept of the Cree Indian Nation in north America, and a chief’s daughter who learns Polish all the time believing it’s English she is getting her head round. All was well ultimately – this ‘princess’ as she was known, ended up as Honorary Polish Consul in Canada.

I loved Paul’s poem about the glimpse of sea he could catch from the window of his Aberdeen flat before it was obliterated by the building of the Aberdeen sports centre.

I loved Susan Lyon’s poem about her developing understanding of Poland – once in her mind a grey land, ‘peeping out from behind the iron country’, it became a place of life and colour as she met Polish people in Scotland, befriended and befriending, exploring a delicious diversity. And I share her fear that another sinister curtain is descending, a Union Jack curtain which will separate us from our European friends. Susan is such a talented writer – she described kids of Scottish and Polish origin playing together – ‘Children mix words like colour.’ What a wonderful, ‘given’ image!

I loved Sherry Morris’s piece, with features in the e-book the Scottish Book Trust is publishing this week, about her discovery, as someone who had lived in many different places, that it is possible to remain ‘grounded while flying’ – another inspiring, life-enhancing image.

And I so much loved Merryn Glover’s story Broken Bread, in which a man, born in Poland and brought to Scotland when he was three, serves soup in a church hall to a group of local people who, for one reason or another struggle with life. We learn so much about him, his family, and the individuals united by Polish soup – Merryn has the ability to capture personality in a few, striking words, and the whole story, despite it sadnesses, is imbued with love and grace. A wonderful piece of writing, a wonderful gift.

I’m sure each of us present last night was nourished, physically, spiritually and relationally and we are grateful to everyone who made this possible.

The Sunset Café’s Facebook page is here. Sherry’s story is here Merryn’s Broken Bread was published in the Edinburgh Review ‘Made in Poland’ issue in 2007

HighlandLIT is supported by the Inverness Common Good Fund


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