By Dave Broom

The roots of home

Dave uses four whiskies,the Washington cityscape and some stunning photography on a Celtic heritage trail
“Ah want to thank you, sir.” He has clearly enjoyed himself. “Ah never enjoyed Scotch before tonight - very much a bourbon man [‘brrrbn’ was barked in the correct American fashion] – but now ah do; and sir ah would like to offer you a job.” This takes me aback somewhat.Few people have ever offered me employment. Fewer still on the back of a whisky tasting. “Er... thanks?” I reply. The idea of relocating to Washington DC was never on the career plan, but come to think of it there was never much of a career plan in the first place, a careering plan perhaps.“Yes sir, “ he says. “I can see you would be a great car salesman. Here’s my card. If you ever fall on hardtimes you just give me a call and I’ll get you selling Jagooars and Land-Rovers.” With that, he was gone.His place is taken by the genealogist for the Clan MacLaren, bemoaning the lack of Scottish members coming forward to be DNA tested. This doesn’t surprise me. What self-respecting Scot would want to find out that he might be ... English? We create our own history.“I am Scottish, don’t you question it.” We’re dismissive.Meanwhile the audience is looking for roots, DNA, an anchor to grasp hold of, some sense of deeper belonging.I was too, after two hours sharing a Washington DC stage with photographer Jim Richardson, who had invited me to cover the liquid part of an evening celebrating ‘Whisky Country’ at National Geographic HQ. I’d finished my piece with a few lines from Kenneth White’s Scotia Deserta: “walking the coast/ sensing the openness/ feeling out the lines/order and anarchy/ chaos and cosmology/ a mental geography... let the images go bright and fast/and the concepts be extravagant/ that’s the only way/ to say the coast..” It was spontaneous, triggered by Jim’s images.There hadn’t been much time for much more than a quick mapping of a few of Washington’s streets: Ginko leaves falling on red brick. The embassy of Micronesia in a suprisingly large town house. Bead shop: the talk of amber traded with Africa; record store (Michael Powers, key track It’s Bloody Life;Waits’ Bawlers, Bruisers and Orphans); bookstore (new Pynchon, Alice Walker, Patti Smith). Outsider voices inside the Beltway.Endless coffee shops, the taverns of our time. Today’s talk is Iraq, in the 18th century they were where the American psyche was formed, where rebellion was fomented. Manic, driven conversations as hot pokers are thrust into tankards. Wired on coffee and rum and Washington’s rye. Ahelicopter clatters like a mechanical cicada on its way towards the Pentagon.Find a pattern.That night I tried to use the whiskies to make a map, trying to create a cultural terroir for the spirit. Build from the rock, to history, to making, to the people. The props: Glengoyne (my childhood); Benriach and Glenrothes (the alchemy of distilling, the roots of Speyside); Highland Park (the otherness of Orkney); Caol Ila (vibrancy of culture). How all are a distillation of place. It’s more than liquid.Was the same pattern in Jim’s images? The naked, redpainted woman at Beltane, rushing at his camera, the flash igniting a burning coal in her open mouth. What is it? Spirit?Language? The audience looks at her, laugh nervously.Maybe, they wonder, this is what they’re really like. Pagan.Painted. Tricksters. Side-glances at my kilt as the men of Lonach walk on, grasping pikes and drams.His photos are a new mapping of what I’d thought of as familiar ground. Fire festivals, stills, moonlight on the stones at Callanish, the Celtic whorls on a pony’s rain-soaked hair, blue mountains, a punk feeding a Highland cow, warehouses, Common Riding and golden liquid. Photos as a way-point to a deeper understanding. Is this my cultural terroir, or his take on it, his navigation?His photography asks whether all of this is real, or just a tourist show. History or anachronism? They go, bright and fast into a deeper, forgotten, Scotland, open a new field. .