Mary, Mother, Queen of Scots

Back in October on a blustery day in Scotland, I entered The Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle. I soaked up the lavish details of the lushly appointed space with its wood-paneled walls and impossibly intricate carved roof. It was stunning.

What really drew me in though was a woman posing as Mary Queen of Scots at the far end of the hall. She greeted a crowd of visitors and put on a little show before inviting the crowd to approach her for a photo op. I got in line and waited my turn. At last it was time. I was finally going to meet my mom.

Let me explain.

I went to a Montessori school for two years as a kid where students were placed in one of three rooms depending on their learning pace in lieu of traditional grade levels. Blue Room was for pre-school age kids and students that needed a little bit of extra help. Orange Room was for kids learning just as expected for their age. Purple Room was for kids that were learning at a more advanced pace.

I was originally placed in Orange Room like most kids were, then was bumped up to Purple Room a few weeks later. At first, I was pretty pleased with myself. I’ve had a strong dose of Hermione Granger in me since I could talk and even at age four was a perpetually hand-raised know-it-all. I knew I was smart. Contrary to what you’d think though, I was also quite shy; I was very conscious of my Spanish accent, how little English I spoke and of the fact that I was one to three years younger than most of the other Purple Room kids. My excitement gave way to nervous hesitation.

Thanks to a fantastic and patient teacher and friendly classmates though, I found myself really enjoying Purple Room. That was until a couple of weeks later during reading time. We were split off into pairs and I was matched up with Antoinette, a girl a few years older than me whom I found intimidating as shit. She was pretty with gorgeous brown skin, long legs, and excellent reading skills, all things that she appeared to be very aware of. That in turn made me very aware of my chubby, pale-skinned, ESL awkwardness. But hey, maybe she’d be nice to me.

Nope. My stomach went even colder as she glared at me in a way that made it clear she was less than pleased to be stuck with me. Then she went and picked out the book that we were to read together. This chick went and grabbed some history book with words way beyond my reading level and sneered at me like, “Ha, that’ll show you to think you’re hot shit.” She made me go first and rolled her eyes every time I stumbled on a word I didn’t recognize, laughing each time my little Mexican mouth pronounced the “sh” sounds as “ch.”

Right when I was set to unleash the waterworks, Antoinette grabbed the book from me and let out an exasperated sigh. “Here, just let me read it,” she huffed as she yanked the book from my lap. I just nodded and blinked back the tears, thinking I’d spare myself any more humiliation by just letting her flex and read to me. That’s when she skipped ahead a few pages and began to read me the story of Mary Queen of Scots.

I don’t remember half of what she read, either because I didn’t understand that shit or because I was concentrating too hard on not wetting myself. I snapped to attention though when she asked, “So, do you ever miss you real mom?”

Huh? Me confused. I looked at her, she looked at me, and when I didn’t say anything back, she smirked. “Oh, you don’t know do you? Mary Queen of Scots was your real mom, but she betrayed her country and got her head cut off for treason and no one knew what to do with you. That’s when the people you live with now decided to take you, because your real mom is dead. I am so sorry.”

Santa Madre. I managed not to cry or clock this girl, but only because I was in cold shock. I sat there rigid as this monster kept reading like she hadn’t just shattered my little soul to pieces. Again, I was four years old. I didn’t get that this Mary Queen of Scots chick lived and died centuries ago, or that I wasn’t Scottish, or that kids lie. I absolutely, positively believed that I was adopted and my real mom’s dome had been chopped off for treason, whatever the hell that was.

I held it together until I got home, then yelled through tears, “You’re not my real mom!” as I walked in the door. My mom listened to my hysterical story and by the grace of God did not just dunk me in some holy water and write me off as possessed. She calmly brought out the baby books and photographs. My actual newborn photo was a weak link in the chain of evidence since I legit looked like a different baby one month later (see exhibit A below - where did all that melanin go??). Subsequent photos made a stronger case: ones of my mom as a kid that I would have sworn were of me, one of my dad and I side by side where it’s plain that I got my chin from him.

Newborn Me.jpg

After an hour or so, I was 99% satisfied with my mother’s Little Girl, You Best Believe I Birthed You presentation. She advised that I ignore Antoinette in the future, lest she try to convince me that Zapata was my daddy. I don’t remember her being in my class the following year and I’ve always low-key wondered what became of her. I mean, isn’t that some sociopath shit to tell a younger student that she was adopted because her real mama’s head was chopped off?? Anyway, I wish her well and I hope she knows that I’VE MOVED ON.

Ha. That’s coming from the girl who almost three decades later waited in line to get a photo with a Queen Mary stand in. I guess maybe I needed to see her for myself, you know, just to be, like, super sure there was no resemblance.

After the photo was taken, I sat on a bench to laugh at its absurdity. I mean, look at the thing. I look like a lumpy mess on account of the bajillion layers I was wearing to shield me from the nippy wind and I’m trying unsuccessfully not to smirk. Still, it’s one of my favorite photos from the whole trip. When I look at it, it reminds me that not too long ago, I stood in a castle that overlooks one of the most beautiful cities in the world, the castle where the very queen whom I once believed to be my treasonous mother had lived and reigned for some time. I went on to visit the café where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, drank real Scotch whiskey (and choked on it, peat is no joke). I walked the Royal Mile and climbed Arthur’s Seat. I explored the Scottish Highlands and roamed the Isle of Skye, trying haggis and black pudding and almost getting blown away by the wind.

So take that, Antoinette. I win.


Harry Potter and the Hot Mulled Wine

It was early in the morning on March 24th in London. The sun has just risen, its gentle light peeking through in soft rays through the skylight cover in the mezzanine bedroom of my Air BnB coach house. Because I’d insisted on staying up late the night before to blog, I’d slept less than four hours. I still managed to wake up fifteen minutes before my alarm was set to go off, the tingle of excitement defeating any pesky fatigue.

I showered quickly, dressed, slapped on just enough makeup to avoid scaring small children and left my hair in its naturally wavy state. I rushed out the door and caught the tube out of East London to Euston Station, feeling way proud of myself when someone asked me for directions and was shocked to find I wasn’t a local. I followed the signs to find the Matthew Flinders statue between platforms 8 and 9, the designated meeting point for the day’s activity. I tried hard to appear nonchalant as I checked in with my tour guide before boarding the train taking my tour group to Watford Junction. I was headed to the Making of Harry Potter experience - you couldn’t have swiped the dumbass smirk off my face if you’d tried.

From Watford, we took a brief ride in a double-decker to Leavesden during which I did my best to choke down the impatient “ARE WE THERE YET???” that bubbled in my throat. When we arrived at the studio, I hopped off with more than a little skip in my step and immediately thought: 1. “Holy shitake mushrooms, this place is enormous!” and 2. “Bruuuuuh it’s like 9:30 in the morning so why is this line already so long??” Seconds later, I was informed that I’d get to skip that line entirely thanks to the VIP upgrade I’d purchased with my ticket. The pride I felt in that moment sums of my life in a nutshell: some people get VIP bottle service or fly first class; I get VIP entrance to geek out with Potterheads and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t smug about it.

The first stop of the tour was a large room where we were shown a brief video introduction. It revealed how the Harry Potter films as we know them only exist because producer David Heyman’s secretary plucked Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone off a low-priority shelf one fateful weekend and stayed up all night to finish it. She was absolutely captivated and brought it to Heyman’s attention who reportedly though the title was “rubbish,” until he of course read it too and fell as equally in love it.

We were then escorted to another room where we were seated to watch a second film. This one gave a behind the scenes look at production, casting, and the comradery that developed over a decade of filming. When Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Danielle Radcliffe came on the screen, the kids in the room all clapped and squealed in delighted unison. Good thing too, or the squeals of a 32-year-old woman whose name rhymes with Schmanessa might have been a lot more awkward.

The film came to an end and the screen that had shown it suddenly lifted away to reveal a majestic golden door, the gilded, intricately carved, and awfully beautiful entrance to mother*cking Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. A little girl celebrating a birthday was selected to open up the door, after which the throngs of us pushed ourselves inside. We entered The Great Hall, a feast of the eyes from my very first footsteps inside.

The robes of Albus Dumbledore, Minerva McGonogall and Rubeus Hagrid stood displayed in all their colorful magnificence at the front of the room. Floating candles hovered over Dumbledore’s podium and an array of stained glass windows framed the front of the hall. The stone fireplace was carved with the emblem of Hogwarts and the long dining tables were laden with sets of glass and silverware. I was a little bummed when a Hogwarts feast didn’t appear from thin air and when I discovered that the ceiling was not indeed enchanted, but otherwise everything about the room made me shed tears of Potterrific joy.

I stayed in a perpetual state of incredulous awe throughout the day as our lovely tour guide led us through the rest of the studio, showing us through a list of iconic sets while peppering in fun facts and amusing tidbits about the films. I saw the Ministry of Magic, Umbridge’s office, the Weasleys’ kitchen, the Gryffindor common room, the potions classroom, Dumbledore’s office, Number 4 Privet Drive, the Knight bus, the bridge to Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. I even got to go in the Forbidden Forest for a sneak preview of the attraction that wasn’t set to open for another week (pops collar). I’m forgetting a few things, you’ll have to forgive me; I may have blacked out for a minute from excitement, there was a lot to geek out over.

I went through the studio again at the conclusion of the tour, taking about a thousand pictures and stopping at the souvenir shop before finally making my way back to the city around 4PM. I was walking around aimlessly on my Harry Potter high when I stumbled upon Borough Market, a gourmet food market teeming with all sorts of delicious fare. I bought some lovely teas (Darjeeling is my new best friend!!!), nibbled on gourmet cheeses (ALL of the cheeses) and bought a giant cup of the hot mulled wine that seemed to be offered at every corner. I was quickly reminded that all I’d had to eat all day was an egg white sandwich for breakfast and a mug of Butterbeer in the afternoon. That wine went straight to my head and had me saying, “Cheers!” to random passersby too loudly.

I figured I should eat something and popped into the pub next to the market, where I chatted with some handsome American boys and was treated to a pint. I enjoyed a plate of fish & chips and read a few chapters of my book, feeling warm and still very much buzzed even after smashing a plateful of fried potatoes (sooooo many chips). It occurred to me that having a pint of English stout and a cup of mulled wine at the same time probably wasn’t helping me achieve any kind of sobriety… did that stop me from finishing both? No. My mama didn’t raise no quitter.

I walked out of the pub, grabbed another mulled wine (I am grown and I do what I want!!) and put my headphones in, pressing play on a mix of songs I’d compiled for this trip. The sounds of Coldplay’s Adventure of a Lifetime accompanied me to a waterfront walkway along the Thames, followed by Bloc Party’s Modern Love as I followed the signs for Tower Bridge. As I got closer to the bridge and the sun began to set, those first perfect notes of Adele’s Hometown Glory hit my ear drums. It was poetic. I was standing in London: face warm from the wine in my cup, soaking up a gorgeous view in a city I’d dreamed of for decades, chills going down my spine at the sounds of a song about that very city’s glory. Nothing could have felt more perfect.

That night, I took a hot shower and slipped into a soft white dressing gown before bed. I fixed myself a warm cup of tea and cozied up on the couch with a vintage Agatha Christie – which I’d bought the day before while buzzed off a pint and not quite aware of the $100 price tag. Whoops…. I eventually rose to pack up my things, wrapping up my last night in London and looking forward to the countryside. I slept peacefully, dreaming of the rolling green hillsides and charming cottages that awaited me. Little did I know by just how much those dreams would pale in comparison to the real thing. 

To be continued…