Friday, February 28, 2014

Bumps in the Road

The Concerned Cat as
the Coughing Started
Last week, I posted about Jessica Brockmole’s Letters from Skye. What I didn’t want to write there, because it would have taken away from her wonderful book, was that I spent the entire interview praying that I would make it through without collapsing in a coughing fit that would have done a tubercular nineteenth-century literary heroine proud. I almost made it, too. Forty minutes in, and not so much as a tickle. Then all hell broke loose. Poor Jessica—stuck on the other end of the line while her interviewer gasped for air.

I suppose it was fitting, in its own weird way, that I should be suffering from a chest cold on the day scheduled for my virtual trip to the Isle of Skye. Skye is—or was, the last time I visited it in reality—the kind of place that prides itself on thatched crofts heated only by peat fires and drafty castles perched on crags, a place where fishermen down oatmeal with salt, not sugar, and their wives take time away from doing the laundry by hand to walk the hills in a gray drizzle. On Skye, everything closes on Sunday, even the ferry and the bus, and when car meets sheep, the driver had better be prepared to throw the gears into reverse.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Skye. The island is beautiful, wild, and surprisingly remote for a place within sight of the mainland; it exists in its own temporal dimension, like Avalon of legend. And it comes through, with remarkable clarity and richness, in Letters from Skye. You can get a hint of the place in that gorgeous book cover. So, too, do Edinburgh—a city of such architectural harmony that it can give even Skye a run for its money—and the flat-as-proverbial-pancake prairies of the North American Midwest. Jessica has spent time in all these places, and to populate them she creates a set of characters who will stay with you long after you set aside their letters and move on to other books.

Jessica is great in this interview. But just about everything else about that morning was an exercise in Murphy’s Law. We persevered through the thunderstorm that no one in the local media had bothered to forecast (it sounded as if it broke right over my roof). I managed to head off my first bout of coughing; the New Books Network editor has removed all traces of the second, severe enough to wring a meow of concern from my Siamese cat. Do interviewers on NPR disappear for minutes at a time into what sounded even to me like a recurrence of last year’s bout with whooping cough?

Maybe they do, and we just don’t hear them. The audio equivalent of Photoshop has much to recommend it. Meanwhile, my belt marking “everything that can go wrong in an interview” has acquired another notch.

But you know what? It doesn’t matter. It was a fun and informative conversation despite the hiccups (and whoops), and the more mistakes I make, the less I worry about making another one. Not that I could have avoided this one, having already taken all the medicine I could find, but the point is the same.

If you happened to catch the interview before the editing took place (yes, thanks to a communications glitch, that happened, too), just download it again. It’s fixed now.

So a big thank you to Jessica, for grace under fire. And here’s hoping that my next destination arrives virus-free. Although the Norman Conquest sounds like an even less accommodating location than Skye. Maybe I’d better get a smallpox booster, just in case....

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