Pineapples or elephants?

Here is a question I don’t understand, although I do know the answer. It is, elephants.

The question came up in some interview I was watching, with a certain Julie Fowlis, the Scottish Gaelic singer (and piper, and tin-whistler) on whom I have a huge crush. She was fielding questions from an audience of Gaelic music enthusiasts, and the last question was, in its entirety, “Pineapples or elephants?”

The lady needed no time to consider. “Elephants,” she replied.

Perhaps some reader will explain the matter to me. I hope not. I’d rather be kept in the dark, although I shall confess some secret curiosity about the intention of the question.

The singer comes from North Uist, from where my own mother’s people came, to the New World, and specifically to Cape Breton, thanks to the Highland Clearances — when the question was, “People or sheep?” Or let me be pretentious and call it Uihbst a Tuath, which from my extremely ignorant knowledge of Gaelic might be translated, “North Womb.” She was raised in a home where Gaelic was still spoken, as by a miracle it still is in those parts.

One could see Uihbst a Tuath from Cape Breton, were it not for the curvature of the Earth. It is just across the water. My Grandmother Annie (“Nana” for short) could see it, could see through anything like that, as she bounced me on her knee, whenas I was little, and she sang Gaelic songs. (Ascended, 1962.) She could see dead people, but what is more she could see live people, too: I shouldn’t doubt that she is watching now. (Indeed, my other grandmother could do this, even though she was English from Devonshire.)

Now, Nana would also reply to questions, without overmuch burdening her answers. I have mentioned before once asking her, “Nana, how many languages do you speak?” She replied, as a good Canadian, “I speak both of our national languages, Latin and Gaelic.” (Then when I observed that she spoke English, too, she fulsomely denied it.)

This is an attitude that is wrongly called, Celtic. It cannot be right because there is no such thing as Celtic, and there never was such a thing. It is an entirely imaginary race, invented by academics a few generations ago, who obviously did not have Gaelic grandmothers. Moreover, it was the opposite of a whimsical, Gaelic idea. Rather, it was deadly, like all race cults. The victims of this grave imposture still stalk our Celtic Studies departments, which are like Women’s Studies, only worse.

The truth is that the folk of Brythony in Gaul, of Dumnonia, of Cambria beyond the coal fields, and Hibernia beyond the Pháil, of the Islands and Highlands above Caledonia, all came from faeries.

But returning to Julie Fowlis, I love the way she refers not to her people, but to persons in the inabstract. How she steps aboard nobody’s sleigh. I love the way she refers to her husband, and to her childers, and though a megastar in that “Celtic” infirmament, has a babe in her arms through an audio recording, who would not sleep otherwise. She held the wee thing carefully away from the microphone, lest it pick up the snoring.

There are still some women in this world, I reflect.

She is not spoilt, she is not puffed and “pleated” — I mean pucker’d and crimp’d — as some other stars. She is just herself. This is a quality I have come to admire, the more as it has become rarer, especially among those who deal with “the masses,” as we all must do in modern city life. A human is a Being and not a Becoming: somehow we have forgotten this.

We are elephants, and not pineapples, in that sense.