AS I WAS FINISHING this essay — taking yet another procrastination break for tea and idling through the mail — there it was, in the middle of the September Lands’ End catalog, between the luggage and the imported cotton shirts, William Least Heat-Moon’s journey to the western isles of Scotland. In a few hundred words, beginning with Dr. Johnson’s complaint of the barrenness and “sterility” of these rocky shores, and sketching the latest economic, geographical, and demographic changes in the Shetlands, the author described a complex reconfiguration. Big petroleum had arrived some time back, along with Indian and Chinese restaurants and new houses redolent of Levittown. All this has provoked a “local fervor for things Nordic” and a “vigor of nostalgia.” The eye-catching photos accompanying the story of course contain nary an oil rig, not a single plate of stir-fry. Indeed, no inhabitants are pictured at all. Only archaeological sites and derelict crofters’ cottages.
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