Monday, August 22, 2016

Scotland, one last time

On your last day away, you either want to crazily pack in as much as you can, or you've had enough and just want to hang out in your room and chill.

At first, I thought I was more inclined toward the chilling. But after speaking to my hostess (who is a thorough Edinburghian and who, before undertaking the bed and breakfast project, had a practice in architecture), I changed my mind.

I've not done anything exploratory here. Last time at least I did several solid hikes around town. This time I seem inclined to buy tickets to shows that I then cannot get myself to attend.

So this morning, at breakfast (which is in the lovely living room and which has absolutely a top notch spread)...


...I spend a while thinking about where I might find beauty in this dark and brooding city.

As I set out, I notice that it really feels like a Sunday. Families are out and about.


And small wonder! It's actually turning out to be a gorgeous day! A few clouds, but they come and go. The air is brisk but on the warm side (for Scotland). What a pleasant surprise!

(This is the set of blocks where I'm staying.)


I see not a small number of dads out with their kids (notice there are two sets in this photo).


Maybe mum is taking a break? Fixing a meal?

The weather is a real spirit booster, but it's not just that. Perhaps I'm rethinking my attitude? Sue, my innkeeper, tells me she has always liked the very center of the city and plans to move there after she's done with the bed and breakfast (next week!). I ask her if she doesn't mind the crowds and without hesitation she answers -- not at all. I've always liked living in the thick of things.

Perhaps I've become too used to the farmette quiet. I used to live in city centers. Shouldn't I look for all the good that they offer?

I pass the ferris wheel, thinking today that it looks quite Sunday-ish and pleasant.


My first pause though is at the Scottish National Gallery. They have a special exhibition on how three Impressionist artists influenced each others work. Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh. That's just wonderful -- I like them all and I like the theme, too.

(Here's a clever set up: it's supposed to make you imagine how Daubigny and later Monet painted from a little studio boat.)


I actually never knew Monet used a studio boat. Here's his painting of it.


And this just reminds me how much within the familiar I do not really know. One habit I have when I visit the same city again and again is to try out secondary museums or walks just to tell myself I've really done my job in trying to discover as much as I can about the place. That's fine, but perhaps a different approach would be simply to return to the favorites and look at them differently. It's not unlike repeating walks on Islay. Why not simply go back to my favorite places in Edinburgh?

I do just that.

I go down to Stockbridge by the Water of Leith. And on my way, I enter an English creams store (you may remember from my moonlighting days at l'Occitane that I am somewhat foolishly drawn to botanical creams). I spent a wonderful set of minutes sampling their rose products because no one makes rose products better than the British.

I continue my descent, trying not to be tempted by the hills at the horizon.


Families. Everywhere, I see families out for a walk...


In tea shops, I see the typical British sweet: Richly heaped with things that surely would give you a sugar rush. But kind of lovely too.


I return to a store in Stockbridge where I pick up some Snowdrop stuff. In addition to fall and winter clothes to get her ready for the colder season, I find some more Maclary books. Snowdrop was just getting into them back home and I smiled as Andrew, my Islay innkeeper recited them by heart -- his daughters love them that much.


(The neighborhood.)


I remember that I was exactly here last year, on a Sunday no less, at the time of the market.

But last year, I passed over much of the produce and food stuff. I surely never considered taking home a jam. We have plenty of good jams and honestly, we hardly eat any. Still, there's a rowan jelly that's quite unique. These guys have won serious competitions with their jams. I sample a great number of them and I pack one into my bag.


And I buy local cherries.
It's the last of this season -- the vendor tells me.
Will I die if I eat them right now, without a rinse?
Okay then!

This guy is selling Welsh meade. I don't really like the sweetness of meade, but he assures me that the ones aged in oak sherry casks are anything but sweet. He proves it with many samples.


Here's a butcher's stall. Not your ordinary meats that we'll find at a market in Wisconsin (except for the venison).


I leave the crowded but chirpy (with music and people munching prepared foods) market.

The added benefit of this neighborhood is that it's quite close to the Botanical Garden and it's either pure genius or an insane amount of luck (probably the latter) because it is just 1:45.

(Here's a mom, heading to a park with two kids but only one stroller. Unbelievable what a parent will do to help a child along!)


So why is the hour so important? Because the Edinburgh International Festival (not the Fringe, but the real EIF) is offering something called "Songlines" in a few places around town at 2 o'clock and one of them is right in the Gardens.

The point is to listen to some excellent music and then, just for one song, join in with the musicians and give your own vocal chords a workout.

(What's blooming at the Gardens in August? Well, it's definitely less pink, blue and purple than at the end of June, but there's plenty to admire.)



I enter the greenhouse (the venue for the Songlines). People are scattered about, waiting for the performance to begin. There are a number of children. It's always nice to see them at more serious concerts.


I'm lucky because there is a small space on a cement edge right by where the singers are positioned. It's as if I have before me only their music and the plants.

Emilie Renard, a mezzo soprano, is the soloist and a small local choir is singing not with her, but inbetween her solo pieces.

Renard starts with Handel's Ombra mai fu. And I don't exactly know why, but I am overcome with great emotion, so that as she sings, this older woman to the side (me!) weeps.

Maybe it's that Ombra mai fu is such a beautiful aria!

Or maybe it's because this trip, more than many others in recent times, has focused so much on the natural world that I would be moved by a song that is dedicated to the love of a tree! One translation of the lyrics:

Tender and beautiful fronds
of my beloved tree,
let Fate smile upon you.
May thunder, lightning, and storms
never disturb your dear peace,
nor may you by blowing winds be profaned.

Never was a shade
of any plant
dearer and more lovely,
or more sweet.

Here, I picked Bartolli's version, which comes closest to Renard's. Perhaps you also find it hauntingly lovely?  You can listen as you read along...

(Renard, after her performance.)


The choir is also splendid, singing Rutter, Vaughan Williams-- choral music that I have always loved (stuff my daughters would have performed with their respective college choirs... oh! will Snowdrop sing in a choir someday?).

And then, in the middle of the concert, we are asked to join in and if you only have patience for one listening moment here, let it be this traditional Scottish song that we all sang together:

Wild Mountain Thyme. (And I give you a youtube version that appears closest to the traditional version.)

The tears come again, but not so much as to prevent me from singing this simple and beautiful melody, with lyrics (distributed to the audience) that put me back to the days of rambling over hills of purple hue.

And we'll all go together 
To pluck wild mountain thyme
All around the blooming heather
Will ye go, Lassie go?

A few more pieces and the concert ends and I am deeply satisfied. And inspired, too.

In the end, my most moving moment came in Edinburgh after all. Look for beauty and you will find it!


But this little girl reminds me that I am so very ready to be home!


(This same field a year ago in June exploded with poppies among the yellow flowers. In August it fades and prepares itself for Fall.)


One more photo from the Gardens because it reminds me a bit of Giverny. How about that! Giverny in Edinburgh!


I'm back at the guest house. I sip a coffee, eat one of the home made oat cakes...


But I don't linger. Remember: the desire to just chill has been transformed into a great desire to find new ways of regarding great things about this old city.

I had purchased a ticket to a (sold out now) standup comedy show - the Best of Irish Comedy. And I plan on being there!

And it is good.  One comedian in particular has me laughing way too loud for polite company, but then, he himself is anything but polite.

The audience is mostly from the UK and Australia, and I get picked on relentlessly for being from the U.S. (doesn't help that I'm in the second row). And still, I can't stop laughing. Here's a photo of my favorite of the four comedians, Martin Mor:


[Much later, when I'm out getting dinner, a couple shouts out to me on the street -- hey, America!
Obviously they had attended the show.
He shouldn't have picked on your country so much. We feel bad. He didn't mean that stuff about America and guns...

I'm touched by this Scottish desire not to offend, but I assure him, I know it's comedy (with not a small amount of truth to the bite).]

I eat dinner at the Ox. It's coincidence that my host booked a table here, just like my hosts last year booked a table at the same Ox last year on my last night in Scotland. And the odd thing is that not then and not today do I see tourists there. In fact, on both sides of me, Edinburgh families -- all three generations  -- are having their Sunday meal.


I order two very Scottish dishes: Scottish wild mushrooms to start with and a fish pie for the main course.

They're both smothered in butter. As is the spinach, as are the beans and broccoli. At home, I cook mostly with olive oil. It's always interesting when you travel to a country (Poland is another), where olive oil is a rare preparatory tool. Everything immediately has a very different taste.

Here is the "pie:" bits of salmon, in a cream sauce, covered with mashed potatoes. A Scottish classic.


And no, I don't go home after dinner. I venture out to another standup comedy show, where we laugh our way through Mor's description of his trip to the Himalayas.

The next morning, I'm up fairly early, but not so early that I cannot have the wonderful breakfast offered by my host.

(A mirror! Can I make myself look as stately as the room?)


Porridge today.


And then I leave.

Sue, my host looks dubiously at my load. Should I call a cab?
I shake my head even though I have before me a fifteen minute hike to the tram and it's all uphill. I tell her -- there's an old Polish proverb that goes like this: she who carries gifts of clothes, blankets, whisky, plates, books and sea shells in her satchel must prove her sincerity by pulling her own load.

Past graceful houses...


Past parks, past posts and benches -- oh! I can do one last time release!


(Knowing my ambitions ahead of time, I packed an extra tote so that I wouldn't break my zipper trying to shut my wee suitcase.)

And here I am: at the tram stop.


And the flights are on time and I have no travel excitement to report and in a few minutes I'll be boarding my last flight -- from Minneapolis to Madison, where I expect Ed will be waiting with a wave and a very loud "hi gorgeous!"

1 comment:

  1. Yesterday's post sounded so disappointed. I'm glad you made something good out of today. So much good. Of course you did!

    Welcome home.


I welcome comments, but I will not publish submissions that insult or demean, or that are posted anonymously. I am sorry to lose commenting Ocean friends who are not registered, but I want to encourage readers to submit remarks only if they feel they can stand behind their words. I do not seek a free-for-all here. I like camaraderie far more than conflict.