When I stood in the main shopping hall of Amsterdam Schiphol airport after clearing customs and retrieving my baggage, it was with a heavy bag on my back and my trumpet case at my side. Even while hurrying through the airport terminal I began to realize how welcome it was to me to be back in Holland. (Four years earlier, I had my first encounter with Dutch speakers in a men’s bathroom in Schiphol.)
Waiting for me was Dr. Maaike de Jong, a Dutch woman and educator who has spent much of her academic career studying the presentation of spiritual objects (with a special emphasis on those of American Indian peoples) in museums, who was to allow me the use of her apartment on KNSM-Eiland in Amsterdam for much of my stay in Holland. Almost four years ago, my parents and I had met Maaike, her husband, Dr. Alexander Grit, and their daughter, Myrthe, for about thirty minutes in Schiphol to swap keys. We stayed a month in their apartment on KNSM-Laan, while they occupied our house in Boulder Canyon.
Maaike, both tall and stout, with dark hair and black thin-rimmed glasses, guided me out of the busy shopping mall that fronts Schiphol and directed me into her Fiat 500.
‘This is probably the smallest car you’ve been in, right?’ she asked. It was small, but roomy enough inside. The main problem was finding places for my backpack and trumpet. The trumpet ended up having to ride in the backseat.
We drove to Durgerdam [Deeurr-hherr-daam], in the countryside just north and east of Amsterdam for dinner. As we drove, we chatted mostly about Museum-related topics—our common interest—but the conversation also turned to my previous time in Amsterdam and the City in general. Maaike and Alexander now reside most of the time in Friesland, in the north of Holland, working at the university there, but they also have their apartment in Amsterdam.
‘I like to keep the apartment on KNSM-Laan. You know, we have thought of selling it, but every time we come to stay there, we just can’t get rid of it.’
The inn (that really is the best word for the kind of place we went) was in a small dark-wood building in a long line of similarly small, old, chronically leaning Dutch houses along the water. Across the IJmeer [Eye-maer] from Durgerdam sits the new development of IJburg, which has literally been created out of nothing—like much of polder-land Holland, the land which will soon support 18,000 new residences, has been reclaimed from the inland lake of the IJmeer. I would estimate that there are about twice as many buildings in IJburg now as there were in the summer of 2005.
‘Every time I think about moving back to Amsterdam, I think I would like to live here,’ said Maaike as we drove through Durgerdam on the way back to Amsterdam, ‘but housing prices are so expensive. Houses here cost five-hundred-thousand euro at the least, and for that, you get a house that needs to be straightened and have work done, which will cost another five-hundred-thousand euro.’
I suppose I had always wondered if straightening was an option for a chronically leaning house—many polder-built houses, and thus most of Amsterdam, lean in one way or another. Four years ago, I thought it was a matter of squeezing out the most floor area from a small city land plot, but I realize now that all the Dutch row-houses that lean towards the canal do so because their rear foundations stay dry while those near the canal are a bit spongier and settle more. Sometimes, the angle of a polder façade can be somewhat disturbing.
If you don’t know what a Polder is, I would suggest looking at the Wikipedia page on Polders, which may be found here.
The next day, Thursday, the 2nd of April, I began to wander around Amsterdam. Before I left Edinburgh, I thought that I would spend only this one day in the city, then on Friday travel to The Hague or to the countryside’s Hoge-Veluwe Park, but as soon as I began to walk around Amsterdam I began to understand how much I loved being there, and I knew that I would not be going anywhere.
Since I have gotten into the habit of walking great distances in Edinburgh (just a few days before, Nick and I walked to the beach at Cramond, a distance of twelve miles round trip), I didn’t really even think about taking public transport, preferring instead to walk. The fact that I thought I was having trouble with my bankcard and only had £3.80 and €4,35 to my name didn’t particularly compel me to spend money, either.
So I walked and walked and walked. All over the central city, past almost all of the favourite landmarks of our previous wanderings: the Art e Archittetura Boekhandel [Bookstore], De Hortus Botanicus—Amsterdam’s botanic gardens; The Hermitage Museum Amsterdam—branch museum of the great collection in St. Petersburg, Russia, set to reopen in June in a new building with a massively enlarged exhibition space; Upstairs—a tiny, four-table pancake restaurant that lies at the top of an exceedingly steep set of stairs; Pucchini Bomboni—a delicious and adventurous chocolatier; The Jordaan—a quiet and funky neighbourhood west of the central city; Brouwersgraacht [Brow-vehrs-hracht—Brewer’s Canal]—an exceedingly beautiful canal faced by row-houses with enormous, many-coloured, arched shutters. In some places, the
Leaving the Jordaan, I came upon the large platz in front of the Central Sation. I knew where I was going, and underneath a green awning on a grey-stone leaning row house festooned with signs ‘Hotel Prins Hendrik, Hotel * * *’ I found it, a small bronze plaque, with the image of a trumpet player on it, which reminds its readers that on this spot in 1988, Jazz trumpeter Chet Baker died. Almost anyone who has heard me talk about trumpeters and Jazz knows the affection and admiration I have for Chet, and so I needn’t go on incessantly about it. It was nice to go there again.
Afterwards, I headed towards a place that has completely popped up since my last time in Amsterdam, the new Public Library, the OBA (Op-bare Bibliotheek Amsterdam). This is a fantastically large, light, curving building. With floors that are wonderfully uncluttered, open and white (there is an abundance of white everywhere), hundreds upon hundreds of computers, both Mac and PC, and all sorts of chairs to sit in, the library can serve anyone and everyone. From casual people wanting to check their email (like me), to serious researchers wishing to peruse any of the six hundred or so journals and regular publications that the library subscribes to, it serves them all. Near the entrance in the lobby, there is an upright piano, which has a sign next to it that says roughly (translated from Dutch): ‘If you are an accomplished pianist, you may play on this piano for no more than half an hour each day.’ On Friday, considering myself at least as accomplished as several pianists I had already heard there, I sat down and played the piano for about ten minutes or so. It was the first time I had played a piano since I left Colorado. It felt good.
On Friday, I did much the same as on Thursday, walked around, enjoying the sights of the city. I initially took the #10 tram in from KNSM to near the Rijksmuseum [Rye-ks-muse-eeum—National Museum], with the intention of visiting it or the neighbouring Van Gogh museum (in Holland, where the letter ‘G’ is pronounced with a phlegm-y h sound, he is known as Fan Hghoff), but the weather was too grand to go inside. Not yet at least. I walked a bit around the very touristy Leidseplein area and then headed for the Vondelpark, a surprisingly large park in the middle of the canal-riddled and otherwise cluttered city.
I wasn’t the only one. There were hundreds of people wandering (and doing every conceivable other thing) in the park. People buzzed by on Scooters, or biked through, bells ringing. Children and dogs ran around in multitudes. People sat on lawn chairs, benches, and blankets and chatted or watched other people. I passed kids kicking a football and two muscled young men practicing tossing a rugby ball, back and forth, underhand.
I did head into a museum eventually, but it wasn’t the Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh museum, it was the Stedelijk Museum [Shted-leek—State Museum], which specializes in Modern art. Since 2004, the museum has been on the lam (so to speak) while its building is given what should be an absolutely stunning facelift. When we visited it in the summer of 2005, it was housed in the base of the Post CS building, a high-rise building right next to the OBA, which I believe is slated for destruction (I may be wrong about this, though). I remember we went for lunch in the hip restaurant at the top of the CS building. One of the pleasures of this restaurant was a small composition notebook at each table in which the guests wrote or drew. The books were filled with pictures, stories, etc. In a way each table had its recent history in these notebooks.
Currently, the Stedelijk is housed in Amsterdam’s 15th Century Nieuwe Kerk [Noy-vuh Kairk], where it is currently presenting a special show called ‘Holy Inspiration: Religion and Spirituality in Modern Art.’ The show, while not openly sacrilegious, does seem to enjoy playing on the tensions present between content and context. The first two paintings in the exhibition are Francis Bacon’s Afer Muybridge: The Human Figure in Motion: Woman Emptying a Bowl of Water/Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours and Gilbert and George’s photo-collage Shitty, which features a massive cross made of human feces in its centre. Other works, such as a brooding canvas by Mark Rothko, and several paintings by Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondriann, and Kazimir Malevich are less discomforting and more enjoyable.
Interestingly, much of the exhibit has a ceiling, so one cannot see the church while looking at the art. In fact, it feels just like being in an interior room of a standard museum. Things are a bit dim and the ceilings are a bit low, but I’ve definitely been in museum rooms smaller and darker. I’m not sure if it was curators’ intentions to downplay the context of the Nieuwe Kerk, but it seems to me that that is exactly what they have done. Of course, the decision was probably also a pragmatic one: they would have had to put up walls to hang the art on, and also gantries for lighting, so why not put a ceiling on as well? That way, the light coming in could also be regulated and a constant and common colour-temperature (not an insignificant matter).
Late that night, Maaike, Alexander, and Myrthe returned. As it happened, the next morning, Alexander was to depart for Qatar as part of his work as a Dean for their school. We yawned together for a while, chatting as he did some pre-travel work. It looks like he will be visiting Boulder sometime soon, which is exciting, and furthermore, it looks like Maaike and Alexander both will be coming to Edinburgh in May. They’ll be my first (and sadly probably only) visitors.
It was hectic the next morning. Myrthe was being a bit mischievous. Alexander was getting ready to go to Schiphol. I was saying goodbye to him and to Maaike and Myrthe since I was getting ready to go to the train station. Eventually, they left, and shortly after, I began to walk to the train station. The hardest part of the walk was not my heavy backpack (I knew I would be returning to the Apartment for Sunday night, so I left my dirty clothes behind), but instead my heavy trumpet case, which served double duty as my book bag.
I bought my ticket, and within a few minutes, I was sitting waiting for the next train stopping at Utrecht Central Station. The first few minutes of waiting were a bit confusing, as my platform was switched, and I didn’t hear the message well enough (or slowly enough) to decipher which platform to go to. I just ended up following everyone else, and I got on a train bound for Masstricht and Heerlen, which would land me in Utrecht in about half an hour, where I would meet my host for the next two days and the intervening night, Hannah O’Connor.
Some of those reading this will know Hannah, and to them, I can say that Hannah is doing well, in fact better than well—she seems more ‘herself’ than I can remember her ever being, which although it does not say much literally, is one of my favourite compliments to give out. For those who don’t know her, Hannah is an old friend of mine. Our friendship goes back to her freshman year at Boulder High School (I was a sophomore then), where we got to know each other mainly because we are both trumpet players, and were actively involved in the music community. Hannah has been a constant friend, companion and confidante to me ever since, and I hope she feels the same way towards me. (I also know she’ll be reading this, so I have to be nice…) She’s currently studying classical Trumpet at the Conservatory in Utrecht as a fully enrolled student.
Soon after I got there, Hannah met me in front of the Albert Heijn grocery store in the main station hall, accompanied by friend and fellow American Melanie, who happens to be a first-year masters student in Classical Trumpet. I followed them into the centre of town to the Conservatory building (a walk of a few minutes, maybe five if one dawdled).
Inside, I met several other conservatory students, including Hannah’s beau, Stefán, a Baritone from Iceland, who is not only an incredibly kind host and good cook, but also speaks very eloquent English and is knowledgeable on a whole range of topics. In fact, Stephan reminds me distinctly of me. I stashed my horn and backpack in Stephan’s locker, and the three of us (Hannah, Stephan, and I) left to rent a bicycle.
This was not my first visit to the historic and exceedingly beautiful town of Utrecht. I visited twice with my parents back in 2005, and so I had seen many of the sights and attractions of the city: the Dom, with its incredibly high vaulted nave (some of which has collapsed so that a street now separates the apse of the cathedral from its tall tower), the museum of music boxes, organs, and automated music; and, of course, Het Spoorwegmuseum—the National Railway museum (which is definitely worth the visit).
As it was not my first visit, I didn’t have anything on my list for things that I absolutely had to do. My main goal was just to visit with and have fun with Hannah. I did have one request, however: to go to Gerritt Rietveld’s Schröderhuis. While Hannah had never been there, Stephan lives near to it, so we knew where to go. I hopped on my bike, rented near the station for € 7,50 a day, they hopped on theirs, and we sped off.
We had to cross much of the centre of Utrect to get there, and memories of the first trip flew past along with those signifiers that had conjured them. It took us about ten minutes to reach our destination, which lies suddenly and ungrammatically at the end of a long terrace of rowhouses.
The Schröder house was built in 1924 and is almost certainly Rietveld’s architectural masterpiece. In addition, it is arguably the best example of De Stijl-Constructivist principles as implemented in Architecture. It features a whirling composition of lines, planes, and colours, punctuated with circles and glass. Tours are available of the building (which would be worthwhile—the upper floor, which functions as the main living space, features a completely open and adaptable floor-plan, certainly the most radical element of the house), but these tours must be arranged ahead of time, and so we had to be content merely to look in from outside.
I was struck by how much smaller the house was than I was expecting it to be, and I wasn’t exactly expecting a mansion. I think this frequently happens with buildings one has studied in pictures or in books, and it’s mainly the fault of architectural photographers who try to make small buildings seem larger, and succeed. Perhaps I’m being a bit flippant.
After a late lunch at a Swedish bakery (yes, it was as yummy as it sounds), we retrieved my bags from the conservatory and headed to Hannah’s flat to plan what would happen next. Melanie had joined us for cake after lunch and so there were four of us sitting there, trying to decide what to do. We were all quite tired—I from travelling, they from studying and practicing and living busy lives—that we just couldn’t bring ourselves to go anywhere. We shot the breeze (with varying degrees of seriousness and accuracy) for a while until it was time for me to return my bike. While Hannah and I dealt with the Bike, Stefán and Melanie went shopping for dinner. When we returned, things were well underway and the night began to sizzle with possibility. The dinner was an excellent pasta-based concoction of Stefán’s, and after many topics and turnings, it was with full stomachs that we turned in for the night.
We awoke to a grey, overcast Sunday. We lolled around over breakfast, lingering at the table well after the meal was finished: reminiscing, talking about music, talking about people’s names. It was as though the morning would last forever. With the noon came the promise of sunshine, and with this came the idea of going to a park. We would have to go to the conservatory first, and we’d pick up some Broodjes [Bruud-yehs, Dutch sandwiches] along the way. At first we thought we’d walk, but Melanie got impatient with walking and wanted to ride her bicycle, so Hannah and I did something very Dutch: I sat on the back of her bicycle, ‘side-saddle’, so to speak. It took a couple of tries to get going (eventually I ended up sitting down on her bike once we started moving) but soon it got at least reasonably comfortable for both of us. I say ‘reasonably’ because Hannah was doing double work, and sitting on the back of a bicycle is not nearly as easy as it looks, particularly when you have a twenty-five pound bag on your back. It was constant work on my abdomen and upper thighs keeping on balance and aboard. But we did it! And that was really what mattered.
By the time we got to the park, the sun was out in full force, and so were the people of Utrecht. Out and about with dogs and babies and guitars and each other. For much of the time, we sat on a grassy hill (which looked really very hilly compared to the flatness of polder-Holland, where the tallest things are the dikes which keep the polders dry), just soaking up the sun and playing cribbage (Hannah, who taught me how to play years ago, has recently taught Stefán). It was wonderful. The sun was fine, the air warm, and the grass cool between my toes. It made me feel perfectly okay to be going someplace non-Mediterranean for spring break—who needs the crowded Mediterranean when you can get the same sun with good friends on a hill in Utrecht? After a while, Melanie left to go do some work, and was replaced in short order by Leoni, a charming Dutch piano student. We tried to teach Leoni how to play, but we were in the middle of a game ourselves, and we couldn’t just deal her in, so it was a bit difficult.
Hannah and Stefán, ever my considerate hosts, walked me to my train to say goodbye. Waving goodbye to them both, I was sorry to leave Utrecht after such a wonderful day. The lazy morning spent talking and the lazy afternoon spent sun-worshipping both made me feel quite content, and I wished the day would go on and on. I know their life isn’t always like this—Hannah herself said the day was extraordinary—but I’ll probably always think of them living wonderful, sunny, carefree lives in Utrecht. I was very happy to have seen Hannah. I have some wonderful new friends in Edinburgh, but it was really nice and special to see a wonderful old one.
Soon I’ll be leaving for Continental Europe, and I’ll have lots to say, so keep checking back. For now, here are some pictures taken while ascending Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh on the evening of Friday the 27th of March.
I finally got around to adding some photographs. Here they are! Arbroath, Seaton Cliffs, and Edinburgh in Black and White.
ARBROATH—LOSING VENUS—RUGBY—DECONSTRUCTION—COMMUNING WITH KANDINSKY—GOING PROFESSIONAL
The start of a train journey always gets me excited. I am still passionate about railways and trains, and I believe that travelling by train is one of the most pleasant ways to see any place, familiar or not. Just being near trains gets me excited for the possibility of journeys. By Sunday the 22nd of February, I had passed through Edinburgh’s Waverly station at least twenty times without once boarding a train. The anticipation of actually venturing into Scotland outside of Edinburgh was great.
I don’t really know why I chose to go to Arbroath. Perhaps the name interested me. I didn’t want to go to a big town such as Glasgow or Aberdeen or Dundee, and I didn’t want to go as far away as Inverness. I wanted to be by the shore, particularly the east coast. I thought about going to Carnoustie, on but trains there were expensive and infrequent. Arbroath, just a few miles up the coast from Carnoustie, was more accessible. It enticed me.
Even more exciting, I would get to go over the Forth Railway Bridge, one of the most unique and recognisable feats of Scottish engineering, and the longest steel bridge of its time. The cantilevers of the bridge appear on Scottish and British banknotes, coins, and stamps alike, and I viewed it as some sort of symbol of my existence in Scotland. I had to cross it.
I must confess that when I got off the train an hour and a half after leaving Edinburgh Waverly, I didn’t really have a clue about what there was to do in Arbroath. I had almost eight hours to explore the place before my return journey, and almost no conception of what I would do to fill that time. I walked out of the station to find the town very quiet. I should have guessed it: everyone was just getting out of church. No stores or restaurants were open. It was with some consternation then that I set out to find lunch. Eventually, I just went to a supermarket and got some fruits and a sandwich. Then it was off to the cliffs.
The most striking man-made element to be seen in Arbroath is the ruined Abbey, which was consecrated in 1233 and has been decaying ever since its ‘heyday’ in 1320. A series of invasions and fires have left the once large and grand Abbey church looking considerably the worse for wear, though undoubtedly more picturesque. It sits atop a small hill, anchoring the town all around it, a role it has performed for more than eight centuries.
Aside from looking at the Abbey (you can go into a visitor’s centre and visit less-decayed parts of the structure, but I did not), the other thing for the tourist to do in Arbroath is to walk along the Seaton Cliffs, something that I managed to do for close to three hours. In this time, I covered less than the first mile of the cliffs, but what a first mile!
Much of the cliffs run down steeply into the water, but not so steeply as to make it impossible to walk down them to the water. Climbing over the rocks and scrub is good fun, and every once in a while, you find something really special—for me, it was a small beach in an inlet shut off by the cliffs from the sea and paved with thousands of colourful and perfectly smooth rocks.
I had first approached it from the north side, circling down a cliff to look at the sea and an arch of stone. Finding the cove with the beach more enticing, I did further scrambling to get close to it, though not close enough. From the north and seaward side of the cove, it was inaccessible. Five feet beneath me was a foot of water and rocks. I couldn’t go down, much as I would have liked to. Looking off to the other side, I saw that I could get closer and lower, but there was still too much water to make it down without getting wet. I decided to climb around a bit more on some other cliffs and wait. The tide would either help me or make it utterly impossible. I had nothing to lose.
As it happened, the tide was going out, and so when I returned about an hour later to the beach of the ten thousand perfect rocks, this time from the south and west, I was able to get down with relative ease. The beach was littered with stones from the size of pebbles to the size of small boulders, most of which were perfectly smooth, and in all different colours: blues, reds, purples, greens, oranges, yellows, blacks, browns and greys were all present. It was with great happiness and some mild guilt that I colleted thirteen rocks from the beach. I have given a few away, and may give away a few more, but for the most part they will travel back to Colorado with me. They are too perfect to leave behind. Sometimes I think of how long the rocks must have stayed on that beach, being worn down to their current satin smoothness, and I feel that wave of guilt all over again.
There wasn’t much to do in Arbroath once it got dark. I went into Ogston’s Bar and Grill and had some refreshment and dinner. Soon enough it was time to go back to the station and back to Edinburgh.
The next day, I suffered perhaps my greatest disappointment since my arrival in Scotland. Visiting the National Gallery with Abby, I turned to look at my beloved Venus Anadyomene, only to find it replaced by a panel portrait of an archer by an unknown artist. Perhaps I am a bit dramatic, but I felt quite honestly betrayed—as though something dear to me had been taken from me by a presumed friend—I tried to laugh it off and make light of it, but it haunted me for much of the rest of the week. It’s gone to the MFA Boston to be in a show on Titian and Tintoretto. If you are in the states from roughly next week until the middle of August and find yourself in Boston, go see her and say “hello” for me.
We’re in the midst of the Six Nations over here. It’s a rugby tournament between Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, England and Italy. This year, Wales, France and Ireland are competing for top honours, with England in the middle and Scotland and Italy competing not to be last. And so it was that on the last day of February I found myself walking to Murrayfield Stadium accompanied by Nick, Darci, and a non-flatemate Sarah. While it might have been the first Rugby match I had seen in person, it was not the first I had ever seen. Nick and I had been following the action to some extent and so I already had watched Scotland lose to Wales, Scotland lose to France, England lose to Wales, and in a very exciting game, Wales lose to France.
It was 2:00 in the afternoon and a bit chilly when we joined the general flow westward to Murrayfield stadium. Others of our group (eight of us attended all together) had chosen to take the bus there, but Nick insisted that walking was more fun, and I can only conclude that he must be right. We joined crowds of Scots and Italians alike pressing on towards the stadium. Progress was slow but steady, and we were there in about forty minutes. People were decked out in all sorts of regalia: hats with loch ness monsters on them, flags, jerseys, and, of course, kilts.
After a bit of people watching, we made our way to our seats, which were brilliantly chosen by Nick to be close to midfield but a bit up from the front. The teams were introduced (Scotland accompanied by pyrotechnics), and the Italian national anthem played, then the National Anthem of Scotland was sung: Oh flower of Scotland, when will we see your like again? Who fought and died for, your wee bit native hill and glen? And stood against him, proud Edward’s army, and sent him homeward, tae think again. Those days are past now, and in the past they must remain, but we still rise now, and be the nation again! Who stood against him, proud Edward’s army, and sent him homeward, tae think again. Halfway through the anthem the fifty or so bagpipers on the field stopped playing and the audience sang a capella, a stroke of incredible beauty that sent shivers down my spine.
The game went Scotland’s way, with some brilliant boots and tries. The final score was Scotland 26, Italy 6. It was the largest Scottish victory margin in the Six Nations for quite a few years.
Rugby itself is not as brutal a game as uninitiated Americans perceive it to be. When played well, it has a beautiful sense of rhythm and flow to it that approaches the fluidity of soccer. Yes, there are hard knocks, and little padding, and massive men running into each other, and there is almost always blood (and frequently worse), but it isn’t brutal, strangely.
Everywhere I go in Edinburgh, I’m faced head-to-head by construction. The city is in a total state of deconstruction: streets are ripped up with seeming nonchalance, routes are blocked, paths diverted. Often, while standing at one location of deconstruction, another can be seen, not far off. Buildings are not safe either. I can name at least four buildings on the University campus around George Square that are currently undergoing renovation.
In the last few weeks, the most extensive of all the construction projects has commenced: a several year-long campaign to add European-style trams to Princes’ street and surrounding areas. This is a major commitment, not only because of the current unfavourable economic climate, but because of the tremendous diversion in traffic involved in closing one of Edinburgh’s busiest streets in both directions. The continual parade of Buses, formerly seen lining the sides of Princes’ Street, now clogs other streets. I’m happy I don’t have to drive here.
On Friday the 6th of March, I returned to the Gallery of Modern Art to see the complete Kleine Welten (Small Worlds) portfolio by artist Wassily Kandinsky. I had a prearranged appointment in the Print Room, and at 10:15, was met by Daniel Herrmann, a tall man of German extraction with Philip Johnson glasses. He showed me into his office in the print room, and there on a set of tables and easels were the twelve prints—four lithographs, four engravings, and four woodcuts. The Kleine Welten series is amazing to see in its entirety. I don’t think I can even begin to describe all the things I saw in the work, but I feel very fortunate to have been able to spend close to two hours on a very personal level with these images.
That night, I sat in at a Friday night gig at the Jazz Bar. I have been regularly attending open Jam Sessions on Tuesday nights, but recently, Bill Kyle, drummer, impresario, and owner of the Jazz Bar, had been suggesting that I could come around and sit in on other nights. He suggested Friday night, and I sat in. I went back on Saturday night as well, this time not sitting in, but as a paid member of the band. I have now been (for one night at least, and hopefully for one or two more before I leave) a professional jazz musician.
I’ll have some pictures from Arbroath up soon, probably Monday or Tuesday.
If you want another perspective of Edinburgh, I’d like to send you on to Liz Looker’s web journal. She’s another hampshire student who is recording her experiences, and is taking some very fine pictures. It may be found here.
COMPUTER TROUBLES—PORTOBELLO BEACH—NATIONALISM—DINNER—THE SCOTTISH NATIONAL GALLERY
I apologize for the recent delays in posts. Now that I have my computer back and my life is relatively normal, you may expect an update on Saturday evening as usual. This post will cover major events of the past few weeks, and a few of the things I’ve been thinking about recently.
Late in the evening of Thursday the 5th of February, I turned on my computer to find that its screen did not work. Everything else about the computer seemed to work as usual with the exception of the screen—somewhat a vital part of communicating with the dern thing. Then next morning, I took it into CANCOM, the local Apple “Premier Retailer”, who took it from me and had it sent off to Glasgow to get fixed. Fortunately, because it’s still under its three-year warranty, I didn’t have to pay anything.
Later on Friday, Nick, Darci, and Sarah all left—Nick bound for his brother’s to see his new baby niece, the girls off to home-stays arranged by their exchange program—leaving me with the flat to myself. I had a bath and generally relaxed, enjoying my privacy and preparing for the long walk that I would have ahead of me the next day.
For most of the week, I had been planning to walk to Portobello Beach, along the east side of Edinburgh. The city of Edinburgh lies on a bump of land in the Forth Estuary, meaning that it is essentially bordered to both the North and the East by water. Coming from a region of the US that is nearly as landlocked as one can get, visits to the ocean have always held special significance for me. I wanted to see the ocean—particularly given that it was within walking distance.
I set out after lunch with my whole Saturday afternoon unplanned. I knew the route I would be taking, and I also knew that it was six miles there and back without any funny diversions. I was going to be on my feet for a while. Within minutes I was walking through Holyrood Park, heading straight east and enjoying the natural landscape. I passed a pond that was simply crammed with ducks, geese, and swans—I have never seen so many swans in one place. I’m planning to go back there some morning to take some “portraits” of the inhabitants of this lake.
Soon I was walking through the rather monotonous suburbia that characterises much of outer Edinburgh, and after some time, I was able to see the water ahead of me. There was only one thing that separated me from it: the most complicated road construction I have ever seen.
Granted, before that day, I don’t think I had ever seen road construction in a busy roundabout. Concentric circles of cones and signs directed the traffic around the parts of the circle under construction and directed pedestrians through a series of pathways across the circle. I must confess that I was quite confused about when to cross the street and when not to—it’s hard enough remembering to look right and then left—but I made it intact, which is what matters.
The beach was cold and mostly grey. On the other side of the water, snow covered the fields and hills, allowing the gentle geometry of their divisions to be revealed. The water rolled in with a constancy that was strangely unaccompanied by sound—no roar fills my recollection, only a slightly louder-than normal rippling. Perhaps I exaggerate.
On this first Saturday of February, Portobello beach was not particularly beautiful, nor particularly romantic, though I must say I, like others before me, found that the slightly decrepit nature of the beach played on me, precisely because it was decrepit. Romantic notions of the slowly crumbling British Seaside—perpetually fading (though never giving way altogether)—began to fill my mind. I skipped stones in the surf and watched the parade of couples and groups and dogs. With the exception of a lone man with a metal detector, I was the only solitary figure on the beach. For all I know, he may have had a wife somewhere, too embarrassed to be near him.
On my return route, I took a bit of a diversion that plunged me into the heart of suburbia, where I passed house after house with driveway after driveway with small family car after small family car and yard after yard. It is in suburbia that the British obsession with the formal garden continues to have life—I passed house after house with carefully planned front yards—grass, stones, flowers, bushes, hedges in harmony and in miniature replication of the gardens of royalty, lords, dukes and duchesses. I did eventually return to the College Wynd. Totting up my mileage, it turned out I had been eight miles. I had another bath.
I want to say a word or two on the notions of Scottish independence and Great Britain. Scots are (and always have been) fiercely independent and strongly nationalistic. They are happily a part of the United Kingdon, and would not have it any other way, but most would identify as Scottish rather than British. This can be an important distinction—to many Americans, England, Britain and the UK all mean the same thing, a terrible mistake. Great Britain refers to the Isle of Britain, and comprises England, Scotland, and Wales; the UK stands for the United Kingdoms of Great Britain (as just described) and North Ireland. England is simply the country of England. If you want conversation with a Welshman or Scot to stop quickly, call them English. The extent of Scottish autocracy in government and economics is a topic for later entry (and several thick volumes to boot).
Much of the following Friday was spent cooking. Nick and I had decided to put on a bit of a feast together and so, after a brief trip to buy some last-minute ingredients and pick up my (fixed) computer, I spent most of the afternoon preparing for the dinner. On Tuesday night I had started my Pumpernickel Raisin bread, and so I had to do the second half of it and then cook my soup.
Tracking down some of the requisite ingredients for the Bread had been difficult—in fact I had no idea as to where to start looking for rye flour, molasses, or caraway seeds, but after a bit of digging on the internet I found Real Foods, a cute little store just a bit farther away from the Cowgate than Sainsbury’s. Real Foods had a really nice “crunchy” sort of vibe, like how I remember places like Wild Oats and Ideal being in Boulder in the late 90s. The place smelled fantastic and I was able to get everything I needed, and some very muddy vegetables for my soup to boot (see picture). I was also able to get a pint of something I had been wanting to try: Heather Ale. I had first read about it in the “Extreme Beer” article that appeared in the New Yorker in November. I must say that I found it a bit disappointing—not really flowery enough after all the hype.
Just after seven, our two guests arrived. Nick had invited his friend Bri, a student of UCSB spending her whole year at (and possibly transferring to) the University of Edinburgh. I had invited Abby. The four of us and flatmate Sarah sat down to the first course (mine) of Bread and a Parsnip soup of my own creation. When we had finished this course we were quite full—but we still had Nick’s course to go through, so we waited while he prepared it. It was Kaiserschmarnn, an Austrian dish that Nick had become acquainted with whilst on a Skiing holiday in Innsbruck. It was basically a giant messy cut up pancake with raisins, and it tasted every bit as good as its description sounds.
I wish to put in a few effusive words for the Scottish National Gallery. This is an astoundingly wonderful museum—just the right size for an hour or two, ten minutes walking from my flat, and absolutely free. The collection ranges over the time from about 1250-1900 and covers Religious art to the Impressionists. The great masters are well represented, with works by Boticelli, Raphael, Titian, Reubens, Vermeer, Velasquez, El Greco, Rembrandt, Ramsay, Raeburn, Van Gogh, Seurat, Monet, Gauguin, and Degas all present in the permanent collection. While there are a great many Scottish artists represented, Allan Ramsay and Sir Henry Raeburn being among them, the collection does not feel too Scotland-biased.
A cornerstone of the collection is a group of five works by Titian, among them three exceptionally fine ones: the large masterpieces Diana and Acteon and Diana and Callisto, and the smaller (though no less masterful) Venus Anadyomene—Venus rising from the sea. The two large Titians are recent additions to the museum, which purchased Diana and Acteon from the Duke of Sutherland towards the end of last year in conjunction with the National Gallery in London. In 2012, the museums will be given the opportunity to purchase Diana and Callisto. The paintings will switch venues every five years, travelling together (they were both commissioned by Philip II of Spain around 1550). It has been my pleasure to go in and stare at these works with the ease and comfort that comes with knowing I will see them again and again and again in my many visits to the museum.
I have been taking full advantage of the many resources made available to the public by the galleries: on Wednesday (the 18th) I went with Nick to see the photography exhibit currently on in the National Gallery “25 Years of Photography”, which celebrates the National Gallery system’s twenty-five-year-old commitment to collecting photographs by Scots and of Scotland. After seeing the show, which was small, but only had one or two weak pictures, I stayed behind to do research in the library for an upcoming paper. Tomorrow (Friday the 20th) morning I have an appointment at 10:00 to continue my research. Two weeks later, on the 6th of March, I have an appointment at the print room of the Gallery of Modern Art (which I visited in a previous instalment) at 10:00 to see a complete series of Kandinsky’s Kleine Welten portfolio, something I am truly excited for.
I have my computer back, so an update will follow soon. In the meantime here are a few pictures: