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.