A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: kithica

Edinburgh Book Festival


I saw two events at the Book Festival this past week. One was a talk by James Shapiro, a Shakespeare historian. He was discussing his new book, Contested Will, which is broadly about all the theories concerning who wrote Shakespeare. Shapiro is firmly in the Shakespeare was Shakespeare camp, as am I. And I was hoping that his talk (and his book) were all about grinding the opposing theories into the dust. Not so, sadly. It was mostly about looking at the phenomenon itself, and trying to understand why people feel the need to put forth all these other theories of authorship. So there was also some talk about the history of literature and our approach to it.

Shapiro was interesting and entertaining. And he slammed the author of Will in the World, the first Shakespeare biography I tried to read, for exactly the same reasons that made me want to stab said author with a fork. So I felt vindicated.

I will probably still pick up Contested Will at some point. Shapiro has a very accessible style, and I’m guaranteed to learn a lot. I want to finish reading 1599 (Shapiro’s biography of Shakespeare that tries to understand who he was by examining in detail one year of his life) first, though. Shapiro also talked about his next book, 1606. Similar structure to 1599, but set later, while he was writing Lear and Macbeth. I’m looking forward to that one, but it won’t be out until 2016 (the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death), so I have a bit of a wait.

The other event was a talk by two university history professors, billed as being about everyday life in Scotland from 1600 to the present. The two professors were there, and their published books were about everyday life in Scotland, but they mostly spoke about the process of writing and publishing their books. This probably should have been obvious, but clearly I misunderstood.

They were relatively interesting, though. One of the professors had written about history from the political perspective, which was much less interesting to me. The other had actually edited a series of books about everyday life. He talked about how he and the other historians who worked on the books went about figuring out what everyday life was actually like, because no one at the time was writing about the mundane. That was quite interesting, and he mentioned a couple of books that I’ve been reading myself written by early travellers to the highlands.

In the end, though, I went to the festival bookshop and bought two books: The History of Everyday Life in Scotland from 1600 to 1800, and ditto for 1800 to 1900. I’m hoping to get from those what I didn’t get from the talk itself. I’m currently still mired in the introduction to the first one, but I’ll keep you posted.

The vibe at the book festival was very different from the fringe. Much more subdued, in one way, but with much more being elbowed and poked with umbrellas as people jostled to get a good seat. Particularly in the second talk I went to, I was the youngest in the room by a good thirty years, and the questions from the audience were both educated and stuffy.

Posted by kithica 15:22 Archived in Scotland Tagged events Comments (0)

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo


It has marched past the front door of my workplace every night (and twice on Saturdays) since it began. It was wonderful to see, but also the worst kind of tease, because all the tickets were sold.

I managed to… acquire a ticket yesterday, though, with about 15 minutes’ notice. I joined the huge queue that snaked past our front door and actually got to go in and watch. And it was wonderful, despite the fact that it rained on us for about an hour and a half.

I fished an old map of Marrakech out of one pocket and a slightly newer one of Edinburgh out of another and sat on those to keep my bum dry. And while we weren’t allowed to put our umbrellas up, I did still have mine with me, so I opened it just a little and used it to make a tent over my knees to keep them dry. My raincoat more or less covered the rest. That and the fact that we were wedged in like sardines (my estimate was about 6000 people in there – they must make millions on this), which actually kept me reasonably warm, too.

They had giant torches, lit and flaming, along the ramparts of the castle, which made my romantic heart very happy. When the show began, there was a perfect line of drummers along the lower ramparts on one side, a line of brass players along the other, their scarlet coats glowing in the strategic uplight. They played the first notes and then the military band in the esplanade joined in. At the end of the number, all of the cannons in the ramparts fired off at once and then the massed pipes and drummers marched out through the castle gates.

The pipes and drums were probably my favourites, just because. There were also military bands from Poland, Jordan, and the United States. There were exhibitions of precision motorbike-riding from kids aged from 5 to 17. There was highland dancing, and a sword dance. There was a vaulting display from the military department of physical fitness (they all wore the goofy tank tops and shorts that look like they’re from the 1950s).

My favourite of the more traditional bands were the New Zealanders. Not only did they march in formation and play their instruments, they also danced, sang, performed a haka (the kama te!), then brought out a singer and performed a lounge act. It turns out even the kiwi army has a great sense of humour.

One of the British regiments (one of the really old ones – I think they said it had been serving for 310 years) tried to do something similar and played Robbie Williams’ ‘Let me Entertain You’. They didn’t quite get the tempo right or something, though, because it just wasn’t the same.

I thought it was good that they also brought out drummers from a unit recently returned from Afghanistan, dressed in desert camo. It’s helpful to remember that the military isn’t all about music and dancing and gymnastics. They did a very nice salute to the soldiers serving in Afghanistan and to those who have fallen. I could have done without the re-enactment of the soldiers on peace-keeping patrol, though, particularly since the ‘women’ in burqas were clearly rather burly soldiers underneath.

The last number brought everyone out onto the esplanade to play together. Very impressive. (There was one regiment that walked between the ‘aisles’ created by the ranks of other regiments, and I was convinced one of them was going to be taken out by a particularly enthusiastic cymbals player, but he got through without incident.) There was a lone trumpet (bugle?) player on the lower ramparts that played ‘Sunset’ and then the lone piper on the upper ramparts played as well.

And then everyone joined in as they marched off down the hill. The pipers were last, and they finally played my favourite song. I don’t know the name, but I could hum it for you…

Posted by kithica 18:23 Archived in Scotland Tagged events Comments (0)

Edinburgh Museums

also known as my day off

sunny 22 °C

I got another day off yesterday – which brings me up to two since the middle of July. I had the ultimate luxury of not setting my alarm at all, and ended up rolling out of bed around noon.

It was a really beautiful day, warm, a little humid and with a nice breeze. I headed into town, determined to avoid the fringe for at least part of the day. My first stop was the Scottish Museum. There’s a terrace up on the roof with stunning views out over the city. I spent some time up there in the sun, taking photos.

I also stopped in to see the temporary exhibit of the Lewis Chessmen. It’s believed they’re of Scandinavian origin, made in the late 12th or early 13th century and found on the Isle of Lewis in the 19th century.
They’re beautifully carved and have enormous amounts of character. My favourite is the guy who’s biting his shield. I love that something that old still has this vibrant sense of humour.

From the Scottish Museum, I headed to Gladstone’s Land, which is a restored tenement house. I have this fascination with tenement houses. I’m not sure why. I went to the tenement museum in New York City as well. In this case, the tenement dates to the 17th and 18th centuries, and they have set up the rooms as they would have looked at the time.

I think I spent more time in there than just about anyone else. Photos were forbidden, but I read all the leaflets, I took notes, I chatted with the guides. There was one in particular, an older gentleman, who was extremely helpful, telling me all sorts of extra tidbits.

One of the most interesting things was that baking was forbidden in any of the tenement rooms which didn’t have flagstone flooring (which was anything above the first floor, really) due to fear of fire. So the women were supposed to bring prepared dough to the local baker’s to be baked. The guide thought this was probably a very rare occurrence, since at that point it would have been simpler and cheaper to just buy the baker’s bread. But, on my trip to Morocco, one of the guides was saying that up into this century, women would prepare the dough and send it to the baker’s to be baked, and then the children coming home from school for lunch would pick it up again. The similarity really struck me.

Also, in one of the rooms, you can still see the faded paintings that adorned the ceilings and the walls. It would have been quite vivid once. But they’re still there, having been painted in the 17th century. How amazing.

My only disappointment was that there were only two floors – the ground floor and the first floor – that had been restored. I would have loved to see how the rest of the building would have looked, what the poorer quarters would have been like.

From there I headed to the writers’ museum, but once again I got there just before closing time. I had about fifteen minutes to poke around the Robert Louis Stephenson area in the basement before being chucked out. I’ll have to go back another day to explore the rest.


This is the point at which I caved to the fringe. I headed down to kill some time in the Grassmarket and got some lovely shots of the castle from below. I found the toy store that Tanya had sent me in search of, but the café she remembered was no longer there. They did, however, have a book about the life of a domestic servant. I’ve been putting together my family tree, and many of my relatives – including my grandmother – were in service at some point. And charting the tree is one thing, but I’ve hit the point where I want to know what their lives were like. So I bought the book to read later.

I went to see a fringe show called Now is the Winter, which I will write about later. Then I picked up a curry – which turned out to be enormously disappointing – and went home to eat and have a rest. It was my day off. I could do things like that.

Amazingly, I did get up and head out again. I went to see Putting it Together, a Sondheim review (spelled review and not revue, apparently, because he wants us to think about it, as in to review) that I have seen before and loved. It was good, by fringe standards. But again, I’ll write about that later.

All in all, a good day.

Posted by kithica 21:58 Archived in Scotland Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

The Dream of Sancho

just beautiful

all seasons in one day

I am trying to find the words to describe a piece of theatre that used almost none at all. I will begin by saying this show was the most beautiful piece of art I have seen in a long time, hoping that you’ll excuse my clumsy attempts to explain it.

We arrived just before the show began and were led into a cobbled courtyard that felt completely hidden, though we could hear the music from a nearby club. We took our seats under the open sky, completely surrounded by stone-built five-storey Edinburgh buildings.

While we waited for the show to begin, we were entertained by what we used to call ‘animation’ in the circus – meaning performers in costume and in character, out interacting with the audience.

And then the show began, and I was completely enchanted.

The Dream of Sancho is a piece of physical theatre. I have an unfortunate tendency to dismiss physical theatre as pretentious, or to lump it in with dance. But this show was neither. There were a handful of spoken phrases, but the rest of the story was told purely through movement. Not mime, just movement.

Inspired by Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the loose story is of a man, trapped in the 9-to-5 grind, who has forgotten that in another life he was Don Quixote. Sancho finds him when he falls asleep at his desk, and he begins to remember.

Some imagery I got, some I didn’t, but the intellectual story was completely irrelevant. It was the experience that was important.

The ‘staging’ of the show was brilliant. It incorporated the most wonderful use of projection I have ever seen. The whole wall of one of the buildings became a canvas, extending the story that was told by the bodies moving on the cobblestone. And the projection incorporated the stonework, the windows. Such excellent use of the space.

Their props were minimal – a silver hoop, pairs of shoes, flowers, a multitude of umbrellas – but so effective. Lifting the shoes off the ground let characters take flight among the projected clouds. Planting flowers between the cobblestones created a beautiful garden.

Their use of light was especially skilled. At the opening of the show, a young woman was just caught in a crossbeam, causing her yellow umbrella to glow. Lights close to the ground gave the cobbles dimension and texture and brought the flowers to life.

Every single aspect of this show was perfect. I was fascinated, and enchanted, and all those things. I keep saying, it made my soul happy. It lasted for an hour and fifteen minutes and I didn’t want it to end.

There were only a couple of dozen people in the audience at a venue that could probably seat ten times that. It’s absolutely criminal that this show isn’t sold out every night. I’ve been telling everyone to go.

Posted by kithica 23:11 Archived in Scotland Tagged events Comments (0)

Edinburgh Fringe: Naked Splendour

all seasons in one day

I’ve wanted to see Naked Splendour since I first heard about it. (The five-star review didn’t hurt either.) It’s just such a wonderful concept. It’s a one-man show, starring Philip Herbert, in which he tells stories about being a life model for art classes. The interesting part is that he models naked while he does it, and they hand out sketch pads and pencils at the door so you can draw while you listen. Such an excellent idea.

I ran the gauntlet of the Royal Mile to see it today, and I really enjoyed it. I have no artistic skills whatsoever, but it was nice to exercise another part of my brain and scribble a little bit.

Mr. Herbert played two characters – himself and Angela, the life drawing class hostess. Angela made us all welcome, and then Mr. Herbert took us through his process of getting ready, getting undressed. He then held a series of 3-minute poses while he told us various anecdotes. Some of the stories were lightly dramatised as well. He was interesting and often funny. The nudity was a complete non-issue.

At the end, the audience were invited to lay their works out on the floor. There was no judgement at all about artistic ability, and it was really interesting to see what everyone else had done.

On the whole, it was a very sweet show, and I would definitely recommend it.

Posted by kithica 23:08 Archived in Scotland Tagged events Comments (0)

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