Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A full few days in Edinburgh

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Edinburgh was the one place in Scotland that I had actually visited before, way back in 2001 when I went to Poland and the UK with Grandma. On that trip, we took a train from London to Edinburgh and stayed two nights in a (not Air-) B'n'B. We hadn't booked accommodation, we just went from the train station straight to the tourist information booth, and they found something for us.

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One day we rode the red tourist bus, and the next day we rode the blue tourist bus. We didn't go up to the Castle because it was too much for Grandma, but we did visit the Art Gallery which I adored and was thrilled to return to on this trip.

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28 August 2017: We pulled ourselves a bit reluctantly away from St Andrews in the early-mid afternoon. Time was a factor because our accommodation in Edinburgh was booked through Air B'n'B (I have now joined the 21st century), so we had to make it on time to meet our hosts. It's a trade-off when booking accommodation - staying at a hotel, you can usually rock up at almost any time. On some travel days, that flexibility is really handy. But on the other hand, in Edinburgh, we scored a really lovely two bedroom apartment in Leith for a very reasonable price.

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After settling in, we wandered down to the centre of Leith to meet my aunt and uncle for dinner. They live in Queensland but happened to be in the UK for a holiday at the same time as us. Our time in Edinburgh coincided just for this night - they were leaving the next day, heading into the west and Highlands. (Which - yes - still gave me a pang or two - I must go back to the highlands and islands before too long.) We had such a nice time catching up with them in a sort of fancy pub/restaurant down by the water.

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The next day we hopped on a bus and took the short ride into Edinburgh proper. We wandered from the new town into the old. We visited (K) and revisited (me) the slightly heartbreaking Greyfriars Bobby statue.  We also, without really trying to, went past The Elephant House where apparently J.K. Rowling used to write. We bypassed its enormous queue and went for a cuppa next door at the French place instead.

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We wandered the Grassmarket, and then we took on Edinburgh Castle.

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It's big. We joined a tour and managed to see some decent proportion of the place - less than half, I'm sure.

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The Great Hall

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St Margaret's Chapel - the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh.

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Cemetary for soldiers' dogs

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The next day we packed in lots more Edinburgh touristy experiences. We climbed the Scott Monument (the blackish tower in the right of this photo). The upper staircases were very narrow and a bit claustrophobic...but doable. It was totally worth it for the views and also for the gorgeous decorative elements like stone dogs and other sculptures.

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Seen from the Scott Monument: Edinburgh Castle, Scottish National Gallery

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In the afternoon we wandered the new town and checked out the Oxford, Inspector Rebus' favourite bar. Walking in, the few people at the bar in the front room all turned around to see - it felt like maybe it was a locals place and they are sick of tourists? Anyway we settled in a back room happily enough. Later we went nearby for Mexican food, and then, the search for folk music sessions.

We managed to find sessions in three bars through. At the Captain's Bar, we found not a lot of people (it may have been a bit early) and only one musician, a man playing guitar. After a while we moved on to the Royal Oak, a tiny bar full of people, about half of whom were jammed in the corner playing music. Not the trad folk I was really keen for but more singer-songwriter acoustic guitar-based songs. Pretty sure we heard American Pie here. Finally we went to Sandy Bells, a bigger and also very popular pub. The music here was excellent, with a large, very tight ensemble who seemed like they probably play together a lot, cranking out the trad tunes. The musicians were all jammed into an end room/space and with the bar quite crowded, it was hard to find a good spot to listen. But when you wanted to go to the toilet you had to squeeze right past them, trying not to bump anyone while playing! It didn't feel like a session where a newcomer could join in, but I don't really know session etiquette so I could be quite wrong about that.

We did go to a session back in Aberdeen as well. For some reason I didn't write about it in the earlier post. That one drew a group of 8-10 musicians, almost exclusively older men. They played a mixture of American songs (yes, American Pie!) and celtic tunes, the style and genre really depending on who started up each tune. We sat there for quite a while so it was good to observe a bit of the group dynamics. There was a younger man who arrived with a fiddle and played hesitantly along for just one tune. Then he went to sit with his friends again but let one of the old guys pick up his fiddle and show us all how it should be done.

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Above - a very Edinburgh-specific photo, the floral clock in the Princes Street Gardens. I remembered this park well from my 2001 visit, as well as the very bold little grey squirrels.

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On the other hand, this street scene really could have been taken in any big enough town/city in the UK. Ubiquitous USA Nailz. (Oh and Indian food.) It's so interesting to see 'USA' used as a selling point. I don't think that would play so well in Australia.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

One day in August

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28 August 2017: we left Aberdeen to drive at a leisurely pace, to Edinburgh.

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After a quick stop at Stonehaven, we soon stopped again at Dunottar Castle.

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We didn't pay to go down to the site, but spent a while enjoying the views. The slopes were so steep I thought I was actually going to see someone fall off while taking a selfie.

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We spent quite a while in beautiful St Andrews.

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Neither of us has any interest in golf (as a non-driver, K does like driving the cart, that's about it). But once there we sort of wished for more time to look around.

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We had a great lunch at a brewpub and then parked somewhere down near the harbour and wandered though the ruins of the cathedral and extensive cemetery.

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The slightly older St Rule's tower seems to have been built to last, or maybe wasn't such a target like the massive cathedral, apparently the biggest church in Scotland, when Catholicism went massively out of favour.

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Salvation lets their wings unfold

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Nano Stern returned to Womadelaide (we loved him in 2012) - as passionate and moving as Billy Bragg. Told us our country should treat its immigration detainees better. Couldn't agree more.

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This woman in front of us was sketching Nano as he performed. I thought she was really good too.

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Le Vent Du Nord from Quebec played heaps of toe-tapping tunes and even brought out a hurdy-gurdy. I love this kind of music.

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Directly from my notes that night on Thundercat: "Way jazzy for me but good." OK then.

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I only saw part of Daymé Arocena's set but I thought she was a gem. Short, round and gorgeous.

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I posted some photos and wrote a bit about Gratte Ciel's 'Place des Anges' nightly show on instagram.

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On Friday evening we were taken by surprise when this show started after Anoushka Shankar's set finished on the main stage.

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It started with trapeze angels gently gliding way overhead, scattering a few feathers, all very pretty. Nice. A lot of looking up. But it progresses. The 'angels' chuck more and more feathers until eventually it's a very thorough bombing from both sky and from ground cannons full of feathers. So many feathers. It was beautiful but I really didn't love being surrounded by and dumped on by so many feathers. I admire birds but have an aversion to close contact.
    
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Plenty of people adored this show. But on social media there was also a fair bit of anger about the feathers, from vegans, from the asthmatic, and just from people who didn't like the mess. (The show was repeated each evening so by the end of the festival there was dusty dirty feathers everywhere.)

Womadelaide is a festival that has long been known for its commitment to sustainability - they had all food containers and cutlery biodegradable long before I came across that anywhere else - so they must have been satisfied that all those feathers being introduced into to the local environment would not be a problem. A bit surprising. The company behind the show provided information assuring people that the feathers are clean, hypoallergenic, and ethically sourced.

I don't have a firm opinion on it. It was beautiful, surprising, fun to photograph, gross, overwhelming - a lot of things. We watched the show a second time on the Monday night but stayed at the fringes out of the main feather dumping zone. But I have to admit there was a magic in being surprised by it the first time.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

In throat, in palate, in tongue, in teeth, in lips

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So, day three of Womadelaide 11 March 2018. On Sunday we got ourselves organised and timed a visit to the Adelaide Zoo perfectly so we could not only see the pandas but also hear the keeper's daily talk. Highly recommended. I wrote more about this on Instagram.

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Hana and Jessie-Lee's Bad Habits - a country two-piece based in Adelaide and Melbourne, highly anticipated by locals in the know. They brought a collective of musicians and singers to make up a pretty full stage, majority women, and it was a kick-arse show. I wish I had gotten better photos and paid more attention to hats popping up in the front row - it was the hats (and boots) on stage that I really wanted to capture. Anyway I loved the song and bought the CD and even got it signed.

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I don't want to forget that I also stopped and listened to Jessie Lloyd's Mission Songs Project (I just took crap photos, unfortunately). This show highlighted songs written in the missions and settlements that Indigenous Australians were moved onto. The songs are mostly from the early to mid-20 century, sung in English (sadly by then the only language for many people), one of those interesting complicated bits of history that show there's always much more to it than the headlines. I think the idea was these songs had been overlooked as, I guess, inauthentic in terms of Aboriginal culture, but of course they are brimming with contemporary accounts of living through the dispossession and Stolen Generation(s) - and still completely relevant.

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On to one of my most anticipated acts for the weekend, Tinariwen. I think I first heard of this group of Tuareg musicians - former solders - when I got hold of the Festival in the Desert CD many years ago. I hope one day the organisers will be able to bring the festival back (the last one was 2012, after which security in Mali really became too unstable for it to continue.)

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I had actually seen Tinariwen at Womadelaide once before, in 2012. At that time they were missing two band members who were not able to leave Mali during the Tuareg rebellion.

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And Victoria Hanna. A fascinating combination of rebellion, intellectualism, mysticism and incredible singing and music. The program notes say interesting things - she comes from an ultra Orthodox family in Israel, a woman certainly not raised to sing on stages around the world. Apparently getting into singing helped with a stammer. But I didn't really need to know these things to be drawn in immediately by her stage presence and voice, and her ability to share with the audience her fascination with words, language, the Hebrew alphabet, Jewish prayers. It felt like she was building on her heritage in a really interesting way. And I loved the chemistry she had with the band as well.

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The Manganiyar Seduction was an incredible show. The Manganiyar are a folk musician caste from Rajasthan, India, and the music would have been enough, but the unusual staging and lighting really made this wonderful. The picture above is from the finale.  

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The show starts with the stage dark. Then the curtains on a single box open and the lights go on. The curtains covering each 'cell' only open as each musician or singer joins the piece, starting with just one stringed instrument player (I think this was kamaicha) and gradually building with more players and then singers and drummers joining in. Because each box is lit only when that person is playing, this lighting and staging combination echoes the intensity of the music and highlights the orchestration and all the different instruments. 

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(I have *lots* of photos of different configurations, but I'm sure you get the idea.)

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