Saturday, May 29, 2010

Returning to My Ancestral Home

In case there was any doubt I am not Irish. I am Scottish, and after this week I am proud to proclaim--it in true Scottish fashion. Something about Edinburgh had an air of effortless cool.
My Scot fest started with Peter Pan at the Barbican and continued with the Edinburgh trip. After a 4 hour train ride we checked into our hostel then went to the writer's museum to study up on the three Scottish greats: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Then came the castle:

I thought this castle was really interesting but I won't pretend that I loved it. I'm glad I saw it, but before too long and after too many bagpipe anthems I was set to move on. We had really good Italian at a place called La Favorita before exhaustedly climbing into our bunks for a semi-restless sleep. The next morning felt much like the day before, and much like every day since January. My feet were tired and callused. I had to consciously make my legs climb down the ladder and into the shower. I thought, well I'll nap later, but this nap never came. I'm not complaining, what is tiredness compared to Europe? An hour by train found us in Stirling to reconnect with our roots:

Once upon a time there was a man named John Macfarlane, who lived in Stirling, Scotland. Before too long he died leaving behind his wife and three children and was buried in Holy Rood churchyard. His wife, her family, and his children converted to the Mormon church and migrated to Utah. His oldest son John, who adopted the middle name Menzies, married three wives. He and his wives moved to Chihuahua, Mexico to avoid persecution and eventually had a mess of children, the very youngest of which was Herbert Adams Macfarlane. Who had a son named John Ralph Macfarlane. Who had a son named Roger Thomas Macfarlane. Who had a daughter named Caroline Elizabeth....who begat... I think I've traced it enough. It was great to be somewhere where I know my family once was, I wonder if someday my great-great-great grandchildren will take a day trip wherever to see my grave? The enormity is hard to grasp.

Apart from root finding, Stirling is an amazing place. Ever heard of William Wallace and a little battle at Stirling Bridge? What about Robert de Bruce and Bannockburn? It's all one and the same. We saw the castle and the room in the castle where James I of England and VI of Scotland was born. We climbed the 246 steps to the top of the National William Wallace (Braveheart) Monument. I felt freer and more proud to be Scottish because of it.

The train ride back was full of agonizing hunger leading to Wannaburger. These were the best burgers in Britain. Large, tasty, and the ever elusive satisfying--they had it all. If they were a boy I would marry them, they were that perfect. It was good that they were filling because Leslie and I headed from dinner to our Ghost Tour. Our tour guide was Faith and she radiating creep-factor. Our tour had the perfect balance of real terror and humor. I'm not sure how I convinced Les to do a ghost walk with me, but we both had a really fun time. The vaults under the city were super creepy and so were the stories, but it was very fun to watch Faith interact with the 15 English rugby players in our group.

The next morning was very similar to the two days prior until I looked out the window. The sky which had been blue splotched with patches of grey the day before had been blanketed by a looming grey cloud. What had once been streaks of sunlight hitting our window were now streams of rain. I remembered that I was in Edinburgh and didn't let it hinder my day as I walked from the hostel to the Scottish National Gallery and then to Scottish Parliament.

I've always felt as though Scotland is rather like a toy government. The English let them have their Stone of Destiny, they have their own currency (which is really like Monopoly money that people accept so it counts as having a value), and they have their own little parliament. This feeling was heightened as I walked through the Scottish Parliament building, especially in the main room debate room of Parliament because it really did feel like a play government. Which is really quite sad to think about--that this nation was once a great threat to England and now it's just like a doll's country.

We left parliament to visit Chocolatesoup a great place where we got drinks and sundaes. Leslie and I bought t-shirts from a stand out front before we headed to the Scottish Museum, there were some seriously cool and seriously old things there. Our train ride home was filled with a three hour tournament of family Pounce which included an offer to sing 'Love at Home' to us.

My Scot fest ended with Macbeth at Shakespeare's Globe. I won't give a review of it here because I'm still not sure how I felt. It was entertaining and it was bloody, including writhing bloody corpses amongst the groundlings. Still, I was able to see through the gallons of red corn syrup and the torrential downpour of Macbeth's saliva on my face to fall in love. With Malcolm. The Prince of Scotland. He was beautiful, rugged, noble, brave, and Scottish. In other words, he was all I want in a man. I was in love from the first word he said in his flawless Glaswegian accent and I knew that it was meant to be. He even looked at me. The fact that he's a little old, I'll never see him again, he is unaware that we're going to be married, and the rest of the students are also in love with him are mole-hills next to the mountain that is our love.

In more serious terms though, I've learned this week:
1. I find Scottish accents ridiculously appealing, as in attractive.
2. It's good to be proud of where you come from AND where you are now.
So I'll end with the Macfarlane clan motto
This I'll Defend

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Culture and the boy who never grew up

"All children grow up--except one."

Thus begins my favorite book, play, story--whatever you call it, I love it.

This week I saw a performance of Peter Pan at the Barbican Centre performed by the National Theatre of Scotland. This was not the Peter Pan I've grown up with, it was really really dark and mysterious. It was unlike anything I've seen before. Yet I loved it. Something about it was so wild and tragically sad. The play is set in Victorian Edinburgh, Tinkerbell is a ball of fire, and Peter is completely scots. I'll admit a part of me really wanted them to sing "I don't wanna go up" but I could look past that. This performance was spectacular. One of my London favorites.

This play served as the perfect preamble to our Edinburgh trip this week, and fit into my week of cultural betterment including: Eurydice at the Young Vic, the London Philharmonic at Royal Festival Hall, and Disney's The Lion King.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Wild Wild West Trip

The funny thing about a blog is that (much like a journal) it's actually no good if you never write on it.

Our new students arrived without a hitch and they aren't Winter--but in a good way. Variety is the spice of life and I'm glad to have it. I'm excited by the prospect of a new group of students, and equally excited by the new sites we're going to.

The Wild West Trip was an adventure. It was full of some favorite repeats and some great new sites.

We left London with full suitcases, charged batteries, and more than one bag of Haribo. Optimistic for the future. First stop?


Home of Jane Austen, and the building where she wrote or edited all of her major works. This was my second visit, but it was equally remarkable to the first trip. I love Jane Austen. Cliché I know, but her stories are so wonderful. The older I get the more I appreciate them. This visit was nice because they had costumes from the most recent Emma scattered throughout. I love Emma. The story is my favorite. The man is my favorite. The heroine is the most like me--or so says Catherine Anne, I'm not sure I believe this, but I suppose the similarities are there.

"With all dear Emma's little faults, she is an excellent creature. Where shall we see a better daughter, or a kinder sister, or a truer friend? She has qualities which may be trusted"

We re-boarded the coach for the short drive to Winchester. This is one of my favorite towns out of London, and one of my favorite Cathedrals. It's also home to my favorite McDonald's in Britain. This may sound odd, but I've become quite the connoisseur in these past few months. This one is great, it has ketchup AND barbeque sauce on tap. Yes, these are the things I miss about home.

Our magical West Bus next took us to Bath. Pronounced BAAAAhhhth.

We spent the night at a hostel here, which was great because it allowed us more time in this fantastic city. It was less than great because let's face it, it is a hostel. Ew, gross. We visited the Roman Baths, Bath Abbey, the Palladium Bridge, and the Assembly Rooms. Before waking for the next equally great day.

Day Two found us in Glastonbury.
Weird town. Supposedly King Arthur was buried in the Abbey alongside Guienevere. King Arthur holds a special place in my heart. Every summer I have to watch educational videos for my mother. A few summers I watched 10 hours worth of King Arthur videos. He apparently also holds a spot for hundreds of others. Glastonbury is the site that a bunch of people consider to be Avalon, the mythical island Arthur disappears to. Which makes Glastonbury a hub for mystics, witches, and the like. We hiked up the Glastonbury Tor, to the site where Joseph of Arimathea supposedly brought the Holy Grail, and Merlin may or may not have worked magic.

With all this, I really liked Glastonbury. I guess I'm okay with the whole mysticism thing. I sort of wish I were a witch--like a real one. Maybe someday....

We took the short drive to Wells to see the Cathedral.

Complete with a Cathedral cat named Louis.

Then we drove to Ilfracombe where we spent the night. I had almost forgotten how much I love the beach. I love the smell of sea-water. I love the wind. I love the easy-going attitude of people who live at the beach. I love the water. I love it all. And I loved this little town. We bought fish and chips and watched the sunset. Delightful.

We even met some locals... as spoken by the teenage boys in Ilfracombe:
"Jay-walking! That's an offense!"

"Sir, will you cure me of my addiction to smoking weed?"

As my mom noted, these kids WERE singing Journey--so they were pretty classy.

Day three started at Tintagel.

A ruined castle on the coast, legend has it that it was the site of the court of Uther Pendragon--King Arthur's father. It also has stunning cliffs, caves, and views.
I loved this place. I even bought a key as a souvenir.
We finished in Exeter, then finally made the drive home to London. I love home. I love London.