Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Northern Lighthouse Board

at night, i like to walk past this building on George Street in Edinburgh; its very own miniature lighthouse blinks through the midnight hours:the lighthouse & specially-designed flag mark the head office of the Northern Lighthouse Board, which operates 209 lighthouses & a slew of other Scottish navigational devices (beacons, buoys, and a nifty webcam that looks from Scotland towards Ireland...so if the Irish ever decide to invade by sea, they'll be spotted...)

i like the spiffy Daniel Buren stripes on this Orkney lighthouse. but for true lighthouse fans, a trip to Fraserburgh is essential--there's a new lighthouse museum up there which includes the oldest lighthouse built on mainland Scotland.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

the ha-ha

a ha-ha is kind of landscaping fence, a combination of wall and ditch to keep animals from wandering onto the lawn. it's also the title of a very smart book of poetry by David Kirby--and it's through his poems that i first learned that the ha-ha wasn't a joke but a landscaping device. it's fun just to type the thing...ha-ha...apparently they became popular in the 1700s.

i'd never seen one until i walked by the Scottish palace of Holyrood the other day:

technically, this ha-ha is keeping the unsightly cars and parking strip out of sight from the palace, so that the view can roll towards Arthur's Seat without interruption. odd that this isn't used more often!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Greyfriars Bobby

the theatre space where Whiskey Bars plays ever night happens to be just down the street from the most-photographed statue in all of Scotland: Greyfriars Bobby. it's a statue of a dog, apparently a Skye Terrier (though he looks a bit of a mutt, to me). he was owned by John Gray, who was a night watchman for the police--a job that would be much improved by the constant companionship of a loyal little dog! the name Bobby is pretty typical for a police dog--"bobby" is slang for cop, after all.

Bobby is famous because he guarded the grave of his dead master for 14 years...from 1858 to 1872, spending his days by the grave, coming out of the cemetery only for meals. apparently people would stand around Greyfriars churchyard at lunchtime, to watch the little dog trot out for his midday meal, provided by the nearby restaurant. during the colder parts of the winter, the ownerless dog was taken in by nearby houses, which overlook the churchyard.

so Bobby is remembered for his great fidelity, and though the Scots couldn't bring themselves to bury a dog in consecrated ground, when the terrier died, they gave him a beautiful statue on the street, and a grave at the entrance to the churchyard. what i like about the story isn't the statue so much as the dog's gravesite...because to this day, people leave sticks on his grave. because after all, what would a dog like? flowers are irrelevant...but sticks, now that's something a dog can appreciate. even dog ghosts probably like playing fetch.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Edinburgh coffeehouse: Black Medicine

continuing on the literary city theme...stopped in at Black Medicine coffeehouse yesterday for a respite from the teeming rain & realized that it is across the street from my favourite Edinburgh plaque:
also Black Medicine is one of the many cafes where J.K. Rowling wrote her first Harry Potters...pretty well every decent coffeehouse in town makes this claim. it seems very appropriate that she invented the Potter world here, with the brooding antique streets of the Old Town, the looming castle on high, the gothic Scott monument and innumerable kirks. and i'm very glad she didn't spend her time writing in Starbucks...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

literary booze: Sheep's Heid

the oldest pub in Scotland is the Sheep's Heid, in a village called Duddingston just outside Edinburgh. it's a fifteen-minute drive, but it's way more traditional to take the walking trail out of town, around the large rocky outcropping known as Arthur's Seat, strolling through the heather to reach the pub. this is the route that Robert Louis Stevenson used to take, to get to the pub, as did Sir Walter Scott...and who knows, maybe Robert Burns, too, since the pub seems to have been around since 1360, and Burns wasn't a man to stay away from a good pub...

yesterday, the weather was half-way decent (almost no rain at all) & the views during the walk were spectacular. lots of rabbits racing around, so it was a good thing the pub is known for its haggis, not for its roast rabbit. along with the famed haggis, the pub has many sheep-related doodahs, including a stuffed sheephead with double horns (very weird looking), myriad cast metal sheep, a few sheep paintings, and a replica of the famous original "sheep's heid", which was actually a sheep-head snuffbox, presented to the pub by James VI after he'd had a particularly good time playing skittles in the backyard.

the skittles alley is still there, but the sheep's heid snuffbox is only a replica--the inn's landlord had to sell the darn thing in the late 1800s to pay his bills. fortunately, the haggis is still marvellous, the bar oozes atmosphere, and there's lots of beer, so we settled into a table near the lovely horseshoe-shaped bar and talked about Stevenson's travels. for a man of ill health, he certainly got around, to France, across the US, to Hawaii, to Samoa... he wrote "For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move."

tonight, at midnight, I'm going to see a theatrical presentation of Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde...it's a pouring dark evening out there, so it couldn't be more appropriate! (no wonder Stevenson wanted to travel!)

Sunday, August 10, 2008


...ten days already in the very literary, very rainy, Scottish capital. i'm exhausted but exhiliarated to be here--the Edinburgh Fringe Festival includes over 2000 different shows (theatre, music, books...you name it). it's the biggest, most intense theatre festival in the world--and i'm lucky to be stage-managing the wonderful show "Whiskey Bars" every night at the Vault.