Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Portobello International Night

Portobello is a village along the eastern coast of Edinburgh. Their Rotary club invited us to their annual "International Night", where the food was tasty, the wine was flowing, the company good as ever. 

Over dinner, one Rotarian and I chatted about where to travel now that I've settled into the city. My list started locally (Glasgow, Inverness, Skye, Lewis, Harris, Iona) and continued on through Europe and into the Middle East and Central Asia, oh and then there is Africa, Oceania, and by the way did I mention I want to go everywhere? My dinner partner reminded me that in Edinburgh, we are "spoiled for choice". Totally true.

There was great entertainment in the form of a Portobello High School string band who played lively tunes and made us get up and dance. I danced with the Portobello Club President, Malcolm, and about 50 other people -- most Scottish dances involve running around the room in a tizzy, switching partners left and right. 

Click on triangle to hear some music. yes, high school, these kids were like 15. (wow!) 

running list of things I like about Edinburgh

the sky
the clouds
the horizon
the curvy streets
there is no grid
colorful doors
brown sugar in coffee
the vaults
finding my way around
(with no trouble)
the light
the speed of the weather
the color of the clouds
the color of the mountains
little glasses of whisky with
little pitchers of water
baked beans for breakfast
"wee" "cheers" "places" and "closes" "fancy"
fully (IKEA) furnished apartments
everyone's wonderful accents
everyone from everywhere
my MFA colleagues
window boxes with geraniums
it was sunny the whole month!
king arthur's seat
living in scotland
living in europe
a castle on a hill to watch over us

...and a couple things I don't 

virgin mobile
virgin mobile customer service
virgin broadband service
black pudding
making  store returns situation
receiving packages situation (pay to receive!)
overpriced art supplies
the effing exchange rate

Sunday, September 27, 2009

LINK Weekend

Rotary International of Great Britain and Ireland (RIBI) invited all 150 Great Britain and Ireland scholars to an event called "LINK Weekend", in Leicestershire, Southern England. RIBI are a special bunch, and the only regional faction of Rotary in the whole world. They organized this weekend full of activities so that we could make connections for the year. Each of us stayed with local Rotarians. I stayed with the lovely Kay and Roger McDermott and amazing Tanya, their Bermese Mountain Dog.

Kay, Roger and Tanya 

 As we were in England, the house had a name:

Kay and Roger did a great job touring me around their area in their Mini Cooper (what else?!) All I could keep thinking was "it's so English". We took Tanya for a walk down a misty country lane and saw the gorgeous Ashby de la Zouch Castle. They also had me taste a local favorite, pork pie, sort of like a cold, sausage based pig-in-a-blanket.

View from top of Ashby - classic backdrop to a scene in Walter Scott's Ivanhoe

Ground view

Host Mama Kay and I on top of the castle

Me on top of the castle

After getting oriented with Roger and Kay, the afternoon involved meeting many other UK scholars. Connecting with old friends, making new. We attended a dinner and watched traditional English Morris dancing, which they stole from the Spanish Moorish dancing, except that no one could pronounce it properly. At one point a Rotarian used me as an example partner to show how to "swing", which was kind of intense. Scots really know how to spin 'round.

We also went to a Science Museum and were accosted by Star Trek/Wars characters. I've never liked Sci-Fi so found that pretty irritating. But, a highlight was our high tea with the Lord Mayor of Leicestershire. He was an honorable type, dressed in regalia, knowledgeable of all things Leicester, hospitable to our crew. Here are some photos to sum up the weekend:

Robin, me and Karin (from Japan) with Star Wars clan

Me and fellow Edinburgher Maggie 

LA Represent!! Me and Cynthia Salim. We are sponsored by the same district in Los Angeles, so attended events together in the States. Cynthia is awesome! Pursuing a Master's in Global Ethics from Kings College London.

Robin, Annie and Karin

Robin, Annie and Maggie

London meets Edinburgh

Maggie and Lord Mayor!

Quite the outfit. 

Tea for everyone!

I had a good time at LINK, and really appreciate the efforts the UK Rotarians have taken to make us feel inspired and loved. But, it is Sunday night and I am happy to be back home in Edinburgh in my cosy flat, with intentions of a bubble bath and early night's sleep. 

Honestly, I missed being here in Scotland, where everything is just a little bit windier, a little rougher around the edges, a little less put together, a little more mysterious and mythological. A little more rebellious and wild and outspoken. This place is really growing on me. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Orienting ourselves to the world of...

Me with scholars Robin and Annie at The Windsor pub.

Whisky. Better known as Malt. I guess "Scotch" is just the blended crap. Says the guy in the kilt (not shown, but if you saw him, you'd trust him too).

Before I left for Scotland my dad told me it would take some 8 or 10 tastes of Scottish whisky to get used to the taste. After that, he said, I'd be convinced of its superiority to all other drinks. He gave me my first try and the pubs of Edinburgh have provided a handful more. 

Dad was right. I'm already a believer. The only question that remains is which to try next? Good thing we've got a year.

Lady Sandra

Just received this photo taken in the Spring. My sponsor club, Los Angeles 5, hosted a luncheon to honor Former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as the Person of the Century! It was a thrill to meet her and hear her speak about a life of service. I never knew she was a Rotarian. It makes total sense.

In inspirational company: Standing between Justice O'Connor and Joe Mulryan, my Rotary scholarship counselor. Joe is a wonderful man, helpful mentor, not to mention a PMK* in his own field of Minerals. 

*Person Most Knowledgeable! Yes, there is such a title, an impressive title at that! 

omg I love my new art studio !

check the freakin VIEW! 

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

By Night

We have our studio spaces designated so I'm happy! Was in earlier to set up. The building is old, the studio is on the 3rd floor, and I was all alone, so got a little spooked when the wind made the windows creak. 

Also, this is Edinburgh and supposedly "The Most Haunted City in Britain". Or maybe it was the world. Me and Robin just went on a ghost tour where a woman in a black cloak leads you to the vaults 4 flights below the city, telling stories by candlelight about public hangings and one armed ghosts. So... I'm a little jumpy lately. 

In all seriousness (mom and dad)- there is a security guard sitting at the only door of the building that everyone has to sign in and out with. It feels very secure. 

One option to get home from the studio involves crossing the gorgeous Royal Mile to the South Bridge and then up to Leith Walk. 

As one of my favorite Rotarians, Vicki Radel, told me: they wash the streets of Edinburgh every night. Even though the city is layered with the dust and dirt and wear and tear of many centuries, it looks fresh and clean every morning. 

Grassmarket Street

View of the Castle from Grassmarket

West Bow Street

(Blurry) Double Decker view. They are standard fare for the city's commuters. There are more double deckers than not. I'm not over it and still think it is fun to ride up top. ESPECIALLY the very front seat with the big picture window. Why not?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Princes St Gardens

The Princes Street Gardens run east-west through the center of Edinburgh, dividing the Old Town from the New. I guess it used to be a waterway, but people started throwing in garbage and making it stink, so they drained it and went with gardens. 

The gardens are well manicured and it makes for a pleasant walk. There are excellent views up to the Castle and the Royal Mile (High Street). There is the Scottish Monument to Sir Walter Scott (below). There are cute concession stands and people lounging about. Not sure they will be there when it starts raining, but I have yet to believe it will, considering the last 2 weeks of sunshine. 

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Full Scottish

Lest we forget a national favorite: the Full Scottish Breakfast. I was starting to feel guilty for not having tried it, so Robin and I walked to our favorite local breakfast spot, Fair Trade Cafe. 

Clockwise from the egg: Fried or poached eggs, thick bacon, potato latke, blood/black pudding, sausage link, baked beans, fried tomato, and our shining star, HAGGIS, center plate. Served with dry white toast and jam.

Here I am about to dig in. 

You know what? The haggis wasn't so bad. It had an almost tolerable flavor of oats and molasses or spices of some sort. I ate half. I won't order it again on purpose, though, would try the vegetarian kind. 

I didn't get so far with the black pudding. I tried a polite bite and left the rest. It's just too hard to get past the thought of thickened, darkened, boiled blood.

The Scots put cocoa powder across the top of their cappuccino, making it hard to turn down any time I find myself in a cozy cafe.  It should be said that Full Scottish breakfasts do not include Italian espresso drinks. 

Thoughts on Art

Sunday I enjoyed visiting Scotland's National Gallery of Modern Art. They had Damien Hirst's famous Away from the Flock, literally a sheep floating in formaldehyde.  They had a couple of nice Frank Auerbach pieces. His paint application interests me, and seeing them up close allowed greater understanding of his sensibilities and choices.

They had a room of large Agnes Martin paintings - light, airy, spacious, simple, gorgeous. The placard said that her parents emigrated from Scotland's Isle of Skye! Top on my list to visit. Agnes Martin inspires me because she captures the full experience of being outdoors through the most simple formal choices.  Google her paintings, and you won't feel much. See a room full of them and you will feel sun on your face and wind in your hair. You will feel calm and clear-minded. You will be among the clouds and earth and sky and sea.  

They had a lot of work by American artists, part of an exhibit going on in museums throughout the UK called Artists Rooms. Vija Celmins, Andy Warhol, Alex Katz, Francesca Woodman. All looking good. 

One las thing about the museum- the guards wear plaid pants!

I am feeling great about starting my year as an art student at the ECA! We had our first meeting with the college director and the 20-odd students in my graduate program. There are people from all over: Norway, Chile, Switzerland, Greece, Japan. Edinburgh. Glasgow. Dundee. There are 3 other Americans (Ohio, Georgia, Kansas). After the meeting, a few of them invited me out for a drink at the local student bar. I got to hear some gossip about the staff and school itself, and also learned some good things about the local scene. One girl described Edinburgh as a DIY city. No one will necessarily come looking, but if you want things to happen, they can and they will. 

Tuesdays are reserved for Special Projects. Every week, a different student has to create a temporary installation on campus unrelated to their thesis work, and we all meet to look at the project and discuss its merits. 

Fridays are reserved for lecture on the contemporary Scottish art world, and will include guest speakers and gallery visits. 

Beyond those two taught days, the time is ours to research and create. I am excited for this freedom. Here are some basic shots of what will become our studio for the year. The building in the distance is the Scottish Monument, dedicated to Sir Walter Scott. 

Around my neighborhood

Our street, Leith Walk, is a long road the leads from City Centre/New Town to Port of Leith. We are at the convenient end near the center. Here are some things I found on yesterday's walk, en route to the Scottish Modern Art Gallery. 


It's a cute neighborhood. It feels very local and lived in, unlike the more touristy and commercial areas surrounding the High Street and New Town. 

There are also loads of restaurants. Have to say, there are few cities in the world that compete with Los Angeles when it comes to the diversity of food, so I was nervous. In the end, I won't want for much here in my own corner of Edinburgh:

My only complaint: where are the taco stands?! Oaxacan food? Pupusa carts?? The Latin American food here is weak. That said, I'm guessing the Spanish/Castilian restaurants are authentic, considering our proximity. I have some research to do.

The only other bummer is a load of construction work running down our street. Edinburgh is building a tram that runs to the airport, and here is what everyone complains about in the meantime: 

Incidentally, many people hear that we live on Leith Walk and think we live in Leith, located a few miles down the road. They get nervous, as the area was once a favorite to drunken sailors and other unsavory types. In the last decade the city has thrown money into Leith to squash the bad rap. It is a trendy place to live now, chock full of restaurants and outdoor cafes. 

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Pretty nice for a department store! 

Around the flat

Cute fireplace

Sunny bedroom

Breakfast with Josef Albers

Blue kitchen