November 30, 2008

Edinburgh Sparkles


The City Chambers lit up for Edinburgh Sparkles Christmas Spectacular

It didn't take long for The Royal Mile and Princes St. Gardens to light up like a Cruise Ship and Disney World's illegitimate, yet shinny, child. Alright, that sounds a little harsh, but seriously one day it was just pitch black (at 3:30pm) and the next day it was all lights and rides. It just proves that the rumors are true - Edinburgh really does sparkle in the wintertime. That's their catchphrase: "In the winter, Edinburgh Sparkles"... we're making t-shirts... be-dazzled t-shirts... and then maybe a really awesome song... with a great 80's beat... and a chorus of "Let's Go to the Castle"... or something. I haven't really thought about it too much.


Dome Bar and Hotel on George St.

On Thanksgiving, Edinburgh had 'Light the Night'. There was a great big countdown and then all of the Christmas lights were turned on all over the city. We were busy stuffing ourselves with turkey and sweet potato casserole, but later that night Laura, Rachel, and I took a stroll through New Town to enjoy the Christmas lights.  

Rachel sporting a Loch Ness Monster hat

The city set up an ice skating rink in Princes St. Gardens, which my friends and I later enjoyed. There was also a Highland Market, which sold crazy Loch Ness Monster hats. My favorite was the traditional German Christmas Market in the square of the National Gallery. (After I went to Munich and Berlin for actual German Christmas Markets, and lots and lots of them, the one in Edinburgh seemed a bit puny by comparison). But at the time, I enjoyed the crepes and Christmas ornaments. There were some carnival rides set up along Princes Street. We went on the Giant Wheel, which normal people would call a ferris wheel, which had amazing views of the city from the top. There were so many other things, like the Christmas Carousel, the Bungydome, Winter Wonderland Snow Cars and Snow Slide, Workshop at Santa's Igloo Village, real Reindeer, Christmas at the Castle with Santa himself and a jazzy performance by the Swinging Santas.

The Giant Wheel behind the Highland Market      

Happy St. Andrew's Day???

More like Happy Free Animals Day! Saturday night there was another random parade at the castle, followed by magnificent fireworks over The Mound. Someone told us they were to kick off St. Andrew’s Day. What is St. Andrew’s Day, you might ask? Well, I asked the same question, and still haven’t found a satisfying answer. The best explanation I can give is that it’s like a National Day, where they just celebrate being Scottish. There were a lot of Scottish flags involved. It’s kind of like the way we would celebrate being American on the 4th of July. But we specifically celebrate our independence from Britain with BBQs and fireworks… On St. Andrew’s Day, Britain is just celebrating itself, but the fireworks and parade were the day before. On the actual day, nothing happened, except that the zoo had free admission (which we took advantage of, naturally). But there were no more fireworks or parades, no big events or festivals. No BBQs. Nothing. The day after St. Andrew's Day, Monday, stores and shops were closed (which was super inconvenient for me, since no one warned me ahead of time). So to sum up, nothing actually happens on St. Andrew’s Day. It is just a glorified bank holiday the day after, with one meager parade and a couple fireworks the day before.

Fireworks over the castle on The Mound

This is all Wikipedia gave me (not much more of a help, except to discover that it only became a bank holiday two years ago!): "St. Andrew's Day is the feast day of Saint Andrew. It is celebrated on 30 November. Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, and St. Andrew's Day is Scotland's official national day (although Burns' Night is more widely-observed). In 2006, the Scottish Parliament designated the St. Andrew's Day as an official bank holiday."


me and the penguins at Edinburgh Zoo

November 28, 2008

Pumpkin Pieless: A Scottish Thanksgiving

Just because I’m living in a foreign country that doesn’t sell pumpkin pie filling, is no excuse to skip one of my most beloved holidays! First there’s no candy corn for Halloween and now there’s no pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. (Well technically there is no Thanksgiving at all). But what’s next, no candy canes for Christmas? (There actually aren’t any candy canes here either, I’m starting to depress myself).  

Rachel and I have perfected the art of Crusting a Pie

So we had a pumpkin-pieless Thanksgiving… but Rachel and I baked three delicious apple crumble pies, and two amazing pecan pies to make up for it! It is my first Thanksgiving away from my family, and the first Thanksgiving that I cooked! On the blessed day, we had four ovens going at once. We were moving from one floor to the next, from one building to the other, from mine and Laura’s flat to Rachel’s to Leigh’s to the boy’s... It was non-stop cooking from 1pm right up until the minute we started eating at 8pm. I helped to prepare two 5.6kg turkeys (roughly 12lbs) for the 23 people who attended our Mylne’s Court Thanksgiving dinner. One bird took up the entire mini fridge that Laura and I share. We also have pretty small ovens here that heat from the sides, instead of all around, so we were nervous about cooking. But save for an exploration of bird carcass caverns for a rogue blood bag, everything went pretty smoothly. One turkey even danced the Can-Can in a cascading fountain (aka Laura wiggled his legs in the sink as she washed him).

Laura and I had our own unorthodox cooking methods

We literally put our blood, sweat, and tears into cooking those two birds: sweat from running back and forth to Tesco and Morrisons to get more groceries and ingredients, tears from laughing so hard that I cried after Laura’s “not-so-PG” turkey comment, and blood from the plate breaking in half and slicing Rachel’s hand after the extreme temperature change from cold to hot as she washed it.

Bringing the turkeys downstairs to the "Dining Room" 
(aka the boys' common room)

The dinner itself was incredibly fun and incredibly crazy. We packed 23 people into the boy’s common room, and once you sat down in your chair, you were trapped in place. As soon as we placed the turkey on the table it was a free-for-all. You literally had to yell, grab, and fight for your food. It can only be described as claustrophobic chaos. I loved every minute of it, but that’s probably because I only stayed in the room for like 20 minutes. One more minute and I probably would have either passed out or freaked out. But it felt like Thanksgiving, because I spent all day preparing food and getting in a T-Day mood with my close friends. 
    
Thanksgiving dinner for 23, 
I can't even fit the entire table in frame!

To unwind after a long, hectic day, Rachel, Laura, and I took a stroll down The Mound to Princes St. to see all of the Christmas lights. We had our own giant tree on The Mound, right behind our dorm. It made me incredibly happy! It was so late that the carnival on Princes St. was already closed down for the night, and all of the lights were turned off. But we walked past all the strings of blue fairy lights on the trees that lined Princes St. (they call Christmas lights “fairy lights” here – gotta love it!). Then we curled up in sweats and blankets and watched “The Holiday”. Overall, it was a great Thanksgiving… and I cooked… two big turkeys… and baked five pies! I’m pretty impressed with myself.

Our tree on The Mound

Rachel and me

November 25, 2008

Welcome to the MC Zoo

Yesterday, I turned down the Mylne's Court Close and saw a man and a woman standing by the gate to our courtyard. They were obviously tourists, and were marveling at our spectacular buildings, which happens quite often at MC.
        
"These are University dormitories," I heard the man say to his wife.
        
I pulled my keys out of my pocket, passed the tourist-couple, and as I unlocked the gate I heard the woman whisper to her husband:
      
"There's one of them."
      
It's bad enough that MC is part of a ghost tour, and large groups gather in our courtyard to hear the stories of the ghosts that haunt our dorms (which I still haven't even heard yet - not complaining though). And when we wait in the courtyard for each other before going out to eat or shop or go wherever, groups of tourists stop and stare at us, as if we can't see them staring at us. The courtyard at MC is gated and locked.  t's like the people come to observe students in their natural habitat. We should hang up a sign that says "Welcome to the Mylne's Court Zoo, please feed the postgraduates (because they are poor and too busy doing work to cook their own meals). PS Beware of Ghosts."
 

Breaking into Belgium

I've always been a fan of arriving fashionably late to things, and making a grand entrance. Well, on Friday November 21st, 2008, Liam, Christina, and I made quite an illustrious entrance into Belgium. As soon as we stepped off the plane, the three of us followed the group of people from our flight through the labyrinth of the airport hallways to Border Control. We stood in line without moving for about 10 minutes before I realized that no one was even in the glass booths checking passports. A man tried to open one of the doors, but it was locked. Everyone from our flight had crowded into this small room, with locked doors and no windows. I was waiting for them to release the genocide gasses…
        
We waited another 15 minutes or so before people started to get anxious and frustrated and resorted to panic mode. There was this gang of skinheads in skull-clad leather jackets. One of them, fed up, started pounding on the door. He tried to lift the metal shield that covered the glass booths to see if anyone was inside them. Then he violently kicked at the door. The crowd of people watched nervously. The skinhead kicked so hard that he kicked in the door and it swung open. He marched through and the door shut behind him. Everyone in the room just stood there in shock – not sure what to do. I was waiting for an alarm to sound or a SWAT team to repel down from the ceiling with machine guns. Christina, Liam, and I all exchanged glances of disbelief as if to say: Did that just happen? Did a skinhead just break into Belgium?
        
Another man tried to open the same door that the skinhead kicked in, but it was still locked. So he kicked it harder and harder until the lock came undone it swung open again. Then he held the door open and a few people made their way to the front of the room and followed him through to the other side. I looked at Christina and Liam again, “should we?” and then we shrugged and said, “why not,” and followed the crowd through the broken down door at Border Control. We successfully smuggled ourselves into the country, and went off the grid for three days. The government had no idea where we were all weekend long – it was all very Jason Bourne.

Once we checked into our hostel, we wandered around Brussels to see the city all lit up at night. On la Place d’Espagne, we discovered our favorite waffle shop called Gaufre de Bruxelles. Inside there were three long shelves packed with kettles in all different shapes, sizes, and colors. Liam joked that it was like the Belgian Last Crusade: the hunt for the “Kettle of Christ”. We searched through the collection to find the plainest one to call the Kettle of Christ, it was a stout tin kettle with no ornaments or flashy handles.

Can you find the Kettle of Christ?

After dinner, we went to A La Morte Subite (Sudden Death), a beer hall named after the last hand of a card game that locals used to play there before returning to work. There is also a drink by the same name, Morte Subite gueuze (pronounced gerze), which Liam tried. It was absolutely awful. I tried a different twist of the same drink, the Morte Subite Blanche, which was good, and Christina (the beer hater) tried a fruity Lambic sparkling beer, Framboise (raspberry) which was delicious. I also tried an amber abbey beer, called Ciney Blond, which I liked. I loved the atmosphere of Morte Subite. It was like a banquet hall, with its long cafeteria-esque tables, square pillars with brass hat racks, and massive mirrors.

A La Morte Subite

We stayed in a 14-bed mixed-dormitory at the 2GO4 hostel on Blvd. Emile Jacqmain. But there were 15 people in our room that night – and 2 of them weren’t exactly sleeping. Apparently they “weren’t exactly sleeping” all night long. Thankfully I slept through it.

Belgian Waffles

Saturday morning we enjoyed waffles smothered in powdered sugar and chocolate sauce, from our favorite waffle shop, while it snowed in la Place d’Espagne. It was probably my all-time favorite moment of my life. Then it was off to Bruges. We cut through la Grand Place on our way to the train station. There was a giant Christmas tree in the middle of the square that dwarfs the tree at Rock Center.

Christina and I devouring waffles in snowy Brussels, Belgium

So, the whole reason for this trip: a few months ago during one of our Sunday movie nights, Liam suggested we watch one of his favorite movies called “In Bruges” staring Colin Farrell and Professor Mad-Eye Moody as screw-up assassins. It was a very depressing movie but it had hilarious moments of comic relief. The movie was obviously set in Bruges.

Ray: After I killed him, I dropped the gun in the Thames, washed the residue off me hands in the bathroom of a Burger King, and walked home to await instructions. Shortly thereafter the instructions came through - "Get the fuck out of London, you dumb fucks. Get to Bruges." I didn't even know where Bruges fucking was.
[pause]
Ray: It's in Belgium.

The movie is filled with beautiful scenery of this fairytale town and I fell in love with it and decided that I had to visit Bruges.

The town did not disappoint with its cobblestone streets, canals, swans, horse-drawn carriages, old churches, and medieval buildings. Bruges has to be the prettiest place in the whole of Europe, nay, in the whole world. Bizarre weather though. It was all sunny, blue skies one moment and then violent hail storms the next, with scattered snow flurries and a light drizzle of rain thrown into the mix. I believe my exact words were "let’s climb to the top of the bell tower now while the weather is clear so we have good views of-" and before I could finish, grey clouds blew over the square and we were pelted with hail stones. We did eventually climb to the top of the Belfort and the views were spectacular. There was a room near the top of the tower where a man actually played the bells by hammering wooden pegs that protruded out from a piano/organ-looking instrument. The music swelled as we reached the top and echoed in the belfry as we looked out over Bruges. To quote Liam: “it sounded like the climax of an old Sherlock Holmes film.”

View of Bruges from the top of the bell tower 

video
Bells in the Belfort

We took a boat tour during a patch of sunny weather. The canals were absolutely beautiful. There were actually swans, just chilling in the canals of Bruges. They were so close to our boat that I could have easily picked one up. But large creatures with beaks frighten me, especially wild ones.

On the canals
        
The next stop on our “Shoot First. Sightsee Later. Tour” of Bruges was Heilig-Bloedbasiliek (The Basilica of the Holy Blood). There was a man sitting on a platform, guarding a glass phial that was said to contain a few drops of Jesus Christ’s blood. For a small donation of €2, I touched Jesus Christ’s blood. Well, I touched the plexiglass shield that was covering the glass phial that held within it red and yellow crusty dried up blood that may or may not have belonged to Jesus Christ. They did say that over the years, the blood has turned back into liquid a few times...

Saturday afternoon, Christina and I sent Liam off to Koningin Astridpark in search of his “alcoves” (watch “In Bruges” for an explanation) and then the two of us went shopping for lace, and chocolate, and Christmas ornaments. We met up for dinner and wandered around the city at night. On the Markt there’s a row of restaurants that look like gingerbread houses, all lit up with Christmas lights, and an ice skating rink set up in the middle of the square. Yay Christmas in Bruges!

Bruges at night (like gingerbread houses)

You know what they say: “when in Belgium, do as the Belgians do.” And what do Belgian’s do? They brew 1,000 different kinds of beer…and then consume them. So the three of us found a quiet local pub called De Keld where we had a nice report with the bartender (because for a majority of the evening, we were his only customers). I tried three beers. Isjeeses Reserva, recently voted the best beer in the world, on its label was a cross-eyed, stoned Jesus, blowing smoke out of his nose, donning a Santa hat. It was served in a tall-stemmed goblet – the coolest glass ever. Every beer brewed in Belgium has its own unique glass embossed with the beer's logo (marking the level where the head starts) and is specially shaped to enhance the taste and aromas. Then, I tried a brew called Mad Bitch, and I can’t even remember the name of the third beer I tried (maybe because these beers were 10-15% alcohol and came in giant goblets and wine-bottles). The bartender, Huran’s, ringtone was “Scotland the Brave.” We just can’t escape the bagpipes. They follow us wherever we go… even to Belgium… even to Bruges.

Sipping brews in Bruges

Isjeeses Reserva

As if we didn't have enough of an adventure in our hostel Friday night, Saturday night's stay at the Snuffel Backpacker's Hostel in Bruges proved very eventful. Around 2:30am, two guys came home drunk and made a racket, pulling the covers off of their two other friends, who were sleeping. The little guy jumped into his top bunk, fully dressed in his shoes, jacket, and hat, and started taking pictures - the flash lit up the entire room. The big guy did the exact opposite, he stripped down to just his briefs, his giant beer belly hanging out in the front and a major butt crack in the back. After they finally passed out, a group of six people came into the room, and one of the girls noticed that her bed was stolen by one of the drunk guys' sleeping friends. So her boyfriend woke him up and they argued about it for a while, then realized that they were assigned the same bed number and left it at that. Five minutes later, the lights in the room came on because the group of six people had gone downstairs and brought up the manager so that they could argue about it some more. The manager told her to take the empty bed on the other side of the room. How logical. She could have done that 20 minutes ago and not woken me up. Seriously, Liam, I don't know how you slept through this. Oh wait, yeah I do. You were wasted and passed out.    

Sunday morning, it was back to Brussels. We found the famous Manneken Pis (the little 30 cm tall statue of a boy peeing) and his sister statue, Jeanneke Pis. Then we parted ways and I headed off to the Royal Quarter & Sablon to visit the Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts (Royal Museum of Fine Arts) because my guidebook told me that they had opened an entire Rene Magritte museum downstairs. Unfortunately, the Magritte museum wouldn’t be open until 2009, but I did get to see a few of his paintings on display in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts. While I was in the Royal Quarter it started to snow. I saw some amazing churches, parks, justice courts, and palaces, but my camera battery died so I couldn’t take any pictures of them. They looked beautiful in the snow. But the blizzard wasn’t letting up, so I returned to the hostel, my shoes soaking wet from trekking through the snowy streets, and my toes frozen to the bone. I snuggled up in dry pjs, under my down comforter and took a 3-hour nap.

Manneken Pis 

Starting to snow

In the reception waiting area of our 2GO4 hostel, there was crown molding on the ceiling surrounding a disco ball, with a flat screen TV hanging above a fireplace and a red cushy sofa. During the snowstorm, I curled up on that sofa by the fire and read for a few hours. One of my favorite pastimes: reading by the fire on a snowy evening.

Disco ball in our hostel lobby
         
Our departure from Belgium was not nearly as exciting as our entry. As soon as they stamped our passports on the way out, we were back on the grid. I bet the government was chasing its tail all weekend searching for us...

November 13, 2008

“A’eilean ni’s togair tadhail”

“The Island that Likes to be Visited”
*please forgive my horrible Scottish Gaelic grammar, Rachel and I struggled to find a website that would directly translate for us!*

“Wouldn’t it be lovely if he would tell us some misty, eerie Highland stories?” (2.1.298-9)

I read J.M. Barrie’s “Mary Rose” twice over the past week, and just saw the play performed at the Royal Lyceum Theatre here in Edinburgh, and I now have a genius theory. ABC’s primetime smash drama “LOST” is based on James Barrie’s play “Mary Rose.”
        
Mary Rose visits an island with her parents at the age of eleven in the remote part of Scotland, the Outer Hebrides. (Of course I want to compare the setting of LOST to the most haunted country on the planet). It’s a creepy show. It’s also a disturbingly creepy play. Anyway, the island in uninhabited (1.1.613) and the natives of the land adjacent have a strange superstition about landing on the island. They tell Mr. and Mrs. Morland (Mary Rose’s parents) that the island has a Gaelic name that means ‘The Island that Likes to be Visited.’ Mary Rose knew nothing of this “and she was very fond of her island. She used to talk to it, call it her darling, things like that” (1.1.636-7). John Locke likes to talk to his island. So does Ben Linus. In fact, Ben thinks of his island as his own little darling and will do anything in his power to protect it from the outside world. Mr. and Mrs. Morland ask Mary Rose’s husband-to-be, Simon, if he has never noticed Mary Rose talking to someone who wasn’t there (1.1.713-4) or listening to a sound from the island that he couldn’t hear (1.1.718). Ben speaks to Jacob, when no one else can see him, the way that Mary Rose also speaks to people that aren’t there.
        
Why does the island have such a strange Gaelic name? Mr. Cameron, a young Highlander who carries Mary Rose and Simon across to the island in his boat, explains its name. Cameron says that “an island that had visitors would not need to want to be visited. And why has it not visitors? Because they are afraid to visit it” (2.1.289-91). This is kind of redundant, but it shows that the name is not cute and sweet, which is how Mary Rose finds it, but rather it is gloomy and lonely and eerie and unsettling. Maybe LOST’s island wants to be visited, and that is why so many people keep mysteriously crashing there.
        
Mr. Cameron tells Mary Rose and Simon tales of the island. He tells how a little boy, no older than four, goes missing. And then again how a little girl, about ten-years-old, disappears. (Mary Rose does not know that Cameron is telling her of her own disappearance). So babies and small children go missing on Mary Rose’s little island “in soft whispers” (2.1.333). In LOST, ‘The Others’ abduct children because they cannot reproduce on the island. They also make lists and steal “the good ones” of the survivors of the plane crash, silently in the middle of the night. Ben Linus steal’s Rousseau’s little girl, Alex, and raises her as his own daughter. Barrie’s language is in the same vein. When Simon first sees his own son, Harry, he says “I thought at first it was some baby you had borrowed” (2.1.512). All we ever hear of ‘The Others’ are their haunting voices, whispering in the jungle. When Mary Rose gets her second call from the island “it is at first as soft and furtive as whisperings from holes in the ground. […] Then in a fury as of storm and whistling winds that might be an unholy organ it rushes upon the island” (2.1.555).
        
Cameron also tells the married couple that the island “has no authority to be here” and “that one day it was here” but there are some who say that it goes away for jaunts, but that Mr. Cameron has never himself seen the island move (2.1.267-78). Does this not sound familiar? Whatever island that Oceanic 815 crashed on, it does not show up on anyone’s radar. When Daniel Faraday finally landed on the island, he says that they were in some sort of space warp where both time and light were bent to sufficiently hide the island from any outsider. The last episode that aired thus far, Ben and Locke were visiting the green house in order to “move the island,” at Jacob’s request of course. Because Ben is talking to men that aren’t really there, and claiming that the island is talking back and giving him orders.
        
Well, the first time Mary Rose visited the island, she disappeared, only to reappear after twenty days and act as if not but an hour had passed. She did not know where she had been, because “she didn’t know she had been anywhere” (1.1.675). Her parents did not want to upset her, so they kept it a secret from Mary Rose. The second time Mary Rose visited the island, she disappeared for twenty-five years. When she came back, she thought an hour had passed, and was quite confused as to why her husband and parents looked so old and was quite distressed to find her baby, Harry, gone.
        
The small Sussex manor house where the play is set thirty years after the strange occurrences on the island, could be construed as Jacob’s cabin on LOST. Barrie describes the drawing room where the ghost does all of her haunting, as “if a photograph could be taken quickly we might find a disturbing smile on the room’s face, perhaps like the Mona Lisa’s, which came, surely, of her knowing what only the dead should know” (1.1.7-10). What a wonderfully creepy way to also describe Jacob’s cabin, hidden in the jungle. The cabin on LOST tends to disappear, and only certain people on the island can find it. The door to Mary Rose and Harry’s bedroom is sometimes locked and sometimes not (1.1.160) and described as being held shut (1.1.62). The door to the room with all of the answers can only sometimes be accessed, the way that Jacob’s cabin can only sometimes be found. John Locke goes to this cabin in search of answers, the same way that Mary Rose’s grown-up son Harry goes in search of his old room to learn more of his childhood and discover what happened to his parents.
        
When Harry is left alone in the drawing room, he sits down in a chair and “in the increasing dusk he ceases to be an intruder. He is now part of the room, the part long waited for, come back at last. The house is shaken to its foundation by his presence, we may conceive a thousand whispers” (1.1.232-5). I think that this description sounds awfully similar to Locke’s first encounter with Jacob, when the cabin started to shake and he heard the “thousand whispers” of ‘The Others’ and then finally heard Jacob’s words: “help me.” Jacob was calling out to him; calling him “back at last”.
        
I found the endnote after Act 1, line 817, when Mary Rose references a little old woman who is not there, to be quite interesting. The note says: “an ominous moment of fey abstraction set against the childlike animation of Mary Rose’s usual manner: the actress is called upon to brush her playing with shades of ‘otherness’, clearing the way for the final ‘ghost scene’ in Act 3. For the play to work effectively the two worlds of Mary Rose’s life, though distinct as habitations, must always subtly coexist in her personality, and her childlike quality must always be unnerving as well as charming.” Mary Rose plays with ‘otherness’, as if she is part of ‘The Others’ on LOST’s island. The note also places ‘ghost scene’ within quotes, as if she is not actually a ghost. I too, questioned whether or not Mary Rose is actually dead, or if she just keeps going away to her island where she can live forever as no time seems to pass for her. Every time she returns from this island, Mary Rose has not aged: “they will be saying she is just as she was on the day she went away” (3.1.334-5). This is just like Barrie’s Peter Pan who flies away to Neverland and is preserved in his childhood state. It also reminds me of how Richard Alpert, of ‘The Others’ on LOST, does not age from when he recruits Ben as a child to join ‘The Others’ to the present-day plane crash, when Ben is now middle-aged.
        
Mary Rose’s mother also comments on the child’s appearance and age: “I have sometimes thought that our girl is curiously young for her age – as if – you know how just a touch of frost may stop the growth of a plant and yet leave it blooming – it has sometimes seemed to me as if a cold finger had once touched my Mary Rose” (1.1.699-703). The endnotes also suggest that this is a "Peter Pan" set in the wintertime. That Mary Rose’s island is like a grim version of Neverland. Perhaps LOST’s island is a similar Neverland, where ‘The Others’ are Lost Boys that never seem to grow up. When Harry asks his ghostly mother of where she has been, she describes the place as “lovely, lovely” (3.1.547) and she says that there are no other ghosts there (3.1.560) and that she does not know any other ghosts (3.1.595). Harry says that this place where she’s been “sounds like Heaven, or near thereby” (3.1.634). Mary Rose’s island, Neverland, LOST’s island, are all “near” to a Heaven, but not quite. It is not where people go after they die, but where they go to live forever. In fact, LOST’s island has some sort of healing power that helped Locke to walk again and also cured Rose of her cancer which I assume will prolong their life.
        
This same endnote discusses how Mary Rose is living in these two worlds simultaneously: Sussex and her island. It says that for the play to be successful, the reader/viewer must be in a constant state of confusion as to which of these two worlds is the real one and which is imagined. To keep us on our toes, Mr. Morland says: “it is all unfathomable. It is as if Mary Rose was just something beautiful that you and I and Simon had dreamt together” (3.1.194-6). This reminds me of a line from Peter Pan, when Mrs. Darling wants to believe that she dreamt that her children had gone missing: “I see them in their beds so often in my dreams that I seem still to see them when I wake!” (Peter Pan 5.2.98-9). Again, this is a tie in to Barrie’s concept of Neverland.
        
One of the most striking things that Mr. Morland asks Cameron about his daughter is “do you think she should have come back?” (3.1.402). The survivors of Oceanic 815 also question themselves and battle over whether or not they should leave the island. The ‘Oceanic 6’ struggle with this even after they have left the island. Simon jokingly warns Cameron that the island might call him away some day: “Beware, Mr. Cameron, lest some day when you are preaching far from here the call plucks you out of the very pulpit and brings you back to the island like a trout on a long cast” (2.1.404-6). This reminds me of when Jack says “We’ve got to go back, Kate, back to the island.” It’s like Jack has heard the call and the ‘Oceanic 6’ must return to the dreaded island.
        
The biggest surprise for me was in finding that Mary Rose does not actually kill her son in the end of Barrie’s original written play. Edinburgh Royal Lyceum Theatre director, Cownie, interpreted the ending in his own way, which I much prefer to Barrie’s ending. Cownie has Mary Rose silently stab her son so that she can finally be released from the Sussex world, in which she was searching for so long, and return to her spiritual mysterious world of the island. Whereas in Barrie’s original last scene, he just writes of the confrontation between mother and daughter, and then Mary Rose hears the call of the island and disappears, leaving her son behind, alive. I find that the murder brings closure to the end of the play. I read a comment on the Royal Lyceum webpage that years later, Barrie wished he had written the murder scene instead. Despite Rachel and my best efforts, we could not find evidence for J.M. Barrie ever saying this. But, in season 6, I do see some link between Mary Rose murdering her son, Harry, and The Man in Black, who takes on the bodily form of John Locke, finding the loophole in convincing Ben to kill Jacob.
[http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/stage/theatre/article5041399.ece]
        
Random fact, Hitchcock wanted to make Mary Rose into a movie in 1964, but unfortunately it never developed. I think it would be cool if Roman Polanski directed it… well, it would certainly be creepy.
        
LOST has started to drive me crazy with its outrageous plotlines with polar bears and moving islands, but now it’s starting to redeem itself when I can compare it to one of my favorite writers, Mr. James Barrie, and also indirectly to my all-time favorite piece of writing, Peter Pan. Maybe I’ll be a bit more forgiving when I watch this next season come January. Of course, I could write an entire dissertation on LOST and its many literary, historical, and pop-cultural references… in fact, maybe I will…

“being a ghost is worse than seeing them” (3.1.589-90).

November 12, 2008

Stockholm

Who knew that my first European adventure would take me to Sweden, but Emily had already booked it so I decided to tag along. That was my first experience with Ryan Air. They provide cheap flights from Edinburgh to the rest of Europe, but the planes are small, the rides are bumpy, and there’s what I like to call “festival seating” (aka get in line first and be prepared to dual to the death for a seat). But luckily the flights are on average only about two hours, so you aren’t uncomfortable and praying for your life for too long. I do still want to know what catchy tune was playing over the in-flight radio when we first boarded!
        
When Emily and I arrived in Sweden, we took a bus from the airport to the center of Stockholm and then we took the underground (Tunnelbana) to Gamla Stan (Old Town) where our hostel was. We stayed in the Castanea Old Town Hostel – I definitely recommend it. We were tired from our travels and it was late, so we just grabbed food around the corner from our hostel at a place called Sally’s, which we were later told is famous for its fish.
        
The next morning we woke up early and explored Gamla Stan. It was so quaint with its quiet cobblestone streets and beautiful pink, orange, and cream colored buildings. What I liked most was that Old Town wasn’t over-run with tourists and it wasn’t developed into shopping malls and movie theatres; it retained the classic feeling of old Stockholm.


The street our hostel was on

Emily and I went inside Storkyrkan, a 700-year-old cathedral in old town and Stockholm’s oldest parish church, where there was a magnificent statue of St. George and the Dragon. That’s a very popular statue because I’ve seen at least two other identical statues in Stockholm and later, in Munich.


Storkyrkan

We walked past Riddarhuset, used by the Swedish Parliament between 1641 and 1674, and still hosts the triennial Assembly of Nobels. We didn’t have time to go in, but my guidebook says that the great hall with 2,345 coats of arms belonging to Swedish Nobility is quite a sight! We wanted to go in Riddarholmskyrkan across the bridge, but the whole church was closed in the winter months. Riddarholmskyrkan was built by Franciscan monks in the late 13th Cen, and was the final resting place of Swedish monarchs since the burial of Gustav II Adolf in 1632. Apparently his marble sarcophagus lay inside the Gustavian Chapel.
        
The two of us were able to go inside Tyska Kyrkan, a German church from the 1570’s. There are 119 unique oil paintings on display inside! When they ran out of room on the walls, they hung them on the ceiling!



Tyska Kyrkan

We did do other things apart from visiting churches. Emily and I happened upon the narrowest laneway in all of Stockholm, Mårten Trozings gränd (see, it pays to read the guidebook ahead of time!). Moby is famous for running down it in his music video clip for the James Bond theme.


Smallest alley in all of Stockholm
         
We also hit up Tomtar & Troll, a famous Swedish troll shop, and took pictures with the life-sized trolls outside on display.


Me, playing with the trolls
         
Because Emily and I typed up an itinerary, we were right on schedule to see the changing of the guard ceremony at the Royal Palace at 12noon. It was a 45-minute ceremony where the band played and soldiers marched all the way around the palace, just to change one guard. Then we went inside the Kongliga Slottet (royal palace) and got to see the Treasury with all of the crown jewels, the royal chambers, and we even got to go below ground and see the excavation of the original palace that burned down. It’s a shame it was destroyed because the original palace looked much more like a palace – now it just looks like a cement block.


Royal Palace
         
The whole city was getting ready for Christmas – garlands and lights were hanging from the buildings above the streets and there was already a skating rink set up in New Town. By the way, did you know that H&M is Swedish? (Hennes & Mauritz). I mean, we knew about Ikea, and Volvos, but our favorite inexpensive clothing store… thank you Sweden! After such a jam-packed day of tourism, Emily and I were exhausted, so we collapsed inside Kulturhuset (Culture House) across the bridge from our hostel in Norrmalm (New Town). Kulturhuset was basically the city's communal lounge - packed with theatres, free art galleries, libraries, cafes, shops, etc. It’s basically a glorified coffee shop/hang out and if I were studying Creative Writing in Stockholm, I would pretty much live at Kulturhuset!


Kulturhuset: a giant coffee house
          
Since it gets dark at like 5 in the winter, we had a whole evening ahead of us and all of the museums and touristy places were closed. So Emily and I got tickets to see a Swedish Opera and Ballet at Kungliga Operan (The Royal Opera House). It was quite a strange performance; a series of three ballets called “Moving Glass.” Instead of in Rent where Mimi dances to the sounds of ice-tea being stirred, these guys danced to glass breaking, and then they danced to no music accompaniment, then they danced with carrots dangling from the ceiling, then they head banged like Wayne's World and Bohemian Rhapsody...
It was an interesting experience. The inside of the Opera House was exquisite!


Seeing a Swedish ballet at the Opera House
          
Then it was time for the notorious Absolut Icebar! Absolut Vodka is Swedish, and the Swedes are the inventors of the Absolut Icebar, a bar made entirely out of ice: the walls, the chairs, the chandelier, the bar top, the glasses, everything! It’s pretty expensive, but totally worth it. They give you a hooded parka and gloves to keep you warm inside. The coldness preserves your drunken state, so it doesn’t actually hit you of how drunk you are until about 20 minutes after you have left the bar. I ordered a few “Absolut Icebar” drinks, which were full of fruity goodness: Blue Curacao, pineapple, some fruity Abolut Vodka, and more alcohol that I cannot recall, all mixed together. It looked so cool in my ice glass – half green and half blue!


Emily and I at the Absolut Icebar
         
Needless to say, Emily and I got back to our hostel really late, and not sober. We snuck back to our corner of the room trying not to wake any of the other 12 people in the room. I sat down on my bed and turned on the lamp on our bedside table, looked over my shoulder and saw some person under my covers! I jumped up and almost screamed. I turned to Emily and whispered frantically, asking her what I should do. Emily gave the fantastic advice: wake the person up. And I was just bright enough to do it. The girl in my bed explained to me that there were no sheets on my bed when she got there (which is weird because I left my sweatpants and tee under my pillow, and they were both moved to the nightstand). So I just grabbed the sheets left out for someone else who was arriving later that night and took a different empty bed. Anyway, it's a good thing I turned on the light, otherwise I might have got into bed with that random girl in the dark! This was also not the first time this has happened to me. Spring Break 2006, Cork, Ireland, I had to share a bed with Kara, because some random girl stole mine.


There are plenty of beds... why steal mine?
         
The next morning we took a Royal Canal boat tour around Stockholm, which is an archipelago made up of 14 main islands with many canals running through them. I like to call it the Nordic Venice. It was nice to get out on the water, and to see things without having to tire ourselves out walking (that was the general idea, but then we walked like eight miles later that day). My favorite part of the tour was when a beautiful building was pointed out to us, and we were told that some important person once saluted that building, mistaking it for the Royal Palace… the building was a retirement home. Remind me to retire to Stockholm and live out the rest of my days in a gorgeous home that looks like a palace!


Out on the water
         
We walked all the way from Gamla Stan, across Norrmalm, to Kaknästornet (155m-high communications tower) on Östermalm. It was Stockholm's tallest building, until very recently, and has spectacular 360 degree views of the city. Unfortunately, we didn’t really get to see those views, because it was incredibly overcast that day. At one point we were in the middle of a giant cloud, it was actually pretty cool.

Kaknästornet



Engulfed in a cloud at the top of the communications tower
Emily is pointing to what we should be seeing
         
Then, we walked accross the bridge from Östermalm into Djurgården where the trees had changed to a beautiful autumn, orange color and the fallen leaves covered the ground. It felt like Thanksgiving. I loved it. Emily was brave enough to touch the water. She said it was freezing. Then we walked around the Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde (Prince Eugene Waterside Villa) and saw lots of windmills.

Djurgården

Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde

Next, we walked up to the Skansen open-air museum and zoo: it's like a Busch Gardens, specifically of Sweden. They collected buildings from all over the country that represent different regions at different time periods – like one big Swedish history lesson. There was a manor house, a school house, windmills, a zoo, and domestic reindeer! That put me in the Christmas mood. James, your reindeer antler bottle opener that I brought you back for Christmas probably came off of one of these guys!

Open-air museum 


And zoo
         
There was also a large Dala Horse, that took a lot of effort to climb up onto. The Dala Horse was originally a toy for children; a handcrafted wooden toy horse carved and painted in the province of Dalarna, Sweden, but it soon grew to be a national symbol.


Me posing with the Dala horse
         
As if we hadn’t walked enough already that day, Emily and I then trekked over to the Vasamuseet. The mighty Vasa, 69m long and 160ft tall and pride of the Swedish crown, set off on her maiden voyage on Aug 10, 1628. After about 20 minutes, Vasa capsized and sank to the bottom of Saltsjön (it never even made it out of the harbor in Sotckholm). Many many years later, they realized that the water is so cold in that harbor, that the ship wouldn’t have deteriorated, so they raised the ship from the depths and reassembled it in a warehouse. The coolest part is that the ship’s masts stick out of the roof of the building.

Vasamuseet from the outside



inside the Vasamuseet    
      
We’re not finished yet. Emily and I head across the way to the Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum) for a quick overview of Nordic history. The building’s achitecture was much more interesting than the objects it housed: we saw some Swedish folkart, Swedish interior design, and Swedish dollhouses.

November 6, 2008

November 5th: A Night Easily Forgotten

Life in Edinburgh has been pretty eventful. From following a random Hindu Parade to the top of Calton Hill for fireworks, burning effigies, and Indian dancing, to climbing to the top of the Salisbury Crags for Mark's birthday, to a wild parade and series of parties on Halloween, to staying up until 5:30am (or later to hike to the top of Arthur's Seat) to watch the election... I had high expectations for Guy Fawkes Day.

Guy Fawkes Fireworks
      
I've seen "V for Vendetta" and I've learned the charming little nursery rhyme: "Remember, remember the 5th of November, the gunpowder treason and plot. I know of no reason why to gunpowder treason should ever be forgot." But unfortunately, not much was memorable from our 5th of November.

          MC at the top of Calton Hill

The Mylne's Court crew climbed to the top of Calton Hill, under the impression that there would be a giant bonfire where we would burn Guy Fawkes in effigy. There were even tales of throwing live stray cats onto the fire so that they would make this eerie, unsettling hissing/howling noise (although I'm still pretty sure that Hugo and Liam made that up). Well, there was a bonfire - but it was on the other side of a 12-foot-tall brick wall that emerged from the bottom of a deep ditch.

Rubbing mud out of my eye, thanks Rachel
       
Since my friends here like to make things interesting and do things the much harder, but much more adventuresome, way... there was a brief attempt to scale the wall. But we were unsuccessful, so we walked back down the hill along the wall trying to find a way in. Fireworks were exploding directly overhead. It felt like we were a troupe of soldiers, marching through the trenches into battle. We definitely used the word "siege" more than once.
        
Trying to scale the wall

Back at the bottom of the hill, we discovered that the bonfire on the other side of the wall was a private party at a Country Club type of place. How posh and elitist. So, naturally, we climbed back up to the top of the hill and stood on the highest crest to watch all of the fireworks being set off all over the city. That part was pretty cool. Every direction you looked, you saw more fireworks. So we climbed up onto the Scottish Monument (the unfinished Parthenon) to get a better view.  It was fun, but a bit anti-climactic compared to the unknown and unplanned excitement of the Hindu Parade and festival, and the Samhuinn parade, etc. So even though we are told to remember November 5th, unfortunately it may be forgotten among all of the other exciting events that have happened here so far this year, and all of the exciting things to come.

Watching the works atop the Scottish Monument

November 1, 2008

A Superstitious Dyslexic's Worst Nightmare

This year Halloween was really seven parties in one night! We had a pre-pre-pre-party in Laura's and my flat, when the girls came over and we ordered Pizza Hut and ate festive cupcakes, while we put on our costumes and got ready to go to the pre-pre-party in the boys' common room, followed by the pre-party downstairs in the Mylne's Court common room for free booze and candy (we're not fools), before going right outside our dorms to see the Halloween Parade. Then we returned to the boys' common room to finish off our supply, then ventured out and joined the post-parties at the pubs. Of course the night ended back in the boys' common room.

During our 3xpre-party, Paige needed a sharp tool to poke holes in the fabric of her costume in order to put the finishing touches of lacing a ribbon through it, so I fetched her the sharpest knife we had in our kitchen. Then, I pulled a Lindsay Lohan and we took a series of photographs of me with the knife, pretending to kill my friends. Although, L-Lo just did that on a random night and she was probably all coked-out... I like to think mine was in the spirit of Halloween and not quite as trashy-celebrity-I-need-to-go-to-rehab-tabloid-article.

Dorothy Parker killing Robin Sparkles
        
This year Halloween fell on Friday the 31st...spooky. It's a superstitious dyslexic's worst nightmare. I was so ready to celebrate the haunting holiday in the most ghostly place on earth, but was surprised by the traditions here. When asking my classmates what their plans were for the evening, more than half of them said they weren't doing anything. Of the other half, only a small portion were even dressing up, and of those costumes they were all witches and devils, and simple scary demons and creatures. Whereas back home we tend to get pretty creative and elaborate with our costumes... or just slutty, speaking of Lindsay Lohan ( Mean Girls on Halloween ). My British friends told me that they do trick-or-treat here, but only really small children participate, and not even that often. Young adults and grown-ups don't have Halloween costume parties the way we do in the States. They don't even have candy corn here!
        
My parents shipped me over a small amount of candy corn and I introduced my UK friends to the Halloween treats. Bella claimed that they looked like drugs, little colored pills (I guess it didn't help that I was carrying them in a clear ziplock bag).  But she enjoyed the taste - she said it was like icing, or the inside of a fudge bar. Who wouldn't enjoy eating a sugar/honey/marshmallow mix?! Since it was so expensive to ship the candy, I had to ration my small amount. It was such a strange concept to only eat four or five pieces a day when I'm so use to buying a big bag and just devouring it in one sitting. Although, once you eat more than five pieces, the sugar-rush is unmanageable and you feel dizzy and nauseous. To quote the comedian Jim Gaffigan on American eating habits: "have you ever eaten so much that you felt sick... yeah, isn't that great?! ...That was strangely patriotic."
        
But despite their lack of the American traditions that I'm used to - there was a parade! The Beltane Fire Society celebrated Samhuinn (pronounced sow-win) with a procession down the Royal Mile. They started at the Castle Esplanade (which is right next to my dorms) and ended in St. Gile's Square with a performance on a constructed stage. Samhuinn is the pagan festival signifying the end of the summer harvest and the beginning of the Celtic New Year. The name, Samhuinn, in Old Irish, refers to the date of the celebration: Nov 1st, typically associated with the first frost. It's the end of the "light" half of the year and the beginning of the "dark" half: a festival of the dark and of the dead. It was tradition to remember ancestors and tell tales of the dead at Samhuinn feasts with bonfires or "bonefires" where Celts would slaughter their cattle in preparation for the coming winter months and toss their bones into the massive fire pit. Folklore says that Samhuinn is a time when the boundaries between the world of the living and the world of the dead are blurred and spirits walk the earth, so it is a time to pay respect and make sacrifices to those who have passed on... because now they're back! And ready to haunt you.

Samhuinn Parade
      
The parade was really creepy and really disturbing. The procession (only to the beat of drums - there were like two guitars but you could barely hear them) was so slow - almost like a funeral march, and all the characters were painted from head to toe in either white, black, blue, or red, with just one green guy (who looked like a mix between the Jolly Green Giant and the Ghost of Christmas Present). They all had shabby clothing that didn't always cover all of themselves, and horned hats, and masks, and were either stumbling around drunk, or running around wild like they were possessed by some demon. And they all had torches.  

Samhuinn Parade
        
One group of cloaked characters with drums marched by in silence, not beating a single drum, not speaking or cackling like the others, not even looking around at the crowd - just staring straight ahead with their robes draped over their faces so that all you could see were their eyes. It was unsettling. 

Silent drummers of the night
         
There was a performance in St. Giles Square, but we couldn't get close enough to really comprehend what was going on. I did see the white character (who I'm guessing was Jack Frost) sit in a wicker chair throne while the red characters entertained him by drinking and dry humping each other. Since we couldn't really see what was happening, my friends and I headed out to the pubs.  Frankenstein's Monster Mash party was packed, so we ended up at Oddfellows, home to the best DJ in all of Edinburgh. We sang and danced on tables until 1:30 in the morning. Thankfully, I didn't see any ghosts all night... it was an awesome Halloween!

Apple Sour Shots at Oddfellows

Halloween dance party at Oddfellows
        
My favorite moment of the evening: Robin Sparkles' Kick-and-Run with the homeless man's coffee cup of change. Well done Rachel, it's not enough that the man is sitting Indian-style, on the sidewalk, in the cold, at 11pm, on Halloween, begging for change, but you have to go and kick whatever collection he has so that it rolls across the street... and then you just keep walking. You know you're going to hell, right?


Sparkles' kick-and-run


MClove!


Me, dancing on the street