Friday, October 22, 2010

goings-on and my yearly autumn revelry.

On any given day in Edinburgh you can have weather from grey with good Scottish rain that falls slightly to the side-like, to bright, shining sun, to blustery wind that eddies and swirls amongst the fallen leaves and back again. This wreaks havoc on a compulsive planner's nerves. Take today for example: While I was quite thankful for my black wellies as I trudged through the rain this morning on my way to class, I felt rather silly walking home three hours later in beautiful, golden sunlight, the traces of the earlier torrent nearly vanished and here I am trudging again because it's actually really difficult to get full range of movement in knee-high rubber boots. Who trudges when it's beautiful and sunny outside? This girl, the planner, the one who coordinates her umbrella and rain boots--they're just both black, so really I'm not that bad. Living in Edinburgh has been teaching me, among many other things, that you've got to roll with the punches; that you can't control everything and sometimes you might wear your rain boots when it's gorgeous outside. Hint, hint, so is everyone else who left their flats at 11AM and saw the downpour in progress before they got dressed--you're not alone.
But then there are other days, like yesterday, when everything about it is perfect. And when I say perfect I mean perfectly autumn, which is what heaven will be like in my opinion. I noticed it as I rushed to class, having dressed for the weather that had encompassed the previous two, i.e. flipping cold, and when I got to class and stripped off my scarf, glovies, coat and sweater I was still steaming up my glasses. After a good hour of Gaelic, however, my internal temperature had balanced itself, and as I stepped out of 19 George Square I couldn't help but to wander into the fenced garden that is in the centre of the square. An escape of nature amid the studious stone Georgian buildings of the square. On a crisp and sun-laden day such as it was yesterday an escape like that is a necessary part of the day. I found a bench in the center of the garden which has a surrounding wall of tree and bush that shields someone within from the constant reminder of the city, and I sat and wrote and reveled. The wind blew through the boughs, sending a flurry of autumnal color  raining down on the solitary benches and winding paths. It was one of those days when you can smell the intoxicating scent of autumn on the breath of the wind, and undeniably feel it in the crisp air. The white wisps of cloud moved swiftly overhead and the sun revealed its face through the veil of autumn cloud. Every once in a while, a fellow reveler would walk by, and the telltale crunch of the fallen leaves beneath their steps was ever-so satisfying to the ear. You know, there's something about the richness of color in the autumn leaves, the golden-brown, tawny-yellow and the occasional flourish of crimson or sugary-orange, it all makes my senses palpitate with joy and fervor for the season. Yet still, even among the richness of the autumn color there was the evergreen of the holly bush--that stalwart plant--which is one of all seasons, yet it invokes the promise of winter and Boreas' arrival, fast and fair, into this ancient stone city. As I sat, the other benches were acquiring occupants, those who, like me, cannot resist a day like yesterday and must revel in its loveliness. I did not linger there too long though, moments such as those are fleeting and someone else surely desired my place there, my reveling bench, before the colors fade and that beauty dies away.
The path I followed to my reveling bench.
Besides sitting around, slack-jawed, staring at pretty leaves, I really have been getting an education. My classes are going well and I'm learning a lot. I still feel a bit like I'm in over my head, but I know that will pass and I will conquer my fears of not being good enough or whatever other silly thoughts are forcing their way into my mind. Gaelic, or Gàidhlig, as it is in it's own language is going quite well. It's difficult, but I can feel it getting easier and the words and pronunciations coming into my mind quicker and quicker. I mean how counter-intuitive for an English speaker to pronounce pigheid like "pee-atch"? I mean really. Now that is one of the more difficult ones, and it means parrot (and possibly sometimes magpie as well) but still. It's rough on the brain. Or here's one, more of a crazy Gaelic construction than just a word, but, in Gaelic, there is no verb "to have" (why? I have no idea, we all know the Highlanders knew the idea of possession), so in order to contribute possession they say "at." Here's an example, if I wanted to say 'I have a dog' (I miss you, Cael!), I would say 'Tha cù agam' which literally means 'A dog is at me.' Of course, that sentence also employs the use of a prepositional pronoun, using 'at' and 'me', aig (the word for 'at') + mi (pretty obviously the word for 'me') becomes agam. If I were to say 'Mary has a dog,' it would be Tha cù aig Màiri, 'a dog is at Mary.' Fun, isn't it? And we learned this within the first week, so that just indicates how difficult the actual difficult stuff is. But I am enjoying it, really. It's quite different learning something because you have to, and learning something because you want to. And I want to learn Gaelic, so I have proper motivation to get through the propositional pronouns and lenition (I'm not going into that here, sorry).
My other class, The Supernatural World, is quite interesting. It explores the traditional superstitions and magical thinking that is so latent within Scottish culture, from divination to changelings and the fairies, witchcraft to the second sight among Scottish families. It's really neat to look at the folklore that comes from this area and the Highlands. I'm also doing a Approaches and Methods in Gaidhealtacht Studies which is basically seminars each week on different topics within Highland Studies that I'm interested in given by the expert in that field to give me an idea of what I might be more interested in with relation to my dissertation. I have to write essays for both of those classes then an exam for Gaelic at the end of the semester.
Jeremy is enjoying his Arthurian Scotland class that meets in Edinburgh Castle, and he's job-hunting as well. Were still enjoying being slightly touristy with sight-seeing and exploring this gorgeous city. Tonight we're going to Sandy Bells, a pub that has live traditional music every night and was the hub of the folk music revival here in the 60s, which is pretty brilliant.
Sorry I've written a novel here, I hope to update sooner next time--we'll see how that goes. I hope this post finds all who read it quite well. Until next time.

Slàinte mhath,


Sunday, October 3, 2010

An seo ann an Dùn Èideann. [Here in Edinburgh]

It was a month yesterday that we have been here in Edinburgh, and I can hardly believe it. The time is already flying by and I'm about to enter into my third week of classes. After a bit of a rough start, just lack of confidence and things being so different, I'm settling down well into my classes. Gaelic is difficult, but I'm motivated and have an awesome encourager in Jeremy. I have Gaelic everyday, and each morning about fifteen minutes before 11:10 I leave and enjoy a walk through the Meadows, a huge public park with tree-lined paths and open green meadows between them. It really is gorgeous, and the leaves are beginning to change which makes it that much better. That being said, seeing the changing leaves makes me remember what I'm missing in the North Carolina mountains right now--my favorite season, autumn, and the crispness of air, and the sight and smell of autumn in the mountains. Everyone who reads this and is there right now, please give my love to the sugar maples and yellow birch trees, okay? So here are some photos of my daily walk through the park.

Needless to say, it's a walk that never really gets old, there's something different to notice each time I walk through it. The trees lining the path are nice because they give a semblance of shelter to walk through when it's raining. They don't keep out the rain entirely, but they do help a bit. All the classes I have are in the same building, and in fact the same room as well. The building used to belong to a bloke who was apparently friends with Robert Burns, so it's entirely possible that the room in which I sit each day may have a past that includes long nights of conversation and poetry in the company of the great Scottish poet, which is pretty cool. Here's a photo of my building in George Square.

Last weekend, Jeremy and I had an excursion to Cairnpapple Hill which is an ancient Celtic site west of Edinburgh. We took the train to Bathgate and from there, after quite an experience trying to find the bus stop and know which bus to take, got a bus to Torphichen, and from there walked the quoted 'fifteen minutes' to Cairnpapple. It was more of a forty-five minute walk, but since Cairnpapple was admittedly a bit of a let down, the gorgeous walk there through the countryside made up completely for it. It was nice to get to know the train station and bus system a bit as well. Not quite what we expected, but a wonderful first excursion outside the city nonetheless.
We walked right through a herd of cows to get to Cairnpapple.

This weekend was a bit different because my brother Stephen and his wife Meghan came to visit Edinburgh and us. They'd been planning to come here for a while, but decided to put it off until we got here so they could see us too. I'm so glad they did, it's always wonderful to spend time with them and catch up on the life and times of Steve and Megh. We walked round Edinburgh, hit a number of great pubs, went on a Ghost Tour on Friday night (which wasn't that scary) and Jeremy, Stephen and I climbed Arthur's Seat yesterday. Again, having Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat right in the middle of the city and like having a little taste of the Highlands within walking distance. It's a great escape and a fantastic way to walk off the many pints you inevitably have when you're here as well. While we were climbing, at about halfway up, someone at the top of began to play the pipes. They began with Scotland the Brave and it was so perfect. We hear the pipes easily even as far down as we were, and it was brilliant hear as we traversed to the top of this historic mount.

See the piper up there? Perfect.

My brother, Stephen, and me.

Great day. The sun went down over the Old City, gorgeously, as it often does. Stephen and Jeremy did another Ghost Tour into the underground vaults beneath the city, while Megh and I opted to stay behind and have a few more drinks where ghosts were less likely to be seen. On the way back to our flat we stopped for a late night snack at Franco's for fish and chips, which hit the spot after a night of pub crawling like nothing I've ever had before. Delicious.

Obviously taken in daylight, not when we typically frequent it.
So there's your update for now, hopefully I'll be able to update a bit more often now that I'm getting into the swing of things. We're doing well, enjoying all things new, but we do miss our family and friends back in North Carolina. Love to you all.