Thursday, July 30, 2015

Charles Rennie Macintosh Day

We spent one day in Glasgow, taking the train from Stirling, where we found a B&B that was much cheaper than those available in the larger city.  (I was disappointed in my photos of Stirling.  None really turned out well, so I have left those out of the blog.) Glasgow was another story entirely.

Our day in Glasgow was truly “Charles Rennie Macintosh Day,” because our stay there involved an in-depth look at this seminal architect/designer’s work. Part of the Arts and Crafts movement, Macintosh, and his wife and collaborator, Margaret McDonald, created some marvelous designs, but neither were successful in their lifetimes.  You can see some influences of Macintosh in the work of later architects and designers, including Frank Lloyd Wright.
Glasgow School of Art showing some smoke damage (the part to the right of the stairs is covered in scaffolding).

We began the day with a tour at the Glasgow School of Art.  Macintosh won the commission for the school design in a competition when he was only a young draftsman at a local architecture firm.  The building was constructed over a period of several years, and Macintosh changed the design during the process, and the building shows the evolution of his work.

Sadly, the art school was badly damaged in a fire a couple of years ago, but amazingly, the interior structure remains intact, so it is being rebuilt.  Much of the furniture and wooden artifacts were lost, but because the building had recently been digitally mapped, it can be restored. Work is progressing, but much more money is needed. Some wealthy benefactors, including actor Brad Pitt, a Macintosh fan, are helping to raise the funds required for the restoration.

Following our insightful tour, we lunched at the Willow Tea Rooms, a recreation of a tearoom that Macintosh designed for a local socialite in 1904.  He even designed the silverware for the original tearoom. The reconstruction offers only standard restaurant flatware, but it was a treat to experience the ambiance of the place.

Upstairs at the Willow Tea Rooms. (The photos of the tea rooms were taken early in the day. When
we returned their for lunch, the place was packed!)

The Willow Tea Rooms, recreated as they were back in the day.

Our final stop was the House for an Art Lover, a 1901 design that Macintosh, with Macdonald’s help, submitted to a competition.  Neither he nor the other competitors won the prize, because of some arcane rule that was not followed, but Macintosh was singled out for recognition and received some prize money.  In 1989-1996, the house was built to the design that Macintosh and his wife had created.

Oh, what I would give to live in this house!

The elegant dining room.

Chair designed by Macintosh.

Light streams into the music room from the balcony.

The piano in the music room.

Ceiling detail from dining room.

What is especially gratifying is to see Margaret Macdonald is finally getting recognized as well as her husband.  In an era when male architects and designers got all the press, she was often overlooked.  Macintosh himself said, “I am a good architect, but Margaret is a genius.”  I think they were both geniuses.

Wall panels built to Margaret's design.

Close up of panel built to Margaret Macdonald's design.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Behind the Scenes with a Street Performer

While Kevin and I were eating a light supper in a pub in Edinburgh, we caught sight of a young man across the street.  He was a street performer, one of those people who stand like statues in public areas to collect coins from passersby.  We felt as though we were getting an inside look (or in this case, an outside look) at how he emerged from his costume.  Instead of a dressing room, this actor used the street:

Photos courtesy of Kevin G. Imper

Monday, July 27, 2015

Meeting a Celebrity in Edinburgh

The Royal Mile Edinburgh on a quiet morning.

We only spent a couple of days in Edinburgh on this trip. For me, our visit brought back memories of my last visit when we lived in England in 1989-90, and my friends Sheri and Marney came to visit, but it was Kevin's first visit to the city.

We visited many of the usual tourist sites and also the Scottish National Gallery of Art, where Kevin could view works by two of his favorite artists, Henry Moore and Francis Bacon.

Earthwork outside of the art museum.
The new Scottish Parliament building was also high on our agenda.  I'm sorry to say that I'm not a fan. The building attempts to bring in elements of Scotland with stones that resemble those of ancient monuments, wood that echoes the forest, and projections on the front of the building that look like ancient spears. Plaques with quotes from Scottish writers are also embedded in its walls. But it seems, to me, to be trying too hard, and it doesn't fit well with Holyrood Palace, right across the street. But that's just my opinion.
Take a look here, and see what you think. 

I guess I’m just getting to be a curmudgeon.  (OK, so “getting to be,” might be an understatement.) I was also incensed at what has happened to the Camera Obscura in Edinburgh.  I remembered it from my previous visit to Edinburgh, and wanted Kevin to see it. Then, it was simply the Victorian camera obscura. Then, I climbed the stair, and reaching the room at the top, I saw the projected image of the city of Edinburgh.  I thought it was wonderful.  But now, apparently that’s not enough for our digital world. 

Tower hosting the camera obscura

Now, the site is billed as the “Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions,” and the owners have tarted it up with mirrors and optical illusions.  No! No! No!  It should be enough to see what our predecessors marveled at and be amused at this antiquated treasure.  Of course, they now want the equivalent of about $18.45 to view it, and you can’t simply pay to see the camera obscura alone, so we declined the opportunity.

Kevin takes in Edinburgh Castle.

The highlight of Edinburgh, for me, was Edinburgh Castle.  We had a great guide, Frank, who made the castle and its history come alive with a mixture of historical stories and humor.  As I remembered from before, he recounted how in Greenwich, the international prime meridian, the troops fire off twelve cannon rounds every day at noon, as they have for (centuries?) so ships at sea could synchronize their clocks.  But the thrifty Scots changed that tradition. In Edinburgh, for ships anchored in the Firth of Forth, the Scots, even today, fire their signal at 1 p.m. And that requires only one cannon shot, which represents a significant savings of ammunition! (But we were there on Sunday, the one day they don’t fire a shot.)

Frank, our guide, was so enthusiastic, he obviously loves his job.

However, what really made the day special was that we had a celebrity on our tour (wait for it)—Shaun the Sheep!  Yes, I confess that I am a big Shaun the Sheep fan.  I like it so much that I’m tempted to make an affection for Shaun, the claymation character created by Nick Park of Wallace and Grommit fame, as a litmus test for friendship.  If you don’t like Shaun the Sheep, then there’s something wrong with you!  (No, I wouldn’t really go that far.) 

The young couple from Germany who are carrying our woolly hero have a Facebook page and website called, “Shaun on Tour.”  I couldn't find it, but maybe you can? There are a few sites with the same idea, people who are bringing Shaun with them on their world travels. Why not? Can you imagine a better ambassador for peace? You don’t have to know English to enjoy the adventures of the crafty sheep and his winsome flock. I will close with the final lines from the Shaun The Sheep song: “Perhaps some day/ you’ll find a way/ to come and meet with Shaun the Sheep, to come and bleat with Shaun the Sheep!” (And I did.)

Hint to family:  See the Shaun doll? You know what I want for Christmas, right?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Wee WordsThat Baffled Us

We knew we were in Scotland, when very early in our trip, we came across a couple of posters that we didn't understand. (Or, I should say, we didn't understand everything.)

Let's see what you make of these:

I looked up "wee stoater" (movie poster above) online and found that "stoater" means great or brilliant. So I guess the movie must be a little bit brilliant?  With Emma Thompson in it, I imagine it is!

As for "wee shoogler," the definition of "shoogle" is to shake, although somewhat gently. According to The Scotsman newspaper, which defined it as its word of the week on the 24th of July this year, you would never "shoogle" a can of deodorant or "shoogle" someone awake. So what do you think? Does "wee shooglers" mean "wee wigglers" or "wee shakers"?

We hope your own wee shooglers--whether kids, grandkids, or simply little ones you are fond of are enjoying their summer too!

Last Days in Ireland

Tower at Glendalough, Ireland

Many people probably think we are still in Ireland, because I am so behind in my blog posts. My apologies. We are actually now in Northern England, but we did spend a month in Ireland, so I'm struggling to get caught up.

Our last couple of days on the Emerald Isle went quickly, as we played tourist, visiting the site of Glendalough (pronounced Glen-da-lock), where St. Kevin meditated and communed with animals and eventually founded a monastery.  Most of the buildings at Glendalough date from the 10th to 12th centuries, and the site is a lovely park (although to my mind, marred a bit by all of the tourists). I think there are more beautiful sites in Ireland, but I won't be peevish--it was pretty. And we had to go there, right? I mean we are talking about St. Kevin.

We also visited the weaving center at Avoca and took the tour there.  Avoca is the oldest working woolen mill in Ireland, dating from 1723. It was another place of temptation, because the weavings are so beautiful. But we really can't buy souvenirs on this trip if we want to keep traveling. Plus, anything I buy, I would have to carry.

The tour guide at Avoca conducted an engaging tour, and we were pleased that although most of their work is now done by machine looms, they still make their signature scarves with the human-powered looms.

Avoca, still in the same place, still in some of the same buildings.
Colorful yarns at Avoca.

The master weaver demonstrates how quickly he can weave on the old-fashioned loom.

Close up of threads on the loom.

A yarn bin--someone had a sense of humor.

Because we needed to get back to Dublin before rush-hour on a Friday, we did not have time to tour Powerscourt, the gardens outside of Dublin. However, we were able to share a coffee on the terrace and look out on a grand view:

Finally, a little later, we had lunch at Johnnie Fox's pub, founded in the late 1700s and known for its traditional music.  It has many historical items in its collection, including posters from the Irish independence period and a dancing shoe from Michael Flatley of Lord of the Dance.  It is very touristy, but still well done, and it was a fitting place to end our tour of Ireland.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Round the Rock of Cashel

At Cashel

On our way back to Dublin to fly out to Scotland, we spent an overnight in Cashel at Peggy O'Neill's B&B. Peggy O'Neill is an Irish folk song, and so Peggy, who owns the place, took that as the name for her business.

The irrepressible Peggy and her husband Jim hosted and entertained us.  Jim is inclined to tease, but somehow it's all part of his personality, and it works. (Overheard at the breakfast table was an interchange with a couple of Australians. The conversation was about the lack of a sense of humor on the part of immigration officials. One of the Australians recalled how his New Zealand friend, who was moving to Australia at the time, had come to the part of the immigration form that asked for "criminal history," and the Kiwi had written, "I didn't know you still needed one"--a joking reference to Australia's beginnings as a British penal colony.  Of course, that was not well received. But it does sound a lot like something some of our Kiwi friends would do!

More humor was to come. Taking the guided tour of the Rock of Cashel, the place where the ancient kings of Munster were crowned, and where St. Patrick came to convert the people to Christianity. "What do you know about St. Patrick," the guide asked?  

One woman replied, "He chased the snakes out of Ireland." 

"Ah, no, that's just the legend," said the guide. "We still have snakes. It's just now they were suits and live in Dublin."

The Rock of Cashel is a beautiful place, complete with its round tower, built around 1100.

Rock of Cashel

The medieval Flemish tapestry was woven with intentional mistakes--because, the weavers believed, only God is perfect. (But it's kind of presumptions to make purposeful mistakes too, isn't it?)

Remains of medieval frescoes were discovered, covered with whitewash from the time of the Reformation, They
are being restored.

Interior with view of tower, the oldest part.
Hore Abbey nearby was destroyed when Henry VIII plundered the abbeys.

Hore Abbey is a peaceful place.

Kevin at Hore Abbey.

View of the Rock of Cashel from the abbey, lovely even with part of it in scaffolding.

The town of Cashel.

What a great idea! An umbrella-vending machine! 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Bits 'n Bobs

Catching the Sleeping Weasel 

One day while Kevin was standing in line at the grocery store, waiting to pay for our items, I noticed the store had ice cream cones for sale next to the checkout counter. I asked about the price, and because it seemed fair, I placed an order for one.  The woman who handed me my cone noticed Kevin standing next to the counter, lost in thought.  She knew we were together.  “Shall we have him pay for it?,” she asked.

Just then, Kevin finally noticed what was going on and looked up.  “Oh, yeah, I know her,” he said.  “I guess I can pay for it.”

The woman smiled. “Around here,” she told me, “that’s what’s known as ‘catching the sleeping weasel.’”

 Fuschia Hedges

One thing that surprised me about Ireland was all the hedgerows lined with fuschias.  First, I have never seen fuschia bushes that large, and second, I don't recall seeing fuschia hedgerows in the UK.  Did I miss them, or are fuschia hedges unique to Ireland?


A friend suggested that I check out the local papers during our stay in Ireland.  I always like doing that—I used to like reading The Leavenworth Echo for its police blotter, which, because the town has very little real crime, was always amusing. (“A man with beady eyes was seen hanging around the Chevron station” or “there was a report of a dog barking on the Camp Four Road.”) So when I got to Ireland, I thought I knew what to expect.

The local paper from County Cork was full of the usual articles, found in small newspapers everywhere:  reports of young people winning school prizes, annual festivals, boaters rescued, and community meetings.  But there were also pages—and pages—of death notices and memorials.

 What surprised me was that the memorials were not only for those who had recently passed away, or who had died only a year ago.  Some of the memorials were for people who had been gone for 19 or 20 years, but the anniversary of their death was marked just the same.  Some were having masses said for the departed, but others simply noted how keenly the person was still missed.

I have seen memorial notices in U.S. papers too, but nothing quite like that. Many of these tributes take up several column inches, so they must have cost the family some money, even in a small newspaper.  Often, in other cultures (for example, the Mexican Day of the Dead or ….) those who have died are never too far away from the consciousness of others; they are still part of the family in a very real way. Life is for living, and grieving too long can keep us from moving ahead, but still, sometimes in American culture, it seems we forget too quickly. There must be some comfort in knowing your family will mark your life in this very public way for years to come, reinforcing that your life had meaning in the community.

Farewell to Beara

Although the Ring of Kerry is more famous, the Ring of Beara is just as beautiful, if not more so, and it has the advantage that you do not run into a tour bus on every narrow, winding turn.  (I was so glad that Kevin has experience driving on such narrow roads, but even so there were times when I drew in my breath and simply closed my eyes.) Fortunately, the bus and lorry drivers seem to know exactly how wide their vehicles are, although we did see more than one truck with its side mirror taped on.

The weather was uncooperative as we were driving on parts of the Ring of Kerry, so most of my photos were not that great. (I'm getting tired of white skies!) 

I also wished I had thought to take a photo of an old sheep farmer we met a couple of times on Healy Pass.  (I say “old,” but he could have been our age—in his late 60s—and just had a weathered face.) He was a thin man and his hair was graying.  He was missing several teeth in front, and the ones he had remaining were a bit twisted. But he had a kindly face, and both times we encountered him, he seemed happy to chat and shake our hands.  Kevin asked him if he ever lost any of his sheep, and he said, “Ah no, I always know where they are,” with his lovely Irish lilt. The best photos often get away, for one reason or another.

Here are a few from the Beara Peninsula that don’t fit any narrative:

Lauragh post office and coffee shop. Nice people, FREE wifi!

Standing stone on one of our walks.

Glanmore Lake?

Walk at Glengariff Forest Reserve.

The colorful town of Aardmore.

Stone circle near Castletownbere.