Saturday, May 26, 2012

Miracles Happen

Despite this Dean Gallery sculpture's proclamation that "There Will Be No Miracles Here", finding the aforementioned gallery was an actual miracle.  

Although I've lived in Edinburgh for almost two years now, I rarely venture outside of the university bubble. Then again, a lot of this city is centered literally around the university, so you can't really blame me for that. Nevertheless, there are areas of town with nary a library addled and over-caffeinated student to be found and every so often, it's nice to remind yourself that said world exists, especially when you're right about to graduate and enter it. 

Roughly two miles from the university, the Village of Dean is one of those areas. A former grain milling hamlet for over 800 years (how often do I get to write that? Sometimes I love living in Europe.), it's now a place where people shell out serious dough (sorry, couldn't resist a bread pun) to live in one of the quaint converted mills and home to The National Galleries of Scotland modern art museums, fittingly called Modern 1 and Modern 2 (or the Dean Gallery.) 
A few weeks ago, my friend Sophia and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather to make the trek out to the one museum I hadn't been to in this city and because what better way to spoil the sun than by seeing depressing modern art? In all honesty, I don't know how to handle this abundance of sunshine. Reading books in my flat has been traded for barbeques on the Meadows, but I can only cope with so much sun stroke. So a few hours sojourn in an air conditioned art gallery is a welcome escape. (And city secret, no one is in the museums when the weather is perfect.) There's an Edvard Munch exhibition on at The Dean Gallery right now and what better way to temper the pleasant weather than by looking at prints reflecting anxiety?

 However, finding the museum was almost more confusing than interpreting modern art. Four years of university has taught me how to read secondary criticism, but not maps. Sophia and I just assumed the way would be obvious once we got past Prince's Street, but when what should've been a ten minute walk turned into twenty, we realized how wrong we were. Medieval villages may be cute, but they are impossible to navigate. No wonder why it was called The Dark Ages. After stopping a few locals who had no idea there even was a museum in the area, we stumbled upon a friendly English couple. They turned out to be tourists, but this was to our benefit because they had a map on them and therefore a better understanding of the area than we did. They chided us for not having a map of our own, we claimed we were "locals." It was a bit embarrassing, but we turned a corner, literally, and there was the Dean Gallery. Of course, we came back through an entirely different route than the one we came in with. I was convinced that finding the gallery was a one time event, after all, miracles don't happen every day.
The next day I triumphantly reported to another friend who had been urging me all along to go to the museums that I could check off The Modern Art Museum from my Edinburgh bucketlist and told her how great the Munch exhibition was (it's on until Autumn, so I recommend you go if you get a chance and are better at directions). Then, she informed me that The Dean Gallery was one of two museums and we had missed the main one. Suddenly, it dawned on me why all the signs called it "Modern 2", so much for my close reading skills.

So Sophia and I went back yesterday to finally see Modern 1, with written directions. This time we got there without a wrong turn and I took the time to admire the picturesque architecture on the way over. It ended up being more aesthetically pleasing than the actual art housed in Modern 1. Nevertheless, I can say I've been to BOTH modern art museums now.
If you've read my recent posts, I get lost quite a bit. However, as the installation at Modern 1 says, "Everything is going to be alright."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Weird West

No, I have not become the protagonist in True Grit in search of the Wild West and Tom Cheney.  Despite what the signs say, I'm not in the American Southwest. I'm still in Edinburgh and believe it or not, so is this Wild West Town.

The Wild West Town is a true anomaly with no obvious purpose other than kitsch. Absolutely none of it makes sense. Tucked away in the posh Morningside neighborhood known for housing the famous authors of the city, it's the last place you would expect to find something so delightfully tacky. It's certainly not an area that attracts many tourists, so why put a tourist attraction there? Especially one that is so hard to find once you are actually in Morningside. Directions: Wander down alley that leads to charming residential street, make friends with a cat, see more feline friends than cowboys, decide to give up, stumble upon what appears to be a parking lot, find yourself in the Wild West.  The geography of this city never makes sense to me, but this takes the cake (or should I say horseshoe ring?). And I haven't even gotten to the part where Scotland confused itself Santa Fe. Well, Edinburgh loves quirky tourist attractions.
 [Odd to see my local Minnesota bank in Scotland. If I had known it existed, I probably wouldn't have signed up for the inconvenient Bank of Scotland, but sadly, Edinburgh's Wells Fargo doesn't appear to have an ATM anyway.]

This is a city of stories though, so sure enough there is a story behind this oddity. The Wild West Town was solely designed for commercial purposes. Built by Michael Faulkner in 1996, it was a gimmick to inspire people to buy the Southwestern furniture originally sold in the area (or so the internet tells me because I have no idea what Southwestern furniture looks like. I doubt people use spittoons anymore.) Luckily enough, one of the workers was a former Euro Disney employee hence the "authenticity." (It does remind me of Park City, Utah, a real former "Wild West" town that I posted on earlier this year.) That was the last bit of luck they had because the furniture business petered out, as did the Springvalley Cinema that was hidden there (although the area looks like a movie set already, so why watch a film?), now all that is left is auto body shops covered by these Western facades. No wonder I mistook the area for a parking lot initially.

 Now the Wild West Town's function is seemingly to amuse bored students having a wander to the chagrin of the mechanics who actually work there. I felt like an outlaw wandering around snapping photos in someone's work environment, thankfully, no one threw me in the jail. I guess The Wild West Town does capture the ambiance of that inspired it in the end. One of the workers chuckled at me and said, "You aren't the first." Only in Edinburgh would people completely accept that their place of employment looks like a Disney ride. After all, the city does have a castle at its heart just like the Magic Kingdom.

 There's nothing to do there but take photos and muse in the sheer strangeness of it all. To paraphrase Neil Gaiman, it's like a roadside attraction. You aren't exactly sure why it's there and why you had to find it, but you did and even though it wasn't what you expected, you're still glad you went.


 I thought I knew Edinburgh, but it gets weirder and more wonderful by the day.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Secret Garden

 It's impossible to live in Edinburgh without pretending you're in one of your favorite novels. When I ordered my graduation robes from Ede & Ravenscroft (Est. 1689) the other day, I felt like I was ready to join the trio at Hogwarts and then I remembered that Harry and Ron never actually graduated. Oh well. As long as the novel I'm living vicariously through isn't Trainspotting, all is well. However, I never expected to find myself in The Secret Garden.

Yesterday, it was uncharacteristically nice in Edinburgh (read: it actually felt like spring), so I knew I had to take advantage of Scotland's legal but unattainable drug, Vitamin D. It was a welcome reward after a week spent cloistered in the library cramming for my final sit down exam EVER. That's right I'm done with college (although I don't graduate until June 28, so you'll have to wait to see me look like a dementor in those aforementioned robes). So what did I decide to do with myself on a completely free Sunday afternoon with no work to do and no newspaper to edit? As a relapsed English literature student, I went to read, of course. Even though I'll never have to overanalyze another novel again, I can't help myself. However, on days like this the Meadows is over-run with people who believe the park is actually a beach- complete with bikinis (overly keen Scots, it was only 55F yesterday!), volleyball, and the detritus of discarded cans of cider and the occasional condom. After nearly getting beheaded by a stray cricket ball yesterday, I knew the Meadows was about as relaxing as a game of dodgeball.

 I sought a quieter locale and took a tip from my friend Helen, who only recently discovered the secret garden even though she's an Edinburgh native! The Secret Garden is one of those pesky secrets that actually isn't so clandestine as it seems. It cheekily hides on one of Edinburgh's busiest and more commercial streets, The Royal Mile. I'm embarrassed to admit I've walked by it half a dozen times on my way to usher a visiting friend to Arthur's Seat or for overpriced fudge. After all, you wouldn't think much about a random close (Edinburgh slang for alley) next to a Starbucks. Usually, they lead to a parking lot or potentially murder (there's even an Ian Rankin murder mystery named after Fleshmarket Close), not a secret garden.

 But if you're looking for it, Dunbar's Close (okay, I gave the secret away. I can never join Fight Club now.) is actually quite welcoming. It's a relic from the past or even another country. The 17th century garden was named after the owner of nearby tenements (the one part of this story that is less than romantic), but was stuck in the past and fell into disrepair until The Mushroom Trust (yes, really) revived it in the 1970s. It's a charmingly manicured Italian garden, which is both atypical and quintessential Edinburgh simultaneously. Yes, it looks nothing like the rest of the city, but if there's one thing I've learned about Edinburgh after living here for nearly 2 years, it's that it's full of secrets. You can never quite know it. Edinburgh is a place of perpetual discovery if you're looking.

 [It also has some of the best views of Calton Hill. You feel removed from the city, but right smack in it at the same time.]

 I didn't find Colin Craven, but I found something much better.

  It was the perfect place to get lost in the city and my book (Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding, which reminds me that reading for fun is possible.) for a few sun soaked hours. I had a bench all to myself and only a dozen or so visitors between, who were mostly tourists. Somehow, Dunbar's Close is in their guidebook, but none of the locals know about it. I think the few who do would like to keep it quiet. (So much for my big mouth on this blog post.)
I have over a month left in Edinburgh and I haven't seen the half of it, which will keep this blog plenty busy (after all, I need something to keep me occupied between now and graduation. I feel unemployed.) Expect (hopefully) daily discoveries.