Rather than putting together one big amalgam of a post about what I did and what I thought and what I noticed &c I thought I would post a daily, two-week-delayed rundown of my activity, along with whatever related (or possible unrelated) observations I may have developed about Scotland in general. So here goes...
[And I realize this is a bit presumptuous of me to expect people to be interested in my vacation, but is it that different from expecting random strangers to be interested in my thoughts about economic policy or TV shows or sandwiches?]
Day 1: 18 May
- Arrive at Edinburgh International Airport (via Newark, originating Reagan National) in the morning
- Leave bags at the Walton Guest House, in New Town.
- Walk through Dean Village to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art just as it opens. Out front they have the first piece of "land art" I've ever seen personally, Charles Jencks' Landform. I'm pleasantly surprised, as the medium has left me a little cold in the past. ("Okay you can make shapes with bulldozers and back hoes. Neat trick." And yes, I'm looking at you, Spiral Jetty.) It was nice to see someone moving beyond "Lookitme making stuff with big rocks" and actually create some pleasing shapes. But what do I know about land art?
Inside, I really liked some of the drawings by Vija Celmins, especially the waves. There was also several rooms worth of Damien Hirst, who I'm quite bored by. They had the (or one of the? -- you can never tell with Hirst) iconic Away from the Flock, one of his earlier animal-in-formaldehyde numbers. They also had some of the medicine cabinet pieces, and some of the steel-and-glass-shelves full of anatomical curios and one of the butterfly wing numbers and one of the round drippy deals. I'd seen examples of all of those Hirst archetypes (Hirstetypes?) before, so why bother paying that much attention again?
[This makes it seem like I'm not interested in seeing an artist's work more than once, which is not at all the case. It's just that the attraction of Hirst's stuff is the (high) concept and not the execution. There's not a whole lot of nuance to the actual reification of a dead sheep in a box of preservative, so there isn't a lot to come back to once you've seen it. Or even heard about it.]
- We headed across the street to the Dean Gallery. I think the most interesting thing was a re-creation of Eduardo Paolozzi's London studio, more or less in its entirety. It was absolutely packed with old toys and wooden molds and magazine clippings and parts of mannequins and all manner of bits and pieces and detritus he would incorporate into sculptures. Paolozzi also did the ceiling panels of the Gallery, which you could see pretty close up from some of the interior balconies. Liked those; good balance of geometric and organic.
- Lunch was some squash soup and a salad of mixed greens and baby potatoes in a mustard dressing at the Gallery of Modern Art's very above-average cafeteria. The Scots, like the Irish, have invented more ways of incorporating potatoes into the diet than Samwise Gamgee. More salads at Villa SB7 will include potatoes from this day forward.
- Due to lingering effects of the red eye flight and persistent light rain we headed back to check into our room and rest up for the afternoon.
- Before dinner we swung by the Cumberland Bar (on Cumberland St), a wonderful local pub. It was a bit damp for their beer garden, but we enjoyed a couple pints of Orkney Brewery's Dark Island Ale, a two-time national cask conditioned Real Ale champion. This was one of my favorite ales I had on the trip. Although I didn't have any, I was impressed by the Cumberland's selection of bourbon. I wasn't looking hard, but it was probably the largest selection of such spirits I encountered in Scotland.
- Dinner was at the Mussel Inn on Rose St. I'm a sucker for shellfish of all kinds, and mussel in particular, and the Mussel Inn did not disappoint. I had a serving -- 2.2 lbs! -- of their mussels in blue cheese, bacon and cream sauce, and they were a delight. I would be a regular there if I lived in Edinburgh, without a doubt. If they would just add a coconut and green curry sauce to their six other preperations of mussels I could eat there every day of the week.