Monday, December 24, 2018

I turned from tourism in Bilbao to tourism at home.  On a lovely sunny day last weekend I wandered by the Water of Leith to the Shore with vague thoughts of a glass of plonk and some jazz in the Shore Bar.  I was too early for that so had a stroll round the port.

Then lightning struck.  Why not a visit to the Royal Yacht?  It's been at Ocean Terminal for 20 years after all.  Visitors from a' the airts including visitors to my own home have been to see it but no me.  So I did and I loved it.  It's a fascinating glimpse into a priveleged lifestyle and an impressive example of marine engineering.  The route through the ship is well laid out and the audio guide precise and informative.  The fruit scones in the caff are first class too.

Scottish Ballet are doing a version of Cinderella by Christopher Hampton this Christmas which I saw and enjoyed.  It's in much more of a restrained classical style than the last Cinderella I remember seeing which was also by Scottish Ballet but choreographed by Ashley Page.  That was done with boldly coloured sets and extravagant costumes.  The press at the time called it "hip and stylish", "fizzing".  I don't think you could say that about Hampton's although it had some great moments - the parade of legs as the Prince hunts for Cinders for example.  But I confess Page's version was more to my taste.

On to the Traverse for two shows this week.  Mouthpiece centres on the unlikely friendship that springs up between a middle-aged writer who's lost her mojo and a troubled teenage schemie who has an artistic talent.  It segues into the appropriation of the miserable experiences of the most deprived in our society for the entertainment of the middle classes.  What a friend of mine descibes as "poverty tourism" or some such phrase.  As usual Joyce McMillan puts her finger on the strengths and weaknesses of the show.  Read her review.

The Gospel According to Jesus Queen of Heaven by Jo Clifford is fundamentally a plea for the acceptance of people who don't fit society's norms, particularly gender norms.  Even in these irreligious days I think it's a brave script and one which quite gently exposes the irrationality of prejudice.  The Wee Review does the show justice but sadly as Kirsty McGrory points out the production is preaching to the converted when presented somewhere like The Traverse.  Less indulgent audiences should see it.

Finally a disappointment.  After months of waiting during which I had quite forgotten what caused me to order it in the first place a novel became available for me at the library.  After reading maybe a quarter I decided this satire on modern digital life wasn't working for me.  So it's going back and I'm now waiting for the only one of ever reliable Allan Massie's novels about Roman Emperors that I haven't read - Caligula.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

December started in excellent style with a rum and coke at Edinburgh airport prior to boarding Easyjet's flight to Bilbao at teatime on the 1st.  Flight duration and time difference meant that we arrived at our Air B&B fairly late on Saturday evening.  But thanks to the Spanish way of life this was no impediment to finding a pleasant spot in the Casco Viejo to eat and drink.  Indeed we homed in on a delightful colonnaded square where given the mildness of the evening we sat outdoors.  Ross stripped down to short sleeves but I stuck to my warm jacket and bunnet.

The main objective of the trip was to visit the Guggenheim.  It fully repaid the effort.  It's an awesome building and from our lodgings it was a lovely walk along the river with a pitstop in a little cafe for breakfast. ( On the other two mornings we had breakfast in the Ribera market which is every bit as enchanting as La Boqueria in Barcelona.)

Here's a view along the river

First sight of the building.  The tall curved structures form outposts to the main building which you can see rising up beyond the bridge.

Closer to with a giant spider to the right

A view through the spider


Alongside with the Ibedrola (parent of Scottish Power) skyscraper in the background

Jeff Koons' puppy that stands guard over the entrance

And finally the whole building seen from the opposite bank of the river 

That's just the outside and however impressive and exciting it may be it's by the contents that it ultimately is judged.  Like most galleries, because in English usage it's a gallery not a museum, it has a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions.  For my money the large steel structures by Richard Serra are the stars of the permanent, or at least longterm exhibits: they promised him a twenty five year tenure.  You can see them here.

There was an exhibition of Giacometti sculptures on while we were there and one called Van Gogh to Picasso.  I've always like Giacometti's stick men and his out of proportion figures so I found this a real treat.  Photography was prohibited so I exercised my meagre sketching talent by drawing the piece I liked best. This is it here (not my sketch - the piece itself).

The Van Gogh to Picasso was also excellent.  I particularly liked early works by Picasso that I hadn't seen before which were naturalist paintings, done many years before he embarked on the abstract works that I most closely associate him with.

Bilbao is not just the Guggenheim.  There's another lovely gallery that we managed to visit and various museums that we didn't.  A pretty park with a lovely fountain, an arts centre in a converted wine warehouse and lots and lots of other things that meant that two and half days were completely inadequate.  Must go back.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

From Brighton I went up to London.  David and Sally's spare room being unavailable because of works in the flat I had booked a room in a fleapit near King's Cross.  Fleapit is perhaps a little unkind: it was clean enough, the shower worked and the bed was ok.

When planning the trip I'd discovered that this was the opening weekend of the London Jazz Festival so had booked a few gigs.  The first, on Saturday night, was at the 606 club where a rhythm section backed five saxophonists who, solo and in various combinations, entertained us while we ate.  It was a lively and cheerful atmosphere, the food was good and the music was excellent.

I took a number of inadequate pictures of which this is one.

On Sunday morning I went to hear more saxophones, an unusual combination - an ensemble of ten baritones.  Tokyo Chutei Iki have done their thing all over the world and for forty minutes I enjoyed it but decided not to have too much of a good thing so didn't stick around to hear the second set.  They're  really good but less is probably more.

This is what they looked like
You can check the music out here.

The gig was in  a church in Bethnal Green. It was a nice day so I had a stroll around and took a few pictures.  This squirrel is one of my most successful wildlife shots
and I hadn't seen a copshop lamp like this since the good old days of Dixon of Dock Green so had to snap it.
Walking back towards Kings Cross for my next gig I came across Brick Lane.  Years ago Fiona and I were in London and somehow or other knew people who kept a pub in the street.  We went there and Fiona ordered a cider only to be told that the pub didn't stock cider because it was a popular mixer for the local meths drinkers.

The area has been gentrified a bit since then but it's clearly not been totally cleansed of roughness judging by the list of what musn't be done attached to a lamppost.
  Curiously ball games are not prohibited.

The gig near Kings Cross involved three piano players and was a bit too educational for my taste so I dozed a bit.  But it wasn't too long and afterwards I tubed up to Highbury to David and Sally's place for a wee cup of tea prior to going to our last gig at The Troubadour in Earls Court.

This was another eat while you listen venue.  The band were squeezed into a space behind the window giving onto the street and next to the door.  Incoming customers had to more or less walk through them.  Our table was bang in front of the band, which consisted as you can see of rhythm section and three front line players, two of whom were American visitors.  The drummer, Sebastiaan de Kron runs the group.  I've heard him play in Edinburgh with the SNJO.

They played straightahead jazz tunes, most of which I didn't know, with lots of inventive soloing.  It was a very satisfying gig and the food, wine, service and overall ambience were terrific.
That was it.  Onto the train home the following morning.  My other November highlight was reading Buddenbrooks.  Such a entertaining family saga.  It's up there with The Forsyte Saga.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Since I went to Keswick November has flown by.  I've had my usual dose of concerts and suchlike and a couple of visits to the cinema.  I saw quite a decent gangster movie called Widows, the usp of which is I suppose that all the baddies are women.  Then there was the rousing Outlaw/King about Robert the Bruce.  Decently entertaining, not as silly as Braveheart, didn't take too many liberties with historical fact, beautifully filmed and cleverly finished in 1304 leaving lots of room for a sequel to take us to Bannockburn.

The Grads presented the stage version of All About My Mother,  It was well done but a tricky show to stage because of the multiplicity of locations that are required and that the action moves amongst.

I saw another French film at the Institut but I've already forgotten what it was.  There's been a French film festival on as well in the Filmhouse and elsewhere but the only event I managed to squeeze into my schedule was a session of shorts at Summerhall.  I always enjoy short films which probably tells you something about my attention span, and this event was no exception, very enjoyable.  To distil a story or a situation into just a few minutes requires great skill and imagination.  Both were on show in these half dozen films.

I was a bit underwhelmed by Ballet Rambert's Life is a Dream but to be fair I dozed a little during the first half so am not really in a position to form a proper judgement.  

Given my poor sense of smell and insensitive palate I probably shouldn't bother going to wine tastings but I was persuaded by the prospect of good company to attend one at Valvona & Crolla,  Five wines/ports were to be tasted.  They were all sweet, some sweeter than others perhaps but I couldn't say that I experienced much difference between the £20 a bottle and the £80.  They were tasty though as were the accompanying cheeses.  The V&C man was clearly on an educational  mission.  He went on at length.

I didn't buy any wine but I splashed out a fiver on one of the cheeses.  It was a mixture of Gorgonzola and Mascarpone and may have been the cheese I have been searching for since I stumbled on what the shopkeeper in Cervinia in 1984 called Gorgonzola crema.  I liked it so much that I took a big polystyrene boxful back to Zambia.

I visited old friends in Brighton and although the purpose of the trip was to attend a meeting of the Zambia Society Trust that was cancelled at the last minute I enjoyed the visit and a little potter around the town.
The beach had as little sand on it as always

 But the pier looked good  

As did the Pavilion and the street where David and Kay live.


The bandstand had surely had a coat of paint since my last visit

and there was a new attraction on the front.  Well I say attraction.  It looks like a very thin factory chimney or a very tall concrete lamppost.  It is a tower called the British Airways i360.  A glass doughnut shaped pod slides up its 450 feet affording grand views.  It was not in operation when I was there alas.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

I went off to Keswick for the weekend.  The town was stowed out with visitors as usual and as usual there was a bit of rain.  Not too much and what there was added to the autumnal beauty of the place.

Here are a couple of pictures I took on a stroll by the lake.  Lovely spot is it not?

I rushed back to Edinburgh on the Monday for band practice.  With a concert coming up in December and my difficulties with the pieces we are playing I can't afford to miss more practices than is absolutely necessary.

How wonderful it would be to play as well as members of the SCO, or any good orchestra for that matter.  Their concert this week featured a tremendous new work, a viola concerto by John McLeod.  This world premiere featured the SCO's principal viola player, Jane Atkins.  Called Nordic Fire it lived up to the monicker, hurtling flashes of energetic brilliance from the viola through a solid orchestral groundwork.

The concert started on a Nordic note with the very pleasant and tuneful Holberg suite by Greig and finished with an orchestral version of a Beethoven quartet.  Best left as a quartet in my view.

I went with Claire and Maddy to the NTS/Citizens production of Cyrano de Bergerac.    It was an evening on which a large proportion of the people I know in Edinburgh were also at the show.  It was very good though I thought some of the opening scene could have been done away with.  It's an English version by Edwin Morgan so it's a good text and the production was high-spirited and imaginative with the Lyceum's stage laid bare to its back wall and wings.  While wonderful to look at that vastness may have led to some of the lines floating up into the grid rather than out to the audience.

Since I went to India years ago the country has continued to hold a fascination for me so I was attracted to a talk at the museum called A Punjabi Jewel in the British Crown?  It was an excellent, rapid and sweeping review of relations between the East India Company (and later the British govenment and Queen Victoria) and the Sikhs in the persons of Ranjit Sing, his son Duleep and grandaughter Sophia.

I was familiar with much of the story though I'd forgotten rather a lot but wasn't at all familiar with Sophia.  She was a most interesting character, living an aristocratic life but demonstrating as a suffragette and working as a nurse in the first war.  I'd like to learn more.

In a bout of Francophilia a few weeks ago I joined the French Institute and today enjoyed the first fruits of my investment at a free screening of a super film called Les Grands Esprits.  Denis Podalydès plays a teacher at one of Paris's top schools.  At a cocktail do he propounds the view that what the poorly performing state schools in the banlieue need is an influx of experienced and highly competent teachers like himself.  Little does he know that he's addressing these remarks to someone from the Ministry of Education and finds himself being inveigled into putting his ideas into practice himself.

Of course it's not an immediate success.  His relations with the pupils are not good.  But this is a warm and delightful comedy in which a happy ending is inevitable.  So he brings the pupils round becoming a better person in the process.  I admit to having a tear my eye as the closing credits rolled.

This could be my Wednesday afternoon treat throughout the winter.  That would get my membership money's worth.  And it's not a bad place to eat.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Having saved this painting for the nation, admittedly not single-handed, I was happy to trot along to the National Gallery to hear a talk about it followed by a wee swally.

The talk was very interesting indeed so I followed it up enthusiastically a week or so later with Art and the Jacobites.  Not as it turned out nearly as interesting.  Frankly boring, but the evening was saved by scampi and chips plus some pleasant plonk with chums at the New Club.

Yet more art.  I squeezed in a visit to the Rembrant exhibition that had been running all summer just a day or two before it closed.  All that dark Flemish stuff is not entirely to my taste but they can work miracles with zones of light in the darkness and I do like portraits of which there were many.

I went from Rembrant to the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition which has just opened.  It's a spledid collection mostly of posters advertising the attractions of fin du siècle nightlife.  There are some scratchy recordings of the stars of the day to listen to.  I'm sure that in the right place at the right time they were a wow.

That scampi was not my only eating out experience this month.  I've eaten Swiss alpine dumplings in Leith - very tasty; had an excellent French lunch with former workmates; had a mediocre French lunch elsewhere and a pleasant Scottish pre-theatre dinner before Mathew Bourne's Swan Lake.  That's an absolutely wonderful show and so sexy. What an imagination and what thrilling and accomplished dancing.  A couple of the dancers walked past me as I waited for a bus the following morning and I was quite excited to see them.

I much enjoyed hearing Francois Leleux playing the oboe with the SCO last season so it was a pleasure to hear him again.  He played Haydn's oboe concerto which was fine but I actually enjoyed other works on the programme more, notably some Brahms.  More Haydn popped up at another SCO concert.  This time a chorale work, The Seasons.  It was grand.  The chorus sang their hearts out and the soloists were great.   

I heard Catriona Morison sing during the Festival and she was back in Edinburgh this monthe to sing Shéhérazade by Ravel in a splendid RSNO concert under their new Music Director Thomas Søndergård.  He's not a new face for Usher Hall audiences because he has been Principal Guest Conductor for a few years.  He swung into action as the boss with Mahler and Beethoven and followed that up with Grieg and Rachmaninov in the concert that featured Catriona Morison.  I enjoyed both those concerts and were I not nursing a cold in the hopes of it not spoiling my weekend in Keswick I'd be in the Usher Hall again tonight.

I don't know if I can blame my cold on the days I went without central heating while a new boiler was installed but those were cold days in contrast to the mild days that followed, on which the heating seldom came on.  Whatever, my various domestic bits and pieces are gradually reaching the end of their days and being replaced.  A groaning toilet cistern is next in line.

On one of those mild days I sat drinking in the sun with Andrew who happened to be in Edinburgh and was happy to chew the fat with me while Rosemary got on with the serious business of shopping.

I'm catching an early train for my weekend away and luckily I went to collect my pre-purchased tickets today because the machine went through all the motions and told me that it was printing them but disgorged no tickets.  I had to run around a bit to eventually get a man to open the machine and pull them out.  No way I'd have been at the station sufficiently long in advance of my train for that.

Spotted this splendid bird on the hunt for a snack in the Water of Leith.


Tuesday, October 02, 2018

In a mood of hexagonal nostalgia I joined the French Institute the other day.  I suppose I should say re-joined because I have been a member in the past though in my heyday of theatrical activity there in the 90s I don't think I was.  Anyway I toddled off to their celebration of European Language Day which was not too exciting. There was a little quiz, harmless enough, then half-hour taster sessions of a limited number of languages.  The only one that promised me anything new was the Polish one so I went and it was fun in a mild sort of way.

There were refreshments. A pale shadow of the feasts that used to be laid on in Randolph Crescent.  Has austerity accompanied the move to their new premises on George IV Bridge?  I left clutching a pile of leaflets hoping that there are better days there to come.

That same evening I went with Claire and Ross to see Manpower at the Traverse preceded by a delicious bowl of chicken livers at Nandos.  That nosh pleasure saw me through a tiresome show whose raison d'être was lost on me.  Fortunately Claire was reviewing it so now I know.  Generous as ever she gave it two stars.   Joyce McMillan was there as well and on the Scotsman website under her byline it gets four stars but no supporting text.  Very odd.

Also very odd by most measures and the very reason I went to it was a gig featuring the American saxophonist Colin Stetson.  Described as experimental he does all sorts of things with the bass
saxophone except perhaps play music.  The best I could say about it was that it was better than his support band.  To be fair some of his stuff on Youtube is listenable to and this video in which he explains what he's doing is interesting.

At least thanks to meeting a sax playing friend who had arrived early I got a seat.  The Dissection Room being on this occasion as on many others essentially a standing space.