After the silence and natural wilderness of Shetland, coming into Edinburgh was a stimulating, beautiful and culture-rich experience from the get-go.
Built on hills and filled with glorious Gothic architecture, Edinburgh is a city of slender very tall church spires; slate roofed turrets topped with finials; stepped facades; all stone buildings with rusticated quoins. It’s surrounded by serious mountains, has a vast castle and a most beautiful Royal Botanical Garden. I spent a whole day there amidst the huge trees, the amazing flower beds, and the 12 glass houses filled with exotic jungle plants. There was even an art exhibit featuring paintings of strange “Weird” plants–carnivores mostly–simply beautiful. Art is everywhere in Edinburgh city as well–from a sweet little Cindy Sherman show to a 200 year collage retrospective to the amazing National Museum housing everything from crystals to dinosaur skeletons, fine tapestries to African masks.
But art wasn’t my goal here–the crazy wonderful plethora of music, dance, theater, burlesque, cabaret, circus, serious drama, comedy and busker art that completely overwhelms the city all of August was. It’s nearly impossible to imagine the breadth of activity day and night here–the Royal Mile is filled with stages where guitarists, singers, acrobats, storytellers, fire jugglers, dancers, mimes, theatrical players and all manner of processions go on hourly all day long. All the pubs–of which there must be thousands– have live music all day and til 3am. On the Mile one is barraged by people handing out flyers for every kind of show imaginable–the statistics are stunning: in venues from churches, to dive bar basements, formal exquisite vintage theaters to hotel conference rooms converted to stages, to caves–literally a warren of caves on Cowgate host many shows– the Fringe offers 3841 shows in 323 venues with something like 68,000 total performances throughout August.
The Festival, meanwhile, which started the madness in 1952 to bring tourists to Edinburgh goes on at the same time, offering more formal arts–ballet, opera, full tilt musicals, modern dance in more far flung venues and with higher price tags. Ironically the Fringe was originally on the outskirts of the Festival but now it overwhelms it.
Still, I absolutely immersed myself in the arts here. I saw 28 shows in seven days–for real–and I danced nearly every night as well to a great cover band playing at the Royal Mile Pub just a few doors down from the great Hostel I stayed at –the Royal Mile Backpackers.
So what did I see and what would I recommend?
Of the Festival I saw
–The Scottish Ballet doing an elegant abstract dance story based on Arthur Miller’s “Crucible” sensual amazing choreography, moving brutal story of Salem witch hunts–excellent
–“Peter Gynt”–three act musical based on a Norwegian folk tale retold by Ibsen, about a liar self-promoting braggart who sails through life most obnoxiously and successfully (and referencing Trump) The music and sets were great–the dancing too and the last act when Peter has to pay the piper he is revealed not so much as evil as profoundly mediocre–Excellent
–Kalakuta Republic”–another abstract dance performance, this time based on the music and activism of Fela Kuti; amazingly acrobatic and powerful choreography–Excellent
–“Silent River” story of Aborigines and colonizers of Australia–sound didn’t work for me–probably was good
–“Roots”–a most innovative performance by 1927–hand drawn animation from great drawings that somehow had live faces on characters from the Fat Cat to fishermen, vignettes based on obscure and magical folk tales–terrific show
–“Kinnalik–These Sharp Tools”–a dialogue with singing and luscious videos of northern Canada between an Inuit storyteller and a Toronto singer
–“Amadou and Miriam and Blind Boys of Alabama”–classic bluesy gospel
I spent most of my time at the Fringe and saw an amazing variety of performances, mostly wonderful, most an hour long
–“Trump the Musical” however was stupid
–“The Trial” a one woman show about transsexual bullying–well done
–“Melanie Branton”–a spoken word show– autobiography of a middle aged very sensitive poetical women–excelleny
–“Improv Actually” okay
–“Voices of Lions” a boys choir singing angelically in an old church–acapella renditions of sacred music to Queen–great
–“Henry Box Brown”–one of my absolute favorites–a 15 member cast of slaves and plantation owners singing and dancing the sad story of slavery and final escape from it–superb
–“Sex Shells”–good cross dressing singers, not much more
–“York de Soleil”–the title a come-on–the actual performance ok comedic skits
–‘”Here Comes the Tide; There Goes the Girl” a very odd Cal Arts play about a crazy girl who tries to drown herself and others and has sex with a dolphin–ok
–“Well, that’s Oz”–a dreadful rendition of Oz with a foul mouthed cross dressing Dorothy–another odd Cal Arts show–terrible
–“Woyzek”–drama based on classic story about an unfaithful wife and jealous husband–good
–“Divet”– fantastically funny drag show wherein the three Finnish actor/dancer/singers impersonate the songs of everyone from Tina Turner (with walker) to Dolly Parton (with crazy swinging boobs) to Gaga and Beyonce–fabulous
–“Painted Corners” a sort of comedy about lost love–ok
–“Hamlet”–serious and in Shakespearean English–the perfect short version–well done
–“Exposing Edith”–Edith Piaf’s life story interspersed with great versions of her songs –good
“Modern Maori Quartet” three comedian singers from New Zealand–ok
–“Forest” a stunningly beautiful abstract dance play with exquisite videos about the beauty and devastation of forests–Excellent
–“One Night with Freddie”–a rollicking rendition of Queen–great
–“Kaye Hole”–a drag cabaret with some crazy acrobats and a boy covering himself with shavomg cream and flinging himself into the man sitting next to me!!
–“Atomic Saloon”” a crazy Western Saloon based cabaret with slutty cliched characters and amazing muscular acrobats–good
–“Back to Black” Great singing of Amy Winehouse’s songs and some of her story–good
So that’s it–I recommend both the Fest and the Fringe heartily and can’t wait to return–GO!! It’s a great time to visit Edinburgh
A Week in Shetland
Sailing twelve hours on a wonderful ferry from Kirkwall Orkney brought me to Lerwick, the capital city of the almost countless Shetlands Islands, most uninhabited, some with populations of 30 (Fula) or 60 (Fair Isle). The gannet population of 13,000 breeding pairs on Noss exceeds the number of people on all the islands put together.
So you come for the landscape, for the fact that Shetland is the farthest north one can go in the UK; and you may come with expectations. Mine were that the islands would all be wild and full of cliffs. Actually much of the islands are filled with sheep and farms on rolling green hills much like Orkney but the hills are taller, the crofts fewer, and towns are few and far between, not to mention smaller—three or four structures may warrant a village name.
And the capital Lerwick is similar to Kirkwall but a bit more elegant–three story Victorian homes on hills with views and sweet little gardens in front; a cobblestoned “main” street filled with lovely shops and music venues; an exquisite harbor; and my favorite–the Lerwick Flower Garden that offered the most extraordinary bouquets of color and fragrance imaginable.
And there are cliffs—magnificent ones—filled with breeding sea birds in the National Park on Unst, the northernmost Island. It is here, also, that some very fine gin is distilled at Saxavorn; and where two continental plates have collided and created a myriad of rocks from serpentine to granite at Norwich Beach; and where wool is spun into such fine yarn that it is knitted into lace.
Farther south lies an exquisite “tumulo” beach attaching the main island to St Ninian’s Isle where a treasure was found and where there are the ruins of a Viking church. At the southernmost tip of Mainland Shetland is an amazing archaeological site—Jarlshof—encompassing structures from 3500 BC to Viking brochs to medieval farms. The best preserved Iron Age broch of all, though, is located on the wild and uninhabited island of Mousa. The broch is a round, three story, windowless structure resembling a nuclear silo that was built by a chief 2000 years ago to signify his power. Inside the double stone walls are spiral staircases to each floor which I climbed to understand the interior—a massive commodious space for an extended family. The broch sits on a cliff with nesting stormy petrils flying about. And the mile hike around the island to this structure is filled with seals and sheep and sea bird colonies.
Shetland is your land if you want peace and beauty, lovely landscapes and wild wilderness.