I began the day in Edinburgh waking at 8:00 to get an early start. I then decided to venture out on my own. Solitude is preferable to me when I travel, especially in cities because I like to do my own thing. I wandered New Town a bit, still tired from the massive hike taken with Kyle and Tom the day before. The wandering was rather uneventful; I saw a lot of the city and just general acclimated myself to the hilly city.
After a tasty lunch provided by a little ingenious shopping on my part at the local Sainsbury’s, I proceeded on to the National Gallery, mere meters from our hostel. I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked, but then, I never have enough time in art museums. However, I did find an interesting piece of family history that morning. To provide background, when my mother and brother visited me in London last December, we toured St. Paul’s Cathedral, where I discovered I had an exponentially great, great, whatever named Benjamin West buried in one of the most sacred places in London. He lived during the Revolutionary War, but when war broke out, he left for England. He was an artist, not a fighter. While in London, he was appointed to direct the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Very cool, I thought, I have some interesting family history. Flash forward to four months later and as I walked into the Scottish National Gallery, I turned to the left to find a fifteen by twenty foot epic portrait of a Scot stabbing a stag and saving the life of King Alexander III. As I read the ridiculously long title, I wondered, “Who could ever honestly name a painting like this? It’s cool, but what’s the story?” I looked at the plaque and realized that the man who painted this Scottish masterpiece was none other than Benjamin West, my ancestor, painting his famous ancestor saving the future king of Scotland. For all the events of the day, this was the most interesting and astonishing for me. I never knew what kind of art Benjamin West produced. The shock of traveling halfway around the world and randomly finding a piece by my ancestor was my highlight of the day.
William McGonagall (abstract)
“The Worst Poet in the World”
William McGonagall, known as “The worst Poet in the World,” was born in 1830 in the Scottish town of Edinburgh. His parents grew up in Ireland, but after William was born they never returned to their birth land. William was the humble handloom weaver. After struggling for many years, the McGonagall family settled in Dundee. For the first half of his life, William followed in his father’s footstep and became a weaver. However, his mind was elsewhere. He began to read the works of Shakespeare and was highly devoted to analyzing the great characters.
It was during this time that William McGonagall made the life switch from a humble weaver to an inspired poet. In June of 1877, William McGonagall was “divinely inspired to devote his life to poetry. He claimed to hear the voice of God saying, “WRITE. WRITE!” For the rest of his days, McGonagall was devoted to his poetry. Today we see poetry as objective and inspiring to all our senses. This was not the case for William. His mind was said to be appalling to the audience and his poems were often mocked off stage. William McGonagall devoted the last 25 years of his life to poetry and was buried in a pauper’s grave. He was the writer of the worst poems in the English language, despite the fact that he was on a mission from God
Day 2 of Edinburgh, Scotland
I woke up on Tuesday at 8:00. We were going to have a workshop before we made our way to the Scotland Museum. Kyle and I stopped at Bobby’s Bar for a bowl of soup before we went through the museum. As we were walking down the royal mile we saw a sign for a “Literary Pub Crawl.” We didn’t know what to expect but it look pretty harmless. The sign advertised that we would visit the historic sights from Edinburgh’s literary giants. I couldn’t recognize the pictures on the sign so I didn’t know if my great Scot was part of the tour. So, I just signed up hoping that he would be and continued about my day.
The museum was interesting. I particularly enjoyed the extensive history of Scottish Kings and Queens. I took a course this semester on The Reformation. It was really cool to connect the dots and see actual artifacts on a subject where I was given a test. Looking at them now was for pure enjoyment. However, I still could not find anything on my great Scot.
The rest of the day was spent walking around the town with Tom. He had signed up for the pub-crawl and we decided to meet Kyle at the start of the tour. Allen Foster was the name of our guide. The tour was called the pub-crawl. He should call it “Edinburgh History 101.” Since he knew so much, I decided to ask him about William McGonagall. I was the only American that he has met who knew anything about William. He took us to Captain’s bar. It was said that William McGonagall would read his poems every night at Captain’s. William would carry an umbrella, not for the rain, but from all the ale that would get thrown at him each night.
I was introduced to the bartender as the only American who has read a McGonagall poem. The bartender asked me how I liked it and before I could answer he said, “It sucks.” I was so happy that my research paid off and I could connect with the culture. I will never forget the plaque outside Captain’s that read, “William McGonagall died here. A poet and a tragedian.” It had been put up recently by a few local supporters.
Greetings from Scotland! Our second day consisted of a tour of Edinburgh’s museums, parks, cafe’s and of course, pubs. We were also able to observe a local play called, The Roup. A roup, for those of us in America who are unacquainted with such UK colloquialisms, refers to the selling of a farm. It is also an opportunity for the owners of the farm to hold something of a yard sale, during which items of sentimental value are often reacquired and hidden away by the woman of the house (thus, hardly anything is ever really sold).
The play was a great opportunity to hear some of the different Scottish dialects and was strikingly reminiscent of home. (my mother tends to be steadfast to her heirlooms whenever we have a yard sale). Finally, a few of us went on a ghost tour of Edinburgh, which wasn’t very scary but was entertaining and historical. I would like to end with saying that Tennets is my favorite beer here in Scotland so far, and the University of Aberdeen seems promising. I now know why it is easier for me to concentrate at Wabash, where there are no girls are to be found. Not the case here. Till next time. Cheers
So full day number two down and only a few more left on our adventure. It has definitely been a little intimidating here so far. Many of the natives have thick accents, sounding something like a perpetual drunken slur. My experience in translation over the years at Wabash has made picking up the native tongue a bit less hairy, but I can say it's been quite a chore. A play we saw last night by a local, Bob Adams, even brought regional dialects into the mix. Though this all may seem intimidating, it has actually helped to make my Scottish experience a very authentic one. My expectations of Scotland, the working-class pubs, the lively people, the beautiful architecture, the fresh air etc. have been far exceeded. I am looking forward for a few days at Aberdeen to cap off a successful trip.