More good things in Edinburgh

The weather forecast suggested that Edinburgh might be one of the wettest places in the country this weekend. Fortunately, most of the rain held off until overnight on Saturday and early Sunday morning. We had our friends from Inverness down to stay. On Saturday morning,after a local wander, we had coffee at The Canny Man’s, a Morningside institution and free house run by the same family since 1871. The pub’s real name is The Volunteer Arms but no-one at all refers to it as that. When we first lived in Edinburgh 30 years ago, it was a serious drinking place. Now, it also serves good food but is still decorated with the same fantastic array of objects suspended from the ceiling.
In the afternoon the men went to a rugby match while my friend & I took the bus down to the Botanic Garden. It was an unusually still day and the sun continued so the autumn colours were glowing, mostly leaves but some flowers as well.
The garden is also set up for the Botanic Lights celebration which is held on evenings every autumn for a month. I have never been but it might be something for the future. We also managed to find some Christmas presents in the gift shop.
I had also been keen to see an exhibition of botanical paintings from Nepal. They dated from 1802 to 2016 and there were also exhibits of other ways plants were used either as dyes or to create fibre which was then made into lace. I particularly liked this painting of Ficus religiosa or Peepal. The tree is sacred to Buddhists and Hindus and is often planted around temples and at rest stops along trails. It was also used for various medical conditions. There were paintings of many plants and flowers including Rhododendron arboreum, the national flower of Nepal but which also grows in other Asian countries. I have never been there but have seen the tree in the Western Ghats in India and was amazed to see for the first time, a Rhododendron that was not a shrub.
In the evening we had dinner in a local restaurant and then adjourned to the Jazz Bar for their World Premiere Quintet. They arrange for five musicians who have never played together before or rehearsed to perform together. This was scheduled for 9pm after the acoustic tea-time session but by that time only a drummer, double bass player and pianist had arrived. We began to think it might only be a trio. However, the trumpeter and then the saxophonist, both from Glasgow, did appear and we were treated to a great set before heading back to the flat. Today, our friends headed back north on the A9 and we drove home through the Borders on the A701 and the motorways via a series of roadworks, arriving home just as the sun had set.

Autumn weekend in Edinburgh

I was cursing the fact I had not packed my sunglasses on Saturday morning as we were treated to yet another sunny autumn morning. Café society was out on all the pavements in town, weekend school sports and boot camps in the Meadows and I was squinting in the sunlight to see where I was going.
I had hoped we would manage to squeeze in some jazz at the Scottish Arts Club at lunchtime but our shopping trip took longer than expected so I spent the afternoon reading and watching birds. A flock of jackdaws were feeding on the lawn, the cherry tree and the building opposite, joined by a pair of magpies. They did not stay still in one place long enough for photographs. Today, James was attending a course and as I did not sleep well last night, limited myself to one outing to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, a wonderful building on Queen Street.
I had gone to see an exhibition that finishes on 16th January: ‘Facing the World: portraits from Rembrandt to Ai Wei-Wei’. There are five sections in the exhibition and the earliest are of course, oil paintings. I was reminded of a conversation last year with a friend around the topic of being able to appreciate a work of art without knowing anything about the artist. This is true but knowing something can shed more light on why this particular work was produced at this particular time. Or perhaps it is just that I am interested in people, have spent my career working with them and have a particular interest in creativity. On my current reading list is a recently published book entitled ‘Wired to Create’.

This work stuck out for me amongst the oil paintings. It is by Georg Philipp Schmitt in 1823-4 when he was 15 or 16 years old and is in pencil which was then a recently invented tool. I had forgotten that they really have not been around for long.
Portraits can provide an insight via facial expression, clothing and props and also the setting. This is Wilhelm Schnarrenbarger in his studio.
Others depicted themselves with friends or family members, role played or focussed on specific parts of the body such as this untitled circle of hands by Bruce Nauman.
There are 20th century photographs, video and outside the exhibition, the opportunity to contribute your own selfie to a display or for children to draw themselves. I have never painted or drawn a self-portrait and my sister complained recently that I was always behind the lens and not in front of it. Here is a photographic self-portrait from 1984.

Driving to Edinburgh and discovering some history

The weather improved as we headed north and the traffic usually diminishes after north Lancashire. That was not the case today. There were at least half a dozen very large loads heading up the M74 with escort vehicles. We could not identify what they might be components of but they slowed down even more the very heavy traffic. We left the motorway on the A701 and drove through Moffat without stopping. I had driven this road on a February afternoon and thought that I must return just before sunset as there are so many landscape views which would make good photographs in the right light. However today we were still too early for that and at the end of a long week, too tired to hang around waiting for it. Here is a shot from February.
A701 view 6 26 Feb 2016 (1 of 1)
We got stuck behind a campervan and several other cars but were still making a reasonable speed. A few brave souls overtook them without any accidents although it could have very easily been otherwise. There are a number of interesting places to explore, some of which I remember visiting in my first job in these parts. Romannobridge is named after the old bridge which stands in the middle of the hamlet.

A Dr Pennecuik’s history of Peeblesshire gives this account which I found on a website devoted to the history of gypsies in Scotland:
“Upon the 1st of October, 1677, there happened at Romanno, on the very spot where now the dove-cot is built, a remarkable polymachy betwixt two clans of Gipsies, the Pawes and the Shawes, who had come from Haddington fair, and were going to Harestanes, to meet two other clans of these rogues, the Baillies and Browns, with a resolution to fight them. They fell out, at Romanno, among themselves, about dividing the spoil they had got at Haddington, and fought it manfully. Of the Pawes, there were four brethren and a brother’s son; of the Shawes, the father with three sons; and several women on both sides. Old Sandie Fawe, a bold and proper fellow, [It is interesting to notice that the Doctor calls this Gipsy a “bold and proper fellow.” He was, in all probability, a fine specimen of physical manhood—Ed.] with his wife, then with child, were both killed dead upon the place; and his brother George very dangerously wounded. In February, 1678, old Robin Shawe, the Gipsy, and his three sons, were hanged at the Grass-market, for the above-mentioned murder, committed at Romanno; and John Fawe was hanged, the Wednesday following, for another murder. Sir Archibald Primrose was justice general at the time, and Sir George McKenzie king’s advocate.” Contrasting the obstinate ferocity of the Gipsy with the harmless and innocent nature of the dove, Dr. Pennecuik erected on the spot a dove-cot; and, to commemorate the battle, placed upon the lintel of the door the following inscription:
“A. D. 1683. 
The field of Gipsie blood, which here you see, 
A shelter for the harmless dove shall be.”

I think I might search out a copy of the History of Peeblesshire and find out a little more about the area before my next visit.

Aquitaine: an afternoon in Bordeaux

Yesterday, after a lazy morning getting ready for today’s departure, we took the bus into Bordeaux. We were there two years ago and once, more than 10 years ago but on both occasions, drove in. The bus terminus is at the Place de Stalingrad. Just before it is reached we passed the old railway bridge which sits alongside the current one. The unused one was designed by Gustave Eiffel and the city has been told that if it is demolished, it would lose its UNESCO World Heritage Status. It would make a great foot and cycle path and could be planted up like the New York High Line. We walked across the Pont de Pierre to the quayside.
and visited the Basilica of St Michael, a gothic church with ancient and modern stained glass. These hangings were striking but there was no explanation or attribution to any artist that I could see.
Afterwards we walked around many small streets. The Marché des Capucins is unfortunately closed on Monday as are many shops in France. However, this specialist brush shop was open. The owner was just returning after a short break and we made a purchase. Before my next visit I must check for any missing paint brushes because I don’t think I have seen such a large selection even in an art shop.
After browsing in Mollat, the second biggest bookshop in France, we walked back along the quayside where a huge ship apparently owned by a wealth Russian was moored. As it was hot, many people were cooling off in the Miroir d’Eau.
mirroir-deaux-1-bordeaux-26-sep-2016-1 As the lanterns were beginning to glow, had an aperitif in the Place du Parlement and our evening meal at the Cafe des Arts which is in the art deco style. On the first floor, the ladies toilet has 1930s photographs and outside, on the landing are displays of dead insects from Thailand, Malaysia and other places. Quite a strange combination. This short exploration of the city only served to whet my appetite to return in the not too distant future as there is still a lot more to see. We returned home today and with not too large a drop in temperature to 20 degrees and still plenty of sun. I am not sure how long it will last.

Aquitaine: exploring the banks of the Garonne

Cadillac was our first destination on Saturday morning. It is another wonderful medieval town with a chateau, ramparts, narrow streets and a large busy market where stalls line several streets and squares. Antoine Laumet de La Mothe who emigrated to what is now the USA, was the founder of Detroit and Governor of Louisiana. The Cadillac division of General Motors, and Cadillac, Michigan are named after him and resonates with our visit to the Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo three years ago.
It has a wider social mix than some of the places we have been to. We purchased the things we needed, browsed the stalls and then stopped for a coffee. Tradition has it that the men sit in a café with a coffee (or a beer) while the women do the shopping. We restricted ourselves to coffee. The egg seller had some interesting chickens on display.
We used to keep chickens and a friend once bought me as a gift, a little book entitled ‘Extraordinary Chickens’. This one would certainly have been in it. There was a bookshop with new and secondhand sections and also vinyl and DVDs but if I had gone in there, I might not have been seen for the rest of the day. We did have seats booked at the Union Bordeaux-Bègles versus Lyons rugby match at the Stade Chaban-Delmas that evening. The local team were victorious 32-10 and afterwards we had a lovely meal in the city centre.
On Sunday afternoon we walked by the river past cornfields and round the old port of Rion. The river has silted up over the centuries so the port, citadel and village now sit uphill of the river bank. There are old huts and prawn fishermen’s nets suspended over the water. At the end of the riverside path, where it turns back uphill, there was a very new and upmarket fishing hut and pier with numerous signs telling us this was private property so we headed back up to the port. the local cats, sitting on doorsteps viewed our friends’ dog with great suspicion. We could hear the sound of French rap coming from the village centre where some young people were enjoying the music and stuck our heads into the bar at the Tourist Information Centre but wanted to stay outside to enjoy the good weather.

Aquitaine: Parc Ornithologique du Teich

Today with another blue sky and sunshine, we visited the Parc Ornithologique du Teich. We were last here in 2014 in August so this was our first September visit. Our friend dropped off at a nearby station and just like home, ended up on a rail replacement bus. At the reserve, were surprised to get a discount as RSPB members, despite not having brought our membership cards. Most of the storks seen on our previous visit had now abandoned their nests and left, apart from a few stragglers.
There were a few turtles in the ponds near the entrance and this one was quite well camouflaged.
We walked around the whole reserve, picnicking en route and stopping at most of the hides. There were some serious bird photographers with tons of kit but I just strolled along looking at all the birds.
This sign appeared to be attempting to appeal to our Australasian friends.
The day turned out to have been hotter than forecast so after stocking up for the evening meal we headed back to the house to cool off.

Aquitaine: Saint-Macaire & Château de la Brède

Our friends had morning and evening commitments today. They dropped us off this morning at Saint-Macaire, a lovely medieval town. We spent over an hour pottering around the streets and lanes, visiting the church ‘Saint Sauveur’ and the adjacent remains of a former Benedictine abbey.
We found a cafe to top up our caffeine levels and a gallery with a small photographic exhibition.
We then walked to the Porte du Thuron and then back round to the market to meet up again.
After lunch we visited the Château de la Brède. The current building was constructed on the site of an earlier wooden structure and there have been various renovations over the centuries. Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, a writer and philosopher was born there in 1689. He lived there regularly all his life, although he also travelled, and wrote many of his books, including The Spirit of the Laws there. His descendants owned the chateau until 2004 when the last member died. It is now owned by a trust. Our guide told us that the family had had some financial problems and sold the library; other sources say it was donated to a library in Bordeaux. No photographs were allowed inside so the only ones I have are outdoors.
In the surrounding fields there was a herd of grey cattle and which breed they are remains a mystery.
On the way back, we stopped for a brief look in a secondhand bookshop in Beautiran. I could have spent all afternoon ferreting about in there. He also has postcards, prints and some music including vinyl.
The next essential purchase on the return journey to the house was some wine at Chateau Mellin.