neurons send pulses
through grey matter, quick flights, bright,
sparking new pathways
Reflecting on the past is a wonderful tool. It can help you realize how much ground you’ve really covered, and remind you of those sweet moments in the midst of the mundane. To continue with the “Best of 2011” spirit, let’s move on to concerts. Music moves me, soothes me. I FEEL it, to my core. What’s better? Live music that delivers, that has passion and feeling that can’t be captured on a disc. In no particular order:
The Coachella Music Festival, 2011.
This was a fantastic experience. I went with my mom. Yup, not everyone can say that. Although we didn’t decorate the Prius, we were indoctrinated into the Coachella culture while waiting in the enormous lines of cars to get into the camp grounds. I had a tent, Mom had the back of the Prius. Temperatures topped 100 degrees during the day. I was recovering from an infection and completely high off the antibiotics. Towards the end of the festival, we discovered the delight of wrapping a wet bandana around your neck. And the music? The line up was phenomenal. Arcade Fire and the National were the highlights for me. We also discovered some new bands we might not have otherwise encountered, including City and Colour, Warpaint, and Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears. Here are a few memories:
Mogwai and the Twilight Sad, Motion Picture House, Scotland, 2011.
Talk about music you can feel! Again, with the Mom-unit. We sat in the upper balcony, that seemed to be at the best distance for perfect resonance. The bass vibrated my innards. The Scots seemed to be the type of folk who enjoy a good show and aren’t afraid to let everyone know it. This was our first time seeing the Twilight Sad. The lead singer is absolutely mad; and I mean that in the best possible way. Intensity and passion are easy adjectives. His connection transcends that. Mogwai gave an bang-up performance.
Handsome Furs, The Casbah, San Diego, 2011.
I love these two. They had off the wall energy. Alexei Perry was jumping around on the keyboards while Dan Boeckner strummed away. The energy of the crowd totally moved them, and the positivity and affection in the room just continued increasing, exponentially. It was awesome! (and I get to see them again in January. Yay!)
Florence and the Machine, The Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, 2011.
Amazing. Beauty, poise. She is an iconographic figure. What’s even more, she really does have the voice to back it up. I love the intricacy of their lyrics. This was a lovely venue for them. The pine trees cradle you, and it’s as if you’re nurtured into some sort of Eleusinian mystery. A rite of passage. A transformation.
*Between Two Lungs
Elbow, The Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, 2011.
The CDs cannot prepare you for seeing them live. Just can’t. They are poetry and romance. They are full of thoughtful observations, surprising turns of phrase. Guy Garvey has the most gorgeous voice! This is not a concert you go and watch. You are part of it, there singing along with a thousand of your friends.
PS-DeVotchKa opened for them. Just one more highlight to a perfect evening.
*On a day like this
The National, The Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, 2011.
First of all, we brought a picnic. How cool is that? Next, they played all my favorite songs. I had no sense of “once more, with feeling”. They had a huge screen playing documentary-style video, almost like you’re seeing something that’s meant to stay hidden. Spying. Before they came on, a camera broadcast onto the screen from the green room. The absolute best moment was when Matt Berninger first turned the countdown clock to the audience and then, as we got closer to 0, he tried to destroy it. They didn’t stop for an ego break. They played through the entire time. Hell yes.
I know. Technically it’s a beverage, not a food. Although the Scots may disagree. I’d never given Scotch a real try. Maybe it was from that one awful experience of drinking out of someone’s cup and coming to the stark conclusion that it in fact did NOT contain water. Rather Laphroaig. Mind you the difference is great.
So I didn’t expect to enjoy the Whisky Experience as much as I did. Learning the distillation process whilst rolling on a track in a giant barrel was kit, but slightly more overwhelming was going into the tasting room, where you are literally surrounded by liquid gold.
We learned about the 4 major areas producing Scotch, and the flavors peculiar to each one. Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, and Islay. Admittedly Speyside is not my favorite (the one pictured here, and the only bottle remaining in my house from the Scotland trip, only because I gave away the ones I liked the best). It has a rather tropical flavor to it. I was actually able to enjoy the smokiness of the malts from Islay. Caol Ila to be exact. It’s exquisite. I gave it to my boyfriend (good to keep the best in the family).
After we were done with the tour, we bellied up to the bar and continued the tasting. We asked the bartendress what was the proper way to drink Scotch. She refused to answer this question. Instead she shared with us how she liked her Scotch. With ginger beer. So, maybe we encountered the one profane Scots person when it came to the drink, but I must admit, it is delicious. To my tongue, the ginger beer helps release the flavor of the Scotch while also cutting the alcohol. Ginger ale doesn’t do since it’s too sweet and watered down.
I’ve have the great misfortunate of craving this drink on two dive bar misadventures. Each time the bartender laughed and asked if they looked like they were a top shelf place. So now in addition to beer snobbery, I now have to deal with this. And I relish it.
Criterion for classification as a nerd: when one of the highlights of a trip is a gallery dedicated to “optical experiences”.
Camera Obscura, ideally situated next to Edinburgh Castle and the Whisky Experience, is devoted to the art and science of seeing. CO has multiple levels, each level features a different theme. On the rooftop is a real, operating camera obscura, which looks out over the city.
This image captures one of many fascinations. A mirrored wall was speckled with rows of LED lights that changed colors at regular intervals. After some experimentation, I decided to close up the f-stop and lengthened the shutter speed for the light ribbon effect.
Yeah. I was pretty giddy.
This place might might actually top the Exploratorium in San Francisco on my cool list. Maybe.
Scotland. A land steeped in mist and mystery. Dotted with tartans, and positively overflowing with bronzed, heavily muscled alpha-males beating their chests and seeking their mates. At least that’s the myth. Maybe it does have some grounding in reality. After all, just because the lorrie driver loved tunes and Dolly Parton, he was no less capable of traipsing off into the Highlands for a week alone in the wilderness.
Aside from expanding our perceptions of the Scottish male, he offered other lessons about culture and heritage. For example, language. Scotland currently has three recognized languages. The Queen Mum’s English, Scots, and Gàidhlig. What? Don’t know what that is? Scottish Gaelic, silly. Thanks to the great foresight of some politicians, it was allowed back into the lexicon upon the formal occasion of a bill signed into law in the ripe oulde year of MMV. That is, 2005.
The driver remembered his school days (not so long ago). Then the BBC-style of English was mandated. This wasn’t just expanding vocabulary and learning grammar rules. He had to learn how to speak with the proper BBC accent. Anytime his Glasgow roots showed, he was punished. He managed to keep the accent of his home, as well as acquire the BBC mask. Even though he was proud of Gàidhlig, he only knew enough to get by. Maybe a little bit more than a tourist would know. He’s in good company, since recent surveys purport that ~98% of the population cannot speak their native tongue. Not surprising since long ago (and not so long ago), Gaelic was banned as part of the Highland Clearances. Britain saw it as much a threat as a weapon. Language is an easy way to define a social group. There are speakers, and non-speakers. There is an inside, and an outside(r).
In the dank battered villages, old-timers speak an English closer to Scots, without a trace of the BBC’s stamp of propriety. This conjures a slew of other notions about identity. The land, its layers, the Loch Ness, the mountains surrounding it and the clouds pressing over everything shape the people here. Language exerts its own force. The words used, their cadence and origin, grammatical constructs, the shape of the words, the way feel in the mind and on the tongue. It has a kind of power.
I’ve been in Edinburgh, Scotland for about six days now. This is an interesting space. Pictures and tales will follow in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here’s a little something. We roamed the grounds and ostentatious chambers of the Holyrood castle. Room after room was gilded, plastered, painted, tapestried, gored in red velvet and more. Mary Queen of Scots lived here. Apparently it’s been host to a solid stream of British royalty and ceremony.
Adjacent to the castle is the Holyrood Abbey, which predates the castle by a few centuries. Even though the abbey was destroyed and defiled during religious upheaval, some of the sepulchres and grave plates survived. I was snapping away pictures, searching for the oldest one.
Many were so worn, it was difficult to tell from where they came. It was when I was standing on this one that I realized that these people were bloody wealthy, near the top of one dog pile or another, and here it was, life reduced to some faded words on a slab, which now served strictly as a huge paver.
I’m not sure if there’s a moral here. Don’t stand on dead people? Some legacies don’t transcend the grave? Will have to ponder it a bit more.