Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Continuing Saturday Adventures

Entry for 7 March 2009:

It’s our custom whenever possible to go off somewhere every Saturday to explore some aspect of Scotland. Since the New Year, we’ve had seven of these Saturday Adventures.

A couple of times we’ve just explored a bit of Glasgow, such as the area around the Glasgow School of Art, above Sauchiehall Street; or the east end around the Barras Market, where we discovered the charming Irish Catholic church of St. Alphonsus, filled with statues of various saints, peaceful with the late afternoon sun shining in.

One two other occasions, we’ve taken train journeys to places not far from Glasgow: For one, we spent an intriguing day in Paisley (“Why would you want to do that?” asked my fellow tutor Alison when I told her), where we loved the Gothic grandeur of Paisley Cathedral, saw the ancient celtic cross kept there, had interesting conversations with one of the docents, with the lady in the nicely-stocked gift shop, and with the minister (who was getting ready to perform a wedding for someone he didn't really seem to know). We had lunch in a little Chinese place in the Paisley Mall, which was a little community in itself, family members bustling around and talking with the regulars. Finally, we spent a couple of hours in the charming Paisley Museum, a small municipal museum filled with odd bits and a very nice exhibit on the history of Paisley print (which didn’t come from Paisley at all but was made famous by the cheap knock-offs produced by the local textile industry).

Another one of our train journeys took us to Dunblane, just north of Stirling, where we spent the afternoon exploring Dunblane Cathedral, whose roof was removed not long after it was finished so that its nave was exposed to the elements for 400 years before finally being re-roofed at the end of the 19th century. There we had long talks the docent about the history of the place and the local community. We were especially impressed by the stained glass windows, particularly the unusual modern ones in the choir, full of angels, animals, and depictions of forces of nature.

A couple weeks ago, Diane finally got her UK driving license, after months of lessons. (Much to her surprise: she had been convinced she would fail…) Since then, we’ve been able to visit places that require a car. The first of these was Chatelherault, a regional country park, 20 miles east of Glasgow, surrounding an old hunting lodge, on the River Avon, a tributary of the Clyde. The rebuilt hunting lodge features dizzying, uneven floors, and there is a ruined castle across the river from the lodge. However, the most impressive thing there, we thought, were the ancient, gnarled cadzo oaks, some of them estimated to be 600-800 years old.

Then, last weekend, we drove to Carmunnock, a small village on the southern boundary of the Glasgow, featuring lots of neatly restored, white, 200- and 300-old houses. We happened upon the Kirk just as their warden arrived to run off the leaflet for the next day’s service, and were treated to in impromptu tour of the place, including guardhouse (built 200 years ago to watch out for grave-robbers!), crypt, and choir loft.Carmunnock Kirk features galleries on three sides around the pulpit, which dominates the church in classic Presbyterian fashion. A particularly interesting aspect is that the three galleries each have a separate outside stairway.

Finally, we’ve been meaning to get back to Edinburgh for a while, so yesterday when the weather turned dreich in Glasgow, we gave up the prospect of the walk through Govan in the pouring rain in favour of a day trip museuming in Edinburgh, which is usually drier (and colder) than Glasgow. We got off at Haymarket station and headed for the Scottish Museum of Modern Art. However, on the way on the way up Palmerston Place we got sidetracked by the Episcopal cathedral church for the Edinburgh/Lothian diocese, St. Mary’s. (Yes, it has the same name as the church we go to in Glasgow, which is also a cathedral.) Despite sharing a name, Edinburgh’s St. Mary’s is a very different structure, much larger, really a dark, neo-gothic church built in the late 19th century, following a fairly classic English cathedral plan, complete with chapter house, Lady chapel, clerestory etc.

Back on track, we finally made it to the modern art museum, where we were most impressed by the large outdoor work entitled “Landform”, which is exactly what the name indicates: a large out-door, swirling earthen structure covered with grass. The earthworks are maybe 8 feet high, terraced with multiple paths, and partially encircle a couple of comma-shaped ponds. They feel like the remains of ancient hillfort or one of Ohio’s serpent mounds. When we arrived they stood there, empty and mysterious, forlorn in the gray day, but as we came out to leave, they have become inhabited by running children and parents and thus seemed more playful than mysterious. We went across the street to the Dean Gallery, where the highlight is a room full of surrealist art, Magritte, Dali, Valraux, etc. I’ve always had a soft spot for surrealism. (Chalk that up to growing up in a household where dreams were taken seriously and science fiction magazines and books were scattered around liberally.)

And so the Saturday Adventures continue, and with each one we take into ourselves another bit of Scotland as something familiar and part of who we are and where we’ve been. Even when we return to something we’ve been before, it becomes more deeply written into us, as we see new aspects of it or see it in a different season, under different conditions, or even in a different mood. In a dialectically constructive manner, we change it (in the image we build in ourselves and even imperceptibly by our passing through it, touching the people we encounter there even briefly) and we are changed by it, growing and deepening. It is a kind of liturgy of travel and acquaintance.

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