Sunday, May 29, 2011

Saturday Adventure: Sharmanka, Friends, and St. Andrew’s Catholic Cathedral

Entry for 28 May 2011:

I’ve been travelling a lot the past few weeks, so it was a relief to be able to get back to a proper Saturday Adventure this week. After a slow morning, we set off for the Glasgow city centre, to see St Andrews Roman Catholic Cathedral, recently reopened after extensive renovations. However, after various delays and wading through the Saturday afternoon crowds on Argyle Street, we got to the Cathedral just as people were going in to the 1pm mass.

Instead of going in and having an hour or so to kill before a scheduled visit to Diane’s friend Juli’s, we wandered back up away from the river. ending up at the art space at 103 Trongate for something completely different, which a friend had told us about a couple of days earlier:

The Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre is one of the strangest, most eccentric, evocative and enthralling art exhibits I’ve even seen. It features 20-plus separate mechanical sculptures-cum-theatre-pieces, by Eduard Bersudsky, a Russian wood-carver, junk-collector, gadgeteer, and allegorist. We arrived, by accident, just in time for the 1pm show. We paid our entrance fee, the lights went down, and for the next 35 minutes one piece after another lit up and different bits – cables, chains, wooden figures, bicycle wheels, sewing machine treadles, old fashioned typewriters, pieces of pipe etc etc -- began moving up and down, back and forth, round and round, while appropriately evocative music played. Each piece is a world of its own, evoking a set of emotions, and often unfolded a narrative: a leave-taking, a painful episode in Russian history, a journey, a fantasy novel, an old movie, and so on. The pieces mix sacred and profane, mechanical and organic, and humor and tragedy. What a find! Who knew such a thing existed, right here in Glasgow. For more (including videos), go to

After this, we took the train south of the river to see Juli and Tony. Tony injured his leg and is currently stuck at home, with Julie looking after him. We took a bunch of flowers and the Sharmanka flyer to cheer them up. After tea and cake, Juli gave me the Tour of the house, which is an Alexander “Greek” Thomson property, dating from about 1860, quite spacious, with lovely fire place fittings and has a great view over south Glasgow.

After that we thought we’d try St Andrew’s Cathedral again, this time arriving by accident about 15 minutes into their 5.15pm Saturday evening mass. This time, we went in and sat down in one of the pews, listening and joining in with the service while we absorbed the renovated interior. No more heavy, dark nave: They’ve lightened the walls, which are now a honey colour, and run broad spiraling ribbons of gold-leaf and trefoil up the inside columns; the bosses in the ceiling have been painted green, blue, red, again with gold leaf. There is now lots of natural light and in the left aisle there is a striking, El Greco-like painting, by Peter Howson, of Roman Catholic Glasgow martyr St. John Ogilve. It was lovely just to sit there in this new-old, clean-feeling sacred space, listening to the words and music and absorbing the feel of the place. Afterwards, we wandered for a bit through the brand-new cloister space, in the centre of which is an installation consisting of a set of tightly spaced stainless steel reflecting plinths, with a small channel of water running among them, like a small forest of space-age standing stones.

Afterwards, walking back to Central Station and on the train back to Hyndland, I let the feeling the day wash over me This was one of our best Saturday Adventures ever: blending curiosity/wonder, the pleasure of company, and the peaceful/sacred.

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