Saturday, August 27, 2016

Europe 2016

Here are some memories from my Summer '16 European adventures: teaching in Jyväskylä, rediscovering old haunts in Rota, searching for a decent absinthe in Paris, exploring the fringe of Edinburgh, and sipping pints in Dublin...

• Finland: Geisha chocolate

• Finland: Tango Finlandia

• Finland: Two nice things

• Finland: Jyväskylä Street Art

• Spain: One day in Rota

• Spain: Valencia Street Art

• Spain: Missing batteries in Barcelona

• France: Parisian drizzle

• Scotland: Wandering Edinburgh

• Scotland: "That’s not the one you want"

• Scotland: First Fringe

• Scotland: Wrecked

• Scotland: Plunging further into the Fringe

• Scotland: Bad Shakespeare

• Scotland: Vivaldi for Breakfast

• Scotland: Trumpageddon

• Scotland: Trainspotting

• Ireland: Dublin

• Ireland: Belfast murals

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Ireland: Belfast

While I didn’t write a formal blog post for my Summer 2016 European adventures, I thought it’d be fun to share some memories I initially stored on Facebook.

Four hours of hiking through Republican and Loyalist sides of Belfast. And despite some good advice, I crossed one of the "Peace line" transit points without going back to the center of town. So many murals, so many chance discoveries, and even a parade complete with Bobby Sands flags and grim faced elderly marchers for whom "the Troubles" were no mere historical period. But, wow, are my dogs barking. So you can imagine my delight when I find a place that serves Guinness, free wifi, and comfy chairs! That's where I am right now... I think I'll sit, enjoy the accordion music, and have a pint or two.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Ireland: Dublin

While I didn’t write a formal blog post for my Summer 2016 European adventures, I thought it’d be fun to share some memories I initially stored on Facebook.

Matt, Crystal, Eliot, and I flew to Dublin from Edinburgh yesterday and grabbed a taxi to a rental house, a quiet and comfortable place 10 minutes from the downtown area. After the requisite unpacking and deliberating we walked into the central district, sharing a relaxing dinner before going out for pints in a pleasantly random pub crawl. Matt and I stayed out somewhat later, bypassing crowded spots and opting instead for quieter places suitable for conversation.

Today we slept in before returning to the city center - stopping first for Matt and Eliot to toss a football in a nearby park. Highlights included a visit to Trinity College’s Book of Kells exhibit (celebrating the 1,200 year-old collection of Christian Gospels illuminated by glorious calligraphy and illumination) and the Long Room library, which Star Wars fans will recognize as the inspiration for the Jedi Academy. Later we visited the Guinness Storehouse, which isn’t so much a brewery tour as much as a really swell exhibit of history, production methods, and advertising campaigns.

Naturally we concluded our stay at the Gravity Bar, notable for its wonderful 360-degree view of the city. I peeled off for a while thereafter to check out the Temple Bar district, with a stop at the famed pub that pretty much every Dublin tourist visits at least once. I rejoined the crew later in the evening, enjoying rounds of drinks with two of Matt and Crystal's close friends before turning in for a much needed night’s rest.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Scotland: Trainspotting

While I didn’t write a formal blog post for my Summer 2016 European adventures, I thought it’d be fun to share some memories I initially stored on Facebook.

Yesterday was the final full day in Edinburgh, and we made the most out of it. After a relaxing morning, a few of us met to see Dublin Oldschool, perhaps the best show (outside of Albatross and Vivaldi for Breakfast, of course!) I saw at the Fringe. Spoken word, explosive rap, clever blocking, subtle staging, and amazing seats! Best of all, the performance included so many shout-outs to Ireland’s capital city, I can already imagine myself walking around the place when we arrive later tonight. Sure I’ll visit as a tourist, but I’ll be reminded how other layers of the city rest atop and beneath that rarified continuum. Afterward we attended a wrap party for the cast of Vivaldi to chat and celebrate the achievements of the Hawaii based crew who came to Edinburgh, not so much for money or fame but just to get their kicks. I was happy to help contribute to the festivities with a bottle of Laphroaig (which I don’t think survived two hours).

Then it was off to another highlight of the last couple weeks, a performance of Trainspotting. We queued outside what appeared to be a club, were handed glow sticks and received hand stamps, and then made our way into a smoky, hazy, jammin’ dance floor, with the characters occupying the room’s center. Gradually the tableau gave way to drama and we settled into a performance that evoked the shock, stench, humor, and pathos of the book (I’m told) and movie. Of course, this being the Fringe, performers pushed boundaries in ways that would likely not be acceptable back in the States. Full frontal nudity was just the start of it. When one of the performers woke up having shat himself from the night before, he not only cleaned himself off but actually flung the filthy blanket and towel into the audience. When other characters would pass out, they’d sidle up to audience members and lay across their laps. [I know this from personal experience!] And of course when dudes ran through the room with knives, I really wondered just how close I was to being stabbed if just one actor fell the wrong way. It was a perfect last show for such a violently and amazingly eclectic festival. Afterward we went out for pints and whiskey, stopping first at a nearby pop-up spot before settling in at the Devil’s Advocate, which lies down a narrow line of steps that descend from the Royal Mile. Now it’s time to pack and say some goodbyes before catching a flight to Dublin and three final days of European adventure!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Scotland: Trumpageddon

While I didn’t write a formal blog post for my Summer 2016 European adventures, I thought it’d be fun to share some memories I initially stored on Facebook.

Second to the last full day in Edinburgh, packed with three shows so far - and one more this evening. The afternoon started with Trumpageddon, Simon Jay's satirical take on The Donald, complete with orange makeup, loopy answers to audience queries, and occasional efforts to unpack the psychology of the would-be Tweeter-in-Chief. Afterward I joined Matt's crew to check out Scorched, a moving, complex, and somewhat bewildering one-person show most notable for its remarkable staging (most especially with the sight of images dancing on pouring sand drained from the protagonist's fingers). Then I headed off to Nuclear Family, an audience participation performance that called for us to vote on how workers in a nuclear plant disaster should react to the unfolding crisis. It was... not great. But it was fun to compare notes with audience members, reviewing files and tape recordings to make sense of, and deliberate about, the actors' decisions and outcomes. I'm resting now but will take off later to see Shit-Faced Shakespeare a show whose title should be taken literally. The actor supposedly drinks for four hours prior to the show. Who knows what will happen?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Scotland: Vivaldi for Breakfast

While I didn’t write a formal blog post for my Summer 2016 European adventures, I thought it’d be fun to share some memories I initially stored on Facebook.

Chillin' today. Did a bit more shopping, completed some chores, picked up tickets for tomorrow's shows, and visited Oink for lunch (vegetarian friends, don't look in the window if you're walking by. Trust me, you won't like it). I then stopped off for a dram at the White Hart - when, who'd I see but Matt's mom and friends from the cast of Vivaldi for Breakfast! It's so nice to run into new pals in a strange city. I think I'll check out the Scottish National Museum this afternoon. Out on the Royal Mile, buskers and performers are pitching their wares and performances, sea gulls are wheeling over the streets like they're following a map, and rains occasionally wash over the city just to remind us where we are.


After an afternoon nap, I joined friends for dinner at Divino Enoteca - a lovely meal and conversation - accompanying one new pal for an impromptu attendance of a late-night Fringe show called F*ckboys for Freedom - followed by a return to the apartment for post-midnight Scotch and chat with Hanns about classical music and Hitchcock films. Yeah, it's been that kind of trip.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Scotland: Bad Shakespeare

While I didn’t write a formal blog post for my Summer 2016 European adventures, I thought it’d be fun to share some memories I initially stored on Facebook.

The adventure continues. Earlier today I joined Chris, Matthew, Crystal, and Eliot for a visit to Edinburgh Castle. After a brief but informative (and humorous!) tour, we wandered from site to site, checking out a prison where a U.S. prisoner carved the Stars and Stripes into the door of his cell, surveying the collection of swords and armor in the Great Hall, and walking through the solemn but beautiful National War Memorial. Among the many inscriptions to various groups and organizations who contributed to Scottish military efforts, I was strangely touched by a commemoration of ”the tunnelers' friends,” a bas relief carving that features mice and canaries used to warn soldiers about dangerous air. Afterward we raced through a surprise shower and slipped into a French restaurant where we chatted for a couple hours (and, yes, shared a couple more bottles of wine).

For the evening, I peeled off to see a two more shows. The first one was a bit surprising. I’d planned to get something called Shit-Faced Shakespeare, but actually bought a ticket for Bad Shakespeare. So close! The latter was a college performance that showed real promise and some interesting insight into the Bard’s villains. The second show was even more unexpected, inspired by a chance sighting of several performers on the Royal Mile pitching a show called Besieged, which is about the 2014 Sydney hostage crisis. Again, it was a student group. Lots of promise, lots of interesting implications about the intersection of violence, spectacle, politics, media, and grief. Returning to the apartment I chatted awhile with Hanns while sipping some whisky and have now settled in for some much needed rest.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Scotland: Plunging further into the Fringe

While I didn’t write a formal blog post for my Summer 2016 European adventures, I thought it’d be fun to share some memories I initially stored on Facebook.

Great afternoon of performances! “Escape from the Planet of the Day that Time Forgot” is a jumble of B-movie references performed by a plucky cast of three, using cheesy props and pantomime to transport audiences to planets containing Norse gods, dinosaurs, and Triffids! Silly, pointless, wonderful! Then came “The Inevitable Heartbreak Of Gavin Plimsole,” a show that assigns a heartbeat monitor to each audience member, projecting them all onto the stage. The performer then advances through a series of funny and sad narratives depending on the collective and individual results. Once more I was called onto the stage (proof that it pays to queue early) and given a can of red bull to drink. Weirdly enough, my heart rate shot up when I was speaking before the audience, but it actually dropped after the red bull took effect. Not gonna lie, I actually shed a couple tears by the end of the performance - which should not be too surprising given the double-meaning of the show’s title. I’m back at the apartment now, considering options for the rest of the day. Wow, it’s nice to have a place so close to the venues so I can chill for a while, only to plunge back into the Fringe whenever I want!


I don’t know how I’m gonna ever see all the shows I’ve planned, because my friends keep recommending new ones - and they keep giving me good advice! Tonight it was The Master and Margarita, a magical realist novel that alternates between First Century Jerusalem and 1930s Moscow, which was presented as a promenade. In other words, the audience didn’t watch the performance but rather followed the actors to various stations within St Cuthbert’s Church. Even better, audience members were frequently invited to participate, some to dance with cast members in the Devil's Midnight Ball, others to shine spotlights to illuminate various scenes (that was my job!). My favorite part was the point at which I was sitting by the floor, watching Margarita seek mercy for a woman who’d killed her child, when one of the actors I hadn’t noticed before leaned in close and whispered some commentary to me, mocking true love. The moment was sort of scripted, sort of improvised, but only, entirely for my hearing. Like a secret. A strange, fascinating, exhilarating experience. So glad I accepted Crystal's recommendation to join her for the adventure.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Scotland: Wrecked

While I didn’t write a formal blog post for my Summer 2016 European adventures, I thought it’d be fun to share some memories I initially stored on Facebook.

Quick break from a busy day. Morning started with laundry-time in the apartment before taking a nice walk under rare blue skies. Then it was performance time: three shows back to back. First was "Oh, Hello," performed by Jamie Rees. It was an impulse decision, but a good one: a one-person show about an aging performer's descent from lubricated self-confidence to tragic realization about his diminished value. Hilarious and sad. For some reason I thought that this piece was fictional. Turns out I need to learn more about the real actor named Charles Hawtrey. Anyway, after that it was time to climb into a hot and stuffy venue - an actual wrecked car - to follow the clues to how the performer got herself (and the backseat audience) into this crash. I didn't so much love the story as I dug the experience, particularly the knowledge that every person sitting with me was equally perplexed by the whole thing.

Afterward I bought a dram of 18-year Ledaig (pronounced Led-Chig, though there's some debate on that topic) before stumbling into something billed as a comedy show but was actually an interview program featuring a man who injects himself with snake venom, a woman who eats pieces of brick, and a dude pulled up from the audience who described the effects of having one of his testicles blow up to the size of a grapefruit. So, yeah, I'm getting plenty of the Edinburgh Fringe experience! Later on I'll drop by a party for Matthew Spangler's adaptation of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. After that, who knows?

Friday, August 5, 2016

Scotland: First Fringe

While I didn’t write a formal blog post for my Summer 2016 European adventures, I thought it’d be fun to share some memories I initially stored on Facebook.

First Fringe performances! We started with Breakfast with Vivaldi, a delightful and fascinating hybrid of music and dialogue featuring the relationship between earnest Vivaldi and horndog Handel set against the backdrop of the Spanish Inquisition. We then had lunch at The White Hart Inn with several of the actors and performers (and some quarter-cask Laphroaig), enjoying conversation about some of the humorous behind-the-scenes dimensions of the show. Hanns and I thereafter meandered to an even more intimate venue, Paradise at the Vault, where we saw a contemporary adaptation of Macbeth set in a youth offenders prison, with a cast of three! It was fun snagging front row seats, close enough to smell the sweat - fun, that is, until the daggers went flying. Then it was a bit too close for comfort. I imagined the story folks would tell: There's Andy, enjoying his first Edinburgh Fringe Festival, only to get stabbed at the end of "The Scottish Play." But then again, what a way to go!


Tonight was even more fun than today. Was amazed by Matthew Spangler's adaptation of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner - and blown away by Benjamin Evett's masterful performance. Even better, I had a chance to tell Ben personally at dinner afterward (returning, of course, to Greyfriars Bobby) how much I loved how he put heart, soul, and courage into that one-person show. Amazing! After dinner I was so jazzed that I checked the "around me" function of the Fringe app and found a comedy/magic/burlesque show right across from my apartment. And it was free! Gonna sleep in a bit tomorrow, and then return to the fray.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Scotland: "That’s not the one you want"

While I didn’t write a formal blog post for my Summer 2016 European adventures, I thought it’d be fun to share some memories I initially stored on Facebook.

Today was initially dedicated to the Scottish National Museum, but the sun was so nice in the morning that we agreed that it’d be much more fun to walk around the city. We’re expecting lots of drizzly days, so the rare opportunity to enjoy blue skies was too nice to pass up. We walked to the new town area and surveyed blocks of apartments with formal Georgian facades and well-manicured gardens. Then we headed to St. Cuthbert’s Graveyard under gradually darkening skies and the shadow of Edinburgh Castle. Yes, I'll admit it: I used a headstone once or twice as an impromptu tripod. There, I said it.

Afterward it was off to Deacon Brodie’s Tavern for my first taste of Oban whisky, a pint of the house brew, and some really tasty mac and cheese. Thereafter we ambled up and down the Royal Mile a bit, wandering past buskers, mimes, bagpipers, pamphleteers, pickpockets, and other working folks. Finally we went to a whisky shop for some Glen Moray to replenish the stuff that came with the apartment. The sales-guy poured his pitch on thick: “Ach noh! That’s not the one you want,” before pointing out bottles costing twice as much. Hanns and I nodded in appreciation at his various appeals, including a not-so-veiled implication that we must be trying our “very first whisky,” thanked him for his persuasive efforts, and bought what we came to buy. To any curious loved ones at home, by the way, we passed on the whisky flavored condoms.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Scotland: Wandering Edinburgh

While I didn’t write a formal blog post for my Summer 2016 European adventures, I thought it’d be fun to share some memories I initially stored on Facebook.

Edinburgh is so charming and vibrant, and every interaction I’ve had with local folks has been so nice! Yesterday was all about getting acclimated to the Fringe ticketing system, selecting potential shows, figuring out where the pick-up places are, and getting better accustomed to the orientation of the streets and landmarks. Today Hanns and I walked the Royal Mile to Holyrood Castle and Abbey where, among other things, we toured Mary Queen of Scots’ chambers and learned more about her dismal life.

After a walk through the castle gardens, festooned with glorious flower arrangements, we hiked up Arthur's Seat for a grand view of the city, bolstered by bracing wind and hints of rain. Having earned our lunch, we grabbed a table at World’s End for burgers, beer, and hard cider. Of course after so many sausages, potatoes, and deep brown sauces, I think our next meal had better contain some leafy green things. We wrapped up our afternoon with a walk through the Greyfriars Kirk graveyard, being sure to commune awhile with Greyfriars Bobby, the Skye Terrier who supposedly guarded the grave of his beloved owner for 14 years. What shall we do tonight? Don't know yet, but I'm feeling optimistic.

Later on...

It's the little things: Go to Tesco to get a SIM card for my phone. Purchase the card, eject the old card, pocket old card for safety, realize I need to fiddle with the plastic to release the super-tiny-mini-card. Fiddle, fiddle, fiddle. Snap. Release. Now it's time to eject my card tray and insert the new card. Press paper clip into hole, press paper clip into hole, press paper clip into hole... Nothing. Calm, focus, keep pressing. It's getting loud in the Tesco and I'm starting to sweat. Gather my stuff and haul back to the apartment. Sit down at dining room table. Breathe in and out. Slowly insert paper clip to eject tray. Push, push, push. Nothing. Look up video for "can't eject SIM card." Notice on video that the guy has the entire tray in his hand. "The entire tray comes out?" I ask. "What the hell?" Hmmm. Maybe... Walk back to Tesco. It's drizzly and cold. I feel stupid. Start gazing up and down the floor, drawing attention of helpful security guard. Scan for a tiny piece of metal that surely won't be on the floor. No tray, no tray, no... There's the damned tray, beaming up at me. "Where have you been," it asks me in a silvery, mocking voice. "Gotcha," I exclaim. Savor walk of pride back to apartment. Who cares if it's rainy? Sit down at table, insert the tray, slip the card, type in the code, fire up the service: everything works like a charm. Now I'm sipping some Glen Moray, feeling rather pleased with myself.