Saturday, June 23, 2007

Fort William, Scotland

Friends: It was graduation day yesterday at Glasgow University. The quad of this centuries old
institution was aswarm with graduates, the women draped in a flimsy black cape of a sort and the men clad in kilts and knee-high socks, looking most proud and dignified.

It wasn't until today, though, that I encountered my first bag-piper--a lone gentleman full kitted-out along the road at a scenic overlook. His tunes drew me upward as I climbed in a cold drizzle from the valley up into the mist-shrouded Highlands. I wasn't certain at first if I was actually hearing what I was hearing or if it was the ancient echoes continuing to reverberate in this grand and vast natural amphitheater. But the sound become more distinct and real the higher I climbed. Then, at last, there he was, as authentic as the rugged peaks all around, but at his feet a blue plastic bucket, a Scottish busker out in the middle of nowhere, posing and playing for the tourists at a summit overlook. An hour later, as I approached a small village along a lake I heard those Scottish tunes once again. I soon came upon a small church where a wedding was just concluding. A piper in full regalia stood at the door to the church, serenading all as they exited.

Just 25 miles from downtown Glasgow is Loch Lomond National Park. There was so much traffic along the western, most scenic, side of this 22-mile long sliver of a lake, framed by mountains all around, that the traffic heading north was forbidden from turning int the occasional scenic overlooks. There was a serene bike path down below that artery, however, hugging the shore of the lake. It was the old, quite narrow, road that was slowly being swallowed by vegetation. I had it all to myself.

I did pause in Glasgow to give two of its outstanding museums a look--the Hunterian at Glasgow
University and the Kelvington in the sprawling grounds below. Both were housed in castle-like buildings. The Kelvington had a gargantuan building all to itself, while the Hunterian had just several rooms of the main four-story university building.

The Kelvington was constructed for an International Exposition staged in Glasgow in 1901, back when Glasgow was one of the premier cities in the world. It was so prominent and affluent that it hosted a World Exposition in 1888 as well. It is a combination museum/art gallery, celebrating things Scottish as well as from all over the world. It has a Dali of Jesus on the cross seen from above and a life-sized sculpture of "Saint Elvis--King of Rock and Roll," pot-bellied in blue, holding a microphone belting out a tune. A full room was given to French painters with quotes from many of them high on the walls above their paintings that lent some insight into their character. "I want to conquer Paris with an apple"--Cezanne.

There was a painting of Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet, bedecked in a beret, imitating Che. He lived from 1759-1796 and was known as the "Ploughman's Poet," a working class hero and a rebel. Of religion he said, "Of all nonsense, religious nonsense in the most nonsensical." The day before I stopped by his childhood home. It is part of a National Heritage Site which includes a 70' tower erected in his honor in 1823. It overlooks the River Doon and the Brig 'o Doon (a bridge that dates to 1400) that is featured in his most famous poem Tom O' Shanter. He's also famed for penning the lyrics to Auld lang syne--times gone by.

The Kelvington also honored Mary Queen of Scots, who was beheaded at the age of 44. And it
acknowledged famous Scottish artists the Glasgow Boys and the Colourists. There was a special exhibit on John Quinton Pringle, an optician/painter. One of his paintings was "Repairing the Bicycle" from 1889.

There was an exhibit on mental health care in Glasgow, which acknowledged R. D. Laing, Scottis pop-shrink, who denounced normality and maintained that schizophrenia was a "break-through" rather than "break-down." Nearby was an exhibit on sectarianism and another on violence against women. It displayed a bridle from the 1600s used to punish women for nagging or gossiping, preventing them from speaking. In present times a woman is killed every three days in the UK by a partner or ex-partner. Another women-oriented exhibit was titled, "Woman Adored, Woman Adorned."  An exhibit on the Scottish interest in American westerns was equally engaging.

It was an exceptionally well-curated museum that had the usual fossils and vases and stuffed animals and sarcophagus to go along with many pertinent and fascinating subjects. It truly emphasized what a fascinating world we live in, while piquing one's curiosity to learn more. There were quite a few school groups walking through and receiving commentary from teachers and staff. Many exhibits were mounted down low at child's eye level. There were also two sets of railings on the stairways, one for adults and another for children.

The Hunterian was much more modest of a museum, but it was interesting in its own way. It was largely the private collection of a physician who lived from 1718-1783. He collected
over a million objects. This museum opened in 1807 and was Scotland's first public museum.

Tonight I'll sleep along the banks of Loch Ness. I'll have my camera cocked and ready. Tomorrow its on to Findhorn.

Later, George

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