NORTH, SOUTH, DOWN & OUT
I know it has been a while since my last post, but I have been busy
accruing material for this one by traveling around this fair island. This blog-entry will concentrate on my recent travels outside Edinburgh. First to the capital of the UK and home to those English leeches: the
monarchs of Britain; and secondly to Scotland’s biggest and most unsettling
GETTING TO LONDON
I took a night-bus
from Edinburgh to London to visit some friends from Macalester who are
studying there at King’s College for a semester. A nine-hour trip
in a tiny cramped seat is bad enough without miserable company; but
I was unfortunate enough to get the full two-fer-one crappy bus-ride
combo. The guy who sat next to me looked like the kind of guy
Dilbert would refuse to be seen with in public. At first, I was
excited because he was immediately talkative. I thought to myself
that this was going to be fun, that my bus-partner and I were going
to become friends like in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Then the guy decided to tell me about his job working for an open-source
version of Google maps, and everything started to turn.
on about his job in a peppy and cartoonish way that I will refrain from
here because it would alienate you as it did me. This is
the gist of the one-sided exchange: He and his friends decided that
it would be neat to set out on a quest to take pictures of the entire
world to in order to submit these images to a league of powerful amateur
cartographers. These other participants scrutinized them and put
them together to form a map. This noble alliance between the camera-toting
vagrants and the mapmakers led to what my delusional companion proudly
hailed as a "more accurate version of Google maps."
As he gestured
wildly trying to recreate his madcap bike-rides through the Scottish
countryside, armed only with a Nikon and a bottle of Powerade, I tried
to drown out his goofy voice with the power of my own thoughts.
I started to inwardly question the veracity of his absurd claims. How could a bunch of bored would-be Vespuccis do a better job than Google
does? Guys who mainly specialize in the field of knowing all the
lines from Monty Python movies cannot outdo a company that has employed
its satellites to take pictures of the surfaces of the Moon and Mars.
that was only one of many questions that popped into my head, along
with "why didn’t you just take another bus to London?" and "why
can’t God just disintegrate somebody for me just this once?" Everything got much worse when he decided to point at the street every
time we came across a patch of land that he and his friends needed to
"explore more deeply" for the project. This happened very
often — so often that eventually I forgot all civility and tersely told
him I had to go to sleep. This was a blatant lie: nobody could
sleep on a bus-ride as cramped and uncomfortable as this. Except
for the map-nerd. He slept like an oversized baby, snoring loudly,
and shuffling his legs in a way that clearly violated my prized personals
I did get to London; I parted ways with my nightmare-bus-buddy, and
we have not crossed paths again.
landmarks of London are so familiar to everyone that I will not waste
time describing the spires of Westminster Abbey or anything as mundane as
that. Instead, I will tell you about some other stuff that happened
to me in the UK capital.
Being in a
major city, the amount of options available to you can be overwhelming,
disorientating, even paralyzing. Matt, the friend I was staying
with in London, was kind enough to tackle this problem before I got
there by losing his job. Now, we were free to roam the streets
of the capital unhampered by the responsibility and indecision that
come with that burden of burdens: money! No tours or fine dining
for us. Instead, we had plenty of time to witness other more "idiosyncratic"
when we were walking on London’s Strand we noticed some very colorful
shapes moving about in a small alley near us. We walked towards
the alley and the shapes came into focus. Before me, I saw what
seemed to be the gaudy entrance of a nightclub and next to it were several
individuals fully costumed to look like different animals. A fox
in a policeman’s uniform cuffed a yellow rabbit in a baseball jersey. A purple wolf with robot-parts stared my friend and me down with his
laser-eyes. Some other critters completely ignored us and went
around taking pictures of each other in weirdly suggestive poses. My friend and I exchanged confused looks with a hint of trepidation,
realizing that we were in the territory of some pretty wild deviance. Like lower mammals responding to a base instinct, we began to take pictures
of these people who enthusiastically obliged us by strutting around
in a way that can’t really be called "sexy" but which I can perhaps
best describe as "uncanny."
brush with perversity, I visited many other, more conventional sights. I saw Britain’s largest manmade crack in the Tate Modern and a host
of pictures of historical luminaries with weak chins at the National
Portrait Gallery. I even heard a recording of James Joyce’s
shrill aunt of a voice at the British Library! Every day was rich
with activity! However
stimulated these activities kept my eyes and ears, the call of a grumbling
tummy inevitably brings me to my next topic: food
complain about British cuisine. They say it is unhealthy, unsavory,
and unsatisfying (and not worth the £5.00 you pay for it). I
like deep-fried things, though, so Scotland has been good to me. Fish ‘n’ chips, deep-fried pork rib, and analogous dishes are exactly
what clogs my heart and arteries with joy as well as fat. London,
on the other hand was not as delightfully greasy a romp as its Scottish
There, I went
to what may well be the worst Chinese buffet currently in operation.
It was an awful place where the bits of chicken tasted like crusty soap
and all the desserts were cubic. Everybody at the restaurant,
save myself and the friends who were with me, looked absolutely depressed. They ate the food with heir heads hanging in despair, as if somebody
were making them do it. Frankly, I think that by the end of our
meal, we also must have looked like we had just endured some especially
cruel and ancient torture. Nevertheless, we swallowed down several
plates of this shitty matter, because it was, after all, an all-you-can-eat
buffet, and we jumped at the chance at finally getting
the most bang for our quid.
The moral of
this story is: when in London, refuse the food. No matter how
hungry you are, it is not worth the pain and sadness you will feel after
your stomach is full of toxic bile. This I learned the hard way.
Soon after my culinary travail, I had to take the bus back to Edinburgh.
I spent the whole trip looking out the window; trying hard to fight
back London’s take on the ol’ buffet blues.
Now, on to
the next stop on this tour of the Isle:
A few of my
friends and I decided to travel via train from Edinburgh to Glasgow
in order to take in this city. I knew little about my destination,
and God knows I wasn’t going to bother myself with doing research. Thankfully my flatmate, Knut, had some helpful information to provide.
From him, I found out that Glasgow was the "knife-fight capital"
of Scotland and that I should "definitely
avoid needles" at all costs.
I arrived at Glasgow, things took on a sinister bent. The city
had many beautiful buildings, but the sight of encroaching urban sprawl
was something that had become alien to me in tidy Edinburgh. As
we ambled down the causeways and closes, I noticed cultural artifacts
like smack-spikes and dirty shoes abandoned in strange, muddy gutters.
Then I saw a group of chavs shout obscenities at a couple of women. The women screeched back some non-words in self-defense and gave them
the two-finger "screw you" salute. I made it past this battle
and came to a plaza. There, a man stood on a ladder, and hysterically
spat passages from a big book (The
Bible? Dianetics?) at a group of onlookers. Sometimes he took
breaks to tell us passers-by that we were "Scum!" and "Damned!" This city was obviously no place for the faint of heart.
For some odd
reason, we decided to go to the Glasgow Necropolis. Deep in my
stomach, I felt this was a bad decision as it meant getting closer to
the tombs of Scots killed in the knife-fights I was told about.
We went, though, and I saw where John Knox was buried. After that, nothing
else really happened. Hopefully, next time I go to Glasgow I will
get bludgeoned by a wino with a bloody dirk and I will get the "real
Glasgow experience" I was hoping for. Until then, cherished
memories of rudeness and creepy fanaticism will have to do.