Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   Scottish Parliament
Sunday, August 12 2007

setting: Room 1, Claymore Guesthouse, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

This morning in the dining room at Claymore house, I sipped my coffee, ate my fried mushrooms, and kept my eyes averted from the scrambled eggs Gretchen was eating in defiance of her nascent veganism. Looking up at the art on the wall I noticed that it was comprised of, almost without exception, prints of Pre-Raphælite paintings. Pre-Raphælite art shows up in a lot of places (and was a big source of the square-jawed angels of the early girlie-web), but because it lies outside the "standard lineage" of art history, it gets very little coverage in art history classes. Gretchen took plenty of art history in college but didn't know what Pre-Raphælite art was until I provided something of a definition over breakfast this morning. But even I wasn't all that certain about when its heyday was or who its principle artists were. Most of what I know about Pre-Raphælites comes from an interest I took in the Symbolists (which I got to via the Gauguin wing of Post Impressionism). But why the fascination with Pre-Raphælites here at Claymore Guesthouse? Interestingly, this fascination is expressed only in the public areas, and even then, in the stairway the Pre-Raphælite stuff takes a turn for the Art Noveau in the form of stylized women on decorative tiles. In our room, Room #1, the prints are exclusively those of the French Impressionists, the same tired old paintings you've seen a gajillion times already.
The art isn't the only thing that's strange about Claymore Guesthouse. It's run by a couple, one of whom is a strange little spiderlike man and the other of whom is an attractive middle aged hippie woman with an annoyingly fake ingratiating personality. Their apartment, visible on occasion when they leave its door open, looks and smells like a Superfund sight. I supposed the spiderlike man thinks he can get away with smoking in that apartment, but the smell of stale cigarettes permeates every room. I've made this observation before but it bears repeating: smokers think they can live their disgusting lifestyle and no one will be the wiser, but they have no idea how good the noses of non-smokers actually are, and how much we suffer from the pollution they don't know we notice.
On our way into the city centre (which we would have actually already been in had the promotional material for Claymore Guesthouse been honest) we thought we'd keep our eyes open for vacancies in other guest houses. It seemed like a longshot, what with the Edinburgh Festival sucking all the spare capacity out of the city, but sometimes you get lucky. We walked into a place and found that they did indeed have rooms available. We couldn't believe our luck and were about to make a reservation when they quoted us a price: £50 per person! That would put the room at a stratospheric price of $200! There was no fucking way we'd be paying that price for another night in Edinburgh. We'd rather head south and spend the night at Hadrian's Wall instead. When we expressed our dismay and said we were spending only £45 per night at Claymore Guesthouse, the guys at this guesthouse seemed upset. They said the guest houses on this street have a tradition of agreeing to a price beforehand for festival season and that it's not fair if one of them charges less and takes all the business. What he was describing was the sort of cartel that would be illegal in the United States, but that's a separate story. Suddenly Gretchen had a horrible thought. Were we paying £45 per night for our room or were we actually paying £90?
On our way further down the street we freakishly we ran into the fakely-ingratiating hippie woman bringing produce back to Claymore House, and Gretchen asked what we were paying for our room. Horror of horrors, it was £90 per night! It's a good thing there wasn't an opening for tomorrow night at Claymore Guesthouse; we'd said earlier that if one came up we'd gladly take it.

It had been sunny and clear this morning so I'd set out in a teeshirt, though it wasn't long before clouds rolled in. The thing about Scotland is that rain can fall from just about any cloud, even those puffy white clouds that in other parts of the world are merely decorations overhead.
We found our way to the east end of the Royal Mile, to the vicinity of the Palace of Holyroodhouse (where the Queen likes to idle away the hours whenever she visits Scotland). There was no getting anywhere near the Palace, at least not without buying a ticket, so instead we trawled the gift shops and then made our way across the street to the new Scottish Parliament building. Scotland had been without a Parliament since legal union with England in 1707 and the new only only dates to 1999. The building that houses the Parliament has a novel, thoroughly non-traditional design. It's made up of a set of interlocking concrete boxes covered with a smattering of randomly-placed windows and dark forms that resemble large dalets (the Hebrew character). On top of some of these boxes were bowed forms which (according to the guidebook) were supposed to conjour up images of fishing boats lying their sides. I can't say that I really "got" the exterior but Gretchen had the perfect explanation of the Parliament's many interiors. More on that in moment.
We went through a low-key security checkpoint that included an airport-style xray machine. "Is it okay to put whiskey through?" Gretchen asked (she had one of those tiny little bottles of Scotch that the gift shops like to sell for about £3.80). "The machine automatically confiscates the whiskey!" joked the security guy. Unlike the low-paid staffers at JFK security, these guys understood the importance of the right to bear whiskey.
Just inside security was an exhibit of photography from all over the world. Much of it depicted people at either their greatest triumph or most crushing defeat. Some were disturbing photos of people in the act of being killed in various contemporary war zones (Isræl, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, etc.), while others were executing dope dancing moves, seeming to hang weightlessly in some absurd position in space. Gretchen was struck by a photo of the faces of some Africans watching a DVD together. All of them had completely different expressions on their faces.
Up inside the large debating hall we marveled at crazy system of wood and metal trusses holding up the roof. Unlike most trusses, these interlocked with each other in three dimensions using both compression and tension. It looked expensive and Scandinavian. Leaving asid, for a moment, the first half of that description, there was even an Ikea-like moment when I discovered a thin piece of wooden veneer pealing from a post. Unlike an Ikea product, though, underneath this veneer was more wood (as opposed to particleboard).
The support system for the ceiling trusses reached right out of the building into a series of concrete flying buttesses supported in various ways by tension cables. This was in keeping with a theme Gretchen identified: exposed trusses in the grand debating hall, views into the parking garage through a series of reed-shaped cutouts, and even exposed ductwork in the bathrooms. This, she thought, was a metaphor for the way a good modern European government operates: open and exposed to sunlight, the grand disinfectant.
We wandered back toward the center of the city as occasional rain-shedding clouds passed overhead. We ended up at Susie's Whole Food Diner (a sort of vegetarian cafeteria) where I enjoyed a beer and delicious masala wrap. Gretchen had more trouble finding things she could eat, since nearly everything was contaminated with aubergines.

I bought a couple beers on the way back to the guesthouse and kicked back by myself, surfing the web and what not while Gretchen crammed more Scottish experiences into her day. She ended up seeing two more stand up comics, neither as good as Eddy Brimson. During one of the acts, the comedian discovered she was from the United States and used it to extemporaneously riff on the stupidity of Americans, eliciting many laughs in the process. They don't know this back home, but over in Europe Americans have become the new Polaks.

Trusses in the Scottish Parliament.

The outside of the Scottish Parliament.

See some photographs from the Scotland trip.

For linking purposes this article's URL is:

previous | next