An Edinburgh Festival Diary Day 4


Carlton Burial Ground and the Roof of Holyrood

The busiest day so far, and it’s encompassed The Queen’s Gallery, a graveyard, the Fringe, the Book Festival and hoola-hoops.  What more could any person want?

The day began at the exhibition of da Vinci anatomical drawings at the Queens Gallery at Holyrood; or if I am to be absolutely truthful, the day began with coffee and cake at the cafe at Holyrood.

The da Vinci drawings have been in the Royal collection since 1690, but it was only in the 20th century that they have been fully appreciated.  Now removed from the leather book binding in which they were kept for centuries, scientists and doctors have been able to see how truly accurate and extraordinary the drawings are.  With no blue print before him, Leonardo developed his own way of sketching the body, stripping away layer by layer to reveal the sinews and bones and tendons beneath the skin.

The price of admission brings with it an audio guide which both explains the key drawings, but with the contribution from a surgeon reveals how da Vinci’s work prefigures what can now be proven with the use of three dimensional scanning, and how it is possible to tell that the drawings must have been a real person, because of the abnormalities depicted. Because da Vinci was interested in the way things actually work, everyone going round the exhibition, at one moment or another, finds themselves flexes their fingers, or stretching out their arm and making a fist, just to check they are made the same way.

Unconsciously in choosing the exhibition on anatomy, I was making a link to the strong muscles and straining tendons I had seen at the ballet on Sunday.  Our next stop had another similarly tangentially link.

The Carlton Burial Grounds is very close by Holyrood so it was just a step across the road to see The Daughters of Decayed Tradesmen Christine Borland and Brody Condon.  Installed in one of the watch towers which were erected to protect the graves of the newly dead in the period when Burke and Hare, the resurrection men were stealing bodies to sell to the Edinburgh medical school for anatomy lessons.  The tower is now derelict, and Borland and Condon have suspended a long string of jacquard cards, the arrangement of holes in which set the pattern for weaving cloth, but which in this installation tell the story of two girls living in the home for daughters of decayed tradesmen.  These stories, told in a nearly lost language now gently undulating in the breeze, will be unfathomable unless you can read binary code.

It’s a thought provoking work set in a fascinating place.  The Carlton burial ground was for Edinburgh tradesmen and their families, so many of the stones and small temples record not only names and dates but also occupation: auctioneer, merchant, sea captain.

From there we walked up the Royal Mile to launch back into the Fringe, hunting out our venue by its number, to discover that it was not a coal cellar or someone’s garage, but instead one of the meeting rooms in the Radisson Hotel.

Magic Number 6 is a one hour play charting the deterioration of the relationship between Patrick McGoohan and Lew Grade during the making of the 1960s TV series The Prisoner. I’d booked the play because the writer has recently completed an MA in screenwriting, and the subject matter, about the conflict in a commercial creative world is something that interests me.  It may not be an ideal reaction, but what struck me most forcibly in watching the show, was how difficult it is to write a short play.  Some of the scenes of the confrontation between the two men were tight and tense and well performed, but as a whole, the play lacked its own moral, and given that ultimately the dispute was over money, not enough about the importance of the budget was established at the beginning, when Grade appeared to approve the project without any comment on the finances.

We had to hot foot it back across to the New Town for an afternoon slot in the big tent at the Book Festival where Liz Lochhead, Makar (Scotland’s National Poet) was in conversation about Scottish culture in the thirty year life of the Book Festival.  It turned out to be not really about that, but as she said at the outset it would be a ‘bit of a blether about books’.  It also emerged that while she was very happy to talk about the flowering of literary talent in Scotland in the last decades, she resoundingly rejected any suggestion that just because it was Scottish something was good, as if it wasn’t Scottish it was bad.  It was refreshing to hear her strong opinions, and amusing to sense the anxiety of the chairwoman about what she might be about to say next, especially when she started on the subject of poor productions of her own work she’d seen.  But what was good to hear was the celebration of good work from wherever it came, and the ability to experience it in Scotland.

Circa Wunderkammer is one of the shows with the most posters around town, and about which we’ve already had several conversations with strangers.  I’d ordered the tickets some while ago, so was pleased that it turns out to one of this year’s hot topics.

What can I tell you?  I was not disappointed at all.  They are a remarkable troupe of acrobats from Australia, strong and lithe and humorous, doing unbelievable stunts.  Once again I was wondering at the muscles and the timing; they perhaps lack the grace of the ballerinas in Scottish ballet, but have you ever seen a ballerina with a man standing on her shoulders?  I loved the androgyny of the show.  It’s the men who do the striptease, and the women show they can also carry a man aloft, or catch one of their sisters flying through the air.  Men climb poles as if there was no such thing as gravity; one man can hold his own weight, as well as that of another hanging off his ankle at right angles to the vertical.  A woman could step up to a man’s shoulders as if there were nothing easier in the world.  One of the women can keep a dozen hula-hoops going at once, spread across her body, moving her arms in and out and bending her head to the side without interrupting the flow.  There were gasps of awe at the anticipation of what the next trick was going to be and then applause when it was completed.

I’m off to practice with my hula-hoop……

But one last thing before bed.  We returned to Summerhall for the Michael Nyman installation Man with a Movie Camera.  Inspired by an experimental film from the 1920s by Russian filmmaker DzigaVertov, Nyman has written a score for the silent movie, and has then created 10 parallel films, apparently, according to the blurb, matching to the original frame by frame.  All 11 films are being projected on a forest of screens in one of the galleries, while the music plays.  It would be fair to say that opinions of this piece amongst our party diverged significantly.  I found it confusing until I identified the screen that was showing the original film, and then spent my time watching that, because, knowing the era in which it was made, I could see the experimentation and fascination that had gone into it.  The more modern collage of images was less interesting, and I couldn’t really discern any congruity between the images and the music that was being broadcast.  Others in the group loved the music.

I believe I have now earned my EdFest Spurs.

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