Sunday, July 29, 2012

There and Back Again

Now that a day has passed and everyone around the world has had the chance to witness the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremonies, I can commence my own reaction to the event. 

(One of the 2012 Olympic mascots)

The summer Olympics have served as an informal bookend to my life. Four years ago, I was alone in a foreign country for the first time in my life. I was scared and excited and terrified and just trying to find my own way. But amidst all the wonder and the chaos that is a person's first journey alone, something unexpected arose to guide me; the Olympics. The Olympics hold a special place in my heart because they not only paralleled my first foray into adulthood, they served as a major catalyst and inspiration in the creation of my artistic and personal viewpoint. I believe in theater as a mechanism for fostering global dialogue and effecting positive, sustainable change. I believe that theater is not simply just the universal language but the universal forum. It is through our theater makers, our actors, our playwrights, our lighting board operators, and etc. that we are able to share and receive stories, to communicate with our fellow man on our most fundamental and human levels. Four years ago in Beijing I saw the Olympics, truly saw them for the first time. It is because of what I witnessed there that I began to think of the power and importance of global communication and connection. 

Getting to witness the opening ceremony for Beijing whilst being in Beijing was truly a once in a life time moment. And it was a spectacular event. One of the best moments of my life was standing in the alleys of my host family's apartment complex watching the fireworks explode over the city. The ceremony was beautifully and gracefully executed, and as I stood watching those fireworks, the pride that swept through the heart of every Chinese person at that moment, also swept through me. I didn't have to be Chinese to be proud of what they had accomplished or to know how much this mattered to China. It was the first time I felt a global pride in another nation's accomplishment. It was a honor to be a part of that. 

This opening ceremony was perfectly British which is exactly what it was meant to be. I suppose that's part of the reason why I don't understand the comparison being drawn between this opening ceremony and Beijing. The opening ceremonies are meant to be a reflection of the host nation, it is an exhibition of all that makes that  particular country unique. China and England are two entirely different nations, they had two entirely different opening ceremonies; that's part of what makes the whole process so wondrous and grand. It's why the opening ceremonies are such an integral and vital part of the Olympic experience; it is serves as the perfect balance between accentuating what sets apart and emphasizing what bring us together. 

I loved the Beijing opening ceremonies because they were so very Chinese. And I loved the Vancouver ceremonies because they were so very Canadian and I loved London's opening ceremony for the same reason, because it was so very English. I thought Danny Boyle's approach to the whole event was extremely innovative. He constructed a symbol of Britain that was very personal and patriotic while still maintaining a high level of global accessibility. While watching the opening ceremonies, it felt as if, for a few moments, the whole world got to be ever so slightly British. There were a number of elements that really stood out to me.  First was the opening narration by Benedict Cumberbatch. For those of you outside of the UK, if you didn't see it, I would highly recommend googling it. His speech was a very appropriate induction to the London Olympic Games; full of power and magnitude but coupled with an eagerness to play and share. I also adored the bit with the Queen and James Bond. It allowed Britain to honor and poke fun at two of it's most iconic figures. And, let's be honest, those corgis were ridiculously adorable. I also loved the very end of the ceremony, with Sir Paul McCartney singing Hey Jude. I thought that was a great way to close the ceremony because it demonstrated one of the greatest British exports ever, the Beatles, while also reminding us of how powerful and transnational music and song are. Though the Beatles origins are British, and the British have every right to be proud of that, their music and their legacy belongs to the world. 

(A poster of the last time London hosted the Olympics in 1948)

At the end of the day, this wasn't just a British event, it was a global one. The ceremonies weren't just a presentation of British history, rather it was a showcase of the universality of so many different elements of British culture (i.e their moves, music, literary works).  Yes it was a display of British nationalism but, even more than that, it was a display of Britain's connection to the world. Ultimately, it was about what we share with one another rather than what we don't.  

I know that these are troubled times we live in. But then again, when have the times been anything else? Instead of focusing on all that's bad in the world perhaps we should take a cue from the Olympics and, just for a moment, focus on all that's good. This is the first Olympic Ceremony in the history of the Olympic Games where a woman has been represented by every participating country.  Does anyone else realize how astounding and amazing that is? That is something people have dreamed and striven towards for decades and I got to witness it. And I hope I witness it become an insignificant factoid as year after year that becomes the norm rather than the exception. But, with the full recognition of all the work the world has left to do, in this moment, I couldn't be prouder or feel more integrated within the global community.

To me, the most sacred and precious of all the Olympic rituals is the lighting of the Olympic flame. I don't care how cliche it sounds but when I see that flame I think of all the light and all the goodness in people throughout the world. This year's Olympic cauldron was exquisite. I thought that it's construction of copper 'petals' representing all the different nations was genius. I also thought the lighting of the flame was a lovely gesture. Seven former Olympians literally and symbolically passing on the Olympic flame to seven young athletes. It was incredibly moving. They were all so happy and proud of one another, it was a beautiful tribute to the interconnectedness of the past and the present. The mission statement of this year's Olympic Opening Ceremonies was 'to inspire a generation.' While I certainly don't claim to speak for the whole of or even a segment of my generation, I can confidently and truthfully say that I was both awed and inspired. 

In my life time there have been 12 Olympic Games. They have occurred all over the world, even in my native United States. I have watched them on televisions that were thousands of miles away and I've watched them from my backyard. I have grown up with the Olympics. One of the most crucial elements in that process, of growing up, was my recognition, adoption, and pride in being a global citizen.
There was a moment in the middle of the ceremony, towards the Parade of Nations, with Sir Time Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, that particularly embodied this. Sitting at a replica of the computer he used to work on, he tweeted to the entire world the phrase "This is for everyone." Perhaps he was only referring to the world wide web but, personally, I think it was more than that. I think he was referring to the games themselves. And he's absolutely right. The Olympics are for everyone. Everyone. There is no other cultural event that is so universally shared by the human race as the Olympics. 

Regardless of the medal count, of the controversies, of who did and did not win, I would like to thank the London Olympic Committee for this opening ceremony, for reminding me, once again, of the true heart and spirit behind the Olympic Games; this is for everyone. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

London Calling

(Me at the Baker Street tube stop)

It's taken me a few days longer than normal to write this next blog post and that is because I am still blissfully exhausted from my adventures this past weekend. In the span of less than 36 hours I took a Megabus to England late Friday, arrived in London at dawn, proceed to explore every nook and cranny of the city I could, and then took a Megabus back to Edinburgh, arriving in the wee hours of Sunday morning. All in all, I spent about 20 hours traveling and about 14 hours in the city itself. So it was, as you can imagine, quite thoroughly exhausting. But it was so very wonderful.

(Olympic Park)

It is essentially impossible to see London, let alone any major city, in a single day. But I really tried my best to see as much as humanely possible, and then some. I started out the day with a journey to Olympic park. Since it was so early, the only people about were the Olympic Park staff and media. You know, the people that actually belonged there at 7 o'clock in the morning. I tried to get close to the actual stadium but it's pretty well blocked off. The best way to see all the Olympic structures is to go through the adjacent mall and find one of their viewing platforms. From there you can see all the different buildings. I had a sense of grateful nostalgia at seeing those structures. 4 years ago I was lucky enough to be studying in Beijing for those summer Olympics. And though the two Olympics vary greatly from one another, the magnitude of the event, of all that is stands for, is still an incredibly powerful and moving sensation. 

(All three major Olympic structures cloistered together)

After Olympic Park I passed through Trafalgar Square to visit the National Gallery. There's something very reassuring to me about art museums. The universality of the great painters and their masterpieces, they transcend borders. It doesn't matter if you see a Degas in Philadelphia or London or Berlin. The essence of the painting isn't beholden to a single geographic location. One of the National Gallery's most famous paintings is Van Gogh's Sunflowers. Van Gogh is my favorite painter of all time (excluding my incredibly talented grandmother). His paintings are the first and only ones that have literally moved me to tears.Wherever I see his work, my connection to that place deepens. Though Sunflowers is not my favorite of his works, it remains a stunning piece and it, once again, reminds me of why his work means so much to me. The reason I place Van Gogh above so many other talented artists is that his paintings do more than capture a single frame of life or create movement from stillness or exploit the subtleties of technique to create fragile illusions. His paintings are so much more than that; they are a living extension of himself. Now obviously I recognize that a painting is an inanimate object but, in a way, his aren't. 

(The National Gallery)

He was such a terribly lonely man. He saw the world in such a unique and beautiful way and all he wanted to do was share that. But no one wanted to take part. I can think of few experiences more isolating than to have this vision of beauty and joy that you simply want to share with someone, anyone only to have no one who would even try. I can feel that ache in his paintings, particularly in the thickness of his brush strokes, the way his paint will clump together on the surface of the canvas, adding an unexpected level of dimensionally to his work. It's as if by capturing his subject in a painting, he can revisit them time and time again. And if he can only just make them real enough, tangible enough, then maybe he won't have to feel so alone. Getting to see Van Gogh's work in the National Gallery reminded me that were all just people and were all just looking for someone to share with. It doesn't matter who that person is, friend, daughter, brother, uncle, whatever, it doesn't have to be a lot of people, in fact most of the time it's just one, but we all want matter to someone. 

After my emotional encounter at the National Gallery I zipped around the city. I visited baker street (the infamous address of Sherlock Holmes), ate in the cafe where they filled BBC's Sherlock (the modern adaptation of the novels--if you haven't seen it I absolutely recommend it), platform 9&3/4 at King's Cross Station (of Harry Potter Fame), the British Museum, RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts), Chinatown, West End (where I ran around from theater to theater, dazzled by the talent of the many legends that have passed through those stage doors), and so much more. 

(The cafe where they shoot BBC Sherlock)

But there was only one way to end the day; a walk along the Thames at sunset. I started by the London Eye, which is a truly magnificent contraption to behold, and wound my upwards, past the other amusement rides and the skateboard parks, stopping for more than a few moments to bask in the exquisite sight of the sun setting on Big Ben and Parliament, finally winding up at the spot I had been longing to get to since I set foot in London; The National Theater. 

(The London Eye at sunset)

It's difficult to articulate just how important that place is to me. The National Theater,  matched only by the nearby Globe theater, is it for me; when you walk out on that stage, that's moment you know you've done something right. I've only been able to see a few productions produced by the theater (and they've all been dvd or theatrical releases) but I am routinely astounded by the talent and the craftsmanship exhibited on those stages. This is the theater founded by the great Sir Laurence Olivier. And I was there. To perform on that stage, in the Olivier Theater (one of three theater there), it's my dream. And so far that's all it's even been, just a dream. But for a moment, standing at the bottom of the red velvet steps that lead up to theater, it felt real. For the first time in my life it wasn't just a place I pieced together from photographs and my imagination, it was a functioning, active, tangible space. 

(Me standing at the entrance to the Olivier Theater)

My time at the National Theater was very brief as I had to catch a train back to the bus station but it was alright because I know that's not the last time I'll see that theater. I can't describe the logic behind it, only the sensation, but I know now, more than ever, that that is the place I want to be. For me, performing at the National Theater, creating a connection between audience and actors, mattering to a group of strangers and having them matter to me, it's my Sunflowers. To illicit the emotional response that Van Gogh paintings illicit from me, but in the forum of the Oliver stage, even from just one person, that's one of my fundamental artistic aspirations. 

London was, in short, pure madness. It was a non stop whirlwind of places and people. It was the kind of adventure you almost wouldn't believe happened if you hadn't been there yourself. But, after all, aren't those the only kind of adventures worth having?

(The Thames at sunset)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Picture It

This afternoon I walked home from Tesco (the local grocery store).  And as I was walking I kept trying to observe myself within the context of the crowd, to see how I did or did not fit in. Edinburgh's populace is such a mix between visiting tourists (from both near and far) and locals, that any and everybody could belong to either category. It's an interesting experience for me because the thing I so long to shed as quickly as possible when I get to a new place is that aura of being a tourist, of being a guest, of not really belonging.  I suppose that's ironic for a professional nomad. But I'm not nomadic because I don't want to belong, it's quite the opposite. I'm a wanderer because I want to belong, not just to one place, but the world. Some of my happiest moments while traveling have the moments when I feel that I have transcended from being a tourist to a native.

Four years ago, while I was living in Beijing for two months, I had such a moment. And it was beautiful and wonderful and I was so proud of getting to that place. But four years is a very long time and I don't think I quite see eye to eye with my former self. You see, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that was not a mindset I was particularly happy with. 

There's nothing wrong with being a tourist or a visitor. In fact, it's something quite brave and wonderful. There's nothing wrong with standing out, with openly declaring "Yes, I'm not from this place. But I'm here because I want to be here. Because I want to see and learn and experience everything I can. I am a tourist and I'm here because I chose to be." When you think about it, the act of being a tourist is a huge compliment; someone chose to spend their hard earned free time (and money) coming to a place totally unfamiliar to them.  But there is such a stigmatization to being a tourist; it's so often portrayed as an annoyance that people are forced to bear up with. There's a huge emphasis on the superiority of being a native and an almost crass depiction of the inferiority of being a tourist. But the more I travel, the more I see the value and beauty of both occupations, and the more blurred the line between the two becomes. 

This was a theme I saw reflected in my visit to Scotland's National Portrait Gallery. There are only five such portrait galleries in the world and the Scottish one is stunningly curated. The gallery is so much more than a collection of historical portraits. The museum has been designed and organized to tell the story of Scotland through these portraitures. And this is not a story depicted solely through the lavish portraits of the aristocracy; there are portraits of rebels and poets alike, there are etchings of old and new maps of Scotland, photographs of important Scottish icons, and visual art that defies traditional categorization. The reason I found this presentation of portraiture in such a variety of forms so brilliant was that it both defied my expectations and assumptions but also served to reaffirm my incredibly high regard for this country. The museum is not designed to present one aspect or one side of Scotland's history, it has been composed in such a way as to represent that many faces of Scotland, in all their difference and their glory. No one is excluded; there are turncoats and kings, sportsman and scientists, Scots clad in tartans and saris.

Yes, saris. What I found to be one of the most beautiful and stunning displays in the museum was a collection of family photographs focusing on the Pakistani population of Scotland. What I admired so much about the exhibit, beside the color and vibrancy of the photographs, were their depictions as being just another Scottish family, another thread interwoven into the fabric of Scotland. Once looked down upon as tourists, as visitors, as people who did not belong, this exhibit demonstrated the reality of our dual roles as natives and foreigners. For, the truth is, we all came from somewhere else. It doesn't matter if it's down the block or on the other side of the globe but we've all experienced that sensation of having once belonged to a place. And, hand in hand with that, we have all experienced that sense of not belonging. But that's the trick, isn't it? It's two sides of the same coin. The families in those photographs weren't any less Pakistani because they were Scottish, and they weren't any less Scottish because they were Pakistani. A tourist may be new to a place but they still made an active choice to be there and they can respect and admire a nation as much as a local. 

I am a wanderer but, to quote one of my favorite authors of all time, "Not all those who wander are lost." Because I wander does not mean I do not belong. It just means I belong where ever I go. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


(A view of Edinburgh from the top of Calton Hill)

It was another beautiful weekend in Edinburgh. On Saturday I walked from my flat to Calton Hill. Every time I go somewhere and some one says to me "This is the best view of Edinburgh" they've always been right. But there's no view of the city that can match Calton Hill. The Hill itself is a stunning mixture of Greek ruins (known as the Scottish National Monument, it was meant to mimic the architecture of the Parthenon and to commemorate the soldiers killed in the Napoleonic wars but the city ran out of funding and the structure was never completed), the miniature fort that was the Governor's house of Calton Jail (at one time the largest prison in Scotland), and the most magnificent vistas you can imagine.

(The Scottish National Monument)

But Calton Hill is not the only stunning monument I saw this weekend. I have finally been to Edinburgh Castle. For the past two weeks, from almost the moment I first arrived in Edinburgh, I have wanted to go to the castle. How could you not?

(View of Edinburgh Castle from the top of Calton Hill)

The Castle sits in the center of Edinburgh. The royal mile, the high street of Edinburgh, leads from the Castle down to Parliament and the Palace of Holyrood House (the royal family's quarters whenever they come to Scotland). The Castle is literally hewn into the rock face of one of the cities' hills. Inside the castle you can see all sorts of little museums, as well as walk around the grounds. I got to see the crown jewels of Scotland but, alas, no pictures were allowed.

(Edinburgh Castle as I see it every day on my way to class)

The views and the jewels weren't the only things only display at the Castle. The majority of the Castle's museums are dedicated to some historical aspect of Scottish warfare. But there was one particular exhibit, entitled "Reconstructing Lives," that has made a permanent impression in my memory.  The exhibit was part of a larger story arc of the multi faceted nature of Scotland's relationship to war. In this portion of the exhibit they took a moment to remember that war has consequences beyond the possession of territory and the ambitions or principles of great nations. They examined the reality of modern warfare; life after the conflict. And, in the case of the exhibit, life with a prosthetic. There have been so many technological developments in military medical practice that more and more soldiers are surviving, while in any other period in history their injuries would have killed them. But, as the exhibit discussed, even though we can perform more complex surgeries and save more lives, the infrastructure for dealing with the lives we've given back is, well, a work in progress.

(Exhibit on soldiers and prosthetics)

There was a video playing in the exhibit of an interview with a former British army officer, Chris Moon. Officer Moon lost the lower half of his leg and arm clearing landmines in Africa. During the video he said two extremely powerful things that have stuck with me. Firstly, he observed the differences between the people he knows that were born with their disabilities and those that acquired them later in life. He said the reason that those who acquired their disability later in life struggled so much was because it's as if they have lost a part of their identity. It's not just the functionality of a hand or a leg that makes it's loss so painful, it's the specific and particular physicality of that limb, it's the two freckles on the back of your hand the look like snakes bites, or curve of your calf, whatever it is, it was yours and yours alone. To lose a part of our bodies, or our minds for that matter, to lose something that is supposed to be and always has been inherently your possession, it is the physical manifestation of losing a part of your definition of self.

The other thing that  Officer Moon said was that "The truth about humans relationships is that they should be about interdependence." I think that's something we often forget, about our relationships to other people, but our relationships to our own bodies as well. The framework of our bodies is so intricate and complex, it's amazing. But the common perception is that each portion of our body is independent of the other. But, if theater has taught me nothing else, or at least 8 weeks of movement classes, it's that every segment, every limb, every neuron of our body is interconnected, is interdependent.

Perhaps it's silly but I believe we can learn something by just looking at our bodies. Our bodies are stronger than we think and that is because of the nuances of the interdependent network that connects the cells and organs and etc. that compose the human form.  If our bodies can survive when something is taken from it, whether it's a brain injury or a lost limb, if our body can work together to find a new way to be strong, why can't we do that with people? I think an integral part of being a human is interdependence. And it's not just dependence, there's a difference. Dependence is one sided, interdependence isn't. Interdependence is about mutual support.  To me, this ultimately manifests itself in the theatrical experience. Theater epitomizes the necessity of the interdependent relationship, it couldn't exists without it.  A playwright with no actors, actors with no audience, they would have no function. The beauty of the theatrical experience is that, at it's core, it serves as a continuous cycle of interdependence.  Artists want to tell stories, the audience deserves to have their stories told.

(The evolution of the prosthetic leg)

 I've met so many people in my life who thought themselves dull or boring, who thought they didn't have a story worth sharing. I cannot express to you enough how false that is. We all have a story to tell. And our stories are worth hearing. And other people's stories are worth listening to. Our stories are what define us, they are the most powerful inheritance we can leave behind. The reason I believe theater is so crucial is because it is the vessel through which a person's story can be told and shared with the global community. Everyone has a story; every soldier, every parent, every stranger, everyone. It's what connects us, it's what truly makes us human.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Origin Story

I realize that I've been here for almost two weeks and, in all that time, have failed to use this blog to explain what it is exactly I'm doing here in Edinburgh, aside from having the time of my life.

(Me on my first day of school)

I am currently participating in a program run by the University of Edinburgh's Business school, called Business in the Arts. The course is one month long and uses 6 or so modules to provide us students with the foundations of business and management, with a particular emphasis on their practical applications in the arts. So far the program has been absolutely wonderful. The guest lecturers (all of whom are tied to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in some capacity) have been insightful and informative. Even though it's only been two weeks, their topics have covered such an immense expanse of fields and responsibilities. It's amazing to think that, essentially, they are all working together on the same project; the Fringe Festival. The core teachers for the program have also been fantastic. My biggest fear going into to this program was what if I just don't or can't get it? What if business and I just don't mix? But I've come to see that that worry was totally unnecessary. Not only are the lessons accessible but they are genuinely interesting as well. I didn't ever expect to have a passion for anything business related. I believed, and still do, that having some knowledge of business and management skills are useful. But, the truth of the matter is, arts management is cool!

The second month of the program, though, is where things get really exciting. Starting in August, and running through the better part of the month, the Fringe Festival hits Edinburgh. The Fringe Festival is a festival whose artistic mission centers around providing an open forum for any and everyone to come tell their stories and share their artistry. For me, it's like Disneyland and DisneyWorld combined. It's an actor's wonderland. For one amazing month, it's the epicenter of the theatrical community. But, even more than that, for one month this city epitomizes everything I believe in about theater; it becomes a place where stories are shared and heard, not  purely to turn a profit or win an award, but because telling and receiving stories is an innate part of the human experience. This festival understands that theater is a universal language that can be utilized to spark global dialogues that might not otherwise happen. It's an amazing place.

(My fellow program-mates in front of Scotland's little ode to the Summer Olympics)

And I am lucky enough to be interning here. The second part of the program, after the academic component, is an internship with the Fringe Festival. Even though I just recently got my internship placement, I haven't been given the go ahead to mention the company's name in this blog. As soon as I do I will be sure to write about it in much more detail. I can, however, tell you that it's an absolutely amazing company and I can't fully express how privileged I am to have the chance to work with them. This company has a long history with the Fringe and I can't wait to learn and absorb everything I can from them. 

So that's what I'm doing here this summer. But before I end this post, there's something else I need to address. I've told you what I'm doing here but not how I got here. There are few people that deserve a public thank you and I'm just sorry it's taken me so long to sit down and write a post about it. First of all, I owe a huge thank you to Northwestern's Women's Educational Aid Association. These women made an investment in my future that I will happily spend the rest of my life trying to repay. Their generosity and kindness has meant the world to me. The other two people I have to thank are my parents. And I'm not just thanking them because they read this blog. I will probably never truly comprehend all they've gone without and sacrificed to ensure that I could have all the opportunities I've had. My attendance on this program is no different. It also takes a lot of courage to support such a wandering spirit for a daughter and it's only because I know that I always have the two of them to return home to that I can wander so openly and so freely. Thank you. 

(A bird's eye view of Edinburgh on a misty afternoon)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Misty Mountains

(The Loch Ness Boat Tour Company)

The other significant part of my highlands trip that I didn't get a chance to talk about in my last post was my trip to Loch Ness. Yes, I have been to the infamous loch of lore. And, while there were no Nessie sightings, I discovered that Loch Ness doesn't need a terrifying sea monster to make it a place steeped in legend. 

The Loch is neither Scotland's deepest, longest, or biggest loch. However, it does contain the largest volume of water of any of the lochs. Loch Ness has a greater volume of water than all the lakes in Wales and England combined and it is the darkest of all of Scotland's lakes. As you'll see in some of the pictures below, the lake water is almost black, lending an air of secrecy to the inhabitants beneath it's depths. 

(Loch Ness)

This place epitomizes the wilderness of Scotland. It seems to stretch on endlessly into the mists that cascade off it's mountains. I wonder if Tolkien had this place in mind when he created the Misty Mountains of Middle Earth, for there is both a majestic and an eerie quality to the Loch. An ancient power seems to radiate from the untamed forests that line the Loch's coast. I understand why the legend of the Loch Ness Monster has gotten such a firm footing in Scotland's mythos. Loch Ness isn't just another misty lake, there's something there, some unconquerable force of nature at her prime that still rules that place.

My favorite thing about Loch Ness isn't the story behinds it's infamy, for I have a feeling this place would earn a name for it's self without or without the assistance of the elusive Nessie. The Loch provided me with an opportunity to witness something truly rare in this modern day an age; to see a place totally untouched by man. The Loch is so difficult and deadly to maneuver and inaccessible from any road ancient or modern, that one entire bank of cliffs along the Loch has been left completely undisturbed by man.  One side of the Loch has never been explored, it has never been touched by civilization. It is wild in every sense of the word. I believe that the true magic and miraculous nature of the Loch stems from the fact that it proves that there are still unknowns in this world, that nature still has some secrets, some mysteries out of our reach.

(Legend has it that the monster once tried to escape the Loch and clamber up it's walls on
this spot. But the monster failed and slid back into the water, never to emerge from it's depths again.)

At the end of the day, I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a monster lurking beneath the surface of Loch Ness. Personally, I believe that there are species of creatures that have existed in the Loch for hundreds and hundreds of years that we've never managed to capture or sight due to the concealing nature of the Loch. If one of those turns out to be some prehistoric sea creature with a penitent for the name Nessie, all the better. But I don't think a lack of a monster makes Loch Ness any less legendary. Loch Ness deserves it's iconic status in global mythology because it is one of the last bastions of pure wilderness, of the world before mankind. Loch Ness has preserved a sacred part of the past, keeping safe a portion of history we thought had long ago been destroyed. If that isn't legendary I don't know what is. 

(A very soaked me with Loch Ness in the background)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Alba gu bràth (Scotland Forever)

I am not a country girl. I have spent my entire life living in cities and suburbs. But to wake up every morning and see this, to be graced by the lochs and mountains of the Scottish highlands, I would forsake it all in an instant to have this on my doorstep.

It's difficult for me to put into words my experience touring through the highlands. For so many years I have romanticized it and fantasied about it and, suddenly, I've seen it, it's become real. Well, perhaps real is the wrong word. It is a place so bursting with pride and magnificence that it defies the constraints of any norm I know. It's magic in it's purest and most natural form. My heart swells as I sit here typing, lingering on the memory of what I've been privileged enough to witness. These highlands are the  life force of Scotland. How could they not be?

This, this is what makes waking up in the morning worth it, this is why we struggle in the face of such immense odds, this is why we fight the good fight. We do all that because we can be secure in the knowledge that no matter how bad the worlds seems, it is still a place full of beauty and wonder, where  the landscapes of fables and fairy tales still thrive, and people are kind and smart and good. In my short time here, as a land and as a people, the Scots have continued to remind me why I believe in the things I believe. I believe in the power of the global community and in the necessity of theater as a device for communicating our shared experiences across that community. The highlands embody this. They don't just belong to the Scots, they belong to anyone who has ever been moved by them, they belong to anyone who has ever partaken in their stories. Perhaps what strikes me so much about this place is the way it's legends seem to rise out of the Earth and into the hearts of anyone who comes here. The highlands have no prejudice, no hidden agenda, just a desire to share their stories with you. As an actor, as a human being, is there anything more natural or magical than that?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

My Independence Day

I've been fortunate enough to travel abroad several times in my life. But I've never been abroad during a national holiday. I've never missed a Presidents Day, Christmas, Labor Day, or anything of the kind. Yesterday was my first holiday abroad as I celebrated the 4th of July in Edinburgh. This was my first 4th of July without my family, without fireworks, without any of the accoutrements that usually define the American 4th of July experience. Yet I've never felt more connected to the whole message behind the 4th of July as I have here in Edinburgh. 

The 4th of July is a celebration of American independence, it is one of the last non-religious holidays that attracts a significant level of community participation, it America's most iconic holiday. July 4th is the day we are supposed to remember and honor our roots and the roots of this country. But, for most people I know, myself included, July 4th has been reduced to the day we get to see fireworks. I can't remember the last July 4th that moved me or touched me or made proud to be an American. That's not to say I wasn't proud, it's more that July 4th, a holiday dedicated to the founding of America, never really made me think about America any more than any other day.  This July 4th, however, was different. 

This past afternoon, after class got out, I stopped by the National Library of Scotland. I spent some time wandering through their exhibits (they had a really great display about the history of Scotland in the cinema) and looking at the parts of the library that weren't off limits to visitors. As my friend and I were taking some parting photographs on the stairs a man came up to us and started telling us a story about how the Dali Llama had been photographed on those very same stairs two weeks before. This man, George, got the girl behind the reception desk to show us the pictures which, I must admit, were quite adorable. Apparently, the Dali Llama came to library about 2 weeks ago to take a look at some very old manuscripts relating to the Burmese Civil War. We then proceeded to spend the next hour plus talking with George who, as it turns out, has been working at the library since 1982. To quote him "He walked in in 1982 looking for a job for six months and never left."  We talked about America, CSI, things to do in Edinburgh, the real cafe where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter (The Elephant House cafe gets all the credit but, according to George, she started writing in a different cafe down the block and only wrote the later ones in the Elephant House), and the history of the library. During our conversation I mentioned that we couldn't get upstairs to see the reading room because we didn't have a pass. George then proceeded to run upstairs and ask special permission for us to go into the reading room. He then gave us a quick tour of the area, telling us all about the library and the 15 floors of archives they possess. As we walked up the high street on our way out, George talked to us a bit about his travels and then he wished us a wonderful stay in Edinburgh and thanked us for listening to him.

When we ran into George he was on his way home from a full day of work. But instead of going home, he missed his train and gave two tourists a tour the likes of which no guidebook can find. On top of all that, at the end of our talk he was grateful to us for having listened to him when he was the one who gave us this incredibly special experience. I was and am astounded by the sheer kindness of this man. But the crazy thing is that Edinburgh is composed of people just like George. There seems to be a generosity that is just inherent to this place. 

My time today with George made me think about America in two ways. First off, it made me think about how America could and ought to be better. When did we stop being kind to each other? I understand that we're a nation built on the back of the individual but I don't believe you can be a fully developed or evolved person if you haven't learned something so simple as basic human kindness. The divisions between Americans seem to grow larger by the day. Whether it's along party lines, economic class, or religious (or lack there of) beliefs, we are growing into a disparate nation where every one has fallen out of touch with everyone else. What's the good of our lofty ideas of politics and principles, the very ideas that birthed this nation, if we can't master simple acts of kindness and compassion. We are a nation of individuals and I love that I have grown up in a place that has so encouraged the exploration of my personal identity. But people don't like us and, quite frankly, I'm not sure how often we like ourselves. The USA and Scotland are very different and to each their own but, perhaps, it would do us all some good to learn a little something from George about what it means to be a person, not just an American. 

On the other hand, my conversation with George also made me realize how grateful I am to be an American. George had traveled to a few places within Europe but he'd never really left Scotland, he never felt any great desire to do so and he certainly never felt any particular desire to visit America. I don't think I could be the person I am today if I wasn't born an American. I think an innate part of my American heritage is a drive to want go out and explore as much of the world as I can. And America has provided me with opportunities to do so time and time again.  Without America's emphasis on the rights, powers, and importance of the individual, I don't think I would have the sense of self or the where with all to be in Edinburgh. Because America is so protective of the development of the individual, I have never been discouraged from pursing an opportunity to grow and develop. Now there are a number of factors that have played into that but I think it because I grew up as an American that I believe that if I want something in the world that I have the ability and the drive to work for and, eventually, achieve it. 

Our forefathers were imperfect men but they had some truly beautiful ideas about the way a nation ought to function. American is an imperfect country but it provides for a level of accessibility to the rest of the world that is practically unrivaled, as well as serving as haven for the individual. I haven't thought this much about America on July 4th in a long time.  Spending this holiday in Edinburgh has made me appreciate how much America has yet to develop but it also reminded me of why she is such a great nation. So this July 4th I celebrate being an American but, even more than that, I celebrate my membership to the global community and I am grateful for the America upbringing that helped me to get there. 

Happy Independence Day everyone!!!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Grey Skies That Aren't Going to Clear Up

Edinburgh under a typical slate colored sky

King Arthur's Seat

The way modernity and the past have integrated themselves to form the heartbeat of Edinburgh fascinates me. I can't yet wrap my head around the juxtapositions of these cobble stoned streets and 16th/17th building alongside Apple stores and Starbuckses. It's difficult to strike a balance between acknowledging the importance and the influence of your origins while not getting trapped by them. It's a struggle we all face at some point in our lives and it's a struggle that sometimes takes ahold of the city. One of the building we saw on the tour was the new Scottish Parliament building. Now,  I won't give my own opinions on the building but it is an extremely modern piece of architecture. In fact, not only was it the most modern and avant-garde building I saw in the city, it's also sits right on the edge of Hollywood Park (a park that remains the property of the Queen). The park is where Arthur's Seat (the second picture above) is located. The contrast of this building of chrome and granite against the might and natural wonder of the park is truly a site to behold. But there's a stubbornness to both landmarks, a refusal to budge or conform to the shapes and colors of the other, that speaks to the character of Edinburgh. 

Edinburgh is a resilient city, a city that has been written off time and time again throughout history and that has time and time again defeated it's naysayers to survive another day. She's an ancient city, a younger, wilder Rome. Rome may seem like a strange companion city for the likes of Edinburgh but I began to draw this parallel after an interesting fact I heard on our bus tour of the city. Apparently both Rome and Edinburgh were built on seven hills, literally creating a city built of layers.  But I find a stronger connection than pure geography. It's the incredible influence that the past exerts over this place. Around every corner, under every bridge, inside every shop, you run in to it.  Everything here is a piece of history. And it's wonderful. At least I think so. The past is an innate part of the present in Edinburgh. Rather than something that needs to be taught through a structured lesson plan, it's learned simply by living here, by being here. Maybe there really is something in those ever looming, ever watchful grey clouds. Perhaps they're full of some ancient magic, some mystical properties of preservation and endurance, trading rough weather for the guardianship of the city.

To be fair, the title of this post is not entirely true. Edinburgh does, every so often, have a burst of sunshine. But, more often than not, it's skies appear like they do in the images above. But  though I've been told by natives and foreigners alike that "You don't come to Edinburgh for the weather," I find the constant mass of dappled grey above to be spectacular. The skyline suits the city. It's hard to imagine Edinburgh, the look and feel of the city, without that vision of savage grey overhead. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

An American in Paris (On Her Way to Edinburgh)

This first blog post comes to you for the Paris-deGaul Airport; my layover stop before I take another two hour flight to Edinburgh. It seems like a strangely appropriate place to write the first entry to this blog. I've always felt that airports exist outside of any sort of defined space or territory; they are a land of the in between, a place where a mass of seemingly disconnected people are brought together by one single purpose; to get somewhere else. There is something fleeting about airports; no matter how beautiful or grand they are (and I assure you the Paris airport is beautiful) a traveler's time there is utterly temporary. But that's also what I love best about them. For a habitual wanderer like myself, I draw a sense of community and excitement from my time in airports. It is the anticipation of having to be somewhere else, that immense pulse of energy "to get" or "to go" that warms a wanderer's heart. 

I was in this airport once before. Many, many years ago (almost I decade now if memory serves) I came to Paris with my Mother and Uncle. I feel a strange sense of comfort in having my layover in this airport. It's kind of like running into an old flame in the street on your way to a blind date; it's only for a moment, this interaction between you and your old love, but it's an amicable instant and it reminds you that all the awkwardness of first date and etc. are worth it to find someone, to get to where you need to go. Maybe it's a silly metaphor but I think it captures the spirit of what I'm feeling. I loved visiting Paris and my time in France holds a special place in my heart as one of my earliest adventures abroad. And it's lovely to sit in this airport for a moment giving into my feelings of nostalgia. But even better than that are the feelings of anticipation that this place encourages in me. Paris gave me one great adventure; now it's its turn to usher in a brand new one. 

 I cannot even begin to express how excited I am to get to Edinburgh. Truthfully excitement doesn't even begin to cover it, it's something more akin to that moment in Rocky Horror Picture Show when Tim Curry says "Make you shudder with antici--(cue this obscenely long and intense pause)---pation." I haven't even gotten on the plane to get there and I can already feel myself falling in love with Edinburgh, without ever having set foot there. I suppose it's foolish to fall in love with a place before I've even been there but what can I say? We are all fools in love. And I love to wander, to travel, to throw myself head long into the unknown, and to be utterly and blissfully consumed by it. It's my travel Modus Oprendi. It's the attitude that guided me  on my family trip to Paris, on my high school summer abroad in Beijing, and now it's how I'll approach my time in Edinburgh. Unabashed participation and culture immersion, it's the only way to wander, it's the only way to live. 

One final thought before I board. As I sit here in the lobby area waiting for my connecting flight I hear my first Scottish accent from a man sitting two seats to my right. While I'm sure that gentleman hasn't noticed or given it a second thought if he has, little does he know that it's because of him that I can't stop grinning.