Monday, August 27, 2012

Edinburgh Day 5: Famous Cafés, the Castle, Ancient Civilisations, Translation Duel and the Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Wow I stuffed a lot into yesterday.

I started with breakfast (coffee and build-your-own banana and syrup pancakes) at the Elephant House, where JK Rowling did a lot of her writing for Harry Potter. I did some writing too. It's a nice place, with soft jazzy music and huge windows and wooden chairs and tables with a history. I'm actually there again now as I write the next day. What? I enjoyed my pancakes.

Next I met some people at the Castle, and we wandered through looking at the cannon and the dog cemetery (it has headstones for the dogs) and hearing about the different layers of the castle and the sieges over the ages. The castle isn't the kind of singular building that's implied by the name - it's many, many buildings, with barracks and military buildings and chapels and restaurants (former cart buildings) and war memorials and shops and museums and the main royal buildings including the Great Hall and the room in which Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James I/VI of England/Scotland. We filed past the Scottish crown jewels, which were hidden in St David's Tower during the War, and saw a musketeering display in the Great Hall, where two costumed musketeers demonstrated how long it might take to prepare a musket (a lot longer than you might think, watching musketeer movies).

At one o'clock they let off a cannon from the castle ramparts, so we joined the crowd to watch. A female soldier marched out and stood incredibly still as everyone jostled for position with their tartan souvenir hats. We waited. And waited. I was watching the soldier to be prepared for the noise when she triggered the cannon, but she never moved! There was a huge bang and about half the crowd screamed. I don't think I was among them.

After inspecting the whisky boutique, I wandered through a few creepy rooms in St. David's tower and realised I had twenty minutes to get down to Charlotte Square for my Book Festival lecture about the anthropology of the New World and the Old World by Peter Watson. It was very interesting, looking at how the natural resources and atmospheric tendencies of each group of continents could have affected the development of civilisations. It made me think a lot about how you could set up the environment of a fictional world to affect the culture - for example, the New World only had three species of domesticable animal, none of which could be ridden for any length of time. Not every world has to have horses.

(One of the things I find difficult when writing about my own imaginary world is remembering that most forests in the world have animals other than birds and insects in them. I'm too used to the New Zealand bush. The lecture made me think: maybe I don't have to have large animals in my world. But then I guess I want horses, and if you have horses it's likely that you have a few related animals as well. Sigh.)

I had to charge my dead camera and find some internet, so I gave in and went back to the hostel. You would not believe how difficult it is to find wifi Internet in Edinburgh. Lots of places say they have it, but don't. In other places I'd get on and nothing would load (that may have been due to my iPad playing up, I'm not sure) and in other places, including my hostel, you had to pay. The book festival did have free wifi in its garden, but that was mostly a refuse-to-load situation.

So back to the story! I had another talk at the book festival that evening, a translation duel between two English translators from the French. They'd translated the same passage from the French and spent the hour discussing why they'd chosen which word, and all the things you have to take into consideration when translating: tone, voice, meaning, jokes which may or may not be translatable... The chair warned us that they'd spent ten minutes discussing the placement of a single comma in the Spanish duel the night before, and we should get out while we could. Translating is really a lot more complicated than it seems.

And then, the last event of the day: the Edinburgh Military Tattoo!

I joined the queue on the Royal Mile to have my bag searched (didn't have a bag, so straight through :D) and climbed the cobbles up to the Esplanade. Every year they construct huge temporary stands around the Esplanade that cantilever out into space (didn't really think about it too much...) just for the Tattoo. I walked in under the end stand and saw the castle lit with dancing flames in braziers around the walls. It wasn't yet dark, but the effect was still magical and got even more so as the dusk came on.

I found my seat and sat watching some of the performers get their photos taken in front of the castle. The announcer welcomed everybody from everywhere and got everyone to sing happy birthday to everyone whose birthday it was. At nine o'clock an airforce jet flew over and the Tattoo began.

Kilted men (and probably women) marched out of the castle, across the drawbridge and onto the Esplanade. They kept coming, and coming, blowing their bagpipes and drumming and marching all in step. I counted seventeen rows of thirteen and tried to remember my times-tables as they marched up and down, moving in and out of one another and making impressive patterns. I really like bagpipes, and there's nothing like a full 221 people with bagpipes and drums. And this group was only the kilted population of the Tattoo - there were many more unkilted performers to come later.

My favourite parts of the Tattoo were the first bit with all the bagpipes, the Swiss Top Secret band and the Swedish contingent. The Top Secret band only had drums, but they were absolutely mesmerising. Their specialty was mexican-wave style manoeuvres, where they would all stop drumming or turn or start drumming very quickly one after another.

The Swedish contingent, all of whom were doing their military service and had only been in the military for a year, were very good at marching around in patterns and hoisting their rifles in time to music. At one point one of the soldiers dropped his rifle and I felt quite sorry for him - it was just lying there on the ground and he was doing all the manoeuvres with an air rifle (like an air guitar. Not an actual air rifle). Then the rest of the soldiers all fired their guns, and I realised the gun on the ground was loaded! Not with an actual bullet, of course, but a blank might still do some damage if you stepped on the gun. After that I was extremely impressed with how the soldiers managed to march back and forth over the top of the gun without touching it.

The night ended with fireworks and Auld Lang Syne, and then it took twenty minutes to get out of the stands. It was past eleven p.m. by now, but the streets were as full of people as if it were daylight. This happens every night, pretty much, in August - the jet flyover, the fireworks, and the huge crowds. I wonder what the locals think...


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