It can often take a visitor to help you discover your own city - all too often we don't know what is on our own doorstep - and here's a case in point as Rose has been up in Edinburgh for a weekend and has packed a lot into her short trip, taking in some places I've never been to.
Rose has kindly let me post some of the highlights here for future reference for all of us, residents and tourists alike, so here are a few 'Edinburgh signposts':
Lunch at The Balmoral Bar (to which I've been only once, for a smart book launch), and a suitably Scottish dish of Haggis, Neeps and Tatties and Whisky Cream, and again Rose commends the service. For those keen to sample the Scottish national drink, the Balmoral has "a signature whisky bar", Scotch, with over 400 single malts and blends to try - and don't blame me if you come out fou.
Many thanks, Rose, and I hope you'll come again soon!
Yesterday I was at the Scottish Parliament to attend the stitchers' preview of The Great Tapestry of Scotland. As you may know if you've followed fairly recent posts here, I am a member of the group which stitched the 1914-1918 War panel, and while we've spent many months working on our piece, and have seen a few other panels in various stages of completion at preview events, yesterday was the first opportunity we've had to see the Tapestry in its entirety.
It is a stunning thing: 143m long (so 70m longer than the Bayeux Tapestry), the work of 1,000 stitchers from across Scotland, the product of countless hours of painstaking embroidery, and a representation of 12,000 years of a country's history (read the news story here). Yesterday we all stood and looked in awe and admiration at the concept and its execution in finished form, from its striking design by artist Andrew Crummy to interpretative needlework of the highest standard.
There was so much to take in on a comparatively brief viewing, and my pictures were hastily taken and are not in order, but I've put most of them* in an album which you can access by clicking here or on the image over there in the righthand sidebar (and once in you can click on each picture to enlarge it), so that should give an idea of the piece. Of course, it's still effectively a work-in-progress as panels can be added as events in Scotland's present and future dictate. Andy Murray's Wimbledon win was stitched in at the last minute (we were watching him take the title as we completed our panel), and doubtless next year's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow will feature in a dedicated panel in due course.
As to the Tapestry itself, it will go on tour in Scotland and the rest of the UK, then to America and Canada, and then - it is hoped - it will find a permanent home, so do see it if you can; as someone who played a small part in its making, I'd like to say that it was a privilege and a pleasure to be involved.
*Dark Puss, you suggested James Clerk Maxwell be included, and he has been.
He described his early visits to France where he was beguiled by the potent mixture of modernity and "Edwardian naughtiness" he found there, and then in his 20s he discovered French gardens "to be relished". Through this falling in love with a foreign culture he came to understand the differences between the French and British approach to gardens and gardening: the British are a practical race who ask "how?" as in "how shall we plant this hedge, with what shall we feed it, when shall we cut it?" and so on, while the French probe the meanings of things and ask "why?" - "what does this hedge mean?" While we get on with the job, our gallic counterparts will come to a beautiful conclusion about existential questions of hedge-laying, and then get someone else to do the work ....
Asked about the French gardens he particularly loved - and which have stayed with him since researching the book and making his BBC series - he mentioned two: La Louve in the south, full of subtle colours and soft structure relating to the landscape in which it is set, "like a Bach fugue"; and the newer Le Jardin Plume in the north - all "order, spatial awareness, rhythm and flow".
Informed and informative on the specifics of French gardens, Monty Don is considered and inspiring when it comes to gardens in general. He believes that "they hold traces of every footfall there has ever been there", and if a visitor is open and receptive they will "hear the whispers". It's a bit like dowsing, he says, sensing 'something', the thing which makes the place unique. In his own garden he would like to leave behind him "a layer of delight".
The conversation moved on to the poetry of a garden and the importance of seclusion and retreat, and then to questions such as Monty's view of gnomes: "I like a gnome ...", and which garden implement he would like to be - a much-loved spade was toyed with, but in the end our hero plumped for the compost heap, that "very beautiful symbol of rebirth which teems with life and energy". If he could choose one tree what would it be? A yew or an oak. Yews are ancient and magical, oaks appeal for their beauty, symbolism and the ecosystems they support.
The final question of the evening was about the real star of Gardeners' World, Monty's dog Nigel. "He hogs the show and I have to fight him for airtime," Nigel's man says, and he goes on to talk about the fan mail his canine companion receives, the Bonios and chews which come in every post; "he has achieved stardom and the adoration of 3,000,000 viewers by way of golden tresses and a nifty way with a potato."
And with that we had to end, and the audience went away happy.
I was there to see Courtney Collins and Rosemary Goring, and managed to take a few snaps as the audience were taking their seats (and helping themselves to the tea and coffee which is kindly supplied for the morning crowd).
Seating here is either in raised booths or at a small round tables on the main floor, so it's quite convivial, but then most Book Festival events are just that with much friendly chat and bookish talk as people queue to go in, or line up afterwards to get their books signed by the authors they've been to see.
You may remember the EIBF deckchairs, well those striking designs by Frances Castle also appear on book bags at the Festival, and I have one to give away. Pop over to Cornflower Books to put your name in the hat, and don't worry if you're not inclined to cart books around with you because you could always use it (as I do with the one I got last year) for your knitting.
If you are within reach of Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden this coming weekend (24th. & 25th. August) then do make a point of visiting that magical place because you'll find more than just plants to engage you.
Proof copies of Elizabeth Gilbert's forthcoming novel The Signature of All Things - which won't be out 'til October - are going to be dotted around the Botanics for anyone to pick up and read in situ or even take home with them. It's a marvellous idea to bring the book to the attention of garden-lovers, for the novel is about a botanist:
"5th. January, 1800. Alma Whittaker is born into a perfect Philadelphia winter. An independent girl with a thirst for knowledge, it is not long before Alma comes into her own within the world of botany. But as her studies of moss take her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, the man she comes to love draws her in the opposite direction.
The Signature of All Things is a big novel, about a big century. It soars across the globe from London to Peru, to Philadephia, to Tahiti, to Amsterdam. People with extraordinary characters - missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses and the quite mad - most of all it has an unforgettable heroine in Alma Whittaker, a woman of the Enlightened Age who stands defiantly on the cusp of the modern."
Elizabeth Gilbert has made a lovely video trailer for the book; if her novel were not already an absolute 'must read' for me, it certainly would be after seeing this:
Edited to add: re. Barbara's comment, if you have any difficulty playing the video, please try this link.
In recent years Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden has given over more space to the horticultural students to plant in a domestic style and scale, so there are now some very neat, Mr. McGregor-like vegetable plots there, sweet pea arches and beds of herbs.
There are lots of cornflowers in this area at the moment, some in a small apothecary's garden which marks the RBGE's origins as a physic garden created by two Edinburgh doctors, Andrew Balfour and Robert Sibbald, in the 17th. century. Among the plants first grown there (& appearing on a list made by the garden's curator in 1683) is the cornflower, and here in the modern version it's grown alongside plants such as borage, chamomile, nasturtium and heartsease in raised rectangular beds in the style of monastic healing gardens of the Middle Ages.
Another bed in this area is a herbal chakra garden, designed for meditation, and cornflowers, along with hyssop and chicory, are planted there to stimulate the throat chakra. If anyone would like a list of the other plants in that garden, just let me know.
As you'll see from that post, Astrid won a competition for illustration students at Edinburgh College of Art to design the paperback cover for Charlie Fletcher's novel Far Rockaway, and in addition to showing us the papercut she made for that, she also told us about her recently completed project to illustrate the George Mackay Brown poem Beachcomber for a building in Edinburgh's Rose Street, her seven papercuts (one for each stanza) now rendered in steel. Have a look at them here.
All the patches were made by members of the public who chose a favourite plant or perhaps one with which they had an association and interpreted it by way of a fabric-based technique such as embroidery, lace-making, felting, etc.; click here to see more of them.