Monday, August 29, 2005

Edinburgh Now

Last weekend was spent visiting my good friend The Suk in Edinburgh, Scotland.

While much has changed since my first visit to Edinburgh, some things have definitely remained the same. Namely, that Scotland is home to some of the shittiest weather on the planet.

Now, I know we are all prone to putting a few positive spins on life’s misfortunes every now and again in order to make ourselves more comfortable with the things we cannot change. Say for example we discover a bit of grey hair, we declare it “A sign of being distinguished”. A little extra something around the booty we call “A little cushion for the pushin’”. Get peppered with bullets by your own troops, “Friendly fire”. Fair enough, we are all guilty of employing a few irrational rationalizations and words to lessen the blow of some of life’s less pleasant sucker punches.

However, when it comes to describing the weather in Scotland, I think my friend The Suk and his Scottish co-habitants have lost their euphemistic minds.

Case in point…

Saturday around 1pm, we left The Suk’s apartment to embark upon of day and night of festival shows and site seeing. As soon as I stepped outside his apartment, I immediately realized that my long-sleeve shirt and long pants weren’t going to be enough to battle the wind and cold so I quickly returned inside to grab more clothes.

As I reemerged, wearing a wool sweater (opting not to bring my rain jacket purely out of principle…it is August after all), The Suk followed closely behind wearing what can only be described as a very stylish ski jacket. Upon noticing the weather, The Suk declared, “Nice day. No need to take a cab. Let’s walk.”

It was about this time that I realized that Jon had ceased being a tourist and was now a bona fide local Edinburger.

This realization was further reinforced throughout the day as Jon deftly navigated us through the city while providing keen local insights such as, “See that puddle of puke on the sidewalk? You’ll want to avoid stepping in it.”

Actually, Jon has become quite a local and, throughout the entire weekend, managed to provide us with endless anecdotes about Edinburgh’s history and contemporary culture. The Suk could go on and on about the city’s academic legacy which features the likes of Darwin. He could ramble endlessly about Edinburgh’s literary triumphs such as Robert Burns, Dr. Jeckle & Mr. Hyde and Harry Potter. He could speak at great length about the city’s biotechnical breakthroughs like the cloned sheep Dolly. Yes, The Suk has indeed become a true Edinburgian and can go on an on about the city…whether you’re interested or not.

The locals call it the ‘gift of gab’ - a unique trait that when taken too far, makes you want to introduce the perpetrator to the ‘gift of gag’.

Of course I jest. The Suk and his girlfriend Cat were wonderful, insightful and not the least bit annoying hosts. To be honest, The Suk, being the intellectual giant that he his, has long realized that going too deep into anything with me is a lost cause and, instead, now opts to navigate across more pedestrian territories such as football, films, and where we’re going to get the next glass of wine.

Nevertheless, in his endless (albeit vain) quest to culture me, The Suk arranged for a full weekend of diverse and entertaining festival activities. For those of you not familiar with the Edinburgh Festival, it’s a month-long collection of different festivals all happening at the same time. The main ones being - a comedy festival called The Fringe, a book festival, a film festival, and a theatre festival. There are so many festival activities going on at one time, we estimated that there are more than 20 shows starting every ten minutes on any given day.

While the shows are the main draw, the city is also quite a spectacle. During the month of festivities, the entire city becomes enchanted - the streets fill with performers, musicians, magicians, fortunetellers, and drunk English guys wearing white button-up long-sleeve shirts that they keep un-tucked as if they’re attempting one last gesture of defiance at their high school headmaster.

The key to enjoying the festival is knowing what to see and what to avoid. Because there are so many shows going on (each of which is promoted like it’s the next Hamlet) it’s extremely important to be able to decipher the good from the “Holy shit that was weird. I think I need to see a therapist.”

Last year we were festival rookies, and although we saw some gems, we also saw some serious turd balls. None worse than the one-man play that featured a guy playing Kirk Kobain, Courtney Love, as well as their infant child Francis Bean. Truly shocking.

Navigating the festival’s offering can best be compared to navigating the World Wide Web - for every Tommy and Pamala Lee video, you’ve got a fat bearded guy whacking off.

Fortunately this year The Suk did his homework and acted as our festival Google. Through some secret mathematical algorithm and a bit of fairy dust, The Suk was able to determine the best tickets to buy.

When I arrived Friday night, we went to a midnight comedy show called ‘The Best of the Fest’. It featured six different stand-up acts that had all been deemed…er…the best of the festival.

Saturday was our big festival day, The Suk had lined us up with three great shows. The first of which took place in the basement of a medieval church. It was a multi-media show that can best be described as a cross between a Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy sketch. It was a vaudeville style show performed with deft skill by two US actors who, like Chaplin, mixed slapstick humor with sweet delicate moments.

After the first show, we had about an hour to walk around the city. As we walked through the old parts of town I couldn’t help but notice the ominous dark clouds forming overhead and begun wishing I had brought my rain jacket. The Suk, upon noticing the same clouds, said, “Ahh, looks like a nice thick layer of UV protection is making its way our direction.”

The second show was simply amazing. Amazing in the way I’d imagine the birth of my first child to be amazing. Amazing in the way realizing you’re falling in love is amazing. Amazing in that it was simultaneously inspiring, moving, and frightening to be so moved.

The show’s billing sounded rather innocuous: “Shane L. Koyczan - A national champion slam poet from Canada”.

As a big fan of the movie Slam and having recently seen Saul Williams perform his slam poetry live, I harbored the narrow-minded view that slam poetry, like rap music, was reserved for the urban-strife black folks of inner city America. Of course, I was just being a big idiot - slam poetry has long been an expression of all races, colors, classes, and religions…but Canadians? To be honest, going into this show, I was like, “I gotta see this shit and imagined something along the lines of ’Oh moose, oh great beast, with your antlers ragged and stern like a thousand erections. How dare they hang your heads on the wall?’”

But when the festival host introduced the poet by quoting Maya Angelo who had said, in reference to Koyczan, “The future of poetry is in good hands.” I started to get the idea that I was going to be pleasantly surprised.

Surprised I was. Moved to tears I was. Stitched in laughter I was. Inspired I was.

Below is a love poem from Koyczan’s, one of the shorter pieces he performed. Imagine these being passionately and honestly recited by a substantially overweight yet thoroughly self-confident, charming and intelligent white guy in his late 20’s.

Skin 2

I don’t imagine you
saran-wrapped in black latex
or seeping out the edges
of something tight and red

I don’t close my eyes
to dream of your back
arched at the impossible angle
of a bow pulled tight
encouraging your shoulder blades
to drip the blood
of stockpiled broken hearts
but I hope the sound
of you not shielding your eyes
from my blinding humility
will one day top the charts

it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard
and you’re the Charlie Chaplin of your beautifuls
because you make me believe it
when you say it all without saying a word

looking at you it occurred to me
I could sit around all day
Wearing nothing but your kiss

you make mirrors
want to grind themselves
back down into sand
because they can’t do your reflection justice

and this just in
I am done with those
who in life would have made me fight
an army of imperfections
a battalion of flaws
tonight we’re going to keep this city up
when they hear our bodies
clap together like applause

After the show we made our way across the city for some dinner and drinks. At this point the skies looked as though they would rain down upon us at any moment. While I was kicking myself again for not bringing a rain jacket, Jon casually said, “Looks like we might get a chance to soak up a little atmosphere this evening.”

Our third and final show of the day began at midnight and took place in a famous and elaborate circus tent that travels the world from festival to festival. The show was called Le Clique. It was a burlesque show, not too unlike a raunchy version of Cirque de soleil that featured everything from a beer chugging, scissor swallowing diva, to a belly dancing cross-dresser, to a pair of acrobatic albino twins, to a sexy Spanish magician who pulled a hanky out of her pink panky. It was fantastically awesome! The perfect capper to the perfect day.

The following Sunday was spent sleeping in and casually touring the city through gale-force winds and rain, or what The Suk and other locals referred to as, “A breath of fresh air.”

The lazy day provided ample time to catch up with a dear old friend. Although The Suk and I see each other less and less these days, it never ceases to amaze me how easily we can slip back into the casual comfort of friendship. It’s a feeling I can best associate with being around my brothers, which is probably a fitting comparison – The Suk has indeed become like family. And it brings me pure familial pleasure to see The Suk at such peace with his life these days.

Until the next time brotha...

(Shane L. Koyczan’s “Skin 2” and other poems can be found in his book Visiting Hours,


Anonymous ggggggg said...

When is Suk going to start giving tours of the Edinburgh Castle? The festival sounds inspiring. Maybe you and Suk can work on a two-man, Fetch & Step-it routine for next year.

10:41 AM  

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