Edinburgh: Sir Walter Scott

Good afternoon, my dearest readers! How are you today? How was your weekend? Well, here it is! The last post about my literary trip through Edinburgh.

You may notice that Sir Walter Scott is in today’s title. Scott is probably the most renowned author in all of Scotland, but before we talk about his legacy and influence, let me introduce you to the Writer’s Museum.

The Writers’ Museum

Address: Lady Stair’s House, Lady Stair’s Close, Lawnmarket.

This small and charming museum -which is more a house than an actual museum- is dedicated to Robert Burns (the most famous poet in the Sottish language), Robert Louis Stevenson (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Treasure Island, etc.) and Sir Walter Scott (Waverley, Ivanhoe, etc.).

The house was built in 1622 for Sir Walter Gray and his wife Geida; the original name was Lady Gray’s House. In 1719, Lady Elizabeth Dundas, Countess of Stair, bought the building and that’s how it got its actual name, Lady Stair’s House. In 1907, the owner was an Earl, who donated the house so it could be used as a museum.

Makar’s Court is the very special courtyard next to the house. It is an ever evolving literary monument, thanks to the many quotes on the pave stones. Each quotation is by an important Scottish author, and you can find them in Latin, English, Scot and Gaelic.

The word “makar” means both ‘maker’ and ‘poet’, and some people translate it as ‘skilled in the art of writing’. Nowadays, the City of Edinburgh chooses a Makar and the person becomes the main poet; the position lasts three years.

The current Makar of Edinburgh is the wonderful Christine De Luca. We were lucky enough to meet her when she gave a lecture for our group; there she read some of her poems and told us a bit of her life.

And speaking of writers, it’s time to talk about one of the most famous and important writers in Scotland. A national pride, and the Scottish novelist par excellence.

Walter Scott

 Sir_Henry_Raeburn_-_Portrait_of_Sir_Walter_Scott

Sir Walter Scott was born the 15th of August 1771 in College Wynd, Edinburgh. He was a historical novelist, playwright, editor, lawyer, sheriff and clerk, and his novels were -and still are- extremely popular not only in the UK, but also all around the world.

In 1773, he caught poliomyelitis and was left lame. Because of his illness, he had to move to the Scottish Borders, where he spent a couple of years. This is the reason why monuments and paintings of Scott depict him sitting.

In 1778, Scott moved with his family to George Square, just a few steps from the house where Arthur Conan Doyle would live a hundred years later, and just across the square where, 237 years later, I would sit on a chair for two weeks.

Fun fact: the Walter Scott Monument, located at E. Princes St. Gardens and built in 1840, is the largest monument to a writer in the world. The style is victorian gothic, and the tower is 61.11m (200 feet 6 inches) high, and there’s a marble Walter sitting in its centre.

The monument makes the citizens quite proud, and it’s a place where every lover of literature can admire Sir Walter… everyone except Mark Twain, who got angry every time he walked past it.

Do you remember I told you that Mark Twain wandered around Edinburgh for a while? Do you remember that I said that he wasn’t friends with everyone? Well, I said it because dear Mark Twain absolutely hated Walter Scott. Twain blamed Scott for the American Civil War, stating that his ideas influenced and practically caused it:

“Then comes Sir Walter Scott with his enchantments, and by his single might checks this wave of progress, and even turns it back; sets the world in love with dreams and phantoms; with decayed and swinish forms of religion; with decayed and degraded systems of government; with the sillinesses and emptinesses, sham grandeurs, sham gauds, and sham chivalries of a brainless and worthless long-vanished society.”

Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)

In fact, Mark Twain hated the Scottish author so much, that in his book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the sailboat that wrecks is called Walter Scott.

I wonder what he thought about the main railway station in Edinburgh, called Waverley in honor of Sir Walter’s novel of the same name, and located right in the heart of the city.

 Edinburgh_Waverley_railway_station_16-07-2005

It was there that my literary trip both started and ended.

Edinburgh: Eat, Drink, Read

Good morning, my dearest readers!

How are you today? How was your weekend? So I’m home for the semester holidays, which means I’ve been busy eating tacos and getting in touch with old friends. However, I’m not quite done with university stuff; I still have to write a term paper and I still need to study for an exam, but for now, I’ll just enjoy my ‘free time’. Besides, it’s time for Chiles en Nogada here in Mexico, and it’s pretty much the second best time of the year (after Christmas, of course).

Speaking of food, let me tell you about the many merry places where you can mix it with books and literature.

Eating and Drinking

If there’s something the Scotts like, it’s their bars and cafés with literary names. Here are some of the ones I saw while I was walking:

Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland Alice Through the Looking Glass) was not Scottish, but I did come across his name several times: coffees, postcards, home accessories, etc. The Mad Hatter restaurant can be found at 4/8 Torphichen Place, Edinburgh EH3 8DU.

Many coffee shops claim to be the place where J.K. Rowling wrote her famous novels, but the one we’re sure of is the Black Medicine Coffee, which belonged to her brother-in-law. Nowadays it belongs to someone else, and they say the new owner doesn’t like Harry Potter at all. Address: 2 Nicholson St, Edinburgh EH8 9DH.

The Kenilworth shares its name with one of Sir Walter Scott’s most famous novels, Kenilworth. References to the author are all over Edinburgh, but I will tell you about them in a few days. This pub is located at 152-154 Rose Street, Edinburgh EH2 3JD; a charming little street with very particular flower pots.

The street was not my favorite, but it’s great looking at the people standing in front of the pots, trying to read the quotes.

Drinking and Reading

One of my favorite places was just across university, which allowed me to go a couple of times to buy a coffee and admire the books.

Looking Glass Books (Lewis Carroll, anyone?) is a book-shop-café located at 36 Simpson Loan, Edinburgh EH3 9GG.

The coffee is great and the desserts are awesome, but what I loved most was the fact that one can sit and enjoy the food while surrounded by books.

I would’ve loved to show you the tables and the chairs, but when I asked permission they told me not to take photos of the clients. That proved to be hard, since there was a client on every single chair, but I hope you can get a nice idea of what the place looks like.

Reading and Reading

The last place I want to talk to you about was the place where I felt like staying forever.

 Captura de pantalla 2015-08-31 a las 15.41.38

Happiness is found behind a blue door at 53-62 South Bridge, Edinburgh. Blackwell’s, with its walls, tables and corners full of books, and with its wonderful classic collection, was the place where I spent the first 20 seconds of my visit just looking around and flapping my hands like a crazy woman.

The best part about going to a book shop with other philology students is that one can stay as long as one likes, knowing that the others won’t get bored. As soon as we got inside, we went separate ways and did not see each other until it was time to go. Afterwards, we compared the books we had bought and happily went home.

I bought Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë; The Jungle Books, by Rudyard Kipling; Dracula, by Bram Stoker; and The Life of a Stupid Man, by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa.

Edinburgh: Detectives and Pirates

Here are some of the things I learned about Edinburgh, Scotland:

  1. Edinburgh takes its status as the City of Literature very seriously.
  2. The weather is quite depressing.
  3. The coffee is ridiculously expensive.
  4. August, being the month of festivals, is perhaps not the best time of the year to walk around because it’s so full that you can’t help but bump into pretty much everyone.

Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, and company

George Square 23 is the house where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lived from 1876 to 1880. The good news: the house is in front of the university; the bad news: the square was full of people, cars, food trucks and a giant purple cow.

Those of you who’ve been to London probably remember the small, blue signs that tell you whether someone worth mentioning lived in a specific building. I’ve never been to London, so I have no blue signs to remember.

Well, Edinburgh is not like that. According to our guide, the Scots refused to do things like the English, so instead of a cute little blue sign, one has to walk to the doors to be able to read this:

In another part of the city, we arrived at the School of Medicine of the University of Edinburgh, which is where Conan Doyle became a man of medicine. That’s exactly where he met doctor Joseph Bell, a brilliant surgeon who was able to diagnose his patients simply by looking at them. Now you know where Mr. Doyle got the idea to create our favorite detective.

A few steps ahead we find the surgery wing of the hospital, where Sir Joseph Lister, the Father of Antiseptic Surgery, worked. Poet William Ernest Henley spent quite a lot of time there since he suffered from tuberculosis. He’d already had one leg amputated and was now in line for the amputation of his second leg. His friend Robert Louis Stevenson sat by his side during those times and it was then that he got the inspiration to create the famous pirate Long John Silver, from Treasure Island.

Inspiration and influences do not stop here because W. E. Henley was also friends with Sir James M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan. Barry invented the name ‘Wendy’ upon hearing Henley’s little daughter mispronounce the word ‘friend’; she used to say ‘wend’.

Those were the good ol’ days when everyone was friends with everyone… except for Mark Twain, who also roamed around Scotland for a while, but we’ll talk about him another day.

Right around the corner, we found “La Hispaniola”, which was originally called “Rutherford’s” and it was Robert Louis Stevenson’s favorite pub. Nowadays, it’s a lovely little restaurant that shares its name with the ship from his novel Treasure Island.

If you get closer to the window, you may also notice the silhouette of Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used to go to the pub due to its closeness to the School of Medicine.

Speaking of Conan Doyle, I was wandering around Edinburgh, minding my own business, when I came across a little place with a terrifying name:

I’m not sure I’d like to have a coffee in a place that shares its name with one of the most intelligent villains in literature.

Yeah, Edinburgh is full of all kinds of literary references. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a bar, a café, a book shop or a restaurant; the point is, you find pieces of literature everywhere, even in the flowerpots.

Next Stop: Edinburgh

Good evening, my dear readers

How are you today? How’s the week going? I’ve been super busy (again) with quite a lot of stuff to read, but it’s all because next Monday I’ll be in another country on a summer school program.

So last December, I attended a university meeting in which we were invited to spend a couple of weeks in Edinburgh taking a couple of seminars on Scottish life and literature. Only forty people could go, and they would give preference to those on more advanced semesters. A couple of weeks later I received an email where they regretted to inform me that I wasn’t among the 40.

Funny thing is, it was just after returning home for the Paris literary route that I found a second email in my inbox. A student had cancelled and the spot was mine, should I choose to accept it. So now everything’s almost ready; I only have to pack my bags, print out a few things and finish reading the outrageous amount of documents that we were given.

A paper town

Edinburgh is not only the place where I’ll spend the next couple of weeks reading about Gothic literature; it is also where we find our second literary route. I know this is not literally a paper town, and I know that in the book by John Green, “paper town” is not necessarily a positive thing, but in this town, paper has certainly played a very important role in its literary influence.

Here are a few reasons why:

1. It’s the world’s first “City of Literature”

Declared as such by our friends at the UNESCO in 2004.

2. It’s the birthplace of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1768)

3. It’s also the birthplace of writers like Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sir Walter Scott

Is there anybody out there who hasn’t heard about Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde? Or about the famous detective Sherlock Holmes and his loyal friend Doctor Watson? The name Ivanhoe can also be mentioned here.

4. Robinson Crusoe

Alexander Selkirk was a castaway for four years on an island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Daniel Defoe based his novel on Selkirk’s story.

5. 1984

George Orwell wrote his awesome dystopian novel in Edinburgh, where he spent the last years of his life. I think it’s safe to say that without books like these, young adults nowadays wouldn’t have The Hunger Games or Divergent.

6. Harry Potter

There’s a specific route dedicated to Harry Potter, because here’s where J.K. Rowling wrote the first instalments of her saga. This is not a priority of mine, but I’ll probably check out one or two spots.

And me?

I’ll be taking pictures, visiting literary places and looking for cool spots to share with you.