Friday, June 22, 2012

with respect to gravity

Edinburgh sidewalk

The women (and some men) who negotiate this urban terrain in high heels get kudos for balance! Even in flats, I'm learning to walk more attentively than ever, avoiding puddles, slick cobbles, mud and crevasses. A great deal of my tourist experience is spent looking down. Each day I slip less and can pay more attention to the steady child of gravity, the horizon line.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

I will not be moved

The 15th c. Rosslyn Chapel has dozens of platforms created to support statuary, inside and out (see orange blobs), but no one's home! Some theorize that 17th c. parishioners of one sect, anticipating plunder by a reforming sect, spirited away the occupants of the niches and hid them --too well! Since the chapel was not completed before the death of the man who funded it, it's possible some niches were never occupied. An added insult to the building, Scots complain, was that Cromwell used the building as a stable.
What's interesting is the stones that were not removed: the carved support stones for the statuary and stone members of arches that support openings. They had been carved into figures of a secular or pagan nature, or events any flavor of plunderer might fear or respect. Being structurally riskier to knock down, that green man or the bagpipe-playing figure remain in place today. Because they were like motherhood and apple pie are to Americans, might masons have preserved deeper-seated subject matter according to the structural role a stone played? Did these icons' deeper cultural roots make them structurally safer?
Possibly a worst offense to the building took place in the 1950's. In a preservation attempt gone-wrong, a thin coat of cement was applied to the entire structure, inadvertently cloaking and suffocating the colorful, living rock within its own grey baggie. In what some say is perpetuating another false image,  Hollywood is providing funds to repair.

Friday, June 15, 2012

space cowboy

My visit to Rosslyn Chapel included a hike down the steep ravine beyond in search of the spot from which JMW Turner painted the Rosslyn castle ruins. From where did he see that awesome color-fields of atmosphere? I would sketch it, too. Wandering the ravine I found lots of mud (Scotland) but no dark crag, no crashing rapids. It turns out Turner embellished. Fabricated. For a nanosecond I felt cheated. The ruins exist, but the rest of the landscape is studied free-association. He made comprehensive preliminary sketches one can see @the Tate: a bounty of view angles, accuracy on building detail, but no time for foliage details in the field.  The rugged unruliness of nature was turned up to eleven later.
I suspect Turner bothers to include a representational tidbit to indicate the distance he's about to travel from reality. I like my Turner with very small bits of reality.

Monday, June 11, 2012

o drap'd figure where is thy top half?

Since the top of the figure IS missing, one can read the inscription that asks,
O death where is thy sting
O grave where is thy victory

Was the figure always incomplete, or is it Mother Nature's dark humor that's weathering the stones at Greyfriars Kirkyard? The nearby Flodden Wall, in contrast, stands strong after 500 years, and is testament to a more sobering event of a Gettysburg hue, although probably not the darkest.

iron age real estate

Double-wall masonry is sometimes thought of as cheap, because it uses fewer bricks for wall area, but it can be quite strong, since the walls are usually connected at intervals with a tie-stone that spans both walls. My first lesson in the durability of double-wall masonry was during additions to a building by idiosyncratic engineer-builder, Carr Jones. What? Masonry, in earthquake territory? Garden-variety double-wall construction is referred to as rat-trap masonry, a bond popular for its insulating properties and economy of materials. Jones' California walls used steel ties, and his early 20c. homes are real estate manna. Pictured above is one example of the QUEEN of double-wall masonry, unique to Scotland: the broch. They're dry masonry: no mortar. They take the idea of tie stones and insulating cavities to another level! Given the severity of Scotland's environment, one appreciates the need for insulation, but the cavities in broch walls are unusual enough to provoke speculation about additional functionality. To get an idea of the technical sophistication of these dry-stone, iron-age structures, check out this trailer for a recent broch-umentary.

Friday, June 8, 2012

round house

How many creatures make their nests in rectilinear form? Earth-form circles large or small don't seem so mysterious if we look at the nesting methods of our furry and feathered kin. Whether to enclose real or imagined occupants, dead or alive, arranging earth in circular form seems like standard M.O! How'd so many of us get to thinking right angles were top choice? Most early people's constructed homes appear to have been round. Before aerial photography, the sure clue to an ancient site was leftover stones, depressions and berms. Today, hi-res satellite imagery can suggest previously overlooked sites to ANY amateur. Here is a Edin's Hall, one of supposedly few similar structures in the southern Scottish borderlands. But really? Look for yourself on Google Earth. This amateur sees similar scars nearby.