Balkan is the new punk.

Edinburgh Expeditions

“You might want to change your shoes,” a friend said to me.
I looked down at my ballerina flat clad toes. “Combat boots then?”
She nodded. “Combat boots. Have you never been to Balkanarama before?” Seeing me shake my head, she continued, “The dancing is a bit like being in a mosh pit.”

Despite my (joking) claims that I was a punk in a former life (can’t help it, I have a soft spot for ’70s punk music) , pogoing and moshing have been two styles of dancing I’ve never been particularly keen to try. Needless to say, that’s exactly what I was going to attempt, I just didn’t know it at the time.

Balkanarama is a popular club night in Edinburgh. It features, surprise, Balkan music, both live and DJed. I hadn’t listened to Balkan music at all prior to Thursday night, when I ran into two-thirds of Bobok serenading my friends. When I got a text from another friend suggesting that we go on Saturday, I was completely on board.

What I found at Studio 24 (an independent club just off of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile) was not what I expected–in a good way. I had no idea what would be waiting for me, not only where the club was (we got ever so slightly lost, ending up on Calton Hill and looking down on the club rather than standing right by it), but what it would be like inside. Two floors, of which I only made to the first; reasonably priced beer (a can of Red Stripe for £3); some seats near the bar, and a pulsing pit of dancers in front of a live music stage.

I took a swig of my beer and looked to my friend. We both looked to the pit, to each other, and nodded. The loud, blistering sound of violin, accordion, trumpet and percussion greeted us, along with the undulating mass of bodies and reek of sweat. The pit was sweaty, smelly and alive.

Alive sums up Balkanarama. There’s something about bouncing up and down to energetic music, bumping into those around you, somehow ending up right by the stage, dancing like a madman and being knocked against the metal railing. Something wonderful, endorphin-inducing. I had a massive smile on my face even when we left, sometime after the band Smash Kafana left the stage.

As we wandered home, we said, ‘why on earth had we not gone there before?’

I’ll surely be at Balkanarama in coming months, still in my combat boots.

May Day, or Beltane’s Aftermath

Edinburgh Expeditions

Happy May Day to you all!

Last night, I stood out on the cold Calton Hill with about 10,000 other revelers to banish winter and welcome in summer. We watched the Beltane Festival, a modern reinterpretation of the pre-Christian Spring celebration. We weren’t entirely certain of what we were getting ourselves into, only that there would be fire

The Drummers

The Drummers, Beltane 2012

At nightfall, we moved to the other side of the Acropolis, to welcome the much-needed fire! It was absolutely freezing on Calton Hill–I wore my heavy down coat and shivered more than at Hogmanay (New Year’s celebrations). Unfortunately, being a bit vertically challenged (and in the middle of the crowd), I couldn’t see much more than this, the Processionals lighting the fire.

Lighting the fires

Lighting the fires

After, we watched some fire dancing (including flaming hula hoops), thoroughly impressed. I’d like to try my hand at it some time.

The night continued on, still freezing cold. There were more processions, dancing, and finally the Green Man and May Queen lit the massive bonfire! Warmth at last!

Dancing by Flames

Dancing by Flames

For more serious information about Beltane, visit

Eight Things I Love About Edinburgh

Edinburgh Expeditions

1. My Degree Programme

Yeah. If I didn’t like my programme, living in this fabulous city would be hell. Why? I pretty much live inside my programme building. But I don’t care. I’m learning so much, working on cool projects, and expanding my knowledge. I’ve got a lot of freedom to do what I like (within the grounds of the brief), and with the upcoming term, that will probably only expand. At the moment, I’m becoming a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. I can model and animate in 3D well enough, code HTML/CSS decently (and a little bit of Java and ActionScript), and so forth.

But on top of this, my coursemates are awesome. We’re a social bunch, getting together outside of class, and chatting when working on projects. We help each other out as best we can, answering questions and generally supporting each other. We’re little cheerleaders for each other. No one gets left behind.

2. Swing Dancing

Swing dancing is my social life outside of my coursework. I dance approximately three nights a week. It’s a great form of exercise and its so much fun. I went to my first ball this weekend, and haven’t enjoyed myself at a dance, well, ever. There was awkward dancing, as I’m not the most skilled (I’ve only been dancing for three months) but regardless, a wonderful time was had by all.

Lindy hop has definitely got me thinking about how I dress as well. I’m conscious of wearing clothing that permits movement, and skirts and dresses I can dance in. Shoes, always my weakness, have become more important. I look for shoes with comfortable padding in the balls and heels, and soles that are smooth yet not too smooth so I don’t wipe out. I’m now the proud owner of a lovely pair of wine t-strap heels, perfect for dancing or just wearing with jeans or a skirt.

3. Wandering through Old Town

Ah, the part of Edinburgh where I spend most of my time! I love exploring this part of the city, when my coursework permits.

I think I was a Romantic in a former life. One of the first places I wandered during some time off was Greyfriars Kirkyard. It was so atmospheric, that blustery, dreaded sunny day in October, so naturally I went to the cemetry (ten points for mildly obscure music reference). I brought my sketch book and camera, sitting down, observing the visitors, watching the clouds, and wandering.

The Grassmarket is another favourite neighborhood. I like to look in the shops, to look up at the Castle, to dash into Avalanche and see what they have for used CDs.

4. Cafe Culture

I love coffee. I love tea. I love sitting in cafes and enjoying these hot beverages. Edinburgh has a plethora of cafes. I have some favourite places to get my caffeine fix in my neighborhood (some of the best coffee I’ve had is at a police box coffee stand in my uni’s main campus). It’s a fabulous way to meet up with friends–getting a coffee. Far superior to Boston, where most of the cafes were, well, Starbucks. Not that we don’t have chains over here, but there are some great options that are smaller.

5. Charity Shops and Vintage Stores

Ah, the charity shop! A place where you can get just about anything, if you’re willing to look. From books to jewellery to dresses and skirts, these are often an affordable option for students in search of new clothes. Which reminds me, I need to go in search of some swing-dance appropriate attire.

6. The Pubs

Ah, the pubs! The places where I can get a good burger and a good beer. Excellent places for a meet up with coursemates and friends. The one problem: there are so many, it’s difficult to plan where you meet up!

7. The Architecture

There’s something very welcoming about Edinburgh’s architecture. It isn’t too tall, the windows are pleasantly sized, and the neighborhoods are downright inviting. I love strolling through the streets. There’s always something interesting around the corner, either an old school that’s been turned into flats or a side street I’ve never noticed before.

8. The Libraries

I love the libraries. My uni library, the central city library, the music library…I spend too much time in the libraries, thinking about which books I want to read.

They’re great places to conduct research, and of course…there are just so many books. So many books, so little time. Now, excuse me, I have a new book I need to read now that term is over!

Book Challenge: Scotland, Scotland, Freddie Mercury

What's On the Bookshelf?

At the end of it all! I like this. Much quicker.

Twenty-eight: Last book you read

The Importance of Being Seven by Alexander McCall Smith. I reread the entire 44 Scotland Street series this summer, in between the massive tomes about and by T. E. Lawrence.

I’m quite fond of the series, as you’ve probably gathered. I like McCall Smith’s books because they are fun to read, but also intelligent and hold up on rereads. I’m not much of a book buyer, as I’m constrained with space and love to visit libraries for the treasures hidden in the shelves, which is how I found this series.

These books focus on relationships, on friendships, and on the good of humanity. Very refreshing, particularly after reading the newspaper any given day of the week. The book was easy to read, yet not dumbed down, as is often the case. The thinking person’s popcorn read.
Twenty-nine: Book you’re currently reading

How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman. I’m moving to Scotland in less than a week. I saw this book at the library, and figured I should read it. At the very least, it would give me an overview of the Scottish philosophers and the development of Scottish culture. Which is what its doing. I am learning quite a bit, and am thoroughly looking forward to the chapter on scientific contributions.

I have about three chapters left. A good read, now I’m deciding which philosopher I’m going to tackle while in Scotland. When I travel for long periods, I try to read at least one great thinker of the country I’m in. In Italy, I read Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince. The debate is either to read David Hume or Adam Smith. I’m leaning towards Smith.
Thirty: Favorite coffee table book

This is an easy one. It’s Classic Queen by Mick Rock. Filled with his photographs of Queen in the 1970s, including the very very famous one, the cover of Queen II. I love flipping through this book and looking at the photos. Well designed, lovely to look at, and a book that, when I have a coffee table, will be proudly displayed.

Time Travel books should be fun. This is a drag.

General Geekiness

It all started one innocuous day last week. After work, I went to my local library to pick up some books to read. First on the list of books to get was Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (which I finished last night and thought was really very good). The other was up in the air. I figured I’d wander through the stacks at will, and something would catch my eye.

Well, I was really hoping that this library would have The Count of Monte Cristo (unabridged) but no such luck.

Instead of Dumas, I picked up The Time Traveler’s Wife, which is nearly as far from epic French literature as you can get. I had heard good things about the book, from professional reviews to recommendations from friends, and while I had seen the movie (and been underwhelmed), the ‘book is amazing!’ I continuously heard led me to think, ‘hmm, I’ll give this a shot.’ Besides, two things in fiction really appeal to me: time travel and immortality, and smack dab on the cover was the first of these.

The little pink ‘Romance’ sticker should have clued me in. Going into the book, I knew it was a love story. I didn’t think I’d end up philosophizing about it.

There are a few things that I like about the book. Namely, the narrative style. It is told alternately from Henry and Clare’s points of view, in the present tense, which is quite effective for the story being told. The book also makes me think, which is always a good thing for me (though not necessarily for anyone in earshot). I also really like the premise, as I adore time travel and, deep down, do enjoy a good love story when I can find one. My hopes were high for the book.

Before I go any further with my critique, I will preface it by saying that I’m about halfway through, and that things may change. I am hoping for some incredible revelation and that everything I am writing about is proven wrong.

Firstly, the joint problem of morality and logistics. Henry really doesn’t suffer any consequences for his actions. Yes, his time traveling means that he ends up running around naked, which leads to him mugging, beating people up and breaking and entering. He never seems to struggle with any of this, morally. He pushes it off, saying, (I paraphrase), “I need to do it to survive and no one will believe me anyways.” He shows no guilt, no remorse for those he has robbed, instead feeling entitled. He does nothing to make amends to those he has stolen from, instead snidely thinking that he is better than everyone else.

He does get arrested (which we are told about), but doesn’t seem to have a criminal record of any sort. Having never been arrested myself (and never want to be, thanks), I don’t know for certain, but I would think that one’s finger prints are on file. And lots of times jobs (and visas) make you get your prints taken, so wouldn’t it be odd if his prints matched up? Particularly as he always seems to end up in Chicago, where he lives and works.

Oh, and as he turns up naked random places, his employers at the library just assume he has some weird fetish for nudity and books, and they push it aside. Um, I think a library counts as a public place, so if anyone were to see Henry darting through the stacks looking for his clothes, wouldn’t that count as indecent exposure?

Next, there is the issue with predeterminism. Clare, the titular wife, meets her husband when she is six years old. And, as their meetings progress, she falls in love with him by the age of 12, pretty much knowing that the two of them will get married. All before she turns twenty. Clare takes this in stride and happily goes along with her life, knowing she’s going to marry some jerk named Henry.

Now, why exactly is Henry a jerk? He encourages Clare’s attachment to him. He doesn’t let her experience life as he has, to date other people, to make mistakes in relationships because its already determined that they’ll end up together. Clare never really has a say in anything, because Henry’s already seen the future. He knows what house they’re going to live in. He knows that they’re going to get married (arguably, in the beginning of his chronology, he doesn’t even know who Clare is, considering he lives life out of order, and decides to sleep with this girl he has met once because she says “OH MY GOODNESS! IT’S YOU! I LOVE YOU! BED ME NOW.” Again, paraphrasing).

Their acceptance of determinism really frustrates me. Henry makes no attempt to change anything, just saying, “It’s a bad idea. I prefer Chaos, but hey, I don’t think that that exists.” There’s no testing, both Henry and Clare are too cautious to make anything of it. There’s some talk about that messing with the universe, but this isn’t explored.

Finally, the root of the problem is with Clare. Her life revolves entirely around Henry. She has her career as a sculptor, but it is Henry who consumes every waking moment of her life. Her thoughts always return to him, and she cannot exist without him. Sculpture seems to be something just tacked on to her, to give her some depth, a ‘oh, she can exist without him, see, she has her ART.’ Which, incidentally, we don’t see her create until AFTER she and Henry are married. We hear about it, but never see it. Kind of like how Clare apparently went to college, but never seems to go to class (too busy mucking about with Henry) or graduate (she gets married and that’s that).

She buys so heavily into the “I’m going to spend the rest of my life with Henry” from such a young age, you can’t help but wonder if the girl’s been brainwashed by the dashing older man. The ‘we will end up together’ is so ingrained in her head, I can’t help but wonder if Henry lived some alternative life, didn’t like it, and is trying his damnedest to change it. Now, this reading may make the rest of the book more interesting, as 300 pages in is too much of an investment to shove aside. Somehow, I don’t think my theory is what the author had in mind.

30 Days of Writing: Day Thirteen

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters

What’s your favorite culture to write, fictional or not?

Uh…oh dear. This is a tough one. I don’t particularly have a favorite.

I guess my answer is: whichever I’m writing at the time. I tend to through myself into the cultures that I’m researching. Spitfire pilots, Resistance fighters, just everyday folk. I like learning about different social groups and trying to replicate them in my writings.

I had a blast while writing the Regency era.

Kind of related. But really funny.