Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.

Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.
Image by Cameron Lyall, GNU license Wikimedia

30 May 2011

Preparing for Departure

Since spring classes ended earlier in May, I’ve been setting up course travel and nervously watching minute fluctuations in the dollar-to-pound exchange rate. All the big stuff is in place (Visas, Passports, Train passes, lodging, air travel). And even the Grimsvotn volcano eruption in Iceland, which closed Scottish airspace for two days and got me all nervous that there would be a repeat of last year’s disrupted travel, seems to have let off just enough pressure to leave clear skies. Good travel omens all, but I dare not tempt the fickle travel gods into thinking me complacent or hubristic. So I watch the skies.

Scheduling tours and visits to different cities and sites in Scotland has occupied so much time: I’m reminded why I thought I might be able to pull this trip off. I’ve been so well treated by my Scottish partners, both those hosting us at the University and people I do not even know in five different cities. They’ve all gone out of their way to entertain my notions and contort their institutions to accommodate my requests.

Case in point: the tour director at the Glasgow School of Art. I sent three paragraphs explaining Casey’s argument about making place from space, and how a chapter from Crawford’s 1995 book about Mackintosh narrates this place-making. I read the email now and shake my head and wonder if there isn’t a national warning about a mad American making odd tour requests across Scotland.

Rather, I received a warm response, inviting the tour group to the museum, with the generous promise that our tour guide would be expert in the “human built environment.” Three breathless paragraphs reduced to three lovely words. So I look forward to that day in July at the Mackintosh-designed school through the eyes of a habitué: someone who has had their work and thought inflected by occupation of this designed space. The brand new Riverside Museum will also be open when we visit: a renewal of the Museum of Transport.

At the Falkirk Wheel, we were offered classroom meeting space: the wheel inspired the entire project informing it from conception to realization (that’s the wheel in the panoramic image above). It’s a megaproject that revitalizes tourism and commerce by bringing obsolete canals back to life. Complete madness, and yet it’s doing precisely what it was designed to do. And connected to what folks in Delphi are trying to accomplish with their Canal Days, connecting our travel back to the postindustrial Midwest.

Couldn’t manage to get a tour of the Firth of Forth Train Bridge scheduled, although we are going to the National Archives to look at historical records—images, meeting minutes, and planning documents. The bridge has its “open days” in June with tours and public engagement, but there is so much public interest in the bridge, they couldn’t accommodate all the tour requests. Oh, and I should get back in touch with Iain at Blackfriar’s kirk regarding Hugh Blair.

Late in the trip, we’ll be heading to Aberdeen, a city working to address sustainable transport, work, and energy. With a little luck, there will be something interesting in dry-dock waiting to be taken out to the North Sea.

Finally, Dundee has been most welcoming. I couldn’t have asked for better institutional partners, who have done all they can to accommodate requests from twelve demanding American visitors while standing up their first international summer school. Three faculty members have set time aside to welcome, lecture, and discuss Scottish history. Ninewells teaching hospital has just sent word that they can host a tour. Just amazed how warm a welcome we are receiving and how full our schedule is with cultural, social, and intellectual events and trips.  

I post this as much to record my own excitement and expectations as to contextualize the postings on the site: to express my gratitude as well as acknowledge the many debts I am accruing among my Scottish partners.

1 comment:

Cheryl said...

omg, Mike, that Falkirk Wheel is AMAZING to watch! I am so jealous about y'all's study abroad, and it's giving me something to think about -- maybe in connection to Norway, which I love so much! I'm definitely following these posts to see what y'all are up to. Good luck!