December in aix was milder than in the midwest, but still colder than i expected. I hadn't really packed for it, and had to buy an extra blanket and several sweaters.
I had my first (and so far only) oral presentation on the theoretical writings of Charles Jencks in my architecture class right before break, and was very nervous. All i had to do was stand in the front of a room and read my prepared report, but the idea of presenting in french to a room full of native speakers was intimidating. I slurred and stammered my way through it and by the end i felt like i might as well have had 'foreigner' branded on my forehead. oh well.
I had decided before i left the states not to go home for christmas. Instead, I flew to Edinburgh to spend the holidays with my Charlie and Jane, my aunt and uncle. or my grandmothers cousin and his wife, if you want to be technical about it. I arrived there late at night and called only to find that they hadnt received my emails telling them when I would arrive and had been rather worried. Alls well that ends well I guess, though I hated to drop in unannounced!
Edinburgh was warmer than I expected, though very grey. I spent the first few days wandering around the city on my own. I went to the Dean Gallery and the Modern Art Gallery, where I saw a garden sculpture project by the Charles Jencks, who I will never forget after that very memorable presentation!
interesting tid bit: Jencks has created several such landscape art peices in scotland. He also founded the Maggie Center's there, in memory of his late wife Maggie who died of breast cancer. These centers help cancer patients and their families, and Jencks has recruited many famous architects to design them, and has designed landscape art for at least one.
On Christmas eve day Io met up with my friend Dan, another student in provence who lives in Edinburgh, and we went ice skating at the christmas fair.
I have seen Christmas fairs and markets in Nice, Aix, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. I suppose theyre very common here. In Aix, the main street was lined with little wooden huts (complete with fake snow) , where they sold everything from fancy pens and candles to venician carnival masks to chocolate covered pears. My favorites market treats: hot wine and gingerbread. Also popular is barbe à papa, literally translated- papas beard. We call it cotton candy.
Sophie, Charlie and Janes daughter, arrived Christmas eve, and we all went to their friends house for dinner. It was a traditionally latvian meal of fish drop soup, sausage, sour kraut, and mashed potatoes. Afterwards we sang christmas carols, some of them in latin and german.
on homesickness: i expected to be very homesick during the holiday season, since id never been away before. But instead i just felt relaxed and comfortable. I wasn't constantly bombarded with christmas or like anyone was imposing holiday cheer on me. Christmas isn't as extreme in scotland. In fact, as a predominantly protestant country, the celebration of christmas was discouraged for many years for its strong catholic association.
Chritmas day we visited more family in portabello for breakfast and went for a walk along the beach. Then we went to another friends house in Carllops and went for a country walk. The country side in scotland is beautiful. The grass is incredibly green and generally dotted with little white sheep, and the trees were all bare and moody. very muddy though.
We then went back to the house for one of the most amazing dinners of my life.
the hosts - a physicist musician and his art historian musician wife, who was wearing a floor length magenta sink robe for the occasion
the guests- ourselves and a french couple, Jean Christoph and Estelle (i just had to share their names). JC was, no joke, a rocket scientist (or aerospace engineer) and a jazz musician. Estelle was a professor of ancient french and barely spoke english. I talked to them a little in french, which was cool.
Before the meal we gathered around the table and popped our crackers. or is it pulled our crackers? opened our crackers? cracked our crackers?? we did whatever it is you do with crackers. inside were little whistles, one for each note of the octave, and our host directed us in christmas carols. the crackers also included paper crowns made out of musical score, which we wore the rest of the evening.
if anyone ever tells you that the british cant cook theyre lying. started with smoked salmon, then turkey, stuffing with sausage and stuffing with chestnuts, brussel sprouts with ginger, cranberries, parsnips, mashed potatoes, all paired with wonderful wine. desert: a flaming brandy pudding with brandy butter and fresh cream.
fun note about the british- all desserts are called puddings. this confused me a lot on my first visit.
the evening ended with music. our hosts were both musicians, and several of their musician friends joined us for music. the orchestra was made up of an oboe, a piano, two recorders, a flute, two violins, a cello, and a guitar. oh, and i 'chimed in' with jingle bells for the grand finale, walking in a winter wonderland. The whole day was magical, I felt like id wandered into hogwarts only to find the cratchets celebrating there.
My dad came to scotland two days later. It was wonderful seeing him. We spent hours walking around Edinburgh talking and catching up. We took a day trip to Glasgow to see the Kelvingrove museum. Its a strange blend of art museum, anthropology museum, and natural history museum. We also went to the scottish national gallery, which is fantastic. I love Raeburn. and tartan pants.
The visit seemed to go very quickly. In the winter, the sun sets in scotland at around 3:30, so we were usually home by dinner time. We visited scotland just a year and a half ago, so we didnt feel pressured to see the sites and act like tourists. It was just wonderfully pleasant, and therefore not very interesting to read about.
Next edition: scottish new years