I've spent a delightful weekend in Edinburgh; particular gratitude to pseudomonas for being a charming host and FB for making things happen and being generally lovely. Other lovely people involved included lethargic_man and justinep.
I'm so pleased pseudomonas was able to be around, cos it had seemed up till the last minute that he wouldn't be. And I'm really glad I got to spend time with him before he left Edinburgh! He was there to greet me and make me tea and converse interestingly when I arrived, tired after a long week, on Friday afternoon. I was quite unenthusiastic about leaving him to go to synagogue a couple of hours later!
Actually synagogue was very nice, as the first part of doing shabbat the way it's meant to be done. Lots of service, lots of good company and interesting discussion and long, leisured meals accompanied by singing and finally some more intimate time with friends after all that general socializing. Yum. Edinburgh scored very well as an experience of walking into a strange synagogue; everyone was friendly and welcoming, especially the rabbi who invited us (together with all the other strangers he could round up) for meals both on Friday night and Saturday lunchtime.
R Rose is an interesting guy, to say the least. I had already heard of him by repute (he's relatively new in Edinburgh), and he did indeed live up to his reputation. Over the course of the weekend said or hinted quite a lot of stuff that's almost shockingly liberal for an Orthodox rabbi, but at the same time his sermon on Saturday had me absolutely seething. Clearly someone who doesn't toe any party line. And very boisterous, not at all afraid to ask strangers very probing, if not actually directly personal, questions, or to forcibly drag the conversation round to topics he wanted to talk about. Luckily his interests and erudition are extremely broad, so this wasn't a problem. He was also astoundingly good at the multi-national (and multi-lingual) game of Jewish geography that was going on among a dozen strangers from three continents.
lethargic_man was being most endearingly geeky about LotR at one point, but the conversation covered a far broader range of topics than I can summarize here. And R Rose certainly wasn't going to let anyone be too shy to talk about politics (whether national, Israeli, international, or Jewish community). He also pounced on me at lunchtime: hey, you, tell us about today's Torah portion! This was particularly problematic given I'd not arrived till the middle of the Torah reading that morning in synagogue, so I was working from the memory of having taught this week's bit years ago. I was better off than lethargic_man, who through a combination of circumstances actually ended up more or less sight-reading the Haftarah (reading from Prophets) in synagogue.
There was annoyingness at the end of the Friday night meal about people insisting I couldn't possibly walk home on my own, and coopting this American exchange student into accompanying me, when he clearly had no wish to do so and wasn't actually going in my direction at all. He was very nice about it, but we agreed tactfully that he could turn back and head to where he was staying once we were out of sight. What really got my goat was a particular woman bleating on about how women are never safe on their own at night. It's bad enough coming from anyone, but she's a professional feminist; she's studying feminist interpretations of the Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter, which is kind of cool in its way, but meant that she typifies exactly the kind of thing that annoys me about a lot of feminism. I just don't see how women are helped by someone devoting her life to feminist literary theory while at the same time professing opinions which restrict and belittle women.
Anyway. It turned out that one of the people from the community who was being nice and welcoming and friendly was in fact justinep. It took me a while to work this out, but as it happened she had gone back to pseudomonas' after she'd left the Friday night meal early. Meeting her didn't feel like meeting a new person, it felt like filling an unexplained gap in my social circle. I should have met her, and now I have. Anyway, she is very delightful!
On Saturday afternoon lethargic_man and I didn't manage to extricate ourselves from the company until 5 o'clock. At which point we went for a little walk, and lethargic_man showed me an extremely cool old railway tunnel and we enjoyed the sun coming out after a rainy afternoon and shining on beautiful views across Edinburgh. Then back to pseudomonas' for a truly delightful evening with him and justinep. We drank pseudomonas' cherry mead, which, like all his mead, is utterly delicious and a lot more alcoholic than it tastes. I think we were more tipsy from the general good company and relaxation after a long week than the mead though. We had some really interesting halachic discussion, and some somber reflection about the Significant Date (including lethargic_man telling us about the US-mediated coup which led to General Pinochet seizing power in Chile on September 11th back in the 70s), and also lots of friendly silliness and much cuddling and stroking. Yes, I had only just met justinep, but she managed to discover how susceptible I am to good purring and was most amenable to the kind of petting that such an excellent purr deserves.
The later part of the evening got kind of weird. We ordered a takeaway from Ayutthaya (sp?), and unfortunately, the food took a really unreasonably long time to be delivered. So by the the time we ate (getting on for 11pm) we were all too tired to properly appreciate the undoubtedly delicious food. Then I turned into a pumpkin and spent the next couple of hours half-falling asleep inconveniently and impolitely, then half-waking up and being fretful and clingy and confused. And I apologize profusely for being such incredibly bad company. (The reason we didn't just give up and go to sleep was that we were waiting for pseudomonas' parents who were coming up from London to help him move down south, and they didn't arrive till about half past one.)
Anyway, after all that we took quite a while to get going on Sunday morning. I said goodbye to pseudomonas and then headed off with lethargic_man to do touristy stuff in Edinburgh. So we went to visit the new Scottish Parliament building. This was kind of interesting but I was deeply unimpressed with the architecture. I'm not normally curmudgeonly about modern architecture, but really, the Parliament seems to be trying far too hard to be ultra-trendy and I guarantee it will look dated in 10 years' time. Besides, concrete is a really ugly building material, particularly for interiors.
Then we climbed Calton hill for more magnificent views (offset by a bunch of rather quaint follies and other miscellaneous buildings). And in the afternoon, tracked down an exhibition about Etruscan archaeology which I'd seen advertised on the side of a bus. It turned out to be in the Museum of Scotland, which is itself a very fine building. And the exhibition was as much fun as we'd hoped it would be, so yay.
We then met up with FB again for tea. He picked a very nice café called The Elephant House, which I was most taken with. Lovely atmosphere, individual without being consciously look-at-me-I'm-so-eccentric, and really taking advantage of the big rooms and high ceilings that old Edinburgh buildings have. And the sort of place where strangers sit together at the big tables, and people read and play board games and it's generally relaxed and friendly. Also I got to introduce lethargic_man to spiced chai, which is always a good thing. Finally, lethargic_man and I went out for dinner; despite our intentions to try something new, we ended up in Ann Purna as always. But Ann Purna is so much of a good thing that I'm not really complaining.
Wow. That was a really, really lovely weekend.