Friday, July 23, 2010

Good Morning, Scotland! & the National Library of Scotland

The first morning in Scotland (Monday, July 19) I successfully got up when my alarm went off (without waking however many of my 5 roommates who were still asleep), got around, and was headed out the door with some others at about 8:30 am. The reason for this is that the rendezvous point for our class that day was 9:00 at the bus stop, and it is a little walk into town (okay, village) and to the bus stop. We found we had overestimated the time, so a few of us stopped in at various places and grabbed a bite to eat--one of us found a bakery that sold a bag of small donuts for £1, and it was a large enough bag that it was shared amongst all and all agreed it was a very good bargain. More and more of us trickled in, and once we were all there and accounted for we hopped on the coach (I'm beginning to remember not to say "bus," aren't you proud?) and headed into Edinburgh.
One thing that was interesting to me was that there was no definable point where the surrounding area stopped and Edinburgh started. With most areas I've been to, there's a clear point where you can say "Right here is where the city starts." But that morning on the way in there wasn't, so I was beginning to wonder when we were going to hit Edinburgh when it was suddenly our stop.
We had to walk up the street a bit, but no one really minded much, especially when someone noticed Elephant House. We weren't quite that caffeine-deprived to make so much fuss over a coffee shop (close, but not quite), the reason is that according to an urban legend it was in that particular coffee shop that a certain author first thought of and wrote (on a napkin upstairs, some say) the names Harry Potter and...well, I forgot the other one(s). Anyway, the cameras were out in full force. Later on I found out that according to someone working there, there is no upstairs (and there's no basement in the Alamo, silly), but the cafe is more than happy to claim the spot as the birthplace of Harry Potter--it's even on the t-shirts.
Once the Potter mania had satisfied itself enough for the time being, we continued on our way and very shortly found ourselves at the National Library of Scotland.
The staff at the National Library of Scotland were unfortunately unavailable that day, so we contented ourselves with a history lesson in the John Murray archives. There were seven generations of John Murrays who ran the Murray publishing company, and they Murrays have published some of the greatest and the most well-known names in the publishing industry. Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle... It's quite an impressive list. The staff had taken this list and run with it, resulting in an equally impressive exhibition.
Since the exhibition features original materials (mainly paper documents to and from the publisher), they kept the lights dim throughout the room. Scattered throughout are clear pods, in which are featured items to represent a specific personage from the John Murray archives. This resulted in a somewhat sci-fi look to us, leading someone from my class to quip to a nearby exhibit case, "Beam me up, Sir Walter Scotty." Each case held an iconic outfit of whomever was represented, a small number of documents which related to their life and work (and the John Murray archive), and then a number of items which may or may not be seriously related to the individual but always represented a character trait or iconic feature of the person in question. For example, the Jane Austen case featured a ballgown, a fan (representing the form of communication often used at balls), some checks she recieved from the publisher, a few other paper documents, and a bunch of red wooden hearts tied together with cord. Lady Caroline Lamb, infamous lover/stalker of Lord Byron, had a (modern) red sequined "devil's horns" headband in her case. Interestingly enough, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did not have a case to himself, selected memorabilia related to him was simply scattered throughout the room in various nooks and crannies. Besides the more obvious names, there were also cases devoted to Richard Ford and Isabella Bishop Bird, both travel writers, and Heinrich Schliemann, an archeologist who found the first proof of the Trojan War as anything other than a myth or fable. Perfect final touches to the exhibitions were a table where you could write your own letter to any of the featured authors, and an interactive table called the Publishing Machine where you fashioned your own book from various choices modeled after famous books, then were told whether your book would be a bestseller (mine was), or not.
Image from Microsoft ClipArt

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