Tuesday, August 30, 2011
On the Fringe
This week I have queued behind medieval wenches at Tesco and brushed past vampires while walking through the Meadows. Edinburgh is an exciting literary city full of as many sordid stories and horrible histories as there are cobblestones, but it's not usually this interesting. Before you worry that you've missed your Hogwarts letter and Edinburgh actually is a city of witches and wizards, I must clarify that I arrived in the city during the last few days of the Festival.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is perhaps what the city is most famous for after Sir Walter Scott and all those coffeehouses J.K. Rowling supposedly wrote in. This is because it's the world's largest arts festival. "Arts" is a vague term and with the Fringe it can mean anything from classic theater to stand up to burlesque. It coincides with the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Festival (the reason my family vacationed in Scotland six years ago) and the Book Festival. What this means for tourists and students willing to go broke before the school year even starts is more art performed in three weeks than can be written in a year and pubs open until at least 3am. What this means for Edinburgh locals is being walked into by strangers and hearing the screeching of bagpipes more than usual.
The energy of the Festival could power all of Scotland, although it's a manic depressive energy. You might as well get caught up in the literal hustle and bustle on the Royal Mile and find yourself carried off to a comedy show. The Fringe creates a lot of "you had to be there" moments. I don't even want to know why there is a hot pink flyer on my flat's bulletin board that says, "Spank!" At the same time, your eyes get tired of the neon posters plastered all over town. The Meadows looks like a five-year-old who had too much candy threw all up over it. By the time I arrived, most of my friends who survived the Festival were as burnt out as the lightbulbs in my flat.
A collection of the WORST Fringe posters:
When I wrote in my last post that I boarded a plane last Thursday for the start of my senior year, I lied. Classes don't start for three weeks, I was desperate to see at least part of the mythical Festival, only to be believed if experienced.
[The Tattoo stage and where I will be seeing Arcade Fire later this week.]
[Typical terrible weather reminding you why Brits live in their trench coats.]
The Fringe lends itself to many cheesy puns that I can't help but love and put in the title of this post and they are all accurate descriptors of the event:
People who are "on the fringe" are the ticket vendors who have lost all shreds of sanity dealing with tacky tourists and their inane questions. I was assumed to be just another tourist when I asked in my American accent if I could buy David O'Doherty (an Irish comedian) tickets at Potterow, only to get a snarky reply that, "I could if they weren't sold out already." Ah, Scottish customer service, in which the customer is not always right, but probably an idiot.
There are many "fringe benefits" however like the Book Festival. Stand up makes me feel awkward, but hearing authors speak excites me more than when Gatsby hears the cookie jar open. There's something more exhilarating (frequent Book Festival chair and Scottish literature critic, Stuart Kelly's favorite word) about listening to A.S. Byatt lecture you about morbid Norse mythology than a professor doing the same. There was something about the Book Festival that was utterly inviting, whether it was the kind cashiers who dealt with my inability to properly read a schedule or the aforementioned Stuart Kelly's ability to wear three pieces suits and drum up enthusiasm even for the most pessimistic authors, I felt at home there. It was the type of home where random relatives you've never met before show up and tell stories like Byatt and Geoff Dyer, the two authors I snagged tickets to. I have never read either, but promptly bought Byatt's book after her event and geeked out with my friend Amy over how awesome it would be to make a career as an essayist like Dyer does. I could gladly live at the Book Festival and wish I had seen more (I can't believe I missed the million Neil Gaiman events), but my two days there were just the kick in the pants I needed to start the new academic year.
[Thank you to this teenager for photobombing what otherwise would've been a very dull photo of tents. Notice the author portraits in the background, there's Neil Gaiman and Audrey Niffenegger looking ridiculous.]
The Festival is over sadly, but it's still raining. Edinburgh isn't Hogwarts, but the Festival proves it has its own magic.
[Can I steal one for my new living room?]