31 March 2010

The glamorous expat life

Wednesday 24 March: Nana notifies letting agency that boiler is broken and flat has no heat. Temperature in the low fifties.

Thursday 25 March: Temperatures in upper forties.

Friday 26 March: Contractor comes to visit. Says that boiler is so badly screwed up it should maybe be replaced, and the landlord will have to decide what to do. He orders the necessary repair part and says it will be in in 1-3 days. He does managed to reactivate sink and bathtub hot water, which operates separately from radiators. Nana goes to ask letting agent for decision. Letting agent says the company is authorized to repair without consulting the landlord, and therefore Nana should just wait.

Saturday March 27: Overnight low in thirties. Flat unlivable. Having obtained a key from hero History Department admin, Nana and Justin spend all day working at the University.

Sunday 28 March: Temperature rallies to 43 degrees. Friend lends Justin and Nana space heater. Nana and Justin alternate between heating bedroom and kitchen workspace. Load of laundry is attempted; humidity in kitchen means laundry won't dry.

Monday 29 March: Contractor calls to schedule boiler appointment. Overjoyed, Nana schedules it for Wednesday AM, soonest possible time.

Tuesday 30 March: Temperatures fall below freezing, with severe winds. Power lines, and thus space heater, flicker. Snow overnight.

Wednesday 31 March: Ice in toilet. Repairman arrives but is apparently not here to repair, but rather to get another estimate of cost of replacing boiler. Puzzled and cold, Justin and Nana visit letting agent, who says that the landlord decided he wanted to hear about replacing it. Justin and Nana ask why they could not have been notified of this delay. Letting agent says they are far too busy scheduling repairs to contact tenants about scheduling repairs. Justin and Nana want to ask precisely whose flat is getting repaired, as it is certainly not theirs. Instead, they ask why this estimate could not have been done one week ago, when the man came in the first time. Letting agent passes buck. Letting agent discloses that contractor is supposed to supply temporary space heaters when they can't repair the boiler immediately, and pledges to have heaters delivered today.

Justin and Nana pardonably skeptical.

Newhailes & the Scottish Enligthenment

Most tourists, when they think of Scotland, probably think of kilts and whiskey, or haggis and the Highlands. Be honest, if I just said the word "Scottish," you'd probably picture something like this:

 (GIS for "Scottish," first entry.) 

For a lot of Scottish history, though, many folks might have pictured something like this:

That, my friends, is Lord Dalrymple and son, two generations of the family that built Newhailes House, just outside Edinburgh.

You see, for much of the 18th century, Edinburgh was one of the great cultural capitals of Europe. Dubbed the "Athens of the North," Edinburgh was home to some of the most important scholars of the Enlightenment, such as Adam Smith and David Hume.
(Notice: no kilt.)

During this time, Edinburgh's cultural influence extended throughout Europe and beyond, and some of the leading lights of the day continue to influence modern politics and philosophy.

This "Scottish Enlightenment," as it would come to be called, succeeded largely through the patronage of powerful families like the Dalrymples. Such patrons not only provided political protection and financial support: in many cases, they were amateur scholars themselves, and the collections they had amassed served as important libraries for Enlightenment scholars.

The library at Newhailes House in East Lothian was one such establishment, drawing a number of scholars from nearby Edinburgh, including the aforementioned David Hume and Adam Smith. For this reason, my class on the Enlightenment took a field trip to Newhailes last week for a private guided tour.

In many ways, Newhailes is a typical Enlightenment retreat: built within a short ride of Edinburgh, the house projects both impressive wealth and a sense of isolation and rural repose. Don't be fooled, though, Newhailes is actually on the small side for homes of its type--its facade may be imposing, but the house is only one room deep.

Nevertheless, the interior doesn't disappoint. The two-storey library accounts for about one-third of the house, and definitely had me green with envy.

(From Flickr--no cameras allowed in the house.)

Alas, the books, for the most part, are gone--shipped off to the National Library to pay death duties. There's still an interesting little collection in the sitting room at Newhailes, but the shelves of the library proper are bare. Sad, but oddly evocative, and at least now the books are easily available to the public.

29 March 2010

Toad Patrol!

Yesterday, on my morning stroll through Holyrood Park (which took place an hour later than planned, thanks to British Summer Time), I came across the Toad Patrol.
(Not shown: torches, pitchforks.)

The Toad Patrol is a weekend gathering of local children and parents who help the park rangers clear the roads before opening them in the morning.

You see, every spring, the toads around Holyrood Park leave the woods they've been hibernating in and migrate to one of the park's lochs to mate, with Dunaspsie Loch, about halfway up the hillside, being the most popular for toady trysts. So every morning, the rangers close the park roads and sweep the park, picking up any toads on the roads and dropping them in the loch.

Kids who come out to help on the weekends get a free science lesson, some exercise, and even a snack. Some might even get to touch a toad! Though I didn't see any toads out yesterday, and I don't blame them--it was very windy and pretty cold.

In any case, the Toad Patrol served as a great reminder of what a unique natural resource Holyrood Park is. The toads are only one of the unusual species inhabiting the park: so cool to have a biology lab, a geology exhibit, and a natural playground all in one, right in the middle of the city!