7th of July, 2018: Latvian Song & Dance Festival

Saturday, 7th of July

I remember a few years back when Krista and I were both working together and only just beginning to become friends. This was the first job I’d landed upon moving to the U.K. and was promptly dazzled by the presence of so many people of different nationalities all working in the same place. I must have been interrogating her about Latvia in all my ignorance: but I remember her showing me a video of the Latvian Song and Dance Festival and how proudly she described it. Having attempted various instruments since I was young and eventually winding up in marching band (pushes up glasses proudly), I was impressed: this was a massive undertaking, a whole gargantuan auditorium filled to the brim with singers wearing traditional garb, all singing together in wonderful accord. At the time I thought, man that looks amazing. And then went about my day.

Years later, these three friends all connected by that job in Scotland, got to witness the Song and Dance Festival ourselves.

Our adventure squad woke up for our last morning in Liepaja, had another excellent breakfast in the Liva Hotel, and decided a last-minute wander was in order. That’s because, as Krista informed us, there was a church in the heart of town that had a tower one could walk up and enjoy the view from. The church is called the Holy Trinity Cathedral, built between 1742 and 1758, and also has one of the largest pipe organs ever built contained inside with 7,000 pipes (it held the record until 1968!). We were the first ones in that morning, and a kind church attendant lead us up all the flights of rickety wooden steps, unlocking doors as he went, giving us some chat about some of the interesting aspects of the church: for one, an old, working clock from 1906 that can be seen inside.

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Sure enough, the view was lovely. On one side the sea, the other a great stretch of lake. On the way down, we got to hear the organ playing as a young baby prepared for its christening. How wonderful!

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View on one of the floors on the way down. I have to say I’m particularly fascinated by those old wooden doors.

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Before long, however, it was time for us to make our way to Riga by bus. It’s about a three hour journey from Liepaja to Riga, but our nonplussed bus driver did allow us a 5 minute break–and boy, he wasn’t playing around with the time limit. If a Latvian employee tells you something, they mean it–as we witnessed when he began brusquely shooing a young man back on the bus when he was attempting a quick loo visit. He spent most of the rest of the time sitting in the front seat happily complaining about road works and passengers according to our Latvian P.I.C. and mischievous translator, Krista.

Here’s Miz Oa sampling some Latvian produce. Have I mentioned that dill is one of the seasonings of choice there? Potato salad, beetroot soup, crisps–you name it. If it ain’t got dill it’s probably wrong. Not that I mind–I enjoyed it (and these crisps!) immensely!

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Some time later we made it to Riga. Because of the time constraints of our evening, we decided a quick dinner was in order before putting up our bags in the airBNB–and as we trotted about the city, I began to see it. Signs of the festival, and much to my astonished delight, they everywhere!

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So, about the festival.

I mean, if this video doesn’t get you at least a tiny bit choked up–maybe you just have to go see for yourself!

What first became apparent about our landing in Riga was that Riga was absurdly gorgeous. Oa and I couldn’t help but compare it to other beautiful places we’d visited through time, as our brains tried to make sense of what we were seeing. New Orleans–York–Madrid. But how could that be? Riga is an inspiring place because of its architectural style, all built in different times (the oldest being the 1200s) and through different cultural influences, such as Germany, Sweden, and Russian. It makes for a fascinating place that sort of boggles the mind. It’s a sum of all its parts and history, culminating in the city that is Riga.

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It’s also full of charming statues… such as this armadillo, which Oa discovered sharing in the festival spirit!

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Amongst the people milling about the city on a warm summer day, more and more people in their festival garb began spilling out. Like these two girls preparing flower crowns in the park.

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What we didn’t expect was that as we made our way by tram to the Mezaparks where the event of the night was being held–that literally everyone else would be doing the same. At first our tram was empty, but with every stop more people somehow managed to squeeze into the thick of it. Each time it seemed more improbable that someone would manage to get on, and yet if they did somehow wriggle in, those who could see the spectacle would clap and let out exclamations. It was horrible, and hot, and hilarious.

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Finally we made it off the tram, and followed the stream of bodies to our destination. I was impressed by the gorgeous flags leading the way.

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My only regret regarding this event was that I hadn’t stayed there all day–as a photography hobbyist, seeing all these absurdly beautiful people in all their traditional garb was an absolute dream. Just look at them! I could have stayed for days, just taking photos of how ridiculously gorgeous they all looked.

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Finally, the girls managed to drag me in and we made our way to our seats.

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As we sat and took in the crowds, I noticed all the singers waiting in the wings. It’s times like this I’m thankful for my long lens!

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As it turns out, the theme for this year’s events were: “The main message of the Centenary celebrations is ‘I AM LATVIA’, with the attendant message ‘I CREATE LATVIA’ integrating the theme of participation. This message reminds us that Latvia’s core value is her people, those who devoted their lives to creating and maintaining Latvia as an independent state, and those whose daily efforts create the present and lay the foundations for Latvia’s future together with the new generation. One of the main events of the Latvian Centenary will be the XXVI Song and XVI Dance Celebration.”

How fitting for Latvia’s 100th year of independence celebration!

The rough translation of this song is something like this:

Over the head of the eternal Milky Way,
And the eternal path under your feet.
It makes the earth happy
And – it turns out – to home.

Where is the green grass, the dark night,
Where’s the mist, the hands of the gentle,
Where did I look for the children of happiness
Every day wander happily.

Over the head of the eternal Milky Way,
And the eternal path under your feet.
It makes the earth happy
And – it turns out – to home.

And one more.

 

5-6th of July, 2018: A Dummy’s Guide to Lovely Latvia

Thursday, 5th of July: Away We Go!

Sometimes strangers here in Scotland strike up a conversation with me here regarding my accent.

“That accent isn’t a local one,” they chortle. “Where are you from?”

To which I respond, “America,” and then they roll their eyes and say, “Yes we knew that. But where in America?” (What if they thought I was Canadian?! What then??!)

So I say, “Tennessee,” and watch as the wind visibly leaves their sails and they say, “Oh,” having hoped I would answer somewhere exotic like California or Florida which inevitably most Scots have visited. Eventually the conversation resumes somewhat as they either explain where (aside from Tennessee) they have visited in America, or with me throwing some hints their way. “You know, Jack Daniels? Nashville? Country music?” and they perk up, “Oh, Jack Daniels!! Of course!”

I mean, who doesn’t know Jack Daniels?

Funnily enough, I felt the same response regarding explaining my holiday plans this year to my friends and colleagues. They asked where I was going, expecting the time-honoured responses such as Tenerife, Greece, Ibiza etc. and instead got my cheerful response: “Latvia!” In response I got an expression of mild confusion as the search query in their brains brought forth no results.

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Not that I can blame them–the only things I knew about Latvia prior to this trip were what I’d gleaned from my Latvian Partner in Crime, Krista. An certainly before moving to the U.K. I probably wouldn’t have been able to point it out on a map. (To be fair, I still can’t point out a lot of things. Thanks brain.)

That said–LATVIA! Directly south of Finland, nestled in between Lithuania and Estonia, and west of Russia. Thar she blows!

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So… I started to type up a quick history of Latvia. Then I realised other people had done it already, and far better. Although this chap does refer to Latvia as one of the creepy Baltic twins at the start (outraged huff!), it’s a pretty solid summary.

I think I can tip the hat to lovely Krista for putting this trip together for us. I don’t exactly remember how it came to be that we were all in unison about going, but before I knew it tickets and hotels were booked, and it was away to Latvia we went!

As far as the start of the trip goes, it did get off to a somewhat shaky start (apparently the wild heat of 25 degrees was causing some train cancellations, I’m not even joking, the UK can’t handle relative warmth). However Oa and I successfully met in Glasgow right on time where we then made our way to the airport.

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A Spaniard and an American board a Glaswegian bus… is this the start of a horrible joke?

Although we departed around 6PM evening, and though it’s a relatively short flight, you still jump forward two hours due to the time change. On top of that, we actually flew from Glasgow to Lithuania, due to the fact that Palanga’s airport was closer to our destination of Liepāja (pronounced Lee-uh-pie-ya).

Thus we landed sometime after 10PM in Palanga, Lithuania. To my mild bemusement, everyone on the plane began to clap when we touched down–I mean, to my knowledge it hadn’t been a particularly hairy ride or anything. (When I asked Krista about this later, she rolled her eyes and sighed. Must be a more common thing than I thought!)

As Oa and I crossed over the Lithuanian tarmac to meet Krista, Oa saw people waving alongside a fence surrounding the arrival area. Because one was a blonde lady, Oa began waving excitedly, thinking Krista had found us. But alas… it was not Krista.

Latvian Lesson #1: There are a crap ton of beautiful blondes in Latvia and also, I suppose, in Lithuania.

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Finally we made it to our hotel for the night, the Liva Hotel, which was cheap, cheerful, and most importantly, had a fantastic breakfast. You can take the American away from U.S. but can you take her away from amazing breakfasts? No.

Also, the inside of the elevators nearly made me pee myself laughing. I don’t know who picked this carpet, but I love them.

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Friday, 6th of July: Liepāja

After a groggy wake up in our hotel following by lots of caffeine and even some cake (if it’s offered at breakfast, it would be rude to refuse wouldn’t it?) we hit the streets of Liepāja.

A little about the place: Liepāja is the third largest city in Latvia. It is sometimes called “city where the wind is born” because of its almost constant sea-breeze due to its proximity to the Baltic Sea. It is also often called the capital of Latvian rock music, and had many former relics to that cause: Latvia’s first rock cafe (now closed), and a music festival that lasted until 2006. There’s also a massive new concert hall called the Great Amber–which, if you haven’t guessed, looks like a big ol’ piece of amber. At least, it’s big and orange.

After breakfast a turn and a quick turn round the corner of the hotel, we were in the heart of Liepāja. You can see the old sign attached to the former Rock Cafe there, along with two cyclists cruising away. Latvia is a pretty flat place, and so it makes sense that there were a ton of cyclists! Awesome.

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Here’s Oa and Krista perusing the Rock Hall of Fame. You can follow wee music notes along the ground to this point, in which musicians have placed their palms into their respective monuments.

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More importantly though, we saw a fabulous street cat who not only had the grumpiest face, but freakin’ lost it for some head rubs. SO CUTE.

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Before long we had made it to one of the aspects of Latvian culture that I’m incredibly jealous of coming from the cold and dismal Scotland. Open-aired markets! Sure, don’t get me wrong, Edinburgh has markets scattered about. But they’re usually fancy affairs selling gourmet chocolate bars and flat white coffees that’ll cost you an arm and a leg. I like ’em, but they have nothing on the quality fruit and vegetables more likely than not grown locally and organically.

Seriously though. I NEED IT. Those cherries were freaking delicious. Not only that, but everything was so, so reasonably priced. You could get a whole container of fruit for a couple of euros. Honestly, it was something else–I wish I could have gotten a whole suitcase of this stuff.

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Not only can you get all your food needs at the market, you can get clothes, meat, dairy, knick-knacks, fresh flowers, you name it. Oa and I (as the unrepentant tourists that we are) made a prompt beeline for a shop selling amber. The place is positively dripping with it–turns out, the Baltic region is home to the largest deposit of amber to be found. And you’ll certainly be dazzled by it when you step foot into a market in Latvia. We found this little wooden shop that had an excellent selection–when I asked to take a photo, the supremely nice (and shrewd) shopkeeper proceeded to take out some of her best pieces for Oa and I to model. A knowledgeable move on her part, as us suckers ended up buying some lovely pieces from her. Who could resist!?

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As we departed the market, the famous sea breeze kicked up and a fine and chilly mist rolled in. Atmospheric!

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Here’s another look at the downtown area. Charming, isn’t it?

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After all that shopping and maybe less than a mile’s walk from the hotel, we were exhausted and fit to collapse. There was only one thing for it: a stop in a fantastic cafe for refueling.

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The Boulangerie was an absurdly adorable place that stretched at least three floors and even had a rooftop garden. It’s full of quirky art, fresh lilies, and shabby chic decor. My inner hipster rejoiced. It was seriously really cute! In no time at all we were seated with coffees and cake (cake #2 of the day, because When On Holiday Calories Don’t Count).

Here’s a guy I spotted on the top floor enjoying the presence of some very cheeky local fauna.

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After restoring our energy levels with sugar and caffeine, we headed determinedly onward. Next stop: Liepāja beach! Have I mentioned how charming everything was up till this point? Well, the beach was no different.

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One of the only things I’d managed to google and remember prior to the trip was these big reflective letters on the beach. However, when we arrived at the beach the misty sea breeze was still clinging to the sand, so I worried about our visibility regarding the letters–this was, after all, the only thing I’d bothered to look up for myself. Was this karma for doing no research on my own and relying entirely on Krista’s Latvian wisdom?!

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The apocalypse truck is coming.

However, I needn’t have been worried. We found the letters in no time, and what a treat they were! Token Liepāja beach photo, check!

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It was cold, but bright! Squinty sun eyes, also check.

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Our walk out of the beach-park was full of the intriguing wooden architecture that Latvia is renowned for. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, that–obviously wooden buildings require some maintenance. However, because of the downturn in the economy as well as rising maintenance costs, most of the houses that require work have simply been abandoned due to their astronomical costs. It’s a shame really, because most of them with some work are absolutely stunning.

After dinner it was some traditional dinner time–at the fabulously delicious Cili Pica. Okay, warning: this is not a romantic dinner hot spot (unless you are me and my husband who consider going to Pizza Hut the height of modern romance). Cili Pica is instead cheap, I mean, so so cheap, and freaking delicious. I didn’t take a photo of my food (woe) but ordered potato pancakes and cold beetroot soup, along with munching on fried rye bread as an appetiser. Honestly folks, you can’t beat Latvian food. It’s really fucking good–like, Southern comfort food level good, and that’s saying something.

After meandering our way back to our hotel, we wound down the night with cocktails. I couldn’t help but notice some of the table decor was a quote by Dolly Parton, translated into Latvian. It’s safe to say I have no idea what it says, but I love it.

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23rd-25th of March, 2018: Tree Plantin’, Edinburgh Ramblin’, and a Cat

Friday, 23rd of March

Today at work I was chosen to accompany our handyman on a delivery/planting. I didn’t know before today that our business also doubles as a landscaping business… but I’m not complaining, as it means I got to go out and plant four lovely cherry trees! And what a lovely garden it was, full of well-established evergreens and conifers, and just beginning to show signs of spring life.

I can only hope one day my garden will look as gorgeous as this… maybe I should have started 10 years ago or so?

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Saturday, 24th of March

I headed through to Edinburgh today. First to have a lovely breakfast with my gal Krista,  then to meet up with my new coworker and pal, a wee German lass by the name of Rhea. She’s over doing a sort of work experience for a month with us. After interrogating her on all the important details of her life (including favourite type of ice cream) and her passing with flying colours proving she is a Solid Dude, we agreed that a rendezvous in Edinburgh was just the ticket!

Honestly, I just love showing folks around Edinburgh. Even more so when they are awesome.

We had quite the wild day. There were loads of friendly protests happening all around town–people beating on drums outside the US Embassy for gun control measures; people wearing fox-related ears and such as they protested the fox hunt laws; ladies in bright pink protesting greyhound racing. Later still we got a flyer for some sort of democratic Brexit protest.

Still, the best bit was us witnessing an old man with a cane, and in a kilt, wander jovially into the cafe we were waiting at–moments later he had busted out a harmonica and was serenading a group of greyhound ladies in pink.

The day wasn’t done yet, however! We marched our way up Arthur’s Seat, which is on a gorgeous day as it was, I would say the #1 thing one can do in Edinburgh. It’s an even better thing to do when you make it to the top and find a pack of very friendly dogs awaiting with their wee buddy………….. a small calico cat, in a hardness.

Honestly. I thought seeing a guy having hiked his electric keyboard up to the top was astounding enough. But a cat??? Amazing.

Here’s Rhea perched on Salisbury Craigs, taking in the view.

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After a whisky tasting at fab pub The Abbey (okay, it’s an old man pub, but it’s cheap and has a great whisky selection) we began picking our way back to the station… only to witness a new Mediterranean sweet shop along the way. Baklava = yes.

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What a fabulous day.

Sunday, 25th of March

This guy, though. I mean… that’s not even our cat! Not that I’m complaining.

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20th-22nd of March, 2018: Rufus Roundup, Deery Me, Catbirds

Tuesday, 20th of March

Another day,  another dolla. Or… rather… another round,  another pound? Ew. That just doesn’t quite sound right, does it?

Here’s what we got up to after work: playing around with the slow-motion settings on my phone. As you can see, Rufus has mad hunting skills.

Wednesday, 21st of March

I didn’t feel very well today–bummer, as it was my day off. As the day was a bit dreary I mainly dabbled in chores about the house whilst dreaming of nice, sunny days in what should already be spring for christ’ sake.

But look who decided to visit the back garden today! A wee roe deer, one of Scotland’s  two native species. They’re relatively easy to identify due to their small stature.

Dare I say this little lass is………. a-doe-rable????

Sorry,  not sorry.

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Thursday, 22nd of March

I didn’t take any photos today: shame on me. So I’ll fall back on one from a few days ago. Here’s Molly the cat perched in a kid’s ladybug chair at work. Do I take too many photos of cats? Yeah, probably.

You may now carry on with your business.

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17th-19th of March, 2018: Scottish Pineapples, Pigeon Prints, Cadbury Egg Butts

Saturday, 17th of March

So…… it was pretty cold today. I mean, super cold. I guess you can chalk it up mainly to the ever-present Scottish wind slicing through the bones of the innocent. Or whatever. It was cold though.

Because of who I am though, I decided this cold and horrible day would be best to drag Haitham out of the house. It’s times like these that I realise my husband never prepares for the cold. He was whingeing almost as soon as he stepped out of the car at our destination. I mean, seriously though. The guy doesn’t  even wear a hat–what right does he have to complain?! (Also, I work outside. Don’t wanna hear it.)

Our destination today was the famous…. PINEAPPLE.

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Not that pineapple, but close enough in outlandishness.

It would seem that in 1761 this rich chap, the Earl of Dunmore, decided to flaunt his wealth by building an homage to his favourite exotic fruit. The structure was flanked on either side by heated greenhouses in which to grow the delicious and hard-to-come-by treasure. Some even think that based on flecks of paint found during its restoration that he even had it painted to match. I mean, seriously. Rich people. What are they like?

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Amazing, isn’t it? Can y’all think of a weirder place to find a pineapple-shaped structure than in Scotland? I mean, not even in a well-trodden bit of Scotland: but this was 30 minutes away from even us Falkirk-side. Yes, this treasure of the Central Belt was in Airth (what else is in Airth you ask? Answer: literally nothing).

Anyway, it’s great for an (extremely) brief stroll. May be better for those without soft husbands.

Sunday, 18th of March

Woke up to snow……….. again. Yeah, I’m starting to have a sense of humour failure regarding this one. It’s March. Where the hell is spring?!?!

Although, I will admit that I found the pigeon tracks in the snowy remnants after work pretty adorable. This is wood pigeons, mind. Which are ridiculous, clumsy, and BIG. I guess they were the perfect size to leave any tracks at all.

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For the curious:

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Majestic chaps.

Monday, 19th of March

A somewhat sunnier day at work: I even shed my jacket for a time! Maybe it’s just due to the fact that we were working so hard, ya know. Like, for example, someone’s gotta wave a stick around at the work cat to keep her occupied.

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My little knitting friend at work came through with my Easter buns!!!!!!! She even gave them to me in a tiny little adorable bag. OH MY GOSH aren’t they so adorable? Each one even came with its own Cadbury egg (not pictured here as they are effectively hidden in the bun’s bums).

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14th-16th of March, 2018: A Silent Voice, The Repair Shop, The Apartment

Wednesday, 14th of March

Day off, day off! Hurrah, hurrah!

Yeah I didn’t do that much. Popped by the shops where I got aggressively flirted with by an older cashier named Atef (he even gave me a candy, am I basically betrothed now?). Planted a few things in the garden. Did some boring house work.

I did also do some binge watching.

First, a movie–A Silent Voice (2016). This film was actually on mine and Haitham’s weekly movie list because a friend recommended it to me. When Haitham saw it was on the list however he groaned, “Are you serious? Teenage angsty drama? PLEASE!”

So,  I did the only logical thing: I watched it without him. (Later on he threw a wobbly and said, “That’s against the rules!” I swear there’s no winning with this lad!!)

Anyway, the film. UGH!!!!!!! If you’re looking for a movie to punch you over and over again right in the feels, wringing you dry of tears in the process, YEAH this is the one for you. A Silent Voice is the story of a rowdy young boy and his classmates making their way through school. One day a new student is introduced: she is lovely, she is sweet, and she is deaf. Unfortunately for her, her fellow classmates repeatedly reject her overtures of friendship, and before long, gentle teasings turn into outright bullying.

What happens during the rest of the film is the story of redemption, learning about yourself, and of course overcoming obstacles. It’s ridiculously sweet but also heart-achingly real, portraying cruel interactions, misunderstandings, and what it means to be a friend.

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I have to admit that story aside, this is an absolutely gorgeous film. Every character is so beautifully drawn–each expression painstakingly rendered. I also loved seeing the incorporation of sign language into the story.

UGH IT’S TOO WHOLESOME, I feel like I may cry just thinking about it. Thank god I didn’t watch this one with H–he would have inevitably given me the side-eye the entire time I became a blubbering ugly-crier! Really, he should  be thanking me!

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Thursday, 15th of March

What can I say about today? Well, I painted things at work mostly. And hardly got any of it on myself this time around! Hoorah, hoorah.

In other news: no one at my work knows who Jimmy Buffet is… SERIOUSLY! And Brits claim to be a civilised society!!

At the end of the day Haitham concluded a game he’d been playing for the last couple of days, one that I had actually been watching with interest despite myself. It’s called Firewatch. (A certain reader named Pete probably would have enjoyed it too for obvious reasons!) The story unfolds from the start: a middling-aged man suffers a traumatic breakdown in his marriage due to his wife’s failing health. She leaves to return to her family back in Australia who will pick up caretaking duties where it’s understood he will join them–instead, however, he makes the split-second decision to spend the summer in the recesses of Colorado, in a fire tower, watching for signs of smoke over the rugged terrain.

It’s a brilliant little game which involves you mostly following a pre-set story.  But the gradual reveal, the little details you can suss out,  and of course the element of wilderness exploration complete with map  and compass really caught my interest. Although certain elements were a bit unbelievable: like two teen girls hiking out to the middle of nowhere complete with boombox and unending supply of beers to cause a ruckus. What teen girls would bother these days?? Really!

Friday, 16th of March

Friday night–so, movie night/pizza night is in order!

But first up a warm-up with a new, totally wholesome show we’ve both found, which also reveals our mental age: +80. The show is called The Repair Shop. According to BBC, it is the antidote to throwaway culture, featuring a team of master craftsmen who are ready and willing to repair and restore family heirlooms, priceless treasures, and the like.

Here’s a clip of the show.

It’s safe to say I love it. But I also hate it. Because oftentimes when the people return to pick up their treasure, they’re sometimes overcome with emotion, and then I’m overcome with emotion. Ugh. Seeing other people cry often makes me cry too!

At least we had a Guinness milk stout to go along with. Yum!

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Afterwards it was time for our weekly movie. Because H had poo-poo’d A Silent Voice, I bumped up my next choice to its slot: The Apartment (1960). I mean, if he didn’t want teenage animated angst, then surely an old B&W film would do??

The Apartment actually came up in quite a lot of lists of top films when I was browsing, so I popped it in without really thinking about it. I appreciate older films for what they do–without grandiose special effects and big movie budgets, these films take clever plotlines, excellent characters, and make something that oftentimes holds its place through the passing years. The Apartment was no different–and I found myself enjoying it quite a lot (even if I did find myself questioning the screen at a few key moments).

The Apartment is the story about corporate grunt worker C.C. Baxter. He lives alone in a small apartment in New York–and somehow, finds himself being bullied into relinquishing his abode for his superiors as they commandeer his home for their own trysts and walkabouts. Baxter puts up with his for the sake of a rise in his career through the ranks, although he does have eyes for a fellow employee, elevator operator Fran Kubelik.

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But this is more than a story about Baxter. It’s also a story about Kubelik (the girl who has him smitten), who has tangled interactions with the men of this corporation as well. Naturally things get more complicated, as any good B&W film does–hearts are broken, careers are made, and Kubelik and Baxter are thrown together to try as they try to work out their paths for themselves.

This is a funny and yet surprisingly sad film. Baxter and Kubelik both have their own struggles, and though each character is well-written, you can’t help but shake your head at their antics from time to time. They both make mistakes, but also learn from them, which makes this a very interesting film from multiple standpoints.

Did I mention it’s funny? Yeah, definitely. I think what The Apartment does so well is its portrayal of people. Like this Santa celebrating in a bar on Christmas Eve… until he notices a morose Baxter sitting next to him.

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Despite it being very well-written, this film is still a product of the ’60s: a doctor’s bedside manner with an indisposed female patient requires him to slap her about the face a few times as well as shaking her (although I guess it makes a shred more sense with context in the film); the doctor in question and his wife are very stereotypically Jewish; and the only shot with a black character is of course, with the big boss getting his shoes shined. (bummer!)

Still, a great film that’s definitely earned its place on modern viewing lists!

11th-13th of March, 2018: Tunnels, Daylight Hours, Flowers

Sunday, 11th of March

Yay!! Sunday funday, or rather, Clarissa-makes-an-attempt-at-exercising-so-far-it’s-only-once-a-week-but-hey-ho-eh?!

It’s my second time riding my bike to work this year. Luckily for me, the weather was even in double digits–I mean it was supposed to be a the highest reported so far this year, at a whopping 11 degrees C (52 F). I mean, wowee zowee, am I right??? Who turned up the heat in here???

One particular aspect of my mostly canalside path is the Falkirk Tunnel. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of this 630m long canal, dug out by hand and shovel and pick over 200 years ago. It also fills me with dread as I attempt to ride my bike through it. The canal towpath is less than 5ft across, complete with barriers to keep ya from falling in–but I’m  100% sure one of these days that I’ll clip my handlebar on either rock or rail and take a tumble. It’s inevitable! Hence my very slow pace, lights, and sometimes one-foot-push technique to get through to the other side.

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Monday, 12th of March

Guess what, guess what!!!! Today was the first day that I could still see the Ochils in the distance after I made it home from work. This was easily at least 6 PM or so–talk about a celebration!!! Could spring, and beyond that lengthy summer hours, really be on its way?!

Here’s the view from the front window. Sure, it’s not 100% loveliness to be seen across the canal. There is some sort of recycling/scrap yard sort of thing, and oftentimes what appears to be a broken down ice cream van… But seeing the Ochils just beyond, as well as not having a neighbor across the way… yes, I’ll take it! (And we did!!)

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Tuesday, 13th of March

My florist-by-trade coworker let me take home one of her tiny vases of flowers leftover from Mother’s Day. IS IT NOT THE MOST ADORABLE THING? Seeing how adorable this little jam jar is with some sprigs of flowers inside it makes me think, hey, I could do that! But truthfully… no. Probably I could not. (I’m too lazy!) Although, maybe later I can snip a few daffodil blossoms if they ever come to fruition. But I’m not convinced because, y’know. Scotland.

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8th-10th of March, 2018: Puppers, Persepolis, Tunnels

Thursday, 8th of March

Sometimes folks get up to mischief at my work. It’s not often as mischief is generally frowned upon… but today I saw two of my colleagues pushing a gigantic box across the floor. Giant box’s contents: another colleague, who was delivered to the tills as a wee surprise!

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After work though it was time to get to business. H & I were expecting our very first official guests at our new home. That meant obviously making sure the house looked like NO ONE lived inside it. Here’s some footage captured of Haitham’s thoughts regarding cleaning.

Friday, 9th of March

Unbeknownst to me, my work had invited some guests today. Boss-lady actually knows me pretty well in some regards, because she came stomping in during my tea break to drag me away from my yogurt–where I was greeted with this.

GUIDE PUPPERS IN TRAINING. AHHHHHHH! Complete with a 7 week old tiny baby bundle of retriever. Oh, my, god. I could have stayed there all day…

They were so good.

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After work Haitham and I hosted our first dinner night at the house. As you can see, no dinner party is complete without upending your liquor cabinet, getting more that can’t even fit–and busting out your apple pie moonshine procured from a distillery in Arkansas (it’s honestly delicious, we can thank Jessica again for a great suggestion). And we had a wee ginger gatecrasher as well.

 

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It was so so nice having all our friends round! I would do it all the time if I didn’t have to clean the whole house to H’s standards beforehand! Our wee flat in Edinburgh was never quite spacious enough to host folks happily. Okay, maybe it was, but I think H would have had an aneurysm at any potential spillages in a place that was not our home. 

A fantastic night filled with delicious good food–if a little too much wine!

Saturday, 10th of March

Day off. It was started off right by our catching a local outlaw on the run from the law. He’s properly behind bars now, just like he deserves. (He was surprisingly easy to catch. He just sort of sauntered right in. A jingly ball did the rest.)

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It was a pretty quiet day spent catching up on errands. By evening however it was time for our belated weekly movie night–and that meant, fortunately for us, doling out the last of our friend Krista’s delicious lemon cake she had made for us the night before. UGH! Complete with coconut yogurt and blueberry drizzle. IT IS SO GOOD.

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Our  movie choice was one I saw crop up on several different film lists.  I’m not sure then if it was initially my suggestion, or Haitham’s–and we went in knowing veritably nothing about it, except it was supposed to be quite good. The film was Persepolis (2007).

This is the autobiographical, animated story of a young woman named Marjane, born in Iran just before the Islamic Revolution. For those who don’t know, Iran during the ’70s was a place of its own, under the ruling of King Shah Pahlavi. However, when he was overthrown in 1979 to be replaced by Ayatollah Kohmeini, well–things changed very quickly. Seeing photos of what Iran was like before the Shah was overthrown is the difference between night and day. Take this photo for example.

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Whereas now if you google Iran, this is the sort of photo you see.

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Persepolis is a wee gem of a film for its portrayal of all the facets of life growing up in Iran. This is primarily the story of a young girl and her family who are all directly affected by the revolution going on around them, for better or worse. However, this is a film that addresses both the light and the dark of living in such circumstances. Marjane is a feisty young girl who is always attempting to buck the system–or at least stretch her own restrictions to their limits. Whether it’s by wearing a hand-lettered jacket proclaiming, Punk is not ded…

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Or by shaming her peers for their choice of banned music. (The Beegees were the superior outlet for those curious!)

It’s got absolutely delightful moments–such as girls attempting to draw a mass of cloth in their art classes.

However, this is a more thoughtful film that merely the minor struggles encountered living in a repressive country. There is the nature of her family, always attempting to do what’s best for Marjane, even as their friends and family members hit rock bottom.  It is the struggle of a woman growing up in a man’s world. It also features Marjane’s heartbreaking attempt at living abroad in Vienna, eventually resulting in her total isolation from her family while trying to survive in the streets. This is a story that doesn’t sugarcoat the differences between worlds. The Western world may have had conveniences and freedoms, but it didn’t have her family, or people willing to offer help with regards to her circumstances (something I think most of us can realise holds true to modern times).

I’d highly recommend it. It was a great film, even if I did feel a bit rustled the entire time watching it because Haitham chose to watch it in dubbed English, even though it’s originally made in French. Ugh!!! Is there anything worse than a dubbed film, y’all?? I don’t think so.

 

5th-7th of March, 2018: Spit-Takes, Cat-Birds, Cheese-Whisky, Gal-Climbs

Monday, 5th of February

I accidentally choked on my coffee today in the break room. Naturally I wasn’t by myself–I was chatting with one of my colleagues who was bemoaning the lack of bread, milk, veg, and biscuits at the shops. For a split second I thought I had myself under control–then a particularly strong cough got me and I wound up projectile spit-taking, coffee went flying all over the place.

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Even worse, the evidence can be seen on this sign-up sheet management had left on the table. Still–just gonna jot this one down the list of Things I Am Going to Pretend Never Happened.

In other news, it was just another ol’ day at work and I started listening to a new audiobook: Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach. I actually am quite enjoying it. It’s about all the eccentricities of space programs all over the world–where they’ve come from, where they’re going… and, more to the point, how people tend to overlook just how weird and wonderful it all can be sometimes. As Mary points out in the novel,  “Space doesn’t just encompass the sublime and the ridiculous. It erases the line between.”

Take for instance this passage.

“People can’t anticipate how much they’ll miss the natural world until they are deprived of it. I have read about submarine crewmen who haunt the sonar room, listening to whale songs and colonies of snapping shrimp. Submarine captains dispense ‘periscope liberty’- a chance to gaze at clouds and birds and coastlines and remind themselves that the natural world still exists. I once met a man who told me that after landing in Christchurch, New Zealand, after a winter at the South Pole research station, he and his companions spent a couple days just wandering around staring in awe at flowers and trees. At one point, one of them spotted a woman pushing a stroller. ‘A baby!’ he shouted, and they all rushed across the street to see. The woman turned the stroller and ran.”

That one gave me a proper chuckle. If you’re interested in space at all, this is an extremely approachable book to pick up on the subject.

In other news, I found this weird bird studying me at work. I feel like it was about to tell me a riddle or something.

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Tuesday, 6th of March

After work today I dropped the Panda Express off at my local train station. This was cleverly planned so that H, upon disembarking his own train, could then take the Panda and head back home as I myself shuttled into Edinburgh. Coordination of figure skaters, I tell ya what.

I met my mate and former colleague Emma at one of my favourite haunts in Edinburgh– a whisky bar called Usquabae. My parentals are certainly familiar with this one, as my dad and I took part in a lovely whisky tasting here whilst visiting. It’s continued to be my go-to whisky joint since then, and today was no different. We met, we chose our poisons, and swiftly decided dinner should consist of 100% cheese. Our server not only nailed a fantastic whisky suggestion for me (a Balvenie finished in a rum cask, YUM!) but also kept topping up our oat cakes as needed. What a star!

The name Usquabae comes from a poem written by famous Scot, Robert Burns (more colloquially recognised for penning the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne).

Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!
What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
Wi’ tippeny, we fear nae evil;
Wi’ usquabae, we’ll face the devil!–
The swats sae ream’d in Tammie’s noddle,
Fair play, he car’d na deils a boddle.
But Maggie stood, right sair astonish’d,
Till, by the heel and hand admonish’d,
She ventured forward on the light;
And, vow! Tam saw an unco sight.

The translation being:

Inspiring, bold John Barleycorn! (whisky)
What dangers you can make us scorn!
With ale, we fear no evil;
With whisky, we’ll face the Devil!
The ales so swam in Tam’s head,
Fair play, he didn’t care a farthing for devils.
But Maggie stood, right sore astonished,
Till, by the heel and hand admonished,
She ventured forward on the light;
And, vow! Tom saw an incredible sight!

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Wednesday, 7th of March

Today I dragged myself away from my general day-off loafing to meet up with my favourite girls in Edinburgh for lunch, followed by climbing. When I arrived I was greeted by the Forth stretching out–it’s been a while since I saw any of this in daytime hours. I suppose I forgot what a pretty picture the water, the boats, the lighthouse all makes together.

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After having lunch with friends Natalie and Anna and discussing unicorn-related business as you do, we joined my ride-or-die climbing buddy Krista at Alien Rock. Because Krista and I have been certified to climb (knowing the knots and belaying technique) we took turns hoisting poor Anna and Natalie about. It was great good fun and before long we were showing them how to tie the knots for themselves, and even had them briefly belay. Unsurprisingly it’s a lot harder to teach others how to do these things, seeing as you’re looking at what they’re doing from a different angle. But still they put up with our fumbling attempts to figure out just why the heck certain things didn’t look quite right from our perspective!!

Having them both there also meant they snapped a few photos of me and Krista in climbing action. Like this one. I mean, that’s two girls who clearly know what they are doing, you know what I mean?

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2nd-4th of March, 2018: Arrival (of Beast of the East), Wrens, and Roses

Friday, 2nd of March

My second day off work. It was a bit of a toss-up actually–even though the madness is still in full swing, the car is yet to be dug out, the roads are ridiculous, etc.–my work posted first of all saying 10 AM open to dig out the place, 12 PM for customers. Later they said, ‘Okay we’ll be open at 12PM’ and then finally, at just before noon, they threw in the towel and said, ‘FINE we’re closed again.’

That’s lucky for me because 1) I was not about to come in 2) the trains weren’t runnin’ anyway and 3) I definitely wasn’t coming in.

Instead, I went for a snowy, canalside meander. What I learned was that wearing a pair of blue wellies, while good for feeding the birds, are not entirely appropriate for a 4 mile wander. But hey-ho!!! I powered through that bad boy anyway.

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Later that evening it was time for our weekly movie night! This time it was my pick: Arrival (2016).

I think perhaps my penchant for sci-fi films is pretty clear. Add an alien or a robot to any movie and I’m there. So I was pretty excited about watching Arrival, which is obviously a first-contact story featuring some spooktastic octopi-lookin’ thangs. Amy Adams is in it. And  I like her. Mainly for Enchanted, not gonna lie. But going from this…

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…to this…

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Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit! It should have had all the makings for a film I’d like. And I was interested–I sat through the whole thing. But midway through I found myself sighing in exasperation at the use of tropes that are just so overdone, or characters just running pell-mell for no apparent reason. UGH. For a film about science-based things, well… the ending left me with questions. No, not really–it left me with a case of the grumbles.

I’m sure I could ramble on about this film and its questionable science. But to keep it short, Haitham and I both ranked this one a solid 5 outta 10. It was okay. But perhaps save this one for a rainy day, eh?

Saturday, 3rd of March

Welp, the Beast from the East seems to have moved on from Scotland (although it seems to be pummelling Wales and England still). Now after farting around for the past three days it was time to face the music–and by that, I mean shoveling the drive. Which I’ve never in all my 30 years of life ever had to do. I mean, I’m southern!! What do y’all expect?

Too bad I didn’t even have a snow shovel. Still, with my kind neighbor Sophie’s actual shovel I made some pretty decent progress before H popped his head out and realised he was missing all the fun. (Then the other neighbor gave him a proper snow shovel–after I did all the hard work!!!)

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Look who I spotted providing a brief flair of emotional support as I shovelled the driveway though! Haitham and I spotted this little feller hanging around yesterday, flitting in and out of the tiniest of crevices and just generally being just so freaking adorable. I mean, I know that robins hold the #1 spot in my heart. But wrens… THEY’RE SO TINY!!!!!! AHHHHHH!

Then we built a snowman. His name is Geoffrey and he is off to an important interview.  He is also the biggest snowman I’ve ever built. Huzzah!!!!!

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Sunday, 4th of March

Back to work, back to reality–which mainly involved unearthing plants from beneath a foot of snow. Despite it being tiresome work, it was actually pretty satisfying–it’s quite therapeutic hurling enormous chunks of snow across the way! It’s just on the verge of thawing out, so it’s nice and grabbily throweable. Both of which are words,  I assure you.

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