Sunday, 24 January 2010

Treacherous Glasgow

This is the first part of a series of two entries on the two largest cities of Scotland, Edinburgh and Glasgow. I'll start with Scotland's largest city, Glasgow.

All over again, our conversation always leads us to the same point,

- Why is that Glasgow is so much better than Edinburgh for a night out?, I'd say, nodding my head in awe after yet another great tune blasts out of the sound system of whichever place/pub/festival we've ended up going to escape our comfy bourgeois life in Edina.

- Well, because it's Glasgow y'know..., Morgan would reply following a big sigh, sinking right thereafter into the spiral of self-destructive sadness that always engulfs him when visiting his much-missed home city.

For such a small country, Scotland's two main (and with all due respect, only) cities score amazingly high in their respective leagues of urban life quality. Because they are indeed in two different yet parallel worlds. That's my personal explanation of the Glasgow vs. Edinburgh discussion so familiar to all of us who live in this part of the country. They just can't be compared like for like, just like you can't add apples and pears. It is also a good example of the somehow schizophrenic Scottish character, because this apple and this pear couldn't be more different.

Arriving from the East by car, you are firstly confronted with the unusual fact that the highway spanning across the Central Belt - the infamous M8, drives right through the heart of Glasgow's city center, a reminder of a time, not long ago, when the Planning Authorities had in no high consideration the remaining buildings from the time when this city proudly called itself the second city of the Empire.

This is not a place anchored in a self-deluding glorious past which must be protected from the dangers of modernity, mourning its lost architectonic gems. No, Glasgow it's an organism constantly evolving, adapting, searching for, although not always successfully finding, new means of living for its varied population. Now that the industry is all but gone, it's the city itself that provides a living. Re-branding large parts of its much pounded city center as Merchant City and marketing it as a sort of Cultural mile is a good example of this. Glasgow's ubiquitous cultural life now occupies many of the ruins left by past glories which, Weegies now well, are not coming back.

Don't think you will find a place you would regard as pretty if you ever decide to come along. Some scars left on the urban fabric are still highly visible, even in the city center. When I first visited this country almost 15 years ago, my impression of this city was of an ugly and grey building site where locals would very keenly try to help you out with directions when they saw you trying to find your way with a map in an almost incomprehensible language.

Immense gaps left by obsolete factories and demolished tenement buildings still await for the right opportunity to arise, that chance to join in the search for the new Eldorado, just like tobacco or shipbuilding did in the past. Mesmerizing modernist monsters built everywhere remind you that this city has never been keen on separating the present from the past. The true Glasgow is mestizo. The closest you can get to London up here. Scottish, from the Highlands and the Lowlands; Irish, Polish, Caribbean, African and Asian. A pot where cultural identities don't melt at all, but remain strong, problematic and alive. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Scotland's most famous architect and one of Glasgow's most celebrated alcoholics is a good example of the talent that emerges from this city.

This is Glasgow, treacherous, sectarian, dangerous and, above all, amazingly creative. This is Glasgow, the city Scotland would never like to be its capital, but its greatest city nevertheless.

PS: This entry is a reminder of the brilliant night we spent last night at the Celtic Connections Festival where we enjoyed this local band a good example of the local creativity, alongside with Mogwai, Franz Ferdinand or Sons&Daughters, just to mention a few.

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