I bid the fair city of Edinburgh farewell this morning as I boarded the train at Waverley Station. I was aboard and off to Glasgow by half past 9:00 for my first visit to what even Edinburghers freely admit is the cultural capital of Scotland. I alit at Queen's Station, dropped my bags at Fraser Suites on Albion St. and was off to the races.
My first stop was the very cool boutique Che Camille. Founded in late 2008 by New Yorker Camille Lorigo, Che Camille is an ode to independent fashion and jewelry design. In addition to stocking the wares of loads of Scottish designers, Lorigo rents out space in the back for them to work, has a staff of in-house tailors and offers bespoke duds all in a distinctly Scottish vein. Add in that she stocks a healthy cache of vintage gear and plays host to record label Halleluwah Hits and you've pretty much got Ground Zero for a solid chunk of Glasgow's considerable indie DIY crowd.
Some of my favorite bits include the clothes made with Harris Tweed and some vintage track jackets. I'm sure there must be a gift for my Stateside wife in there somewhere.
From there I had a little wander around the City Center including a meander through the Gallery of Modern Art which appealingly houses a branch of the city library downstairs.
Then it was off to lunch to meet another local fashion luminary Deryck Walker. He too works in Harris Tweed, though his slim, fashion-forward men's duds cut a distinctly mod figure. We chatted over a chicken pie (so absurdly British! And I was the one eating the pie!) at the hip cafe Tinderbox on Ingram Street. Our time was cut a bit short, but I expect I'll be sipping a cocktail with the man soon enough.
Rather heavy on my feet, I retired to the hotel for a much-needed pause and a chance to check my email (yuck) and plot my next move. As it happened, I could see it from the balcony of my hotel room.
When I first passed Trongate 103 earlier in the day I mused that it was some sci-fi radio station, but in fact the six-story Edwardian plays home to a hive of Glaswegian artists and galleries. I stopped in to take the pulse of the local design scene and see if I could get a read on the Lighthouse (more on that later) and in the end found myself wandering through a few fine galleries.
The first was an installation called Fever by the Icelandic artist Hrafnhildur Halldórsdóttir. It's showing in the Glasgow Independent Studio and Project Room and the best bit was this gathered sculpture of felt and thread that at once looked like a craggy continent and a playfully cast-off dress.
Another highlight was Sharmanka Kinetic Theater of wild animatronic sculptures by Eduard Bersudsky. The earliest of the hurdy-gurdy sculptures (which look like what Michel Gondry might have come up with if here were raised in a gulag by Godpapa Drosselmeyer) were fashioned in his 200 square foot flat in Leningrad in the 70s and 80s. I happened upon the performance and am so happy I did.
My next stop ushered in what I'm sure will be the running theme of my time here in Glasgow: Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Glasgow is a company town, and it seems that everybody works for Mackintosh Inc. (take that Cupertino!). When I was in Edinburgh I was told to go see the Lighthouse, a Mackintosh building designed as the home to the local paper The Herald at the turn of the century, but my Internet research turned up precious little. Only dated stories about how the Lighthouse was about to cease to exist. Yet actual non-Internet humans kept telling me to check it out.
I screwed my courage to the sticking point, braved another walk up Buchanan St, "The Style Mile," and jogged west on Mitchell Lane. There I found the Lighthouse alright, open and everything with guests pouring in and out.
I started up on the 6th floor at the viewing platform designed by local firm Page/Park (they did the Maggie's Center in Invrness, Scotland) as part of Glasgow's 1999 run as the Year of Architecture and Design. The renovation of the building to include all manner of new space, galleries, offices, a cafe, and the viewing platform is part of the living exhibit that has survived the festivities. And it's a good thing too as the Lighthouse Trust went under last year. The various spaces in the six floors have gone back to the City Council, the Lighthouse has lost much of its funding and now operates on a skeleton crew under the aegis of the Edinburgh-based Scottish Architecture and Design. But by dint of a funny bit in the charter that came with the 1999 exhibition, the Lighthouse as a space must persist for 25 years.
The best bit by far, though, is on floor three: a Mackintosh Interpretation Center by architect Gareth Hoskins. Have a wander through Mackintosh's work there and then climb the considerable spiral staircase to the original high point of the building and a near-panoramic view of Glasgow. The tower used to be the water tower for the Herald and housed an 8,000 gallon store used in part to run the presses. Now it's a wonderful bit of Mackintosh's work and the wavelike roof and abundance of elephant trunks on the exterior allude to its aquatic origins.
My feet starting to ache, I left the Lighthouse hoping for a bit of an easy time. I wound up walking the City center and Garnet Hill for the next hour.
I got back to the hotel for another rest before heading out again, this time just down the block, for a stellar dinner at Cafe Gandolfi. Smoked mackerel on oat crackers with a salad, then thin-sliced Scottish venison with gratin Dauphinoise and a cracking Cabernet Franc all topped off with a lovely Jura whisky and a lemon tart. Perfection.
What's more, all the furniture in the place is the work of restaurant founder Tim Stead. The design has a rural, organic quality that simultaneously recalls George Nakashima and Sir Gawain. Earthbound stuff, and comfortable too. And a great unpretentious vibe with smart takes on Scottish dishes at Cafe Gandolfi. But damn if that final post-prandial wasn't a necessity. Off to bed now. More Mackintosh tomorrow, I'm sure.