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Tuesday 25 March: with Vera McFly

This week we welcome  back our occasional guest reviewer Vera McFly, who takes a whirl round the world, sniffing out what’s happening in Europe and the Americas…



On Sunday the Sunday Herald carried an open letter to the Scottish people signed by 17 Scandinavian writers, including Norwegian national treasure Jon Fosse (The Girl on the Sofa), the novelist Jostein Gaarder (Sophie’s World) and the thriller writer Frode Grytten (The Shadow in the River). The seventeen informed us that in the light of the ‘campaign of fear’ emanating from London-based political parties, they wished to show their support for Scottish independence. Of course, their grandparents have been through it before: the letter draws interesting comparisons with the separation of Sweden and Denmark in 1905, which the writers claim enriched both nations.

Bella Caledonia republished the letter with a response from the co-founders of the Radical Independence campaign dissecting the Scandinavian model and suggesting that Scotland adopt its best features and adapt them to Scottish needs.



When is Scotland Week? Can anybody tell me? I’ve located Tartan Day on 5 April, and a series of government-sponsored events after that, but journalists and websites are silent on the subject. A pity, because it is a wonderful initiative, reminding North Americans of their ancestry. And New York is a great place for parades. Years ago I was a fly on the wall on Puerto Rico’s National Day, when the parade up 5th Avenue was led by Geraldine Ferraro carrying a flag proclaiming, ‘I am proud to be a Puerto Rican’.

This year’s Scotland Week seems to have grown, since Judah Passow’s exhibition on Scots Jews: Identity, Belonging and the Future, opened on 5 March at the Milton J Weill Gallery in the 92nd Street Y. Furthermore, The Scotsman reports that maquettes of Andy Scott’s beautiful Kelpies arrived in Bryant Park last Friday, and will remain there until 23 April. Sadly, they are only 15ft high, though that must be ideal for central New York. The real things are ten times the size, modelled on Clydesdale horses, the biggest equine sculptures anywhere, and designed for The Helix, Falkirk, an ‘urban greenspace’, whatever that is. Currently nearing the end of the fabrication process, the Kelpies will be on view from 21 April.

The Scotland Week programme includes the US premiere of two plays by the Traverse Theatre: A Respectable Woman Looks at Vulgarity by Douglas Maxwell and Clean by Sabrina Mahfouz, both directed by Orla McLoughlin, at 59E59 Theatres, from 2-26 April. You can catch them both in Edinburgh from 26-29 March at the Traverse. It also features a Cape Breton Scots concert bringing together folk musicians from Nova Scotia, New England and Scotland on 10 April at the Jalopy Theatre, Brooklyn. A promotional article on the concert in Tartan Week claims, somewhat surprisingly that we need to revise the Scottish stereotype. Apparently Scots are now being portrayed – in cartoon films, anyway - as friendly and funny. Think Shrek, Brave, and you’ll see that the writer may have a point.



Scotland adopted the Sistema music project from Venezuela in 2007. Now an Edinburgh company, ACTive Inquiry, is looking to Brazil for inspiration. ‘Legislative theatre’ was invented by Augusto Boal of the Theatre of the Oppressed in Rio de Janeiro in the early 1990s, and uses interactive theatre to explore local issues and pressure elected representatives to take action. According to the Edinburgh Reporter, ACTive Inquiry is launching two new projects using these techniques: the Resilience project to examine living in Leith, , and Flashback, on the theme of independence.



And so to the I-word. How did I avoid it for so long when it pervades so much cultural coverage, both north and south of the Border?

Last Thursday The Guardian invited seven young Scottish musicians to have their say on independence. At the weekend Griselda Murray Brown considered the state of contemporary visual arts in Scotland in the Financial Times, tracing its resurgence in the first decade of the 21st century and contrasting that with the situation today. A long and illuminating article, and she ends by asking how independence will affect the art market – we can’t escape. Richard Ingleby of the Ingleby Gallery in Edinburgh sees both advantages and disadvantages.

Of course, Jonathan Mills launched his last Edinburgh International Festival programme last week, themed around culture and conflict. But not the referendum, as What’s On Stage noted. As did Charlotte Runcie, writing in The Telegraph at the weekend. Never mind – we will all know a lot more about the early Scottish monarchy by the time it’s over, and there may be parallels to draw.

More festivals were in the news as Homecoming Scotland 2014 announced the programme for the Bannockburn commemoration on 28/29 June. There will be 300 performers and five strands, including the best of Scottish food and drink, which seems to excite the Tourism Minister but is a bit surprising for a battlefield. Surely the soldiers would have been grateful for a handful of oats and a helmetful of water – if they had helmets. Finally, in the Scottish Review last week, David Black welcomes the new Edinburgh Festival of Death. Can this be true?