Monday, 3 July 2017

Goth tourist in Switzerland: HR Giger and Mary Shelley

In Switzerland, there are two main attractions for goths: the HR Giger Museum in Gruyères and all things related to Mary Shelley, the author of The Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus.

For those who are sporty, hiking and walking around is a way to get to admire the sublime and a bit scary scenery of this country. When we were there, temperatures were really high (34 degrees of Celsius / 92 Fahrenheit) so we did not take too long walks.

This statue of the Creature of Frankenstein is very near the center of Geneva. As you can see, we had an amiable stroll. Compared to the Creature I saw in Edinburgh, this fellow was more into holding hands.
Photo taken by my lovely travel companion.

Villa Diodati

Villa Diodati was the place where Lord Byron, John Polidori, Percy Shelley, Mary Godwin (future Mrs. Shelley) and Mary's half sister Jane Clairmont spent the summer of 1816. Well, Percy, Mary and Jane did have another residence rented, but they spent a lot of time in villa Diodati and that is the place where this small company had their little contest of writing a ghastly ghost story.

Mary Godwin wrote the first version of Frankenstein and John Polidori made his first version of his short novel Vampyre, the first modern vampire story. Mary Godwin was only 18 when she wrote one of the most famous Gothic novels and 20 when it was published. Makes one think, doesn't it?

Nowadays, Villa Diodati is a private residence and one cannot trespass. But they do have a sign on their wall stating the history of the house and next to their garden is a small park where one can have a picnic.

And of course you get to have sly glimpses of Villa Diodati's garden when you walk past it. They have high fences, so it is not exactly peeping; you just see some treetops and the roof of their lovely old greenhouse.

If you are visiting Villa Diodati's surroundings (and it is summer!) take a bathing suit with you. From the villa there is a short walk to the Lac Léman (the huge lake) and if you walk a few minutes towards the center of Geneva, you'll arrive to the spot where the locals go for a swim.

How to get there

Villa Diodati is in Geneva, and if you are staying in a hotel, you are entitled to a day ticket to the public transport. The day ticket is valid during your whole stay (max. 14 days). So basically you get to travel around the city as much as you like. Bus 'number' A takes you almost next to villa Diodati.

HR Giger Museum

The HR Giger Museum and Giger bar are situated in a medieval city called Gruyères. Other famous places to visit are the castle of Gruyères and a cheese factory.

You can buy a combined ticket to the HR Giger museum and the medieval castle. I can wholeheartedly recommend this, because the castle was very interesting and there was a lot to see.
One was not allowed to take photos in the museum, which is very understandable. That statue was in front of the museum.

The exhibition consists of the main exhibition of Giger's works and they also have a two room section for changing exhibitions of contemporary artists.

Next to the museum of Giger is the Giger bar. Actually, the exhibition area for the changing exhibitions is situated in their second floor. This photo was taken from the balcony/corridor that led to the upstairs of the bar.
I found it rather cool that opposite the museum (and next to the Giger bar) was clearly a home for the elderly. At least that little square had dozens of old people with their walkers, just chilling on the benches.

The castle

Château de Gruyères (the Castle of Gruyères) is a rather well preserved castle with a lot to see. I had fun visiting it, even though I am not a huge fan of castles.

The castle has a long and colorful history, which I am not going to quote here. I'll just say that during the 19th century it was bought by the family named Bovy and they with another family made it their summer residence.

Here taking photos was allowed, so I must show you this rather odd piece of celestial art: this carnevalistic angel. Or at least I interpret it to be some sort of a decorative object for a church or a chapel.
Apparently this decorative object has horns as wings. And it seems to be holding some sort of a divine announcement in the form of a parchment. Or, it might be a torch.

The castle too has a small changing exhibition featuring contemporary artists. It is in the tower that used to be for prisoners. During my visit they had works that clearly were inspired by surrealism and old folk tales but I cannot find any record of them from the castle's webpage.
Their English webpage is under construction, so you'll get most out of it if you can read French. Italian page has also more material than the English one.

The only attractions are not merely these two museums. The city itself is very pretty and strolling around the streets is fun.

How to get there

The easiest ways to visit the city of Gruyères are by car, by train or by bus. If you have a car, you can drive up to the old town. If not, you'll have to walk uphill from the train station for about 20 minutes. We did not take a bus, so I have no first-hand knowledge about that route.

Handy tips for travelers

Buying train tickets

If you are traveling by train and do not have access to internet all the time, it is smart to buy your train tickets in advance. By this, I do not mean online but when you are on a train station the first time.

When buying a ticket from an automate, you do not have to specify the time you want to hop on a train, only the day. But why in advance? Because if you travel to a small town, you cannot buy a ticket from there to lets say Geneva.

Apparently small stations only have the local train company's ticket machine, and they do not sell tickets for national routes (like from Gruyères to Geneva). You first have to travel to a bit bigger city where they have also the SBB's ticket machine.

Speaking French is very handy

Speaking even a little bit of French is a huge plus, if you are traveling in the French-speaking area of Switzerland. In small villages the locals do not necessarily speak English at all or only a little bit.

We noticed this when we were departing Gruyères, and we did not know that we could not buy tickets straight to Geneva. We had to ask help from the ticket office and the workers there did not speak English.

Luckily I had studied French but to be honest, I felt like an idiot with hearing difficulties most of the time. The locals were very understanding, though, and patiently repeated what they had said if I seemed confused.

I hope you found this post helpful and/or entertaining!

Friday, 16 June 2017

Personal update: moving and a trip to Switzerland

This past month has been very busy for me. I found a new apartment and had to plan my moving in a bit of a haste.

Slowly, the apartment is starting to look like a home. It has taken this long because straight after the moving I caught some nasty virus and spent a week lying in bed with a fever and a sore throat. 

And naturally it has been rather busy at work too, so that too has been a bit stressful, especially since after the fever I got a nasty cough and it is rather disturbing if you are organizing events and so on. Trying not to cough hysterically while another person is giving a speech is awful!

A grown-up playing games

My vacation started two days ago and this weekend I am off to play in a sci-fi LARP. It is great to go to a game like that but I have to say that the way it has been organized and how the information has been given to us players, it has bee rather stressful too. 

My character is a guard in a futuristic prison, so it will be an interesting and quite probably a very intense game!

A vacation in Switzerland

After the LARP I am off to Switzerland. I've wanted to go and see the HR Giger Museum for a long time and now I an finally getting there! This museum is situated in Gruyères, a medieval city an hour and a half's drive from Geneva. This shall be the first time I am going to drive a car in a foreign country so that shall be very exciting!

Another place I and my travel companion would love to visit is Villa Diodati, the villa that was rented by Lord Byron in 1816. During that summer a woman who would be known as Mary Shelley wrote the first draft of Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus and Byron's doctor friend John Polidori was inspired to write the first modern vampire story The Vampyre

In the photo you can see an art book about Giger and my copy of Polidori's short novel. I could not find my copy of Frankenstein for this group photo. Moving sucks!

Health things

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had eye surgery recently. The operation was easy and the recovering has been great so I am very happy and excited. 

Though, due to the operation my eyes are very sensitive for sunlight and at the moment I seem to have misplaced both of my sunglasses. It is rather annoying because I can't go out of my apartment without them. 

Friday, 19 May 2017

Gothic Art in Spotlight: grotesque installations

I haven't posted for a while because this month has been very busy for me. I am going to move to a new apartment by the end of the month and today I am going to get my eyes operated. In the future I shan't be needing glasses to be able to see things around me! Obviously, I am rather excited (and agitated) about it. Hopefully everything goes alright! But now, to art:

A week ago I visited Tampere, my old university city, and spent one afternoon looking art. I encountered the grotesque installations and sculptures at an art gallery called Galleria Saskia. The exhibition is free, open daily and you can see it until the end of this month. 

The exhibition features two Finnish artists, Heli Ryhänen and Anne Meskanen-Barman. These both ladies have made a substantial career and the all the sculptures in the exhibition give the viewer an uncanny feeling.

Regardless of the whole exhibition being intriguing, I shall concentrate on only one installation by Meskanen-Barman: High Tea (2017). The installation consists of a table with food and teacups on it, an armchair and a lamp. When one enters the room, it looks quite harmless. But as one walks nearer, one sees that the high tea is not that delicious-looking.
The interpretation of this work is ambiguous. Therefore, it works as a reflector for the viewer. How do we react when a face is poking out from a sophisticated teacup? 

The faces in the teacups resemble the way one sees one's reflection of a teacup when one is about to have a sip. On the other hand, one seldom looks that agonized when one is enjoying high tea...
And how about those delicious little cakes? If one looks closely, one notices that the surface looks like a human nipple. How to interpret that? Is the installation trying to raise conversation about how in our culture sweet treats and cakes are often used as a metaphor for sexual passion or courting? Or are they there for the sake of shocking people?

What are your interpretations of this work?

Friday, 14 April 2017

Peculiar Easter tradition of witches

In March, Goth Gardener announced a Baskets & Caskets competition. To participate, one needs to make a post according to the theme Goth Easter. Now, I don't believe this post fits the given topic but nevertheless Goth Gardener inspired me to write this post. :)

This post is once again about the odd traits of the Finns. Previously I've featured Nuuttipukki (the creepy Santa Claus) and fortunetelling traditions.

On Easter, we have a tradition that is very similar to the trick-or-treating on Halloween. It's called 'virpominen'. In short, children dress as witches or Easter bunnies and go around the neighborhood in order to get candy. BUT: they are not like evil spirits on Halloween who threat people with tricks.

Instead it is more like a mutually beneficial transaction. The kids collect and decorate sticks of pussy willow and will use them to cast spells of good luck for the neighbors. After the spell the kids will give the decorated willow to the neighbor and as a payment the kids will receive some candy.

Since I was super fascinated by witches as a kid (and still am), I was as excited about Easter as I was about Christmas. I could dress as a witch myself, it was like heaven! To clarify my behavior, I want to point out that during my childhood Halloween was not a big thing (it is still a very minor holiday here in Finland).

Here is a photo from my childhood. Since Finland is so up North, we used to have winter weather on Easter (at least during the 90's, with the climate change it is sort of a spring nowadays). So, us kids used to have to dress our witch garments over our winter coats. Nevertheless, it was always super fun!

In the photo you'll see the most fashionable gear an Easter witch could have: a black paper board hat and a broom. The broom was made by my father and I had tied some scarfs around my waist to get the proper witch look. The witch's familiar is also appearing in the photo (aka my pet dog).

The traditions behind virpominen

This tradition has roots both in the Orthodox traditions and in the old customs Finns had before Christianity arrived. I am not an expert on these traditions and beliefs, but here is how I've understood the historical roots of this tradition.

Pussy willows are not just a Finnish thing, in Eastern European countries many people use pussy willow in their rites on Palm Sunday. Palms do not grow here in the North, so people needed to substitute them with some other plant. I'm not sure if this is something people still do, but in the old days a priest blessed the willow sticks and then children took them home, decorated them, and then used the willows to bless their immediate family.
Willows made by the kids next door.
There is also another Christian belief related to virpominen. In the Nordic countries, people believed that during the days between the Good Friday and Easter Sunday the protecting powers of God were, well, diminished. Therefore people believed that evil witches were roaming around the countryside and causing misfortune to people. To prevent this, people did all sorts of protection spells that resemble the idea behind virpominen.

So, that was the Christian part of the tradition of virpominen. I am guessing that the pagan roots of the Finns twisted it a bit and that is why the kids dress as witches for it. In the old times, witches, witch doctors and shamans were appreciated members of the community. I guess that's why there are also good witches who now cast spells of good luck.

I've not heard that other countries would have this tradition of virpominen. If you have, please comment on this post!

I hope you enjoyed this little piece of information and do check out what people contributed to Goth Gardener's competition!

Friday, 7 April 2017

Creepy Reads Review: Grimm Tales by Philip Pullman

This months Creepy Reads Review presents to you Grimm Tales for Young and Old (2012) by Philip Pullman. Or so it says on the cover.

I saw this book at the Glasgow Airport, my flight was due in a couple of minutes, and I wanted something to read on the flight. The cover of Pullman's book was pretty and the back cover stated following praises:

'Gripping ... A clear and humorous retelling, with added sprinklings of wit ...'  – Sunday Telegraph
'Told with extraordinary toughness and savagery' – Andrew Marr 
'Magical ... This wonderful retelling is set to become a classic in its own right' – Sunday Times

From those quotations I assumed that:
a) Andrew Marr is praising Pullman's way of writing.
b) Retelling is creative work in which Pullman has made new version, his unique versions, of the Grimm's fairy tales. How else could the book 'become a classic in its own right'? The old fairy tales are already classics.

Sadly, my presumptions were wrong. The stories in this book are mostly just a regathering of the old stories. Pullman hasn't altered the Grimm's fairy tales much. In many cases he has merely gathered his favourite versions of the old printed tales. In some stories he has made minor alterations but I have to say they seem irrelevant. It doesn't matter whether an evil stepsister ate cake or chocolate cake, especially since chocolate doesn't become a symbol or motif for anything.

Pullman claims he has altered some text in order to better them but I do not really see it. He hasn't been bold enough with the alterations and therefore they lack significance and individuality. The narrative style is not reaching the 'Pullman way of writing' and hence any writer could claim these texts as his/her work. I expected a little more from a famous writer in the 21st century. There are already so many printed versions of the Grimm's fairy tales, why did we need this one?

One of the most often heard quotes from Pullman (which, of course, is not really his) is that all stories are stolen and all stories have already been told. That is quite true, but to be able to retell a story without slipping into mere plagiarism requires some effort.

Honestly, I was disappointed. I would not have bought this book if I had known that these stories are not really rewritten. I have read several version of Grimm's fairy tales in several languages and the Pullman collection does not bring anything extra to the stories. I assumed this collection would've been more like the My mother she killed me, my father he ate me short story collection or like The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter, in which Carter has really rewritten the old fairy tales, giving them intriguing twists. But no.

The good sides of Pullman's book

I was disappointed, because the back cover praises were misleading. If this is put aside, there is nothing wrong with the collection. Firstly, the cover is pretty. Secondly and more importantly, in the end of each story is a short background report about it. It tells what type of a story it is, and from what year this particular version is (or if it is a mix of two old versions).

I appreciate the background report, and for that the Pullman collection is great. Though I must point out that in some of the background reports there are Pullman's own 'observations' and opinions of the story lines and the morals and those remarks seem often unjustifiable and sometimes even unprofessional.

So, I can recommend the Grimm Tales for Young and Old 'by' Philip Pullman for those who are looking for Grimm's fairy tales in a pretty cover.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Goth Tourist in Glasgow

On my little holiday in Glasgow, I indulged myself by visiting various art museums. But, not all darkly inclined people are such art museum freaks as me, so I am going to feature just four sights that are rather gothy and are available all year around. All of these also happen to be free of charge.

The Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum

The Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum are an extensive collection of art, natural science, and history. The exhibit space is filled with paintings, statues, taxidermy animals, armors and what not.

My personal favourite of the artworks was this distressed Harpy by Mary Pownall (1902). The title of the work is The Harpy Celaeno. It was almost impossible to take a photo of the statue, for some reason my phone's camera refused to focus on it. Spooky.

The harpy is groping her chest, her claws bite into her own skin, and her face expression implicates sorrow and pain. Harpies are usually depicted without hands and often in groups, so this is an unusual sculpture. It is much more human than is customary.

From 1st of April till 1st of October 2017 they feature an exhibition of superheros and comics. It looks very interesting but unfortunately I did not get to see it.

Glasgow University & the Hunterian Museum

Anatomical samples in jars.Magnificent Gothic architecture of the University is worth checking out, and so is the Hunterian Museum inside it. The museum is named after William Hunter (1718–1783), who was a former student of the University and a keen collector of all things marvelous. His collection was the base for the museum. Collection ranges from the artifacts of Ancient Rome to Physics inventions.

The most macabre part of the collection is the Anatomical and Pathological Collection. Many of the samples are human but some are disfigured animals with more heads and feet than is usual.

The Glasgow Botanical Gardens

Glasgow Botanic Gardens are a marvelous place but for goths and other macabre folk the Botanic Gardens offer a whole room dedicated to killer plants. These plants are carnivores and on my visit I learned that there are 5 different method categories for the plants to trap their pray. One of them being 'lobster pot traps which use inward and downward pointing hairs to force pray to move towards a digestive organ'.
Carnivore plants.

I doubt these particular carnivorous plants in the photo use that method of 'lobster pot traps' but they sure are beautiful. The other rooms of the hothouses were very nice too.

Glasgow Necropolis

Last but not least, the Glasgow Necropolis. It is a Victorian garden cemetery and there are many beautiful and ornamental gravestones and memorials. The Friends of Glasgow Necropolis organize guided tours and it is a good idea to participate one if possible. The Friends of Glasgow guides give depth to your visit, because they can tell about the history of the graves and the cemetery.

If your visit doesn't match with the tour program, another thing I can recommend is to buy a book they've published: The Glasgow Necropolis After lives – Tales of Interments by Ruth Johnston. It costs £ 8 plus delivery but it does make your visit way better. Me and my friend had that book with us when we went on our visit and it was marvelous.
A woman in a cemetery.
We started on the recommended route up the hill and every time we saw an interesting gravestone, we searched its photo from Johnston's book. The book includes 150 most interesting graves and Johnston has collected all sorts of facts about the artwork, the lives of the people who are buried there, and so forth.

I hope these tips will be helpful for another goth tourist in Glasgow!

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Goth Tourist in Edinburgh

This is the first post about the goth-y things I experienced on my trip to Scotland. Next week I'll write about goth-y things in Glasgow but now we'll concentrate on the capital.
On a day trip to Edinburgh, I and my friend visited two distinctly goth places. First the Surgeons' Hall Museums and then the pub with Frankenstein theme.

Surgeon's Hall Museums

I can wholeheartedly recommend this place. The Surgeon's Hall Museums is in plural because it consists of two museums and ole collection: Wohl Pathology Museum, the History of Surgery Museum and the Dental Collection. The museums have samples and curiosities beginning from the 18th century all the way to the present day.
Alas, one could not take photos in the museum but I'll just say that the exhibition rooms were amazing. There were thousands of samples in glass jars and also several interactive pieces. In one of them you get to participate to one famous postmortem, in another you get to try how much precision surgeon needs in her/his job.

I would also like to add that the members of the staff were very nice and helpful. Especially that lovely lady who was working in the ticket shop at around 1 pm on Saint Patrick's Day; you made our visit more than perfect, thank you!

Frankenstein Pub

I adore Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus and also most of the movie adaptations of it. So of course I and my friend just had to go to the pub with Frankenstein theme!

This pub is goth, horrifically funny and quite kitschy. They had the movie version from 1931 playing on loop on all the televisions they had in the place and they had all sorts of cutely tacky decorations on the walls.

On the entrance they had this huge statue of the Creature. I tried to hold hands with him but he seemed a bit distracted the whole time.

If you check the pub's Twitter, you'll notice they have among other things Harry Potter themed quizzes.

Other tips for goth tourists

I also want to hint about three goth-y things in Edinburgh. We didn't have time for these this time, but especially the Ghost Bus Tour seemed very interesting. We sighted one bus on our way and it looked very charming. Alas, it was all dark so I didn't get a decent photo of it.

Ghost Bus Tours

The Ghost Bus Tours are not just an Edinburgh thing; they also have tours in London and York. This is a horror comedy show on wheels. They promise to take the travelers to the most grim and famous sites of Edinburgh

The Real Mary King's Close

The Real Mary King's Close is a prize winning tourist attraction. The 'main ingredients' are 17th century streets that were sealed away for some reason and guides in character costumes. On the guided tours people get to see the 17th century life as if it was frozen in time. During that era, life could be rather brutal.

The Edinburgh Dungeon

According to my friend who has been there, the Edinburgh Dungeon is a gothier version of the Real Mary King's Close. History's macabre details made fun and gory entertainment.