Did you know about the existence of Obscura Day?  I certainly didn’t till I saw a reading at Surgeon’s Hall listed on the Scottish Poetry Library site.   Apparently it’s ‘an international celebration of obscure places’, otherwise known as a smart promotion for the Atlas Obscura site.  Anyway, obscure things are just up my street, so I’ll be looking out for it next year.   (For other obscure days out, Nerdy Day Trips seems to have more extensive coverage in the UK.)

My first obscure activity on Saturday was at the not-at-all-obscure National Museum of Scotland, who had put on a nice wee tour of some of the weirder objects in their collection.  I had never actually been to see the wee mystery dolls in coffins that were found on Arthur’s Seat in the 1830s – I think they do qualify as properly obscure since nobody knows what they were for or why they were there.

There was a bit of a morbid theme, with punishment for witches, protection from graverobbers and the looming Maiden – Scotland had its own beheading machine way before the guillotine.

The Maiden

The Peden mask was worn by a Covenanter preacher and is pleasingly weird – it has hair and a beard and even what looks like teeth.

Peden mask

And the highlight of the tour had to be the exploding sporran!  Apparently if you try to open it using the wrong knob, it fires 4 wee pistols out to the sides!

exploding sporran

Later on I wandered over to Surgeon’s Hall museum, which is somewhere I’ve been meaning to go for quite a while – I do find anatomy museums intriguing.  There’s also quite a display of Edinburgh’s medical history. But particularly, I wanted to go to the reading from Marianne Boruch’s new poetry collection ‘Cadaver, Speak’.  I already missed a reading at the Anatomy Lecture Theatre because I was out of town.  The reading on Saturday was from the other parts of the book (not the section in the voice of the cadaver).

Marianne Boruch is a professor of English who got a fellowship to study a second subject (this is a fantastic idea!) and decided to take dissection and life drawing.  I found her discussion absolutely fascinating, and the poems had so many interesting ideas and juxtapositions – I’m definitely going to want to see them on the page when the book comes out so I can go back to them a few times.  Her work really reflects the visual and physical, as can be seen in a great excerpt in the Georgia Review.  But I have to say, the discussion was almost more interesting that the poems – I could listen to her talk all day!

Going back to Nerdy Day Trips, I feel that its Scottish coverage is a bit poor, although there has been the occasional decent effort – pointing out a plane crash site on a hill at Meikle Bin is awesome, as is the Archimedes Screws at Edinburgh Airport (how did I not know about these?)   I’ve added the lime kilns at Charlestown, but I may have to spend a rainy day sometime racking my brains for all the nerdy things I’ve seen or want to go to and trying to get the map improved a bit!  Ideas welcome!

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