Monday, November 5, 2012

B for Bonfire

You're walking the halls of English Parliament. Little do you realize that under your feet sits 36 barrels of gunpowder, guarded by a man named Guy Fawkes. And he's prepared to blow the place. Such was the case in 1605, on the eve of the Gunpowder Plot, midnight, the fifth of November. But the plot was foiled, Fawkes hanged, and a British celebration born. But was is really so clever for me to be walking through Scottish Parliament on the anniversary of the plot?

Debating Chambers, Scottish Parliament

I started the day with a guided tour of Scottish Parliament, focused on everything from architecture (it's built to resemble elements of Scotland, from leaves, to boats to St. Andrew's crosses) to function. England holds most of the power (e.g. taxation, national security), but the Scottish Parliament still gets to make their own policies for education, environment, agriculture, and the like. And they do it in a pretty fancy, modern building - with no air conditioning (effective natural ventilation!) and loads of abstract symbolism.

The exterior of the buildings is quite modern (some would say an eye sore; I wouldn't, but I don't look at it often)

The whole process is open to the public, via seating and live broadcast. Even the committee sessions are transparent; as are the many glass doors into various conference rooms. One building has window decor in the shape of curtains "permanently drawn"; they take government accountability seriously.

Aside from being made of pretty sweet wood, these members' seats have digital devices which they log in to with their ID cards, and allow them to vote. Hacking that system could have big impacts, no?

Then, off to classes until the evening for Bonfire Night. Nowadays, Guy Fawkes Day (or Bonfire Night, as everyone actually calls it) is celebrated with fireworks, bonfires, and, supposedly, effigies - though we saw floating lanterns instead.

People lighting a candle-powered lantern (like a hot air balloon)

Sparklers! It's British 4th-of-July!

Our view from the top of the hill

Fireworks against the National Monument

I wouldn't want you to miss it, so here's a blurry, shaky video of the fireworks:

Thus concludes November 5th! I must say, though, walking around the debating chambers of Scottish Parliament that morning, I couldn't help but remember, remember...

Learn British: Sweets. They don't have candy here; just sweets. And chocolate isn't a sweet (they're quite concerned whenever anyone calls chocolate candy, as well). Chocolate is chocolate. Sweets are sweets.

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