When in Rome…
Today we treated ourselves to more of the Art Nouveau creations of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, now revered in Glasgow, 90 years after his death. He left here in 1914, as he could find no more work as an architect and designer, and went to England, then France. He would be astonished to see how omnipresent his work is, and how it draws students, art lovers and tourists in droves.
We began our day at the House for an Art Lover, a very recent addition to the body of his work. It was built in the 1990’s, based on plans Mackintosh submitted to a German magazine competition in 1901. While he didn’t win the competition, the house has come to life based on his designs.
The entrance hall/main lounge is spectacular, but then so are the dining room, oval ladies’ withdrawing room, and the music room. Even the hallway is breath-taking. We were there with a school group whose coats decorated the main lounge quite nicely. Mackintosh and his wife, Margaret McDonald, designed and decorated every moment of the buildings they designed. As this one is a completely modern construct, visitors are allowed to touch and sit – a real treat.
As we were leaving, we had the opportunity to meet the hero of this house, Graham Roxburgh, the visionary engineer who drove this project from a dream to a reality. He was having coffee with a friend, and was gracious enough to endure our enthusiastic response to the house. What a nice moment.
The next stop on our pilgrimage was The Scotland Street School, designed by Mackintosh and open as a school from 1906 to 1979. As with all his creations, little moments of beauty lift the utilitarian in ways that must have also affected the students of this school.
The building is now a museum about education in Scotland during Victorian times, and World War II. We were also there with a school group, and their chatter added just the right note to our visit. The classrooms were so perfect – desks on risers, windows to let in light, and even a Victorian schoolteacher in place, without a smile. The curriculum was rather gender-specific, with girls learning cookery and other household arts, and the boys learning shop. Wouldn’t fly today!
There was an amusing section about “gym” in the old days. That was a real problem for some students, evidently.
It is a lovely building and I’d take it over many of the modern versions I’ve seen.
We went back to the main shopping area and popped into Fraser’s, the Harrods of Scotland, just to admire their staircase. Very nice, indeed.
Traveling there by Glasgow’s subway was quite easy. It’s a small subway – a ring, basically – and while it’s very civilized and looks quite modern, it is the third oldest in the world, built in 1896.
After a very nice lunch, we went to the nearby Lighthouse, designed by Mackintosh in 1893, then home to the Glasgow Herald newspaper. The Mackintosh Tower was originally a water tower, used to cool the printing press and ready in case of fire. It’s now an interpretive center for his work, and a great viewing platform over the city.
On the way to our final destination, we saw a full rainbow stretching over the city – surely a good omen for the rest of our visit, and just one more charming sight we have seen here.
We passed by another of the famous Willow Tea Rooms, but were able to resist another stop for tea and a sweet. We are getting stronger.
Our final destination was the heart-breaker – the Glasgow School of Art, Mackintosh’s most magnificent achievement. When we were last here, the building was under renovation after a fire in 2014. We were at a 150th birthday party for Charles Rennie Mackintosh in New York in this June, and heard all about its imminent reopening, which decided us on making Glasgow the final destination of this tour.
Not two weeks later, it burned to a shell.
Can there possibly be enough money or will to start over – again? Judging from what we saw today, that is very hard to believe.
Thankfully, there is enough of Mackintosh’s genius to admire here, without bemoaning what has been lost.
Don’s Food Corner
After having searched out dazzling Art Deco restaurants in Portugal, we dove into a real jewel in Glasgow. Called Rogano, this perfectly preserved 1930’s spot is located right off the main shopping street. There were three sections — a bar, a fancy restaurant and a bistro in the basement. Based on the different menus offered in each place — with the most limited menu offered in the main dining room — we settled on more casual bistro.
As it is known primarily for its seafood, we tried to stick to that theme. I started with six magnificent Scottish oysters. Although I asked the waiter where the oysters came from, I couldn’t cut through the Glasgow accent to understand what was said and didn’t press it because we already had to ask him to repeat himself a few times when he was describing the specials. Wherever those oysters came from, they were huge and, as we always hope, tasted of the sea.
I followed that with a nice piece of delicately poached Scottish salmon that came with a small salad, lightly dressed and featuring small bits of orange in a medley of lettuces. A small side of potato salad came with it.
Jo started with a delightfully light liver pate, which was called a parfait on the menu, that came with a slice of toasted brioche. For her main course, she selected the lobster macaroni and cheese. This dish seemed based on more of a bechamel sauce of cream and butter than cheese-heavy type that we normally have.
When we finished, the waiter asked: “Well, was it worth the trip?” Yes, indeed.