Edinburgh diary: In which hangover food is required

Nicky Woolf knows the best spots for a morning-after pick-me-up.

August 12. Day five.

Hungover is the basic state for mornings at the Edinburgh Festival. They are as inevitable as the rain. It's probably possible to catch one without even having drunk anything, so intense is the atmosphere of morning-after pain that sits on the city like a black cloud each morning. But the show must go on, and Edinburgh has a number of places that specialise in hangover-curing curries or coffees to cut through the morning fog. Here are a few of the best.

Mosque Kitchen is a festival staple, a real life-saver. It started out as a tiny curry kitchen round the back of the Edinburgh Central Mosque on Potterow, doling out big steaming dollops of curry (meat, chicken, or vegetable), and rice and dahl on paper plates. It's the hangover nuclear option – and now they've opened a second premises, on Nicholson Square, to cope with their ever-growing demand from the suffering masses. You have not truly been to the Fringe unless you've indulged your hangover craving and binged on Mosque Kitchen curry.

Sometimes, some mornings, one simply has a pie-shaped hole in one's life. The Piemaker, on South Bridge fills that hole.

Walking in to 10 To 10 In Delhi is like entering a different world; a little slice of India in the middle of Edinburgh. The smell of spices fills the air, red and gold drapes adorn inviting seats, and the atmosphere is dreamy, somehow unreal. Their masala chai is all made fresh and to-order, and is a genuinely life-changing experience. After a couple of sips, no day after any kind of night before seems insurmountable.

Oink on Victoria Street, just off the Royal Mile, boasts enormous Scottish hog-roast sandwiches and nothing else, with a choice of either haggis or sage and onion stuffing. The rolls come in three sizes; the Piglet, the Oink, and the Grunter, and the crackling is the best you will ever taste.

It's difficult to spot Spoon. It's a bit of a secret, with its hidden-away entrance, but this airy and first-floor cafe, with it's eclectic décor, healthy sandwiches and home-made soups, is always a great breakfast option.

Last, but absolutely not least, Black Medicine is Edinburgh's most famous coffee shop. Free wi-fi, a large range of generously-filled ciabattas and bagels, custom wooden furniture and a bustling atmosphere all play second fiddle to some seriously amazing coffee. The place is aptly-named; the coffee is genuinely medicinal.


A performer at the Udderbelly venue. Chances are, he's hungover. Photograph: Getty Images.

Nicky Woolf is reporting for the New Statesman from the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

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Shell-shock symphony: Berg’s Wozzeck – opera’s take on post-traumatic stress disorder

Begun in 1914 and premiered in 1925, Wozzeck has class struggle, poverty and mental health problems as its principal subjects.

When I was 12 years old, I made a devastating discovery. The arias from my favourite operas – Rigoletto, Turandot, The Barber of Seville – which I played over and over again, winding and rewinding the cassettes ­until they ceased to work, did not ­necessarily have words that matched the beauty of the music. Intense study of a book I had received for Christmas called Stories from Opera taught me that although some of the soaring melodies I adored carried words about love, death, horror and tragedy, other lyrics, in translation, proved to be people agreeing where to meet later, or misremembering each other’s names.

This crushing disappointment came to mind again recently while I was listening to an edition of Radio 3’s Building a Library, a segment of its regular Saturday-morning CD review, in which new releases are compared and contrasted with archive recordings to find the best listening experience. The reviewer Gillian Moore was surveying the available recordings of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck. She gave credit to several English-language recordings for the clarity they offer newcomers to this work, but eventually concluded that she must recommend a version using the original German, because there were crucial aural elements that could not be reproduced without it.

Moore, now director of music at the Southbank Centre, chose to kick off a series of semi-staged concert performances of operas with Wozzeck. Although undoubtedly an opera, it was a far cry from the fairy stories and doomed romances that filled my pre-teen ears, but it worked surprisingly well stripped of scenery, costumes and other theatrical accoutrements.

Zurich Opera’s presentation placed importance on the orchestral score above all else, allowing its jagged and insistent lines to remind us that this is music born of the dark years between the world wars. Begun in 1914, but delayed while Berg served in the Austro-Hungarian army (it premiered in 1925), it has class struggle, poverty and mental health problems as its principal subjects. The score owes much to Berg’s fellow Viennese composers Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg (Mahler’s widow put up the money for the initial publication of the score). At times in this production, the orchestra was so utterly central that it felt like a symphony with singing, rather than vocal melodies with accompaniment.

The Wozzeck of the title is a poor soldier, flawed and dogged by madness and visions we would probably now see as signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. He scrapes a living for his girlfriend, Marie, and their son by humiliating himself before his military and class superiors (the Captain, the Doctor, the Drum Major) and by participating in degrading medical “experiments”. The star of the show, the German baritone Christian Gerhaher, had to withdraw at the last minute for health reasons, so the British singer Leigh Melrose stepped in to reprise his Wozzeck from the widely acclaimed 2013 ENO production. Despite performing from behind a music stand, Melrose acquitted himself well, handling the transitions between Berg’s three singing styles: “half-singing”, Sprechgesang (or “spoken singing”) and full vocalisation to great effect.

Gun-Brit Barkmin, with a severe Twenties bob and a flowing scarlet dress, was a superb Marie – alternately harsh and soft as the music demanded it, flirting destructively with the Drum Major while conveying how little choice she had in the matter. Of the ensemble, Lars Woldt’s Doctor particularly stood out, using the German libretto to drag every ounce of black comedy out of his character’s fascination with Wozzeck’s bodily functions. The high vocal standard proved Moore’s point about the necessity of the original German libretto – it is a difficult language to sing, because of all the harsh consonants and modified vowels, but when used expertly can be unendingly expressive. We hear this in the way the double “zz” of the title character’s name becomes a derisory bitten-off “tz” in the mouth of the Captain; and Wozzeck’s exclamation in Act I that “Du, der Platz ist verflucht!” sounds so much more accursed and deranged with all those consonants in such close proximity.

The German sociologist Theodor Adorno once called Berg “the foreign minister of the land of his dreams”, much to the composer’s amusement; but, hearing the score for Wozzeck laid so bare, you understand what Adorno meant. The incredible double crescendo on a single B from the orchestra after Wozzeck murders Marie – raised by the conductor Fabio Luisi in this performance to an unbearable volume before being allowed to die away – feels like music from an other-worldly nightmare. Yet, for the war-battered men who inspired Wozzeck, his tragic half-life was all too real.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis