|Leith Walk||The City|
|Greyfriars Bobby||Farewell Edinburgh|
If I'd known how much I'd love Edinburgh, I'd have carved out more time for this part of the trip. Originally, I'd booked Edinburgh as a base for seeing some of the coast (North Berwick, etc.), but I see now I could spend years here without seeing all I want to see.
The funny thing is, when I came here many years ago, I didn't like it at all. What could have been the matter with me? Was I very tired? Sick? Too cold? -- I wondered, as I walked enchanted through the streets. The answer hit me later in the day: What had been wrong with me was that I was young.
I remembered Edinburgh as being completely grey. Well... it is. Thinking back, I'd never liked grey as a youngster; now, I think it's one of the most beautiful of colors, and have quite a lot of it.
But most of all, I think I hadn't yet achieved an Eye. I saw but did not see.
(Click any thumbnail for a larger image)
In Edinburgh I stayed at the Balquhidder Hotel, which put me near Leith Walk, so I began my journey by checking out a fabric shop I'd seen on the way in (does this surprise anyone? <g>). They had looked strange to me, like the ones in the Mission, and closeup I realized they were all sari shops. Next, a chemist's to get antiseptic for all the previous 2 days' damage. Then I saw a post office. It looked very strange, not like a post office at all, but I went in anyway to get postcard stamps. The woman looked at me like I was crazy, like that was absolutely the last thing someone would do in a post office, so I wandered back out, nonplussed.
Next a hobby shop, where I found a tiny wooden stool, and a tiny sewing basket smaller than my thumb, for my ever-growing miniature garden (originally a bathroom clock). And then...
I admired, walking past, the facade of a local called "The Old Salt", then screeched to a halt as I glimpsed the inside. It was the Surf; the same people, the same snatches of conversation, smell, game machines, music. I simply had to check this out. So there I was, in a bar at 9 in the morning. But it was a high point of my stay in the city.
The bartender, Margaret, is a delightful, competent, and friendly woman, and the patrons are friendly, and in no time we were chatting away and swapping rounds.
My swain for the morning was Billy, joined by Lillian, and we sang along to "Try a Little Tenderness" by the Commitments, and to "Lyin' Eyes" by the Eagles. They explained the history of the bar to me, showed me paintings of the ship it had been named after, and then got into a rollicking discussion of how their rival across the street had been run out of business by the ground's settling. I had thought, coming in, that I'd never seen so many bricks in my life, and that they must not have earthquakes here. But now I know they DO have earthquakes, it's just that they take centuries, rather than being quick like ours. The conversation swirled around me, and I understood very little of it. But that's okay, I understand little of what is said in the Surf, come to that.
Margaret taught me money, and gave me change with a sample of each. This was good, because one of the first things I'd done was try to give a 3-dollar tip to the sodacart youngster on the train, embarrassing him to death. (But hey, the pounds are such wee tiddly things! -- looked like dimes.) The coins are fascinating, all different shapes, thicknesses, colors, weights. I even had a real tuppence. All very exotic.
Alas, the city called to me, and I had to go.
|Visit Margaret and the gang at the Old Salt Photo Album|
|You can find the Old Salt at:|
The Old Salt
17 Albert Place
Edinburgh is beautifully hilly and uneven, like San Francisco and Honolulu, and a walking city like they are. I photographed the Old Observatory from Greenside Row, then came around a corner and got smacked in the eye by the sight of a mountain on my right, with the castle way, way high at the top. Geologically, it is amazing, unreal, you could look at it forever.
At that point I was walking along gardens nourished by the bodies of accused witches and centuries of sewage. What a thought. I stopped for a snack and thought how incongruous it was to be looking up at Edinburgh castle from a Burger King.
This city is OLD. OLD. Old in a way I can't understand. Where I come from, a building is torn down after 10 years, to double its height. The streets I roamed as a child are obliterated, as if they'd been bombed, not even a weed or wildflower remains, it could be on another continent. I have loved the old buildings in San Francisco for that reason. But Edinburgh -- San Francisco is a day-old infant compared to Edinburgh.
I took a picture of a drain grate in the street (don't worry, I'm very accustomed to passers by looking at me like I'm a crazy person). There was earth in it to the brim. I thought, this has probably been clogged for 800 years. The metal was inscribed with the name of its makers, and the city of its foundry. I thought, what a faraway thing, such pride in a simple, functional drain.
Every few steps I took I found a close or a wynd, each a miraculous peek into another world, like a crystal ball, or a Faberge egg. All with exotic names -- Bell's Wynd, Advocate's Close, Fishmongers Close, Fleshmarket Close, each one completely different from the last. And often fun things to be found in them, for example a hidden bagpipe maker's workshop, where they were very kind, and let me take photos.
|Photos of Enchanted Closes & Wynds|
I had tea with an Edinburgh woman whose husband had cancer and wouldn't be getting any better, and we talked about how short life can be. There was a lot of Edinburgh she hadn't seen in years, and we shared what it was like to live in a major tourist destination. I reminisced about my last weeks in Hawai'i, running around seeing all the things I'd never seen or hadn't seen in years. At that time, I promised myself that whereever I ended up living, I'd live as if I were a tourist who'd spent my life savings to be there. To some extent I've kept that promise. She seemed inspired by the time we parted, and I hope that this very day she's out getting the joy of the beautiful city she occupies.
I decided to head for Greyfriars, to find the grave of Greyfriars Bobby. Along the way, I met Bob Miller, a distinguished and talented piper, playing the 2-4 hornpipes on High Street. He played beautifully, and played for me "Boys of Bluehill" and "Mountain Goat". A perfect mental place to be as I reached Greyfriars.
And there was Bobby's statue, and further in, his grave. I had tried to buy books about Bobby for the family's children, but couldn't even read the books, for fear of crying. One beautifully illustrated book had a picture of Bobby out in the snow, still waiting for the master who never again came. That did it, I snapped the book shut, I wouldn't be giving that to the children. So what was I doing here? I'm not sure, except somehow such devotion couldn't go ignored. I found also the grave of his master and wondered, as I so often do, whether there's really a heaven, and whether his master was ever to know of Bobby's lonely years after. I'll never again see a Skye Terrier without thinking of this loyal little guy.
I stepped into Bobby's Bothy where there are mementoes of Bobby, and met proprietor Matthew Hale. He'd like to create a worldwide official site for Bobby -- he'd only had a computer for a few days. I shot several interiors and exteriors which I'll Email to him when I can get home and scan them. It will be gratifying to see his site go on the air, and feel I've been a tiny part of it.
[Ed. Note, 3/00: I have recently heard from Matthew and Jane, and their site is on the air. Please check it out at http://www.greyfriarsbobby.co.uk/.]
|Photos of Greyfriars Church, Bobby, and the Bothy|
Time for a cheer-up: backtrack to Deacon Brodie's Tavern, a lovely pub at Lawnmarket and Bank Street. Deacon Brodie was the model for the story Dr. Jekyl & Mr. Hyde, and they give out an entertaining writeup of Deacon's career, which I'll post when I get a chance.
Next stop, Camera Obscura.
Yes, I know we have a wonderful one in San Francisco, but this was a worthwhile experience. Those of you who know me personally will find it hard to believe, but I climbed 101 steps for this. The vista was otherworldly (or othertimely?). You'll have to view the photos to really understand what this was like. At the last moment, I found out the DC20 was unequal to the task, as it is to so many. I smile wryly to think that, only 2 years ago, I thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Within a few months I'd outgrown it (of course!) and have only cursed it since for not being newer, bigger, and better than it is.
|Vistas from Camera Obscura|
At this point, my feet were hurling epithets, so I began wandering home. Had the fun of pulling money from The Royal Bank of Scotland. Some of the technology changes since my last visit are truly wonderful -- zip my card in and wham, money comes out, as if I were at home, and perfectly computed into sterling. I have all the Hamish mysteries, but found one here with Robert Carlysle's photo on it, so had to have it. I had the best haggis I'd ever had in my life at a place on Queensferry called Granary -- spicey, with a cream & Drambuie sauce, on a bed of mash that had cheese whipped into it. Then off to bed.
|Farewell to Edinburgh|
The next morning was rainy, plus it was one of several "lame duck" days that were too broken by travel for either morning or evening to be worth much. GREAT EXCUSE TO RETURN TO THE OLD SALT!
What a good thing I did, for I met Arthur Shute, age 72 (and looking 55), "a gifted butcher". Arthur was getting ready for his annual 2-3 week trip to Barbados, but normally works from half 5 in the morning till half 5 at night. He no longer has to work, but truly enjoys his life.At the moment, he was brokering 70,000 pheasants for Harrod's; pheasants coming from France, from English estates, and from everywhere. And that's not to mention the quail, grouse, mallard ducks, pigeons, rabbits, and hares. And all that while planning for the International Butchers' Federation's haggis competition.
Arthur's clients include the Queen Mother, princes Andrew and Edward, and many lords and ladies, whom Arthur's known since they were merely Q.C.'s or sirs. But, he insists, he's "just a butcher ... a gifted butcher."
I only had enough time for a quick trip to Cyberia before the train, so I reluctantly said goodbye to everyone, buying a lottery number for Young Billy before I went (wouldn't it be a hoot if he won? ... will I ever know?)
Cyberia was one of my nicer experiences in Edinburgh, which is saying a lot. There are lots of machines, and it was quite comfortable to sit there with a latté and let everyone in 'space know how things are going. Quite a cosmopolitan place, as well -- a New Zealander on my left, a lady from Hong Kong on my right.
Warning, however, to all cybercafé users: They won't let you inload your own diskettes, so you have to retype your messages, and your entire d-list. Also, if they use Eudora, it doesn't recognize semicolons between IDs, only commas, so don't get caught at the last minute like I did, frantically replacing them all.
Cyberia is in a very nice part of town, so I spent the last minutes in the Jekyll & Hyde Pub. How the Edinburghers love their ghouls & ghosts! The restroom made me laugh, it's perfectly concealed behind a bookcase.
Then, on to Perth.
|Chronicles, Part Three|