‘Edinburgh, Scotland’ appeared in ‘I <3 _____: Everywhere is the New New York’. Here it is in full, with pictures from previous posts:
To begin with, every city is about the people, of course. But in Edinburgh, the city is more about the interplay of stone, weather and light. The people have coursed through this space in its various forms for at least twelve centuries, but the stone and the weather and the angle of the sun outlast them all.
It’s easy to say we don’t have four seasons here, that we lack definites. Summer is cardigan weather most days. Winter, umbrella. Spring is much the same, and Autumn. But we do have two distinct seasons: the season of light and the season of dark.
In Winter, we wake to dark at eight, to bluish haze and the egg-yellow glow from the windows across the shared back green of our tenement.
In Summer, morning is at four, striking against the cliffs of Salisbury Crags. Stark outlines, warm tones against a keening pale blue, like a 1930s hand-drawn postcard version of itself. Dusk at eleven.
In Winter the dark comes knocking at four om, and some days it feels never light at all.
This is how we know our year, by the way the light or dark shapes our buildings, our volcanic rock.
From the summit of Calton Hill; Arthur’s seat, Salisbury crags (the long diagonal cliffs) and at their feet the Scottish Parliament (among other structures)
There’s something mournful about the city. I remember reading the writer AL Kennedy calling it a sad place, saying that she couldn’t live here through all that restrained sadness. I understand, yet here I am.
It’s cold and the sky lips the hill of Arthur’s Seat. The commuters walk down the blue and red North Bridge from the high-leaning higgledy of the Old Town over to eighteenth century New Town. The Crags and the Seat overlook them, leaning back in their mist. The commuters keep their hands in their pockets, their scarves neatly tucked at their throats.
Below, the train station, jimmied Victorian, glass encased, wonders if there will be another jumper from the bridge, remembers the days of steam and of ‘North Britain’. The grey shipwreck of the Scottish Parliament, off by the cliffs, whispers, wheesht. Shhh. Says, now really. We’ve more to show than those days.
It’s sometimes easy to get lost in the layers of the cake. How do we live here? It’s true that in Edinburgh, people are polite and reserved. That they won’t fight you so much as shake their head at you, judging. They are conservative in ways that defy the modern notions – socially progressive, politically too, they will purse their lips at someone speaking loudly in a cafe, wryly say, “oh that lot, there they go again.” The goth and punk kids stalk their limits of territory on Cockburn Street and Hunter Square. The arts fall within certain limitations, though artists are always there, pushing quietly back.
Festival time, in August, is the carnivalesque, the moment of sanctioned release. Here come the Irish, English, North Americans to tell us jokes and paint themselves silver. Here are the writers with books coming out, and issues to shuffle and spark. Then, when the month goes, most of them go too, and the grey stone re-solidifies, and the sounds muffle til the New Year. Hogmanay. A Viking longboat is dragged down North Bridge on a river of burning torches, then set alight by the unfinished pillars on Calton Hill. The dark is there, pressing tightly round us. History, of another part of the country altogether, really, pressing too. Dark at 3:40, that last first day of the year.
Beyond the feast days, it is a quiet city. Sometimes the breweries tang the air, bagpipes play on the street corners in the centre. Sometimes it’s a fraction of a scent or a reedy song you hear. Passing as you are under a wide dark bridge, up a cobbled narrow wynd, you become liminal, neither in one year or another. Adrift between the walls. The cities is entirely itself. It has grown and fossilised and now all that can change it is the weather, the light. Forces greater than human endeavour.
You could go into a kirkyard to see the gravestones, think: did you all feel the same? How little and how great a space you had to slip yourself within? The green, black stones are silent, it’s one-thirty and there is no sun. A great inevitability. But you’re already here, within the weather, breathing clouds. A narrow space in your own body. A line in the book of history, though your name itself might not be reported.
Right now. Here. Edinburgh. A yolk-yellow light beams from your own window, charming a rain-harried passer-by.