Stood awhile in Greyfriars kirkyard watching yellow leaves fall down on the gravestones and on the living roots of old trees shiny with rain, and felt, as I have all through this Edinburgh visit, strangely at home. The scent of the place, a pervasive smell I mentioned earlier, is here again today, and I continue to list its components, elusive as they are:
slightly rancid butter
sugar and hops
pork fat, bacon, and the pig in general
haggis, lambswool and everything to do with mutton and sheep
mouldy old grime that has permeated the stones
...the list is incomplete and grows daily.
I can imagine that anyone for whom this is the smell of home would miss it terribly, and I can also imagine it becoming the smell of my home, or being so, somehow, before I came here. I know some people don't like it, and for others, as I have said, it feels comforting, and I am comforted by it, although with an edge of some kind of dread, as if the place could overwhelm me. Can you drown in a city? I can imagine coming back regularly, but am happier knowing I have a place to go to where there is no such redolent atmosphere; a light-hearted place in the New World free from the lovely brooding rain and shining roots and all the wool and animal fat and beautiful, substantial stone, and the cobblestones and the beautiful handmade hats that I want to go home and make with my own hands. I can imagine a place like this getting into your marrow, already being in your marrow, and it being hard to break free with the kind of freedom we have in the New World, which can, at its best, be a freedom of the imagination as well as the body and soul. Although sometimes that freedom can become an emptiness.
It rains. Today Juliette and I joked that if Darwin's idea of evolution were correct, each babe of Edinburgh would be born with an umbrella attached to one hand.
Here is some of the Scottish wool I am talking about, designed by Joyce Forsyth and sold on Candlemaker Row in the Old Town www.joyceforsyth.co.uk
Billy Connolly once did a skit where he talked about how much Scottish people love to miss Scotland, to the extent that they talk about and weep over how much they miss the country whilst actually still being IN the country, snug in their pubs. I always thought it was funny, but it wasn't until I had lived in Edinburgh for some time (and then traveled away from it, only to come back) that I actually knew what he meant.
What can I say, Kathleen? You've managed to touch on so much of what, I think, makes Edinburgh Edinburgh and, in turn, Scotland so ... Scottish. It is indeed an intensely redolent place, and I think it is quite possible for a person to drown in the city, and the country itself in entire. I can't speak for Glasgow (which I think would drown me in a different kind of way), but Edinburgh has settled on my skin like mist, mist that has become sweat, sweat that then becomes a chill, a small ache sitting just beneath the bones. Can one drown in this way, if the chill never leaves? I think so.
But you're right, too, about the freedom that comes from a lighter city. It was so easy to be dark in Edinburgh. Cold. But ... so strangely invigorating, all at the same time. I think it is the perfect city in which to be lonely -- so harsh and yet so comforting all at once. Stone and imposing buildings and that clear, Scottish light all around. It is harder to be lonely (by which I mean that it's harder to feel justified in one's loneliness, I suppose) in a city and country where optimism and enthusiasm for the future are the currency of every hour.
In Edinburgh, I always felt as though the stones were there, listening. Have they not, after all, listened to the loneliness and the solitude of so many others?
Have you trundled out to Portobello yet? Nothing quite like a desolate Scottish beach, especially in the rain ... :)