Tuesday, April 17, 2012

white city

"And the day was a fine one, luminescent and warm, with the wind, such as it was, coming from the south-west, from Dumfries and Galloway, and from the Atlantic before that. Scotland's weather was rarely second hand, blowing in, as it did, from the west and south-west. So while the cities on the continent had to ocntent with hand-me-down winds from elsewhere, from Italy and North Africa - if they were lucky - or from the Steppes and Siberia if they were not, Scotland's weather was usually entirely its own, freshly minted above the wide plains of empty ocean. Isabel had always thought of it as white weather: the white of clouds, of shifting veils of rain, of air that was attenuated to fine mist, of pale light from a hazy sun." 

Alexander McCall Smith, The Forgotten Affairs of Youth

1, 3 and 5 - Emily Grant, the rest - photos by me

There is a silent beauty to Edinburgh that warms me to the core. Streets that are long and curved, buildings that stand proud and true and the grassy flank of a stately mountain that rises ever-tall and evergreen over everything. It is the only city in the world that can manage to make the many-shades of grey that emerge from the depths of winter seem remotely appealing. At least it is a true winter, not a make-believe one, not a hand-me-down one, not a fake, fair-weather friend one. At least when it is winter Edinburgh means it.

Some cities instantly make you feel at home. No matter how many times you've visited them - or not visited them - some cities are able to inspire in you the warm, honeyed-feeling of being content and feeling like you belong. You know you've found that city when, on your second day there on only your second visit the friend you're shacking up with has to go to university so she leaves you with a fistful of pounds and a set of bad, illegible directions and the exhortation that you should see some of the sights before you meet for afternoon tea at Peter's Yard on the quartermile. You don't know where you're going or what you're going to see - the castle? the royal mile? harvey nichols? each as valid and cultural as the next, for sure - and the sky is so grey you worry that it might open itself upon you any second, but you're not worried. Not at all, not one little bit. Maybe it's the thought of tea and crispbread toast that keeps you going, or maybe its the steaming bowl of soup that you eat standing up at the counter of Peckhams, slurped up so fast that it burns your tongue a little.

What sights did you see that day? You saw streets that meandered around lazily, taking you in and out and around and back. You saw the open pit of the train station and the proud historic hotel buildings - the Balmoral, the Scotland - looking down over everything. You saw the inside of a tiny bookshop with a winding staircase and walls crammed full of books. You saw the bottom a takeaway coffee cup. You saw students chatting happily as they walked across the meadows. You didn't see much really - you didn't see much at all. And it might seem trite to say that something is the "real" anything - that you saw something that no-one has ever seen, and how could you have, when all you saw were students and travellers, butchers and bakers, candlestick makers? But I did see something real that day, and it made me smile, and it was good, and it tasted like Peter's yard's famous flourless chocolate torte. I could probably live in Edinburgh. God knows I want to.



jane said...

i love edinburgh, last time i went it was snowing so heavily. all the buildings look like they stepped out of fairytales!


Lucinda said...

It's a strange occurrence whenever you travel far away, you're still searching for that special place that feels like 'home'. A few years ago, my family went on our last ever family holiday to Europe. Others had their own highlights (Paris, London) but for me it was Edinburgh.

hannah said...

I've always been told I'd love Edinburgh. It seems like a more understated destination for someone travelling out of Australia than, say, Paris or Prague, but in a way that makes it all the more intriguing.


Dearne Sutherland said...

This is really beautifully written Hannah! I've visited Scotland a few times, my family is from the highlands. London is grey enough for me though... ;)

Fabliha said...

one of the places I've forever been wanting to visit. Oh and beautiful photos too :)

Ana said...

i would love to visit edinburgh. it looks like such an "inviting" place!

Fashion Tidbits said...

You hopeless romantic! ;P