Delays

I will probably not be posting this weekend as planned because of an unexpected hardware problem that has left me without a computer for a week or so. I want to keep writing, and I hope to do so, but I can’t garantee that I can make it on time. So expect an update sometime soon. As a teaser, I’ll say that included in this next post will be a visit to the National Gallery, which is an absolute gem of a museum, and an epic walk to Portobello Beach.

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Photographs

Here are some more recent photographs of the lovely city of Edinburgh. Click on the Thumbnails for description and enlargement. 

End of January, 2009

BURNS’ DAY—TUTORIALS—GETTING LOST—MUSEUMS

Sunday the 25th of January was Robbie Burns’ Day. There were mild festivities around the Edinburgh celebrating this first of the city’s many literary luminaries. It may come as a surprise to some to learn that Edinburgh is a city that has been home to a fine crop of literary figures, including Burns himself, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, philosopher David Hume, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, and more recently, J.K. Rowling.

To celebrate, Nick and I ascended to the top of Arthur’s Seat and looked out over the city. It took us a little under an hour to walk to Holyrood Park and ascend the craggy lump that dominates Edinburgh’s skyline. Innumerable muddy paths snake up the steep sides, and Nick always seemed to choose the steepest, saying that they would be the most direct. When we made it to the top, I was quite tired out from the persistent steepness. The sun nearly blinded us from the southwest, and the wind made me glad that I was wearing a hat and gloves.

Judging from the rather large number of people at the summit, we weren’t the only ones who had the brilliant (and slightly crazy) idea of ascending Arthur’s seat. There were people of all walking ages—youngsters in their first few years, and elderly people who had ascended the less-steep ways with the aid of canes.

The views were exceedingly fine in all directions. Greater Edinburgh surrounds the Park entirely, and so there are views to be had in every direction from the summit. Looking west (and a bit into the sun), Edinburgh was spread out before us, the sun glinting off countless windows. From this height, it becomes apparent how high above the rest of town the castle is; the ramp-like elevated Royal Mile notwithstanding. The fourteen-story David Hume Tower, in the center of the campus of the University is still a bit shorter than the considerably older castle on its crag. Looking more to the north, the Firth of Forth dominates the view, a ribbon of blue separating the grey-brown of Edinburgh from the brown-green of Dunfermline, Aberdour, Kirkcaldy, and the rest of the northern shore. Heading east the Forth widens, and takes up much of the view, with the beaches of Portobello, Musselburgh, Cokenzie and Port Seton, and Prestonpans (I did not make these names up) fading into the distance. To the south, the city extends to the edge of the many hills that separate it from England.

We lingered a while on the summit, then returned down the other side, which happened to be the south side. It was sunny and also quite windy coming down. As can be expected, we were down in no time at all.

 

On Monday I had my first Tutorial for any of my classes. These tutorials differ from lectures at the University of Edinbugh in several important ways.

1) The class size of tutorials is much smaller: my “Art, History, and Power” class has class list of about 60 people. My tutorial, conducted on the 13th floor of David Hume Tower, has eight.

2) The tutorial is not necessarily taught by a lecturer in the course: often the tutorials will be taught by graduate students getting their doctorate, or in some cases (if you are lucky) by professors who may or may not be associated with the class.

3) Rather than a lecture, the Tutorial is conducted as a discussion-based class. Because of the small class size and discussion, the classes bear a lot of similarity with Hampshire classes.

4) The tutorial is where almost all of your homework or reading is due.

 


I went on another long and noteworthy walk on Thursday afternoon. This particular walk was to the north, yet again, but my goal this time was to fill in much of the area between Dean and the Leith Walk, and try and get a feeling for the character of this stretch of the city. My walk took me on a meandering route through residential communities, along shopping streets, and past cricket pitches.

It was while I was on this walk that I ruminated on the idea of what it means to get lost while traveling—for you see, I have not yet been lost in Edinburgh. There is a definite difference between seeing things for the first time—being places you have never been—and being lost. As I passed through scenes entirely new to me, I knew that the place did not match with any in my experience, but I knew roughly where I was, and I knew how this place related to where I had come from and where I was going.

The state of being lost in part results from physical factors: the place may be unfamiliar or prohibit you from knowing the way back. Familiar landmarks may be obscured, moved, or destroyed. The people of the place may seem unfamiliar. At the same time, being lost is a mental state—one in which doubt outweighs and overbalances your confidence in your impression of where you are. This may be compounded by a feeling of “not belonging” in a certain place or a language barrier. You may also lack confidence in your ability to retrace your steps and return to your starting spot.

It could also be argued that one is only lost when thwarted in an attempt to reach a destination, but I find this less than satisfactory: sometimes when you have no destination in mind, you do not wish to become lost. It may be Murphey’s Law that you get lost when you are trying to get to a destination, or that you are more likely to get lost when you have a destination, but I don’t think a destination is a prerequisite for getting lost. I will say this, though: having a destination sure makes getting lost a lot more frustrating.

On this particular walk, the physical world was unfamiliar—I had never been there, and while I have quite a good memory turns and routes, I had made so many turnings that I couldn’t be guaranteed of an exact return. I was not lost, though, because I had complete confidence in my ability to find my way home. Physically, I did not know where I was, but mentally I knew what I was about and up to.

Finding my way back to the College Wynd is made considerably easier by the existence of the castle. If I can see the castle, I can point myself towards it and walk towards it until I get somewhere familiar. If I don’t choose to make a beeline for the old town, then I can at least use the castle as a reference check—I can say to myself “I’ve gone farther south than I intended, the castle is directly to my left” or “I’m exactly where I thought I would be.”

This particular walk took me well beyond the water of Leith, and as far north as the Edinburgh Botanical gardens, which I intend to visit when they are under full effect of springtime.

 

After a Friday largely consumed with recuperation and relaxation, Saturday seemed quite busy. In the late morning I accompanied Nick while he looked for climbing gear. Rose Street lies between Princes Street and Queens Street in New town. Originally an access to the backsides of the large Queens and Princes Street townhouses, Rose Street is now mainly a pedestrian thoroughfare lined with shops selling all sorts of wares. On this particularly beautiful day, with the sun shining and the weather not too chilly, there were many people out shopping and otherwise enjoying the commercial side of Edinburgh. We were successful in our trip. Well Nick was, at least. I had wanted to get soap, but I forgot about it. I’ll get it one of these days, though.

After a brief spell in my room, it was back out into the city, bound for the same galleries of Modern Art I had not entered the previous week. This time I was in the company of my friend Abby, who had been a key member of our walk along the canal. We went the scenic way, descending from Queen’s street to walk through the village of Dean by way of the path beside the water of Leith. This path led us directly to the first of the two galleries, The Dean Gallery. We entered. This gallery contained works by four Scottish artists and the national collection of Surrealist and Dadaist art.

While these movements have always interested me, they are not my favourites, and Abby and I soon tired of this gallery and crossed the road to the Gallery of Modern Art. One painting did stand out in my memory, though, a surrealist painting of a rocky coastline with three spectral shapes outlined in cloudy white overhead: A nude female torso, a tuba, and a ladder-back chair. The painting was entitled Threatening Weather.

The Gallery of Modern Art really only has two floors worth of gallery space. Almost the entire ground floor was occupied by an installation of work by Scottish-born contemporary artist Charles Avery entitled The Islanders: An Introduction, which contained photographs, paintings, drawings and (perhaps most disturbingly) taxidermy. The exhibition told the story of a traveller who visits a strange island inhabited by some rather normal people and some rather strange animals. The story is told in the form of the notes, which are written in the same style as many 19th Century explorers’ accounts. I found them reminiscent of Dinotopia and the 99 Balloons, both stories I read in my childhood.

For example, one of the notes told the story of Henderson’s Eggs, which are eggs pickled in Gin and are nauseatingly disgusting but terribly addictive. After three eggs, the eater is hooked, and cannot lose his or her addiction no matter how hard she or he tries. The only cure is to leave the island, whereupon the eggs become putrid and the addiction is broken.

I think the show was somewhat the same. Abby and I were simultaneously disgusted by some of what we saw in the show (particularly some of the taxidermy), and also enthralled. It reeled us in to the world. We didn’t take the time to read all the notes, but I’m considering going back in the next two weeks while the show is still on so that I can try to understand the story better. You can see some of his work here.

On the Second floor, we saw the portion of the permanent collection that was currently on display. It featured mainly Scottish artists, but also had works by some notables, including one work each by Kazimir Malevich, László Moholy-Nagy, Oscar Kokoshka, Lyonel Feininger, Piet Mondriann, Pablo Picasso, and Henry Moore. The collection was small, but commendable considering that the collection is not that old—the earliest acquisitions were from the 1970s.

 

 

I’d like to say “thanks” to all who have been watching this site. I think that for the moment it will update on a weekly basis, probably on Saturday evenings (like tonight), unless something of particular interest happens. Should this happen, I will post a note stating that I will be updating more than once weekly. Thanks again for checking by!

20 Jan-25 Jan, 2009

INAUGURATION DAY—THE BEST BOOKSTORE IN THE WORLD—ADVENTURES ON FRIDAY AND SATURDAY

After some brief flurries of snow on Monday morning, Tuesday morning’s drizzle was not altogether welcoming, but was not as alarming. I greeted the day the same way as I imagine a student might greet his normal, though not beloved, teacher after a stint with a horrible substitute: “hello, you’re back then, are you? Feeling better? Good.”

 

Tuesday proper did not start for me until after my first class of the day, Art History. I had lunch, and decided to take a stroll over to Princes Street and see if I could find The Wind Section, a music store dedicated to the needs of woodwind and brasswind musicians. I found the store a bit small, and sadly containing mostly new American instruments, and chatted with some of the people who work there. I always like to get a feel for the local music repairmen, so that I can feel comfortable returning should an accident happen. You don’t have to love the repair people you work with; just trusting them is enough.

Around the corner from The Wind Section sits The Royal Bank of Scotland, which is rather acutely feeling the squeeze of what is here ubiquitously called “the credit crunch.” I swear that phrase is on everybody’s lips, and with the Great British Pound falling to the lowest it has been in years, I can understand why. About a year ago, one pound would buy close to two dollars; as of Thursday evening, it had fallen to a dollar thirty-seven. Stores are featuring credit-crunch prices and sales of 70% off are not unheard of. The RBS seemed strangely silent from the outside. I saw only a few men in suits rushing around outside its doors, where I imagine in times of prosperity many more would have been. When I returned to the flat, I darkly joked that I had seen members of the bank outside with butter-knives, carefully scraping the gold off their fences and insignias into small brown canvas pouches.

After this journey it was off to music class, which for Tuesday and Friday was held in St. Cecilia’s Hall, just down the Cowgate from the College Wynd. The topic for Tuesday: Plucked String Keyboard Instruments: The Harpsichord, The Virginal, and The Spinet; taught by Dr. John Kitchen, noted musicologist, fortepianist, harpsichordist and organist. (Note: Yes, a fortepianist is different than a pianist—he plays a the fortepiano, which as a term denotes early pianos, which are mechanically different from modern pianofortes or ‘pianos’.) Musically, the class was a delight—to see an excellent musician sight-read and improvise on 16th, 17th and 18th century Harpsichords, Virginals and Spinets was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon. I was struck by two things: first was the evident (in light of these fine and rare models) poor quality of the harpsichord on which I have been playing at Hampshire, and second was the surprising difference in tone colour of the three, which are essentially three different shapes of the same instrument. The Harpsichord is bright and piercing, with great resonance and depth to the basses, the Virginal has a much more open, vowel like sound with a strumming consonant, the Spinet sounds roughly like a harp, which is what it is shaped like as well.

When Nick and I walked into the Aspen Bar and Grill (where we had watched the football game a week or so earlier) to meet Darci and watch the inauguration we could hardly fit inside the door. To say the place was packed would be a bit of an understatement. Red White and Blue banners hung from the ceiling. The Bar was mobbed. After five minutes of waiting and pushing through the crowd, we got downstairs to Darci and her friends, and watched the great deed being done. From the comments and cheers we heard, it seemed that at least a third to a half of the Bar’s occupants were Americans. The rest, it seemed, were British or Scottish. There was a local TV crew upstairs, and after the invocation, at the top of the hour, the televisions inside Aspen switched over to local Scottish news, and before long, The inside of the Bar was on the screen, accompanied by resounding cheers.

After dinner and some interval of time, I went off to sit in with the house trio for the open Jam Session at the Jazz Bar just around the corner. (It is a wonderful coincidence that I live right next to Edinburgh’s main jazz venue.) The trio was quite good, though on the whole not as good as the Big Swing Trio that I sit in with in Boulder. They were, however, quite capable. I hope to return again next week, and sometime perhaps I will get a recording of it.

 

It was after classes on Wednesday afternoon that I found what I believe to be the best used bookstore in the whole world. Just like so many of the best things in life, I stumbled upon Edinburgh Books without really meaning to, although I was planning to go to a used bookstore to look for some gentle evening reading.

I had seen a number of used bookstores along a street just after the Grassmarket, and so I went this way, and did in fact pass several bookstores, none of which particularly enticed me. Some seemed overly academic or seemed to contain too many rare books; others looked more promising, but for whatever reason, I didn’t much want to enter them. I went down a side street, determined to explore a bit and forget about the disappointing options previously described.

It was in this mindset that I turned a corner, walked a bit down the street, looked to my left, and saw Edinburgh Books. I don’t know exactly what it was that made me enter—perhaps some gut reaction to the aesthetic of the place, or maybe I was intrigued by the tall dark wooden shelves filled with books, or perhaps it was the Viol (a six-stringed fretted mini-cello, basically) reclining in the window; in any case, I entered, intent on some Chekov.

All of the literature books seemed to be in one small room, but the room was just the right size, and the books just the right ones. It seemed any author I could think of was well represented here. There were about eight books of Chekov, one of which I took home with me; there were about twenty of Thomas Hardy, who seems to be my favourite right about now; and even two by Garrison Keillor. After carefully selecting two books, I was ready to go when I saw a small staircase in the corner of one of the rooms. Among the items listed below were music and travel. I went down.

The first small room contained many books on music, perhaps more than I have ever seen in a used bookstore, and my disbelief doubled on entering the adjoining room, which contained used music scores. Thousands of them. All carefully arranged by instrument and genre. I checked the trumpet music and found it disappointing, but on turning around, I found a greater treasure than trumpet music: hundreds of Eulenberg Pocket Scores.

For the uninitiated, I must explain—the publishing company of Ernst Eulenberg, Ltd., in London, is one of the only publishers in the world dedicated to printing small “pocket-sized” (7½” by 5¼”) editions of musical scores, which feature parts for all the instruments, as written in the composer’s and conductor’s scores. I could not even begin to look through all of them in one day, so I picked out Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto in C Minor, which is one of my all-time favourites, and went to check out. The whole trip cost me less than £10. Since then, I’ve been refraining from returning—it’s dangerous to live so close to the best bookstore in the whole world.

 

Really the only unique thing that happened on Thursday was that Nick and I took part in an Economics study. For this, we went up to a third-floor computer lab in the William Robertson Building, answered questions prompted by the computer, and were duly paid for our time. There was a £5 reward simply for showing up, and then a further payout based on your answers to the survey. I was paid an additional £4.50, which was more than Nick or many of the other participants got. I felt pretty good about that, since everyone else were maths and economics students, and I was just a measly Art History and Music student.

 

On Friday morning I went out on a big shopping trip. I withdrew some cash from the Bank (the exchange rate was £1 = $1.37, the lowest it has been in a long, long time) and went in search of vanilla extract. I know this sounds a bit overblown and comical, but my inability to find vanilla extract in this town has been baffling—either no one in Edinburgh bakes (and if their oven is the size of ours, I can understand that) or no one uses vanilla or both. I couldn’t find it in the local Tesco or Sainsbury’s, so I had to go farther afield. After my banking just off of Princes’ street, I began to head east, and soon I was rounding the base of Calton hill next to the Scottish Government building known as St. Andrew’s House.

St. Andrews house is a large and somewhat forbidding hulk of grey stone. While it bears the clear traces of an Art Deco inspired aesthetic, sadly the first thing that came to mind for me on this particular day was the neo-futurist fascist buildings of Mussolini’s Italy. It has the same heavy aesthetic, though touches of Deco are clearly visible. Built in 1939, it has been designated “Category A”, which means it is essentially a national historic landmark. It was refurbished in 2001, and currently houses much of the Scottish Government. The story of the Scottish Government is in itself an interesting story, which I hope to relate at a later date.

Not too long later, I passed brilliant rectangle of perfectly kept grass, which I discovered belonged to the Regency Bowling Club. I made it a goal of mine to see, at some point, a group of elderly people lawn bowling.

I got to the massive Sainsbury’s that was my goal not too much after the Regency Bowling Club. While this particular store was no larger than any American supermarkets, after two weeks of shopping in the small “Local” versions of Tesco and Sainsbury’s, the place seemed huge. It was here that I finally found vanilla.

At 3:00 it was time for Music class again. This time we were treated to an astoundingly captivating clavichord rendering of Bach, and a lecture on struck string instruments. The instruments involved were Clavichords and Fortepianos.

The clavichord requires a deft and delicate touch from its performer, and gives in return a narrow (but extant) dynamic range and the ability, unique of all acoustic keyboard instruments, to play with vibrato. The mechanism of the clavichord is extremely simple. When the key is pressed, a small metal flange called a tangent strikes the string (or, more often, strings), and remains in contact with the string(s), until the key is released. This means a couple of things: the sounding length of the string (and thus the pitch of the note) is determined by where on the string the tangent hits, the volume of the sound (even when played forcefully) is very quiet, and the pitch of the note can be changed depending on how much pressure the tangent exerts on the string(s). In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the clavichord was not primarily a performance instrument, but rather a practice instrument. It was said that the musician who was proficient on the clavichord could play any keyboard instrument. Dr. John Kitchen’s rendering of the first piece (C Major) in Bach’s Whol-Tiemperte Klavier was incredibly quiet, and incredibly intimate.

“The first thing people say about the clavichord is ‘it’s so quiet.’” he said afterwards, “yes, it is quiet, but the human ear can adjust and concentrate on it. There’s nothing that says an instrument cannot be quiet.” The fortepiano performance was very nice as well. It turns out the fortepiano he played is a reproduction bought for the use of students. I intend to sign up to try it sometime.

 

At 2:45 on Saturday afternoon, I left for what was to be my longest walk yet. I would strike out in the general direction of Dean, and the more specific destination of the Gallery of Modern Art. The walk there was reasonable. It probably took a little over thirty minutes. There are two Modern Art museums right next to each other off of Belford road in Dean: The Dean Gallery, and The Gallery of Modern Art. Both are free and open every day from 10 AM until 5 PM.

I did not go into either of them. After the long walk I didn’t really want to rush myself through either museum. Instead, I walked around the grounds, which are both small, but intensely green. Almost the entire front lawn area of the Modern Art Gallery has been turned into a construction called “Landform” by artist Charles Jencks, a sculpture which is said to be inspired by either chaos theory, Seurat’s La Grand Jatte, or both. In physical terms, it is a series of carefully designed and executed hills and ponds laid out in a somewhat spiral-s shape. It looks like the ground has been stirred up by a giant spoon or whisk, or else it looks like what would happen if some used a slice of marble-rye as a plan, wherein the white rye became the hills and the brown rye became the pools. I plan to take some pictures of it eventually—the light was fading when I was there.

I walked out a back exit from the grounds and down a steep path to the walkway alongside the Water of Leith. Wishing to venture into uncharted territory (well, for me at least) I walked upstream, striking southwest from the museum. After a few minutes, I stood at the base of another looming arched stone bridge, which had a path running up the slope next to it. Upon reaching the roadway of the bridge I found it was not a roadway at all, but instead a bicycle path. This I followed almost directly south for about fifteen minutes, before threading my way back east towards the centre of Edinburgh. When I measured my route in Google Earth after I returned, I found I had been close to five miles.

First Pictures

I took these few pictures today (Monday) of the various street-levels that I was talking about before. Here is the view on George IV Bridge looking north towards the High Street/Royal Mile. Candlemaker Row goes down towards the Cowgate and Grassmarket on the left.

George IV Bridge, Looking North

 

A bit farther north on George IV Bridge, looking southeast back down the road, and at the “intersection” with the Cowgate, signified by the gap in the buildings on the left side of the picture.

Geo IV Bridge, Cowgate

 

Here are two such overpasses viewed from the Cowgate. On the Left, George IV Bridge seen from the Cowgate, on the right, Nicholson/South Bridge as viewed from the Cowgate.

Composite, Streets from the Cowgate

End of First Week in Edinburgh-Walking Walking Walking

Thank you to everyone who wrote to me or added comments to the journal. I really appreciate the feedback and I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I’ll try to update a little more regularly, and probably with pictures sometime soon. I guess I forgot to mention it, but if you know people who might be interested in this journal, but may not be aware of its existence, please feel free to forward them a link.

Tuesday met me with the same grey tones as were seen Monday morning. Again, I woke well before classes to walk somewhere where I could get the Internet. Later that day, I went to two of my other classes: “Art History 2B” which is a study of the notion of “classicism” from the middle ages to the modernists, and “Music 1B: Music and Technologies”, which is the study of how music has changed in response to changes in acoustic and electric instruments, and also how things like printing and recording have had their effects as well.

Walking back from this class, in the late afternoon, the sun was catching on the various south-facing façades around the city, and it glimmered in yellow. At moments like this, Edinburgh is extremely beautiful, and I find it to be  slowly wooing me, wrapping me up deeper within itself. There are, of course, the things one expects to see here: large grey or tan stone buildings with innumerable chimneypots, little schoolgirls and schoolboys uniformed with neckties, waiting for the bus home and chatting in squeaky brogues, cars on “the wrong side” of the street. I came back to the College Wynd, and after a short nap, somewhat magically had the Internet.

That evening, Nick and I went down to Princes Street, the main shopping district here, so that he could buy some more clothes. I went along and went to Sainsbury’s, a grocery store that I found I much preferred to Tesco. Everything in Sainsbury’s looked fresh, and the prices were the same as Tesco. As an American, it is probably easier for me to deal with Sainsbury’s because of the way the food is presented. Our local Tesco is a bit under-lit and dim inside, which seems normal for a European discount grocer’s, but to one used to shopping in a Whole Foods (the food at either Tesco or Sainsbury’s is of comparable quality, though cheaper) or similar, the Sainsbury’s is much more appealing.

At 10:45 the next morning, I entered 56 George Square, ascended a flight of stairs, and entered office 1.01. It was my first meeting with my Director of Studies, Dr. Peter Wright of the Psychology department—an affably rotund man with a beard and glasses. At the University of Edinburgh, your Director of Studies is the person who can make your dreams come true—he or she is responsible for changing your classes and a host of other administrative duties, in addition to being your advocate with the administration and providing good and wise counsel. He and I chatted a bit and changed my Architectural History class for “Classical World 2d: Art, History, and Power”, a class about art and architecture in the classical world as a channel of propaganda. He also suggested that I get familiar with and sit in at the various Jazz clubs around Edinburgh.

Next it was off to Art History 2B, and after that, my first session of Classical World 2d, both of which were quite good.

Nick and I had planned Tuesday night to go to the cinema on Wednesday, and we did. We went to “The Reader” at the local Odeon, about a ten-minute walk from the College Wynd. We both agreed that it was quite good, and on a Wednesday afternoon with student cards and with a discount courtesy of Nick’s mobile company, we got in for £5, which made it even better.

Chelsea was playing again, this time against a lower-league team. We watched the game in The Sports Bar in the basement of Teviot house, one of the oldest student unions in the world. Unlike your typical student union, Teviot has four or five bars and pubs, each with their own character, and with special deals for students. Student societies sometimes have meetings here, though often the meetings occur at pubs in the larger city community. The Sports Bar features major games and shows them on a big screen. This time Chelsea won, 3-1. Nick was quite happy as a result.

My weekend started doubly early on Thursday at noon. With no lecture this week for two of my classes, it became the weekend as soon as my Art History class concluded. I rather suddenly realized that I had a whole bunch of unplanned time.

There were four of us on the walk that afternoon—Nick, Darci, and Abby, an attractive girl from Baltimore going to School at Brandeis, a friend of Darci’s. We walked to Edinburgh’s canal, which I didn’t know existed. In fact, we joined the canal roughly where it seems to “begin”, about a fifteen-minute stroll from the College Wynd and the old town. We walked the path alongside the canal it for about another fifteen or twenty minutes to the southwest, towards the neighbourhoods of Morningside and Craiglockhart. The walk along the canal was quite beautiful. Moorhens paddled the water, and while it was not exactly sunny, in retrospect the scene seems full of spring and fine weather. I think, however, that is my mind idealizing the situation.

We went through mostly residential neighbourhoods, of the type that may and do exist anywhere in the UK, rows of several story town homes made of grey-tan stone, spouting many chimneypots, and having ubiquitously small backyards whose fences make them appear even smaller than they already are. After the bustle of the streets, these fences, yards, and the canal itself seemed positively rural. Occasionally, we would pass a moored barge, although we saw none cruising under power.

That night, at midnight (or I guess very early Friday morning) the flat and I went to The Jazz Bar, a club just a few steps away from the College Wynd on Chambers St. After midnight, the club is typically free. A straight-ahead Quartet was winding down when we arrived, and after they finished, the club became the domain of funk guitarist Aki and the Freaky Family. A quartet of musicians, the music they played was certainly very funky. I must admit to a bit of surprise to hear a clear brogue coming from Aki’s mouth—he looks a great deal like Jimi Hendrix.

In the beginning, Friday seemed determined to wile itself away in relative simplicity and domesticity, but I had an itch to go walking, and I convinced Darci to come with me. We walked east along the high street (by far the longest time I had spent on this tourist landmark) all the way to its end at Holyrood palace and the new Scottish Parliamentary building, a controversial and to my mind hideous post-modern cocktail of typography, metal, cement and glass.

Turning north, we headed towards Calton Hill, although both of us had been there before. We paused at the top to catch our breath before descending onto the Leith walk, bound northeast.

Leith (rhymes with “teeth”) is Edinburgh’s port neighbourhood, and the Leith Walk is about as unglamorous as the connection between a city and its port supposes to be. Once we passed the hubbub and glitter of the shops and chains of Prince’s St., another kind of commercial district set in, that of the everyday. We passed many grocers, a vast majority of them ethnic in one way or another: Halal shops, Kosher shops, Polish shops, and international fruit stands; which were in turn interspersed with drycleaners, pubs, small restaurants, banks, and electronics stores. I say this not to present the Leith Walk as particularly repugnant or hideous—it is very practical, and much more appealing than endless strip malls—but rather because this is what it was. It was cold and getting on towards sunset, so we turned around well before we reached Leith. Later that night, Nick told me that Leith is incredibly beautiful, and that the best way to get there is by following the Water of Leith, Edinburgh’s river. We plan to do it when the weather is more advantageous.

As it turned out however, I was to see the water of Leith much earlier than all that, because Saturday I made a trip to the Neighbourhood of Dean, to the northeast of New Town. After reaching Princes Street, I turned north until I came to Queens Street, intending to walk through the Queens Street Gardens, which border the street’s north end. When I reached a gate however, it was locked, and a little white sign next to the gate told me that it was open only to those with a key, and gave a name and telephone of who to contact. So I walked alongside the beautiful gardens until I reached Glouscester Lane, a quiet little back alley, surprisingly busy with people walking its length. I too walked down it, continuing my trip downhill. The street was lined with Garages belonging to the wealthy inhabitants of India St. and Moray Place. It was no surprise to me to see at the end of the lane, a private car park for residents of Doune Terrace, that containing several Audi TT sports cars, seemingly brand new.

After a brief walk, I reached the water of Leith. It was very muddy, and a little bit wider than Boulder Creek. Paths ran along both sides of the Water, and I chose the path on the south side of the bank. From down by the creek side, the surrounding hills and houses on top of them, chimneypots glinting, looked tall and impressive. The plants around the creek were somewhat overgrown, lending the whole scene the peculiar feeling that one was walking up a miniature British Rhine.

Perhaps confirming my opinion was the appearance, not far ahead, of what seemed to be a Greco-roman cupola, containing a sculpture. A small round structure of ten Doric columns supporting a small domed roof that contained what appeared to be a goddess or muse. Walking around the base, it appeared that it bore the inscription “St. Bernard’s Well.” On further research, St. Bernard’s well was, like most wells that were glorified as such, was thought to have beneficent properties, and so was frequented by wealthy patrons, who would drink gallons of the stuff.

The statue, purportedly of Hygieia, greek goddess of Health (and later the moon), bears all the necessary accoutrements for well-being, including a cup which she holds in front of her, and a bottle and a snake resting on a nearby pedestal. Unfortunately the statue is not as well executed as the structure around her. Apparently, judging from a few photos on the Internet, the interior of the well is occasionally opened during the Edinburgh summer festival. It appears to be quite exquisite.

Continuing southwest and upstream, the next major landmark I passed was the Dean Bridge, a structure towering over the entire depression in which the water of Leith takes its course. I decided that I would like to walk across it, and made this my goal, but in Edinburgh, this is oftener said than done. Edinburgh is a city that exists on multiple levels—figuratively, yes, but more importantly and less practically, literally as well. Much of the problem is to be found in Old Town, where “street level” can be incredibly deceptive. For instance, at the spot where George IV Bridge (which is a street) and the Cowgate meet, there is no way to get from one to the other. George IV Bridge is quite literally a Bridge over the Cowgate, but when you are on Geroge IV Bridge, all appears to be at ground or street level. All the shops are set along the street as usual, not even hinting that their foundations are to be found another two stories below. I believe one possible answer is that over many years, the High street was gradually built up to the castle, like a great ramp, so that the castle, which had once stood lonely and imposing on a crag, gradually became more accessible. As they did this however, storefronts had to move up on buildings, and so a new artificial street level took hold. Places like the Cowgate had to remain as they were for drainage purposes I guess.

I knew it could be quite a challenge to reach the span of the Dean bridge, perhaps doubly so because of the charm of Dean Village, a former Milling community along the Water of Leith. Set mostly in the depression carved by the river, the Village of Dean looks like a little bit of Germany transplanted to Scotland. It has typical mill buildings (I’m not sure if they were originally this way, or if they were done up to enhance the image of the milling village), with dark wooden framework surrounded by colourful stucco. Compared to the rest of Edinburgh in its earth tones, the light blues and egg-yellows of the village of Dean make for startling and charming contrast.

Ascending through a few streets of the village of Dean, I came to the gates of Drumsheugh Baths Club, which proudly presents itself as “the oldest private and independently owned swimming club in Edinburgh.” Year long membership for a student such as myself would cost £225. For an adult couple, a year would cost £1,195.

I finally did reach the bridge of Dean, and was able to gaze up at the village quite happily. The view I had initially intended, to the north and east towards Leith was not as good as I had hoped. After doing a bit of walking around on the north side of the river, I walked back into town along Queensferry road (which is spelled “Queens Ferry” on the other side of the bridge). Within five minutes I was back on Princes street, headed for Sainsbury’s.

NOTES ABOUT ARRIVAL—FIRST DAYS IN EDINBURGH

I got my first glimpse of Edinburgh as we flew in from the south and descended through the clouds. As it was, I was on the left side of the aircraft, which was the perfect side to be on. We came in to the south and east of the city, and circled around the north end of it to land at the airport, to the north and west. From my window, it appeared at once both small and large. I knew with experience I might have been able to spot my accommodations, the College Wynd flats at Cowgate (pronounced “wind” as in a spool of thread), but for now I had to settle for what major landmarks I could identify. The Port was closest and clearest to me, and behind it the unmistakable hulking scrubland of Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat loomed. To its right, a smaller lump somewhat blended into the cityscape told the location of Edinburgh Castle. Further on, disappointingly small and only sometimes visible from my vantage, sat the singular bowed trapezoids of the Forth Railway bridge. It was somewhat sunny, and the low angle of the sun which is a result of Edinburgh’s northerly latitude caused the water to shine in many shades of blue and green, with flakes of golden reflection in among them.

After landing, I collected my bags and got the keys to my flat at the Pollack Halls of Residence at the University. To get there, I took the inexpensive but reliable city shuttle, which takes you door to door for the low cost of £9. The first few minutes of the ride were terrifying for a host of reasons: the narrow width of the streets, the speed at which we shot through these streets, the condition of the shuttle’s manual gearbox (which caused the van to lurch immediately after a horrendous “clunk”), and the fact that we were on the “wrong side” of the road. We bumped and clanked easterly into the city via a busy thoroughfare, which was lined with cars, shops, and pubs. After we passed the Edinburgh zoo, where one can apparently walk with penguins, I was expecting to see the castle and the centre of town directly in front of us, but we inexplicably turned right and thundered down a residential street, only to come out, after several turnings, directly at the base of the castle.

At the Pollack Halls, I received my keys and welcome packet in a small brown envelope, and called for a taxi to take me to the College Wynd. The cab driver, an older Scot with short grey hair, chatted with me about the economy as we drove back into the centre of town.

“We’re struggling,” he said. Edinburgh has virtually no producing industries. The main sources of income for the city are Banking and Tourism. It is not a secret that the Royal Bank of Scotland lost big-time in the wake of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. My driver informed me that only a few days ago the government had been forced to give the RBS a bailout to the tune of six billion pounds sterling. They had no choice: the RBS is the largest Bank in Scotland, almost certainly the largest in the UK, and among largest in the world—“either we did it,” said my driver, “or the country would have no bank.”

I arrived and schlepped my stuff up a flight of stairs to the door of my flat. After setting my stuff down in my room (a feat complicated by the fact that my door unlocks anticlockwise), which is just as bare as a room at Hampshire, and about the same size and draughtiness. I briefly inspected the kitchen, and while inspecting the bathroom, met one of my flatmates, a 20 year-old English first-year named Nick, who hails from the vicinity of Gatwick airport north of London, and is studying Maths.

After a pause to collect myself and will myself on before napping, Nick and I took a walk, and he showed me around the neighbourhood a bit.

“We’re in the perfect location,” Nick said, and it’s true: the College Wynd sits on the Cowgate, one street over from and parallel to The Royal Mile, the high street that connects the Castle with Holyrood Park. Walk five minutes one way and you’re in the castle, walk the other for fifteen and you’re in the park. Nick showed me the centre of campus of the University at George’s square, which surprised me with its late-modernist newness—for a school as old as this, older than any schools in the US, I did not expect the centre of campus to contain so many right-angled concrete façades.

After my tour of the neighbourhood and a brief lunch, I napped from 2:30 until 5:45. I had dinner, tried to top up my SIM card in my phone by phone (it did not work), and slept from 8:00 to 1:30 AM. At 1:30, it sounded like a riot was going on outside—or a large crowd of people were gathering for something. In fact, a slowly moving procession of people was traveling down the Cowgate, presumably returning from a Friday night out on the town to the places from whence they came. After some time, their numbers dwindled to the point where they sounded less like a mass of people than smaller unique groups. I went back to sleep.

 

On Saturday morning, our remaining flatmates arrived. Darcy, a petite young woman studying English at George Washington University and originally from Long Island occupies room 1. The other new flatmate, Sarah, an art student at Maine’s Colby College from Tennessee, though born in Massachusetts, occupies room 4. All of us were a little surprised at living with each other. I think we’d all envisioned living with people of our own gender—I certainly did, and Nick said that it was quite rare to have mixed flats. We gave them just about the same tour as Nick gave me the previous day, they picked up some extra supplies, and yet again I napped much of the afternoon away. When I awoke it was about 3:30. It was getting dark and drizzling. I bundled myself against the cold and walked the few blocks to Tesco to buy groceries.

It was blustery out. Winds drove the drizzle into a pseudo-rain, which skidded along the sidewalks making them slick and bright. Tesco was busy, and the interior was unappealing, but the food and in particular the produce looked rather good, and the prices (6 tomatoes for £2, a bottle of Olive Oil for about the same) made me feel as though I was getting a good deal.

Later that night, Nick was in the midst of cooking a Tarteflette, which consisted of sliced potatoes layered with bacon, onions cheese and cream in a casserole. It took a long time to prepare, but turned out looking good. I cooked pasta with vegetables.

 

Sunday was orientation day. I got oriented from eleven in the morning until about four in the afternoon. When I returned, Nick was waiting for me, having just returned from an excursion to an exceptionally windy and cold Roslyn Chapel. We walked out to the Aspen bar and restaurant just down the street, to watch Nick’s Chelsea take on Manchester United.

Soccer is much more interesting to watch when surrounded by fans of the game. From the other side of a pint and a crowd of people audibly following the game, each failed possession and great save took on a new magnitude. 

We found ourselves sitting across from a pair of American girls, who were studying to teach English in foreign countries. They were in a four-week program in Edinburgh, though not through the University, after which they would travel, and then pick a place to go and teach. Both originally from Northern CA, one was a graduate of UC Santa Cruz, while another was a graduate of Colorado State University. Friends since before college, Kristin and Christine are for the moment going the same direction into the unknown. When we asked them where they thought they might teach, they replied that for now, they were thinking of Thailand. Manchester won, 3-0. We went home.

 

Monday morning I awoke at eight o’clock to pre-dawn greys and blues. I walked into the centre of campus to check my email and begin to get my schedule of classes pinned down. After doing this and registering myself as a student of the University, I fancied a walk, and began to go north, hoping to go beyond the high street.

After ten minutes walk through streets, I followed a slightly muddy and certainly small path up into the bushes on the side of a hill. The path led, as paths tend to do, to another path, broader, and steeper ascending quite directly up what the sign designated as Calton Hill. In a few minutes, I arrived panting and blinded by sunlight near the top of the hill, from which I could see the lay of much of Edinburgh around me. I did not go up entirely to the summit. Rather, I wandered along a path that encircled the final sixth of the hill. I figured I might just save the very top for another day.

Calton Hill is neither as impressively tall nor as rugged as the crags of Arthur’s Seat in Hollyrood Park, but it does have a certain nobility to it. There are various national and supranational monuments placed around it and it has signs to tell the non-initiated what they are looking at. What I was looking at was, as I have said before, much of Edinburgh, stretched out before me. Looking north, I could see far off the hills on the other side of the Firth of Forth, then the forth itself, which extended to the west as far as the Forth Railway Bridge, of which one cantilevered span could be seen, and to the east out to where the forth opens up to the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea. Still closer, I knew that the neighbourhood and town of Leith sat gleaming by the port, though indistinguishable to my eyes from the rest of the city. Stretched out almost directly below me were the various New Town developments, Georgian-era housing projects that imposed a rigorous rectilinear geometry on the city after Princes Street. Blocks of houses and squares in geometrical harmony set this part of the city apart from the rest. I wondered if the geometric regularity and wide avenues would cause the New Town to have an utterly different character from the Closes and Wynds and many levels of the older city to the west and south. Looking west and south, the city was much tighter and more intricately eccentric, set off by a background of moors, scrubland, and rocky hills, and dominated above by a huge set of clouds already beginning to shadow the city and perhaps threatening to rain later on.

After I returned, I sat my first class, Architecture 2B: The Industrial City-Glasgow. It is not a class I intend to keep, not because I dislike it or its teacher, but because there are other classes that fit my Division II better. Although I did not intend to stay for the remaining classes, I was nonetheless able to learn quite a bit about Scotland’s second city, and it piqued my interest and appetite for future visits.

That night, all four of us in the flat went out to the Stand, a comedy club in the basement of a New Town building which has live comedy seven nights a week. Monday nights are the bargain nights, with ordinary tickets costing £2, and student fares for one quid. There were about ten acts, most of them pretty good: one could pay a whole lot more money to see worse than the cheapo night at the Stand.