I arrived in Scotland a few days ago, and am amazed by how much can change during a flight that takes less than two hours. Gone are the croissants, cafés, and carefully manicured gardens; gone are Haussman’s wide boulevards and Eiffel’s tall tower. I miss Paris, with its temperamental skies and people, with its beloved wine and chocolate, with its beautiful river and parks.
Luckily, Edinburgh wears its own character well. If I can stop trying to speak French, and if I can remember to look in the right direction before crossing a street – any street – I think this city and I will spend our time together quite cozily.
I’m enjoying, as I did in Paris, testing out the stereotypes. Plaid, bagpipes, sweaters; it’s fun to discover which images of this country are turning out to be already familiar. For instance, the people here – many of whom are indeed gingers – are friendly and casual to the point of feeling like I’ve known them for ages, before I’ve even learned their names. Last night I found myself surrounded by a group of Scots, badgering and teasing each other past closing time at the pub, the bloody and fuck of their language softened by the lilting song of their accents and the echoing sounds of their laughter.
The weather here is different from Paris; it reminds me of summer in Maine, where gray skies often stiff-arm heat, and allow the beauty of the land itself to claim the attention it deserves. I’ve seen a peek of blue here and there since arriving in Edinburgh, but mainly the sky is absent of color. In that, there is a feeling of secrecy, almost as if the clouds are creating a little dome of insulation for the city. The colors elsewhere are gorgeous, though; today I spent a few hours hiking up and around Arthur’s Seat, scrambling over rocks and taking too many pictures of the city below.
Perhaps because of the weather, the food is heavy, made to stick. It is so much heartier than the rich flavors of Paris. Yesterday, I ordered vegetarian Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties (i.e., haggis, mashed turnips, and mashed potatoes) and it was delicious. Wait, what’s that? You don’t know what haggis is? Go ahead and look it up. I’ll wait. It’s about as meaty as you can get.
The only problem is that I’m pretty sure they mixed up my order, and I don’t think it was vegetarian in the slightest. Ah well. I’ve eaten more meat on this trip than I have in years, but that’s part of the point of traveling, to me: to enjoy local food, as part of the moment, tradition, and culture.
Like Paris, Edinburgh is a drinking city, but instead of coffee, there is tea, and instead of wine, there is beer and whisky. It is almost too easy to spend hours in a pub. I have particularly enjoyed how people pass around bottles of Scotch to smell, in order to identify the differences in each one’s nature (Peaty? Mossy? Smoky?), before passing their own glasses, to share with strangers. It is kind of unbelievable, and really pretty great. I am getting a crash course in whisky, that’s for damn sure.
And along those whisky lines, this is not something you’d ever, ever see in Paris, though there are plenty of vending machines doling out similar products.
(Look closely. It gets even funnier. I’ll let you make your own call on this one.)
On that note, I’m off to have some tea. I mean ale. I mean whisky. I mean – oh, forget it. I’m off to explore, because right now, whether I’m in France or in Scotland, or any of the places coming my way, it seems like that’s what I do best. If you need me, I’ll be in a pub after dinner, listening to raucous, talented musicians play traditional Scottish music while the people around them chat and cheer and join in. I can already tell you that the sounds of the room will swell and recede and grow again, into everything I might have hoped and imagined, just like so much in this gray city of Edinburgh.