Edinburgh: Here and there

There’s a lot I have to share today so this post will be in parts.

Finding my way around Edinburgh

Sign showing the Edinburgh skyline

As you know if you read last week’s posts, I got really lost the first day I tried to walk from here to the city center. Edinburgh is really not a big city — twice half the size of San Francisco (whoops! got confused — twice the area, half the population) — but the curving streets, with their shifting names, can be confusing. Two days after my first attempt, I tried again. Here’s what I wrote in my journal:

“12 July, Thursday, 2:20 PM. Café, National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh.

When I set out [today] I decided to take the route I’d failed to trace on Tuesday, and found immediately (upon taking the correct trail in the Bruntsfield Links) just how wrong I’d been. In the morning light and without any rain I could see clearly that if I took the left path, I could see more grass ahead, and if I took the right (as I did on Tuesday) I couldn’t. A little further along the left-hand path I realized how monumental had been my error: in front of me loomed the Castle, and the city, and Arthur’s Seat! Landmarks I could have used to guide me all the way — except that by taking the path that led southeast, I never saw them. How ridiculous. Once I took the correct path, the route was indeed just as easy and simple as I’d thought when I checked the map on Tuesday afternoon. In about 10-15 minutes I arrived at the edge of the Meadows, exactly where I took the photo on Tuesday, only it had taken such a short time to get there that I didn’t even recognize it at first because I wasn’t looking for it.

“There must be a lesson in here, eh? Several, in fact:

  1. It’s probably a good idea, when writing down a route, to also write down check-in points at regular intervals — like ‘if it’s been 10 minutes and you haven’t hit the Meadows, you should backtrack and try again.’
  2. Learn to be okay with backtracking! [Usually it’s always ‘onward, onward’ with me!]
  3. Also check the map for possible pitfalls and write those down — like ‘do NOT take the right fork in the park.’
  4. But, if you’re feeling safe and comfy and there’s plenty of light, getting lost is not a bad way to get a feel for a city.

Anyway, it was quite entertaining to do everything right this time, after so much confusion only the day before yesterday.”

Since then I have discovered two more ways to get to the city center, so I’m definitely getting my bearings!

On breaking in and letting go

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from my sister, saying she’d just learned that our storage unit was broken into. At the time she was out of state so she couldn’t go check on it; we’d have to wait about ten days to find out about the damage. On Saturday afternoon I received an email from her, with this photo:

Messy storage unit with everything in a shambles

What we know to be missing: our giant coffee table, some of our big serving dishes. Beyond that we can’t tell. Look at that mess — we’re bound to find other stuff gone or damaged. I felt sick all Saturday evening, thinking about it. It had never really struck me before just how awful it is to have one’s things trashed; I always thought the important thing was “Has anything been stolen?” but really, the wanton disrespect is hurtful enough. I know it’s not personal — 16 other units were also burglarized — but it feels that way, a bit.

That night as I hunched before the laptop in the dark, grimly compiling notes on the stolen items for the police report, Erik called from the bedroom: “There’s a beautiful sunset outside. Want to come see it?” I didn’t, but I went anyway. I looked out the window at the grey-purple clouds striping the pink sky and said, “Mm hmm. Very nice.” I was going to go back to my list but Erik hoisted the sash. I couldn’t help it — I stuck my head out the window, and there I was, hanging on to a white-painted Victorian wooden windowsill, with nothing between my face and the sky and the air, looking out over the pretty old rooftops and the back garden below with its tall hedge and climbing wisteria and spires of royal-purple lupines, and I thought, “This is not a view I ever thought I’d be in.” To Erik I said, “It’s worth losing all our stuff — to be able to do this,” and I meant it.

And stolen stuff aside… I do think our travels are showing me, the picky and detail-oriented perfectionist, that there are tangible and immediate compensations for not having everything be spick-and-span all the time. When my backpack doesn’t contain every single thing I could possibly need on a day out, it’s lighter, so I can stay out longer. Without plans, I can go with Erik on a completely random jaunt outside of the city, and we can run across bunnies (yes, BUNNIES!) on the grass right next to a major street.


It’s easier for me to let go of the need to manage everything, when I’m shown again and again that by doing so I may be missing out on something even cooler. In other words: priorities are easier to grasp when the trade-offs are more tangible.

So… I think I’ve made my peace with our stolen stuff. I suspect it’s still going to be awful when we get back home and have to confront that trashed storage unit for the first time. But we are safe and well, our loved ones are safe and well, and the meaning of this life does not boil down to a few pieces of wood and crockery, even if we liked them very much.


Speaking of cool things we’re seeing, last week I went to the National Gallery of Modern Art (where I made the cutout picture), and there in the thick green grass outside building One — no, of the grass — was a living sculpture.


It is called Landform and it was created in 2002 by an American-born architect/artist named Charles Jencks, who now lives in Scotland. You can walk on it, so of course I did. The ground underfoot was springy and squishy, and the grass smelled newly cut.

Pool of water in Landform, full of weird creepy algae

Curving pool

View of the museum building from Landform

Exaggerated curving pool

The piece in the distance is Roger Hiorns's 2010 piece Untitled, made of engines from a decommissioned military surveillance plane, filled with crushed medications for depression.

In the sidewalk near the building, stones mirrored the shape of the landform.

Sidewalk stones

And look, what the building says:

"Everything is going to be alright."