Saturday 21 November 2020

In This City


Was it quarantine? Edinburgh seems to have recovered some of its exotic glamour for me.  Having lived here for over ten years, I can only dimly remember how mysterious and romantic the city seemed when I first arrived. However, it didn't occur to me even then that these old buildings will inevitably crumble one day, or that even a hill fort inhabited for two millennia will one day be empty. Thanks to the coronavirus panic, such thoughts have now intruded. 

One thing for certain: everything changes. In Rome I thought it might be a fun project to photograph the windows of the Dolce & Gabbana shop in the Spanish Steps every day. I neglected to photograph a dress I particularly liked (it had the same petit-point roses as a cushion my mother made), and a week later it was gone from the window: the window dressing had changed. And no, it never occurred to me to enter the shop to look for it.  I cannot even, as the kids say. 

So yesterday after I had another post-apocalyptic breakfast in my favourite cafe and--luxury beyond belief--kept my 15 minute appointment at Central Library, I began to take a few photographs. I was due home to begin writing the Worst News of the Day, but I thought Benedict Ambrose would enjoy a pain au chocolat from La Balantine in The Bow. The Bow is truly one of the splendid sights of the Old Town, even (or especially) when it is all but empty at 9:30 AM. 

1. This is The Bow, otherwise known as Victoria Street. It is on a hill sloping down to the Grassmarket, which is a relatively flat central place.  It is lined with colourful shops and restaurants that tempt residents quite as much as tourists, if I am anything to go by. 

2. This is the most successfully tempting shop in The Bow, as far as I am concerned, for this is where I go to buy Benedict Ambrose presents. Usually the gifts are small: a birthday tie, or the tweed messenger bag I began to borrow. However, this year we had a most delightful binge: we bought him a three piece suit. I had longed to do that for ten years. 

B.A. once bought me a little tweed owl from Walker Slater. It was to cheer me up after the Deluge forced us from our home in the Historical House. He wouldn't tell me how much it cost, and I am still blissfully ignorant of that today.

3. After staring in the windows of Walker Slater for a few years, I heard that it was shortly to open a ladies' boutique. I was tremendously excited when it opened and I could survey its own windows. When I got inside, however, amongst all the lovely blue, green, grey, brown and russet tweed and wool, I discovered that it was all very expensive. Could I justify a binge on my freelancer's salary? No. Alas, I could not. 

Later a temporary outlet store opened across the road, and to my immense satisfaction, I was able to buy a W.S. brown tweed skirt for an astonishing £20. 

Incidentally, all up and down the east coast of Scotland, this would be considered pardonable bragging. I have heard it whispered that in Glasgow people brag about how MUCH they spend, not how little, but then Edinburghers famously speak ill of Weegies, I mean Glaswegians. Surely they do not stoop so low.

4. The ladies' boutique in half its windowed glory. Clearly it is  highly virtuous not to spend thousands of pounds here on myself but to rejoice in my own brown tweed skirt that I got for £20.

I almost always work from home, so I really cannot justify a binge. On the other hand, the done thing among the gentlemen I know who have binged at W.S. is to wear their tweedy finery to Mass.  


5. Here is La Balantine. Like the purveyors of tweedery, it slopes dramatically. The windows are full of colourful pastries that shine like jewels. When you step (carefully) down into the shop, the floor of the small dining room is flat. Yesterday morning it was also empty of customers. 

"Bonjour!" said the young Chinese lady who came in from the kitchen.  Whoever is serving that day, French or not, greets customers with "Bonjour."

"Bonjour," I replied. "Je voudrais un pain au chocolat, s'il vous plait."

My accent was undoubtedly atrocious, but the waitress picked up on the nub of the thing. 

£1.85 is a lot for a pain au chocolat, but the ones from La B. are worth it.

6. I took this on my way back up the hill towards my bus stop. I have not dined in Le Maison Bleu, but I have purchased many a delicious sandwich at Oink. 

Once I went straight to Oink from the airport. If I remember correctly, I was coming back from Canada and was as hungry as a bear. 

All of a sudden I remember that I have not had breakfast yet. A moist pork sandwich with apple sauce and crackling would go down very well right now. Sadly there is no Oink within walking distance of home. 

7. And here's more of The Bow. It was a little uncanny how deserted it was, save for the vans, builders and me. The great Christmas snowflakes only underscored the emptiness. 

Edinburgh is really such a beautiful city. And this is only part of one street in the Old Town. I am alarmed to think that I might in future be threatened with an actual fine walking down The Bow. On the one hand, that is outrageous. But on the other it makes being on The Bow even more special.   

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