Tuesday 24 November 2020

The Transfiguration of the Commonplace

 The title of today's post is taken from the writings of Edinburgh native Muriel Spark. My guess is that it denotes an ordinary thing or well-known person suddenly flaming up into something or someone extraordinary, revealing something to which familiarity has either blinded us or could not perceive. 

It reminds me of my Sunday walk through Edinburgh, when I took photographs, like a tourist although--to be honest--the ordinary shops and sights I captured were not revelatory. My intent was to make a record of them in case they disappear under the waters of the lockdown. I also thought it would be nice for my mother to see them, as she is trapped on the other side of the ocean. 

On Sunday I had a pub lunch with a friend and then coffee and pastries with another friend. 

The pub was on Dalkieth Road, and after lunch I walked down Salisbury Road, bound for distant Dalry Road. 

I looked back at the Commonwealth Pool and Arthur's Seat behind it. 

The red sandstone tenements are typical of Edinburgh. 

As I made my way down Newington Road, which would turn into South Clerk Street, Clerk Street and then Nicholson Street, I noticed this homely and colloquial advice. I thought again about neutron bombs and what Edinburgh would look like without any actual Scots in it. This, for once, was visual evidence that Scots--and not just Poles, English, Americans, Canadians, Chinese, Arabs and a host of other nationalities--live in Edinburgh. 
More homely advice in the vernacular. 

Verdo is a Turkish restaurant. The food is delicious. B.A. and I once had a belly-busting feast there before rushing off, painfully, to a concert at The Queen's Hall. 

My mother will probably not recognise these shops, for our border is usually East Preston Street, and thus we rarely walk up or down the part of the street called Newington Road. 

Brew Store is one of the few goods shops we frequent. It is where we buy our cider-making equipment. One day during the lockdown, I suddenly popped in and bought 12 glass cider bottles with ceramic tops. They came in a big box, which I lugged to the bus stop.

I couldn't browse, as I was allowed only through the doorway, where I found a counter, as if in a post office, and a young man who took my order and went away to fill it. 

This is a building with a Sainsbury's supermarket. It is small and good mostly for convenience foods and disposable barbecue kits for summer lunches on the nearby Meadows.  

This is one of the few places in Edinburgh that has very good croissants. May it survive the coronavirus panic.

Someone on Clerk Street is asserting their love for Slovenia. 

Like the nearby Edinburgh University, South Clerk and Clerk Streets are rather cosmopolitan. 

USA Nailz is run by, I believe, Vietnamese people who speak to each other in Vietnamese, just like in urban nail shops in the USA and in Canada, too. 

Getting your nails done here is less expensive and less time-consuming than getting your nails done in a more typically Scottish beauty shop. There is also no expectation of conversation. I find talking to Scottish nail technicians an absolute minefield of potential misunderstandings. 

When my conversational Polish was absolutely at its best, I had a very long conversation with a manicurist in the New Town. Afterwards I was mentally exhausted but with the comfortable sense that neither of us had offended the other. 

Edinburgh Fabrics is run by a South Asian family. It is very big and stuffed to the gills with interesting fabrics, cutting tables, zippers and etceteras. The windows are always attractive, and I have been here with my mother a few times. 

My mother, unlike me, is clever with her hands. She can sew, quilt, knit, embroider and crochet. Therefore, Edinburgh's knitting and fabric shops, which have hitherto managed to hang on in greater numbers than ones in Toronto, have a family interest.

This splendid building contains a Starbucks. Personally, I loathe Starbucks, even this one, but in the past it has been a Saturday afternoon refuge for B.A. I have met him there after doing various errands of my own, drinking a caramel macchiato and catching up with back issues of the London Review of Books. 

Honestly, why take photos of supermarkets? They aren't going anywhere. This one, though, is useful for it has a wide selection and a goodly Polish section.

Clerk Street will soon turn into the South Bridge. 
This is Blackwell's Bookshop on the South Bridge. It is a positive heaven of new books, including language textbooks. It hosts readings, and so far I have been to a friend's reading there and to my own. It is the one place in Edinburgh that has ever sold my books. It is the one place where I ever felt deeply and joyously glad there was such a thing as the Edinburgh Festival. 
Le Bon David may have been cancelled at Edinburgh University, but his statue still stands, undamaged, on the Royal Mile. 

Normally I would not pay the dirty-French-novel-buying atheist librarian any attention, but I objected to his egregious cancellation. 

Actually, it's not Hume I feel annoyed for but the modern-day Scots. There is a plot afoot to make the Scots feel as ashamed of themselves, their ancestors and their history as too many Englishmen now are. Awa' and bile yer heid, is what I would say to that, had I the proper accent. Doon yer tea. Eat yer bread.

A hundred years ago, Edinburgh's poorest literally starved to death, and Trainspotting, I never tire of saying, is a documentary. And there's still plenty of Scots misery to be found in the parts of Edinburgh tourists and foreign academics never see.   

The  Royal Mile and poor old Gladstone's Land, its shop and offices boarded up. One of the larger victims of the coronavirus panic is the National Trust for Scotland. 

Gladstone's land was build in the 1620s, so that's a 500 year old apartment building you're looking at there. Only a few floors are museum-worthy, though. 

We once spent a few cramped months in a holiday flat there. Lovely views, very romantic, close to excellent croissants and good libraries, but otherwise very impractical.

That's a castle at the end of the road. It's been a military base for quite awhile now, but tourists like it. Chippy medical students who spit on the graves of Scottish soldiers, not as much. 

I've never shopped for a Freemason in my life, but if you want to find some, here they are. 

The military base. Its shops are not as personally exciting to me as the shops of the bigger of the two U.S. naval bases in Naples, but that's another photo essay. 

I once arranged and chaperoned a blind date here. What was I thinking? Oh yes, I was attempting to make a birthday memorable for a young friend. I wore all blue and had a terrible shock in the loo when I looked in the mirror. I had forgotten I was about 20 years older than my guests. 

Afterwards we went to a concert. This is in Edinburgh's "theatre district" by the way. 

Just to the left of the traffic lights is The Filmhouse. It is our favourite cinema, for it shows films we can brag about watching afterwards. To be serious, though, it is very cool to see Great Films in an actual theatre for a change. 

Amusing story: because I had only ever seen great classic Polish cinema, I thought all Polish films were like them. I was therefore terribly shocked and disappointed when I saw the then-latest Polish release down the street at the Odeon. 

That said, I saw a Polish vampire-mermaid porno at The Filmhouse. I didn't mean to do so, but that's what it was. The Polish woman sitting in front of me left in a noisy huff at the breastfeeding scene, and no wonder.

I was on my way to Dalry Road, by the way, and I took a shortcut I remembered from a cold Christmas Eve. I walked along an ugly modern development beginning near The Filmhouse , crossed a pedestrian bridge, and arrived in this beautiful square of townhouses and embassies. 

My new favourite house. To be purchased after we win tomorrow's lottery. 

But now this post is too long, so I will have to create a second one later. We don't have much further to go, though, to get to Dalry. 


  1. Wow, that brought back some weird memories. I studied art in Edinburgh for 5 years, a looooong time ago! Thanks for the trip!

  2. How lovely to hear from you! Glad you enjoyed the post. I had no idea you studied in Edinburgh!