Six months ago, when I first arrived in Edinburgh, I spent a lot of time staring at everyday stuff. There are many ordinary things I wasn’t used to seeing: cars driving on the left, drivers sitting on the right, red postboxes and pay phones. Most of the city’s buildings are centuries old, so I stumbled around awestruck and explored every street I passed. The very thought I was living in Edinburgh was exciting.
After time, though, the city grew into a habit. I no longer took the time to stare or explore; the everyday stuff had become the everyday. I knew exactly where to go for what and exactly how to get there. There was no point seeing what’s down that way when I know what’s up this way. Then my friend Shirley came to visit, and I realized what I was taking for granted.
She and I are walking to Princes Street Gardens and then Edinburgh Castle before I take off for my class in Old Town’s George Square. It’s beginning to rain and Shirley points to the tall brown and white medieval houses overlooking us in the distance.
‘Whoa, what’s all that?’
‘Oh that’s Ramsay Garden.’
‘Wow. And that’s the Castle over there next to it?’
‘Yup. There’s a path through Princes Street Gardens that leads up there.’
‘Wow. That’s beautiful. You see that every day?’
‘Most days, yeah… Wow, that is beautiful.’
Walking up the path toward the Castle, the rain is coming down heavy and the wind is picking up. It’s so cold we’re crying with laughter and Shirley’s black curly hair is shooting from her head like she’s electrified. Then it starts to hail. Hard. Neither of us can see though our glasses nor see at all without them so we wait on the path, giggling hysterically, as the hail stings us from all sides. When we finally make it to the top of the path, my face is frozen, my clothes are soaked, I’m late for class, and I have to scream above the wind to be heard.
‘The Edinburgh Castle! BEHOLD ITS MAGNIFICENCE!’
Shirley turns to me—stunned, like she just got off a water ride she wasn’t prepared for.
I’m at my friend Laura’s home in Paisley for the weekend of my 21st birthday and her mom, an angelic but no-nonsense primary-school teacher, makes us each a meal of haggis, neeps, and tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes) by request. It all looks so great on the plate that I have to pause a second before digging in. The haggis is strong; the tatties are creamy; and the neeps are the smooth, yellow-orange color of melted cheddar.
Haggis was the first proper meal I had in Scotland. It was my second night in Edinburgh, when I was still reeling from jet lag and anticipation and my flat had no dishes. So I figured it was as good a time as any to head to a pub and try the famous dish—along with two glasses of Scotch whisky. Laura’s father, a quiet and kind rescue submarine pilot, pours us some red wine and, if anything, my appreciation for booze and boiled sheep’s stomach stuffed with oatmeal, suet, and onion, has only grown with time.
In the morning Laura’s dad and I eat black pudding, while Laura and her mom shudder in disgust and pull apart fresh steamy breakfast rolls. Black pudding is congealed blood and cereal sausage and it is delicious. Tiny wads of fat, sparkling like diamonds, break up its dark surface, and once it’s between your teeth the fat mixes perfectly with the meal. Then, as if black pudding wasn’t enough, I receive the holy trinity of birthday presents: a tub of bath scrub, a good book, and a bottle of wine.
I love Sundays. While most of the city is still asleep or recovering from Saturday night, I collect my flat’s newspapers, bottles, and cans into plastic bags and walk to the recycling center in Bristo Square.
To recycle the glass I push it through a hole, high up on the front of a large plastic dome. Inside the dome are pronged metal poles that break the bottles and jars into pieces so more material can fit into the dome. The early morning silence lets me hear every shatter and crack as the jar meets the prongs and splits, falling in glittery clinks upon the other shards within. Depending on how I push the glass through the hole, I can control the intensity of its shatter and sometimes even hear how it will break and fall before it does.
Once my bags are empty, I head to the grocery store to do my shopping without the crowds that afternoons bring. It’s a metro grocery store, so the ceilings are low, the aisles are narrow, and if you’re there when it’s busy, the atmosphere is hectic. But on a Sunday morning I can take my time and after a couple of weeks I realize I’m not the only one who makes relaxed food shopping part of my weekend routine. It’s the same people every week—the short guy who sucks in his cheeks, the girl who bounces on her toes when she walks—by now we all recognize each other but never make the effort to talk because it’s silently agreed upon that an upside to our early morning shopping is that we won’t run into anybody we know.
My last stop before home is the nearest newsagent’s to pick up The Observer. The lady who works there has a nice smile and balls her hair up in a tacky, blue scrunchie because it’s Sunday and she can’t be arsed.
Back in the flat I sit with my coffee and the paper, knowing that by the time my fingertips blacken, Edinburgh will be wide-awake and I’ll go out and explore it.
Or maybe I’ll just stay in and listen to music because, you know, it’s Sunday and I can’t be arsed.