I’m lying in bed, listening to the Penguin Café Orchestra as I begin to doze. The minimalist, rhythmic plunking of the chords pulls me through memories and associations, landing me back in a place in time when I used to listen to the Penguin Café Orchestra almost incessantly.
Half dozing now, I’m sitting with myself in my room in Edinburgh. I look around the room and see the giant tapestry with the pink and green elephants and the many posters – Romeo & Juliette, Gustav Klimt, the Scottish Ballet – that I hung to minimize the large expanse of white wall. I look down and see the familiar green-blue carpet, full of lint, needing to be ‘hoovered.’ I know that outside of my room is the little kitchen, where Laura and Jo are undoubtedly sitting drinking tea and catching up on ‘patter,’ as Laura calls it. Down the hall is the little yellow bathroom, where I’ve hung photocopies of Edward Gorey stories as a counterbalance to Laura’s Brad Pitt and Keanue Reeves posters.
I’m sitting at my desk with a pot of tea, probably writing a paper. My desk is by the window, and I turn away from my half-written paper to lean out the window, into the night air, and watch the passers-by on the street below. Across the street from my flat is Pierre Lapin, a French-vegetarian restaurant. Next to Pierre Lapin is The Pear Tree, a pub and beer garden populated with Edinburgh Uni students. I had a crush on one of the bartenders, at least I did until the night I tried to show my interest by politely tipping him for my pint and he sneered at me, ‘I can pay my own bus fare home lass!’ On Sundays Jo and I would sometimes go see an acid jazz band that played there. Across the street from The Pear Tree is La Cochone Noir, a little French creperie. Beside La Cochone Noir is a gift shop where I would buy candles and incense, and where I found my favorite mug, which I have since lost, with the William Blake drawing of a child climbing a ladder to the stars crying "I want! I want!"
My cat jumps on my bed and I am returned to the tangible reality my little room with the mint green walls. Gone are the clutter of posters, replaced with expensively framed photographs, a watercolor painting of a cat, and one of irises. I gave away the tapestry to someone, I can’t remember who, or when. Outside the window I see half of the front porch, white railings, trees, and summer rain. I am content with my life now – much more content than I was at twenty-one. And yet, piqued by the nostalgic reverberations of the music, so many remembered details from that time and place come rushing back. In my mind I reach out to them. I long to grab onto one of them, to not just let it slip on by again, as it always does, but to let it pull me body and soul back into that room in that flat on 13/4 West Nicholson Street.
I come close sometimes. Memories overlay present. I get up from my desk and walk through the room, out into the hall, down the winding concrete stairs, letting the heavy door bang shut behind me, and into the streets. I feel that if I were to reach out my hand I could touch the gray stone wall in front of me. And yet I know that I can’t, because I am but a shadow walking through this city. Which is more real now, me or the memory?
I feel all the emotions of that year well up in me. The longing. The hunger. The lust for something more than my American college-student reality offered me. The desire to escape myself, to recreate myself into somebody other than who I had always been. The intoxicating feeling of possibility. The mystique conjured by walking the streets of such an ancient city, discovering hidden wynds and passages, leaning over the bridge on Nicholson Street to see a city built upon itself. The sheer weight of history, and the romance of its pagan folklore. Weaving this world into my soul, as much of it as I could take in.
This was one of the few times in my life that I loved the moment as I lived it. I didn’t have to look back on my experience to know how much it meant to me. Half way through the year I began having nightmares about returning home. I knew it was inevitable, but I dug my heels in and fought against the relentless encroach of time.
When the time finally came though, I accepted it. Bags packed, sitting in my chair by the window, I wrote one last time in my journal before leaving for the airport. I was writing a farewell, anticipating the longing I would feel for this place and this moment sometime on into the not so distant future. Coming to the end of the page, I completed my farewell, writing:
"But Edinburgh isn’t going anywhere. And for that matter, neither am I."
Even as I wrote it, I couldn’t quite get my head around what I meant. It didn’t make much sense, and yet I felt compelled to write those last words, as if engraving them in stone with my fountain pen.
Perhaps I did write them in stone, in a way. Engraved their incomprehensible meaning deep into my psyche. A part of my self seems to have splintered off and gotten left behind to continue wandering the streets and wynds of my beloved old gray city.