London Calling

Emily Passey

The oft over-quoted Samuel Johnson (a late eighteenth century guy) said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford.” While Sam was mostly correct, I find this too narrow of a scope.
It might be true that whatever you can think of you can find, or something very similar to it, in London – but I’d like to add that if it’s not there, it’s probably in the northern city of Edinburgh, Scotland.
Think Scotland and you think of a blue-painted Mel Gibson and heather-covered hills. Or intruding-looking, medieval stone castles set high on craggy cliffs.
Maybe you’d think of slurred but charming accents, guys in skirts, sheep farmers, or tartans and tweeds. It’s all there, but in Edinburgh it’s accompanied by some just as charming, cool, extra bits.
Edinburgh (not pronounced like Pittsburgh, but instead “Edin-bruh” or “Edin-buruh,” depending on who’s talking), is a little less than one-seventh the size of my urban pseudo-home, London, but certainly contains as much in its own unique Scottish way.
Scotland, if you didn’t know, is sort of a country on its own, one of the four which make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain (England, Northern Ireland, and Wales being the others). London is the capital of the whole place but Edinburgh is the upstairs equivalent and even houses its own parliament buildings.
I could talk ad nauseam about the touristy things, but I’d rather tell you about my tiny little glance at the real Scotland.
Right now, there’s a big debate over Scottish independence – many of the youth want it, many of the stodgy old folks don’t. Walking along what’s called “The Royal Mile,” the main drag which leads down a big, big hill from Edinburgh Castle, I saw three blatant statements scrawled in chalk on the sides of a parliament office building, a monument, and a church. “End London Rule” was the one that stuck with me the most.
It’s a very energetic time as the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), for independence, is up against the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems), against independence, in the upcoming Scottish elections.
Scottish crime fiction writer Ian Rankin is covering the election for the London Times, and gives a great picture of the feeling in Edinburgh from an insider’s view.
Rankin says in the Apr. 10, 2007 Times, “If Edinburgh is to prosper in the 21st century, it needs to lose its fear of change,” referring in part to the idea of independence, and in part to the push for upgrading the city with things like new transport and energy-efficient housing.
It seems to me that Edinburgh is quite contemporary. The main strip in the New Town – which lies to the north of the massive hill which is central Edinburgh, the south of which is Old Town – is Princes Street, a buzzing, broad, store-laden street with fashion you’d find on Knightsbridge in London (think Chicago’s Michigan Avenue). The city is like any other booming city in this sense.
Even walking down the very pretty and shady Water of Leith river walkway, one feels the effect of industry and growth.
Beginning as I did in Dean Village (from “dene,” or valley), a tiny and stony little neighborhood, one meanders in a very pre-industrial area. When the river begins to broaden the houses become more modern, and finally one reaches the port area of Leith.
At the end of the Water of Leith walkway, there lies – and you’d absolutely never have guessed this one, especially if you’ve got romantic ideals about Scotland like me – a gigantic mall. Very 21st century, no?
The whole city is a wonderful mish-mash of the old and new: Young sentiment, old buildings. New malls, old boats (the mall is connected to the HMS Britannia). Young clubs, old churches. Young DJs spinning dancy pop, and middle-aged kilted men blasting away on the bagpipes (a lovely and apt sound to hear while wandering the city). Old castle, new castle (Holyrood Palace is relatively new, mostly 17th century, and is still the summer residence of the real live Queen and family).
Edinburgh is as lively as London, but a little less crowded, even in the main area. The mood is different, as the Ian Rankin column which I cited above demonstrates.
It’s a foreign country within a foreign country, and feels independent regardless of what the outcome of the elections will be.