far too much writing, far too many photos

As I said, on Friday myself and two friends — friends of long duration, individuals I’ve now known for 17 or so years — tossed some bags into the back of a rental car (me continuing the overpacking thing I’ve got going, the bodybag providing the foundation in the trunk for D. & G.’s more modest baggage). Outside, a beautiful day awaited. Inside, we waited on a load of laundry Dermot had stuffed into the washer. Shortly before the bolting hour, the phone rang: the car rental firm wanting me to exchange my Honda for an identical model, the one I’ve had apparently having been sold out from under me. I drove over for that, Simon — tall, slim, blonde, with a friendly, angular face — the lad who seems to be the high man on the agency totem pole, effected the change, took me for a drive to a filling station for an Easter gift of a nearly-full tank of gas. Zipping through local streets surprisingly empty (everyone apparently either away or at a nearby mall, its parking lot full, lines at its gas station several cars long), the morning awash in sunlight, conversation centered around traveling. Once back at the agency, we shook hands, exchanged good-weekend wishes, I took off. The wait for the wash continued at D.’s lair, he finally decided to skip the hanging about, we threw ourselves into the car, me taking the first driving shift.

On approaching the M6, the local highway north, D. saw that everyone else in this part of Britain had also decided to head north for the weekend, converting the six-lane into a massive parking lot, prompting a fast change of route: local roads to Manchester, then onto a major highway heading east and north of the city, toward Leeds and beyond. I continued with the driving-on-the-left-hand- side-of-the-road thing like I knew what I was doing, we covered plenty of ground, finally pulling off at a rest stop for nosh and liquid refreshment well along the way. (A stop featuring the revelation that the expression ‘to open the lunchbox’ is a euphemism for passing wind, a turn of phrase that has since provided far too many hours of wholesome entertainment.) When we skidded back onto the road twenty or thirty minutes later, heavy traffic had caught up with us, slowing northerly movement way down. Way the hell down, to teeth-grindingly snail-like velocity, finally sending us off onto two-lanes that cut north through green, rolling country, rising and falling with the hedgerowed land like billowing, sunwashed rollercoasters.

Around two, a diner perched on the crest of a hill beckoned, we paused to hoover down heaping plates of the English equivalent of first-class diner fare, D. & G. patiently enduring my excessive joy at food, views, accents of the women working the roadhouse, et freaking cetera.

Back on the road, Dermot now at the wheel, the car suddenly leaping ahead with notably upgraded aggressiveness and speed, as if the spirit of A. J. Foyt had seized the vehicle. We moved north through increasingly beautiful windblown country, trees and bushes all visibly leaning to the east, stone walls and hedges extending along the side of the road, at times cutting away to mark property lines or separate fields. When we left the roadhouse, we’d hoped we might be two hours or less from Edinburgh. HAR! The hours stretched on, the country grew more gorgeous, the sun slid down into the western sky, we still threaded our way north.

At the border, the land rose skyward, giving way at its crest to spectacular vistas of a spectacularly beautiful part of the planet. All afternoon, we’d had views of green terrain that seemed to stretch on and on, giant folds of earth rising and falling off into the distance. The view at the border trumped all that in jaw-dropping fashion. Plus, we assured ourselves, Edinburgh had to be drawing close.

Country gradually gave way to ‘burbs, population density grew more urban, we suddenly found ourselves on a road heading directly into the city center, everything going suspiciously smoothly.

Cobblestone streets, eye-catching buildings everywhere we looked. (Edinburgh has far, far more than its share of ancient, beautiful structures. They line the streets in a way calculated to make other cities appear colorless by comparison — crass, boring, lacking in history and culture.)

We found the hotel, D. managed an admirably zippy mid-traffic U-turn, we parked, grabbed bags, checked in. Seven hours and twenty minutes after starting out. A full day’s workshift.

Settled into the room, got the car into a parking garage, went out for a walk in the suddenly freezing evening, daylight fading. Locals walked about in groups, getting the evening underway, or waited at bus stops, heading home. Tourists strolled about (Asians in abundance, plenty of people speaking Spanish). I found myself underdressed for the kind of cold we were dealing with and running out of energy after far too many hours packed in a car. We’d booked a late dinner at the hotel restaurant — because we’d arrived so late that seats only remained for the last seating — headed back, did a tired, quiet, less than high-energy meal. Returned to the room, went to bed, me taking a while to drift off. Three or so hours later, I woke to find a snoring duet in progress, D. using his built-in nocturnal megaphone to broadcast the thunderous melody, G. providing quieter harmony. Earplugs insulated me from most of it, I tried to drift off again. No luck. G. finally got up, staggered to the loo, I took advantage of that to turn on a bedside lamp, open a book. The snoring quieted down from there, I read until drowsiness returned, killed the light, conked out.

Morning: I found myself awake before the others. Got up, showered, shaved, all that. Outside, a street-work jackhammer serenaded the neighborhood. When D. & G. had gotten up and pulled themselves together, we trooped down to the hotel’s complimentary breakfast — a mob scene, the restaurant staff trying to keep up with the deluge of folks seeking heaping plates of a.m. chow. So-so a.m. chow, turned out, with turgid coffee (”black death,” said G.) and punchless tea. We headed out, a small newsagent across the street provided a copy of a Spanish newspaper, a café beyond that provided real caffeine in the form of real brew. Sunshine poured in the windows. All of that leaving me happier, feeling more like a functioning human.

We returned to the streets to find a beautiful day in progress, the center awash in tourists (that last phrase hardly describing the growing flood of people out ogling Edinburgh). The swelling number of folks out doing tourism reached an intensity that quickly became impressively lacking in fun, effecting a change in our approach to the day from one of big activity, walking around, taking in sights to one of drifting slowly, standing on corners talking and enjoying the surrounding cabaret, pausing frequently to settle in at a café or food-slinging joint to relax, refuel, watch the local world. Or rather, it effected that change after D. decided to do the tourist thing, disappearing into the camera obscura building, G. and I drifting back down the Royal Mile, me heading toward a patisserie we’d noticed on a sidestreet earlier, looking for food, drink, some relative peace.

[continued in next entry]


T-shirt seen in the Tass Pub, Edinburgh:
I Have A Deeply Satisfying Finish

España, te echo de menos.

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