Edinburgh Illuminated


Edinburgh, Scotland – August 2004

The heavy gray cloak that has covered Edinburgh for most of the summer has fallen away. People emerge from shelter to soak up the light. I wander around for hours. I want to discover Edinburgh illuminated before I leave for home. The streets are alive with the Edinburgh Festival. The bagpipe music that blares out of souvenir shops has been turned up to compensate for the bustle. It has gone from quaint to obnoxious. I wonder how the shop workers can handle it.


My husband once told me that bagpipes were used in battle, because the sound made soldiers aggressive. I should have known this. After all, my maiden name is Douglas. But I hadn’t known. My connection to my Scottish ancestry is tenuous. In fact, my father was the typical American cocktail of nationalities – Scottish, English, French Canadian, Native American, and Dutch. One quarter this and one eighth that. There were no family feasts of haggis or bagpipes at weddings. My mother once showed me a photo of the Douglas tartan, but the very idea of my father and uncles wearing a kilt is hilarious. The Scottish bits that trickled down to my father’s family were hot tempers, a fondness for alcohol, and a couple of red-haired cousins.


I buy souvenir booklets about Clan Douglas for my brothers and sisters. For my brother Billy, I buy a scroll with the Douglas crest and a brief history printed on it. He’s the sibling who’s most interested in Douglas history. As I walk out of the tourist district I unroll it and look at it. My heart sinks. How did I get roped into buying such a dorky gift? Then I think of Billy’s shot glass collection and relax.


The Castle is mobbed, but I take a deep breath and venture in. There are too many people to be able to linger comfortably, so I rush through the exhibitions and head back outside. For the others, the cemetery for soldiers’ dogs merits only a quick glance, if they notice it at all. For me, this tiny corner is the most interesting thing about the castle, along with the view over the city to the sea and to the Salisbury Crags.


A couple of days later, I hike up the Crags. The clouds have begun to amass once again. At the top, I approach the edge, but recoil when I realize that it’s straight down. No safety barrier to guard against a gust of wind. I sit on the ground and reflect on the places I’ve seen. Edinburgh has been a place of transition, but on my brief stays I’ve visited every museum and district possible. I took a day trip out to North Berwick. Away from Edinburgh, I spent almost a month on an island in a loch near Glasgow and almost six weeks in northern England’s Lake District. I visited Castlerigg stone circle and Threave Castle. I never did make it up to Loch Ness, but instead of disappointment, I feel indifference. It’s time to go home.