Wednesday, 6 April 2011
Golden Auld Reekie
I knew it even in my four-and-a-half years there, but how much more so now: Edinburgh has to be one of the top five (I'd say three) most beautifully situated cities in the world. Looking back, I surely fell in love over 30 years ago when the train drew in under the volcanic rocks on which the castle is built. And arriving the Friday before last was an especially heart-leapy moment, given the late-afternoon mixture of brilliance against black and blue skies. The journey through East Lothian softens up the traveller; usually there's a dynamic play of sun and clouds over sea and land. Then there's Berwick Law looming in the distance, soon to be replaced by the more substantial mass of Arthur's Seat. And then the familiar, comfortable tenement buildings, the jutting jaw of Salisbury Crags, and you're there, right in the centre of things.
I had an hour to amble through an alternation of Prince's Street Gardens and George Street (I was on my lightly-laden way to meet friend Ruth in the Filmhouse Cafe before going to talk to Neeme Jarvi and to attend his predictably idiosyncratic, ultimately unforgettable Usher Hall concert. Tracing a familiar route which would eventually lead to my old home in Dundas Street, I was impressed by the natural lighting on the Royal Scottish Academy to the south
and, never the same twice, the view north towards Fife over the Firth of Forth.
Even George Street's jumble was looking positively golden.
And the still only semi-leafing trees let me see more of the castle rock than one usually does from Princes Street.
Strange: I'd never taken the last-leg route before, through St Cuthbert's cemetery, though I seem to remember singing in Bernstein's Chichester Psalms and the Dvorak Te Deum in the church itself.
That's another fascination: there are probably about a dozen ways you can trace simply if you want to get from the National Gallery to the Traverse Theatre or the Usher Hall, and all of them have a special magic in certain seasons and lights. Just back from Berlin, where I was impressed as ever by the city's changing faces and its dynamism, I can't help but compare its lumpen architecture and the bleak nature of so much of its 1960s and '70s buildings - of which the same could be said of New York - with what surprised me as a new-found grace in Edinburgh. But at least spring was burgeoning in Berlin, too, and given that, as in London, nature is to be found right in the centre, that was one of several compensations of an exhilarating flying visit.