Rose Street, in Edinburgh’s New Town, is not particularly new. New Town dates back to the reign of George III, which is an era many of you know for the American Revolution. In comparison to the Old Town of Edinburgh–a snarl of alleys and ginnels, a mess of hills and ridges– this New Town is bold and orderly in layout.
But orderly facades are always facades, and architectural symmetry always belies the messier lives there housed. So consider New Town. The main streets (Queen Street, George Street, and Princes Street) are wide and regal. But tucked between are smaller streets– more like grand alleys– running through the blocks, like veins through flesh. And here lies Rose Street.
Today, Rose Street is a pedestrian road peppered with bakeries, pubs, restaurants, and shops, but it still retains a “back alley” aura. Not least because it has an outrageous number of pubs, and sometimes an outrageous number of people stumbling out of those pubs and weaving from wall to wall the length of the street. All told, it’s reputation is generally respectable, if just a bit sodden, these days. It’s cleaned up a bit from the red light reputation it had 60 years ago. In fact, it’s home to many more-than-reputable restaurants — 1780 being one I can heartily vouch for.
I bring up Rose Street today, because I stumbled on the lead photo for this post the other day– a photo I took of some street art , part of a series on Rose Street. It struck a chord, but I had no idea what the verses presented were all about. Today, I sleuthed about the internet to find that they represent bits of a poem by Scotsman George Mackay Brown, who, as it happens, used to drink in a bar named Milne’s, sat on the corner of a street named Rose, running like a vein through the arm of New Town.
Bottoms Up, dear George! Today I celebrate your poem, “Beachcomber,” and think about Edinburgh’s New Town, sat side by side with a very old town and perched on the edge of a cold North Sea, both harsh and beautiful.
Monday I found a boot –
Rust and salt leather.
I gave it back to the sea, to dance in.
Tuesday a spar of timber worth thirty bob.
It will be a chair, a coffin, a bed.
Wednesday a half can of Swedish spirits.
I tilted my head.
The shore was cold with mermaids and angels.
Thursday I got nothing, seaweed,
A whale bone,
Wet feet and a loud cough.
Friday I held a seaman’s skull,
Sand spilling from it
The way time is told on kirkyard stones.
Saturday a barrel of sodden oranges.
A Spanish ship
Was wrecked last month at The Kame.
Sunday, for fear of the elders,
I sit on my bum.
What’s heaven? A sea chest with a thousand gold coins.
It might be more appropriate to call this “multi-titled,” rather than “untitled.” In my mind, it’s a toss up between “On Thin Ice” and “The Beginning of the Thaw.” Either title could describe both the photo and the general tenor of D.C. at the moment, but I’m not sure which is most appropriate this week.
Today the government is back up and moving and the weather has finally warmed, so things are looking up. On the other hand, it’s still the dead of winter and, you know, mercurial D.C. politics are exhausting. For now, I choose the non-committal and non-partisan “Untitled.”
Still, it’s a great photo. If you’ve spent any time in D.C., you’ll recognize the spot. I was standing at the foot of the stairs to the Lincoln Memorial (which is to my back) and looking onto the reflecting pool, with the Washington Monument and the Capitol in the distance.
I don’t recommend venturing out onto the reflecting pool, even after a deep freeze. Even worse to do it in large numbers. Immediately after I snapped this photo, one knucklehead fell through the ice. (Not to worry: the pool is shallow. Still, the cold and humiliation must have stung badly.) So there you go, the curse of thin ice.
Kodachrome memory of a first trip to Washington, DC. August, 1974. (That’s me on the left, and that’s the adoring entourage who used to follow me everywhere.)
We’re standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, which looks out to the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument in the hazy background. Pandas were still a new fixture at the zoo, buses weren’t air conditioned, skirts were short, hair was long, and Nixon resigned as we packed our own bags to leave for home. By then, our feet were tired, we were hot to melting point, and we thought we’d really seen some history.
We weren’t wrong.
But history keeps marching along, in a sometimes dramatic form, and here I am back in DC again.
Watch this space for more photos, more sore feet, and certainly some history.
Everyone is talking about today’s solar eclipse. It’ll draw its dark line diagonally across the US today, but the inky darkness will bleed out across most of the country– even those of us who aren’t in the line of total eclipse. It’s been the big story for days now, leading a news cycle that has contained other chatter that included stories about North Korea and Russia: a big old stew of news that brought to mind two posts from a couple of years ago; posts about Moon Pies, Cold War, Russians, and North Korean politics. Strange bedfellows, maybe . . . maybe not.
Seemed an appropriate time to bring out that original post (Moon Pies and Moon Landings), as well as it’s follow up on the saga of Choco Pies in N. Korea. Happy reading, bon appetit, and Godspeed on eclipse day!
Moon Pies and Moon Landings (Modern History and the German Grocery Store)
I began writing this post under the title “The Perks and Perils of Shopping Abroad.” However, I soon realized that the insights you are about to read are much broader than my mishaps in the grocery aisles.
The larger story starts in the years after the Second World War. (Or even after the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution.) It gains steam in the Cold War and the Race for Space. However, the more immediate story starts in the aisles of my local German grocery store, Edeka. And like the larger story of political machinations, it’s fraught with perks and perils.
For example, it was recently brought to my attention that the lovely, fragrant German laundry detergent I’ve been using for about three months is actually fabric softener. Who knew? Well, in fact, I had suspected for a few weeks. My clothes were so fragrant and soft! But were they clean? Well . . . they weren’t not clean.
These things happen when you shop abroad.
But great things happen too. This morning, I was meandering the aisles of our grocery store, picking up jam, sorting through coffee, and pondering fish, when I stumbled upon the most amazing thing on an Eastern European/Russian shelf. Moon Pies! Well, okay, Choco-Pies–but they were Russian Moon Pies! Eureka! For all of you non-American (or non-Southern) folks out there, here’s a little lesson: Moon Pies are chocolate, graham, and marshmallow pies that are a Southern staple and made in Tennessee. Before the markets were flooded with snack cakes and convenience food, there was the Moon Pie. Apparently, they were produced beginning in the 1920’s and they were certainly big stuff in the sixties and seventies. (My mother loved to pack my lunch with Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies, but my heart, and my taste buds, yearned for Moon Pies.) They were iconic. And delicious.
And here I was, in Germany, staring down a Russian doppelganger! At first I laughed, and then I greedily stuffed a box into my shopping cart! I considered my good fortune as I walked the streets of town, heading home with my grocery bag and its treasure. But as I walked, I started thinking about more than my good fortune. I started thinking about the doppelganger-ness of the little chocolate pie: the shadowy counterpart, the ghostly (and ominous) double. The American Pie/the Russian Pie: forever locked in a shadowy dance.
For sure, I’ve watched too many episodes of “The Americans,” the Cold War spy drama, lately. But my odd brain was playing out this Spy v. Spy (Pie v. Pie) drama and finding it fascinating.
By the time I got home, I was mad to know more. I ripped out the Choco Pie box and scanned the label for clues–amongst the Cyrillic (Russian) script and German sticker stood out something I could decipher. Original since 1974. Ha! It wasn’t the original then–we got there first. Not only did we get to the moon first*, but we got to the moon pie first. I chuckled as I opened the box and saw that the pies were smaller than their American counterpart. Well, what did I expect.
But then I took a bite. Oh my. I took another bite. They were delicious. So fresh, so chocolaty. I felt conflicted in my patriotic soul. There had to be an explanation for this; no way the shadowy double could rival the Southern staple. Think, think! (Take another bite.) Think some more! Oh–of course–the problem is that too many of the American Moon Pies I’ve eaten have been plucked from dusty lower shelves of rundown convenience stores or seedy Stuckey’s truck stops. Who knows how long they had lingered there, gathering dust and grime? That’s it. That must be it.
I was raised in the 70’s with a taste for Moon Pies and Tang. In my mind, that era will always be about playing kick the can, catching fire flies, eating Moon Pies, and drinking Tang like the astronauts. I remember some of the Apollo missions; I coveted the GI Joe astronaut dolls (Barbie never had the astronaut get up, although her house and pink convertible weren’t too shabby); and I marveled when Skylab sustained people and research in space.
I didn’t cheer on the Cold War or Nuclear Proliferation– they scared the hell out of me– but I was a product of a culture and a time. I didn’t know whether I was an observer or participant, but I felt the adrenaline of the Race. The Race for Hearts and Minds, the Race for Space, for Superiority, for Survival. And then I tucked my head down into a Moon Pie or Mad Magazine and took refuge from the noise of it all.
Only to find today that, maybe– just maybe– my youthful Soviet doppelganger was doing the same thing in 1974.
Only she couldn’t call her treat a “Moon Pie”. . . because we got there first.
Just another lesson learned at my German grocery store.
*Sort of. We put a man on the moon first. But before that, the Soviet Sputnik program beat us into outer space and the Soviet Luna program reached the moon with unmanned crafts.
Update to “Moon Pies and Moon Landings” (first posted just a few days after the Moon Pie post)
This may come as a shock, but apparently my Moon Pie post was not as loopy as it sounded to many of you. Turns out Moon Pies (or Orion Choco-Pies, their Russian/Asian doppelganger) really are a propaganda piece in the machine of Cold War. The present tensions between North and South Korea, that is.
The opening lines of John Hall’s article read like this: *Chocs away! North Korea unleashes latest weapon against its rivals in the South – counterfeit Choco Pie cakes to rival delicacy available over the border *North Korea has a roaring black market in the popular Choco Pie snack Sweet treats change hands for £3.60 in Pyongyang, but only 17p in Seoul *So popular they are even used as alternative payment by some employers *But Kim Jong-Un is angry at the North’s love of a South Korean product He is now making his own Choco Pies in order to bring down their value
Well, Mr. Kim Jong-Un, the joke is on you. You are just putty in the hands of the universal Moon Pie awakening.