Sunday on Rose Street

Edinburgh, 2018

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.

Layout of Edinburgh’s New Town

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.

Beachcomber

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.
Next winter
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.

George Mackay Brown

Update to The Art of Losing

One house we "lost."
One house we “lost.” Ripon, England

Saying goodbye to our home, our family, our continent—it’s been tough.  Right, right, we’ve been really excited about moving to Germany–and it’s great to be here having adventures.  GREAT.   Still, these things are bittersweet:  bitter and sweet, not one or the other.  My daughter’s heart is still breaking because she misses her friends back home.   My son aches for a familiar friend to skateboard with in front of our house.  And  I’m still mourning the hope of having Thanksgiving with family, of playing golf with my gang, of walking back into my classroom for fall semester at AUM.  The list goes on for each of us.

But these lists aren’t ours alone, and they don’t apply only to us itinerant types.   You can live in the same state all your life and still experience moments of overwhelming loss:  when you walk into a room full of laughing relatives and expect to see your uncle, the consummate storyteller, sitting in the center of the laughter (but he passed away last year and his seat is empty); when you step out into a balmy southern evening and hear the cicadas and tree frogs and have an overwhelming sense that you’ve just stepped out of your grandmother’s house, headed to the backyard with a glass of sweet tea in hand (but she passed away 29 years ago);  or even when a Violent Femmes song at high decibel puts you right back into a moshpit of a party with your high school and college friends (but you are driving up I-85 with your kids in the back of a station wagon).  Memory is a sticky substance–thank God.  And I think that, as much as it sticks to us, we stick to  it also.

I’ve been mulling this over all morning after being hit by the sting of a lost “momento” of my life story.  It goes like this:   Yesterday, we picked up our car from a port on the North Sea.  We’d shipped it from the States about two months ago.  (Despite paying a hefty–h-e-f-t-y– sum to send it over the Atlantic and through customs, it seems that the shipper inflated a small raft underneath the chassis and paddled it over the ocean himself.  This is the only explanation I can offer for the insane timeline.  But back to my story–)  I had the car inspected before getting German plates put on this morning, and it passed with the stipulation that I scrape the dealer’s decal, indicating a city in North Carolina, off of the back of the car.  They had their reasons–logical enough, if uninspiring–but my heart sank a little as I scraped away.

I am a Carolina girl.  I may look like a vagabond to you, with a crazy long list of places I’ve called home in recent years: Chicago, DC, Connecticut, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, England, Turkey, Germany.  Each of those places has left an indelible mark.  I wouldn’t want to lose any of them, but especially not my roots in North Carolina.

However,  I lose a little bit of each of them in unexpected moments–like bits of produce that spill from my cart as I bump along a country road, I shed bits here and there–and I hate that.  So this morning, I obediently scraped the North Carolina decal from the back hatch of my wagon, mourning that badge of “who I am” that I’d been carrying around for over a decade.  I am still a Carolina girl, but I’m no longer emblazoned on the highway–that shouldn’t sting much, but it does.  Like everyone I’ve ever known, I like to hold tight to who I am and what (and whom) I’ve loved.  And the artifacts of life are dear to me for that reason.   But like everyone I’ve ever known, I find life prying little bits of this away from me.

 

 

As a postscript, I offer up the words of Elizabeth Bishop’s  beautiful poem about loss–in all of its incarnations, big and small.  She said it so much better than I can, so I’ll let her words stand:

One Art

BY ELIZABETH BISHOP

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

 

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

 

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

 

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

 

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

 

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.