Edinburgh in the Rain

What is it about the rain that makes a European city feel more otherworldly?  I think that maybe it has something to do with drainage.  In America, all the water just runs off down well planned gutters and into grates and we never see it; in Europe, it sticks around while it finds its way through the old streets and out some old rainspout.  Maybe it's wet cobblestones, or dripping stone walls, or damp moss on an obscure monument.  In southern Europe, I associate rain with sitting under cafe awnings - people sit looking out, watching the drops splatter on dust.  Eastern Europe in the rain makes me think of splashing Ladas and loose paving stones that squish when you step on them.
In Edinburgh, the rain actually felt very natural.  It's part of the atmosphere.  Here we are in a rainy place.  It was rainy for Sir Walter Scott and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  It was rainy for Mary, the Queen, and Sir Sean Connery.  If we came to Edinburgh and didn't find it rainy, we might have been a bit disappointed.
In the airport, a woman was returning to Scotland looking like a modern Robin Hood - green leggings, a feather in her cap, tartan vest.  If you looked for Scotland in the food, it would be a tough search (tandoori and Thai are more popular than haggis, neeps and tatties), but the façades brood and the people are as brogue-tongued and ruddy-cheeked as you could hope for.  Some men even wear kilts, free of irony or pretension.
In the rain, it became a city of nooks and hideaways, especially the convoluted old town.  People hid under arches and bridges to smoke their cigarettes or talk quietly with a friend.  Tucked-away pubs beckoned down the alleyways.  It was all very secretive, wet and grey. 

Steep streets, keg deliveries, stately houses and bars full of concert posters.  It's a black-and-white, dark early, northern nights kind of city.  At five o'clock, the sky was approaching black and the bars were beginning to fill.
We played Scottish-version Trivial Pursuit at the Thistle Street Bar one night, just the two of us ("Who scored a career best 188 against Australia on 8 February 1975?").  The young bartenders were excited for us to try different microbrews, and to talk about foreign beer.  They had Red Stripe on tap alongside "real ales." Drops peppered the windowpanes and we had to sprint home in a downpour.
Edinburgh only has about 450,000 people, but it feels much more substantial.  The medieval city was squeezed within a city wall, so everything was built up into five and six story tenements that were pretty unusual for their day. The buildings are connected by shoulder-width "closes" and courtyards, and by high bridges that reach out and across narrow valleys. It's a very up and down place.  Everyone knows about Edinburgh castle - the mainstay, sure-thing icon of the city - but it's not the only rocky spire in town.  Walking around, one suddenly finds that the sidewalk looks out over rooftops and that traffic is some forty feet below.  There are gothic steeples and underground chambers (infested during the plague) that alternate between soaring and plunging.  It's what we like to call a city in three-dimensions, where navigation occurs on several planes.
The last evening we were there, the sun broke out for a bit.  Suddenly, the remaining autumn leaves were brilliantly yellow, hats were cast off and the city felt triumphantly regal.  Not much later, it was dark.  The November moon rises mid-afternoon in Edinburgh.  It's pitch-black by five or five thirty.  It feels like a last hilltop bastion on the edge of the real north.  For the Scots, Edinburgh is the holding wall against England to the south, but for us it feels like a gateway to wilder, rainier, mistier terrain further up.
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