Monday, July 26, 2010

That's How we, Walk

It was very surreal after we finished at the National Archives of Scotland. It was the last official item on our agenda, so we were officially free to go. The next time we'd be expected to show up anywhere by the program would be a week later to the day. Some people were heading back to sleep, others were heading out of town, but I and a few others were going on a walking tour. I had been quietly slipped a piece of paper which contained the details on when and where to meet, but that was in a couple hours' time and I was hungry. It just so happened that as I was looking for a place to eat, my prof Dr. Welsh was looking for someone who'd be willing to accompany her to the Hard Rock Cafe. So we made our way over and had ourselves a good American dinner. I am the type of person who makes a point of avoiding McDonald's, Pizza Hut and KFC when in foreign lands, but I could not resist the temptation of Hard Rock Cafe. I had actually thought of at least stopping in at the one in Edinburgh before, because it's a small tradition in my family to acquire a t-shirt from the Hard Rock Cafe. So I was more than happy to join Dr. Welsh. I had a great big Cobb salad with Ranch dressing! After being used to two leaves drizzled with vinaigrette counting as a side salad, I was very happy with my meal. It was neat to see some original David Bowie albums framed on the walls. I learned that Dr. Welsh loves the 80s, which surprised me a bit.
After dinner, Dr. Welsh went her way and I went mine, as soon as I figured out what that was. Edinburgh is somewhat split into two locales: New Town (which isn't that new) and Old Town (which is really old). The Hard Rock Cafe is located smack dab in the middle of New Town. Our walking tour was meeting at a place on the Royal Mile, the tourist mecca of Old Town. So I was very glad that I had purchased a map earlier, and that the locals were very friendly to wandering Americans.
Don't worry, though, I found my way to the assigned meeting place without too much trouble. I got there, in fact, about 15 minutes early. So I chose a bench to sit down and rest while I could, took out my handy dandy little journal, and people-watched. An American bloke with a guitar began to busk (which is what it's called when someone performs to earn money in a public place), but I only saw one person actually give him anything, and I'm pretty sure that the teen was doing it on a dare from friends. My friends who were also taking part in the walking tour arrived, so I left my bench and joined them.
"Do you think if we gave him money he'd stop?" one of them asked about the busker. He had by now launched into what was apparently suppposed to be a ballad of some sort, and it was making it hard to think. Only half of the planned number had arrived, so one person stayed at the meeting place while the others (me included) continued up the street to meet our guide. She was a rosy Scot who introduced herself as Sam, and proceeded to entertain us with stories of her kids and cats until our final member arrived and confirmed that it would be just the 6 of us instead of the planned number of 12. This raised the price per person a bit, but we paid up and started the tour. Sam guided us in and out of streets, backstreets, and alleyways, stopping at something that might seem ordinary and explaining its significance and stories. Do you know the nursery rhyme "Pat a Cake"?
"Roll it, and pat it, and mark it with a B, and throw it in the oven for baby and me!"
It turns out that in early Edinburgh most people were not allowed to have ovens in their houses for fear of fire, so each housewife would make her dough, mark it with some personal sign to identify it, and then take it to the baker to be baked. We learned about how early architecture almost always stuck staircases on the outside, so that it wouldn't use up any precious inside space. We also heard the story of one unfortunate lady who rented a room in Edinburgh and didn't tell anyone she was pregnant or book a midwife. She probably just wanted her privacy, but in those days, they took it as a sign that the lady meant to kill the baby. When the baby didn't survive (the tight stays of the day's fashions were to blame), this was taken as proof and the lady was declared guilty and taken to be hanged. She was hanged all right, but the hanging didn't break her neck, just suffocated her, so when the cart started down the hill to bury her the bumping of the road started her heart back up. Since she had been officially executed already, they couldn't try to do so again without losing face, so they just let the poor lady go. She was known as Half-Hanged Mary for the rest of her life, and there's a pub named after her now. You just don't hear stories like that from a guidebook, do you?
Image from Microsoft ClipArt, color palette edited by me, and dots added by me.

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