On the 13th of June 2015, I concluded, in a diary entry:
Edinburgh is so full of life…and death. I genuinely consider living there at some point, my experience of it was like a step back in time. Tours in the underground vaults, the Dungeons, and around the castle, eerie strolls in the cemetery where J.K. Rowling drew inspiration from for Harry Potter, and where John Gray, an obscure night watchman was buried, with a loyal dog sitting by his grave for many years inspiring George R. R. Martin in his depiction of Jon Snow with his more fierce Ghost, Jekyll and Hyde connections, ghost stories – all these seem to be the norm there. Every corner is imbued with (dark) history and I’d like to go back anyway because I feel I haven’t grasped all its magic yet.
Recently, Edinburgh has suddenly become relevant once again. Whilst I did develop my plans in this fresh year outside academia, there is still space for serendipity.
Let me retrace the path of last year’s explorations, purely from memory, since I cannot access the photographs anymore, at this time, due to my old laptop having deteriorated. Greyfriars Kirkyard: a girl dressed in black lace rests on a headstone. It is not your typical headstone: it is attached to the ground like a table, and it belongs to a famous doctor…or perhaps to a troubled mathematician. A man is giving a detailed tour of the cemetery to a group of mostly middle-aged people. Her tour had just finished at the gate of the cemetery, having encompassed secret corners of the magical old town. She gazes at the group, and from afar, she can hear a few fractured words which capture her attention. She sneaks across the surroundings of the guided group, eavesdropping, lying on the grass, taking photographs. The man points at a school building rising from behind the walls of the cemetery, and claims it might have been a source of inspiration for the mighty Hogwarts. A tomb relishes the attention of many pensive faces glancing at the carved name of Thomas Riddell, a 19th century man who wandered the Earth for 72 years. The guide then points at the café with a clear view of the cemetery, and here we are, a couple of decades back, visualising the blonde, wise, kind-looking woman writing page after page of magic.
The girl in black lace is now embedded in the landscape: the branches holding the pure white flowers sway in the wind, and her hair imitates the movement, absorbing their whispers. This memory is not real, it is a photographic reconstruction. The photograph has disappeared, but I still see it in my mind.
On that note, Herman Hesse helps us combat existential crisis:
“In my brain were stored a thousand pictures:
Giotto’s flock of angels from the blue vaulting of a little church in Padua, and near them walked Hamlet and the garlanded Ophelia, fair similitudes of all sadness and misunderstanding in the world, and there stood Gianozzo, the aeronaut, in his burning balloon and blew a blast on his horn, Attila carrying his new headgear in his hand, and the Borobudur reared its soaring sculpture in the air. And though all these figures lived in a thousand other hearts as well, there were ten thousand more unknown pictures and tunes there which had no dwelling place but in me, no eyes to see, no ears to hear them but mine. The old hospital wall with its grey-green weathering, its cracks and stains in which a thousand frescoes could be fancied, who responded to it, who looked into its soul, who loved it, who found the charm of its colours ever delicately dying away? The old books of the monks, softly illumined with their miniatures, and the books of the German poets of two hundred and a hundred years ago whom their own folk have forgotten, all the thumbed and damp-stained volumes, and the prints and manuscripts of the old composers, the stout and yellowing music sheets with their arrested dreams of singing sound – who heard their spirited, their roguish and yearning voices, who carried through a world estranged from them a heart full of their spirit and spell? Who still remembered that slender cypress on a hill over Gubbio, that, though split and riven by a fall of stone, yet held fast to life and put forth with its last resources a new sparse tuft at top? Who read by night above the Rhine the cloud-script of the drifting mists? And who over the ruins of his life pursued its fleeting, fluttering significance, while he suffered its seeming meaninglessness and lived its seeming madness, and who hoped secretly at the last turn of the labyrinth of Chaos for revelation?” — Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf