Cities and memory

It seems to be an unwritten tradition of mine to always get my first pint or so at the Elm Bar (Deuchars IPA this time). I am not quite sure why; I mean, it’s not that I like it there much more than anywhere else. It has certainly a pleasant choice of beers, and it is conveniently located in the middle (my notes don’t say the middle of what). Well, it has been a few years that I do it, it probably just happened. Maybe I should make up a fancy story to explain how it all started?

As always, Edinburgh has changed since my last visit in summer 2009. Strikingly: the tram works appear to have been cancelled. Last time the works had been all over the place, at least all over my usual routes, leaving gaping holes in Leith Walk and deviating traffic from Princes Street. Now there is no sign that the works ever took place, unless you count the tracks in Princes Street and the odd poster advertising the tram.

Another change: Waterstones West End has closed! This was the first British bookstore I ever visited; it conjured up a memory, one day on my first visit in Edinburgh in summer 1995, when I asked Z where to find a bookstore and she directed me to that one. I’ve been going back there every time ever since; its closing triggered a big Pondering Over Life session.

And while we’re on the subject, it seems that Wee Windaes on the Royal Mile has closed down as well. In any case that’s the impression I got, but teh internet appears not to know about it, so maybe I got that wrong. Although I’ve never been to the place, it is also attached to a memory of fifteen years ago. I was looking for a place where they serve good haggis, and a regular at K’s pub recommended that establishment. At that time, haggis was still a bit of a mythical food for me, known only from hearsay and jokes. Meanhile I’ve had that dish several times, and even considered bringing some back this year but finally decided against it. It reminds me of andouillette, a French delicacy from the region of Troyes.

 

The way I've always pictured Scotland when I was a lad.

So where was I? Ah yes, K’s pub… You see, he used to run a pub & restaurant. Thus I’ve had the opportunity to help out a few times, and in particular in the kitchen. That was quite an experience! This kind of large kitchen where you find everything you need, pots pans cutlery sieves ingredients spices huge fridges grills vast worktops, and much more but let’s not turn this post into a catalogue. This time again I had the opportunity to be in a professional kitchen for a while (which I didn’t quite seize though — see below). All sorts of memories came up again. Memories of good time spent with the people there, some of which I still keep in occasional contact, others having drifted out of sight. Memories of Z cursing at last-minute customers coming in after a few hours of calm when you start thinking of calling it a day. Memories of smells, the blazing heat in summer, the “gunshot” (“coup de feu”, French restauration slang for that moment when everything goes frantic all at once), and the strange quiet of the place when everyone has left and you clean the last bits of kitchen and you know you can go home afterwards.

If you wonder why I didn’t stay long in that kitchen this time: unsurprisingly, I went for another pub, the Oxford Bar (Thrappledouser, Trade Winds), a cosy little pub with a very pleasant atmosphere  a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Rose Street. I was brought there one time long ago by a guy I met over a pint of real ale in another pub, and who decided to show me the more confidential side of Edinburgh. Potter the Piper he was called, bagpipe player and ale amateur extraordinaire; unfortunately we lost contact at some point but the man was quite an experience.

I have visited the Oxford bar ever since (which must have been, oooh, twice?). This time they had snooker on TV, which is almost as good as no TV. Amusingly, Noir Désir drummer Denis Barthe was also there. (Someone must have cursed me a few years ago, because there was a time no day would pass when I wouldn’t meet somebody’s doppelganger — whether famous people or old teachers and whatnot. While the phenomenon had calmed down for a while it seems to have crept back since Edinburgh.)

Also, the bartender never fails to spot that I am not a local. She appears to speaks slightly slower and more articulate for me, and always gives me promotional postcards. I wonder how she can guess? Probably because I’m not a regular. Nothing to do with my spooky accent, surely.

But enough madeleine moments; no more remembrance of things past in the next episode of The Quiet One in Edinburgh!

About the quiet one

I ain't never ever had the gift of gab, but I can talk with my eyes. Words fail me, you won't nail me, my eyes can tell you lies. View all posts by the quiet one

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