In Edinburgh for all of October. I had forgotten just how many people can try to cram themselves into one area. No stranger to some of the world’s most populous places, living in the heart of Tokyo and Chennai and in Chicago (albeit on the fringe of that one) — every time I return to a city the sheer number of people takes me by surprise. How could I forget? I ask myself. But I do.
I find myself attempting to discern whether I prefer cities or towns? After a blessedly quiet time at Greenbrae Farm B&B, surrounded by (as the name suggests) fields, I find myself in Edinburgh listening to the sirens and the traffic and the shouting and the doors and the car alarms and the neighbour’s oven timer. The sounds are jarring, difficult to ignore. Trains and airplanes fade into the background, but are always there, an incessant buzzing.
Last night around midnight, I was startled from sleep to the sounds of a mob … singing? A large group from the sound of it, serenading at least our whole block with melody and percussive hands and garbage dumpsters.
I have, in other times and places, heard one or two people, their drunken song alighting on my window for that brief moment they stagger past. But the last time I heard such a forceful refrain was in Antwerp, the night Belgian won a match in the World Cup. Last night, I found myself wondering who had won? And won what?
There were times this week when I longed for the fields, the wind through the (wheat, corn, barley … fill in the blank with crop of your choice). The crickets, the cows, the “silence” of the countryside. Or I longed for the sounds of the ocean’s silky waves, hitting the shore as fabric against fabric. Soft sounds. Even when the waves crash and the wind stirs in the trees, the noises are unobtrusive. When the lightning and the thunder roll earthward from the sky crashing into the air around me, I feel soothed, comforted.
Then I go shopping. In Edinburgh, as in Chicago, Tokyo, and many a major metropolis, the local dishes are only part of the grocery bag. To complement delicious Scottish cheese, biscuits, beef, milk, fruits and vegetables some additional stops take place. Sausage from the Polish deli. Spices from the Indian market. German chocolate spread. Mexican tortillas. How I soon crave the variety when I do not have it.
Stepping out the door into the city is to to hear a dozen languages being spoken. Being a bus ride from the City Centre is to be twenty minutes from free museums and street festivals (Truthfully, I think Tokyo may have the market cornered on summer festivals, but I was not in Edinburgh during festival season).
Look up in Edinburgh and see the ancient and the modern jostling for place among the skyline. History and modernity live side by side. The city does not forget its roots, but proudly displays them.
People flee from country to city. And from city to country. They each have their virtues, each their downsides. Neither better than the other. Each one needed for what they can provide.