The Big League.

The run stretched from the fold of my knee to my ankle. I toppled out of the car, engine still purring, legs wobbling at their unaccustomed new altitude.

“Just stay in the car!” i craned my neck back at Jonathan, his fingers still thrumming on the wheel. He’d probably put NPR back on without me there. I’d been too nervous to listen to the latest exposé on Joy Division, or whatever.

The lady behind the Rite Aid counter gave me a perplexed once-over, my shimmery pink swath of a dress and elegantly messy bun a vision of out-of-place.

“Y’all carry tights?” i was practically yelping, in need of an inhaler but afraid to elevate my heart rate any more.

“Back row, near cosmetics.”

Heels clacking and eyes as wide as my eyeliner would let them, i flailed my way to the rear of the store. My salvation: rows on rows of Leggs silky-sheer. Five dollars later, i was doubled over in the dingy back bathroom struggling to pull a mess of nylon over my prickly legs. Hopping from foot to foot, i plucked off the ring my Grandmother had given me for my high school graduation, gingerly placing it on top of the toilet paper dispenser. As beautiful as the blue stone was, the beast was the reason for this four-inch-heels sprint through the drug store.

And there i was: legs in nylon knots, trying not to collapse into a hypoglycymic meltdown Rite Aid toilet stall, twenty minutes before the moment i’d been dreaming of since second-grade carreer day.

It was the night of the Talking Taboo book launch.

My book, the real book – not the Advanced Reader’s Copy – was tucked next to my vintage leopard-print coat in the car. I’d outlined in pencil the excerpts i would read, rehearsing with a hairbrush-as-microphone like i was still sixteen and auditioning for American Idol. I’d spent the afternoon slathering myself with hollywood mascara, not caring that i’d be overdressed because you only get one first book launch and this was the dress i felt the strongest in. Pink, effeminate, swishy, and tender. Not a congruent image to the ball-busting feminist ricocheting off the Rite Aid toilet stall walls, but just as much me as the foulmouthed bra-burner found on page 170.

I wound a stretch of scratchy toilet paper around my hand, dabbing at the smears in my foundation. Surrounded by flourescent lights and graying tiles, i stared myself square in my mirror-face. You can, you will, you have. I plucked up my Grandmother’s ring and smoothed down the faux-silk of my skirt.

Jonathan had turned NPR back on by the time i wobbled my way into the passenger seat. Graciously, he turned the volume off and gave me his best honey-you-can smile. With one hand on the wheel and one hand wrapped tightly around mine, he drove the final two miles to the Reality Center downtown.

“You got this, babe.” He’d donned a sport coat and khakis for me, never letting me be the only one overdressed again. In his pocket was a pen, one i’d use later to sign my first book.

“Do i have lipstick on my teeth?” i blurted. He shook his head. “And you’ve got my inhaler?” He tucked the red plastic next to the pen. “Okay, okay, let’s just take a second.” I envisioned myself on my yoga mat, drinking in oxygen as muscles popped with tension-release. Whispered a prayer of thanks, a prayer for confidence, a prayer of humility.

“Ready?”

“Ready.”

Half-wobbling, half-strutting, we made our way inside.

With the incredible Erin Lane, co-editor, her husband Rush and my own Jonathan at the event!

With the incredible Erin Lane, co-editor, her husband Rush, and my own Jonathan at the event!

current jam: ‘rise to me’ the decemberists.

best thing: signing mary’s book!!

buy my book!

#ReligionMajorProblems

It is seriously my least favorite question in the world to answer.

Hefting my backpack beneath the seat in front of me, i’m clicking my seatbelt into place and halfway to securing my headphones even tighter when the man next me starts talking. Wildly, i look around, hoping he’s still on his uppity-businessman headphone-cellphone. Alas, his electronics are tucked into his equally self-important briefcase.

He’s talking to me. I fly into a panicked, what-do-i-do-with-my-headphones-now-that-they’re-half-on-my-ears half-smile.

Now before you call me an antisocial man-hating bitch (however accurate you might be) let me explain: i don’t mind a little airplane chatter. I’ve had some truly remarkable experiences with strangers in those altitude-gracing metal cylinders.

What i hate is the standard list of questions. There’s that weird hello that doubles as a comment about the soggy bag of peanuts in front of you. Some chatter about where you’re headed. All fine. All safe territory. And then there’s the digging deeper: where do you go to school? Oh how nice! A girl’s school I’ve never heard of! (At this point i’m gripping my armrests, refraining from yelling IT IS A WOMEN’S COLLEGE, NOT A GIRL’S SCHOOL, PLEASE STOP INFANTILIZING MY EDUCATION).

And then it comes. The million-dollar suckerpunch sure to make both of us miserable for the next soddy hour-and-a-half we have to pretend to know each other on this plane.

“So, what do you study?”

“Uhh-ummm,” I begin, trying to downplay it. Throw in a cough for good measure. “Uhhh …Religion.”

There it is. All cards on the table. Inevitably, no matter who they are or what they do, the person i’m talking to responds in basically one of three ways:

1. The militant atheist/agnostic assuring me religion will soon be obsolete and i best get over my bigotry.  Without waiting for me to say another word, they launch into how we should stop talking because they aren’t interested in being converted and oh, BY THE WAY did you know how awful organized religion is?! (Never mind that i’m a universalist who doesn’t believe in hell, studying in a pluralist department where most of my friends are not at all “religious” in the conventional sense – including some of my nearest and dearest who are either agnostic or atheist themselves.) Usually, though, i try to respond in a gentle but firm tone that making sweeping generalizations that ALL RELIGIONS are evil is a bigoted and essentializing statement in and of itself.

2. The Jesus-lovin’ Bible-totin’ Commentator. This one actually has two sub-categories: (A) The Lady-in-the-Pulpit-Hater, hellbent on convincing me my genitalia and gender performance preclude me from the study of religion (you can imagine how well that one goes over with this feminist); and (B) The Thank-You-LORD-we-need-more-Gospel-toutin’-folks-in-this-heathen-world person. I love responding to subgroup B with references to my favorite Sufi poetry and talking about how much Christianity stands to learn from the third Abrahamic faith, Islam.

3. The Prying Eyed Sage of Wisdom. However annoyed i may be with groups 1 and 2, this is my absolute least favorite. They want to know if i am religious myself, how my faith is complicated by what i study, how i deal with political and theological conflicts, etc, etc. All i want to retort with is my sassiest Southern reprimand: “Didn’t your mama [or parental guardian] teach you not to ask strangers extremely personal and prying questions?!”

I mean, seriously. Since when is it acceptable to ask people you don’t know all about the crux of their belief and how they handle conflict? I’m not going around asking intimate questions about your sex life, bro. Or how you deal with anxiety or guilt or whatever it is you’re after.

But, to be fair, i suppose i should include the secret fourth category of respondents:

4. Everyone else, who is perfectly lovely and complicated and dealing with their own spiritual existential dilemma (or sitting contentedly in Nirvana/non-spiritual scientific reality whilst i yank globs of blonde out over Hauerwas).

The truth resists simplicity. The study of religion is, after all, the grappling with the vast and resilient questions about who we are and why suffering exists. It’s prone to make anyone feel uncomfortable.

And really, sometimes i should just get off my high horse and pretend to still be a Sociology major.

Hipster-Jesus-I-Was-Into-Comebacks-Before-They-Were-Cool

 

current jam: that wrecking ball-little lion man mashup!

best thing: the man sitting next to me.

buy my book! 

What are you so afraid of?

I smooth the sticky side down on my wall, willing the fan to hold off long enough for adhesive to adhese (or whatever). I want both the air of the fan and the message of the note to stick. I want both things at once even though i know they are oppositional forces. 

It is a post-it note. “What are you so afraid of?” in block blue letters on a block of blue paper. Above the cross on my desk with a cheesy verse from Jeremiah that i love for both its cheese and its calories.

“What are you so afraid of?”

Mom is on Skype with me, glasses perched so far down her nose i swear they’ll fall off if she belly-laughs again. My legs are gluing to the wood chair, this miserable heat making me melt like Elmer’s. I envy Mom in the air conditioning promised inside her Southern home. New England winter is coming, you can already see the trees dressing in fire in the corner-most branches. But mostly the fire in New England right now is not a burning heat so much as it is a miserable slop, a clinging film of stick on everything not made of icebox rock.

“What are you so afraid of?”

I pull the fan closer, picking threads of hair off of my neck and re-wrap my hairtie. It’s the longest my locks have been since i started school, a reversal of fifteen-year-old lizzie who chopped off fifteen inches at Governor’s School to prove cookie-cutter wrong and feminist liberation right. Still feminist, still cookie-lover, still no cookie-cutter.

“What are you so afraid of?”

Mom looks at me now, serious-eyes over the tortoise-shell rims. “You’ve been talking about this since before you started school, honey,” she chides. A perfect blend of you-know-better and you-can-do-it. Someday she’ll teach me that recipe, maybe, if i have to tortoise-shell-glare my own daughter. Maybe. “You should be scared to death. Anything worth doing is scary.” I nod. Air forced in, air forced out. This heat, this heat and my tiny lungs are not friends. Makes oxygen into sluggish glue that sticks going down and never really makes it to the bottom. Anything worth doing is scary.

“What are you so afraid of?” 

I look at my note now, it blue on blue hanging by a thread to my sweating wall. How it hangs on, i’m not sure, but i’m glad i don’t have to move the fan. Mom’s right, i know, and that’s why i call her. When i need her to give me the permission i seem unwitting or unwilling to find myself. Permission to be scared of writing a thesis, permission to be scared of tomorrow. Permission to say “to hell with being scared!” and make defiant post-it notes in cookie-cutter rebellion. 

“What are you so afraid of?” 

current jam: ‘eavesdrop’ the civil wars.

best thing: blue valentine.

pre-order my book!

So I’m Pretty Sure KFC is Made with Narcotics.

It began so innocuously.

My bus ride back from the EDI Airport left me only a fiver in my pocket and a tummy rumbling for food. More pressing than anything, though, was the need for solitude. This mega-level introvert can only handle crowds and queues for so long before she needs a nap. I made the fatal flaw of changing into leggings when i at last collapsed into bed.

There is no getting me out of my room when the cotton leggings have come on.

Some 24 hours later, i emerged, jet-lagged so much i felt hungover. My stomach was screaming for food; i’d only had cookies in the cupboard.

And that’s when it started. I needed food, fast, and my fridge shelf was empty. No time, i thought, for a run to the grocer.

So instead i ran to the KFC, not two minutes up the street. I hadn’t been once the whole semester. In the states, i’m not usually a fast-food-eater. But my week in Carolina had left me hankering for the greasiest stuff America can give, so in a bastion of homesick and hangry, i downed a Lunch Box special faster than any pie-eatin’ champion this side of the Mississippi.

It was french fries and fried chicken, and it was good.

I thought, foolishly, that would be it. My need for bad Americana-style food would be sated. Besides, the KFC’s here don’t even have biscuits or mashed potatoes.

I was so young and full of ridiculous notions of my own strength, then.

My Dad arrived, and his medium-sized-oak-tree stature was American enough to keep me away from the buckets of chicken for the remainder of the week. But all too soon, he was stateside bound. I was alone. Bereft. Abandoned in a land of chips-meaning-fries and no-ice-in-your-water.

So i wept my tears into a bucket of french fries and chicken breasts. (Not literally, that would have made the crispy perfection inside the box soggy). Once. Twice. Three times.

Four. Times. FIVE. Times.

I’ve had to cut myself off. Have intentional, no-KFC-allowed days where i stare down a bowl of granola and British strawberries and dream dreams of vegetables. But it’s so damnably close to my flat, so alluring with its obnoxious red windows and late-night hours. Tempting me with its evil, cheap-and-easy ways.

It’s not like i’m pining my days away for ‘Murica or anything. I miss my family, my cats, my J, my cats, and mostly my cats. But my love for Edinburgh (and Scotland in general) is neither subtle nor limited. I’ve come alive in this city, and i’m not ready for that plane ticket home in less than fourteen days time.

But JesusMaryAndJoseph, do i want KFC every meal, every day. It’s like i’ve unearthed Pandora’s box and now have founded a cult of the £2.99 special with an extra chicken breast, no ketchup.

Maybe my tummy’s telling me something that my mind won’t let me think yet. That the end of my five months in Scotland is coming – and soon – whether i accept it or not. Or maybe KFC just laces their meat with nicotine and i need a support group. Both are equal possibilities in my mind.

But if you’ll excuse me, i have to make a quick run up the block. Something drenched in salt and smelling of potatoes is calling my name, seductive bastard.

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current jam: ‘no church in the wild (feat. frank ocean & the dream’ by jay-z & kanye west.

best thing: more than a month after my last class, i have an exam today. about damn time i tackle this beastie.

Markets and More Eating (Amsterdam, Day 2!)

If the Albert Cuyp Market was a field, i was a plow.

I’ve never been surrounded by so many sumptuous and tempting things to try – from the wafels to the hot chocolate to the small bucket of olives i purchased. Plus, as a mayo-loving french-fries eater whose allergic to ketchup, i just adored the frites stand that sold paper cones stuffed with fries slathered in mayo. And the cheese, sweet Holy Mary the cheese! The displays were utterly intoxicating.

(Note the bicycle!)

(Note the bicycle!)

We’d decided, for our second day, to set aside the whole morning to explore the oldest street market in the Netherlands: the Albert Cuyp Market. Lining the block were some of the most eclectic stalls i’d ever beheld (including my experiences in pre-burned-down Owino Market in Kampala). There was an entire pharmacy spread wide under a tent and in the cold, more lingerie shoppes than i could count, a plethora of places to purchase scarves and the like, and a few stalls reserved for Amsterdam-themed souvenirs. Interspersed between the flower stalls (oh, the tulips!) and garter belts were the main attraction: street food.

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(Van Gogh had followed us, even here!)

(Van Gogh had followed us, even here!)

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It was as good as it looked!

It was as good as it looked!

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Making the famous frites!

Making the famous frites!

frites!

Frites!

I love street markets – the chaos, the food, the cool vintage things you can find, the food, and the experience of feeling like a local. As much as i may love doing silly tourist-y thing (see me in a large wooden shoe, below) i always try to find at least on thing per travel destination that gives me some sense of what it would be like to live there. Naturally, we were not the only tourists strolling about the market. But tourists were in a serious minority here, amongst the clamor of Dutch-speaking voices selling flowers and toothpaste and lingerie. I’d easily say this was one of my most-favorite things we did in Amsterdam!

Having sufficiently eaten our way through the market, we made our way over the Dam Square for more sightseeing. At the sight of THE LARGEST SHOE i have ever seen, there was a lot of squealing and leaping in to take pictures. So much for trying to blend in!

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About a block or so up from Dam Square is the (in)famous Red Light District. We chortled our way through all the funny little shops and such surrounding the red-lamped alleyways, but they definitely are not the reason i’d wanted to go to the city. And the whole district is clearly geared for people visiting the city, not the residents themselves. The gift shops are certainly amusing to visit, but once i’d cracked up at enough genitalia plastered on velvet hats (et cetera) i’d had my fill. Definitely would not say this was the family-friendly place to go on a holiday to the city, but as two young women walking around in the middle of the afternoon we felt pretty safe and took the whole thing in with a sense of humor.

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This is not the Red Light District, but it IS a picture of a red lit sign at night, so it metaphorically serves a purpose!

This is not the Red Light District, but it IS a picture of a red lit sign at night, so it metaphorically serves a purpose!

By then it was high time we ate, again. Utilizing a combination of my Lonely Planet guidebook and the MOST EXCELLENT TripAdvisor City Guide App, we arrived at the quirky and chic van Kerkwijk. With whitewashed, wood paneled walls and candles adorning the tables, we knew this promised to be a unique place to dine.

Turned out there’s no written menu at van Kerkwijk, so our gracious waitress just plopped right down at our table and talked us through the extensive list of their eclectic combinations. When asked what was a truly Dutch thing to try, she explained that the port-city-nature of Amsterdam meant all Dutch food was really a mash-up of European and Indonesian cuisine. We asked for an appetizer that involved bread and cheese, so she brought out a bleu cheese paté-type-thing that was incredible. For our entrées, Abby had steak with strawberry cream and goat cheese, and i had Indonesian chicken. We split a salad and (of course!) frites with glorified mayo.

The incredible cheese-and-bread combination!

The incredible cheese-and-bread combination!

It was an exquisite capping off to two days and three nights of fabulous dining. But, alas, the next morning we were whisked off to the airport leaving behind Amsterdam’s canals and bike lanes for a flight home to Edinburgh.

Though we’d only had an all-too-short time in Amsterdam, i was utterly entranced. It is a beautiful place (even in the cold!) and i am ever grateful for the opportunities i had to visit.

current jam: ‘day that i die’ zac brown band.

best thing: productivity. back to dale martin, for now.

of interest: i’ve added a new page at the top of the screen! it’s still a work in a progress, but have a look if you like!

Of Blossoms & Boats: Van Gogh at the Hermitage.

Refreshed from our wine-and-cheese induced sleep, Abby and i awoke in Amsterdam ready to brave the cold and wanting to explore. After a delicious breakfast at the hotel (have i mentioned the cappuccino machine?) we took a gander about the southern canal/De Pijp neighborhood, drinking in the quaint little bridges and houses stacked against each other.

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Some ten minutes away was our destination: The Hermitage Museum. Since the Van Gogh Museum is presently undergoing renovations, the bulk of their collection is temporarily housed here. I’d been waiting to see this exhibit really since my 12th-grade AP Art History class, when i’d first really studied Vincent.

It was sublime. Is there really any other word for visiting with Van Gogh’s work?

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Unfortunately, photography was strictly forbidden, so i have no photos to share of the actual exhibit. In some ways, i find restrictions like this liberating because it means i’m truly present with the art instead of constantly fiddling with the shutter speed on my Olympus.

Some of my favorite things we saw, though, were not the most famous members of the collection (like Wheat Field with Crows, though that was transcendent). There was a whole section devoted to Van Gogh’s study of Japanese prints, and his painted recreations of some of the prints in his own collection. To see how these pieces really shaped Van Gogh’s perspective as an artist in his formative years was really cool – especially the harsh angles and vibrant colors.

But lest we forget, the more famous works were also amazing to see. I hadn’t known that Almond Blossoms was painted for Vincent’s newborn nephew. Somehow, this idea that the blossoms were meant to celebrate new life made this work all the more endearing.

And the greens! Oh, the greens! I’ve always been enchanted by Bedroom at Arles­ and its quirky, incandescent spirit (my Art History teacher said once he always felt like the chairs were about to start dancing around the room). But it is even more lively in person – the dark patches outlining the bed and making up the floor are such rich tones of emerald that they illuminate the whole work. I was utterly intoxicated by the greens – the fishing boats at Saint-Marie series had me entranced.

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Bedroom in Arles, 1888.

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Almond Blossoms, 1890.

Fishing Boats at Sea, 1888. (I bought this one on a postcard!)

Fishing Boats at Sea, 1888. (I bought this one on a postcard!)

Some two hours later, we exited the gift shop (postcards in hand, of course) and made our way to Kerkestraat for the (aforewrittenabout) bike tour! Our afternoon was thus consumed by exquisite art and wheeling about town – what more could you want from a long weekend in Amsterdam, really?

That was really the bulk of our first day; the cold was too potent to spend too much time out with the sun going down. We returned to our new favorite bar/café, Onder de Ooivaar, for yet another round of wine and cheese. The next day promised a tour of the Anne Frank House, eating our way through the Albert Cuyp Market, and GIANT YELLOW wooden shoes!

current jam: ‘tout doucement’ feist.

best thing: ravioli.

of note: photos of van gogh’s paintings from here. 

Keeping in Touch.

When i imagine what my life would be like trying to sustain relationships with people in the states without the advent of technologies like Skype, my first inclination is to curl up in the fetal position and weep. Purchasing an international sim card has given me the ability to send unlimited iMessage for 10 quid a month, things like FaceTime make calling people free and straightforward, and (however much we all may whine) Facebook has leveled the field for keeping in touch with the day-to-day lives of friends afar.

And still, i complain.

I can not begin to imagine what keeping in touch must have looked like before, you know, email. The time (not more than twenty-ish years ago, really) when all you had were letters and 10-cents-a-minute phone calls once a week. I’m not sure i would have had the fortitude to endure being abroad, much less be able to really enjoy my time afar. Maybe i’m crippled by my lifelong dependence on the virtual world, or maybe i’m just a realist who is very glad some people were optimistic enough to think something like the internet could work. Either way, i’m grateful for my Mac-product plug-in addiction.

Still, there is something tremendously romantic about letters. I’ve mentioned before i collect postcards – but i also send them all the time. At school, i try to send off at least five a week. Here, because it costs nearly four times as much to send mail, i’ve been a little less prolific in my letter-writing. I know i treasure postcards with international stamps from friends who’ve voyaged abroad. The sheer volume of old notes adorning my walls here are a testament to how much i need words from the past to ground me in the present.

That’s why it’s been so nice to receive mail here, too. In particular, i received a lovely, typewriter-crafted composition from M a few weeks ago!

JAMES BOND -  QUANTUM OF SOLACE

 

Well, no, not that M. M my brother who, because i refer to my significant other as simply “J,” wanted me to give him a similarly cool-and-elusive nickname. So James Bond’s feisty boss and fabulous Judi Dench pseudonym it is!

Naturally, M’s letter was rather covert and full of secret instructions involving a posh car and a certain Daniel Craig look-alike. I fear, then, in the interest of national security i can’t share all the content of the letter with the internet.

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I can say, though, it was a delight to receive such a sweet note via Royal Air Mail. Of course, i’m abundantly grateful for the accoutrements of modern communication. But sometimes, seeing familiar handwriting or typos printed on a page remind me of the warmth of the person who wrote them. I read the cards plastered to my walls at least once a day, finding comfort in the familiarity of the loops in the cursive script. It’s a visual representation that the people across the ocean are still eating and living and reading and writing, they’re people more than an image captured in a photograph or words on a screen.

So thanks, M, for the note. Be sure to tell Q i send my love.

current jam: ‘natural disaster’ zac brown band.

best thing: letters.

 

Maps & Gastronomy: Eating and Reveling in Edinburgh

Edward Tufte says maps are metaphors. I’m no infometrics whiz, but i like this idea – if, for no other reason, than my affinity for maps. Splayed across my wall before me is a map of Edinburgh i peeled out of my guidebook. Adjacent to it is a map of Durham, North Carolina that i plucked from a visitor’s desk downtown. Though these maps are from far-away places, the greens couldn’t be of a more identical hue.

I love this metaphor within a metaphor: a town that is known to me and a town that is new are not so very different that they are required to clash. Durham’s streets are reminders of the world that has nurtured me, and Edinburgh’s closes and squares nurtures the at-times-overwhelming feeling of falling in love with a new world.

Yet falling in love with a new place means i need to share this love with the people who make up the home in the map of my heart. I sometimes fear my noticing of the very-matched greens will be a noticing only for me. That while this world i’m coming to know in Edinburgh is vast and exciting and beautiful, it starts to make my own dot on the globe all the farther from the world i knew.

This fear, though, was deeply assuaged this past weekend: i had the delight of sharing my budding romance with Edinburgh with one of my dearest, dearest friends – Nora!

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As she is also studying abroad in the UK, Nora and i threw together a weekend excursion about the city on a whim – a marvelous, serendipitous, and delicious whim. Because i’ve been so focused on making myself feel at home in Edinburgh, i haven’t necessarily done all the typical tourist-y things one might explore on holiday. Having a guest, though, was the perfect excuse to give myself full permission to go light on the schoolwork and heavy on learning all the reasons you should holiday in Edinburgh.

And easily ranked in the top ten reasons to visit Edinburgh would be the food! Thus, this is the first of two blog posts chronicling our weekend together. And it’s all about the food. (Don’t worry, the latter will be about the actual tourist-y things we did!)

Our gastronomical tour began with the comfort food haven, Mums. “Top nosh at half the cost,” according to the website, Mums boasts of a vibrant and edgy charm: they’re home-cooked comfort mixed with urban attitude. I mean, the mac & cheese has a spice kick to it and comes with chips!* Who doesn’t love drowning in cheese and carbs? Their food is locally sourced, their service impeccable, and the deal incomparable to anywhere else. Eating there with Nora was my first time, but it will so most definitely not be my last.

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Having sated our need for traditional fare, the next evening’s meal was one reminiscent of home: Southwestern American cuisine. Living in North Carolina for so long spoiled me, with taco stands and sit-down Mexican restaurants on every block. So to tend to my poor, burrito-deprived needs, we ventured to the local Tex-Mex joint: Illegal Jack’s. It was all i wanted and more, guacamole included.

Our final dinner was at a place i’ve frequented before: 10 to 10 In Delhi, a Halal Indian restaurant with excellent chicken roti and even better student deals. If you’re looking to stretch your pounds, three quid will get you a belly-stretching meal here. We particularly loved the pretty tapestries stretched across the ceiling and the cozy couches!

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Easily the best place we visited, though, was no foreigner to me: The Elephant House Café.

I met Nora in the fall of our first year at Mount Holyoke. She was wearing a Hogwarts crest t-shirt, it was love at first sight, and the rest (as they say) was Hogwarts, A History. Nora and i are no strangers to Harry Potter-themed adventures; in the winter of the subsequent year, we attended the Brooklyn Yule Ball together. On the last day of finals. In Christmas-themed ball gowns. We’d skipped dinner in an effort to catch the last train into the city, downing rolls of bread and Dr. Pepper’s in a convenience store outside the venue as substitutes.

There aren’t many people you can romp about New York City in a gold petticoat with, but Nora has always been an exceptionally genuine and beautifully adventurous friend.

I remember gleefully turning to her, as Harry and the Potters crashed and roared over their keyboard and guitar on stage. “I’m so tired, but i am having so much fun!“she mouthed over the din. It was a magical moment to share with a dear friend then, and it was just as magical to share the “Birthplace of Harry Potter” with her this weekend over elephant-shaped shortbread and excellent cups of tea.

We were sure to leave our own note in the bathroom – signed, as ever, with our nicknames for each other: Padfoot & Prongs.

(note the painting of JK Rowling writing in the café behind us!)

(note the painting of JK Rowling writing in the café behind us!)

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Feeling known is an immense gift. I feel known by this city – but part of this feeling known comes from sharing it with an old friend. Nora and i have a history of adventures (gastronomical and literary alike!) and to make this weekend a part of that map of stories was such a treasure. My green maps still match, and the loves in my life make the most beautiful harmonies when sung together.

current jam: ‘good morning sunshine’ alex day.

best thing: a beautiful place to be with friends.

p.s. you can always find my reviews of restaurants and attractions on my tripadvisor profile!

*for friends in the states: chips = french fries, just in case your daily dose of the BBC hadn’t kept you abreast of British slang!

The Elephant House Café & Greyfriars Kirkyard!

For lunch today i met up with a group of ladies from my flat for lunch at (you guessed it!) The Elephant House Café. Over cups of tea and coffee we gabbed about our love for all things Potter, marveling at the view of the castle from her customary chair. The food could have been horrendous and we’d have loved it (because, you know, Rowling). Much to our delight, though, the sandwiches and tea were all exquisite. The café is bathed in a warm light and bedazzled in elephants; everywhere, there are petit statues and large posters of the gentle mammal. It’s an eclectic and comfortable place to be – with tremendously reasonable prices for American exchange students trying to stretch the pound as far as it can go!

Having a cuppa where Jo used to dream up the inner-workings of Hogwarts, no big deal.

Having a cuppa where Jo used to dream up the inner-workings of Hogwarts, no big deal.

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the view from our table!

the view from our table!

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Afterwards, some of us went to explore the graveyard at Greyfriars Kirk where we’d heard a Tom Riddle was buried. The search was a long one, before we finally found the grave on a wall in the rear of the garden.

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I’ve always had a peculiar fondness for graveyards; they’re steeped in history, usually quiet, and endlessly inspiring. The search, then, for the mysterious Thomas Riddell was not at all unenjoyable – particularly because it was made in the company of new friends!

Besides, i even found a grave adjacent to Thomas’ with an Elizabeth Riddell. Perhaps Voldemort had a long-lost aunt bearing the same first name as me?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGreyfriars, the street, is most famous not for ancient relatives of You-Know-Who, as it turns out. At the helm of the road is a statue of a small Skye Terrier, Greyfriars Bobby, who loyally waited for his human every day even after the human had long died. Both the human, a man named John Gray, and the dog are buried in the kirkyard.

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bobby & john

 

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It was lovely to explore this little corner of Edinburgh – and especially to do so with new friends! Days like today, even when my toes go numb, are making me fall in love with this enchanting city.

current jam: ‘i will wait’ mumford & sons

best thing: new friends!

Living in its Own History.

At orientation today, a series of photographs by former international students flashed across the introductory powerpoint. Each was accompanied by a quote about the photo – and all were something along the lines of “this encapsulates Edinburgh to me because…” One student, whose name i failed to jot down, commented that Edinburgh was a city “living in its own history.”

I find this to be tremendously true. Yesterday, in hot pursuit of an apple store (a pursuit that proved fruitless in the end), i made a gander down the main drags of town. Foregoing any desire to blend in (yet) i snapped photos every meter of the way.

There are all the quaint, tourist-y trappings of a Great Britain town; red phone booths, sprawling gothic churches and kirks, and plenty of weather that my orientation packet refers to as mingin‘ (meaning nasty, drab, and otherwise umbrella-and-overcoat-worthy).

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The Royal Mile!

The Royal Mile!

St. Giles Kirk, former pulpit of John Knox.

St. Giles Kirk, former pulpit of John Knox.

But my stroll along the Royal Mile also meant i encountered some distinctly Scottish fare: a bagpiper with a cap out for change, stores advertising haggis, and more tartan stalls than i could count. My meander took me down to Princes Street, where i eventually located a SIM card for my mobile and, naturally, a plethora of postcards. (I have to continually remind myself not to purchase souvenirs just yet, since i’ve got another five months to stock up on post cards and the like.)

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A view of Princes Street from the Royal Mile.

A view of Princes Street from the Royal Mile.

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I made sure to pass New College, where i’ll be taking my courses (starting tomorrow! Eep!). Making my way up to Queen Street, i continued to stumble across more of what i think the student was referencing in her photograph. The city, though draped in the enchantment of dark bricks and antiquity, is very much alive and growing. The letterbox (below) was just around the corner from a TGI Fridays – and from the restaurant, there was a stunning view of Edinburgh castle. Talk about juxtapositions!

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(New College is the double-spired building on the far left! And by New College, i mean Hogwarts...)

(New College is the double-spired building on the far left! And by New College, i mean Hogwarts…)

I wandered into St. John’s Episcopal church at the end of Princes Street, coming across nothing other than the Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre. Naturally, i sat down for a chat with a lovely fellow and signed up for their newsletter and potential volunteering opportunities. (I’m sure most of you, dear readers, are utterly unsurprised by this!).

The rain was starting to snake down under my scarf, and it was due time i head back to my flat. With a few groceries freshly purchases tucked into my rucksack, i headed to my new home amidst a sunset Edinburgh. The sight was stunning – everything seems to really glow a bronze hue in the rare but beautiful sunshine here.

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It was really a magical day. I was glad to explore on my own for a while, too, as it helped clear my head and restore a sense of independence – all while figuring out what the streets i’d committed to memory from my maps looked like in actuality. And this actuality is a living history – and one i grow more and more ecstatic to be a petite part of every day.

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current jam: ‘grown ocean’ fleet foxes

best thing: facetime and a functioning mobile phone.