The final stretch, and as always I can’t believe how quickly the time has flown. I’ve worked harder at this residency than at any of the others, and the days have blended together to the point where I’ve felt like the Bill Murray character in “Groundhog Day.” (Better than the Jack Nicholson character in “The Shining,” which was how I felt after three weeks at Yaddo in January.) I was starting to go seriously bonkers last weekend so I took an entire day off from RED and went to Edinburgh, a beautiful, hilly, cobblestoned city of many pubs and coffee shops, packed with tourists despite the rainy, gloomy weather. The Royal Mile is the tourist mecca, with Edinburgh Castle at one end, Holyrood Palace at the other, and hundreds of shops and restaurants in between, selling kilts, sporrans, clan keychains, Celtic rings, cashmere sweaters, and the inescapable haggis. The ticket line at the castle was dishearteningly long, so I took the tour of Holyrood instead and was glad I did. It’s a living palace; Queen Elizabeth stays there when she’s in town. It was home to generations of Scottish royalty, including Bonnie Prince Charlie, who led the disastrous Jacobite rising in 1745, and Mary, Queen of Scots during her brief, turbulent reign. It really is a place full of ghosts. Impossible not to get a chill standing in Mary’s bedroom, listening to the story of how her secretary, Rizzio, was dragged from the room by her jealous, enraged (and very handsome, from his portrait) husband, Lord Darnley, and stabbed fifty some-odd times. The room where this happened, the outer chamber, now houses many of her personal effects. Most touching are the samplers she stitched during her 19-year imprisonment by her cousin Elizabeth in the Tower of London. How bored she must have been!
That one adventure aside, I’ve done little but work and, on decent days, tramp around the countryside with the other women in a vain effort to combat the potatoes, custards, and tea cakes, which have recently been supplemented by fettucine carbonara and croissant bread pudding with caramel sauce. Sarah, Jacqueline and I got extremely lost one day and ended up thrashing our way through the woods and gasping our way up a treacherous, nearly vertical bluff that must have been a hundred yards tall. I got badly stung by nettles in the process, and Sarah plucked a leaf from this other plant growing nearby and told me to rub it on the burning areas. And sure enough, it helped. Apparently dock leaves almost always grow next to stinging nettles; they’re said to have been planted by the faeries as an antidote. Who knew the wee folk had such a pragmatic streak?
Torrential rain last night, flooding all over Scotland. Wind howling mournfully all night long in the chimney in my room, and most of the leaves were down today. Winter has arrived.
Photos below: Edinburgh at dusk; "Best Haggis," a contradiction in terms if there ever was one; the haunting, ruined, 12th-Century abbey at Holyrood; more fall splendor