On Edinburgh, it’s animateness, and living here-
The dash is on purpose, most certainly. It signifies that the adventure has only begun, that more things are to be discovered in the course of the next few months, in the same streets I have been walking in and with the same people I have been walking with, for the past three weeks.
I decided it was suitable to base Personal Writings, IV on life in Edinburgh. I had a few quirks about the city before I came, I am going to admit. Narrow alleys are very picturesque to look at on Instagram but they are kind of creepy at night. Especially when it is nighttime, it is raining, and you are lost. Which is exactly what happened to me a couple of days after I arrived and revived a personal panic alarm system which was operating in safety mode the previous few months.
I really do wish I had better vocabulary to express my feelings about this place, but no number of words can do justice to the beauty and haunting loveliness here. So I will settle with two words intricately combined with each other. Hauntingly beautiful. Or, the same concept in two other words- grotesque and beautiful. What I am getting at is Edmund Burke’s 18th century concept of the sublime. Caspar Freidrich’s Wanderer above the sea fits here perfectly. Haunting. and beautiful.
I love this painting. No, I am in love with it. I came across it quite some time ago, and saved it for retrieval for later when I dig through my saved pictures folders. Then, I chanced upon the concept of the sublime and viola! this beauty of a painting was used to explain the concept as well.
Now, while Burke’s philosophical concept of the sublime was more attached to things of nature, I only wish to take that concept regarding Edinburgh to a certain limit. Yes, the scenery is stunning, but the haunting-ness ties in better with the city itself. Yes, in the rain the castle looks haunting, but… the scenery gives to Edinburgh. It is as if Edinburgh is so lovely itself that nature only contributes… and taking it, that is nature, away may not necessarily diminish the city’s beauty. There isn’t really a huge point about where I’m going with this, I am just trying to explain my feelings about the city in a better manner.
The city’s design and architecture can be summed up in constricted pebbled streets, narrow sidewalks, a castle on a huge rock in the middle of the city, multiple forms of natural beauty in various parts of the city itself, brick buildings designed in a mixture of medieval Gothic and Renaissance architecture, and that it’s almost as if it was built on a many hills because one is always climbing or descending from one part of town to another. I have a quite long walk to campus every day, such that I take the North Bridge with Arthur’s Seat on my left (this is a nearby extinct volcano that is kind of like an outside gym for everybody here) as well as this lovely part of town on the right, I am not sure what it’s called, but you can see all these very old, beautiful buildings bunched together on a hillish area and it is such a sight.
There are technically three different campuses, George Square where most of the buildings of the university, including all administrative buildings, are; King’s Buildings (haven’t been there, on the other side of town, mostly for science students) and New College on the Mound (don’t be fooled, there is NOTHING new about this building. This is where all the divinity classes take place. I have my Islam Past and Present: Gender and Ethics class here; this is one of my favourite places in the city, the campus is everything Hogwarts-ish you can think of. It is also right next to Edinburgh Castle and ten minutes away from George Square where all my other classes are; since I always have an hour until my next class, I go to the castle, listen to The National, take pictures of myself looking over the city and really try hard to look like I don’t embody the concept of forever alone.)
I was really confused the first half of January because the university is set around the whole city, so you gotta know the city to know your way around campus. I have been very lucky to find some friends amongst the thirty thousand other students here. They all happen to be visiting students like myself, from Spain, the US, Japan, Mexico, Italy, South Korea amongst others. They’re a great bunch and I enjoy hanging out with them. We’ve spent many evenings together go ing to university events or pubs to grab a meal or drinks. (I don’t drink so I watch them drink and still be the lovely creatures they are) I was anxious about going to pubs before I came here but here they actually embody a different concept from what I was always told of. There’s food, music; it’s like any uptown restaurant back in Doha. Except more loud and boisterous. The boisterous ones are alway the most fun. And they always have coca-cola!
I have been trying hard to get back to the Story, because I do so hate leaving Robin like that. If you have read the latest chapter, the Moonsong festival is currently in-swing and Robin has just chanced upon somebody from the past who’s given him a bit of a shock. I have actually wanted to write this chapter for a very long while, I have been dragging it on, and I know I must now end it. I will…as soon as I get some inspiration. For that I have been searching for the perfect café. There are tons of exquisite looking ones, believe me, but, I mean, I don’t know, I’m just not feeling any of them yet. (By the way, I came by the café where J.K Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books. It’s called the Elephant House. I didn’t go inside. Who knows, maybe that might be the perfect place for me to get my thoughts in order too?)
I know this isn’t writers’ block because I know what writer’s block feels like. Then, is it Edinburgh? Whoa Nelly! You know, one of the reasons I wanted to come here was because this lovely gothic city looks very similar to how I have designed Gratia, and what would be a better place to write my novel in than the place which makes you feel like you are actually in that mythical, gothic city of yours?
I think, simply, it’s the adjustment to life here. Everything is so different. I don’t know anybody from back home- Pakistan or Qatar- or even anybody from the same continent. Okay, I actually met somebody from Lebanon last week and we had a very nice conversation in Arabic. Wait, here’s the catch. He was my waiter! I had taken everybody to a Lebanese restaurant here and our waiter looked Arab. I really feel like that shouldn’t be my only connection or attempt at familiarity!
So that’s the foot-dragging. I do feel quite alone here sometimes. (How’s that for blunt honesty?) And I think it is OK that I do. It is difficult. I just hope it does not dull my experience of Edinburgh. It hasn’t so far. I know what you’re probably thinking- Azka, you’re in this great new place, go explore, get new experiences, go out with your friends! Hey, yes, that is happening. I LOVE being here. I am happier and more relaxed than I have ever been. I am so happy. But that doesn’t mean I am going to go out all crazy and do any extroverted thing that comes to my mind. There are limits and holdbacks, and two sides to everything. For instance, while this campus is huge and I don’t feel bored as I had begun to back in SFSQ and Qatar Foundation last year, it is soo huge that it reminds you how small a fish you suddenly are now. So, I rather take it slowly. Another example- Edinburgh’s streets are lovely to walk in and I don’t have to worry about being cat-called, but there’s only so much exploring you can do by yourself- or even with a friend- and then you ache for some familiarity and you do think: Oh, how I wish Rumsha or Haroon or Bilal were with me right now.
I think you might be discerning a pattern emerging. Loneliness. Oh, how do I put that into more words? I am afraid I cannot be very verbose about it. I thought I had quite left it behind in Doha! But it has followed me here, and it is more pointed and even sharper now. I told one of my old professors about this in a friendly email some days ago, and her response was- brief, because it came in a quick email about another matter but she let me know that more was to follow in a few days-:
“p.s: the loneliness, i know-“
Incase you’re still wondering, this really isn’t the kind of loneliness which can be fixed by meeting even more new people than are met every week, going to new pubs, exploring newer parts of town, or with the amusement one derives from a new group of friends or their foreign cultures. This is a different kind of loneliness… the worst kind, maybe. And I don’t know if you’ve felt it too. It is the one felt in a room full of people, when it seats itself in the already-occupied seat next to you, drinks from your cup and drains it… it reminds you of its presence even in its absence.