Letters – Edinburgh – then and now
In the late twentieth century I moved from Rome to Edinburgh. It was a spur of the moment life-changing decision. I was worried that, after having loved living in the eternal city and being amazed daily at the beauty surrounding me, I might just be a little disappointed in my new surroundings.
But coming out of Waverley station on a cold bright November morning, my breath was taken away, not just by the cold but by the beauty of what confronted me. To my left was the splendid castle on the hill and looking down away from me the most spectacular skyline I had ever seen. It was a mixture of medieval, Gothic, Georgian splendour arranged in a harmonious descent from the castle to Holyrood – the Royal Mile. In the almost 10 years I was then to spend in Edinburgh I came to know the city intimately. I had no car and every day discovered more architectural beauty. This had truly to be one of the most beautiful cities ever.
In mid-November this year, I visited Edinburgh again for the first time since. I went for the day with my partner to see an art exhibition we had looked forward to for some time. I eagerly described to him the visual pleasure he would enjoy on emerging from the station.
What I found when we did emerge shocked me profoundly. It’s something I found hard to take in. The gardens which divided Princes Street from the Royal Mile had all but disappeared under an avalanche of commercial tat. The view of the castle was practically obliterated by a huge Ferris wheel, a ghastly ‘fun fair’ with all the attendant noise and clatter. And then, my own personal nightmare, a ‘Christmas market’. And so many retail outlets, cafes, bars with all the familiar names. I remembered spending time in what had been a beautiful urban space hand-feeding squirrels.
And then it came to me again, as it so often does, how capitalism will stop at nothing, will, for profit-making reasons, defile and ruin the most beautiful and precious of what makes us rejoice as humans. Yet how much real profit has been gained from this desecration compared to the pleasure and respite this beautiful place gave to residents and visitors to Edinburgh alike? The exhibition was fantastic but my heart was so very sad.