I look out the little plane window, watching Scotland approach with its moist, green flatlands, and wonder how the next 6 days there will be. I know nothing about this country, I’m just following tiny tendrils of feeling that it’s a place I must go to. We land and I put my leather rucksack on my back. I’ve packed lightly: 2 sweaters, 2 light cashmere knits, 3 jeans, a few pairs of socks, underwear and cosmetics, a raincoat, my camera and my laptop.
As soon as I step off the plane I notice this sweetness in the air. It’s not a smell. It’s a feeling. I walk through the terminal to find a way to get to the centre of town. The 100 Aiport bus arrives just as a bristly wide-faced man with a broad Scottish accent that I can barely understand sells me a ticket. I go sit at the top so I can watch the world go by and arrive at my destination 30 minutes later.
My friend Lilly is already in our hotel room, waiting for me. I drop off my bags, we hug, have a cup of tea and then venture out for a walk. I’m so happy to see her. We’ve shared a lot — this girl and I — there are few people in the world that have been such an intimate witness of my life as she. Over the past 6 years, Lilly has seen through 2 big breakups, the start and growth of my business, across 11 different countries. We find a cafe where I order soup and catch up in everything that has happened in the 5 weeks we have been apart, and then walk through town and up to the castle just as it’s closing.
That night we have plans for dinner and dancing with my friend Colette. She invited us to join her for a Brazillian Forró dance class — the dance of close contact — and I can’t wait. I put on a black bodysuit and a sheer black cashmere top with my vegan leather leggings. I’m a black silhouette, perfect for Latin dancing, I think.
Colette is running late and we order without her. I get Feijoada, which is essentially beans and rice and we share a bottle of red. The wine is cheap but the food is delicious. Colette arrives just before the class is about to start. She orders a beer and leads us downstairs through an underground labyrinth to a large room with a bar. Our instructor is a forceful, tiny woman with long red hair. She guides us through the basic steps and then has “leaders” (men) pair up with “followers” (women). We spend an hour gaining basic knowledge and I quickly realise the better the “leader” is, the easier it is to follow the steps and dance in time.
Lilly has a hard time letting go of control, and I tease her and joke that my follower is faulty when we team up for a song. Everyone loves my joke and wants to dance with my faulty follower. I think about how this leading and following concept applies to life in general. It requires trust in each other. It requires the leader to know how to lead. It requires the follower to let go. It requires both to be in tune with their own bodies, the music and each other all at the same time. Most people are so stuck in their heads they cannot tune into any of the 3 for fear of making a mistake. Everyone needs to learn to dance, I conclude.
The class is over and turns into a ‘social’ where we dance Forró freely. Lilly and Collette go get mojitos but I’m still dizzy from the wine. I don’t drink often and there’s only so much volume I can imbibe. The 3 of us try to catch up on our lives in-between dances with various partners. I notice that there are as many men as women who came to the class, but most of the men are of the nerdy, intellectual variety. Not really my type. I prefer them more rough and rugged with a touch bit homeless vulnerability.
The music changes from Brazilian to Latin RnB and hip-hop and let loose and dance. I’m channelling my inner latina as my hips rock back and forth and I swirl around the dance floor until I’m dripping with sweat and peel a layer of clothes off. I join the girls for a mojito and then a second one as we show the nerdy men how to lose the Forró steps and just move from our hearts and souls.
Colette finds a drum and bass gig that’s happening nearby and we collect our things from the corner of the floor to make our way back up through the labyrinth to the street. One of the studious-looking men we were dancing with follows us up and joins us as we walk and Colette does her best attempt to play tour guide in the middle of the night, telling us all about Greyfriars and Bobby the dog who never left his side.
The line for the drum and bass gig is long, too long, and we think we are sneaky by getting into the club another way but it turns out to be cut off from where we want to go and we are stuck in a room full of teenagers shaking to pop rock. We dance for a little while and the girls go to get drinks. While they are gone our nerdy companion leans in and kisses me and I feel like I’m 14 at a blue-light disco and kiss him back and wonder how strange it is to touch lips with someone I have no feelings for. I don’t even know his name. He tells me I’m beautiful in Italian — Lilly had told him my background earlier in the evening — and I reply “grazie“. I search in myself to feel something but I’m blank. It’s dark and I am tipsy from the mojitos.
Right after that, I am done. I’m ready to go home and Lilly is drunk and stumbling so I cajole her to catch an Uber back to our place with me. We go up to the street, hug Collette and the boy goodbye and go home. It’s almost 3 am when we find ourselves in the kitchen. We can’t stop giggling like drunken teenagers and Lilly makes tea while I steal someone’s bread and make toast before crawling into bed to sleep.
We wake up dehydrated but not hungover and make a plan to go get breakfast and then explore. I message Colette to see how she is feeling. She has found the Facebook profile of our dancing companion. I learn his name and I message him to find out how old he is. Overnight I had become suspicious. He replies after some time. He’s 24. I laugh and admire his boldness. He admits he thought I was only a couple of years older than him. While I have a tendency to attract younger men — I’ve never been with anyone over 30 — 13 years younger is too much, even for me. I have to have some limits. Lilly and I joke about it and start to walk the streets.
Over the next two days, we discover all the sights Edinburg has to offer. It’s a small enough city that you can’t really miss the obvious and spectacularly beautiful architecture and attractions. My highlights are an impressively kitted out “Scotsman” playing the bagpipes near St Giles Cathedral, the man throwing 1000’s of bubbles into the air with a queer contraption next to The Royal Scottish Academy and the exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery with oil paintings that satisfy my senses at their deepest source.
On Sunday evening Lilly leaves to catch her flight back to Nottingham. I am sad to see her go, I struggle with being the one left behind, and distract myself with the mountain of work I have had piling up over the past week that I have been travelling. I had a day between Paris and Edinburgh and there is so much to catch up on.
Monday I meet my beautiful friend, model and photographer Laura for coffee. We become fast friends. I love how when you meet people that your soul recognises you can drop all the small talk and share truly meaningful moments. She shows me a little bit of her Edinburg and we agree to meet up again the next day for a work-date.
On my last day, I pack my little world back into my leather rucksack and meander through the streets to Laura’s home. She lives in an old Scottish tenement with a beautiful spiral staircase and skylights at the top. I drop off my bag and we go for coffee and croissants and wander around the city chasing that perfect, speckled sunlight for a spontaneous photo shoot. Laura is charming and a romantic in every cell of her being. Together we find magic in the littlest things. The black cat that beckons us to love it for a moment and then walks of haughtily as if it is too good for us. The way the sun is shining and warming our bodies after several days of grey Scottish drizzle. The geraniums high up in someone’s window. The way those roses lean so perfectly against that white wall.
She takes all the photos you see here today. We part with promises to see each other again, soon. I leave this land having fallen completely in love and wonder when the next time will be that I return. It’s hard leaving pieces of your heart in some many places. I’d have it no other way. My heart expands with each new love, place and person.
MY FAVOURITE SPOTS
Nomad and Coates Cafe — Both great little working spots with plugs in the wall, great coffee, delicious snacks, fresh juice and lovely service. I spent a lot of time in both these places when I had to work.
Boteco Do Brasil — The place we had our first dinner and learned how to Forró.
Scottish National Gallery — I love art, but this is something else. I wish I could visit this place every week.
Dean Village — A Bucolic village abutting a tranquil stream, with gardens, 19th-century buildings & a museum.
Street Box — Really delicious authentic Thai food.
Royal Botanic Gardens — The most magical place. It’s worth paying the extra £ and going into the glasshouses.
Armstrong Emporium — Once of the most extensive treasure-filled Vintage stores I’ve ever been in.
Herman Brown — A more expensive one vintage store with designer labels.
Lovecrumbs — The cutest cafe ever. It’s an absolute must-visit, even if just to see the sensational cakes in the window and the piano with the neon sign. Also, a great place to meet sweet-looking intellectual men eating cake while reading poetry alone, if that’s your kind of thing.
The Meadows — A lovely green space (because life requires trees IMO) to sit in the sun and watch the world go by.
Around here, we do things a little differently...
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