Empty Streets, Empty Days

The year is 2020. Before most people alive today were even born, mankind had already set foot on the moon. The media daily assures us that humanity is on the cusp of finally creating a vaccine for the common cold. And yet the greatest mystery of the natural world remains unsolved – why in God’s name is there so much dust in my apartment?

The shiny surface of my phone looks like it has spent a hundred years in an Egyptian tomb if I set it down for just one hour. Dust bunnies the size of gorillas multiply before my eyes in every corner. If I don’t sweep every other day the floor starts to look like someone dumped the contents of a shopvac all over everywhere.

Sweeping for dust is of course futile. Herding floaty dusty grey dirigibles into a dustpan is impossible, they just hover away from the broom and land somewhere else, usually on my laptop.

Apartment issues describe most of the exciting life experiences of the international bachelor during a time of lockdown. For some inexplicable reason there is no hot water after 11 PM which is usually when I try to do my dishes (ok, my single dish). The heater works great but only when it’s hot outside. The dwarf-sized refrigerator makes the exact sound of marbles in a dryer all night long. Speaking of dryers I don’t have one, although I do thankfully have a washing machine. Laundry is a multi-day affair because many days is how long it takes for a pair of jeans to air dry, after which they are also hard as marble. The batteries in my neighbor’s smoke alarms got low and they started chirping every 40 seconds (by chirping I mean blaring); also, my neighbor only visits his apartment about once every two weeks. And these are not the only sounds I am obliged to enjoy – World War III: Pigeons vs. Seagulls seems to take place on my bedroom windowsill every morning around 4 AM, or really at any other time of the night when I’ve just begun a comforting dream about Taco Tico. And I won’t even start in with the flooding shower episode!

It has taken me five weeks to finally get the utilities transferred to my name. Because I am not a UK citizen I couldn’t register on the website and because of the coronavirus – which as we all know exerts its most malign effects on the electricity grid – British Gas & Electric were only accepting phone calls for “emergencies from our most vulnerable customers.” If I called the number and pretended to have an emergency just to get through the automated menus, the actual real person that finally answered would be obliged to inform me they couldn’t help and were instructed to hang up. This at least is what the website said would happen, but I never managed to convince even the automated menu that I actually had an emergency. Sending emails always resulted in an automatic reply that due again to the coronavirus, “email communications are not being monitored.” Well I don’t know how the coronavirus stops people from answering emails but it did seem likely to me that these measures were bound to create an emergency for some vulnerable customer somewhere, if they didn’t have one already.

This was all quite disconcerting, partly because I didn’t want my landlord to think I was shirking my payments but mostly because I didn’t want to find my electricity shut off. Thankfully that didn’t happen and the coronacrisis at the nation’s utility company must be improving because they just yesterday began accepting phone calls and I am now once again a responsible bill-paying citizen (well, foreigner).

In case I have not mentioned this a dozen times already, life in Edinburgh is non-existent. Even the people I do see walking around are all sure to give me, each other and everyone else a wide berth, sometimes walking into the (empty) streets to avoid being within however many meters of a diseased creature such as myself. In the grocery stores people are silent and somber. It feels like we are in the midst of a never-ending funeral procession.

The following pictures show some of the main streets around town, and no, they were not taken at 4 in the morning, these were taken around 4 in the afternoon on a Tuesday.

George IV Bridge Road
Princes Street looking west
Princes Street looking east
Frederick Street
Princes Street Gardens
Waverley Station train tracks

In other news, it has not rained a drop here in several weeks. We have had sun, we have had clouds, we have had wind, we even once had fog, but no precipitation. The consequence of this state of affairs is that all the sidewalks are now crisscrossed with dried streaks of urine.

The French are reputed to be known public urinators but I never saw it happen in my time there. Here in Edinburgh the evidence of it is prolific but I have also seen the act in progress, in broad daylight, by a bored taxi driver. If the “close” where I live is anything to go by, such secluded alleys are also popular stopping points on the urination circuit.

I don’t want to make any sweeping generalizations about the Scottish, but I do want it to rain again soon. Maybe it’s only gotten so bad because during the lockdown there is plenty of privacy even in broad daylight in the middle of the street.

But let us end this mediocre blog post with a more pleasant picture to wash those other images from our eyes.

Royal Mile near the castle

Street Art

There isn’t much to say about the goings on here in Edinburgh, since not much is going on. We are now authorized by the government to stay 2 meters away from each other, but most people seems to be following the self-hibernation guidelines so the out-of-doors are basically abandoned. I can walk from my apartment up to the castle and hear nothing but my footsteps and see no one but the occasional jogger.

The first few weeks here in Edinburgh – back during that ancient epoch of normality – I found it quite stressful to cross the street but now the street lights change from red to green and back again for no one’s benefit but the wind, and like the wind I ignore them. If I want to walk down the middle of the street I can do that too, most places.

Since there is nothing to talk about, I will instead put up some pictures of random street paintings that I collected wandering around France. Half of France is covered in graffiti but I also often saw some very talented (if unusual) street art. I should have taken more pictures but I didn’t really think to do a collection until the end of my time there, but this is a representative sample.

Rue des Trois Cailloux, Amiens
Rue du Père Adam, Rouen
Rue de la Croix Verte, Rouen
Rue Cortot, near Sacré-Cœur on Montmartre, Paris – see more by Aydar here
Rue de l’Île de Corse, Nancy
And one from Scotland – Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh