Letter from August

So I got here in early May. I had a week before I started work, and in that time I looked for a flat and tried not to murder my mother. I saw a few 1-bedrooms but ultimately decided to share a place so that I would have company early on and a lot of extra money for traveling. I ended up in Marchmont, an area of the city that is known as a bit of a student ghetto and yet is really nice. It’s about a block from a huge park called the Meadows, in which Sophie can run off the leash to her heart’s content. I officially have three flatmates, but the third has gone to Sweden for the summer, so there are only two others: Lyndsey and Miri. Miri is a music professor from New Zealand who did her PhD at Yale and only came over last fall. Lyndsey is Scottish and was a doctor but quit to write poetry; she’s home a lot, and she adores Sophie and hangs out with her all day. The three of us do hang around the kitchen table and drink a glass of wine and dish about our lives every few days, so it’s exactly what I had in mind.

I work about a half-hour walk from home, in a steep river valley that runs through the middle of Edinburgh but feels like the middle of nowhere. My younger co-workers are much more sociable than at my last job: Friday nights it’s assumed that everyone is going to the pub until closing time (I go home and get Sophie and bring her); I’ve been playing squash with a few of them as well, which I never knew is the most amazing stress reliever – just hitting that little ball as hard as you possibly can… I definitely do need stress relief, as the job itself is full of pressure. I got sort of thrown into the fire: I’m the project architect for our own new global headquarters. It’s definitely a big promotion for me, and if it goes well it may make my career, but it’s a crazy political situation: I have every director in the UK breathing down my neck. I’m working directly with the global head of design, who scared the crap out of me the first month (I’m talking crying in the bathroom after meetings here – me, not him…), but who now seems to have gained some respect for me and who I can now joke with. The project is supposed to be an example to the rest of the firm of modern yet contextual design, sustainability, professional practice, and the first one at ______ UK done in Revit (a completely different kind of software from what I’ve used for the past 10 years). No pressure. No pressure at all.

I am liking the city a lot – except for the weather. June and July mostly sucked – 62 degrees and often cloudy or rainy. The past week or so has all of a sudden felt like real summer, though it’s still not exactly hot. But the people are friendly, and the physical setting is magnificent: apart from great architecture and urbanism, Edinburgh has a plethora of parks, big and small. It’s the greenest city I’ve ever been in.

I don’t have any idea how long I’m going to stay. With my UK passport I have no pressing time-frame, just a feeling that I might not end up here. As long as the project I’m working on goes forward I’ll stay with this firm and see it through. After that, who knows. What’s been great already is that it’s proven to me that I am mobile, that I can go wherever I want without fear of being too lonely. Of course the fact that they speak English here and that I have family not far away helps…

What else? My friend Olga and I went to Vienna for a week to see the European Cup soccer at the end of June and had a fabulous time. The crowd atmosphere was incredible; we saw a lot of soccer; we toured a few palaces; and we searched for the ultimate apfelstrudel. She went on to Moscow for two weeks when I went back to Edinburgh. It was so great to visit with a good friend (hint, hint, hint…)

It’s festival time in Edinburgh. I’d been before, but I’d never seen the incredible shift from somewhat sleepy city to crazed tourist town in a matter of days. For those of you who don’t know what it is, I believe it’s the biggest arts and culture festival in the world, and it goes 24-7 for an entire month. There’s music, theatre, comedy, dance, and any combination of all of those. The venues range from traditional concert halls to cabarets to trailers set up in courtyards to a giant upside-down purple inflatable cow to a public swimming pool. I think the performers get points for choosing the most interesting place to hold their shows. There are shows to be seen here all year round, but the festival puts you in the mood: all of a sudden I think nothing of getting tickets to something that starts at midnight on a Tuesday because it’s the festival!! Yesterday I went to two shows –- a 1-woman play drawn from her own story of how she grew up in Uzbekistan and was a drug-runner at 14 and became the British Ambassador’s mistress, and then two guys doing funny dances in electric blue spandex leotards. There’s a 75-year old stripper performing in the bar across the street for free most nights… haven’t gotten in to see her yet, but oh I will. I’m taking my mother to see the Lady Boys of Bangkok next week, which is pretty much what it sounds like.

I’m trying to O.D. on the festival now, as I’ll be missing 10 days of it — I fly to South Africa next Friday night to visit a guy I met in Vienna. It’s a typical Crazy-Mirren move — we only knew each other for two days in Vienna, and although we’ve been emailing, texting, skyping, and talking on the phone every day since then, I don’t really know him and it’s completely nuts to go travel with him for 10 days. I suppose I always strive to make my life be about adventure, but since that is my actual stated goal of this year, I had to take it up a notch!

Something sort of odd happened this week. I don’t know if any of you was paying attention to the news stories about this guy Clark Rockefeller who kidnapped his 7-year old daughter? http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article4432553.ece

I knew him in Boston. Olga and I met him at a Yale club party and when he pressed me to go to an exhibit with him, she made me go out with him (that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it). He was an interesting, although bizarre, enough character that I hung out with him one more time before deciding he was too irritatingly pompous to ever see again. I told him to stop calling me, and after calling and emailing me for two weeks, he finally did. The funny thing, though, was that I was suspicious of him from the get-go. I thought most of his stories sounded fishy: I asked him if he knew the Rockefeller cousins I knew at Loomis and he dissembled; I said his accent didn’t sound like he grew up in New York and he had some story that I didn’t believe (in fact, his accent sounded extremely phony to me, and I think I know what old New England money sounds like); Olga tried to look him up in the Yale alumni directory and he wasn’t there; he told me that he had never married his daughter’s mother and that she had disappeared shortly after the baby was born, then re-appeared lately and sued for custody and all his money – unlikely story…; and he dropped names like his pockets were too full of them. Anyway, it’s very interesting to note that my intuition was bang-on. What I don’t understand is how he managed to convince all sorts of other people, especially ones who should have known better: one of his best friends in Boston is this guy Patrick, who did go to Yale and who does move in all the same social circles, but who I think is a terrible snob and who must have convinced himself that Clark was OK. I’m sure it also helped that Clark paid for everything wherever he went. Understandably, I’m a bit obsessed with the story and can’t wait to see if the FBI find out who he really is!

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