June 19, 2015 5:00 pm the elephant house Edinburgh, Scotland
We’re sitting in the café in the exact spot where it is claimed, 20 years earlier, J.K. Rowling began putting the ideas she had for a wizard school boy on paper. It is dinner time and the place is packed, mostly with tourists I would guess, drawn in by the sign at the entrance proclaiming “Birthplace of Harry Potter.” Many of them are likely jealous that we have the best table in the house: #12, a two-top shoved next to the window with a most stunning view of Edinburgh Castle on a distant hill. Chatty voices fill the atmosphere, while upbeat music plays just loud enough not to drown out conversations. I had desperately wanted to sit in this chair that backs up to a corner yesterday when we stopped in for a latte and photograph, but it was otherwise occupied by another eager fan.
Ask and receive
Tonight, when we return for dinner, the waitress leads us to a table in the front of the café near the counter, but I press on with a request to sit in the back room, as the aforementioned writer had a few decades ago. She agrees and walks us to a table next to #12 where two other tourists look to be finishing their meals. The waitress hands us menus and I sit restlessly in my chair, waiting a few minutes before approaching the waitress to ask if we can move to #12 once the other patrons leave. She waves her hand behind her, pointing out how busy it is, but since we have not yet placed our order, she reluctantly says it will be okay. I move in as the girls take their jackets off the backs of their chairs and shoot me strange looks. We have permission, I say, as though anyone really cares. Barely seated, I whip out my journal and pen and ask Ron to snap a photo of me writing – which he gladly does after the first two paragraphs of this piece are jotted down. A good caption for said photo could be: Unidentified woman writer sits at famous table.
Prior to the café, we had stopped in at the National Museum of Scotland a few blocks away, where a special exhibit on Victorian photography had just opened today. Hundreds of photographs from 1850 through the early 1900s were on display, showing the invention and development of photography. All of those now dead faces gazed out of glass cases at us, the majority of them labeled: Unidentified Woman, Man, Boy or Girl. Those with identities were mostly royalty. Are all the others forgotten? Surely there are those here in the living world who know them? No. Just as I cannot name the people in the old photographs my Uncle John has collected through the years – mystery ancestors from whom I acquired my smile, my eyes, and my unruly hair. The characters I have created in the first draft of my novel are like these old photos – unidentifiable to the world, not living anywhere but in the captivity of my mind. That is about to change. Sitting in this café, Ron reminds me to glance over to my right at the 800-year-old castle on the hill. This view has inspired so many other writers who have dined here and it does me as well.
The service at this table is unusually slow as other diners around us have been seated, served, eaten and left. I am not bothered, but consider it a gift to sit here all the longer. The mother in a family next to us begins engaging in friendly conversation with us while they wait for their desserts – an Indian family from California with two teen children, a girl and boy who grew up reading Harry Potter. Minutes after they leave, Ron spots a backpack left under the son’s chair. He picks it up and hurries out. When he returns he tells me that he ran a block away to catch them before they boarded a bus. He has saved them from much worry later and I can’t help but wonder if the magic of this table has played a part.
The best slow service ever
At last our meals arrive and we enjoy them thoroughly. I have a falafel, hummus, and tomato salad with olive oil dressing and a drink called the Elephant treat – hot chocolate and whip cream with Kahlua and Brandy. The staff apologizes for the slow service – our waitress had forgotten to enter our order – and offers us dessert and tea on the house. Wait! You mean sitting in this spot extra-long wasn’t compensation enough? And now we get to linger longer over a chocolate caramel brownie and chamomile tea? This moment may not be frozen in time, but it is pretty darn close with this bonus allotment of time.
A promise to the muse
I gain more opportunity to be infused by the muse who haunts within these dark peach-colored walls where elephant décor marches around amongst the potted leafy plants. I devour the last crumb of our dessert, take one final sip of tea, and we have no more excuses to stay. Will I ever return? Yes, with my own published book in hand, I declare at 7:08 pm, an extraordinary two hours after we first sat down. As we go to the counter to pay, I thank the waitress for letting us switch to table #12. She says it must be karma that we got to do that since my companion was able to later recognize and locate the travelers who’d left the backpack. She then leans in closer and says, “And did you know that is the table where J.K. Rowling wrote most often?” You don’t say, I say and smile. And now it is also the table where, once upon a magical time, this writer has journaled, as identified here in my worldwide post.