The following is the ethnographic translation of the below field notes that you asked for, taken during one of my days of observation here in Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland. It is presented here as requested, incomplete, but I do hope that you find the details as riveting and nuanced as I do. I also sincerely hope that my conclusions will be enough to justify further monetary support.
I was applauded this morning whilst crossing the street by a group of women dressed in ornate pink and red costumes. One was wearing a tiara, and I presumed she was the leader and/or of some lesser-ranked royal class. I was embarrassed to have been a part of their group, and slightly disappointed that I might have too closely become a participant. When I reached the opposite side of the street, I moved past the women and hid myself behind a tree so as to better view their actions without too destructively intervening. As I did this, the lower ranked of the two smiled at me with what I can only presume was either a gesture of greeting, or dominance.
The two women were then greeted themeselves by an individual dressed in a dark green coat, long in the sleeves, and that reached down below her knees. I thought this choice of garment was odd as it was neither raining, nor cloudy. I have periodically found myself considering the oddity that is the dress habits of these natives, as they tend to adorn themselves in often drab woollen accoutrements based on an assumption (either via lived experience or prophetic divination) about what type of weather might actually occur, rather than for what is actually occurring.
The green woman handed the leader of the pink and red women a paper cup filled with a yellow-tinted libation.
This exchange, as well as the ceremony that followed, is worth noting in detail:
The crowned woman drank first. She sipped lightly at the libation, then handed the cup to her subordinate, who equally sipped lightly. They both seemed to have found the contents pleasing as they happily thanked the green woman. Then, they each drank again in turn. The crowned woman made an intriguing gesture, tipping the cup toward the green woman, who nodded her head forward in response. The red and pink women then continued walking, sharing the cup back and forth until it was empty. I followed, cautiously. At this point, the subordinate woman crushed the cup in her left (dominant, it seemed) hand and dropped it against the wall of a merchant shop that specialised in a local delicacy the natives affectionately refer to as ‘chippy.’ (It is an acquired taste). The two women then began to move quicker, laughing to one another. When I examined the cup I noted the contents to be sweet and slightly chemical, like alcohol. I tried in earnest not to disturb the cup, as I did not wish to interrupt, and thus become a part of, the ritual.
Given the age of the two women, the colour of their garments, and their body shapes, I believe an educated hypothesis about this ritual might conclude that this was a type of fertility act. In fact, from previous observations, I am confident in the assumption that these women were performing a liminal transformation, akin to a removal of oneself into the wilderness, only to return an acknowledged member of the tribe. As I myself returned to my original position this hypothesis became even more valid as a large group of similarly dressed red and pink women appeared on the opposite end of the street. I noted in my journal that the green woman excitedly began preparing more libations from a glass bottle with the label scratched off and a box of what looked to be some kind of juice. As there is indeed much more that I could describe of the interactions and dialogues that occurred once this group of women crossed the street, I will leave here further confident in my impression that I inadvertently discovered a festival devoted entirely to a fertility act.
More on this to follow.
A few notes on the customs that I have witnessed in my time here. I have broken these into ‘rules,’ because, as you know, it feels easier for me to delineate the imponderabilia of these people in particular categories.
Rule 1: There is always a hill.
Edinburgh is a city of hills. There is always a hill. Even when one climbs to the apex of one of the ritually sacred hills (I have counted at least four thus far), there still seems to be a hill to further climb. I have noted that a number of the visitors who come here to explore the mysterious culture of the Scotspeople take to wearing clothing suitable to such a geographical landscape. I have counted an immeasurable amount of hiking boots and trousers and jackets to match. They seem to have all invested in large brim, thin, flopping hats. I even once saw a man using two walking canes. Such is the terrain of this environment.
The locals, of course, seem not dissuaded by the hills here. Even to the point of stubbornness. I have taken to using many of the transport options available to the native and visitor alike to make my way through the city, but the natives insist on walking.
Interesting point to support this: in the last few years, the tribal elders gathered and financed the construction and instalment of a tram system. The natives have not taken to using it, to the point of insistence, and even protest at times. Perhaps this is due, as I have decided, to the fact that it only leads in a single direction, and thus seems rather pointless. Either way, their familiarity with the hills of this city seems ingrained within their genes. It is indeed an intriguing aspect to their cultural identity.
Rule 2: Someone is always behind you.
I walk quite often here, making useful observations of the natives and their interactions with each other and the visitors alike. However, I have found myself, repeatedly, and without fail, being followed. This does not, of course, mean that I am actually being followed, but that there is always someone walking behind me.
I’ve found this to be such a frequent occurrence that I have named it the ‘Edinburgh phenomenon.’ I will look more into this through the remainder of my research here.
Rule 3: The heaters are always on.
It is no secret that the weather here can be a bit rain-soaked and blustery. The natives have a number of terms for these weather patterns, ‘dreach’ and ‘haar’ being the most often ones that I have heard thus far. The latter is a name given to a low and choking fog that rolls in and blankets everything in sight. The former is difficult to translate. One of my informants tried to roughly define it as: “the weather is terrible and cold and it is raining, I think I’ll have a lie in today.”
Given this type of weather, the natives tend to always have their heaters on. They likewise will usually be adorned in woollen garments. This makes it difficult for an outsider such as myself to acclimate to the sweating. Even on days when the sun is out and it is warm, without fail, the heaters will be on. While I have tried to guard myself from too subjectively being influenced by this, it has proven to be the hardest part of my observations.
I am always sweating.
This evening I took a bus to one of the city’s secular sanctuaries. It is called ‘Usher Hall,’ but I believe the natives pronounce it ‘Oosher Heel.’ I’m not entirely certain, and will look into this more.
On the bus I noticed two oddities.
- An elderly woman was obsessively engaged in picking out the blue embroidery from a white towel. She was using a pair of scissors and cutting it loose, then depositing the blue thread on the floor of the bus. On closer inspection, I believe it was a hotel towel.
- An elderly man came onto the bus, muttering to himself in a native dialect that is difficult to make out, even with my extensive language study. I’ve been told it’s what is called ‘Leither,’ but have yet to source from where this originates. He remained standing during the entire bus ride, busying himself by the buses entrance. I moved seats to better observe him and found that he was removing the discarded bus tickets from out of a red plastic bucket, flattening them in his hands, and then eating them one by one.
At Oosher Heel I sat amongst a few of my informants who had invited me to hear a reading from a fellow American, a humorist named David Sedaris. They were quite fond of him, and I took this as a compliment based on their views of my own culture. Overall I felt this experience definitely bonded me with them, and I look forward to the cultural observations I will achieve via this friendship.
During the reading a remarkable realisation came to me that I will transcribe in full:
At one point David Sedaris was telling a story about how he likes to pick up trash in the village in which he lives in England (apparently he is conducting his own research). His deeds were so welcomed by the natives in his area that he was invited to the Queen’s Palace for lunch. While the story he told was quite humorous, and while I do not intend to bastardise it here, what stood out to me was the reaction of a number of the natives in the audience. When Sedaris said ‘the Queen,’ people booed in a critical tone. I had been warned that these natives were no fans of the Queen of England, but I was not expecting them to be so vocal about it. It then occurred to me that they were doing more than just booing, they were being supportive of their own queen, whom I had likely observed earlier this morning, the one in the tiara. This realisation has altered my perception of this morning’s fertility ritual. I will thusly be re-focusing my research on locating this queen, and will alert you further on my successes.
Best from the field,
PS: please ensure the grant proposal goes through, I am indeed sure that I have stumbled upon an essential aspect of this culture and fully intend to further explicate its meaning.