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Central California Life Magazine

Keeping the Faith: Waxing philosophical

Apr 20, 2015 06:41PM ● By Cen Cali Life Magazine

Faith and her daughter Mallory at the top of Calton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland on Dec. 30, 2014.

Keeping the Faith: Waxing philosophical

Photos by Faith Sidlow 

To be honest, before I started researching options for New Year’s Eve 2014, I had never heard of Hogmanay. When I found out it was on the list of the top 100 things you must do before you die, I decided Hogmanay was how my daughter and I would ring in 2015. After all, we were already going to be there. 

Mallory was finishing her study abroad, and I was planning our winter break rendezvous. The more I read about Hogmanay, a giant outdoor party on Edinburgh, Scotland’s Princes Street, the more excited I became at the prospect of spending New Year’s Eve there.

Edinburgh is a magical city for me. Never mind that JK Rowling wrote her early novels there and based many of her Harry Potter moments on places in the city. 

For me, the magic started 30 years ago when I was a study abroad student in London. My college friend Dolores had come to visit and we decided to spend a long November weekend in Scotland. We took the train to Edinburgh and had dinner at a small restaurant that required a taxi to get back to our hotel. We climbed into the iconic black British cab and gave the driver our address. Then we sat back for the short ride home.

A few minutes later we were driving up a dark, narrow road that was definitely not the way back to our hotel. Dolores and I exchanged worried looks. I don’t know about Dolores, but I could hardly breathe. My heart was racing. I was trying to decide whether we should jump out of the cab now or wait until the driver stopped. 

We waited. The cab stopped at the top of the hill. The driver turned around to look at us in the back seat.

“I wanted you to see the view,” he said in a thick Scottish accent. 

Dolores and I looked in the direction he was pointing. A giant full moon, in all its golden glory, was hanging low in the inky black sky over Edinburgh Castle, which glowed in the darkness. The sight took my breath away. We got out of the cab and stood in awe, looking at the spectacular display.

Turns out, the top of that hill – we found out later it was called Calton Hill – is considered one of the best photographic locations in the world. At the time, Dolores and I were disappointed that we didn’t have our cameras (this was in the days before cell phones). We kicked ourselves as we stared at the moon and the castle, trying to burn the picture into our memories.

I had always wanted to return, and Hogmanay was a perfect excuse. My daughter and I arrived in Edinburgh on December 29, in time to go shopping and have dinner. We spent the next day seeing some of the sites. That evening we got in line, or queued up as they say in Scotland, at the George IV Bridge for the famous torchlight procession. More than 8,000 revelers held tall wax torches and, when the command was given, the torch lighting began. Each torch was lit from the torch held by the person in front. Within a few minutes, thousands of torches were glowing, and we began the walk with 35,000 people through the city center and up Calton Hill, the same hill where I experienced the moon over Edinburgh Castle 30 years ago.

To say the feeling was surreal is an understatement. Emotions that I wasn’t aware existed rushed through me. I thought back to that day 30 years ago when my whole life was in front of me. I was in college doing a study abroad with no knowledge of what the future held. There were no thoughts of husbands or children or careers. No notion of what it would be like to lose a parent or a close friend or a beloved pet. No realization that I would one day look back on this moment and wonder where time had gone.

I was living in the moment, enjoying my youth but not knowing it – unaware that, within a few years, life would be speeding by, just as my mother had promised. 

As we climbed the hill, I considered the continuum of time – how much of my life, my youth at least, was behind me, but for my daughter it was just beginning. She was walking up the same hill in the same metaphorical shoes I wore 30 years ago. Her whole life loomed in front of her. It was a concept so difficult to articulate, I said nothing. I looked around at the thousands of people who were winding their way up the hill with us, many of them carrying torches, and I wondered if I was the only one having this self-absorbed epiphany.

As we reached the crest of the hill, the first firework flashed in the night sky. I looked for Edinburgh Castle to see if the almost full moon was over it, but there were too many people blocking the view. We watched the fireworks as they were launched from just a few feet away. I told Mallory about the cab driver and the castle and the moon. 

My time in Edinburgh with my daughter was wonderful and memorable. Hogmanay on New Year’s Eve was overwhelming. We were surrounded by a mass of 100,000 revelers in varying degrees of intoxication on Princes Street. It was a little unsettling being pressed together shoulder-to-shoulder with no escape route. But the New Year’s Eve fireworks were spectacular – every hour on the hour beginning at 9 p.m.

Am I glad I did it? Definitely. Would I do it again? Probably. Just for the chance to walk up Calton Hill again and wax philosophical. In February, when Julie Andrews appeared on stage during the Oscars to pay tribute to the Sound of Music 50 years after the original release of the film, I knew exactly what she meant when she said, “I blinked and suddenly here I am.”