Saturday, 23 September 2017

Doors Open Days

Throughout Scotland in September, doors are opened to the public that are mostly shut. In Edinburgh, our ‘Doors Open’ weekend is run by the Cockburn Association, and includes many places of interest from fascinating chapels and churches, private houses of unusual or unique design, museums, mausoleums, towers, tors, and turret windows. (This one is always open, with a free entry.)
It’s a great chance to see all sorts of hidden gems and curiosities, and being the curious type I make the most of this annual opportunity. This year, Doors Open clashes with another annual nosy-neighbour fest. In the row of streets around the corner from why I stay in Edinburgh, there is an unusually dense population of artists who open their doors to the public.
It’s a wonderful event that spreads out into the local bars and shops. Although I don’t live in the ‘Colonies’ – as these streets are so-named – at some point I hope to exhibit some of my work in one of the venues... but not this year, as I’m exhibiting in a private exhibition-party on the other side of the city.
My piece titled 26 Doors Between My House and Yours... fits into this story, as it traces a journey past the Colonies, through the Old Town towards the Southside where my friend lives. This happens to be a few streets away from where the private exhibition is taking place, which is a pleasing tying of threads.
What has been interesting in the year since I worked on this project, taking pictures of twenty-six doors and writing a ‘sestude’ on each, is realising how quickly things change. Doors shut, re-open, names change, people move away, and colours are ephemeral. My photographs, and accompanying sestudes, were mere snapshots, even if they symbolised something deeper, eternal.
One example is the pub, which had shut its door when the eccentric owner sadly died. It was a famously unique drinking hole, well-known for its décor, the dismal selection of beer, and disgustingly smelly toilets. But when ‘The Captain’ passed away, it was feared that this quirky wee joint would be mopped up and gentrified – like certain other establishments on the Royal Mile.
Thankfully, although it isn’t quite the living museum that my sestude celebrates, The Waverley has been given a new lease of life. The owners have attempted to stay true to the style of the old place, while giving the loos a much-needed spruce, and increasing the patronage – perhaps as a result. I hope they ditch the Billy Connelly link as claim to fame: there’s so much more in a name.
from 26 Doors Between My House and Yours...
The Waverley, St Mary’s Street
There is a type of personality
that thinks of itself as unique.
Edinburgh fits this category:
it has the only station in the
world named after a novel.
The Waverley bar is similarly
one of a kind. Behind the
boarded-up windows and
permanently closed door
lies a museum… testament
to this Festival City and
the Old Man’s individuality,
immortalised only in memory.
Over the road from the Waverley pub is the front of a café that changed its name after I published my 26 Doors sequence. Luckily, the door I pictured (in words and image) remains behind the newly-named café. Lost in translation.
Circus Café Garden, Gullan’s Close
Frequently, a door
tells only half the story
Tucked away
behind the hidden
garden of a café,
a yellow sun
smiles down
a winding road…
In the adjacent
section on the wall,
a child strides,
head held high
against the stench
of kitchen bins.
A couple in the garden
hear my camera click.
If I could speak their
tongue, I’d listen in.
Another door on my journey tricked me by changing even before the project was complete. Having remained blank for the sixteen years and hundreds of times I had passed by, when I came to take a photograph of this mysterious location, someone was painting letters above the door. Even so, the language and script retain mystery (for some) and I have yet to discover for myself the truth of the story about this legendary restaurant.
Mystery Location, Abbeyhill
According to Urban Myth,
there lies behind these doors
a secret restaurant.
Nobody knows how to book.
Those who go
are treated appallingly,
but report the food
is of the highest quality.
The customer service
is regarded as part
of the unique experience.
Maybe one evening I’ll treat you
to a meal-for-two.
I’d book a table… but how?
If only I knew.
So doors can change, but the symbolism remains... whether as entrances or exits, barriers, or invitations to places of encounter. My journey became a meditation on doors, on friendship, the imagination, and on truths beyond the physical location that I had – almost – arbitrarily chosen. As with friendship, for every door that closes, another will open... if you let it.
11, St Mary’s Street
We all do it…
Push at doors
for which we have no keys;
make choices where
there’s nothing for us to choose;
hope, expect, or long for welcomes
that are far-from forthcoming;
consider houses homes,
double-lock, bolt up every
door lest we,
becoming vulnerable to burglary,
allow the most intimate part
of our existence to be violated.
Our home?
Or our heart?