Not many people on the Royal Mile yet. A stretch of street that has been the centre of Edinburgh, the official centre, for centuries. It is important because it was, basically, the front sidewalk of the ruling families. It was a commercial centre, being the high street, and focus of life for the common folk as well but in a different way. They plied their trades along this road whereas the designated ruling class moved through here on the way to their places of business. This was where they played.
Life and death for royalty was at either end of the Royal Mile. Life and death for the people took place here on either side of the street.
The shops, the markets, the church and proclamations of law, of changes in administration over them are found here. And, there on the wide cobbled sidewalk, a small mosaic of bricks, barely noticed under the feet of a thousand modern day visitors, a heart.
The cameras point upwards at the spires of the church. The faces are swinging back and forth, not wanting to miss any echo of the pomp of monarchs gone by. Or a good price on a scarf and some shortbread. Or a place to sit, to rest the feet and have a beer.
A young man, swaggering with friends pulls slightly towards the mosaic, drops his head and sends a remarkably accurate gob onto the centre of the heart. I catch only a few words,
“Here’s something for ye, lady. Good luck w’it now”.
It takes me a moment to realize I am standing motionless with my camera at half mast. So this is what ‘gobsmacked’ means.
What could this arrangement of bricks represent that would elicit this response? I put my camera away out of respect for whatever power they hold and for the spirit behind that gesture. I have no idea what it means but I don’t want to irritate anyone further.
My initial thought is it is “The Heart of Mid-Lothian”. That phrase came to mind only because I had plowed through the novel by Sir Walter Scott years ago in university. I thought the title was a fabrication of the writer’s mind but here it is.
Was it put here as a tribute to Sir Walter. He is certainly one of the more celebrated figures from Scotland’s history.
But why the spit? They must take literary criticism very seriously here.
Maybe these bricks signify a moment of interaction with the poisonous Longshanks, a metaphorical 20 silver pieces of silver from the British, trading a brick heart for the Stone of Destiny.
It plagues me. From the precincts of St. Giles all the way to very top of the castle. The tour guide talks about this building and that. Here is the mighty Meg, her heart burst heaving 300 pound shot.
There is the Dog Cemetery, such tenderness towards the mascots of war. The chapel of St. Margaret–a monument to the sainted mother of kings.
The barracks now partitioned into museums to the Scottish regiments who have been thrown like chaff against the guns of every enemy to threaten the crown since Edward Longshanks conquered the clans by treachery and guile.
Finally, the brief tour is over. The question has been quietly running laps this whole time.
So I wait until the group has dispersed off to see the treasures of the castle with the veils stripped from their eyes…and I ask, “What does the heart signify on the Royal Mile?”
It is, indeed, the Heart of Mid-Lothian but not in reference to the book. It marks a place commonly used for public executions. The low felons, common pick pockets, thieves, coin clippers, tenants who could not pay the taxes assessed on what the laird needed instead of what the fields gave up at harvest or those who otherwise crossed the path of their betters.
There is a practice among some to spit on it as they pass by but the guide had no idea why. She did say, however, she always makes sure to walk around it.
Out of respect.