I have written about my love of London on here and I think it’s pretty clear about my romantic feelings towards Scotland. But today, I want to take a minute to really hone in on what is the best part, for not only me, but for hundreds, thousands of other people in Edinburgh: The Forest Café.
I came to Scotland after a terrible a breakup. There I said it. It’s on paper. So, let’s imagine that, shall we? Broken hearted, 24, in one of the coldest, darkest cities in the world, struggling with the idea that there is no Mexican food or insulation, I wandered around the cobblestoned streets for a few weeks before my classes started. I felt overwhelmed: what had I been thinking, to sign up for a year of this place? No matter how much Scotland had touched my heart on my first trip there, no matter how in love I had fallen with the wet fields, the moody grey sky, and the fairy tales that twisted their way through the air like Fourth of July sparks, it still struck me as insane to have moved away from my whole life. It’s important to remember that even though I have traveled through a lot of countries in my life, until I came to Scotland I had barely even left the town I had grown up in.
I was born in Germany and then my Air Force dad moved my family (which is only my parents and me and whatever animals we collected on the way) to Cornwall and then to New Mexico and then to New York. And there we stayed, in my mother’s hometown of Syracuse. I went to a college only 40 minutes away. I dated boys who were from Syracuse, even all through college. My first trip to Scotland, I had my hand held by my Syracuse boyfriend of three years. Was I scared? Or had I just not thought to do anything else? I’m not sure. But I do know that the first time I ever stepped into Edinburgh I planned on never leaving and it lit a fire in my heart.
Of course, walking the streets alone, exploring without a map, still left me feel fearful. And then classes started. And I met Ryan. Now, don’t get me wrong, I met a lot of lovely, wonderful people. Obviously, because it’s the people that glue you to a place and I am well stuck on the city. But Ryan was and is different. Ryan is a friend who will visit you in Greece, spend Christmas Eve with you, drinking port, bring you spinakopata for breakfast, let you crash at his house when you miss your train back to London, introduce you to amazing people like Deborah, and read your stories and tell you they are good. Ryan is, above all else, good.
But he is also more than just a friend to me, he’s a great friend to Edinburgh. He helped create and run The Forest Café. It’s beautiful there and it’s a home away from home for not just me, but for everyone who enters the place. It’s a feeling of pure comfort when you wander into the dimly lit rooms.
Free computers and internet, because everyone deserves to be able to access information. Amazing vegetarian food, (including burritos!), free space to do yoga or Spanish lessons or to build your own robot, gallery space, a free dark room, community projects, fund raising, books published, music heard, lectures given, people met. Oh yeah, and you can bring your dogs.
When Ryan brought me to the Forest, I was scared. Really scared. It’s a huge space and there are so many people who always seem to know everyone else. They are bustling in the kitchen, getting food out, and they are stomping around, dragging furniture or amps upstairs and downstairs and people are taking pictures and making music and dishes are clattering and art is being made and laptops are being used and books are being read and there will be people getting hair cuts or massages in the tiny “shops” set up in the hallway.
And I didn’t know if I would ever fit in.
In NY, I was a big fish in a small pond. And even if I didn’t exactly feel like an “adult”, I didn’t feel like a child and I felt like I was very in control of my life. I knew everyone around me and there were few unfamiliar faces. I felt confident about the persona I had built for myself: perfect student with lots of extra-curricular activities, including being in student films and writing on the school’s literary magazine. I had my own apartment off campus, which I loved. I ran at least 5 miles a day and I had plans on going to grad school and then working at a magazine, hopefully Martha Stewart. I worked a few jobs, one of which where I was a manager and worked on all aspects of the business. I felt completely together.
I got to Scotland and BAM! I was a kid again. I lived with flatmates, all of whom had real grown-up jobs, while I was in school, going to class all day and working part-time at a retail shop on the weekends. I drank and wrote and slept and ate heavy cream based foods and danced until late at night and got myself a boyfriend who promised not to break my heart and I felt so young that whenever I entered a room I felt small and insignificant and like I had no experience in comparison to everyone else in the world. Everyone had traveled and written published things and some people were making music while others were starting hip, underground bars where you could drink gin out of tea cups. It was all very amazing.
Possibly the most amazing thing was that people liked me and were willing to talk to me. When I was asked to help decorate for a party at the Forest, I felt like I had just won something fantastic. When Ryan asked me to help him publish books and then it turned into me getting to talk to local bookstores and do readings myself, it started to make me feel like I could do all sorts of magical things. Magical things like move to London or live in a bookstore in Greece.
It’s hard to fully explain the Forest, except to say that it is magical. It gives people permission and space to be themselves and to be creative. It also, even more importantly, gives a lot of people resources to use to be creative.
I have written about my amazing friend Deborah before. She is a playwright and an excellent cook and a good travel companion. And she also is in charge of the Forest Fringe, something that has been called, by a newspaper man at the Guardian, “an ongoing miracle.” But as she says, it’s not a miracle, it’s a product of how amazing the Forest Café is. The Forest gives Deborah the space to put on amazing, free shows that stimulate the growth of art that is so important in Edinburgh. You may have heard of the Edinburgh Festival, which takes place every year in August. And that is a very cool thing indeed. But what makes the Forest Fringe even better than the regular festival is that it is FREE. It is art for anyone, anyone at all, and it is art that anyone can make.
And that is the joy of the Forest Café. It is a beautiful wonderful jumbled up mess of an existence that can and will change your life, if only it gets the chance.
And right now, it might not get the chance.
Developers in Edinburgh want to take the building away and today, yes, today September 1st, every part of the home I remember, has been dismantled and put into boxes. Despite the best efforts of SNP politician Marco Biagi and all of my hundreds of Edin-burgers, enough funds were not raised in time to buy the building before the lease is up.
But all hope is not yet lost! The good news is: The building is historic. Changes cannot be made to the structure, so it makes people not want to buy the building! There is still time for US, for you, for me, to buy this building and continue the co-op. I implore you, to make the Forest Café your home. Because this place does not exist elsewhere, it really doesn’t. I have traveled the world and this sort of thing, at this size, with this many volunteers working seamlessly to make it run, simply does not exist anywhere else. Save the Forest and Save the World! Dramatic? Yes. But please, it’s amazing. And it needs your help.
You can help by going here: http://www.wefund.com/project/help-forest-cafe-buy-bristo-place