The 50th Edinburgh International Festival starts today. Over the next three weeks the city will attract more than a million visitors. The earliest shows will start at nine in the morning and the latest will finish after midnight.
The streets will throng with jugglers, buskers and stalls selling everything from crystals on pieces of leather to jester's hats. Every spare church hall or garden hut will become a venue as the city turns into one enormous thespian carnival.
The festival has been slowly but relentlessly growing. Fifty years ago there were eight fringe theatre groups; this year there are almost 700. To help the thousands of culture tourists from around the world, a special summer police force of multi-lingual officers has been brought in, and to control traffic congestion all private cars have been banned from driving into the city centre along Princes Street.
The people who live in Edinburgh have a love/hate relationship with the festival. With a front-row ticket to Britain's biggest arts event, Edinburgh residents are spoiled by the huge choice of music, theatre, film and comedy on offer.
As the population doubles for the festival period, those with large flats find their floors awash with visiting friends. Others go on holiday and rent their homes out at a huge profit as performers and arts critics sardine themselves into tiny flats at extortionate prices. A student with a room in the city centre recently negotiated a fee of pounds 600 a week and will make enough to pay off her student loan.
Around pounds 40m will be spent by festival-goers during August. But while some residents make a lot of money very fast, others find the festival a financial and emotional drama. For parents, the temptation to go out every night is tempered by the ticket prices, and a severe shortage of babysitters. Those with relatives or like-minded friends fare better than those without, as responsible teenage girls are booked up weeks in advance.
"It's often only after the festival starts that you find out which shows are worth seeing," says one parent. "And then there may be no tickets except for, say, a Tuesday night. It's impossible. The pace of the festival is not really compatible with real life."
For three weeks, the wholecharacter of Edinburgh changes. The streets are strewn with leaflets, the city-centre pubs are full to bursting, even the castle seems to vibrate with artistic energy. And then, suddenly, Edinburgh becomes once again a small Scottish city, a little bit quiet, a little bit chilly and a little bit provincial.
When the festival ends," said one old lady queuing for tickets, "it's time to take my fur coat out of its mothballs - I know winter has begun."Reuse content