Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 12, 2024

The Elephant House in Georgia

By ADDY PERLMAN | April 27, 2020



Perlman relates her quarantine experience to the famous graffiti wall in the Elephant House.

My mind feels like a graffitied wall. Emotions are scribbled diagonally and circularly in curlicue font and bold typeface. The neon colors are the random FaceTime calls from friends I miss. Black ramblings are the moments right before I go to sleep and right after I wake up and I remember why I’m in the room I left behind three years ago. Why is it that when it is mandated to stay home I want to leave the most? 

I feel trapped, but no matter how much coaxing I’m subjected to I won’t leave my house because of my social responsibility. I see Snapchats and Instagram posts that show memories being made only a few miles from my house. Since I can’t escape the burnt orange walls of my childhood bedroom, I’ll pretend I’m somewhere else. 

I’m in Edinburgh with my parents. We’ve just checked in at the Balmoral Hotel and are moseying down Princes Street. It’s summer but the sun has just risen, so it isn’t beating down on us yet. People are milling about the streets, and it’s early enough that there are no numbers floating above herds of tourists reminding them of which walking group they are in. 

My parents keep us walking and talking, and they have a surprise up their sleeve. We’ve crossed the George IV Bridge, and in front of me is The Elephant House, the cafe in which J.K. Rowling supposedly wrote the legendary stories of Harry Potter. 

The cafe is packed with tourists who want to take their picture at the table where Rowling created her Wizarding World, which my family had obsessed over for years. I’ve read the books countless times and there were several weekends in a row that my family had Harry Potter marathons. I can’t even reveal the number; it’s honestly embarrassing, but we loved it. I used to tell my parents that I wanted to just hop into the pages, so they were trying to give me a semblance of that wish. 

My father had talked to the owner earlier in the morning while my mother and I wandered up and down the Royal Mile. As we walked through the door, the owner ushered us to the coveted table, and my dad just smiled and said “Happy Birthday!” They kept the secret for hours as we relished in our first moments in this majestic city. 

The drawers of the table were overflowing with napkins and torn pieces of paper. All of them had wishes or book ideas scribbled on them. Some were thank you notes addressed to Rowling, and others were first paragraphs for books.

The line to come inside was wrapped around the corner. Everyone wanted to sit in her seat and to feel the magic she felt as she wrote day after day drinking the same coffee I was drinking right now. Peering out of the wall of windows, my eyes land on Edinburgh Castle, the supposed inspiration for Hogwarts. With one look, I am in Hogsmeade.

The room bleeds creativity and so does the bathroom. The scribbles on the walls are notes, hopes, ideas and quotes. The bathroom has become a canvas, and each person that walks in signs before they walk out. They hope Rowling will see their note and smile or that they will be able to write a series like she did because they stepped foot in the same cafe. The coffee is served with a side of imagination. 

As I sit in my house in Georgia tucked away behind pine trees, I close my eyes and am instantly transported back to The Elephant House because that cafe was buzzing with thoughts and dreams. It was a place that I could feel surrounded by people even when there aren’t any. As I sit alone, I picture that bathroom wall because I can imagine every person who materialized their musings and suddenly, I don’t feel so lonely. I hope to get back to that cafe one day and find the note I left behind. Who knows, maybe there will be an answer. 

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