Friday, 14 March 2008
If these walls could sing...
Last night, in the post about Jung in Ravenna, I mentioned that something similar happened to me, too.
It did - only it wasn't a visual "slip".
Instead, I heard something that logic tells me couldn't have been there.
It was September 11th or 12th, 1998.
I was visiting a delightful small town by the sea; a town I had visited many times before.
(The absence of geographical names is the result of a "secret pact" with myself: whenever something is precious to me, for whatever reason, I take precautions to preserve it from over-exposure and outer influences by withholding a vital piece of information. And you're welcome to think I am a kook. :))
Around 3 o'clock in the afternoon, I climbed a hill to visit an ancient church that stands there, commanding a view over two gulfs. (It's actually just a single gulf, but from the vantage point at the church it looks like two.)
I was happy to be there, and relaxed, as I usually am after the sea air, with all that iodine, gets me. But climbing that hill I was also saddened to see the obvious neglect of the town by its present population.
And so, when I arrived at the top of the hill and leaned on the parapet in front of the church, observing the skyline merging with the sea, a sense of melancholy took over me as I thought about the town's glorious past.
I like history; I even know a thing or two about it.
I also happen to have a vivid visual imagination.
Which is why it would have been practically impossible for me to resist the temptation of trying to imagine the town as it once was. In my mind, I tried to remove all the baggage of the centuries, all the architectural additions (AKA houses), and see the hills around me as they once were, overlooking the very same sea that I was now hearing, pounding against the rocks far below me.
I turned to look at the church. It was too far "gone" to be envisaged as it once was, what with the additions and remodeling through the centuries (and besides, nobody really knew how it looked when it was first erected, back in the 7th or 8th century). But at least its location hadn't changed in more than a thousand years. Regardless of its looks, people had been climbing that same hill for more than a thousand summers, more than a thousand autumns, more than a thousand Septembers; and, without a doubt, they, too, stopped to catch their breath at the very spot where I was standing at that moment. The sea was the same as then; so were the mountain crests and the hills in the distance; and the sun, all those centuries ago, shone on their hair and cheeks as it shone on mine in September 1998.
My spirits were suddenly lifted; I started to feel cheerful as I hadn't felt in a long time. I realised that nothing could really defeat and destroy the ancient spirit of the city; that the neglect, as destructive as it was, could not reach backwards into time and corrupt what once was. For once something exists, it never ceases to exist: it cannot cease to exist.
I decided to go to the other side of the church, to take in the view of the "other" gulf.
There was a stone bench attached to the church wall. I sat there, leaning on the church wall with abandon, with the back of my head against it. I felt so good... With my sadness and resentment gone, there was nothing to occupy my thoughts - nothing whatsoever. I just wanted to breathe and relax, not thinking, unthinking, almost animal-like. My eyes wandered lazily across the sea and up into the sky and back again.
Then, out of nowhere, I heard music. It seemed to be coming from behind the wall on which my head was resting. I was startled. (The church seemed empty when I had arrived, and I would have heard people arriving to the top of the hill and entering the church.)
I listened intently. Definitely, it sounded as if it were coming from inside the church: a small male choir singing a Gregorian chant - muffled but unmistakable.
For some reason I still find slightly odd, I immediately grabbed my handbag and literally ran to the other side, where the entrance to the church was.
It was just as I thought: there was nobody there.
Nor was the music, for that matter.
I stood still, holding my breath, so I could catch the slightest sound of any movement, anywhere in the church.
And yet, I still stood there for a minute longer, waiting for... something.
Then I returned outside and looked all around me: there were no people, either arriving or descending from the hill.
It's been almost ten years, and I still haven't figured out what exactly was that happened on that September day.
There is no question of my having "imagined" it, let alone "dreamt" it.
(My mind was almost totally blank at the moment, remember? And even if I had been thinking about the church's history - which I wasn't, certainly not at the time - I would not have thought about music.)
There was no visible or audible tape recorder or any other sound device - or anyone to operate them, for that matter - not in the church not anywhere around it. (The church doesn't have a monastery or any type of dwelling attached; and I didn't have any type of radio or player with me.)
I wasn't under "influence" (alcohol, prescription or OTC drugs of any type) nor was I suffering from any physical or mental condition worth mentioning.
So... what was it?
No, really - I am asking you: what do you think it was?
Send me an email if you think you've found a satisfactory answer.