My soul came back to me in Spain. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning it came, while I was held in the arms of expansive and creative Barcelona. Perhaps it was the late hours spent talking with Allene in her crowded and colorful apartment. Perhaps it was the organic curves of the Gaudi buildings that honor the city with their presence. Perhaps it was the thunderstorms waking me up with their brilliant flashes in the dark, humid night. Perhaps it was the smoky flavors of the Tapas bars, or the olive skin of the city’s inhabitants. Perhaps it was the love of my husband, settling upon me like a down comforter. Or perhaps it was the hand of God, piercing through the clouds of my being, and radiating my heart with light.
The folds of the earth, peppered with olive trees and heavy rocks, suddenly meet and collapse into the gorge of the river. Toledo rises up – an island of spires and red tile, of castles and crowded buildings. This is the holy city, the city of renaissance angels, of Templar knights, of bloodshed and exalting art. The bells of the gargantuan cathedral toll the passing centuries, echoing out over the Spanish countryside, telling the wild oats and the twisted trees about seven hundred years of Catholic power. Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, Moors – all have touched and marked Toledo, leaving traces of their bitter kisses, their secret hopes, their longing for power, their reaching towards God. I sit on a large rock and contemplate the rugged land that reluctantly gives way to civilization, marveling at humanity’s persistence and creativity. How many lovers have sat on this very rock, arms encircling one another, to watch the sun rays play over the city’s roofs? Perhaps hundreds. Perhaps thousands. Now here I sit, repeating their admiration and inspiration. Their bodies have dissolved back into Spain, but Toledo remains. The river snakes around the city, protecting it. Geese drift on its currents. Goat herders whistle and caw at their flocks, guiding them without reins. The bells on the animals’ necks rival the cathedral’s with their haunting, mysterious sound. Behind them the tall grass ripples in undulating rows, praying in the wind, making the sound of eternity. And the large sky claims dominion over all, even over the holy city, reminding humanity of the heavens and the stars beyond.
The sounds of French voices, barking dogs and pipe organ music slowly permeates my consciousness as I awaken from a long deep sleep. Last night we ate in an outdoor cafe in a large, yet intimate square. Giant sycamores, their graceful arms lit from below, soared upward creating a canopy above our heads. The square was filled with a moving mosaic of people and color. Young men stopped to steal moments with the cafe’s beautiful hostess, then disappeared into the crowd. Later, as we walked through Arles’ twisting streets of stone, I contemplated my life, the brevity of it accentuated against the backdrop of Roman outposts gone to ruin. We kissed, and I forgot about philosophizing, which was a good thing. Kisses are like that, they clear the slate of the mind. We went back to our musty hotel with the tired walls and my mind remained free of clutter as I drifted into sleep. Now, as I listen to the sounds of Arles outside our window, I stare at those old walls. Shiny newness does not interest this part of the world – only cracked, peeling grandeur, art that glorifies God and man, and exquisite food perfected through generations of practice.
I wish we could stay and see the gypsies. People warn me of danger which only adds to my curiosity. I hear they gather on the Mediterranean near Arles each May to dance and sing into the night, make love and dream gypsy dreams. Perhaps I am being a romantic, but my guess is this is not far from the truth. Sounds profoundly poetic. I don’t believe all gypsies are like the pickpocket we saw in Italy who struck with quiet precision, slipping into the crowd with wallets tucked in her baby’s shawl. Instead I imagine them as a dark and mysterious people with a rooted history of rootlessness, and a long aching wail carved into the heart of their music. They represent the traveler and the displaced, they represent that which stirs deep within me and fills my heart with longing.