but travelled the road that climbs from Dolwyddelan to fall into the vast desolation of Blaenau Ffestiniog; found rest in the silent graveyard of Merthyr Isiw above the valley of the Grwyne Fawr; and marvelled at the perfection of crooked places in Cwmyoy.
I have sat at the old quarry of Mynydd Llangatwg to gaze at the chequered world and let the whisper, the murmur, the susurration of shifting vowels and age-old consonants bewitch me. Crug Hywel, Aberdyfi, Machynlledd, Ceredigion, Ynys Môn –
You think you know such creatures don’t exist. No lamias with exemptile eyes to lever out after a kill. No fifteen-foot-necked pliant camelopardals. And you’ve seen no lemmings graze in clouds.
And yet – once it was true. They were believed in. Like Dürer’s sad rhinoceros, shipped all the way from India, drowned off Italy and buried in a woodcut: scaly legs, a twisted horn upon his back – I give you: the rhinoceros!
And he still is as real, as true as any of his cousins in the zoo. It only takes a tiny leap of faith to believe in Topsell’s Beasts – because you must. Of course reindeer will make a sound like cracking nuts when walking
if we believe the truth that every creature is unique – the lamia, the camelopardal, Dürer’s rhinoceros, and you: unique, unfathomable and unquestionably right the way you are. And this we must believe.
It rolls up like a marble over the grey wasteland of the moon.
And Frank Borman, commander of Apollo 8, first man in outer space, the man who says that no, he didn’t tell his family what it was like up there when he came back, he was too busy catching up on the nitty-gritties of family life; the astronaut who says that weightlessness is boring, and puking in outer space the same it is at home: uncomfortable; the space hero who’s never seen and can’t recall the title of Space Odyssey; who says the Star Trek motto To boldly go where no man’s gone before does nothing for him – the most prosaic man to leave the soil of this blue planet says: Hand me a roll of color quick, would you?
A beautiful blue marble, swirls of ochre and white, it rolls up over the grey wasteland of the moon. We wake up on it every morning.
That August night in 1328 Luigi Gonzaga brought to Mantua an ache the size of a city and a dagger for Rinaldo Bonacolsi. Gonzaga had a mission: he saw nine hundred gilded rooms he and his line must build and fill with all of Europe’s art – a model city floating on four lakes, a Mount Olympus rising from the flatness of the valley of the Po.
We only ever truly see what we are missing.
Today we visited Gonzaga’s vision: the palaces, the frescoes, statues, tapestries, churches and squares in all their glory and grandezza. I was appreciative – but I’m afraid it did not touch me. We’d brought a different emptiness to Mantua; and since it’s true we only ever see what we are missing –
War. Poverty. Extinction. Plagues ancient and plagues modern. Abuse of children, women. Global warming. Exploitation. Genocide. The horsemen of the Apocalypse are riding.
Gradations of blue in hill after hill at dusk. A man, a woman, laughing in the street. The casual kindness of a stranger. The smell of bread baking. A candle in a window. A blackbird’s song. Piano scales. You.