Monday, January 09, 2012

Back to the source

Eastside Road, January 9, 2012—
ALMOST EXACTLY TWO YEARS ago I posted an incomplete blog here. I was reminded of it today, when I got to thinking about exactly the same thing. Odd, that a profound feeling should emerge twice in the same season, two years apart. Then, it was because… well, you'll see. Today, perhaps it's because I'm thinking about a little trip we'll be taking in a few weeks, or maybe because suddenly there's been a raft of pop-journalism stories about Places You Should Visit. (One of them, according to one list, is Oakland, California. Well, why not.)

I'll begin by simply restating the two-years-ago post:

Eastside Road, January 29, 2010—
THERE ARE PLACES we have visited on various travels that have seemed very special, from a "medicine wheel" at 10,000 feet in Wyoming to the Fontaine de Vaucluse in Provence; from thestone-age city at Filitosa in Corsica to the Canyon de Chelley in Arizona. What all these places have in common is the not-verbally-articulable meaning they seem to offer to our visit: they speak to us, silently, about something we recognize without understanding, without even in any ordinary sense knowing.


I think about these places a lot, under any circumstances; but I've been thinking about them especially recently since I began transcribing my journal of a trip we took through Corsica and Sardinia over twenty years ago, in 1988. Here you have a photo of the spring at Su Gologone, in Sardinia. As these places go, the places I'm discussing I mean, it's pretty well manicured, turned almost into a park, with carefully planted willows and — hmm; what are those white-barked trees in a row? — and stone retaining walls and carefully graded walks contained by concrete curbs. Turn away from this view, though, and look out across the pool toward a grassy clearing among the trees, and we feel we're looking at a site that's been here relatively uninflected by recent human attention. It might have looked much like this a thousand years ago, two thousand, ten. This may be merely sentimental: even so, the feeling's worth thinking about.

Why does the place seem familiar, though I've never been here before? There are sensations here common to other such places: the calm air within these trees; the sounds of the water; the soft feel of the calm air on my skin. The place conspires to distract me from more specific and immediate issues: the car I've left in the parking lot, the few

AND THERE the blog post stopped, mid-sentence, and I have no idea where it was headed. And I've learned over the years to abandon these things: you can't retrieve them, certainly not at this distance. But as I say I was thinking along the same lines today, more specifically about pools: it's interesting how many of these profoundly moving sites have been at pools. Let me add three more:
  • Fontaine de Vaucluse: we visited this place quite a number of years ago — I'd always wanted to see it, but had somewhat feared the experience. Would it be the romantic, isolated, poetic place I'd imagined, and I'd imagined Petrarch writing about? (For to tell the truth I've hardly dipped into the great Italian sonneteer.)

    The approach warned against this noble conceit. Many cars. Down-at-the-heels tourist café. Worst of all, rock climbers hanging from ropes and things, directly over the source. But none of this cancelled the curiously atavistic quality of actually seeing this miraculous place, where a river — the aptly named Sorgue — pours out from a large, mysterious hole at the base of a granite cliff. You can see Moses at work here, if you're biblically oriented.

  • The Fount of Arethusa: at the edge of Ortigia, the island just next to Siracusa, an improbable pool of fresh water not twenty feet from the salt Mediterranean, celebrated by poets from Virgil's time to ours. Like the Fontaine de Vaucluse, this is a much-visited site. The first day we saw it a woman was selling ices from her bicycle, and a group of high-school girls was listening to a lecture about the pool and its history and hydrology, in German, from a serious-looking young man in wire-rimmed glasses. As you see here, the site hasn't changed a lot in the last hundred years.
    StoricoAretusa.jpgcascade vaimahuta.jpg
  • Cascade Vaimahuta, on the north coast of Tahiti Nui: Is it twenty years and more since we were there? Here's the journal entry:
    Took bus around past Point Venus to Papenoo to see waterfall, walking to it a couple of miles up a paved road past little farm-settlements, with small offerings of fruits or eggs on forlorn tables for sale to chance bypassers; walked back to blowhole Arahoho; then hitchhiked back to Arue, catching a ride on the back of a pickup, shared with a grinning urchin who got out halfway there; bus back to Papeete.
    It was our last day on the island, and the excursion could have cost us a lot: at the pool we remembered our plane would be taking off in a couple of hours. We were stunned to realize there was no return bus for many hours, and we were lucky to catch that ride.

  • 1 comment:

    Curtis Faville said...

    A lot of the most interesting places are closeer than you think. We travel all the way around the world to see something that might be just across town. Sometimes travelogues are better than actually going there--whereas at other times "you had to be there."

    Burano--those painted houses!

    But if you take the time, there are hundreds of fascinating little bungalows in the Bay Area. We live in an architecturally rich area--no need to go halfway around the world to have fun looking at houses.

    I did a Maybeck tour on my own years ago, and there were places that no one ever noticed, in "plain site" as it were. And I could have bought a huge Gutterson residential bungalow in Berkeley in the 1970's, for around $180,000. Today it's undoubtedly worth ten times that, even if hasn't been restored.