A Story Beneath My Feet

I recall my visits to England with affection.  My memories are full of architecture – cold bulks that spoke great narratives of vanished generations.  There were museums with jewelry and hummingbird feathers, ivory crossbows, buried ships and silver gowns.  There were books that captured inaccessible decades between linen and paper.  I stayed in old hotels with uneven floors that served afternoon tea and evening absinthe.  I recall ducks, pigeons, swans and white peacocks stalking lawns like irritable clouds.

I remember the castles:  cracked and shattered, their silhouettes created bleak mountain ranges and inspired mad imaginings.  They were broken limbs; remnants of bodies centuries old that still longed to speak, to tell their life stories.

One castle had a story for me, and I almost walked over it.  The castle's name escapes me, but I know that I wandered through its chambers and stood before its tall, yawning fireplace.  I looked down at the stone tiles.  They were smooth and blank, polished by long-moldered slippers embroidered with flowers and birds, spike-toed poulaines and shoes with tips that curled like a scorpion's tail and then were tied to the knee with gold chains.

All except for one tile.  Faintly, like a private message, I saw a gentle design forcing itself through the expressionless granite.  I wonder who else noticed that diffuse etching as I heard it whisper of the muzzled fires that whipped away the cold of an English winter. 

In its prime, when the walls were whitewashed and studded with antlers and quatrefoils, was that single tile one of a vast design of medieval marquetry?  Was it buried under armfuls of dried rushes, scented with a tincture of herb and flower? 

Or was it the air that was sweetened – by dulcimers, lutes and recorders?  Did it feel the softness of woolen hems as the ladies' dresses warmed the carvings of the cold, granite floor?

When I saw that stony wink fluttering up at me; filtering through the decades, full of confidences and histories, I knew that I had found the secret to that castle's life.  I had found its key, right where it was meant to be found, beneath my feet.

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9 responses to “A Story Beneath My Feet

  1. [هذا هو الحكم]

  2. I want to read this over and over.

  3. If you can still see the pattern, it probably had a table parked on it 😉 For a few hundred years. I like the polish that wood gets when it's used, all the roughness rubbed away by thousands of hands or feet going about their lives… Polished stone is good too, though colder. You should read "A Charmed Life" by Liza Campbell, it is quite the account of living in a historical castle.

  4. So much history to be explored. Fascinating.

  5. Castles have a reputation for indimidation, freezing stairways and cold, expressionless stone. And many tables.
    However, with each one I've visited I've always been overwhelmed by the life still huddled in the corners, the memories waiting to be recognized.
    I've never read "A Charmed Life" – it sounds both knowledgeable and sympathetic; like it would treat realism thoughtfully.

  6. This is why I like living in the United States. Even in Boston, I could, with only the smallest of existential crises, imagine that I walked among buildings that were three hundred years old. Now that I'm in the Southwest, I only have to imagine myself dwelling amidst a century or so of earnest European-descended dwelling. But Europe? Staring into a gaping maw of time that goes back over a thousand years in some places? Scares the crap out of me.(In other news, you were the subject of a crisis of blog etiquette, which eventually was resolved in favor of open doors and lack of social contracts.)

  7. Europe, in many cases, is The Source. Thousands of years frowning down on you, demanding that you take notice. Just make sure you bring a notebook.
    (Incidently, when you enter The Cafe Royal, you'll see that the door is unlocked, and there is nothing to sign. You are free to walk around.)

  8. I could hear the ruffles of the skirt and the soles of shoes and slippers meeting floor in your prose. It's lovely.

  9. So beautiful… I can practically feel the tiles beneath my feet.

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