Down through the blurred splendor,
down through the night of stone, let me plunge my hand
and let the ancient heart of the forgotten
throb within me
like a bird imprisoned for a thousand years!
Today let me not forget this joy which is wider than the sea,
because man is wider than the sea and all her islands,
and one must fall into him as into a well in order to rise from the depths
with a branch of secret water and sunken truths
~ from Heights of Macchu Picchu XI by Pablo Neruda (trans)
Nothing on this earth is ordinary to me: not a morning cup of stygian coffee nor the heights of Machu Picchu. Though I easily find “magnificence in the mundane”, there is indeed magnificence in the magnificent.
December 2013: As I stood some 9000 feet above sea level, at the very zenith of mount Wayna Picchu, overlooking the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, gazing at the sublime peaks of the Andes and the meandering valleys that snaked their way through the undulating earth, I was breathless and speechless. I cried. And the Inca gods wept with me as the skies opened and their tears trickled down. Though the heavy downpour occluded my sight lines, so much so was my stupefaction that I did not even realise that the clouds were obstructing my view. How does one notice clouds when they are in the clouds? Then for a moment, it all stopped; all the tears — the sky’s and mine– the billowy balls of condensed vapour parted and my eyes widened in awe the very glory of the universe “swam into [my] ken”
And even, after a bus ride, train trip and van drive brought me to beautiful San Blas in the city of Cusco at the end of that journée époustouflante, I still had no words. And so allowed someone far more eloquent and steeped in the language of the Peruvian people to speak for me, as I feverishly scribbled in my journal, attempting to immortalize in ink the feeling of sublimity:
Stone upon stone, and man, where was he?
Air upon air, and man, where was he?
Time upon time, and man, where was her?
…I question you, salt of the roads,
show me the spoon; architecture, let me
gnaw stone stamens with a stick
climbing up the staircase of air until the void,
scraping away at the womb until I touch man
Macchu Picchu, did you place
stone upon stone, and at the base rags?
Coal above coal, and at the bottom, the teardrop?
Fire into gold, and within it, trembling, the heavy red raindrop of blood?
Give me back the slave that you buried!
Tell me how he slept while he lived.
Tell me if he snored,
if his dreams were half open, like a black hole
dug by fatigue into the wall.
The wall, the wall! If every floor of stone
stood crushing his dreams and if he fell below her
as if under a moon, sleep!
~from Heights of Macchu Picchu X by Pablo Neruda (trans)
The ruins of Machu Picchu. In the background is Mount Wayna Picchu. I had the painful pleasure of hiking up 9000 feet to the very apex of this mountain to observe the ruins. It was a perspective most ineffable
“There are gashes and fissures that speak of the pressures of millennia, offering up cross sections through disproportionate expanses of time. The earth’s tectonic plates have rippled granite as though it were linen” ~ from The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton
Svarga davidasana (bird of paradise) pose at the penultimate stop on Wayna Picchu
John Ruskin understood our innate human desire to not only experience beauty, but to possess it. As such, he encouraged everyone to practice sketching, not for the purpose of mastery, but rather to teach us to look with the “sketcher’s eye”, paying grave attention to detail so as to understand why we find what we do beautiful and thus imbuing ourselves with the capability of carrying that beauty within us forever.
Gomukhasana (Cow face) pose at the very apex of Mount Wayna Picchu
“Sublime places repeat in grand terms a lesson that ordinary life typically introduces viciously: that the universe is mightier than we are, that we are frail and temporary and have no alternative but to accept limitations on our will; that we must bow to necessities greater than ourselves.”
~ from The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton