Early in the morning, when we departed the medieval town, the sun illuminated church spires and the sloping roofs of houses; it danced on the cobblestone streets and hid narrow lanes in cold shadow.
High in the town portal, storks had built their nests.
We basked in the promise of spring…….
Ascending a mountain side, we traversed vineyards and higher up, thickets of leafless trees.
The air echoed to the sounds of streams and rivers.
Then clouds obscured the sun and brought cold winds and snow.
A different kind of magic appeared, as sudden as a conjurer’s trick.
The magic of silence.
Our boots sunk deep into the crisp snow, leaving a trail of deep prints behind us.
The clouds and the snow cleared and a paltry sun shone as we neared our goal: the ruins of a castle, dating from the 14th century.
Walking around what was left of the walls and turrets and taking in the view of wide plains, I reflected upon the work that went into building that castle. Armies of peons had labored – and died – in the process of hewing massive blocks of stone and hoisting them into place.
The Lord of the Manor, the defender of the realm, had spared no expense in order to secure a strategically commanding position.
The 14th century had been a time of incessant war. Enemy armies could appear over the horizon at any time and defeat meant death – and worse: wholescale butchery, pillage and rape was the inevitable fate of the defeated.
There sequestered in the castle, the soldiers of the Lord kept a constant watch on the horizon. If the castle fell, then so did he – and the lives of thousands of people working in the vineyards and fields and the towns.
Besides war, the 14th century had also brought the Black Plague.
People died in their homes and on the streets and those eternal evil doers, the Jews, were blamed for the plague and were murdered and driven off.
Along with the witches.
War and plague led to people falling prey to all sorts of irrational explanations and far-fetched ideas.
And committing unspeakable crimes.
The way I thought then was that we were above all that now. Progress had changed the world, had changed us. Our lives were so much better, so much easier. The real lords of the manor were us, the tourists of the 21 century, free to gaze and wonder, to come and to go. To ponder the hardships and crimes of the past.
In early 2019, wandering around the ruins of that castle I felt like I was looking through a window into the past – never suspecting that one day, two years later, I might find myself on the other side of the window and realizing that we were not absolved of history, not above it, but a part of it, equally as vulnerable to its horrors and its barbarity.
That the 14th century was a lot closer than I thought.
Plague and war.
Covid and The Ukraine.
Today, The Castle, the ruins left in the wake of time and change, stares back at me.
On top of that mountain, so far and yet, so near.