from The Curvature of Certainty / Rennes le Chateau
....I could feel the last strands slipping through the crevices of my brain.
From years ago, when I still lived by the river in my wide-windowed, centrally heated flat, I have a vivid memory.
I awoke, sweating, from an intense dream. I had a clear vision of distinctive low lying hills and stone buildings over which I was flying. As I flew, surveying the warm hills and the stone villages, I had heard a voice saying, “The child will be looked after.” I was terribly shaken. It wasn't just the flight and the voice. These had been the tip of a vast iceberg. I felt as though I'd been given a highly privileged tour of how things worked. I felt as though I had been delivered of a wonderfully comprehensive all-embracing explanation.I was in tears. I couldn't recall the details of the explanation. I was scrabbling around for pen and paper to write down the vestiges of the memory, but could already feel it dissipating. I could feel the last strands slipping through the crevices of my brain.
By the time I was writing, I could only remember the circumstantial evidence. I was distraught. I didn't know what to do. It was the middle of the night; there was no place to go. I got up. I started pacing. I had to go outside, clutching my writing clipboard. The river was flowing by in the darkness. I was hoping I might find a clue as to this explanation, but the dream was already another dimension - a separate reality. I stumbled down to the river. I walked along it. No clues. I had this terrible hollowness, a vacuum in my guts, a missed opportunity of immense unearthly significance.
I looked up and saw a light in the window of one of the flats in another big house near the river. I knew those people; young guys renting their own flat, just getting used to not having parents around. I went up to the window and peered in. They were all smoking dope, spaced out. I watched for a moment or two. No movement. I rapped on the window. They jumped about a foot. One of them came over, opened the window, and invited me in. I crawled through and sat down with them. They said what are you up to. I said I had just lost this dream and wondered if they could help me. I was actually weeping and I had to say, “Ignore this, it’s meaningless.” Through my sobs I explained the situation. I asked them if they would look at my notes and simply comment in any way they saw fit whilst I took further notes. I was so desperate for the return of the explanation that I felt I might get a clue from their collective unconscious, as it were. They agreed and solemnly passed the notes around among themselves and said what came to mind. They did their best. No melodrama; no condescension; no egotism, but it was no use. The explanation was lost, without a trace.
A couple of years later, I happened to be passing near Rennes Le Chateau. I had read about the place in “The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail”. For obscure reasons, probably related to what I felt at the time was the profundity of the book, I felt I couldn't just go up there, rubber necking like a tourist. I felt I had to have a reason or a signal.
I was playing music in the area between Toulouse and Perpignan; a sort of busking tour with my partner, Nick. We were living in a Transit van and at the homes of the more hospitable people we met. This was about February time; a bit wet and gray on occasion, but often sunny and benign as you would expect a winter to be in the south of France. The valleys in this area were full of refugees from the seventies - hippies who had moved there from various places in search of a different lifestyle. Different valleys had a predominance of different linguistic groups. The German hippies had converged in one valley; the English in another; the Dutch in another, and so on. Each valley had a sort of central culture spot; a cafe or a bar. We used to play them when we could get the bookings.
On one occasion, we played a bar in one of the German valleys, but our reputation (on the local level) was such that people from the other valleys came along as well. We’d also had some local radio time (the French are very good about local radio - not like the English). The gig was straight forward enough. We were great and the people loved us, but at the end of the second set, a fight broke out. Two huge French guys (brothers, I later found out) got into an extremely heated argument and it wasn't long before furniture and crockery began to fly through the air. Everybody was completely pissed of course, including the woman who ran the bar. She actually got embroiled in the epicentre of the fight herself. Nick and I carefully rushed our guitars and amps into the safety of a back room. There we sat, had a spliff and some brandy, and awaited the outcome of all the noise and confusion in the front. One of the women came through to the back room, pissed, but wanting to chat up the band. We had the sort of chat you might expect in such a pissed situation, leading nowhere and meaning nothing, until I heard her mention that she lived in Rennes Le Chateau!
Suddenly my brain cleared for action and focussed. She was mostly talking to Nick. He was younger and prettier. But I extracted the full rambling story. She lived in Rennes with her husband who was out in the bar (possibly fighting). They hardly ever listened to the radio, but this very day they had happened to switch it on, happened to tune to one of the local stations, happened to hear a couple of our tracks with a mention of where we were playing, and happened to like the music enough to come out for the evening. I reckoned this must be the set of circumstances I was waiting for; my excuse for going to Rennes. I tried to talk a bit more about Rennes itself, but she was too pissed and too interested in Nick. However, she did say, “Pourquoi vous n'venez pas chez nous pour la nuit?”
....because by now they had their tongues inside each others' mouths
Hey, just the words I was anticipating. Great stuff. The signal from the other reality, the other side. Come on up to Rennes. I began to hustle. Hey, lets pack the gear up. Phew I’m so tired, I could really crash out right now. Lets do it to it. Nick and the woman were ignoring me because by now they had their tongues inside each others' mouths, but, nevertheless, I hustled on out through the last throes of the fighting masses in the bar to start stashing the gear in the van. As I stepped outside, I sensed something was different. I paused.
It was snowing.
I'm such an emotional fool, particularly under the influence of intoxicants. I stood there in the soft night, listening to the snow falling. I hadn't heard the snow fall for years and years. I was transported straight back to my childhood in Canada. Big soft flakes falling. The ground slowly, quietly submerging under the cover of the thick white bedding. I stood there transfixed.
I was still stood there, transfixed, when the others started to come out. I snapped to, and we loaded the van. Yvonne, for that was her name, had told her husband that we were coming up to stay the night at their house. He and one of his pals were lurching into their car. Yvonne told him she was coming in our van to show us the way.
There’s a mood associated with the sound of windscreen wipers working against heavy snow. We were silent most of the way. She gave directions at crucial points. Visibility was almost nil. Once we had to stop to get out and look more closely at a crossroad. We went up and up.
We finally reached Rennes in complete night-time whiteout. We could have been anywhere. More likely somewhere in Canada except that the buildings were all stone. We pulled up near their house and went in for coffee and brandy and listened to Michel (the husband) and his pal explain the intricacies of the fight back at the cafe. It turned out that the house was so small that there was no actual room to doss inside. Nick and I eventually withdrew to the Spartan comfort of the Transit van.
I awoke early the next morning. I could see bright light through the frost and snow on the van windows. I crawled stiffly out of my sleeping bag, my breath fogging, and over to the back doors. They were frozen shut and took a bit of hefty leverage. They sprang open, the ice taking yet more rubber lining off the door seal. The sun was shining. Thick, thick snow lay everywhere. The light was blinding. The air was crisp and sharp to breathe. There was not a sound. I struggled into some clothes and got out of the van. Nick was still completely wiped out. I closed the van doors and set off to explore.
I walked out of the main gates at the front of the town. White hills spread away to a haziness in every direction. As I looked out I had a strange rush of half-recognition, but couldn't quite place it. I turned left and began to walk around the town, just below the walls. The walls were not immense, but were majestic nevertheless; peaked in snow and with patches of white giving emphasis to different features. My boots scrunched - just like in Canadian snow. In some places I was up to my knees. Years since I’d been in snow like this. As I walked below the walls my eyes were constantly drawn to the hazy white hills. I still couldn't quite place them though they were obviously tweaking my memory banks. They weren't Canadian hills. White enough, but not enough trees. They weren't English hills. Far far too white and somehow too regular.
I came around to the south west corner and saw, just as illustrated in “The Holy Blood”, Berenger Sauniere’s folly; the rather extravagant house the priest had built himself next to the little church. He had built huge picture windows to allow him to gaze out over the hills and his flock. It seemed like a little chunk of Beverly Hills poked up on the hill top, peering out from the walled town. I turned to go down the hill to where a stone cross was meant to be standing. I passed a number of little stone huts for the shepherds and/or their sheep to crouch in. No one home on this occasion, but I found the cross and looked back up at the little town. Yes, just like the drawings and photographs I had seen. Perfect fit; although the cross was rather small. I looked back out behind me again. I supposed the recognition I was getting from the hills must be coming from the photo’s and drawings as well. But even as I supposed this, I knew it wasn't the truth.
I went slowly back up the hill, breathing the cold air, studying the silent walls, wondering about the snow-clad and hazy hills.
When I got back to the van, Nick was still passed out. I went into Yvonne and Michel’s house. They were just getting up and making coffee. Love the smell of that coffee; specially after the exhilarating air outside. Sober, they had much more of interest to say. Michel was actually illustrating a “bande desinee” (one of those hard cover comic books like “Asterix”) on the subject of Rennes Le Chateau and the various conspiracy theories. He promised to send me a copy (which I still have) in exchange for a couple of our tapes. Yvonne offered to take me over to the old chapel. Okay, just what I was hoping.
After coffee, we went to look for the old lady who keeps the key. We passed a sign prohibiting something which I didn't understand. Yvonne explained that it was prohibiting the use of metal detectors. Apparently foreigners, particularly Germans - the cultural shock troops of modern Europe, were coming in such great numbers and digging around so much for the supposed great treasure, that they were undermining some of the buildings and generally making a mess and a nuisance of themselves.
The old lady needed a few francs to make coming out of her house and over to the chapel worthwhile, but she even gave me a receipt. The chapel looks very small from the outside. Through the great doors, the first impression is of crowdedness. Just like any other small church in most respects, the impressive difference was the amount of religious clobber. It looked more like a mini cathedral in terms of the quantity and quality of ornamentation. The priest, Sauniere, had scoured France for these pieces, and obviously had the dosh to bring it all back home. There was so much stuff that you couldn't sensibly find space for it on the walls or in the ceilings, and items had to be left on the floor. The most striking of these was the evil looking horned Satan, snarling and writhing and emitting a chilling viciousness.
We stayed another night. All the snow was melting. Astonishing really, when you consider the amount of snow there was. I got up out of the van again the next morning. It was bright and warm and fragrant with unfrozen earth. The streets were running with water. I went down again for a wander by the front gates of the town. I looked out again at the hills now partially unclothed; their brown bodies revealed.
This time I was smacked hard by the recognition that had eluded me the day before - so hard that I actually took a few steps back. This time I knew exactly where I had seen them before.
They were the hills from my dream of nearly two years before.
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© 2013 Deacon Martin