Having returned the friend to the speedy TGV-train that had first brought him to La Roche, to play chess and to enjoy ma douce France, now to bring him back to Amsterdam, I immediately fled the architectural horror of postmodern urbanism surrounding the railway station of Poitiers.
As I had been very tired already, the idea was to return straight to my little hamlet, some ninety kilometers into the interior. But again travelling the first thirty kilometers of that straight ugly road, passing through flat territory and endless suburbs with ‘sleeping policemen’ galore and 30 km/h signs all over the place, was frightening me. So I took a sharp turn to the right, to let my car idle through autumn delights.
Suddenly, I knew where to go.
On my way there, I found some solace in this fine Modern building, as it were a go-between, a stepping stone from ugly Postmodernity into the cherished Middle Ages, a factory built in about 1930, however now defunct:
Then, half an hour later, up there on the little mountain of Morthemer stands the Chapelle, in a hamlet of three houses and one dog – and of course that little church itself. It hides the one and only true hortus conclusus that during this life I have been in. Walking towards it, I heard cork-dry leaves lisping over the graveled place and chestnuts burst open on receptive stones.
Perchance, at their ending, believers may find heaven awaiting, that may be a secluded garden as well. For the infidel, however, this must be it: Heaven perhaps, but certainly Paradise on earth. One enters it on the chapel’s right side. Then this is what you then see:
Wholly walled in is this Garden of Eden, at most 10×20 square meters large. You walk towards this stony wall, sit down on a little chair that you have taken with you, and then turn around:
Unexpectedly, the little edifice rises sky-high – an effect of being in this confined space with no way of taking distance.
Spread out like a Persian carpet, which always represents a watered garden in the middle of the dry barrenness of a desert, there it is – my little plot.
The body being sequestered inside such small confinement, one’s mind, perhaps even one’s spirit is closing in upon itself, thus mirroring the little hortus which, as a micro-cosmos, is emulating the greater cosmos out there. Or so they say.
Is this then religion? Perhaps ‘religious’ is the better word, meaning ‘binding anew’ or a ‘rereading attentively’. Revisiting one’s life. Inside the hortus conclusus one ponders existence, that being out of oneself, now turning in upon itself.
No – religion is the denial of life, thus the denial of death. Religion is opium for those who cannot cope with the idea that all is never-ending, while one’s life does indeed terminate. Calvinism is religion’s extreme, that godless theology in which from the very start God is a Devil who, ‘in the beginning’, predestines for all beings, before they are even born, whether they will be saved or condemned.
The hortus conclusus is more catholic, thus more humane, linked through its beliefs to all that came before, like the desert, the gardens and its life-giving water. There is that feeling of continuity with life surrounding us, with other people, also with birds and with deer and with flowers – a bond. The hortus conclusus is a symbol of the Source of Life, the womb. Re-entering it may be infantile, but certainly wise as well.
Here, in this confined garden, an infidel like me ponders the tomato in his lunch box, celebrating what is probably and sadly the last fruit he will eat coming the garden of his French friend Roland. Three days ago, that man has been diagnosed with leukemia. His three weeks stay in hospital resulted in a barren desert of its own – his former vegetable garden, the alpha and omega of his life after his wife died some years ago.
Time to leave. I cannot wait for the key-stone to drop out of the little garden-cosmos. Though fall it will, one of these days.
Out there, it is already happening. Just a few minutes after descending Morthemer’s mountain, I enter the latter-day desert of France, its once gorgeous countryside ruined by remembrement, the efficient re-allocation of farmer’s territory which resulted in the destruction of a feudal tapestry of little plots by ripping out thousands of hedges and lined-up oaks.
Left are these vast and miserable prairies. No escaping this, in front of me as well as from behind the desert is chasing me.
The Claws of Capital, stretching out into the vaster landscape, yet also piercing the finer texture of our consciousness. Everything Mondrian-straight, all Corbusier-flat.
Out there, in the far distance, the threatening towers of our modern castles loom high, chimneys of an atomic plant dominating the horizon.
Perhaps, that capstone has already fallen from its setting…
Sierksma La Roche 26.9/2017