Monday, May 4, 2020

The Badgers of Montpelier Hill

When I was a child growing up in Dublin, a friend dropped her pet hamster on the kitchen floor. The animal survived but thereafter he could only walk in circles. As the hamster got older, the circles got wider but like a ship permanently anchored to shore it never got particularly far.
Like most children, I had taken a fall or two and because I was a worrier I felt concerned that like that hamster I would never travel very far. Though I did, indeed, travel and I am now thousands of miles from home, I still think of my life as occurring in a series of ever widening circles.
At first, I was confined to our back garden. We lived in the Templeogue Village an inglorious suburb on what at the time was a trailing edge of Dublin. Over the garden wall were farm fields and farther off were the Dublin Mountains.
Sure enough over the years, I explored the fields and when I got a little older, I would cycle into the foothills of those mountains.
Now there was one hill in particular that I was drawn to: officially called Montpelier Hill it is also called The Hell Fire Club. The story was that a structure built there in the early 1700s as a hunting lodge for delinquent aristocratic youth had also been used by them for somewhat darker practices. One night the devil himself showed up there at a card game. In the hubbub that followed, a candle was knocked over and the lodge burned to the ground. By the time I started to cycle there, The Hellfire Club was an innocuous forestry plantation. The burned lodge remains.
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Saturday, May 2, 2020

A place of silence

New Piece in Aeon

"Our cities are filled by the hubbub of human-made noise. Where shall we find the quietness we need to nurture our spirit?"

To walk from south to north on the peripatos, the path encircling the Acropolis of Athens – as I did one golden morning in December last year – takes you past the boisterous crowds swarming the stone seats of the Theatre of Dionysus. The path then threads just below the partially restored colonnades of the monumental Propylaea, which was thronged that morning with visitors pausing to chat and take photographs before they clambered past that monumental gateway up to the Parthenon. Proceed further along the curved trail and, like an epiphany, you will find yourself in the wilder north-facing precincts of that ancient outcrop. In the section known as the Long Rocks there are a series of alcoves of varying sizes, named ingloriously by the archaeologists as caves A, B, C and D. In its unanticipated tranquility, this stretch of rock still seems to host the older gods.

I sat below these caves that morning appreciating a respite from the tumult and, for a few minutes, I just listened. The pursuit of quietness, especially in urban areas has become a preoccupation of mine in recent years. However, the quiet I experienced below the caves of Zeus Astrapaios, of Apollo and of Pan was not precisely an encounter with silence, for it was punctuated by many sounds. A family of cats mewled; the wind gusted playfully across the limestone and the schist, and sent the leaves scuttering along the pavement. A murmur of voices rose up occasionally from the cafes of the Plaka neighbourhood; someone, somewhere, played a melancholy air on the klarino. All of these sounds were pleasant to my ears. This form of quietness, one that is not precisely silence, is characterised rather by an absence of noise or βοή (voe) in Greek, a word that might also translate as clamour, or din. I call the sort of auditory lull that, at the same time, asserts a benevolent presence, ‘avoesis’ (that is, the absence of voe or noise).

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