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Travelogue A20

May 30, 2014

Off to one side from the chamber, a small museum sits with maps, artifacts and historical explanations housed beneath the glass of a display case. The reading materials were numerous, so I was selective in my investigations, opting for objects over charters and ledgers. I did, however, pause for a time before a small case with carved stone and a small card reading “Grenzen van macht – grensteen met de Brugse”. Puzzling out what I could from my paltry German, I understood this small stone to be an old border marker of control, setting out the city’s authority, otherwise unseen. As, without a doubt, it occurred to me at the time, borders belong to a class populated by peculiar entities. These are abstract and unseen, but we nonetheless accept such entities as matters of fact, as real as any common thing that we may come across. Naturally, I wondered if anyone had ever found the time to make a thorough catalogue of and establish a taxonomy for these facts which, in truth, are of another kind entirely. For these stem from and belong ever to the imagination. Some days later, I cannot help but think that, perhaps, some good might come of restoring a measure of this imaginary status and thereby allow it to take on new form as befits its nature, independent of brute reality.

The final stop of my travels brought me to the Gruuthusemuseum, an old city manor. Although it once housed the city’s elite, it now contains myriad raw materials and manufactured objects which collectively illustrate the know-how of the city and era’s craftsmen. I have kept relatively little of this visit with me in memory, save for one room, branching off from the last room of the permanent exhibition. Due to its length in my mind’s eye, this room, trimmed in dark wood, seems as much a gallery as a room. At one end, a number of panes and casements stand above narrow benches and kneelers trimmed in red felt. At first unaware of the room’s purpose, I tarried for some minutes inspecting the wooden cabinets, large and small, to be found to either side of the windows. As I found nothing there, I turned my attention at last to the hint of a draught about the room and was stunned by the exterior onto which the room’s windows opened. Stockstill, I found myself gazing out at the interior of the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk.

Surprised though I was to learn that this chapel overlooked the inside of a church, I was more taken aback by the thought of the strange circumstances surrounding its construction. Indeed, I attempted to guess at whether the church walls had parted beneath the growing pressure of the manor. Perhaps instead, the manor had been the first, and the church had grown about it as trees are wont to do in the presence of some foreign object. I thought to find the confirmation of my hypothesis in the scaffolding and tarps which swallowed columns, flagstones and artworks alike. Here was a sign of building and worksites, lending some credence to the church’s youth relative to the manor.

My feet brought me some hours later to my train, the first of three in my return to Metz. My brain still alight with a sense of tinkering wonder, I tried my best to ease the tension with a book. What I found in Pale Fire‘s “Third Canto” (lines 804-829) did little more than stoke that sensation:

“Life Everlasting–based on a misprint!
I mused as I drove homeward: take the hint
And stop investigating my abyss?
But all at once it dawned on me that this
Was the real point, the contrapuntal theme;
Just this: not text, but texture; not the dream
But topsy-turvical coincidence,
(810) Not flimsy nonsense, but a web of sense.
Yes! It sufficed that I in life could find
Some kind of link and bobolink, some kind
Or correlated pattern in the game,
Plexed artistry, and something of the same
Pleasure in it as they who played it found.

It did not matter who they were. No sound,
No furtive light came from their involute
Abode, but there they were, aloof and mute,
Playing a game of worlds, promoting pawns
(820) To ivory unicorns and ebony fauns;
Kindling a long life here, extinguishing
A short one there; killing a Balkan king;
Causing a chunk of ice formed on a high-
Flying airplane to plummet from the sky
And strike a farmer dead; hiding my keys,
Glasses or pipe. Coordinating these
Events and objects with remote events
And vanished objects. Making ornaments
Of accidents and possibilities.”

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