writers are ghost-hunters (the ambivalence of the muse) – part 2

I’ve recently returned home from Paris – although Paris is kind of home too.

I recharged the batteries and, due to an unforeseen problem on this visit, had very little internet to play with. A proper blessing in disguise, like the old days; more time to take in the ancient sights and scents… Inspiration.

Something else unforeseen, and equally inspirational, was a drive to the city of Chartres. If you’ve never been, it is, suffice to say, yet another typical medieval gem. But before my coming to this unforeseen pleasure, please cast your minds back to a post I wrote in February, about writers as ghost-hunters, and the “ambivalence of the muse”. For it may help you appreciate my dilemma, my ambivalence with regard to what I encountered in Chartres’ mind-blowing cathedral, which is currently undergoing restoration, the likes of which I’ve never before witnessed.

In the above post I talked of how old and abandoned buildings worked as a muse for writers; buildings the walls of which their silence echoes the voices belonging to people long-gone, essentially by the fact that said walls look and feel their age. And that – and this is where the ambivalence plays its part – although we may like to think of a building-in-restoration being returned to its former glory, we also appreciate that, with each sandblast, its history is being eradicated. Something my dad passed down to me, I told you, which I’ve since passed down to my daughter, is rubbing my hands along such walls, as in sponging up its past, like reaching back – not too dissimilar to when Christopher Eccleston was playing Doctor Who and that there lost Dalek plunged one of its plungers into that there thing and downloaded the entire internet in a few seconds. Did you see that one? Wow. But of course, I’m talking about something far more human and spiritual

What it all came down to in Chartres rather reminded me of our friend Phillip’s outlook on life in Wood, Talc and Mr. J – have you read it yet? His seeing everything in black and white, sometimes literally. For the walls in Chartres’ magnificent cathedral were and are being literally transformed from black to white, and I didn’t know how to take it; as part of me stood in awe, beguiled by the breathtaking splendour, another part of me yearned to cry out that the workers lay down their tools, halt their engines, that, while a 1000 or so year old building would one day be unveiled as new, its antique spirit would lose its home, and so flee… fly away, never to return… its past life rubbed out.

Oh, I know you see me as a romantic old thing. So just think, if Gt Yarmouth could inspire me the way it did, with its early 20th century, weary masterpieces, think of the effect Chartres’ cathedral had on me. Can you imagine the number of European events to have been discussed, both reverently and at times irreverently, within those walls?? Like, say, happenings touching The Hundred Years War, et al! The whispers, the mild echoes – ‘These were his words, my gracious Lord; “No king of England if not King of France!”

Are those whispers being erased? They are for me…

I guess it’s all subjective. But you may recall in my post inspired by a visit to Gt Yarmouth that I turned on to Phillip Larkin’s poetry many years ago only on reading his poem Churches, in which he celebrates not the edifices’ religious but historical, human spirit. I imagine him to have touched the walls, too, and maybe closed his eyes…

I can only wonder, now, what my old dad, who quit this mortal coil 20 years ago this year, would have made of it – though I did touch as many black bits around the place as I could in his honour, to the point of bewildering a group of Japanese tourists, who continued not only to smile in bemusement but actually take photos of me.  But I rather think he’d have felt the same way I did: ambivalent. In fact, I like to think he was beside me, urging me to bring about that halt to proceedings, so to leave the place just as it was: a black and white edifice, combining all its glory, its original beguilement, and its fascinating history.

Yes, I like that; my dad agrees, too, I bet: that we should see its life in black and white. Just like Phillip sees life in black and white, as I keep saying.

I don’t know, isn’t it amazing! The working mind of a writer? I wouldn’t settle for anything else…


Chris Rose

Your literary, soulful friend

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