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QUINTESSENCE

Curves of Stone

Ancient Greek Amphitheater, Licata, Sicily
ANCIENT STAIRWAY

Footsteps like water hollow
the broad curves of stone
ascending, descending
century by century.
Who can say if the last
to climb these stairs
will be journeying
downward or upward?


- Denise Levertov

One of the beautiful gifts of travel is the tangible, vertical sense of history that settles into your bones. The knowledge that we, in common with the foot voyagers of the Levertov poem, are forever "ascending, descending" - following a common stairway. Making our way through history, through disparate cultures and across great expanses of both wild and domesticated geography. Our lives "like water hollow" the hard uncut material of what is Time.

Seated on a weathered granite stone, a circular "seat" in a grassy ancient Greek amphitheater in Licata, Sicily, I abruptly lost my sense of place. I absorbed the hardness, the truth of the sun-baked stone under my butt, and I suddenly "got" it. How many others had sat here before me, preparing to see the performance of an ancient tragedy or song poem? I experienced this dizzying awareness; a sense of time as an elevator. We plunge forward and backward, upward and down. All of us, everywhere and all the time. We live our lives in these narrow personal holograms, defined by axises of where, and when, and how. We, the "Who" of our stories, take humanity's well-traveled stairs again and again; overlaying the footprints of the many others who walked before us, who sat on our stones, danced our songs.

This sense of time as not chronological but vertical - a permanence, a layering of centuries and centuries of chosen and expended experiences - translated the ancient ruins and cultures of the Mediterranean in a dazzling new way for me. I was not witnessing, or visiting, or examining the world that once was. I was experiencing it. Tasting it. Smelling it in the wild grasses. Hitting the play button and stepping directly into projections of events past. The ancient world lives on in the old stones. It steps out of the shadows and kick pebbles at my feet.
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