Wednesday, December 19, 2018

UNDER PRESSURE

Stone blocks, dust, a burning sun and dreadful sultry heat. A swarm of people and lots of hammer blows. A large wooden scaffold and walls made out of white stone. I have no idea how

Andreea-Apetrei

Stone blocks, dust, a burning sun and dreadful sultry heat. A swarm of people and lots of hammer blows. A large wooden scaffold and walls made out of white stone. I have no idea how I got here, but everything around me makes me dizzy. I’m trying to move forward through the curtain of stone dust, but people cross my path, they stop me and tell me that I must not go any further. The people are tired, stressed, hungry and discouraged. In the hot afternoon sunshine of Curtea de Argeş, Manole’s monastery slowly, but surely, rises.

Beyond the chaos surrounding me, the angry shouts of craftsmen, the cries of hungry workers, I can hear a crystalline whistling, like a gust of wind bringing coolness. It caresses my face and disappears, and when I look towards the place it came from, I see the church. It is like a call I feel the urge to answer. I am hurrying that way among people, only thinking how much I would like to enter. I look at it, and find it to be beautiful, perfect. Its walls shine under the warm sunlight. It calls for me and I want to enter, to discover the same beauty inside, a building worthy of being dedicated to a stronger force than I am. I walk, always faster.

The first sacrifice. Time

I only stop when, coming out of the crazed swarm of people, a man around 65 years old, blinded by the sun and dust, sees me after cutting off my path. He gave me no second glance before continuing on his way, always grumbling:
«I have no time, no time. So many things to do. What if we can’t finish…?» I gaze at the stone blocks he is working on, with their perfect edges, their smooth surfaces, the immaculate white of the stone. Hours and days of hard work and patience were behind this perfection, such a long time dedicated to his true love, art.

I follow his steps up to the improvised outdoor workshop and I ask how are things going for him. But no chance discussing anything with him. All he does is gravitate around the stone. He cannot hear me; he can only hear the stone and what he must make out of it. It talks to him. Somewhere in the middle of the stone, he can see what it is going to be. And he’s not able to see anything else. His hand touches dearly the stone block, caressing it.

Most likely, it is cold, ice cold. But that’s fine, he can give it life.

He told me to move on, to stop keeping him from his work. So I try to back away. I hold my gaze on him for a while. Even so, I feel as if I know him. The man is working from dusk till dawn, day after day. He has a wife waiting for him at home with food on the table, after finishing all her housework. He does not help her, but she understands. Here is where his heart lays.

When he was young, the children never saw him; that is how much he used to work. Some nights he did not even come home, but nobody was worried. He was fine, he was happy. He was with his true love.

The second sacrifice. Freedom

Getting closer to the building, I pass through the dust curtain, among the rushing people holding tools in their hands, yelling to one another. They friendly pat their backs and talk to each other. I hear myself being called, some of them greet me curiously. Why am I here? What do I want? But I don’t want to stop for them. The church is calling for me.

But I suddenly meet a young man. He is now working on the details of the cornice, sculpting in stone and, from time to time taking a step or two back, looking at his work and admiring it.

I ask him how come he works so happily, smiling, and, without taking his hands off the chisel, he starts explaining that his work is his life. He loves what he does and finds fulfillness in sculpture. He’s always done this. He thinks that no one seemed to understand him, that he would have lost precious time thinking about others, when he already had so much care of his work. He has no family, nor he wants one; his craftsmanship is enough.

How could he give to another, when all he has he gives to the stone?

I continue my path to the future monastery. I look at it from time to time and I ask myself: «Is it worth it? Is it precious enough?»

The third sacrifice. Life

Then I meet another craftsman, who’s a little bit tired, but willing to talk, to share with others what he knows.

He tells me with terror that one time, early in the morning, he went to check again if the walls haven’t collapsed, only to find, between the fallen rocks around the church, his friend knocked down to the ground. «He was screaming with tears on his face» the man tells me, his voice trembling. «He was gathering the missing stone bits and was trying to put them back in their place. He was dusty, dressed only in a cotton shirt that once had been white, but then was soiled with sweat and earth. He looked as if he just woke up.»

The craftsman pauses, looks at me for a second and then continues, staring at the ground. He tells me about his friend who did not understand what he had done wrong; he was doing as taught by his father, who in his turn was taught by his father and so on. He followed the rules, he also tried on models, everything seemed fine. So why were the walls still collapsing? What was he doing wrong? Why was he the one to be wrong? Why did he work and learn for so long, for in the end to fail? It was his work, his life. And everything came crumbling down under his eyes. He could not bear the thought, it was slowly destroying him.

He managed to calm down in the end, the craftsman managed to bring him to his senses. He took him out of the sunlight, leant him by a tree, cleaned his face with his own handkerchief. When he went back to the church to wait for the others, he left him almost peaceful. He had hollow eyes and dark circles, he had trouble breathing, as if he had inhaled dust, and his body was trembling. The young man told him «That’s enough.»

The next day they found him in the same place, still on the ground. But his face was covered in blood and his body by stone blocks. He lay down by the wall and let his own work burry him.

The craftsman sights heavily when he finishes the story, gives me another glance and then moves along, saying that his pause was already too long and he had work to do. I was petrified by what I’ve learnt, by the early death of a young boy pained by the fact that his work couldn’t survive. It was dying before him every day. And I think he was dying along. Probably the boy had died long time before the stones crushed his body.

I look at the craftsman leaving. The stone had been waiting for him a while.

When I get back, I look at the church again. I was expecting to see the fallen walls, a body struggling next to them, maybe crying for help. Or maybe it would be quiet, waiting for all to end. But every trace of such an accident was long gone. Now, walls are complete, the insertions on the cornice shadowed by the framing. Windows found their place.

I still fell drawn towards the church. Surrounded by the same discrete whistle, it calls for me. I want to know it, to understand it.

I rush towards it. I’m afraid I could meet somebody else. What stories would they tell me? Thinking about what I’ve learnt so far, I figure I’d be better of not knowing. I want to look at the miracle before me without thinking about how many people lost their lives for its making.

The last sacrifice. Family

I stop for a moment. I can’t hear anything. But looking around, I can see agitated people, workers up on the scaffolds, I can see hammers hitting stone. What’s happening? Why can’t I hear anything?

And then I hear it. It’s like it’s breathing on my neck, I can feel the warmth, it tickles me. I turn around and I can’t see a thing. I try to figure out who would try to scare me. Nothing.

Before it stopped, but now I can hear it again. It comes from the monastery. It breaths heavily, as if suffocating. There’s no more air, but it tries.

A short, greedy inhale, an exhale. I can hear an accelerated heartbeat. It’s frightened. It’ll suffocate! I run towards the place I think I hear it from. I’m pulling people’s hand, begging them to help me. «Somebody’s suffocating» I beg. But they look at me indifferently. They shove me around, I stumble, but I still want to make it on time. I look up to the church and I’m blinded. Sunlight reflects on stone. I look down, and when I look again, an old man’s sitting in my path.

I stop. I feel like I know him forever.

It’s Manole. Surely it’s Manole. His face is sweaty and burnt by the sun. His eyes are shoved in his orbits and seem hollow. He’s always working, splitting stone, and sometimes he even tells others what to do and how to do it. Somehow he seems to be leading the site, everyone following his word. When coming close to him, all the other workers look down in respect.

He must be a man you rarely find.

I interrupt him and praise him for his work, for how well the site is going and for the monastery’s state. He gives me a sad look, nods and whispers «I did what I had to». I think that it was a thought out loud than a response for me. Now I watch him leave with his shoulders dropped. Next to me, I seem to hear again that ragged breathing, those suffocated lungs and that mad heart. Somewhere next to me somebody’s dying.

After sacrifices. Death

I step on the stone floor, and it seems to be just me, my steps are the only sound in that deep silence. I can’t feel the sun, I can’t feel the wind. I can’t hear the people anymore. The whole church is wrapped in the worm light entering through the window hollows. Calm and peace.

I close my eyes and breath slowly, and when I open them again, that dream picture I’ve seen a moment ago disappears; I lift my eyes up to the sky and I see its infinite blue; the roof is no more. The walls are stained with blood, and there are human skeletons around, leaning by the walls, laying on the cracked floor, soiled with mud. The windows are broken, glass pieces everywhere on the floor. Outside, I can hear the hammers hitting, people screaming, a relentless turmoil. The air is hot and my throat is hoarse, full of dust and heat. I can barely keep my eyes open in all that dust and sunlight.

And now and then, I can hear another wall falling.

Time passes by me.

I hear steps, people walking into the church. I turn around fast, I want to tell them not to look, to leave, that it hurts too much, that everything is too cruel, too painful, too unforgivable. But when I look at their faces, I find them smiling, and I can hear somebody say: «What a beautiful church!»

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