From chapter 8 of The Happy Valley, by Annemarie Schwarzenbach
But what help could caution be? – Meanwhile, the ache of embankments has been breached and become boundless.
Boundless: tomorrow’s lanes, flooded. – I must learn to walk on water and step through fire with invulnerable feet. I learn to believe in magic [….] So I persevere, I endure as a being without future and hope. Only till the day begins: ecstasy in every acre.
In this country I wander through all eras. The division of centuries is abolished, the ancient monuments become tableaus of ceaseless reoccurrence, and hours’ fading trails, symbolics of an eternal pact. In such a way could you recover the stone tablets? What discoveries are still meant for me? – Patience!—Sometimes I don’t know if I am being delivered to a martyrdom or nameless ravishment. The abundance bewilders me, the range is too broad, I stray thirsty through vineyards and sleep under date palms that shower me with their fruit. I touch everything: grass, cows, shells and cores, the rough wool of sheep, clay baked in the sun, coolness of fat urns, flatbread, unsalted and warm coming from round ovens, hissing mules, stone lions’ heads, blue pearls, amulets—everything with undivided tenderness. I catch the wind in the bushes and lean over the dark depths of wells. No memories tying threads, no familiar names, and the light of these days is so bright that it casts no shadow between the objects and me. I face them unimpeded. The painful sight of a cliff face—it is too high, my eyes cannot contain it. I go farther, a valley opens up, the slopes to the left are striped with terraces, to the right, corn-yellow fields, a compact herd of clay huts, over them a white mosque, over it a teal cupola. The valley’s exit is sealed by a white mountain. The sky is transparent, melting light.
And I watch—submersion, painless silence— , and hear the spheres go round. Wonderful interlocking of light-rays born with the evening, ghosting through immaculate arches, innocent as young animals, graceful and troubled as the fog on the forest edge, flashing and swift as fireballs. The cliff has become an iron shield, above it crackle solitude and lightning bolts. My tired eyes sweep back to the valley, there on the hillside the darkness is cast, the terraces extinct, the fields sunk into sleep—, the white mosque—, a pale sickle moon—, the peace of the night is gentle as dew.
At an early hour I hear the chant of norias and meet the first of men. — I come from the stone desert, from a distant nightfall—the sun was a chrysalis and lay still on the border of day and night. Cold and the weak light held the plain in a leaden embrace. The stone desert: poor land, faded tufts of grass ceaselessly searching for breath and their seeds in the wind scatter like thirsty calls…. Eventually my road wound over naked slabs of rock, like the backs of tortoises. To the west, the sun still stalled, frozen, I knew the world was unborn, under floods of sand. – The journey lasted so long in the twilight—my courage almost ran out.—Then I heard from far away, distinctly and undeniably, the chanting of great waterwheels: crossbeams, turning onerously on their pivots, the rattle of wooden spokes—, and the gurgling stream, caught into a current and scooped by clattering buckets, borne up in the momentum of a powerful, perpetuating cycle, distributed and carried away in troweled wooden gutters to canals, to fields, to waiting gardens. A whole network of canals spreading over the green earth, music of water thrumming like a string section! […]
I sometimes wonder if my eyes will go blind and be fixed on an inert lunar valley. – But soon I’m chasing jackals through the Mesopotamian desert, where the ancient canals know the dams to be collapsed, the rivers to have changed their course and the city that their banks once supplied, to be crumbled and sunk into dust. I shoot wild ducks in the marshes of Birs Nimrud, I rest in the shadow of Babylonian towers, and at morning I step through the deadened streets, climb up the ragged hills, where cities and temples were once enthroned, and search (fruitlessly) for hanging gardens. There is the gold-paved procession route: grass overruns its tiles, a shepherd boy is asleep, his head resting on the backs of his lambs. Daniel boy, look up,— so I can meet the innocence in your eyes! – I’ve already stayed too long in this place, where the seven wonders of the world convene with the glory of sin [….]
I travel south, where the graveyard of kings awaits, graves filled to the brim with abandoned treasures. It would be a pleasure to tunnel for the jewels, pearls, collars, armlets and diadems, the precious snakeheads—clasps slipping over your hands. The necklaces of Lapis Lazuli, made for the sallow beauty of a princess—, useless as a rosary, and the diamond diadems, they’ll never decorate crimped hair again: I will get drunk on the impermanence of ruling houses, I will breathe in frankincense blown away to dust. And finally I will go down to the dead riverbed to the rustling lizards and will hear in the night barking jackals.