Seville, famous Alcazar, ecstasy and precision

Often when I am wandering alone in foreign cities, I can barely restrain myself from crying out. What is this blessing, this miracle of being alive; of being old; of being thirsty and able to drink water and feeling refreshed through and through; of being hungry and eating a piece of bread and feeling one's bone's crackle with pleasure? And how came it that pleasure is so intertwined, so at home with Necessity?

I was sitting on a rock outside the Arab palace: the famous Alcázar. There was a pleasant sun. Seville was awake now, whirring like a beehive, with her fragrant gardens. It was still early morning, and the palace gates hadn't opened yet. I looked hard at my hands bathed in the early morning sunlight, and they seemed to be holding a golden ball. I touched my head, and it seemed to me like the ark, where all the birds and beasts and gods took refuge to save themselves, sailing over the abyss. That early morning, I blessed and wordlessly sang the praises of my five senses, for now-lo and behold!--the doors of the Arabian fairy tale were about to open, and they would be able to enter.

A noisy white cloud of doves flew up, scattering over my head. And suddenly, by a mysterious process of association, the tender words of the thrice-holy ascetic, Spinoza, sprang into my mind: "No god and no human being, unless he be evil, takes pleasure in hardships and torments. Nor does he consider as virtues tears, sighs, and terror. Quite the contrary: the more we rejoice, the higher we rise toward perfection [viz., the more we participate in the divine nature]. Hear me: It befits the wise man to rejoice and take power from delicious food and drink. It befits him to rejoice in the beauty of the earth, in ornaments that embellish, in music, and games . . . The free man never reflects on death. For him wisdom means to study not death, but life."

A pleasant breeze from Mohammed's paradise that is so like the earth blew over my forehead, and cleared away all laments and dirges. My heart felt liberated from all those gods who groan and frighten and refuse to leave poor man free from fear, to delight a bit in the color, sound, smell, taste of the world during the tiny flash of lightning while he is alive. For a moment, here at the threshold of the Alcázar, I sensed the real wisdom. When I had first read these words of Spinoza in the distant grim city of the North, my heart had not been stirred by them as when I recollected them today. They had seemed to me just black ink on white paper. But today in this hot gypsyish Seville, how suddenly they had come to life, flying off the paper and up over me like doves!

By now, the sun had risen high in the sky. The castle watchman had arrived with his big keys, like a jolly Saint Peter, wearing a broad greenish sombrero and a sprig of jasmine in his ear: "Buenos díasi!"

This is just how I imagine the gatekeeper to the real Paradise: jolly, good-natured, with a sprig of jasmine in his ear. He too would stretch out his hand for you to give him a little tip, before opening the door for you. There would also be days (once or twice a week) when the poor people-the malefactors, the liars, the dishonorable and the miserly --could enter free of charge. "Restitution of all things!" as the tender and merciful (far more merciful than his own God) poet, Gregory of Nazianzus, had once said.

I wandered around the palace on tiptoe, feeling that I was walking on top of thin marble tombstones. And a chill went through me, as though I were expecting at any moment to see the deadmen fly out of the earth, complaining that we tread upon them: "Was not I too once young? Was not I too a brave young lad?"

Slender white columns; finely carved lacy marbles; gilded proverbs from the Koran; marble designs dangling like stalactites; cool fountains . . . One day the Caliph Mu'tamini's love, the Sultana, had felt like imitating the life of the peasant women. For one day, through her gold lattices, she'd seen them down on the road, trampling barefoot in the mud. So the Caliph Mu'tamini ordered his courtyard to be strewn with ground cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, then watered down with orange blossom scent to make mud. And so his love was also able to trample in the mud with her tiny bare feet. . . .

Voices began to lift the tombstone of my memory. But I chased them away so as to be able to rejoice with clear eyes in the living marbles and sage designs surrounding me. I touched them with my hands to see them better, reliving all the mystical Arabian imagination, their patience and their love. I felt the dark-skinned craftsman bent here in ecstasy, all his life long, to decorate this complex limpid dream of his with geometrical precision.

In this place, I sensed with deep joy the fusion of two great qualities: ecstasy and precision. They are so rarely fused, and when they are, they constitute the highest synthesis. A mystical aim, with definite mathematically calculated means. For all this decoration is the dream of a master mathematician. As the line progresses and unwinds, it becomes the abstract expression--the distillation--of all plants, all animals and all thoughts. It becomes the solid geometrical essence of life, emancipated from the ephemeral flesh and its various fluid masks.

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