Monday 19 December 2016
Time: 8:00 pm
As we enter Nicola’s house, I realised that it is not the same as the last time we were there. He is wearing the same clothes: a long white tunic. However, this time, I notice a little figurine at the entrance into the house. I don’t know what it is or what it represents. It is only a head of man. Actually, it’s not that either. It is the head of a man with two faces, each of which is looking in the opposite direction. I am sure I’ve seen it before, but I can’t recall where.
I noticed that Sofia has also noticed it. I am not surprised because there is something strange about her. Everything seems very orderly here.
Wow! I can’t believe it! I make signs to the others, pointing at the symbol which is everywhere. It is the same tilted rectangle we saw on the paper the guide at the museum had given to Sofia. In the centre, there is a small symbol, but it is so small that I am not sure what it specifically represents. I am convinced that it was not here the other afternoon, but now it is, not only in the two pictures above the sofa, but also on the furniture under the window. It is on a small ornament, etched in relief on a piece of Roman stone placed on the furniture.
The city plan and the rectangles we made are spread out on the table.
After waiting for us all to be quiet, Sofia, standing next to Nicola, starts speaking:
“Nicola, we put the maps on top and did as you have instructed. After our chat this afternoon, we are now ready for you to tell us what the next step is.”
I look at him a little sceptically.
My mind is full of contradictions. What are we doing here with an old man who we don’t know and with something that is incredible, in the middle of an enormous problem in the city? It has never happened to me before. I would say this is only a dream. I like daydreaming to escape reality, but now, it’s déjà vu, as if we have done this already and I will soon wake up.
After Sofia’s statement, I notice Erik and Elsa waiting for the old man to respond. Samuel, on the other hand, is his usual quiet self. It’s as if he’s not here. However, this time I notice that, like me, he is looking around and studying every nook and cranny of the room. If he weren’t human, I would say he is doing an electronic sweep of the room, trying to upload it onto his virtual memory.
As no one is saying anything, and without wanting to be too forward, I explain:
“All this mystery, with the guide at the museum giving us the paper and afterwards meeting you, has coincided with what is happening in Zaragoza.”
I stop and look around the room.
“I notice that you do not have a television or computer and I have not seen a mobile telephone either. So, I don’t know if you are aware of the message that Zaragoza is collapsing and people are fainting on the streets.”
I fall silent. No one responds. You could cut the silence in the house with a knife.
“I knew that it would happen one day…”, Nicola replied, attracting everyone’s attention, including Samuel who, since we arrived, has not looked at him directly in the face.
We remain silent as we look at him, with eyes wide like saucers waiting for him to continue.
“…That’s why I am here,” he finishes.
As he said that, we look at each other. I don’t know whether we are stunned into silence or thinking that he is just bonkers. What is true is that, ever since we met this man, we have proven that everything he has said is true, and none of us know who he is.
He stands up slowly, supporting himself with his hands on the table. He turns to face the window. All of us, including Samuel, gather around him to look out the window. The curtains are drawn back. There below, we can see the intersection between the streets. As we lift our gaze, on top of the building across the street, we can see the darkly-coloured weather vane, with the four points of the compass represented two levels below it. Today, there is a north-westerly wind blowing and the weather vane is oriented accordingly.
With the motion of his hand, he invites us to sit down around the table.
“You have already told me,” he began, “that your teacher had explained why Emperor Augustus used the city as the one of the first cities on the Iberian Peninsula. Then, you are probably wondering why the Iberian Peninsula bears the name of the river which passes through our city.”
We all nod in agreement.
“They have also explained to you that this was a sacred city for Rome.”
We nod again, but this time I look around the house and, particularly, at the small figurine on the furniture at the entrance. A strange sensation runs through my whole body like a small electric shock.
“It must continue being a sacred city, but the problem is that someone is changing the order of things.”
I can see Erik and Elsa raising their brows and smiling at the same time. Samuel starts taking notes again. I begin to feel uncomfortable. I begin to think that we are talking to a madman. However, when I glance at Sofia, I notice that she is totally engrossed in the conversation.
It is strange. I recall the woman in the ice cream shop and the daughter with the pendant of the symbol. We all saw her talking to Sofia. I don’t know if Sofia has told us everything the woman had told her. Just the fact that she warned us that there is danger if we continue makes me shudder. Does it have anything to do with what Nicola is telling us now? In fact, I am going to stop thinking about all this nonsense because it’s overwhelming me. Let’s see how he continues.
“You are very young, but if you ask your parents and grandparents who have lived here longer than you, they would confirm that Zaragoza has two features that few cities on the peninsula can put on their posters: wind and sun.”
He stops for a moment to draw air, and continues:
“The wind and the sun, together with the geography of the area have endowed the people who live in Zaragoza, I don’t mean the ones who were born here, but rather those who live here…” He stops for a moment, “…with some inner strength which, throughout history, has enabled them to do incredible things.”
He begins to pace the room as if he wanted to walk around the table.
“Ask your teachers and parents, and find out how many people living in Zaragoza are knowledgeable of the significant feats, including how the city earned itself the title of Very Noble, Very Loyal, Very Heroic and Very Benevolent.”
“That’s on the coat of arms of the city,” exclaims Elsa in a loud voice.
“So it is,” responds Nicola. “Moreover, persistence, a characteristic attributed to the people of Zaragoza, is born out of the combination of wind, sun and something more.”
We look at each other as the old man settles back into his chair.
“How can a person capable of adapting to such a severe, constantly changing and extreme climate not be persistent?”
He pauses for a moment and then continues:
“And what is this something more?” Nicola asks and looks out the window in silence. “The city founded by Rome was built by orienting the Decumanus according to the direction of the dominant wind, which we call the cierzo. In other words, it was assumed that, for sacred balance, this wind always had to enter through the Western Gate, and leave by the Eastern Gate.”
He turns to look at us again. He watches as Erik returns to his seat, turns it around and now sits with his body and arms resting against the back. Samuel sits down on the armchair and continues to take notes on his tablet.
“Moreover, at sunset on the day spring turns into summer (the summer solstice) the Western Gate should be clearly lit up; similarly, sunrise on the day autumn turns into winter (winter solstice) should illuminate the Eastern Gate fully. It is part of the key to balance.”
We again look at the table where Erik is turning the transparency with the geometrical drawings around on the map of the city for them to coincide, as we have discovered.
Elsa cannot contain what she is thinking:
“That’s incredible! I think very few people in this city know it.”
Sofia jumps up, exclaiming:
“How could the Romans calculate all this and build a whole city, following just a simple drawing?”
I watch the map again and say:
“So, on 23rd December, at dawn, the Church of La Magdalena should be fully illuminated…” It may be nonsense, but I will say it all the same. “Therefore, the plaza of the church is oriented like this for it not to block the sun?”
There is silence, until Nicola sits up on his seat at the table and says:
“You see?” he points at the map with his large fingers. “The wind enters here and should leave through there, and as you have explained it very well,” he extends his right hand towards me, “at dawn of the winter solstice, the sun should be illuminating the church.”
What he says makes sense, although it is all so strange. But, is it true? I look at the city plan and the street directions he is talking about. What he said about the Magdalena Church is impressive. I’ve passed by it many times. It is true that, for most of the time, it is bathed by the sun. However, how precise that a street starting at the entrance of the church should be oriented to the exact spot where the winter solstice dawns… How do we know that they did it for this purpose? It is one thing to discover a coincidence and another to discover that what you thought was a coincidence isn’t, because it really was perfectly planned.
At this point, Sofia cuts through my thoughts:
“And what does this have to do with the adults losing their balance and falling over?”
Nicola turns towards her with a blank expression on his face. He looks at the rest of us and smiles. Then, he walks to the window again.
“Do you see that weather vane?” He waits for us to cluster around him to look through the window. “If you ask the people of Zaragoza whether they know that there is a weather vane just at the intersection of these two streets, what do you think they would say? Do you think that they would know about it?”
There are many people in the street. This weather vane dominates the junction, but I think that no one is aware of it. It is positioned directly facing the northwest. Before we entered Nicola’s house, it had stopped raining and now the wind has picked up again. Clouds now cover the sun and it feels like a polar freeze out there. How grateful I am that we are indoors, even though the heating is lower than in our homes.
After a moment of silence, he continues:
“Very few people know about it. I think that practically no one does, except perhaps the person who put it there.” He is silent for a moment, “And the watchman.”
Sofia is astonished, but she seems incredulous now. Erik looks like someone who does not believe in any of this. Samuel, on the other hand, studies the map following who knows what with his gaze as he scribbles something down on his tablet. I see that this man has succeeded, first, in surprising Elsa and me and, secondly, to get us to listen to him attentively. When he looks at us, something in him instils confidence deep within me. I don’t know how to describe it. Perhaps it is his white tunic or the way he moves his hands so deliberately, hands I’ve noticed, for the first time, are so large; hands of a man used to hard work, not writing or typing on a computer like I do. This man is special. However, as I look at him, I already know what he’s going to say next.
“Yes, as you might have already guessed,” says Nicola. “I am the watchman.”
I think he was hoping to surprise us further with this last statement. In fact, Erik looks up from the map, gets up and walks to the window. Samuel seems to wink at me, with a half-smile. I hope he’s not noticed anything on my face, not because I am not surprised, but because I don’t know if this is all rubbish or something big.
“For the Romans, it was a sacred city and all of this because of this point on the map.” He points at the intersection of the streets, “The balance of the four elements of nature, and this point would represent the fifth element – the ether. And throughout time, we’ve always monitored the direction of the wind. There has always been someone checking to see that the order of the cosmos is maintained. And it has always been maintained.”
He stops suddenly as he focuses on the figurine of the head with the two faces under the window. He gets up slowly, picks it up in his hands, and then finishes his sentence:
“… Until now.”
Erik’s expression has changed. He now looks very interested. He can’t take his eyes off the figurine with the two faces. Sofia is pensive as she observes him, and Elsa sits upright at the table to listen more closely. Undaunted by all that we have heard, Samuel continues drawing on his tablet.
Nicola stands up and walks to the window. Gazing at the weather vane, he continues talking:
“What has been happening for some time is that the wind at this point is no longer entering in the exact direction as it should. In other words, the cierzo is no longer entering directly through the Western Gate or going out by the Eastern. Moreover, although it cannot be seen from here, the Church of the Magdalena is no longer illuminated by the sun as it ought to be.” He waits a second, and then continues: “… at least, as Rome had so ordained.”
He gets us all to sit upright at the table and listen with all the attention that five 16-year-old boys and girls can give to something as if their lives depend on it.
“For this reason, all the force of the people living in Zaragoza, of the sun and the wind is getting weaker. The sacred city stops being sacred because the order of the Cosmos is not being maintained as it ought. And now… the people who have lived many years in Zaragoza are getting weaker, and are losing their balance and are literally falling over.”
“Ah! So, it only affects adults who have been living here for many more years,” Samuel concludes, without looking up from his tablet.
What a guy. He didn’t seem to be paying attention.
After a moment of silence in the room, without looking at the rest of us and to the surprise of everyone, Elsa launches a question:
“And how can it be fixed?”
My first thought is that this girl has got too caught up in the story or else she is a little naive. The problem is that perhaps I am even more naive because I was going to ask the same question. But I didn’t want to because I don’t know what Sofia would think of me then. In any case, it is best to keep silent and wait for the answer.
“It cannot be fixed…” Nicola answers, looking at us mysteriously.
Wide-eyed, we all stir uncomfortably in our seats, Elsa with raised eyebrows, and I too. Samuel winks at me again. Erik turns his attention back to the old man’s face. Sofia gets up suddenly from her chair to look out the window. The rest of us do the same. On the other side of the street, the weather vane has changed direction. At that moment, we hear Nicola saying:
“It cannot be fixed,” followed by silence. Looking at the figurine below the window, he continues, “here.”
Immediately Erik turns and asks:
“What do you mean by ‘it cannot be fixed here’? Do you mean in this apartment? On this street? Or in this city?”
There is silence until Nicola, looking at each of us one by one, says:
“I say that it cannot be fixed… in this time. We have to go back in time to fix it.”
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Writer: Glen Lapson © 2016
English translator: Rose Cartledge
Publisher: Fundacion ECUUP
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