Sunday, December 02, 2012


The sound of a church bell from a great distance roused her in the middle of the night, and she could not get back to sleep. She got up and fixed herself a weak cup of tea, with lots of cream and a shot of brandy. Perhaps the warm milky liquid and the liquor would help her rest. But rather than going back to bed, she sat at the window and looked at the hills across the valley. White in the snow, and almost glowing from the moonlight. A dark line of trees halfway up the slope continued to the crest line, and, presumably, beyond.
It was a beautiful view, but somewhat eerie and threatening.
Starkly frigid-looking.

What had woken her?

Oh yes, the bells! The village was further down the valley. It must have been a very perfect night for her to hear the sound. Normally it didn't carry this far.
When the mists were thick, not at all.
Muffled by trees and fog.

An hour later she made herself a second cup. Getting back to bed was hard.  She had been ill a lot recently, and consequently her sleep-cycle was askew. Perhaps soon she would go back to school again. She regretted failing classes last semester, and feared that she would have to take many of them over again. A drag. But a necessary refresher, too. She hadn't read much for two months.
It would be good to get back to work.

Three birds winged across the snowy expanse below, as, remarkably, rain began to fall. For no particular reason she remembered a poem by Konstantyn DeLanghe.

Laag hangt de maan, en kraaien krijschen in de kille nacht,
Met doffe ogen midden mispelbomen houdt het vissersvolk de wacht;
Van Kouberg Klooster buiten Ouschudtstede komt geluid,
Het midnacht's kloksgeschal klinkt tot de pelgrim in zijn schuit.

It spoke of a scholar who had also failed, and was traveling by barge on the canals on his way back home. Night time, crows, cold, and bells from a monastery.
Frosty air. Odd though, this early rain. Especially when yesterday's snow was still on the ground. Conceivably the cold wind had stopped before the wall of hills behind her. Further south, perhaps, there was no snow.

This was as far south as she had ever been. The border was not far, but crossing it had not appealed to her. Life was not the same there. Yet she knew that centuries before, those people had not been so closeby, and their rule had not extended to these hills. The huge forests that separated the two nations had shrunk, and 'that language' had taken over. Many places now had different names.
Sibilant, hissing, and nasal. French.
Liege. Louvain. Le Comté de Looz

In the valley of Ardhuaine it was still winter. But on this hill, spring had already started.
She was looking forward to the new year. And perhaps this time the snowbells would bloom in the groves lower down. Pale coins among the disappearing white.

Most of the snow was already gone by the time she woke up.
She felt much better than she had in a long time.
Maybe she'd take a trip across the hills.
This year, once school had ended.
See how those people lived.


On the last morning that I went to Hayward, the rain had stopped by the time the train breached the open ground again. There is a line of trees silhouetted along the tops of the Eastbay Hills, forming an elegant border between earth and sky, best seen from Bayfair. Crows flapped past above the sleeping suburbs, and the clouds overhead lightened to silver as day began behind them.

Early in the morning my mind seems more free. Thought patterns have not organized themselves into familiar grooves, as they've done by end of day. Sometimes strange things come to mind.
What if, in an alternate universe, the Dutch where Chinese, and the Chinese were Dutch?
Not so odd an idea. Though they don't have more in common than other peoples, there are some themes which work in both cultures.
Without thinking, I rephrased the famous poem by Cheung Gai (張繼), Night Mooring at Maple Bridge (楓橋夜泊) into Dutch. The pronunciation of Chinese has changed considerably since he wrote it over a thousand years ago, but the words still mean the same.

The moon goes down, crows caw, frost fills the sky,
Maple trees and fishermen's lights meet the melancholy gaze;
From beyond Cold Mountain Temple, outside the of Suzhou,
The sound of the midnight bell reaches the traveler's boat.

Yuet lok, wu tai, seung mun tin; Gong fung yu fo deui sau min;
Gu sou seng ngoi hon saan ji; Ye pun jung seng dou haak suen.

NOTES: Mispelbomen: maple trees, as in the poem. Though American-Dutch would have given it as 'meppelbomen'. Kouberg Klooster: Cold mountain monastery. But the Dutch word 'klooster' (cloister) does not distinguish between the genders of the renunciants. Ouschudtstede: old shaky city - the term 'su' in Suzhou has as one of it's original meanings the idea of shuddering, shaking, vibrating, as is geographically common in both earthquake country and cities built on mudflats along rivers.
Ardhuaine: a Franco-Netherlandish derivation from the same root that gave us Ardenne, Argonne, Arras, and similar toponyms. As good a fictional place name as any.
Konstantyn DeLanghe: a linguist might make sense of this.

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