Sometimes I wonder if much of what we see before us is often a measure of our insecurities, a function if you will, of the worst that can be imagined, a mirage that fulfills, in fact, a largely tragic view of life.
I wonder, also, if we are responsible for creating that which in the end comes to destroy us.
I went to the Islamic fort in Tavira today, after having a mediocre, overpriced greasy lunch of gristly lamb chops at Artefact.
But the walk to this small restaurant on R. dos Mouros (ie, the street of the Moors) gave me the opportunity to walk by houses which abut the fort the Arabs built here in the 7th century.
Others were here long before the Arabs. In effect, I was walking in an area that was settled by human beings some 2,500 years BCE.
I wonder what they saw, all those who came before me, when they found this place.
It now looked as I had often pictured the streets of the small towns and villages in Mexico that a drunken Malcolm Lowry staggered about in prior to writing Under the Volcano: the same uneven cobbles, the same low stooped white washed houses, the same winding streets, the same cantinas, the same errant dogs wandering around on their own with no owner, the same long shadow of a long dead civilization that somehow had remained alive in the faces of those who had survived the follies of ancient conquests.
The cultured Moors who settled in Tavira lived and worked and had children and built a civilization that defined this place and its Iberian surroundings in the large for centuries before it was all snuffed out by those who conveniently believed in what they claimed was a different sort of God, a better God, one whose benevolent son had blue eyes, light skin and lovely blondish-brown hair.
I walked without hurry through the gate into the fort itself, noticing the half hidden bars of a dungeon at the base of the main wall that faced the plain below, stopping to admire a beautiful Syrian hibiscus tree, and climbed up to the turrets where I studied at some length the embrasures that I noticed were trapezoidal. What manner of weapons fit into these oblong peep holes of resistance, I wondered?
The turrets provide an excellent vantage point to gaze at the famous roofs of Tavaria, and take in the nearby salt ponds and the more distant Altantic ocean, which was hazy under a hard sun.
For a moment, I imagined myself a Moorish guard, perhaps one whose family had lived in Tavira for 400 years, and accustomed to looking down at the dominions of his ruling but now forgotten emir, waiting for the avenging knights of Santiago to appear.
What must he have thought about the prospect of suddenly becoming an alien in a vast place where generations of Moors had lived and prospered, but had now been reduced to defending a shrinking patch of land that he already knew was hopeless to defend?
Truly he must have thought that there is no such thing as a country, only a provisional resting place, despite the castles and forts, until their once-mighty ramparts were softened by the caprice of time and crumbled, this fort he was defending now destined to one day turn into a bunch of old ruins, ruined by fat tourists with enormous cameras who would one day come to visit for a few moments before moving on to casually bucket list some other locale that was cheap to visit on Ryanair.
I tried hard to imagine this Moor and for one passing moment at least this fort was everything to me; it was I who was standing post, and willing to die for in the service of defending my civilization, and it was 1242, and the pitiless forces of the Order of Santiago loomed in the marshy distance and my world was about to forever change.
What did you really think about, at this moment, Moorish soldier?
Did you wonder what Tangiers, the refuge of idle traitors and brigands, would be like compared to what you once had?
Or did you instead worry only about your wife and children being enslaved, and not give a thought not even for one teary instant to how you were not likely to survive this day?
The Germans and Italian tourists huffed and puffed as they climbed down the turret stairs. I stood in the garden and watched as a dark-skinned Portuguese gardener who spoke no English tended to the trees around us.
But the tourists did not seem to notice him, or if they did, dismissed him, most probably, as some inconsequential local, for after all, now, it was time to go, and he was not someone that important.
But as they left, I wondered if the silent gardener was in reality a soldier who had once stood post on the turrets above, never leaving, even in death, a facsimile of Paradise that so many since then have found so compelling?