To read Fool’s Odyssey from the beginning, click here.
Chapter Five: My Life of Radical Idealism in Barcelona (Continued)
Previously: Sensing something missing, The Fool pulled away from his idealistic friends.
(Note: This is my favorite Fool’s Odyssey episode. If you read only one, let this be it.)
The next day I took the bus to Gerona to be by myself.
What a strange expression, “by myself.”
I mean, how do you do that, be “by yourself”?
Anyway, I don’t know if I was trying to be by myself
or just nearer,
but I went for a walk in the hills.
And as I looked down on the crumbling glory of España,
Castles and cathedrals
Sacred and profane
Dust to dust and ashes to ashes
Life is just a bowl of remains
“O help!” I said. “Whoever you are.
I don’t want to be ‘by myself’ anymore.
I think I want to be by you.”
God, what was I saying?
Just then, I saw an old man who looked a lot like me,
and nothing like me at all, really,
except that he reminded me of my self.
He was so empty.
So I took pity on us and talked with him.
We talked for awhile about nothing
Then finally, in his broken English, he began to say:
He said who he’d been and what he’d done and how he’d done it–
all past tense.
And when we came to the town near the old plaza,
he showed me the cathedral he’d built.
I didn’t know what to say.
It was beautiful, but crumbling
like everything else there.
It looked like a relic, but it wasn’t;
it had been built in my lifetime.
And the old man wasn’t that old either, really,
just “old,” you know.
Why? What had happened?
It seems he had once been
“a bold and progressive young thinker,”
an architect with carrots in his hair and peppers in his cheeks,
who had laughed in derision
at all of the crumbling edifices thereabouts.
He knew what was wrong with them.
He’d studied and found the flaws
in construction, in design, in concept.
He would make a new work after an entirely different plan,
a perfect structure, one that would never fall.
And he built it–he built it!
And it was perfect.
But then it fell.
“Madre de Dia! Just like every other cursed thing!”
it fell, and within just a few short years
began to crumble and crawl back into the earth
“just like every other cursed thing!”
Why? It was perfect.
He’d gone over the plans a thousand times,
and after the crumbling began, a thousand times more.
And then, he told me:
After the two-thousand-and-first time,
he’d run to this place and in his fury
purposed to destroy it and start again.
So he picked up his hammer
and began to smash it against the wall,
when suddenly he saw.
But he couldn’t believe what he saw,
so he smashed open brick after brick after brick,
until finally he had to believe.
The blessed bricks were hollow.
Eaten away from the inside out by some unseen thing.
They were useless, dead,
could barely shoulder the slightest weight
before they would begin to crumble and fall in upon themselves.
“No,” he said, “the plan was good,
maybe even perfect.
But what can you build with hollow bricks?”
And so I got on another bus and kept going,
right out of Spain and up the coast of Normandy.
I couldn’t go back to Barcelona,
to the buyers and sellers
and dribbling bums and dreaming queens,
and to rebuilding society with condiments on tabletops,
because I saw that all of us,
all of us,
were just hollow bricks,
and it wasn’t the plans that needed to change,
but the bricks.
All is vanity, and chasing after wind,
said the wise man.
Oh, God. Oh, Hell.
Said the fool.
To read Fool’s Odyssey 21 click here.