Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Taj Redux

It has not quite been a year since I published a post!  Whew!  I'm less than a month shy though, so clearly an epic fail.  The teaser is that I have over 40 stories that I want to finish and share, so it's not for a lack of adventures and fun and travel-inspiration that I've been a ghost!

First: this blog is not dead.  I don't know for certain what I want to do with it.  I want to change it, make it more of a story-telling forum than a how-to forum, and I want to do a whole lot more with photographs.  But I also have a full-time job that I have not decided to abandon, so I haven't been able to dedicate the time and energy that I want into developing this into my vision.  Yet?  There are a lot of things pulling me in a lot of directions these days, and it is not a pleasant experience.  Something will give way eventually.  I'll be glad if it's not my sanity.

I was recently lost in the bowels of the Widener Library trying to locate books that I wanted to check out for thesis research.  Along the way I found this gem; and how could I possible leave it behind??  The title says it all-- I Cannot Rest from Travel.

The title comes from a line in a Tennyson poem.  The author of the book, Willard Price, was a journalist/photographer/jack-of-all-trades and he published this book in the early 1950s.  It's definitely a book of those times, and there are some cringe-worthy generalities that are an excellent reminder of how far we've come in the last half century.  Anyway, the point is that this man enjoyed some insane adventures.  Sometimes, I wish the world was still wilder, unknown, and mysterious as it was when he was gallivanting around before the ubiquitous digital connection afforded by the Internet and social media.

Anyway, one chapter really struck me, and I wanted to share.  It's unfortunate that I haven't written the many things I have planned and as a result, one of my last published posts was about the Taj Mahal ... because the time lapse between that post and this one is extensive, and that's part of what's so neat about this unexpected discovery!

I first laid eyes on the Taj over a year and a half ago.  I've never been particularly drawn to explore India, but seeing the Taj in person was an incredible experience -- much more than I expected.  But if the perspective of one girl's visit from early 2000s isn't enough to convince you, allow me to share the perspective of another man's visit from the early 1900s.  Two people from wholly different circumstances and times, and both left in complete awe --- trust me, there is something about the Taj.

Willard somehow managed to talk his way into the grounds in the early early morning before it was open to the public.  He was there alone.  He was there for sunrise.

"I feel my way down the steps and walk a hundred yard or so along the marble pavement towards the Taj.  Then I stop and look.  Is it really the Taj, or only a mental image of it?  It is like a castle in the air, a mirage, something built of soap bubbles.  Or is it the ivory model of itself sold in the shops.  Directly above it is a pendant star like the other star over Bethlehem.  Other stars cluster about it like jewels."

"It is nothing real, but just a story-book picture of something real."

"I sit down on the parapet and gaze for an hour and more upon the Taj, admiring its pale purity, its peaceful resignation, its perfect deadness.  After all it is a tomb, and it knows how to behave like one.
Or does it?  For now I see a miracle - a tomb coming to life.  The sky begins flushing in the east.  The dead, nunlike white of the Taj begins to change to a warm flesh color...It is no longer an image cut out of paper.  It is as if a  picture should begin to live and breathe, as the statue of Galatea became Galatea.  Is the loved one buried here stirring in her sarcophagus, rising, sending her heart-beats to the pinnacle of every minaret, swelling the booming dome with her own radiant warmth?"

"I had come at this hour to avoid the chattering, cigarette-butt-dropping crowds.  But now I look around, wishing there were someone else to share this miracle.  There is no one."

"It is exquisite, this blushing ivory with pastel-blue sky and rose wisps of cloud."

"Shah Jehan built it for love of his wife.  There is love in every line."

"Under the great dome is the tomb covered with lace like carvings of flowers inlaid with lapis lazuli, malachite, agate, and carnelian.  There are grilles of marble carved to almost cobweb fineness.  The casket is a jewel-encrusted pearl, so ethereal that you would hardly be surprised to see it rise and float away."

"The windows at the top bring me suddenly into startling familiarity with the lovely lady now brought to life by the sun.  She is no longer a pale, dead nun.  She is a dancing girl.  She has flung down her white habit, and put on ornaments.  Invisible before the dawn, wonderful necklaces of decoration now appear, green, red and brown.  And he dew-covered beds of flowers in the garden make it seem that she is using perfume.  This is no cold, marble lad, and there is nothing tomblike or deathlike about her home.  She may die every evening, but there is a resurrection every morning."

"And for the rest of my life, the mist will return whenever I think of the Taj.  For I have seen, verily I believe, the loveliest thing ever made by the hand of man."

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