"En route" to the Alkantara Festival - to a Citylab that I'm told will focus on the topic of religion. Not something I've thought much about lately, or at least not concertedly. Travelling through Paris, then Irun, then Lisbon - all by train. It came down to the fact that I had long ago bought tickets to Bruce Springsteen on Sunday night (who would not want to see this man live? A good friend once told me when she saw him live she kept thinking, "I want him to f*ck me or father me - either way I want him close, as close as intimate as profound as possible"). Sadly for me, I would not have been able to catch a flight that would get me to Urban Heat in time for the opening discussions had I gone to the concert on Sunday night. So what did I do instead? I decided to give the tickets away, and to make the journey to Lisbon itself a kind of experience that might atone for the lack of Springsteen. Train journeys can be so meditative - so quiet and thoughtful - and that is what I am hoping for.
I am at a friend's place for the night in Paris - a stopover post-Eurostar before the next leg of my journey. I'm sat in my friend's adorably small and charming apartment, the windows open to a courtyard that serves as its own kind of view - and for the last twenty minutes, I've been listening to the call to prayer.
At least I think that's what it is. It's the sound of a man singing - haunting and beautiful - words I can't understand but a meaning that seems to buoy through the air like an anchored boat on water. An unfamiliar, constant, quiet beauty, quite detached from me. And I realise how much of what I've written unconsciously calls out to something I now have little to no relationship to or deep understanding of. From the pilgrimage nature of my train journey to Lisbon (it feels heavier, more significant somehow, to go anywhere overland these days - defiant and slow and luxurious), to the description of Bruce Springsteen, the desire to see him live, to hear him sing "Dancing in the Dark" and to dance together, feeling it, really feeling it, to hear him sing "The River" and to feel I've tapped directly into a sadness and mundane reality so commonplace yet deserving of respect that "The Boss" turns it into something sublime - to my sacrifice of the tickets - to my description of train journeys as meditative... The call to prayer continues and I see that even from my place of relatively indifferent agnosticism, an echo of religion pervades. Like the moments after this call to prayer have ceased - we can still hear it on the air - it still informs the waning daylight - it lingers. The stillness and beauty linger - a language I don't understand - a melody that feels familiar but that I can't predict or repeat.
Leaving aside the politics of religion. Leaving aside the fact that, as a woman, I have found every religion I've ever attempted to get to know alienating, diminishing and depressing. Leaving aside how uncomfortable it makes me to even write that down - all those people I don't want to sideline, whose experience and faiths I don't want to minimise or simplify or pretend I really know about, leaving aside the complexity - the....
The call for prayer just stopped. The evening is filled with the chatter of people in the apartments across the courtyard - the sound of a car - a house being cleaned - a party -
The evening is still full.