Mont Blanc casts its shadows on the heavens. I never knew that mountains eclipse one another, eager to steal the sun. They all do it; even the smallest, most bullied peak throws its weight on the lowly clouds. Nothing is sovereign; everything in this heavy landscape leans on everything else.
Alpine clouds carry the chill of mountains on their blue backs. They float so low I could shepherd them with the hook of my arm. I could tie a flock to our van and float across the Alps into France.
Each cliffside switchback disorients the clock; it is light, it is dark, it is light again, all in twenty minutes. Day breaks and mends twenty times in five square miles, it seems. There is no dawn here, no gradual rising of the sun from east to west. Daylight comes in a blink as the sun rolls over a crest from east to west. At noon a mountain’s twin vales, like open palms, fill with warmth and the clouds shrug their shadows. Just as quickly the sun rolls into western valleys; a stuck stone, and eastern clouds assume the blue.
Daylight strobes but the mountains are steadfast and predictable in their terrors. On these sublime and chilling spines I need to weigh my importance against small things. To the cosmos in my purse I am a mountain casting shadows. My lip gloss, the post card from Pompeii of a nude statue about to fuck a headless woman carved from a mountain’s shoulder. My purse is their whole world. Their whole safe world. This van is our whole world when I avert my gaze from the window. This notebook. This pen is all that exists. This thought.
My thought is a mandala, a mantra. A round thing turning over and over in my mind. A focus for my eyes and my breath. It’s as close as I come to prayer. All around, steeples rise from peaks as if the mountain were sharpened to a single point of consciousness. Even the chill feels sacred, tastes sacred, and winds its wind around the heart. This is where people climb peaks, stand on their toes, and nudge god. There must be a church for every villager. They must inhabit the sacred space like a second body, a carapace, and feel closer, louder, stronger. Church bells hold conversations with god and mountains shudder.
We veer on a slip of switchback and I clutch my comforts closer; a sprig of rosemary from Provence, mother of pearl spoon, a whole candied nectarine from the Italian Riviera like a translucent sun with syrupy skin. Petrarch’s Canzoniere, splayed as if to balance itself. Petrarch who had trouble ascending Mount Ventoux, who held his “sweet little volume” of St. Augustine’s Confessions ever tighter.
Sweet little comforts.
Like the bird’s nest on the dashboard spiraling ever into itself, and stronger for it. Warm things, like this coffee cup and this journal I just spilled it on as we bumped over a crag of ice. The coffee’s small pool of warmth in my lap. The warmth reminds me of southern Italy, of ripe figs hanging at mouth-level. Of olive oil sprinkled on my hands, arms, and legs, and over my bread; liquid gold squeezed form trees not much taller than I am. Trees I lorded myself over. A dinner table lit on fire wick by wick, to illumine our feasting. I can comprehend a universe of fruit and fire, a life measured in mouthfuls and handfuls. I can weave my soul around it and throw my magnificent shadow over all else.