A chapter from the novel
By Julian Gallo
"It's amazing, don't you think?" Dario asked, looking around as they walked the grounds. "Just look at it all. It really makes you think about things, doesn't it?"
"Yes. Yes it does."
"I mean, to think that the Arabs had ruled this country for nearly eight hundred years.... I mean, it's got to have an impact, you know? Think of that. That's six hundred years longer than the United States even existed. Can you even wrap your mind around that?"
Alejandra found it interesting but not nearly as interesting as Dario did. This was definitely more his thing. History? That was for school and she wasn't exactly the biggest history buff, something Dario always found quite strange. Nevertheless, she did find it all interesting as far as the architecture was concerned. She thought of how many hidden treasures were still buried here, how many artifacts.
"You're not a real history buff are you?" Dario said, finally taking the time to satisfy this curiosity of his. "I can tell by how you're not excited about this place as I seem to be." He was smiling, amused. "That's kind of strange, don't you think?"
"I mean, you're going to school for archeology. History is a large component to that, wouldn't you say?"
"Yes, of course."
"Then how can you not be a history buff as well? That makes no sense to me."
"It's one thing to find artifacts, to think about how they were used, who the people were who made them.... that's different to me than dates, places and events."
"But it's all tied together, isn't it?"
"I suppose. In a way."
"I see. You just don't like the way history is taught in American schools, is that it? Too much reliance on memorization of dates, names, what have you, but no real substance?"
"I have to agree there. I was always a history buff, even from the time I was a little kid. I can remember always looking forward to that in school. The trouble is when you get older, you begin to discover the real thing rather than all the nonsense you've been spoon fed. That was the real eye opener for me. It puts everything into a whole different perspective. I mean, look around you. Look at the impact the Arabs and the East had on this country and how hard the 'winners' of history tried to wipe it all out? As if it didn't exist."
"History is always written by the winners, right?"
"Indeed. Reminds me of an old African proverb: The history of the lion will never be written so long as it's always told from the perspective of the hunter. Or something like that. I'm paraphrasing but that's the point. How can anyone look around this place and not be in awe of the Arab's achievements here? The West has a lot to thank them for."
"Everything. Science, medicine, literature, music, astronomy, you name it. All of it. The Christian world was too busy burning all the books that had any real knowledge in it. It was the work of the Devil to them. The Arabs translated all of it into Arabic, preserved it. Their libraries were filled with tens of thousands of books that would have been lost otherwise. Plato, Aristotle, whatever remains of their works is because the Arabs preserved it. Otherwise it would have all been lost. Among many other things. The Christian world likes to downplay their importance in history. It's like you said, history is always written by the winners."
"Can I ask you something?"
"How is all this helping you on what you are looking for?"
"I don't know," Dario said after a long pause. "I have to be honest and say I really don't know. But deep down, I feel that it is somehow."
"You are finding out more about yourself by seeing this?"
"In a way, sure."
Dario walked along the path without saying anything, turning these questions over and over in his mind.
"It's hard to explain. I had a hard time explaining this to Julia as well. She didn't understand either. Perhaps I don't even know but it was something I had to do."
"That's what matters. Only you know what's going on in yourself."
"I have to say that it's been helping. It's been helping me to connect to bigger things, you know? I mean, there is such a larger component to life, sometimes we ignore it or are simply unaware of it. We are connected to things we would never dream of. Look at yourself? You are connected to this in some way. In the past, one of your ancestors would have been able to see this place, you know? You are descended from a long line of people who lived in this land. Doesn't that intrigue you at all?"
"It does but I don't feel any real connection to it."
"I suppose. I never really did either. But that's all changed. I've been getting this feeling that I am part of a long chain of events and not just one person existing outside of all these things. It was that book I was reading. It made me feel part of something much bigger, you know? And I want to try to find it."
"And I hope you do," Alejandra said. "We're all on a journey to somewhere, even if we're not aware of it."
"Some people just don't care."
"In the past I would pity those people. Now I have a different understanding of it all. People will do whatever it is that will make them happy. Some will chose, what I see as, anyway, the most mundane of existences but it makes them truly happy and fulfilled. That's their journey, you know? Even though they are probably not seeing it as one. For me, it's always been something more. Much more. Naturally, some never understood and I was always looked at as some kind of weirdo for it but I don't care. Frankly, I don't care about a lot of things I used to be so passionate about. Like politics. When I was younger it was all so important. Now I see it for what it is. It's an endeavor of those who think they're going to change the world. But things have always been as they are, more or less. That's where knowledge of history comes into it, you know? You soon begin to see that we, as a species, have been flailing around like chickens without heads for tens of thousands of years, all looking for "the answer" to everything. We're no closer to finding it now than we were then."
Alejandra didn't say anything.
"Do you agree?"
"It doesn't matter that I think, does it?"
"Of course it does. Your opinion is as valid as anyone else's."
"I never really gave it all that much thought."
Of course she hadn't, he thought. She's only twenty three years old. How much has she possibly thought about other than where the next phase in her life is going? She was still very young. A very bright, sensible young woman, but still very young. She was still too busy enjoying life. She wasn't worried about all these existential questions nor should she be. Unlike himself, who always contemplated these things, even from the time he was a teenager. It always made him seem dour to other people. Too "heavy" for some. But these were questions he had for as long as he could remember. Exploring them, examining them, pursuing them, always made him lost in thought at times, allowing others to think he was anti-social and/or strange.
You always see things in a dark way....
A quick moment of frustration invaded him. Those words again. Always hearing them from someone who just didn't seem to care enough about what was going on in his mind or in his soul. That was another thing he had learned over the years: most people simply didn't care. They were only interested in themselves and what they thought. He always understood that your role in their lives was usually conditional. Your existence really didn't matter to them unless they somehow gained something from it. But isn't that all of humanity? Aren't we all truly alone in the world when you think of it?
You always see things in a dark way.....
It was all a much larger puzzle and some just did not understand those who simply wanted to put the pieces together. It may not reveal anything in the end but what is the harm in wanting to try? Why should those who want to try be mocked and ridiculed? Perhaps it was always that way, though. Perhaps Leonardo, Plato, Aristotle, all those great minds were looked at some as strange and going on a fool's errand. There have always been people who lacked the understanding of anything larger than themselves who often berated others who sought to see otherwise. Look at Jesus. He had a new way of seeing things, didn't he? Look what happened to him?
Alejandra snapped photos. Dario opened his notebook to jotted down some of these thoughts. As he did so, Alejandra snapped photos of him. Dario, unaware of being Alejandra's current subject, wrote down all he could remember of his just had conversation with her. He thought these things would come in handy. He thought it would help counter Julia's words still echoing in his mind. He couldn't figure out why it bothered him as much as it did. Perhaps she was right?
He didn't think so.
He stopped writing, put the book back in his bag, watched Alejandra taking photos of literally everything that caught her eye. He smiled watching her. She had the world laid out before her yet she didn't realize it. There was some kind of innocence about her that he envied. He supposed, but didn't hope, that after twenty years she would become the brooding sort that he had become. It would be a shame to see her turn into that. Was he admitting, after all this, that Julia had been right?
You always see things in a dark way.....
He lit a cigarette, continued to watch Alejandra take photos, silently asked the universe not to damage her as much as it had seemed to damage him.
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