In a world where YA paranormal is all the rage, I’m a pretty down to earth kind of girl. With so many breathlessly waiting for Pottermore, I know my disinterest in vampires, witches and warlocks is the exception rather than the rule, but I still can’t stir up my enthusiasm.
What does get me excited is history. I live for museums. My poor husband knows that when he travels with me, he’s going to be visiting a lot more museums than the average tourist.
However, all history is not found within museum walls. Battle fields deliver their own measure of the past, though I confess they do about as much for me as the latest werewolf. I stand by some beautiful field listening to birds sing and watching the sun wink between the leaves and cannot imagine the clash of battle and the flow of blood.
Historic homes, especially castles and palaces, certainly bring the past alive. Dover, Arundel, Knowle House. Neuschwanstein, Schonbrunner, Linderhof . Monticello, La Cuesta Encantada, Biltmore. I hold the memories of these pilgrimages close to my heart.
Ancient places of worship deliver a dose of awe. The hair on my neck still rises remembering my chance arrival at Salisbury Cathedral during organ practice. Recalling the Mariachi Mass at San Jose Mission in San Antonio brings tears to my eyes. Visiting St. Catherine’s Monastery in the middle of the Sinai Peninsula, where Christians have gathered since the 3rd century and Moses met the daughters of Jethro, was truly a spiritual experience.
I will never forget any of these moments, but every once and a while – every once and a great while – History will speak to travelers and I’ve been lucky enough to hear her three times.
The first time, History’s voice surprised me on the bare Salisbury Plain after the impromptu organ concert at Salisbury Cathedral. Perhaps my senses were heightened by the music which had swirled around me as I gazed at remarkable stained glass windows. As we drove across the flat plains, Stonehenge stood out starkly against the sky. I paid for a ticket and joined a group led by a guide to stand among the stones. After a walking history lesson the guide led us to the stones and gave us a few minutes to wander among them. (I’ve heard that you can no longer get as close to them as I did that day.)
As I stood among the stones, the wind lifted my hair and I could hear voices. It was if I stood in the midst of a cocktail party which I could hear, but not see, and the other guests were playing a wild game of historical charades. One group banged chisels against stone, while others clanked about in armor. Women slid by me with the rustle of silk and the soft slither of suede. All the voices seemed to call out the titles of historical events which once played out their consequences on Britain’s soil. The wind died and the voices faded. I was alone.
Decades passed and I visited Sedona, AZ. I found all the buzz about vortexes and little gray men quite humorous. On a lark, my husband and I picked up a map of the area’s reputed vortexes. We merrily visited private airports and local parks. Finally, we headed out of town to the red canyons. The overwhelming scenery inspired Bill to frequently stop the car and take up another canister of film. (You do remember film don’t you?)
At one photo opportunity, long after we’d given up on the vortex map, I got out of the car and stepped away from the clicking camera. There was a sudden chill and the sky changed. The sound of hoofbeats filled the air and singing – many voices raised together in a chant. Startled, I shook myself and scanned the horizon. There was nothing. The singing faded and the air returned to the bright day I’d been sharing with my husband. I was reminded of the day on the Salisbury Plain and began to wonder if there were places where time and space have a weaker hold over us.
My final brush with the sound of History was at the Giza Plateau. The day was typically touristy. Our driver took us for fools and tried to scam us at a papyrus “museum.” Then rather than delivering us to Giza’s main entrance, he dropped us off in some ancient neighborhood where we had to hire a horse and a camel to take us to the actual Pyramids. I’d dreamed of this all of my life, but felt like I was caught in a Chevy Chase travel comedy.
Thankfully the Pyramids are so awesome they can overshadow any typical tourist frustrations. We climbed the Sphinx, explored dimly lit chambers and then remounted our hired animals. Heading back to the stables, the view of Cairo was breathtaking. A haze sheltered the city. I was struck by the way crosses and crescents populated the skyline.
Then I realized I’d been listening to sounds for which there was no explanation. It was a late November afternoon and we shared the attraction with only a handful of tourists. I felt as if I’d woken after a nap to discover someone had been watching TV in the next room, when it takes a few moments to separate the TV noise from the silence.
The vague noises were sounds of labor: grunts of effort, sighs of frustration, shouted threats and heated arguments. The heat shimmered on the sand and it seemed as if as soon as the shine disappeared, many toiling slaves would come into sight. But as the sand returned to its burnt buff color, we were alone and true silence returned.
Those are my paranormal experiences. It would be easy to mark them down to an overactive imagination, but I was just as excited to see The Tower, many a haunted plantation and Edinburgh castle – all of which are supposed to be just as para-normally active as these three sites. Is there something special about the days I visited on or something going on with me that I didn’t realize? I don’t know all the answers, but I’ll always treasure the experiences. I hope someday History will speak to me again.