Tuesday, July 27, 2010

July 27:

Last night we went with friends to the beach to listen to the drummers who gather there most Monday nights in the summer. Close to a thousand people showed up; the evening was clear and windless; kids played at the edge of the ocean. The drumming was powerful, as it usually is, and young women danced to it with that barely controlled wildness that seems to come naturally to them. Then a full moon rose over the horizon, its color a burnt dusky orange at first, then slowly brightening as it rose in the sky. One could understand why early peoples worshipped the moon.

Today the calm, cool weather remains. Crows woke us early, calling to each other in the surrounding trees. If one only knew the language of crows.

I have been reading more about the location of paradise, i.e. the Biblical Garden of Eden, and the consensus seems to have been that it was located far to the east, probably at the eastern edge of India, or of Cathay or Mangi or Ethiopia, which were known primarily as names in the Middle Ages. This, it was thought, was where the sun first rose upon the world at the creation, and where it now rose at the beginning of every day, and it only made sense that paradise should be there, at that beginning, and higher than the rest of the world, out of the heat of the lowlands at the equator, which is where it was thought to be. Higher, too, in order to be the one piece of land on the planet to escape Noah's flood. Enoch and Elijah lived there throughout the Middle Ages, waiting for Judgment Day. Columbus was not the only explorer who believed he had come near it. On his third voyage he sailed farther south than usual and his first landfall was the island of Trinidad, which he named after the Trinity prompted by the three mountains he first saw on the horizon; then he sailed into the Gulf of Paria, filled with fresh water. He had come to one of the mouths of the Orinoco, and the volume of fresh water was astonishing, continental in size. He knew he had come to a continent, but he thought it was India, and that this was the mouth of the Ganges. The air was mild. He had already decided that he had been sailing slowly uphill. This was it, then; he was near the earthly paradise, where the Ganges, it was known, arose, along with the Nile and the Tigris and Euphrates. All four rivers sprang from a fountain in the midst of paradise that fed the trees, including the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the flowers of many colors, the beds of these rivers glittering with rubies and sapphires and diamonds; then they vanished underground, to reappear in Asia Minor and India and somewhere in Africa, wherever the Nile arose. The people of Trinidad were fair, he noted, fairer than those in what we now call the West Indies, tall and well-formed, and this was of course only fitting, since they lived so close to paradise.

He thought that Hispaniola, the island where he established the first European colony in the New World, was the Biblical Ophir, from which Solomon had acquired the gold to build his temple. He styled it in his logs "the former Ophir." The Spanish ultimately exhausted the supply of gold on the island.

Here, then, are the two beginnings of America.

One tradition had it that in the earthly paradise Enoch and Elijah lived in a city built entirely of gold.

There on the beach the moon rose in its majesty, the drums beating as if to announce it, the young women dancing to it, and it made no sense for a little while to practice irony.