Black and White #2

Returning from the little park next to the former hospital with its view of the valley and the abbey, I often stop and sit on the bench that runs along the palazzo across from the cathedral. It’s not a simple bench, but seems to serve as base for the building, interrupted by a few doorways, and embracing the square on that side. It reaches up towards the imposing, glittering structure across from it, an invitation to stop a few minutes to see if there are clouds in the sky, or if the swallows have returned, or if it is just the pigeons.

It had rained during the night, but I figured the bench would be dry by now. Just to be sure I put my hand on the stone – black basalt and white travertine – and the black, when I touched it, was warm, while the white was cool. It was really no surprise, for if you had asked me I could have told you that black absorbs, while white reflects. It was just that I had never noticed it on these stones that were the building blocks of the striped cathedral of Orvieto. Over seven hundred years ago, oxen had toiled up the steep slopes of the cliff bearing loads of black volcanic rock, the result of the volcanic explosions millennia ago. Others had brought travertine, a form of limestone deposited around hot springs. And there were some bringing pink marble for the façade. Its journey had been longer for it came from farther away and had to be floated down the river on barges. I can picture processions of oxen and horses, donated by the nobles for the creation of the cathedral, urged on by the peasants in hopes of mitigating their sins.

Now I stand a moment, contemplating the facade and watching an array of tourists, who have just arrived, busy with their iPhones. Before sitting down to marvel at this man-made wonder, I put my hand on these sun-warmed stones and think back to the history they have seen.  And the stories unfolding, albeit unawares, before my eyes. The man and woman holding hands as they cross the square. Is it a sign of affection or is one of them already in need of guidance? The young woman – a tourist guide – her eyes sparkle, but her face is lined with care for she has a son at home who needs constant care.  And those Asians – are they Koreans or Japanese or maybe even Chinese – one wonders what they think as they pour out of the bus and take off for the few hours allotted them in Orvieto. A couple lets their toddlers run free, jumping from one step to another. And those with the dogs, obviously part of the family, take turns in visiting the interior of the church.  Once, seated on this bench, there was even a couple with an enormous fluffy cat on a leash.  Some are already on their way back home, or at least to the next town on their itinerary, with backpacks and bags full of souvenirs. There’s the rumble of wheels on the cobblestones, and soon another couple appears pulling carry-ons.

But then as I look at this great pile of stones turned into a work of art, I wonder not so much at how it was built as to why. That underlying belief in some superior power provides them with comfort for what is basically unexplainable.

3 thoughts on “Black and White #2

  1. Love those ‘benches” across from the Duomo… and the speculation on the many who have sat there watching as you have…. a current in time. Nicely done Erika. Captured it!


  2. You paint an enchanting picture Erika. And after thoughts about the historical enterprise and then speculation about people in the scene today, there’s that little twist of philosophical musing to close. I enjoyed reading and listening.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: