There was a mischievous twinkle in her eye that seemed to light up the evening sky, sparkling incessantly the first time I spoke to her. She looked abjectly interested in where I was from and what tales I brought. It was kind of ironic for she was present to tell some to us. Some people have this raw beauty. A beauty that comes from staying genuinely curious about everything and every person they meet. She was one of them. There were several other pluses. She was beautiful. She personified passion. Often times she spoke of love and lucre with a sort of equanimity that would cause a balance to ache. I could have spent hours speaking to her. Time can be a cruel spoilsport. Limited time, is even worse.
We were at the Heidelberg castle. She was our tour guide. She did a swell job of guiding us through the ruins. In a cold weather that the insides of my bones were becoming present to, I became more and more aware of the prescience in her stories and the near perfect timing with which she shared them all. It was not as much the depth of the story, but the intensity of her sharing that brought alive a few hundred year old ruin.
More of the lady, later. The Heidelberg Castle first.
Every city boasts of a few places that are a ‘must go’, if you ever want to tell that world that you indeed went to that place. The Castle happens to be that place for Heidelberg. Now there are tons of notes on the internet starting here, about the Heidelberg castle starting here. What follows now is an incomplete recounting from random notes. Standard disclaimers apply!
For one, the castle is genuinely old. The first mention of this structure is circa 1214 AD. That’s a long time, even by Indian standards, where ‘this is a 1600 year old structure’ can be said with a matter of routine matter of fact, monotone. The structure has survived wars, destruction and even a couple of lightning strikes. A second lightning strike in fact knocking out a structure that was built in place of a structure that was knocked down by the first strike. Some persistence there!
There were stories of Kings and Queens running away. Falling in love. Fighting the enemy. The Vanquished. The Victors. The armies. The victories. The flags. I couldn’t help think of this quip, standing amidst the ruins there : We learn from history that we don’t learn from history!
Irrespective of all the philosophy stuff, the place presents the visitor with some wonderful objects to construct in the mind how life would have been many years earlier. Exquisite art adorns every corner. In an understated quiet, that you would miss if you didn’t have an extra moment or just that extra dash of curiosity. Here is a door handle as proof. Certainty runs amuck in my mind, that I have missed much! Which is reason enough to want to go back there again.
There were a few moments during the entire trip when I rued not carrying a camera that would do justice the richness that was there for the taking. Standing amidst the ruins of the castle, hearing the stories that were being told, every crevice, every nook and all corners seemed to heap scorn on my lazy idiocy of not carrying the right equipment. But in the soaking in of the raw beauty, there was an immersion in the moment. That was a bold silver lining.
No trip the castle is complete without seeing the huge oak casks built to house wine! 130 oak trees, the lady said, as I gawked at the heady number. Just that fact could have well given me a solid hangover, as I surveyed the huge casks. What seems like sophisticated plumbing with pipes and taps dart across the barrels. Wine on a tap, could have been cool stuff! Man’s foresight to satisfy his thirst hundreds of years ago is commendable!
I turned to check if my good friend, Mark Twain had anything to say about this opulence in inebriation! Here is his inimitable take. “Everybody has heard of the great Heidelberg Tun, and most people have seen it no doubt. It is a wine-cask as big as a cottage, and some traditions say it holds eighteen hundred thousand bottles and other traditions say it holds eighteen hundred million barrels. I think it is likely that one of these statements is a mistake and the other is a lie. However the mere matter of capacity is a thing of no sort of consequence, since the cask is empty, and indeed has always been empty, history says. An empty cask the size of a cathedral could excite but little emotion in me. I do not see any wisdom in building a monster cask to hoard up emptiness in, when you can get a better quality, outside, any day, free of expense” – Mark Twain in A Tramp Abroad
The castle seems to have been brought down by a combination of natures prowess, man’s greed and neglect! But then, it is said to to be still standing because of the fact that it is a ‘ruin’. Surviving a full question of whether comprehensive restoration was required or otherwise, the decision was to leave it a ruin. Ruins make some interesting read and conversation.
The castle itself, except for some portions, the rooms and such else are fully in use. There are administrative blocks, restaurants etc. Plus you could get married here. In the Summer Festival (July-Aug), the place is supposed to come alive and adorn a different avatar that the quiet persona that we were introduced to is an inadvertent mistake.
Time, as I said earlier, is cruel. Especially when it shortens the possibility of what seems to be presented on a platter with a flourish. I just wished I had more time. Especially between me and the lady.
Now for the lady.
I have one gargantuan aggregation of a wish. It is this. When I am as old as her, if I have a fraction of her passion, a portion of her curiosity, a whisper of her voice, a dose of her knowledge and a cut of her elegant countenance, I would count myself amidst the truly blessed. While the tiniest of quivers in her voice punctuated her sentences, the imprint they left on me, as an example of a life that is truly alive and purposeful, is striking.
My travels often put me in front of people and places. Some people just stay long after the dates of travel recede into the calendar archives. She sure will be one of those for me.