Saturday, May 19, 2007

Stones

Last weekend suddenly got busy. My niece organised a last minute foot passage to Roscoff for Sunday morning, so we were up and off as early as we could manage to be the first relay to collect her; my brother, her dad, who lives in Mayenne, which is even further east of us than we are of Roscoff, then came and fetched her from our house. They stayed to lunch, where she ate two good helpings of garlic chicken and vegetables ( speciality of the maison), which was probably her first meal for about 36 hours, on account of how her philosophy of travelling light through life involves spending as little money on keeping body and soul together as possible. She regaled us, as ever, with funny stories, such as how, when cycling round the Crozon peninsular in Finisterre, she somehow fetched up in a village hall in a small fishing port in the company of a band of anarcho-punk vegans, who were almost pathetically grateful to meet another anglophone, and who went on to entertain their audience of perplexed Breton fishermen with a number called 'Vegetable Attack' ( the title phrase being repeated loudly and often). We agreed that they might have had a more sympathetic reception had they been playing Roscoff, capital of the onion (pink) and the artichoke, where the performance might have had more artistic resonance.

She was also able to fill me in on the details of the anecdote about the stones' revenge. Since she was quite a young thing, she has had a fascination with standing stones, and has toured most of the megaliths of western Europe. Many years ago she persuaded her less interested parents to take a trip to Morbihan to visit Carnac. This involved a deal of travelling and traipsing, and my brother was making no bones about his weariness with what he saw as a pointless hippy pilgrimage to a collection of stones of no significance. In the middle of his grumbling, he stubbed his toe hard on a concealed stone. As they drove off, a small stone flew up and into the windscreen, cracking it. Later that evening, an anonymously thrown stone broke the window of the gite where they were staying.

So the story goes. I warned Tom about it when he was grumbling about the non-experience of Carnac; don't say it too loud, I admonished, they may exact revenge for your unbelief. But in fact, most people seem to find themselves disappointed with Carnac. Its impressiveness lies in its extent, not in imposing massiveness, and, of course in its unexplained mystery. But that too is a frustration, the enigma blocks rather than beguiles: what is the point of this? one finds oneself asking. I've concluded that where standing stones are concerened, size matters. the bigger specimens were more striking,



than the crowds of indistinguishable toothy-pegs,


and those which could be seen to possess faces, or characteristics, caught the attention more. This one below, with its benign and distant gaze, put me in mind of the episode of Noggin the Nog ( anyone else have a soft spot for Noggin the Nog?), called 'The Firecake', where Olaf the Lofty invents dynamite, and awakens the sleeping stone people, one of whom attaches itself to Little Knut and follows him... (oh do shut up you sad woman, you'll never be taken seriously again!)


This one is, I believe, much beloved by New Age pilgrims for its resemblance to a whale. Very like a whale.




The alignments have been so much frequented by tourists over the years that now they have been fenced in with robust, chest high, plasticised green fencing, else the erosion of all the feet going over the soil around them would cause the stones to fall over, and what is the point of a standing stone no longer standing, especially one which takes it on itself to squash a well-intentioned visitor? The mesh around the burial chamber had been prized apart a little, presumably to make an aperture for a camera lense, which I took advantage of.



It came to me later, though, what the experience brought to mind: walking around a zoo of dispirited and decontextualised animals. The larger ones, the elephants, buffalo, hippopotami, et al, will inevitably impress by their mass, the herds of small unremarkable grazing herbivores soon cease to interest, but with all of them, something is gone out of them. The beautiful and mysterious images of Carnac one sees in books and postcards all appear to have been taken in misty sunrise or sunset. On a chilly afternoon in early May, in the company of a few handfuls of other tourists equally nonplussed as onself, the stones are mute, grey, lifeless things, ungiving, absent. Whatever or whoever the beings or spirits who raised them, they walk here no longer, except, perhaps occasionally, they may pass by fleetingly at those threshold times of half-light and solitude. I wouldn't know.


Ah well, tell them I called and nobody answered.

The evening we walked on the beach, I bent and picked up stones, aimlessly, as you do. Why does one pick the ones one does? Later that night, I took them out of my pockets; just three, unintentionally, one for each of us. The middle one is evidently Molly, small, bright, intense, shot with colour. Close your eyes, I said to Tom, pick one for you. His hand closed over the whiter, rounder bulkier one, slightly damaged and uneven, with a trace of a face in it. That left the flatter, more amorphous, translucent but more coloured one for me. Who's to say stones can't be imbued with spirits, with a touch of light, and imagination?



13 comments:

catalyst said...

Very interesting. It compelled me to make a trip to the Granite Dells, a few miles away, for some pictures later in the week.

Tall Girl said...

Amazing - I remember your little niece, not yet two, sitting on a bed in your house looking at a book, and repeating the word 'train', in a never before or since heard pronunciation I can only reproduce here as 'draaaaan'.
Avebury had some power when we visited - but the most powerful encounter there was with a black cat the image and the feel of Kali, a few years after she died.

marja-leena said...

As you know, I love rocks and stones, so your title immediately piqued me. I've never been to any of the standing stones, but I'd agree from reading that low-angled light would capture more of their mystery, and perhaps draw out a few of the wandering spirits. Thanks for sharing your visit and photos.

andy said...

Lucy, you do have a marvellous talent for taking what could be just an an everyday story, yet telling it with wit and style - and a touch of whimsy. I'm sure there must never be a dull moment around your dinner table.

As to Noggin the Nog... well, I confess my particular favourites from that era (and, I think, the same team) were Ivor the Engine and The Clangers. I even have a pink knitted Clanger which 'speaks' in Clangeresque tones when you squeeze his tummy. Not the infamous "Bloody thing..." quote though...

Lucy said...

Looking forward to seeing those, Catalyst.
TG - that must be over 30 years ago, she's 32 now! She always had a deep gravelly voice, come to think, is a good mimic, does funny voices well. I guess at those times you have to be open to the unexpected visitations, like a reincarnated Kali!
ML - more interesting for you might have been Gavrinis, the burial chamber on an island in the Gulf of Morbihan, Neolithic with huge amounts of rock carving in spirals and whorls. We didn't make it there this time.
Andy - so glad someone took the Noggin the Nog bait! My brother and I have a difference of opinion on the relative merits of Noggin and the Clangers; in fact I loved them too. I expect to see a photo of that pink knitted clanger on your blog! Thanks for the complimentary speculations, but I'm afraid our dinner table is a rather quiet place as a general rule, but my niece makes most gatherings a hoot!

leslee said...

Nice post. I liked your comparison of the stones to zoo animals. Reminded me of Nick Park's Creature Comforts.

stitchwort said...

Yes, both Noggin the Nog and the Clangers are favourites! I still call those birds Graculuses.

Stones - the standing stones don't speak as loudly as the small ones, the flints and stone axes, that fitted into someone's hand. And even more impenetrable are the cup and ring stones. The fog's down.

Lucy said...

Leslee - thanks, yes, it's because you walk around looking at them over a fence waiting for them to do something! I suppose quite an interesting film could be made giving them those kind of voices!
hello Stitchwort - indeed, the thought of the tools in hands, rather as those rock paintings Marja-Leena has shown of multiple handprints, much more immediate.

meggie said...

What a very interesting post!
Thanks for visiting my blog & leaving a comment. Always nice to meet new people.
I liked your stones you took home. I have a tendency to do the same, & I never know why... then I put them in the garden, so they can stay here with us.
I do remember Noggin the Nog. My kids loved it.

meggie said...

Hi again. Hope you dont mind, I have blogged about you today. I just love your writing, so have added your blogsite to my post, urging people to come & read you.

Lucy said...

Meggie, how could I possibly mind? I am honoured and flattered, so glad you liked it.
Did you get Noggin the Nog in Australia too, or was that before you went there?

marlyat2 said...

Very satisfying, Lucy--

I feel quite friendly with standing stones--have a fondness for the ones who were said to be dancing on Sunday. Had my pants stolen (not on me, luckily) one time while visiting a dolmen. And can think of other odd things connected to them and visits...

meggie said...

Noggin the Nog was on TV in New Zealand, when we lived there. I dont know if they had it in OZ. We also had the Wombles of Wimbledon Common in NZ, -dont think they had that here in Oz either back in the day.