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The Wind at Djemila
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, pp. 46-48 -
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The Wind at D.jemila
THERE are places where the spirit dies
so that a truth may be born which is
th.e spirit's very negation. When I went
to Djemila there was wind and sun but that
must wait. What has to be said first is that a
great silence reigns there, heavy and without a
crack. The cries of birds, the furred sound of a
three-holed flute, the stamping of goats, murmurs
from the sky--these are so many noises
which made up the silence and desolation of
the place. Now and then a dry crackling, a shrill
cry, mark the flight of a bird that had crouched
among the stones. Every road one follows, the
paths among the ruined houses, the wide-paved
streets under gleaming columns, the immense
forum between the arch of triumph and the
temple on its hillock, everything leads to the
ravines which on every side bound Djemila, a
pack of cards spread open under a sky without
limits. And one finds oneself there, tense, set
face to face with the stones and the silence,
while the day advances and the mountains
grow larger as they turn violet. But the wind
blows on the plateau of Djemila. In that great
confusion of wind and sun, the mingling of the
light with the ruins, something is forged which
give~ man the measure of his identity with the
solitude and silence of the dead city.
IX takes a long time to get to Djcmila. It is not
a city where one halts, and then gocs on. It
leads nowhere and opens on nothing. It is a
place from which one comes back. The dead
city is at the end ofa. long, twisting road which
seems to promise it at each turning and appears
thereby so much the longer. When, on a faded
tableland sunk among high mountains, its
yellowing skeleton rises finally, like a forest of
bones, Djemila presents the symbol of that lesson
of love and patience which alone can lead us
to the beating heart of the world. There, amid
a few trees, some dry grass, she defends hersdf
with all her mountains and all her stones
against vulgar admiration, the picturesque, or
the deceptions of hope.
In this arid splendour we wandered all day
long. Little by little the wind, hardly felt at the
beginning of the afternoon, seemed to grow
with the hours and fill the whole landscape. It
blew from a gap in the mountains, far away to
the east, hastened up from the depths of the
horizon, and bounded, cascading, amid the
stones and the sun. Without cease, it whistled
powerfully through the ruins, bathed the heaps
of pitted blocks, surrounded each column with
its breath, and came to spill out in unceasing
moans over the forum that lay open to the sky.
I felt myself shaking in the wind like a mast.
Hollowed out by my surroundings, eyes burning,
lips cracked, my flesh became so dry that
it was no longer mine. Through it, before, I had
deciphered the writing of the world, the signs
of its tenderness or its anger, the warmth of its
breath, or the bite of its frost. But, buffeted so
long by the wind, washed by it for more, than
an hour, dazed out of resistance, I lost consciousness
of the pattern traced by my body. I
was polished by the wind, worn down to the
soul. I became a little of that force by which I
drifted, then more, then, at last, nothing else,
confounding the beating of my blood with the
great sounding beat of this ever-present heart
of nature. The wind fashioned me in the image
of the scorching nudity that surrounded me.
And its fugitive embrace gave me, a stone
among stones, the solitude of a column or an
olive tree against the summer sky.
This violent bath of sun and wind drained all
the life from me, hardly leaving that fluttering,
that grumbling, that feeble revolt of the spirit.
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