Tonight a documentary was screened by the BBC in the guise of Simon Schama, a Jew who takes his history to heart. What had ultimately led to the secularism of followers of his faith, I was surprised to learn, was a fundamental difference of viewpoint with Christianity. This being that sin was not a burden to be absolved by some great being who - God forbid - could return one day and there was sure no point in waiting for him. It was irrational to hold anything else to account for what you did with life. No, sin was to be taken personally, as a personal responsibility for which the singularity was solely responsible.
This basic, most fundamental of differences led the Christian King of Spain to rule that Jews be evacuated forthwith from a Kingdom they had built over four centuries. The naughty, naughty proposition that the self could have power was a fact too powerful to be tolerated by a King.
Here we have a picture of the Kings' New Clothes.
Simon's tale drew back to the Barcelona Disputation, the beginning of a swift end to Jewish glorification. Since then, I didn't need really to watch more of the programme to see history repeating itself, again and again. The Old Testament takes the reader round in circles of tribes spoiling each other's tents, feeling guilty, asking forgiveness, being granted it, and repeating the whole cycle as soon as they get bored with what they've got. Shekels of silver and fattened bullocks could not, it seems, prevent Man from making war on its own kind (and the rest of the planet's inhabitants) for the sake of what he doesn't have. It seemed to me, in looking at the possibilities which lay behind the ghetto walls, that Jews might just be on to something. Like, well, how to live.
In 1492, Gerona in Spain had become the capital of Judaism, until that year when all of their kind were expelled. This came 101 years after the massacre of 4,000 Jews in Seville, so the Jewish population of Gerona moved out swiftly. Jewish memory is connective through its people as Simon mentioned on TV, and deeply epigenetic - it makes sense that Jews take lessons with them. Many places across the 'civilised' nations welcomed the flight and the bountiful abundance brought with its participants. But some sites were Trojan horses, promising fruits and delivering bread. Venice was one of these, and the voyagers arriving from their fugitive trek were herded into stalls at the northern edge of the town, away from the sea and the sobriety of orthodox living. This, the most cliche town in Italy, is where the first ever 'ghetto' was created.
My alarm clock in autumn is the hour before sunrise. When I had a horse, I loved to ride at this time of day, at this time of year, when dawn is reachable after human night-life. Few of us sleep at dusk. When the dawn promises to be beautiful, I want to be there, and this season is short so I like to make the most of it. Sunlight is never more glorious than when summer is done and winter is yet to wake up to itself.
This morning, my walk took just under an hour, on a route I'd never taken before on foot.
In a stubble field a flock of whitefront and greylag geese had gathered. As I walked, more geese calling from a distance flew in to join them. Stillness was broken from time to time by geese arriving in small flocks from all different directions to join the growing clan in the field, and each time they landed, squarks of greeting (and probably insult) filled the air for a moment. I wondered what drew these geese to congregate in this field from many different locations. Geese fly in straight lines, little wings versus huge body mass pushing them to spend as little time in the air as possible. Geese aren't built like buzzards, you don't see them floating on thermals having a cruise. Flying is tough, hard work, worth it. They get where they are going as swiftly and efficiently as possible.
I wondered if they were congregating to fly south across the sea, as is likely at this time of year, or whether they had simply decided that fresh stubble filled with grain made for a good breakfast. Whichever is true, they had plenty of fields to pick from. They'd all chosen this one. I was lucky, I guess. How they had reached the collective decision would remain a mystery. When the sun rose, it was spectacular and golden, taking its time emerging from a froth of cottonpuff cloud to a clear sky, where it blazed like a freshly-cast bell.
Simon's script carried a line I wrote down, for it seemed worthwhile - I had forgotten the geese that late in the evening, intent instead on the story he was telling. "Venice," he said, was the place
"where the birds in flight from Spain came to rest."
<There, at the heart of a misunderstood community, a haven is built to commemorate beauty, in a way people can understand, if they like that sort of thing. Clearly in Simon, the awe almost made him cry, probably a horrid thing to do in front of a camera - for a bloke, anyway. I cried when I walked into Durham Cathedral, but I would hardly call my self a Christian. My heart is with the Sun.
Kathy is the author of Quantumology. She met up with quantum mechanics in 1997, pledging allegiance to its sources thereafter. These are her personal thoughts and testimonies.