A perfect bunch of grapes

Some years ago, when I was staying in the tiny hamlet of Figols in the Catalan Pyrenees, I visited the ghost town of Aramunt in the nearby Pallars region.  Around the middle of the twentieth century the villagers started to leave Aramunt, some of them setting up home in a new town in the valley, but the farming tools and equipment they abandoned in barns and stables makes it look as if they fled, en masse, in a hurry.  It gives the place a poignant and uncanny stillness that suggests the spirits of the inhabitants never completely left.

One of the first houses I came across was a large stone building in the traditional style, with a stable on the ground floor and living accommodation above.  The house was loaded with the same eerie sense of abandonment – the stable floor scattered with hay; a rusty hoe and a contraption with wheels I couldn’t identify propped against the wall.

The fruits on a nearby fig tree had been burst open by birds, flesh and seeds splattered on the ground like the bloody remains of a massacre. The door was open and I climbed a rickety wooden staircase to the first floor.  It was hot and everything was dusty.  I picked my way over rotting floorboards.  Apart from an old mirror on the wall the room was empty.  I pushed open a shutter to reveal a perfectly formed bunch of grapes hanging outside the window.  But for this one bunch the rest of the vine was bare.  The grapes were ripe and veiled with dust; they were the colour of twilight.

Still Life of Fruit by Jacob van Walscapelle

I longed to eat one of those grapes but I couldn’t bring myself to ruin the symmetry.  Also, I was afraid.  Taking a grape would have been like plucking an eye from the house itself and I couldn’t shake off the feeling that the ghosts of the house were staring out from the mirror behind me, watching my every move.  A perfect bunch of grapes was all that remained of life in the village; I felt like a trespasser, a rubbernecker at the scene of an accident.  I closed the shutters and left.

I took a photograph, of course, but it’s nowhere to be found.  Still, the image of those grapes haunts me from time to time.  I’ve tried to write about them on several occasions but have either been defeated by my inability to provide a literal description of those dusky grapes and the awe they inspired in me or killed them stone dead by burdening them with symbolism and meaning.

So I thought I’d try letting them be what they were – a dusty bunch of grapes in the Catalan Pyrenees, in a town where your voice echoed by the well and you entered the churchyard through a gothic wrought iron gate laced with the brittle branches of a dead rose bush, like the fingers of the souls who didn’t quite make it grasping at the gates of heaven. 

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~ by Lorna Thorpe on July 29, 2011.

5 Responses to “A perfect bunch of grapes”

  1. Doesn’t sound like you’re struggling to write about it to me….

  2. What a wonderful piece of writing Lorna – made my spine tingle.

  3. Perfect!
    Gill x

  4. fantastic

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