The Sea of Flames

Two weeks ago I flew from Sydney to Madrid and spent a total of 32 hours in transit. It was sticky and sluggish; time didn’t play by the rules. It warped. It got sucked into the propellers and caught in the wings of the Airbus 8380 as it cut through the skies at nine hundred kilometres an hour. Spat out in a million pieces and rearranged in my woozy body.

The day before my flight, I found myself in a bookstore, my eyes grazing over all the colourful covers and bold titles, looking for something special to take with me. I knew I would need company. I saw the cover of Anthony Doerr’s novel ‘All the Light We Cannot See’, read an extract from the middle, and didn’t hesitate to run to the check-out counter. I’m so glad I decided to treat myself that day. What if I had never found this book?

The brain is locked in total darkness, of course, children, says the voice. It floats in a clear liquid inside the skull, never in the light. And yet the world it constructs in the mind is full of light. It brims with colour and movement. So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?

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Dancing with Death in Rome: Crypts + John Keats

24 February 1821. This Grave contains all that was Mortal of a young English poet who on his Death bed, in the bitterness of his Heart, at the malicious power of his enemies, desired these words to be engraven on his tomb Stone:

Here Lies One Whose Name Was Writ in Water.

In September 2016 I was fortunate to spend a few days in The Eternal City. I was staying in a hotel built over the Capuchin Crypt, next to the church of Santa Maria. The crypt is a brutal, creepy reminder of the brevity of our lives; I felt as if the vacant eye sockets of the skulls were watching me. What you are now, we used to be. What we are now, you will be. Sometimes words aren’t enough – Camille Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre seems like an appropriate way to describe the experience.

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