Monday, 27 April 2009

The Tower

Another day, another odd little adventure.

Menorca has a constant and unrivalled ability to surprise. Today I was picking my way cautiously across an isolated headland, crisscrossed by Martian-red soil channels and blooms of thistles and wildflowers, when I came across something unexpected. It felt like a place of extreme wildness, in which one could quite easily close one’s eyes, listen to the sea and the birds, and imagine themselves a thousand miles from any material sign of human life. But today that impression - that sense of "wilderness" - was punctured suddenly and utterly, by this:

Lurking on the horizon. Oozing up above the crags and bushes with every step.

What I found really strange was that there was no sense of disappointment in its sudden appearance. If I’d been adventuring alone through some mosquito-buffet jungle, only to turn the corner and come face-to-face with a 300-acre shopping mall, I’d be justified in feeling a little miffed. Not so with this.

It just… sat there. Empty, silent, cut-off. Completely out of place, but somehow all the more fascinating for it. There’s something breathtaking about that sort of juxtaposition; that boundary between chaos and order, wildness and construction. Someone had built this; had carted rock and metal across the broken ground, dug foundations into the stone, cut bricks into shape; all in defiance of the geopgraphy. It was an old thing; a barred-up fortlet without fanfares or tourist signs. Just forgotten: perched on a cliff like a flimsy fez.

It took me half an hour of scrambling, but I couldn’t stop myself from going to it. I’m still not entirely sure why. It’s not as if I was fancying it as some fantasy home; some Perfect Place of isolation. No: the sense of loneliness that clung to it was almost tangible – it would be an awful place to live. And the thing itself really wasn’t much to get excited about. A pillbox blot on the cliff-edge, without frills. But still… There was something magnetic about it. The way it just loomed, from whatever direction you approached. Not an eyesore, exactly, but brutal in its presence all the same.

It had no right to be there, and by defying its surroundings it had taken-on an irresistible sort of preening smugness. I almost felt like congratulating it.

Plus, of course, it went off like a landmine of romantic clich├ęs in my head. Every lonely maiden ever locked-away in a doorless turret, every heartbroken fisherman watching the sea for his mermaid bride, every mournful King awaiting the triumphant return (or not at all) of his questing son. Black sails on the horizon, villagers with flaming torches, seabeasts and virgin sacrifice. Great stuff.

I’ve since learned it’s one of a trio: Martello towers positioned several miles apart along the coast, built by the British army in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars to guard the mouth of Mahon harbour from invasion. It’s a nice little touchstone of unexpected history, and I suppose there’s a hint of romantic realism to imagine the cold watchmen, staring out to sea all day, keeping half an eye on the beacons from their fellow towers along the coast…

…But another part of me wishes I hadn’t bothered to research it at all. The mermaids and Kings and serpents are a far better cast with which to people this amazing little Island, than a bunch of bored soldiers with eyestrain.

1 comment:

Ariana said...

If the tower you hit is one of a *trio*, then it's one of the original Spanish towers, mate. Your folks built 12 more around the island -- there should be fifteen in all... including a Hangman's Tower and Princess Tower