Carmen Mills – ‘Beneath My Feet 3’, 10cms x 10cms, pen and ink on Fabriano
Along with this I’m working my way through a book by geologist Jan Zalasiewicz, called ‘The Planet in a Pebble’, which explains for non-geologists like me how rocks and therefore our landscape was formed. As the cover says:
“Captured within are grand stories that reach back to long dead stars, into the depths of the Earth, to vanished continents, and quiet ocean beds above which strange creatures swam. There is much history there, if you know how to unlock it. Jan Zalasiewicz takes us on a journey through the past of a pebble of Welsh slate, showing how scientists tease out the clues of its history. Every pebble has many stories to tell.”
The questions still circulate. Both archaeology and geology are pertinent to the human condition, it seems to me. As I’ve asked before, why is it that we build up so many layers inside our own thinking? Is that just the way the mind works? Are layers a natural part of my consciousness, my personality? So imagine my surprise, and my excitement to find a passage in a novel talking about the very same thing, but from a different perspective.
Taken from ‘Have Mercy on Us All’ by Fred Vargas:
‘”I was wondering,” Adamsberg said as he ran the flat of his hand over the damp plaster, “whether what happens to cliffs doesn’t also happen to us.”
“What happens to cliffs?” Danglard snapped.
Adamsberg had always been a slow talker, hovering around his main point and sometimes forgetting entirely where it was; Danglard found it increasingly hard to put up with.
“Well the rock isn’t, so to speak, all of a piece, on a cliff by the sea. I don’t know, but let’s say it’s made up of hardstone and softstone.”
“Softstone isn’t a geological term, sir.”
“That’s as may be. At any rate, there are harder bits and softer bits in a cliff, like there are in all living things, like there are in you and me. So you’ve got a cliff, all right? And as the sea laps at it, it washes it, and splashes over it, the soft bits begin to melt.”
“Melting’s not the right word, sir.”
“That’s as may be. At any rate, bits drop off and the harder bits start to stick out. And as the sea and the storms go on bashing away at the cliff, the weaker parts vanish into thin air. When it gets to be an old man, the cliff is all craggy and hollow, like a ruined castle or a keep. Like a gaping jaw with a stony bite. What you’ve got where the soft bits were are gaps, holes and voids.”
“Well, I was wondering whether flics – and heaps of other people exposed to life’s stormy seas – don’t suffer erosion as well. Lose their soft bits, keep their tough bits, grow hard and craggy and hollow. Basically, fall to pieces.”
Danglard pondered the point.
“As far as your personal geological make-up is concerned, sir, I reckon you are not eroding normally. I’d put it this way, sir: your soft bits are quite hard and your hard bits fairly soggy. So the result is rather unique.”
“Does that make any difference?”
“All the difference in the world, sir. Soft rocks that resist erosion turn things upside down.”
I’ve only just started to read this novel, and the main crisis of the plot hasn’t arisen yet, but already I’m finding it a compulsive read with its fascinating characters and the wonderful way this writer explains herself. Herself? Isn’t the author’s name Fred? Ah yes, but that’s just a pen name. The book is written by a French female archaeologist, and translated rather well into English for the rest of us to enjoy. If you’ve not read any of these novels by Fred Vargas, I recommend you give it a go.
So that takes me back to my little drawings. I shall have to think about the soft bits being subject to erosion, leaving the hard bits prominent but riddled and weakened. On the other hand, the idea that the soft bits can resist erosion rather appeals to me.
Carmen Mills – ‘Beneath My Feet 4’, 10cms x 10cms, pen and ink on Fabriano