I’ve been wandering without a map. I’m not sure there is a map, at least not on my phone, or in any book I’ve seen. Instead I’ve been interpreting the curves of the alleys, the rise and fall of the stairs, the slant of the light, and the jumbled facets of houses and doorsteps to discern my direction.
I discern something else too: The way the paths follow some logic associated with the terrain, the roads like a shadow of the hills and mountains hidden by the walls around me. After a while it starts to feel like there’s intent, like a kind of pattern has been encoded here.
But there is no intent, no pattern: it’s just cause (the shape of the land) and effect (the course of the way home upon it). The needs of living on this terrain make themselves clear in the orientation of the paths and staircases carved among the clusters of houses. Remarkably, it is nearly impossible to get lost.
Right when I’m convinced I’ve gone as deep into the warren of brick and stone as I can go, the alley opens suddenly onto square with a fountain at its center. There are people sitting on benches talking, at tables, eating. Then, from that patch of sunshine, the alleys squeeze into shadows between buildings, back into the mass of the neighborhood, and I follow.
I consider all the things hauled up these winding paths by muscle: water barrels, gas canisters, grocery bags, and my god someone had to carry every one of the bricks and stones and bags of cement that were used to erect all this here.
This is not an easy place to live, yet (or perhaps as a result) this place feels more inhabited than most. The space: close. The colors: bright. Children play in the wider passages. Because it is not easy, life here must be intentional, and because every choice has been so consciously made, it doesn’t matter that these paths lack the harmony of a larger plan. The plan is to live here and get there, and all these tight alleys and twisting stairs make for a map so complex it’s not sensibly referred to for guidance, but five centuries of habitation here says you don’t need a map for life.