The other night we went to see a lovely film about the Moroccan 14th century explorer Ibn Battuta’s epic journey to Mecca. He risked everything to get to a place he had long dreamed about and which he felt would complete him as a person.
It was not a question of getting on a plane in those days. He had to trek across deserts and mountains on a horse and a camel. It took him several months. En route he was robbed, beaten and almost died.
About half-way through Olivia turned to me. “Why does he want to go to Mecca anyway?” she asked.
I tried to explain, I tried to imagine the Christian equivalent; Lourdes or maybe the Vatican for Catholics? I tried to help her grasp the idea of something being so important, so essential to you that you will risk everything for it.
Then I realised that most of probably don’t have something like that. We might have a person, but not a place. The closest I got to was Top Withins, a derelict farmhouse on the Yorkshire moors which features in the book Wuthering Heights.
I have been there several times, but the first time I saw it was almost a religious experience. I had dreamed about seeing it and wondered what it would feel like. It felt like I had arrived somewhere very important to me. I sat at the base of a tree and imagined Emily Bronte walking on the same moor, conjuring up her hero Heathcliff and working on her book.
I’m sure Ibn Battuta was inspired by more than a book, but my point is that maybe even if we don’t have a religious place we yearn to visit, we might all have something that comes close? What’s yours?
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009
Don’t think I have one, but my daughter dreams of going to college at Oxford- her Dad brought her to visit at Christmas, and the feeling she described was Mecca-like. She’d absolutely adore that house- “Wuthering Heights” is her all-time favourite book.
I think it’s a good thing to have something- person, place, whatever- that inspires one, especially in this day and age.
You’ve put me thinking, Helena, where to? mimi
Nothing at all to do with religion. It would have to be La Mezquita, Cordoba.
My Mecca would be the “le Bric Froid”, a 3302m-high summit near Le Roux d’Abriès in the French Hautes-Alpes on the border with Italy. The view over Italy eternally plunged in a sea of clouds while you are sitting under the iron cross basking in the hot sunshine is just unforgettable.
The problem is: with a 4-hour walk up a very steep rise and a scarcely less exhausting descent, I would need a new pair of thighs, lungs and knees to go back there.
Back to my Dad’s farm to walk the fields and relive my childhood memories on the land. IT’s a peaceful place with memories of playing in the woods, sledding down the steep hill in back of the barn and sitting under a tree reading.
A helicopter? Have you forgotten that I have a fear of flying?
Don’t drink the Kool-aid.
Top Withins was it for me as well. I also loved the Cornish Coast and felt my spirit come alive there. Parts of Edinburgh as well really resonated with me. Not to mention Paris where I cried my way around a lot of the city feeling it was a spiritual home!
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