Often when we turn our daily lives into tiny discovery expeditions by going on holiday we concentrate on what is logical and rational in its pleasantness: we look down at phones, computer screens, travel guides to plan and learn about our destination; we see people, read signs, admire facades, stare at lips to make out words – *check your phrasebook, point lips at eyes opposite, repeat slowly for maximum clarity*; we hold out hands in front of us to shake another, pour cash in another, wave at another; look left *no cars*, look right *I’m lost*, look down *don’t fall*; we take in the texture of the carved wooden door, how blonde are the locks on the people here, how uniformly magnificent is the landscape before us.
There are times when I go about my daily life at home, walking to the grocer’s, driving to work, cycling to the top of the hill, that I marvel at the grandest features of my familiar places staring down at me from above, that I never knew.
Returning from the umpteenth post-festivity feast a few years ago, I was walking with my brother and a friend, pointing out this and that (*look at the voussoirs in this Norman window, we had Vikings building our Cathedral*, *check out the furrows in the road made by carriages early last century, the past walked these roads*).
I cracked my neck and arched it backwards to stretch out my scapula, and that’s when I saw on the wall opposite, just under the gutter, a donkey, followed by a goat, followed by a barrel, sculpted clear as day into the wall, and not recently. This is on a main road leading into the main square, right in front of the main church in town. And I usually like to notice these things.
The little Janus’ double-faced head on the highest point of the roof of the Cathedral, for example, I know of that one from looking at it across from the window of the doctor’s office. The roof like a mound of whipped cream on the little baroque church down the road from my house, I could tell you exactly how many excessive curves and flourishes I hate it for.
But the donkey leading the goat leading the barrel, this strange procession of illogical associations puzzled me purple.
So it is that I learned to look up. When you walk into this city for the first time and see new colours, new faces, new shapes in front of you, look up. There’s gravel and grass, mud and maiolicas at your feet when you step off the bus, the footwear is different, the benches are softer, the dogs tramp more freely, but if you look up: there are details in the architecture and colours in the sky to shape your memories of this place into something entirely more unique and intriguing. The tops of the trees are where the birds reside, the ones you’ve never seen elsewhere. Further up the walls this building is imbibed with a different light, turrets and statues whisper secrets from those heights. Don’t hold back from taking in every angle, every inch and every surface, but don’t forget to look up, at the donkeys, the goats and the barrels just below the lintels.
P.S. It turns out the donkey, the goat and the barrel had been commissioned by the owner of the house to mock his neighbour, so that whenever he looked out from the window, he’d see this simple visual interpretation of a local dialect adage meaning something very rude.