“THE CAUDILLO IS RAISING HELL…!”

EXERPT 2 FROM MY NOVEL “ARK”

When he arrived in his office at the institute, there on his desk barely a day after he had submitted the samples for examination, was a thin dog-eared envelope with the words “analysis results” scrawled across the front in biro. 

The slim envelope instantly set alarm bells off in Alex’s head. He knew that meaningful reports took weeks and more often months to complete and would be presented in the form of a weighty file. But when he then read the note contained within the envelope his alarm turned to dismay:

Dear Professor Martinez,

Following careful examination, we find nothing remarkable to report regarding the nature of the stone, the timber or the graffito at the Transito site. In the light of these unexceptional findings, it has been decided to resume the engineering works to the synagogue’s eastern wall in the interests of securing the building with immediate effect.

The Department thanks you and your team for all your efforts in this matter.

Sincerely,

Diego Ruiz – Chief Secretary, Department of Antiquities

Alex immediately telephoned his main contact at the department, the medieval projects manager Miguel Garcia. 

Garcia claimed tersely that he knew nothing about it and refused to put him through to Ruiz saying that the director was busy. He then offered Alex a piece of ‘friendly advice’ to ‘drop the whole thing.’ 

Alex reminded Garcia that he had ‘uncovered a site of potentially great importance to the cultural heritage of Spain and that ‘both as an archaeologist and a patriot he was bound to publish a full site report.’

‘Nevertheless’ Garcia told him, ‘do not under any circumstances publish a report.’

To which Alex replied; ‘You mean like the people who discovered the structure in 1964?’

For several seconds there was silence at the other end of the phone. Then Garcia asked; ‘How the hell do you know that it was discovered in 1964? How can you know that?’

‘Hombre! I’m trained to know these things’ he replied surprised at the effectiveness of his gambit. ‘It’s what the government pays me for. Now would you be so kind as to tell me what is this all about? What’s with all the fucking secrecy?’

Alex’s swearing had an incendiary effect on Garcia. ‘There’s no fucking secrecy!’ he yelled. ‘No fucking anything! Just a fucking boring, fucking meaningless little fucking structure…’

Meaningless!’ Alex cried back. ‘A structure unique in Iberian medieval architecture decorated with enough solid gold to shame the tomb of the average Pharaoh! A structure moreover in perfect condition—except for the fact ten years ago someone removed its roof and then covered it over again as if nothing had happened? If that’s meaningless then I’m a Dutchman!’

‘Alex, I’m telling you again as a friend’ Miguel said quietly, almost pleading, ‘just forget all about this. It’s all a mistake, a bloody great cock-up!’

‘A mistake? What do you mean a mistake?’

‘The excavation Alex—the excavation was a mistake. It should never have been sanctioned. Whoever ticked off on the excavation didn’t know. He didn’t know about the original works in 64. But now they’ve found the old records and it should never have been sanctioned. The Caudillo himself is raising hell here Alex. Please, please just let it go.’ 

Both the desperation in Garcia’s voice and the mention of Franco were disturbing. Alex had always enjoyed a cordial and constructive working relationship with Miguel Garcia. He’d found him to be an affable chap always willing to go that extra mile for a colleague. This exchange was totally out of character. 

‘Listen Miguel, I don’t want to make problems for you. I just want…I just need to know one thing and then I’ll leave you alone. I promise.’

‘What is it?’

‘Whoever took the roof off the canopy found something inside it, and whatever it was, they removed it in a big hurry…’

‘How do you know all this?’

‘Why else would they have deserted nearly half a ton of gold panelling? They must have found something so…so hot…’

Hot?’

‘I don’t know hombre! Hot, incredible, astonishing―something so precious in some way that they ignored the gold and covered up their tracks in a rush.’  Garcia did not respond. Alex could hear him breathing heavily down the phone.

‘I won’t write anything Miguel. No report. But please just tell me what was inside the structure?’

After another few seconds Garcia eventually said in a low weary voice; ‘Nothing Alex…they found absolutely nothing.’

‘You swear to me that’s the truth Miguel? You’re telling me that the Caudillo is getting all worked up over nothing because you’re acting like they found the fucking Holy Grail or something?’  Again, silence at the other end of the phone.

Calmly now, he repeated the question; ‘Miguel. Do you swear to me that what you just told me is the truth?’ 

Garcia hung up without answering.

ARK – excerpts – Part 1

I PRESENT HERE THE FIRST IN SERIES OF TEN EXCERPTS FROM MY NEW NOVEL (Paperback available from Amazon and on Kindle and to order online from selected bookstores)

ARK

Tragedy, Travesty, Tapas and the Ark of God

“ … Creator of all things above and below … Thou art the One, Creator of all that is, the One; the only One …”                    

 Egyptian hymn to Amun-Re   

“…Blessed be He, who extends the heavens and establishes the earth…He is our God; There is no other.” 

‘Alenu’, ancient Hebrew prayer

BEGINNING

‘Coño! This had better be good José―damn good!’

‘Don’t worry Alex! This is beyond good.’

‘Beyond good?’

‘Beyond my powers of description at any rate―but what the hell took you so long getting here?’

‘All flights out of Almeria were cancelled because of the storms―I had to get the bus up here―that’s what the hell took me so long! Anyway, I’m here now, so why don’t you just show me what all this fuss is about and  then I’ll let you know if  it was worth my while spending the last twelve hours aggravating my haemorrhoids on a wooden seat on a clapped out coach with no suspension on the worst damn roads in Europe!’

‘Just wait till you see it. You won’t believe your eyes.’

The tall, youthful, blond haired José Sanchez grabbed the slightly older, shorter, dark haired Alex Martinez by the arm and guided him energetically down an alley way into a small stone courtyard.

‘Here it is Alex’ José said pointing eagerly towards a large rectangular hole next to which was a neat mound of rubble and dirt. ‘Look at that and then tell me I was wrong to call you. The moment we uncovered it I knew this was work for you…’ José stopped talking for a moment when he saw Alex’s face, then said ‘I told you didn’t I?’

At first Alex could not speak. His mouth fixed open in amazement, his hands on his hips, his head shaking in sheer disbelief at what he was looking at. Then, after a minute or so he took off his spectacles and cleaned them with his shirt. Still shaking his head, squinting into the pit he said, almost lost for words, ‘Oh coño! A wonderful thing…a simply wonderful thing…’

1

It was late April 1974 when José had been commissioned by the department of antiquities to do the exploratory dig along the outside of the eastern wall of the 14th century Transito Synagogue in Toledo.

His original task had been to check the state of the foundations of the building but soon after his men began digging, the walls of what appeared to be a subterranean chamber were uncovered. By the following evening they had exposed the entire chamber.

It was in the form of a skewed rectangle, about eighteen feet long by twelve feet wide and ran lengthways roughly parallel with the rear of the synagogue. It was just over seven feet deep with a floor of exquisitely hand painted glazed turquoise-green tiles.

However, it was not the chamber itself that prompted José to approach The National Heritage Institute in Madrid and demand they summon Spain’s leading medievalist and archaeologist, Professor Alex Martinez as a matter of urgency. It was the additional discovery of a small structure standing within the sunken chamber.

It measured just over eight feet square at its base and stood a little more than five feet in height. It was in the form of a steep sided trapezoid; a flat roofed pyramid and constructed of large sand coloured limestone blocks.

With no floor of its own the structure sat on the tiles of the host chamber as a solid canopy. The narrow seam between the base of the structure and the tiled floor was sealed with mortar.

Now, as Alex Martinez peered into the chamber for the first time, and as José had correctly predicted, he found it hard to believe what was before him.

It was not merely the beauty of the structure sitting on the sumptuous tiled floor; it was the fact it existed at all, there, in that place, from that time.

To his certain knowledge, outside of cemeteries trapezoid constructions were unheard of anywhere on the Iberian Peninsula after the end of the Roman era. To discover one like this in near perfect condition, apparently dating to the Middle Ages was, in both archaeological and historical terms, a revelation. But in addition to its uniqueness, there were several intriguing features of the structure itself.

It had no doorway or normal access point of any kind.

Yet, at some time since its completion in the thirteen hundreds someone had gained access to its interior by removing the roof.

The now exposed interior space was just over five foot square at floor level.                              The surface of its inner walls was elaborately panelled in hardwood overlaid in an opulently thick layer of pure gold leaf.

The wall blocks were eighteen inch thick ashlar, apparently cut with stone flints rather than iron or steel chisels.

And most intriguing of all was a faint blue inscription on the right-hand cornerstone on the east facing outside wall.

Although Alex could not decipher it he remembered enough from his time as a student volunteer on digs in Israel to recognise the language of the writing. It was with a fair degree of astonishment he observed that the words were written in a script dating back to many centuries before Christ. The inscription on the cornerstone was in early Hebrew.

The instant he saw the inscription Alex knew that he required additional specialist expertise both to determine its date and meaning and also to help him unravel the other mysteries of the canopy’s construction.

To that end, the next day after he had first assembled his own team of archaeology students from the local university to begin the task of further investigating the site, he sent a photograph of the inscription together with samples of the stone and the timber and gold panelling up to the Department of Antiquities in Madrid for analysis.

However, there were two more aspects related to the state of the site itself and the condition of the canopy which were not merely intriguing to Alex but which he also found vaguely troubling.

Alex was familiar with the reports of all the restorations and excavations done at the synagogue since the time it had been used by Napoleon’s troops as a barracks during the Peninsula War and none of them mentioned the sunken chamber or the canopy. Yet, from the loose condition of the dirt fill and the fact it consisted mostly of aggregate typically used in modern road making Alex determined that the site had been covered over during the 1964 works, just ten years earlier.

As he observed and supervised the students going about their various tasks in and around the canopy he pondered why such a remarkable discovery was never publicised and why had it then been covered over again? ‘Could it be’ he wondered, ‘something to do with the other element of the puzzle? The fact that the removal of the roof also dated to the 1964 works…’

2

‘I didn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to work that out’ Alex told a colleague over tapas later that evening in Madrid bar.

‘How can you be so sure?’ queried the colleague.

‘Because of this non-medieval artefact I found on the floor inside.’ From his briefcase Alex produced a twelve inch flat headed drill bit with a broken tip. ‘Whoever removed the roof used this’ he stated placing the bit on the bar. ‘So far as I know they didn’t have pneumatic drills in the fourteenth century.’

His colleague looked suitably intrigued.

‘And that’s not all’ added Alex. ‘We also found ropes and a crowbar.’

‘Quite a tool kit!’

‘All the tools required in fact for lifting off the loosened roof and preventing it from crashing down onto whatever was inside the canopy. Most of the roof is still intact on the floor of the host chamber.’

‘But wouldn’t it have been simpler to cut through the side walls?’

‘No. Whoever did this tested the thickness of the stones first. There are probe holes drilled into both the walls and the roof and the roof stones are only a quarter of the thickness of the wall blocks. It made perfect sense to go through the roof—far less work and much less risk to whatever was inside.’

‘Have you told the people at the department about this?’

‘I haven’t had time yet.  I’ll do it first thing tomorrow.’

But the next morning something happened that caused Alex to reconsider this line of action.

When he arrived in his office at the institute, there on his desk barely a day after he had submitted the samples for examination was a thin dog-eared envelope with the words “analysis results” scrawled across the front in biro.

The slim envelope instantly set alarm bells off in Alex’s head. He knew that meaningful reports took weeks and more often months to complete and would be presented in the form of a weighty file. But when he then read the note contained within the envelope his alarm turned to dismay:

Dear Professor Martinez,

Following careful examination we find nothing remarkable to report with regard to the nature of the stone, the timber or the graffito at the Transito site.

In the light of these unexceptional findings it has been decided to resume the engineering works to the synagogue’s eastern wall in the interests of securing the building with immediate effect.

The Department thanks you and your team for all your efforts in this matter.

Sincerely,

Diego Ruiz – Chief Secretary, Department of Antiquities

Alex immediately telephoned his main contact at the department, the medieval projects manager Miguel Garcia.

Garcia claimed tersely that he knew nothing about it and refused to put him through to Ruiz saying that the director was busy. He then offered Alex a piece of ‘friendly advice’ to ‘drop the whole thing.’

Alex reminded Garcia that he had ‘uncovered a site of potentially great importance to the cultural heritage of Spain and that ‘both as an archaeologist and a patriot he was bound to publish a full site report.’

‘Nevertheless’ Garcia told him, ‘do not under any circumstances publish a report.’

To which Alex replied; ‘You mean like the people who discovered the structure in 1964?’

For several seconds there was silence at the other end of the phone. Then Garcia asked; ‘How the hell do you know that it was discovered in 1964? How can you know that?’

‘I’m trained to know these things Miguel’ he replied surprised at the effectiveness of his gambit. ‘It’s what the government pays me for. Now would you be so kind as to tell me what this all about? What’s with all the fucking secrecy?’

Alex’s swearing had an incendiary effect on Garcia. ‘There’s no fucking secrecy!’ he yelled. ‘No fucking anything! Just a fucking boring, fucking meaningless little fucking structure…’

Meaningless!’ Alex cried back. ‘A structure unique in Iberian medieval architecture decorated with enough solid gold to shame the tomb of the average Pharaoh! A structure moreover in perfect condition—except for the fact ten years ago someone removed its roof and then covered it over again as if nothing had happened? If that’s meaningless then I’m a Dutchman!’

‘Alex, I’m telling you again as a friend’ Miguel said quietly, almost pleading, ‘just forget all about this. It’s all a mistake, a bloody great cock-up!’

‘A mistake? What do you mean a mistake?’

‘The excavation Alex—the excavation was a mistake. It should never have been sanctioned. Whoever ticked off on the excavation didn’t know. He didn’t know about the original works in 64. But now they’ve found the old records and it should never have been sanctioned. The Caudillo himself is raising hell here Alex. Please, please just let it go.’

Both the desperation in Garcia’s voice and the mention of Franco were disturbing. Alex had always enjoyed a cordial and constructive working relationship with Miguel Garcia. He’d found him to be an affable chap always willing to go that extra mile for a colleague. This exchange was totally out of character.

‘Listen Miguel, I don’t want to make problems for you. I just want…I just need to know one thing and then I’ll leave you alone. I promise.’

‘What is it?’

‘Whoever took the roof off the canopy found something inside it and whatever it was they removed it in a big hurry…’

‘How do you know all this?’

‘Why else would they have deserted nearly half a ton of gold panelling? They must have found something so…so hot…’

Hot?’

‘I don’t know Miguel! Hot, incredible, astonishing―something so precious in some way that they ignored the gold and covered up their tracks in a rush.’

Garcia did not respond. Alex could hear him breathing heavily down the phone.

‘I won’t write anything Miguel. No report. But please just tell me what was inside the structure?’

After another few seconds Garcia eventually said in a low weary voice; ‘Nothing Alex…they found absolutely nothing.’

‘You swear to me that’s the truth Miguel? You’re telling me that the Caudillo is getting all worked up over nothing because you’re acting like they found the fucking Holy Grail or something?’ Again silence at the other end of the phone.

Calmly now, he repeated the question; ‘Miguel. Do you swear to me that what you just told me is the truth?’

Garcia hung up without answering.

A DREAM IN CATALONIA

THE AMAZING GENESIS OF MY”ARK IN TOLEDO” STORY

PART II (see Part I here)

Carmel College Synagogue

At this stage, I should state that I was never your average atheist, either in texture or flavour.

If I tell you that I’ve often found the likes of Jonathan Miller and Richard Dawkins to be a little too agnostic and lacking in conviction for my liking you get an idea of my feelings about all things ‘divine’, ‘spiritual’ and / or supernatural. In fact, my anti-theism—for that’s what it truly amounts to—came upon me in a sort of revelation and in a synagogue of all places, back in 1975, when I was fifteen years old.

You see, it’s not that I had always been of this mind set.

After eight days of life I’d had the obligatory encounter—for Jewish males—with the small but extremely sharp knife  followed by the typical  albeit fairly gentle in my case, conditioning of the traditional North London Jewish upbringing.

There was the Jewish education, both at school and at home from my observant grandfather—my ‘Zaida’; the weekly Saturday visits to synagogue (the orthodox type with the ladies sitting upstairs); the Friday night dinners; the candles and; the very many holy-days and holidays.

In fact, for the first ten years or so of my life, seduced as I was by the numerous attractions for a child of my religion, both holiday-wise and culinary-wise, I veered somewhat towards being a rather pious little boy. It probably also had a lot to do with the fact that my “most favourite person in the whole world”  was indisputably my gentle, kind and incredibly dignified Zaida and that my greatest fear in those days, was doing anything to upset or disappoint him.

Thus it was, during those long tedious hours on Saturday mornings, sitting next to him in synagogue, I never gave him an inkling of how abjectly bored I was for fear of hurting his feelings.

My mildly burgeoning piety notwithstanding, in retrospect I guess, this was my first taste of what ‘duty’ meant. I suppose now, that this innate sense of duty to my grandfather had a lot to do with the fact my father had abandoned us (my mother, my one—older—brother and I) when I was six months old and that it was to my Zaida that I both looked and found that male authority I naturally craved.

However, in 1970 when I was ten years old my mother took my brother and me to live in Israel. And, although this adventure turned out to be abortive with us returning to London barely six months later, the experience delineated the end of the first and the beginning of the second chapter of my life. Paradoxically, this dalliance with life in the ‘Holy Land’ was the catalyst which began my drift away from ‘belief’.

For starters, my mum was irreligious herself and while she had been happy to ‘keep a kosher home’, with all that that entailed, during the years of our extended family existence, she lapsed almost the moment we arrived at our new home in Israel.

Suddenly, there was no more synagogue, no more Friday night dinners, no more observance of any kind. Even on Yom Kippur, we spent the day on the beach with a large picnic.

Mum felt free from the ‘clutter of observance’ for the first time in many years and her sense of freedom must have been infectious, because it transmitted itself to her two sons.

Hitherto, neither of us had ever thought to question the structure of our lives as Jewish boys. After all, it was all we knew and seemed as natural as breathing or eating.

And all of a sudden, spending Saturday mornings body-surfing on a Mediterranean beach instead of being in a stuffy synagogue surrounded by old men (they all seemed old to me at that time) chanting prayers, was very powerful medicine. And like our mum, we instinctively felt as if we had been liberated from what had been before.

But then, still only in my eleventh year, as suddenly as I had left, I found myself back in North London. And once again on Saturday mornings, I was sitting by the side of my still-adored Zaida―only now, far more dutifully than I ever could have imagined just six months previously.

But the seeds of my atheism were planted and from then on the germination was steady and relentless and it was only around five years later that I found myself on my own in another synagogue—the one belonging to my school where I was then boarding in deepest Oxfordshire.

Unfortunately, I can’t recall exactly the reason why I had decided to go and sit alone in the synagogue, except that it was one of those exquisite and magisterial settings with which my old school was bounteously blessed, both geographically and architecturally (see photo above). It must have seemed a natural place to go for a troubled soul.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the building itself was one of the most remarkable and beautiful modern constructions in England.

It was designed by an inspired local architect called Thomas Hancock and you feel that when he was given the brief for the project he was also given more or less free reign, for what I presume was his one and only Jewish house of worship.

Unkindly nicknamed ‘the ski slope’ by most of the boys, it was a soaring structure of primarily glass and honey coloured timber with a grey metallic roof. At its western end it was only about twelve feet high, with the ceiling arcing upwards until it reached somewhere near sixty feet at the eastern end—hence the ‘ski slope’ analogy.

The roof was a marvel, supported by half a dozen exposed, curved, mighty wooden beams, which at that time were the longest of their kind anywhere in Europe.

Outside and within the eastern wall was formed of bare sand coloured breeze blocks. Set in its centre, an ark (the cupboard that housed the scrolls of the Law—the Torah) marked out by a pair of enormous cedar wood doors constructed of overlapping panels and flanked at its corners, from floor to ceiling by a pair of narrow jazzy, Chagall inspired stained glass windows.

The north and south walls of the synagogue were entirely of glass set in delicate wooden frames, which, especially on the south side, allowed for a broad view of the Mongewell Brook that ran through the school grounds until it spilt, via a willow fringed lake, into the River Thames.

The interior space was so conceived by Hancock, that the worshipper experienced a strong sense of exposure to, and oneness with, the landscape that the synagogue inhabited.

The afternoon in question (it was an afternoon, in case I forgot to mention) was a glorious early summer’s day.

Tall oaks, beech and cascading willows rubbed shoulders with the glazed sides of the synagogue, resplendent in their crisp, young foliage. The brook sparkled like a thousand sapphires through the glass. Assorted waterfowl frolicked, floated and bobbed about on its surface silhouetted against the silvery sheen.

I’d taken a seat on one of the long padded benches, about half way towards the ark, when almost immediately I experienced a most curious sensation.

I remember that I was looking out the south window to my left, at the above mentioned sensual, watery, pastoral idyll beyond when, in a matter of seconds it was as if a great and terrible burden had been lifted from my shoulders.

This sensation of release caused my neck to reflex so that I found myself looking straight up at the highest part of the ceiling where the great timber roof-beams slotted neatly into their steel cradles in the lofty cool shadows.

And at that moment I was overcome with a feeling of the purest joy. I recall that I couldn’t stop smiling. I guess that I was feeling something similar to when you are told you have been cured of a terrible illness.

But, in my case, immersed within a symbiosis of man-made and natural beauty in perfect harmony, I’d come to understand with total certainty, that there was no God.

Carmel College Synagogue - stained glass windows

So that was how atheism came upon me and why I knew that the voice that spoke to me that night in Bossòst was the creation of my own overactive mind.

Nevertheless, despite my non-belief, I had a profound interest in the ancient history of my people. So much so, that had it not been for the fact that my aptitude for drawing and painting led me towards a less academically arduous career in the arts I would have definitely ‘done something’ along the lines of archaeology.

But despite this, by the time of my dream-like event in northern Spain I was steeped in the kind of vast general knowledge of a subject that is the special preserve of the amateur enthusiast.

So, I of course knew that according to various biblical texts the ‘Sons of Kohath’ were a high caste clan of the priestly tribe of Levi, supposedly designated by Moses to take care of—amongst other things—the Holy Ark.

Being a Levite myself I had always found this a thrilling concept.

Back in the ancient day though, being a Levite wasn’t merely a paternally handed down title like it is now with a few synagogue related duties and privileges. Back in the ancient day being a Levite really meant something and it didn’t get any more meaningful than for those of the House of Kohath.

So it was hardly surprising to me, just mere moments after the initial shock of the dream had worn off, that my vanity should have decided that I was of such an esteemed caste.

By the same token, I was equally steeped in the subject of the Ark itself; not you will gather because I believed it to be a ‘transmitter to God’, as the evil Belloq described it so eloquently in Raiders of the Lost Ark but because I agreed with Indiana Jones’ original summation at the beginning of the movie; that if the Ark had really existed and was still around somewhere today, it would be of inestimable archaeological and cultural/historic interest and value.

However, when it came to the history of the Jews of Spain and their synagogues I was far less clued-in. I had no knowledge at all about any architectural heritage they may have left behind, in Toledo―or anywhere else upon the Iberian Peninsula.

I had some sketchy ideas about the great cultural flowering of Iberian Jewry during the middle ages and, I also knew that the whole thing came to a terrible end under the Inquisition of Torquemada during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella. But, the shameful truth was, most of what I knew about the ‘Spanish Inquisition’ came from Monty Python rather than from the pages of text books.

That was why, when Dido asked me for the second time that night in very underwhelmed tones, if the word of God had meant anything to me, I replied, somewhat defensively; ‘Well, some of it means something to me.’

Carmel College Synagogue - eastern wall with ark

‘Some of it’? There’s hardly anything of it!’ she responded mystified.

‘There’s enough to mean something.’

‘You also said it was dreadful. What’s the dreadful part?’

‘Having God speak to you is pretty dreadful I would say…in the dark… in a strange place. When you’re asleep you don’t realise it’s only your own subconscious. And then there’s the Ark, the Ark of the Covenant…’

‘Okay. All very thrilling you say, but so what? Are you telling me that your subconscious mind might truly be onto something? That somehow, somewhere, you picked up the answers to the greatest archaeological mystery in the world without realising it?’

‘I’m not saying anything. I haven’t said anything.’

‘But you’re thinking it, aren’t you? You’re toying with the idea.’

‘Well of course I’m thinking about it. I’ve never encountered anything like this in my life before. It was the most intense thing I’ve ever experienced.’

‘Okay then. What do you intend to do about it? Are you going to follow it up?’

‘It’s a question of joining up the dots.’

‘Dots! My dear sweet Adam, there are no dots…’

‘Yes, there are dots. Two bloody-great-big-dots―the Ark and a synagogue in Toledo!’

‘Okay! Two dots! But then how hard can it be to join two measly dots?’

‘Very hard, when the two dots in question are separated by more than two and a half millennia by over two thousand miles. Very, very hard!’

 *

And as things turned out I wasn’t wrong about that strange night in Bossòst.

It took me more than twenty years to join the two dots and come up with a plausible story of the Ark of the Covenant and a synagogue in Toledo.

Two decades of marriage to Dido and nearly as long living in Spain provided me with the confidence and the intellectual mechanics for completing this modern tale:

A tale set in a land of sublime contradictions and insane history;

A tale concerning a venerable building that represents and reflects all of that in a sublime structural form and;

A tale about a legendary artefact with an uncomfortable, not to mention highly inconvenient message.

My novel, ARK is is that story…

A DREAM IN CATALONIA

THE AMAZING GENESIS OF MY “ARK IN TOLEDO” STORY

PART I

It was one of those moments during sleep where “God” speaks to you, in a voice like that bloke in De Milles’s movie of The Ten Commandments. Except in my case, without the American drawl―I suppose because I’m English? God had a decidedly English accent.

It must have been around 1990.

My fiancé Dido and I were en-route from southern Spain back to London and we were spending the night on the Spanish side of the border with France in a one-street mountain town called Bossòst.

Bossòst was a typical Pyrenean set up. Picturesque in a rugged grey sort of way, all slate and stone and wooden shutters built either side of a fast flowing, silver flecked stream. And of course it was raining an icy, relentless mountain rain.

We’d eaten a typically good Catalan dinner; I distinctly remember we had roast wild rabbit with prunes washed down with a moderate amount of the local red, just enough to make us pleasantly dozy, not drunk. We certainly went to bed replete and content and I must have been sleeping for several hours when I had the dream-like event.

As a rule, I’m not great at recalling dreams or dream-like events of any description, even powerful dreams, even waking dreams.

But this was different. There was no forgetting this.

After all, one doesn’t hear from God every day, or every night for that matter. At least not these days―except perhaps if one is an Evangelical Christian. Especially an Evangelical Christian from the American Midwest (they seem to be on regular speed-dial terms with God). But, I’m not an Evangelical anything.

In fact, I am now and was then a non-practising Jew and an atheist to boot. And God hasn’t spoken to any Jews since God-knows-when, and He’s certainly not spoken to lapsed Jewish atheists like me.

So, imagine my surprise―even in sleep―when God announced himself to yours truly in the aforementioned mellifluent tones.

No fanfare, mind you. No heavenly choirs. No winged chariots. Just the blackness of sleep. And that voice, in my right ear.

And He didn’t hang around for long.

It wasn’t some tedious, rambling, revelatory rant. No sublime psalmist prose either. Rather, just a couple of very brief statements.

The first no doubt to grab my attention―which I can tell you now, it did, big time.

And the second―to give me the ‘gen’.

I say the gen but in reality we’re not talking major details here, which would have been so much more helpful in the long run. No, this gen was to information what IKEA assembly instructions are to…well, assembly instructions.

But, for all its minimalism it was still impressive enough to have me wake bolt upright, eyes glazed in terror, cold sweat pouring down my back—the whole cliché.

*

It will hardly surprise any psychologists reading this that the event coincided with a particularly tumultuous time in my life, both personally and professionally.

Dido and I had become engaged to be married just days before setting out on our drive through France and Spain.

We were also involved in planning an epic journey to Chile early the following year (Dido had won a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, and the trip was planned for just after our wedding).

In addition to this I was in the midst of the busiest and most lucrative period I’d yet enjoyed since graduating from art school some seven years previously, having just a few months earlier made the momentous decision to shift my artistic direction, from the ostensibly noble but hard-up path of fine art towards a ‘shallower’ but more financially secure future as a commercial illustrator.

By the time of the dream I’d been working as an illustrator for only six months but had already won myself the services of a top agent, who in turn was getting me almost more work than I could comfortably handle, some of which paid extremely handsomely.

So it was that by mid-1990, although I was feeling pretty good about life, I was also going through a period of radical change.

Change, however potentially life enriching and fulfilling can still be emotionally unsettling. And, unsettled emotions, in my case at least, generally lead to disturbed sleep—only this time the disturbance was particularly violent, waking the wife-to-be into the bargain.

Now I don’t know how many other people might have noticed this but as a rule blond people take their sleep far more seriously than do dark-haired people.

In fact, I would say, through personal experience, from sharing dormitories at boarding school with blond-haired schoolmates and then later in life, occasionally sharing my bed with the odd fair-haired lady, that the amount a blond person cherishes their sleep is in direct correlation to the degree of their blondness. It must be that growing blond hair utilises more energy than dark hair or something like that, but whatever, Dido was a very blond person, and her annoyance at having her sleep disturbed was almost more dreadful than the dream itself had been.

Sympathy and concern were in distinctly short supply.

‘What in God’s name is your problem?’ she growled contemptuously from beneath her luxuriant flaxen locks on the pillow next to me.

‘Funny you should ask.’ I muttered nervously in reply.

‘Funny? What’s so fucking funny?’ Dido normally only swore when driving. She really was very angry.

I took a deep breath and braced myself before continuing.

‘It’s just funny that you should have mentioned God. That’s all. You see…that’s what woke me up.’

Still growling but incredulous now, she queried; ‘Did you just say God is what woke you up!? Is that what you just said!?’

‘Yes. I mean…in a sense. You see, I just dreamt that God spoke to me.’

At this point I was relieved it was too dark to see Dido’s face. It was awkward enough trying to tell her about the dream while merely hearing the derision in her voice without having to witness it in her eyes too.

‘I warned you not to have that cheap Spanish brandy just before going to bed. It’s enough to give anyone nightmares.’

‘It wasn’t a nightmare and anyhow, I didn’t have any brandy. That was last night.’

‘It’s even stronger than I thought then!’ She said, only half joking.

‘It wasn’t a nightmare but it was very…very…it was dreadful. Yes, actually dread-full.’

She sighed; ‘Then lets cuddle up and go back to sleep. Nothing like a nice cuddle to make the dread go away and you can tell mummy all about it in the morning…’

‘It was a very short dream. Actually, you couldn’t really describe it as a dream. Not in the usual sense. There was nothing visual…just a ‘voice’ in my ear…a very fleeting voice.’

Dido sighed again, rolled away from me and pulled the duvet up so that it covered most of her head. Realising that this was intended to signal the end of proceedings I sank back down under the duvet and snuggled up against her warm naked back.

Our bodily contact must have mellowed Dido’s mood.

I heard her say; ‘Go on then Joseph. Pharaoh’s all ears. What didst the Lord have to sayeth for himself.’

‘Actually, you’re technically incorrect. It was the baker and the butler who told their dreams to Joseph and then Joseph interp…’

‘Oh Adam! For goodness sake. Just get on with it.’

‘I can’t.’ I replied. ‘It’s too silly.’ Now that she actually wanted to hear what God had said, I was truly embarrassed.

Silly and dreadful? Or just dreadfully silly?’ she then paused before adding; ‘Sorry, I wasn’t making fun, it just came out.’

‘I know. It’s bonkers.’

‘Bonkers or not, I’m waiting! You’ve got me all agog now. Or should I say all a-God?’

‘It’s daft, and anyway, it won’t mean anything to you.’

‘But it meant something to you?’

‘When your subconscious tries to tell you things it generally has some kind of resonance.’

‘So it wasn’t really God?’ She said sarcastically.

‘Of course it wasn’t really God!’

‘Well, thank goodness for that. I was getting a bit worried there.’

‘Worried about what? That God was taking time out from the cares of the Universe to whisper sweet nothings into your fiancé’s ear?’

‘No. Worried that my fiancé had suddenly reverted into a believer.’ She then rolled over to face me and I could sense her large grey-blue eyes staring at me through the murk as she said; ‘I’m asking you for the last time, before I go back to sleep, what did Go…what did your subconscious say to you?’

I took a moment to remember exactly what I had heard then I replied; ‘The voice said to me―You, Son of Kohath―My Holy Ark―The synagogue in Toledo.’