Thursday, March 4, 2010
For the love of God, what are you doing?
The frantic thought flashed through her mind, but she gave it little consideration, she couldn’t. If she did, the fear would paralyze her completely.
Waiting impatiently for a scant few seconds, she stole a furtive glance inside and saw only a narrow brick walled opening—barely wide enough for two averaged sized men to walk abreast—and light gray, uneven stone stairs leading to a narrow landing. The first flight of stairs was empty; the group had ascended the landing and turned the corner.
With a deep fortifying inhalation, Sophia entered the small foyer and began the almost inconceivable climb to the top. She paced herself, not moving too quickly, making sure never to catch up with the men ahead of her. Their grunts of exertion echoed down to Sophia, their intensifying body odors lingered behind and mingled with the stone dust released into the air, disturbed by their footsteps. So many in the group were slow with age, trudging up stair after stair, stopping often to inhale deep draughts of air with rattling breaths and to wipe the perspiration off their brows and hairless heads.
Higher and higher they climbed, slower and slower they moved. The sun rose in the morning sky and the meager light from the small rounded windows at each landing filtered into the staircase, the dust dancing in its glow. Sophia crested another flight, turned another corner, her own young and healthy heart thudding against her chest. An unobstructed beam of sunlight found her, and she crouched low, back into the shaded pit.
The group arrived at the top. Sophia slunk up the last flight of stairs on her hands and knees, keeping close against the cold stone, covering the front of her gown with the gray, sooty dirt. Peeking above the upper most step, she peered furtively into the square landing above. The last of the men to reach the pinnacle clustered together, leaning upon one another in an exhausted group, holding each other up as they caught their breath.
Sophia lunged, using their huddling, groaning mass as a cover, sneaking passed them to hide behind the farthest and largest bell. Within the safety of its unlit silhouette, as her own ragged breath slowed through quivering nostrils, Sophia looked around. Her full bottom lip lowered in unfettered astonishment. Though she had lived in this land, passed by the tall base of this obelisk all her life, she had never hurdled its stairs, had never seen this magnificent architecture waiting upon its zenith.
The rounded peaks of the belfry’s white stone arches created symmetrical shaped shadows upon the large dado supporting the spire and the five, intricately wrought bells of varying sizes. Sophia had heard their mellifluous tones all her life, they were the music of her life. She hid behind La Marangona in the northwest corner, the largest bell of them all. Named for the carpenters of the land, the marangoni, its deep clang began and ended the workday. La Trottiera called magistrates to meetings and the Pregadi the senators to their chamber, while La Nona announced mid-day. The smallest--called Renghiera by some, Maleficio by others--whose high haunting tones made the cittadini cringe, announced executions.
“Over here, if you please, Your Honor.”
Sophia heard Galileo’s call and stole a stealthy peep around the curved edge of the bell. Diagonally opposite from Sophia’s position, he stood in the southeast corner of the tower, beckoning the Doge to join him, and extracting a strangely shaped device—long and circular—from his bag.
The other men swarmed around them against the parapet, their hair dancing in the buffeting, powerful wind of the lofty altitude, their low murmurs and questions tripping over one another. Galileo held one end of the lengthy, round cylinder up to his left eye and pointed the other end out toward the lagoon.
“My God!” His cutting whisper, like a fervent prayer, silenced the quizzical, conjecturing voices around him. Without another word, he offered the instrument to the Doge. Galileo sparkled as a dumbstruck, enraptured smile spread upon his face, like a man who had seen his newly born child for the first time.
Donato took the device and held it up to his eye, mimicking Galileo’s posture, pointing it out to the glittering ocean. The large man jerked back his head as if struck, and thrust the tube away from his face. The attentive men gathered around him came on guard, heads spinning about searching for the threat, hands drawn to hilts. The Doge’s large, horse-like stare spun to Galileo, probing the scientist’s face with his questioning glare.
“Yes, yes, it is real.” Galileo’s long beard quivered from his chin. He smiled with childish joy at Sagredo and the priest who stood close beside him.
The Doge shook his head as if to deny the man’s words, but put the instrument back to his eye.
“Holy Mother of God.” Donato’s breathy whisper ripped the expectant silence to shreds. “It is a miracolo!”
Sophia forced herself not to crow aloud, forced back the joyous laughter that bubbled within before it could forsake her hiding place behind the large bell. She knew what this device was, why this group had gathered upon this tall summit. Galileo had finished his creation, and from the shock upon his face and that of the Doge, it worked stupendously.