Monday, January 10, 2022


A pile of rocks, or stones with souls? This is part of the western wall of the gun deck. An accident of geology led to the almost magical resilience of the coquina walls to cannon fire, which in turn is why the Castillo never fell in battle, but only changed hands by treaty. 

Gun deck and sentry tower January 2022 ... almost empty of visitors

Us, dressed as soldados in almost the same spot eight years previous. The Nao Victoria is behind my right shoulder on its way to a visit of St Augustine. Little did we know how much that ship and the others from the Foundation would shape our lives!

We made a quick trip back to St Augustine to renew our driver's licenses. There's probably an easily-explained reason this couldn't be done online (in the middle of an ongoing pandemic (!) ), but the person who can do the explaining … isn't me. An-y-way, we packed our bags, scheduled as many get-togethers with our local friends as we could orchestrate on the calendar, and we were off.

As it turned out, we bolted out of Annapolis the day before we had planned to, due to forecast bad weather, and good thing too – there was a massive, massive traffic disaster that would have had us stuck in sub-freezing weather on an ice-covered I-95 for more than 24 hours if we had left on our original schedule. Hey, an extra day in St Aug? I'm not complaining!

Actually I wasn't quite sure what emotions to expect, going back. It about tore my heart out to leave St Augustine for Annapolis a little over a year ago and ever since, I've been splitting my loyalty between the two cities. I claimed that I've got “one foot on the boat and one foot on the dock”.  As you can imagine, that's a pretty precarious place to be, much wiser to make a commitment to one or the other, because with one foot on each, a minor shift and you're off balance and fallen into the water between the two. Which about describes my mental state, this past year.

With an extra half day unscheduled, and the weather warm and dry, we headed immediately to our favorite bit of history in town, the Castillo. From our very first visit I had been drawn to this place and its story. I had spent so many hours dressed as a soldado (Spanish soldier), standing on the gun deck gazing out to sea exactly as my predecessors would have done 300 years earlier, dressed in the very same uniform. The difference of course is that my duty was far less stressful – they would have been fearing for their lives and looking for enemy ships while my biggest fear was being asked a question by a tourist that I couldn't answer!

“There are people with hearts of stone; there are stones with hearts like people.” This quote was the hook to a popular Israeli song (protest song?) from the 1960s, more lyrical in the original than my translation. It was written about the remaining wall of the temple in Jerusalem, but stones with hearts or souls seems to me to apply to other special places as well. I've always thought the Castillo had a unique aura and attributed it to the fact that the place had never fallen in battle but had safely housed the city's residents through two long English sieges. I'd felt the reassuring “my walls will keep you safe” vibe the very first time I'd visited, and every other time since, through public crowds and  special events and night events and private after hours tours that were closed to the public just staff and volunteers only. Now with attendance still limited by pandemic restrictions, no school kids or cannon firings and a smaller number of visitors, I thought I'd feel that again. 

Instead, a different quote came to mind. I was reminded of the heroine of a fantasy/sci-fi story I had read as a kid. She'd been given a pair of magic spectacles, and when she'd put them on she was able to walk through the wall of the place in which she'd been imprisoned and escape. Next time she got into a jam, she tried the glasses again, but this time got no help. Maybe they were meant to help just that once, she mused. “But now, the magic has gone out of them, and they are simply glass.” 

The park staff had done a commendable job of setting up vignettes in the different casemates to tell the story of the fort through time in the absence of costumed living history reenactors, but some of the magic had gone. The walls were … just rocks, silent. Though sometimes I wonder whether anything had changed at all, really, and my lack of feeling anything was just my heart's way of building protective walls around itself, to prevent being torn again.

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