Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Approach to the City (2)

As the climb across the bridge turned into a descent he turned his gaze onto the city that lay ahead. Beginning at a broad promenade that paralleled the river just above the waterline, the buildings rose in broken columns and spirals, their ascent of the irregular slopes interrupted by little squares and plazas and by cobblestone streets and alleyways that opened momentarily to his view before bending out of sight. Many of the rooftops were surmounted by terraces and roof gardens, though little grew there this early in the season. Above, in the background, loomed the stark, unweathervaned spire of a clock-tower, its lower stories concealed by the intervening buildings. Beyond that, groves of first sumac and maple and then tulip and sycamore shaded the higher ground; here and there, through the branches of the uppermost trees, he could see glimpses of what seemed to be open parkland at the crest of the hill.

In the river just offshore a fishing boat, its little skiff in tow, was slowly closing a seine around a school of silver herring that had come upriver to spawn. The fish, forced into an ever tighter pocket, leaped and thrashed at the surface, a lucky few springing over the edges of the net to freedom. Gulls circled and dove at those that remained encircled; the crew of the boat waved them off, half-heartedly, to scant effect. In a few moments the noose had been set and the dripping haul winched up. Trapped by each other's bodies, the herring were now still. The crew swung the seine into the stern, fussed with the tackle and rigging for a few moments, then released the catch into the hold.

The span of the bridge soared inland well past the shore, until it converged with the hillside. The road ahead passed through a stark gash cut in the exposed rock of the ridge, but his course lay elsewhere; he veered to the left side, to the opening of a ramp that cloverleafed steeply down to the city. There was no pedestrian lane here, but no traffic either; clumps of grass and a few spindly seedling maples poked through the cracks in the pavement. When he reached ground level he stood for a moment in the shadow of the bridge, Above him, swallows were swooping in and out, butressing their nests with mud and straw, and paid him little mind.

The city's great wrought iron gates were open and unattended. In front of him stretched the promenade he had seen from the bridge; at this end there was little activity, just a few pedestrians and one handcart whose contents were hidden beneath a tarp. The man conducting it paused in his labors just long enough to nod and say good morning. He removed his cap, not out of courtesy but rather to mop his brow, and then resumed his course.

The fishing boat had moved upstream and a little further in the offing. It had dispatched its tender, which was occupied by a lone figure who controlled the end of the seine. Slowly the larger boat played out the line and the skiff moved off, describing a broad slow circle in the water.

(To be continued...)

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