Could have swore it was while walking past the ivy-covered bus stop in front of the mental institution, but seeing it again the other day, the mosaic is actually on Mission and 5th. You can check it out for yourself, the mosaic in honor of the girl from the sun. The first time I walked by the mosaic in the city that indulges itself in autumn by stretching it into shades of Indian summer and samhain fog at all times of the year, most of my memories came flooding back.
It was the kind of old-fashioned library where you open the door to find yourself dwarfed by books wrapping all around you, although there was a clearly a spacious hall, almost like a courtyard in the middle. It was the stacks of books and the musty colors of their spines that swarmed you that I remember first after turning the doorknob.
It was the kind of two-story library you'd expect to be overlooking the sea at a stately university in Lisbon, or guarded by gargoyles, hidden behind a trap door in a 17th century masonic temple in the English countryside.
The second landing of books was flanked by a beautiful filigreed railing, a balcony for books and their lovers. And there were stairways leading to the top floor in the four directions.
At eight years old, I still had an appetite for book-learning and I yearned to flip through a few books from the second floor before I scurried back to rejoin the group which by now was probably onto the next room in the official tour.
I began to climb up one of the stairs closest to library entrance. Once my feet alighted on the first step it felt more like the staircase was whorling into a spiral staircase, spinning slightly as if I were climbing up a lighthouse at a point jutting into the sea. From the ground level, it seems a straightforward enough staircase. The kind that goes up (or, shall I make it a ladder for the story now that my memory is hazy or I'm not quite sure what it was since it was all so odd).
Once I recovered from the slight dizziness on the second floor, I noticed an end-table with glass-encased watchpieces. Like little cuckoo clocks entombed under an oblong glass cage except these weren't mechanical clocks at all. Contained within were orbs of neon light - I distinctly remember magneta, chartreuse and violet. But there could have been others like white, gold, and electric blue. There were also vials of glittering liquids that were on the verge of turning gaseous and seeping out from under the glass.
Something just told me these were timepieces although no tick-tock-tick marking of time was to be heard. Seeing these only served to remind me that I best be in a hurry so I can sneak back in with the tour. (I still entertained this fantasy in my mind that my parents hadn't noticed that I hadn't caught up with the group after the previous room - it's the one with the staircase to the ceiling. They were having a hard time with eighteen "unruly" - their words, not mine - kids, it's not like there was anything wrong with their eyesight. I was after all one of their own two kids.)
The first book I choose (I don't remember any of the other titles I skimmed and passed over) had a brilliant sun on the cover. The title on the spine was what caught my eye first, "The Girl from the Sun."
The books were illustrated almost in the style of comics - or what we might, if comics is too low-art for you, call these days graphic novels. Except the pictures weren't exactly pictures of knights in armor, or doe-eyed Japanese princesses or steampunk Willy Wonkas or anything we're familiar with in cartoons. They weren't really pictures at all but more like symbols.
I found I could read the symbols and long after I surmised they might have been written in some universal language, something more primal from the age of the Tower of Babel, that been long abandoned, yet latent as an acorn is a latent oak. They resembled Eygptian hieroglyphs to me at that moment because I just gotten a B+ on a book report on the Giza pyramid. That was a double bonus for me because I got to also talk about the Sphinx in that report.
As I turned the pages before me with each flick of my wrist I felt a light swoosh of a breeze. As was my custom even back then (I never begin a book at page 1) I stopped where it felt good to begin. Now this is the part of the story that I've told no one except Ava. It's enough to be a freak without peeps thinking I am a "Jesus freak." But I swear the page that entranced me at that moment was telling a story about Jesus hanging out at a city called Heliopolis. I could hear a melody that sounded like a blend of turtledove, grape vines growing in the sunshine and cypress wind chimes - something I'd never heard before or since - and it seemed to be arising out of the story.
I hadn't hardly absorbed but a handful of symbols on the page when I was overcome with a desire to visit this place they called Heliopolis. I looked away from the book to catch my breath, and that's when I noticed a little placard hung between where the two walls met in the library. When I tell this story now I just call it the sign at the crease.
Years and years later Rachel, an old girlfriend now, gave me the a copy of The Song of Songs. (Maybe she thought it was about music and songwriting...I've yet to this day figured out why she gave such an odd gift.) There are passages there that gave me something close to the feeling of a light breeze when the pages turn. This line particularly still brings on goosebumps, "O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret of the stairs."
Nothing gave me chills as much as the day I walked by the mosaic again (I wasn't even paying attention as I was on my way to pick up a free iPod from a friend that already had two). Each time I walk by the mosaic more details fill, like the fact that the book was illuminated.
Anyhow, just a few minutes later I get this text message. (Now I know a thing or two about ghosts, and so this is a rather absurd way to communicate.) Don't worry it's saved, even though my phone can only handle twenty lousy messages in its memory.
July 18, 2007: "I, girl come from unnameable planet furthest from our sun in the galaxy. The name is like a song you can't pronounce in 3rd octaves. But sometimes when you are very still you can taste it."
Nice triggers for a new song, but I waved it off as a "wrong number" addressed to some other lucky bard since the number wasn't familiar, and I continued walking to meet up with J. About an hour later I got another:
"The girl from planet & (again from here we have no way to pronounce yet; like ice cream flavors not yet invented but we have craved) wants to know if u want to hear more of her tale."
Where credits due... painting of St. Petersburg by Maxim Nikiforovich Vorobiev. Strange never been outside USA (on one level that is), oh, yeah Vancouver... but this picture is so eerily familiar.