The infinity of space is a subject that makes us dream. The Hubble observatory, drifting purposefully around our planet like an extra from a Kubrick movie, brings us its extraordinary photographs of the births and deaths of far flung galaxies. A star some ten thousand light years away explodes in a cataclysmic act and consumes, in a moment, a dozen planets that had anxiously spun around it. Everything recorded with infinite detail by the space observatory as if it were happening in real time, and not, as the astronomical measure suggests, some ten thousand years ago. The stuff of wonders!
Here on earth, a massive particle-accelerator machine buried under the earth in Switzerland crashes atoms together with the force of star-bursts and traces the millionth of a second after ‘the Big Bang’ when, mysteriously, something rather large went ‘pop’ and it all began.
Led by these thoughts, when I read in the press that there was to be a spectacular meteor shower called ‘the Lyrids’, to be offered ‘with various shooting stars every minute’, I went up the ladder on to my empty roof-top, with a sleeping bag and a pair of binoculars which used to belong to a German officer and were found in the sands of the Libyan desert a few years after the Second War together with a treasure map and an empty litre of schnapps. They had probably belonged to Rommel. I had recently picked the glasses, bottle and map up in the Sunday Market off a bloodless-looking blonde gypsy called Karl.
These meteor showers are a nighttime sprinkle of ‘shooting stars’, a poor description really, as they are small lumps of galactic rock that incandesce when they meet the Earth’s atmosphere, burning up long before they hit the ground. Unless, of course, they are a bit bigger, in which case they make a sizable thump.
That particular night was cloudless, the skies clean and the stars as cold and hard as a banker’s heart.
Lying in my thin sleeping bag and gazing at the firmament, after a few hours had crept uneventfully past, I suddenly saw a red light coming in from the west. I doubted that it might be a UFO, common enough round here during the sixties, when Mojácar seemed to abound with them, and when people would impatiently wait for a breathless and exaggerated flying saucer story to end to cap it with another even more interesting and improbable one. Meetings these days with small green creatures being a rarity (unless of course they want to breathalise you), and with the absence of a non governmental organization for their care, it seemed more likely to be a light from the Madrid plane – or possibly the plane alight – or perhaps the nub end of my wife’s cigarette.
And I thought she had given up.
‘Any meteorites?’ she asked.
‘Nary a one, the astronomers must have got it wrong’.
Apparently, they were twenty four hours out, which isn’t bad for several million light years; so, the next night found me on the roof again. Nothing. Zip. Nada. I may have dozed off, of course, and missed the action. Anyhow, about five in the morning, I could see some red sparks over to the west, but they were probably just an illegal exhalation from the Carboneras power station which may well be one of the biggest (and dirtiest) in Europe, but doesn’t seem to stop us having regular power-cuts here at home. In fact, each time I decide to write an article entitled ‘Sevillana are Complete Bast-’, the power in our barrio promptly goes out. It’s nothing short of uncanny.
The Spanish press, of course, stung by attacks about our coughing and wheezy power station, eventually convinced our mayor a few years back that the smog which he’d complained about was nothing more than a collective delusion similar to something a group of shepherds might have seen a couple of thousand years ago in Palestine, and nothing more about this phenomenon has ever been said. Odd really, either I’m the only one who still has these visions of a cloud of orange/gray dirt banded across the sky, or maybe there’s still a lot of sand in my binoculars. By the way, the power has just gone out again. It had better not do so during tonight’s Real Madrid/Barça game or there will be hell to pay.
We might never know who won.
Whoever did, from the roof that evening, meteorites or indeed footballs kicked by Messi were not in evidence.
It rained the following night, but there I was, back on top with my sleeping bag, not this time to observe the stars, but to cover a leak over the bedroom.
In the old times, our craftsmen would build flat roofs because it was cheaper, less likely to fall down, and because furniture in those days didn’t complain over the odd dousing from a leak. Economics continue to play a role today and I should state that I’m lucky to be able to enjoy the use of my own roof as the catchy ‘pyramid’ style of construction favoured by some developers (one man’s roof is the next man’s terrace, and so on for fifteen steps into the mountain) can lead to additional problems from your ‘next floor neighbour’, and obtaining permission to fix a leak – often with the help of a lawyer – from someone who hasn’t been back since he bought his ‘holiday-home’ apartment five years ago can easily become complicated. The ‘pyramid style’ (‘retranqueo’), by the way, is how we go over the local two-storey limit.
A flat roof has another overweening advantage which will become clear when our little town fulfills its evident intention to expand to seventy thousand souls, with the consequent and inevitable collapse of its risible road system. I’ll be able to park my helicopter there.
Apparently a meteor the size of an aircraft carrier went past one night last week. I didn’t see it but it would have left a large dent in whatever it hit if it hadn’t have been just a bit off target, missing the Earth by a quarter of a million kilometers. No doubt it will be back in 2012.
These days, I sleep fulltime on my roof, wrapped in my muslin quilt against the insects; admiring the horizontal views (while they last) and the refulgent vertical ones. I breathe the reasonably uncontaminated air with relish as I continue to watch the night sky for meteorites, flying saucers and incandescent projectiles arching over me (to land explosively in the trees) fired enthusiastically at the heavens from the local fiestas.
There are worse ways to live.