Monday, August 15, 2011

E as Montanhas!

Saudações de Ribáuè!

Instead of having me try to describe in detail the distinctive granite peaks that rise dramatically from the plains of northern Mozambique, here's an excerpt from chapter 3 of Tolstoy's The Cossacks that captures precisely how I felt on our drive today from Nampula to Ribáuè. And though the mountains we passed were neither Caucasian nor covered with snow, the refrain "e as montanhas!" continued to echo through my mind as we drove west into the Mozambican sunset.
The mountains and the clouds appeared to him quite alike, and he thought the special beauty of the snow peaks, of which he had so often been told, was as much an invention as Bach's music and the love of women, in which he did not believe. So he gave up looking forward to seeing the mountains. But early next morning, being awakened in his cart by the freshness of the air, he glanced carelessly to the right. The morning was perfectly clear. Suddenly he saw, about twenty paces away as it seemed to him at first glance, pure white gigantic masses with delicate contours, the distinct fantastic outlines of their summits showing sharply against the far-off sky. When he had realized the distance between himself and them and the sky and the whole immensity of the mountains, and felt the infinitude of all that beauty, he became afraid that it was but a phantasm or a dream. He gave himself a shake to rouse himself, but the mountains were still the same.

"What's that! What is it?" he said to the driver.

"Why, the mountains," answered the Nogay driver with indifference.

"And I too have been looking at them for a long while," said Vanyusha. "Aren't they fine? They won't believe it at home."

The quick progress of the three-horsed cart along the smooth road caused the mountains to appear to be running along the horizon, while their rosy crests glittered in the light of the rising sun. At first Olenin was only astonished at the sight, then gladdened by it; but later on, gazing more and more intently at that snow-peaked chain that seemed to rise not from among other black mountains, but straight out of the plain, and to glide away into the distance, he began by slow degrees to be penetrated by their beauty and at length to feel the mountains. From that moment all he saw, all he thought, and all he felt, acquired for him a new character, sternly majestic like the mountains! All his Moscow reminiscences, shame, and repentance, and his trivial dreams about the Caucasus, vanished and did not return. 'Now it has begun,' a solemn voice seemed to say to him. The road and the Terek, just becoming visible in the distance, and the Cossack villages and the people, all no longer appeared to him as a joke. He looked at himself or Vanyusha, and again thought of the mountains... Two Cossacks ride by, their guns in their cases swinging rhythmically behind their backs, the white and bay legs of their horses mingling confusedly... and the mountains! Beyond the Terek rises the smoke from a Tartar village... and the mountains! The sun has risen and glitters on the Terek, now visible beyond the reeds... and the mountains! From the village comes a Tartar wagon, and women, beautiful young women, pass by... and the mountains! 'Abreks canter about the plain, and here am I driving along and do not fear them! I have a gun, and strength, and youth... and the mountains!'

Amazing, the nights one can miss while driving through rural Mozambique...