Greece - Chapter 4.2, L'appel du vide
“L’appel du vide” - (French). The urge one gets, when (for example) standing at the edge of a cliff, to step into the void. There is no equivalent in any other language
As you’ve probably gathered from my previous endeavors, I am not the most careful of men, “reckless” would be accurate to describe me. Thus, my hunger to see and touch an old rusty ship had me walk down the path to the closest viewing point of the wreckage. There were no barriers there, and the path seemed to gradually disappear into the wilderness. A few metres away another path started, this was one created by the foot of man rather than his tools. It winded downwards following the steep slope of the terrain, sometimes disappearing but always re-emerging not far. Eventually it came to vanish altogether. I was now standing among a forest of burnt olive trees, their black branches and trunks cutting sharply against the background. The ground itself was completely devoid of any life whatsoever, all had burned in the fire all. Only rock and earth were left. I then found myself of the edge of the cliff that surrounds the wreck, the wind, which had died down as I was sheltered by the curve of the slope, was now back in full force. I sat down for a while, my feet hanging over the edge.
It then hit me, the sensation for which the English language still has no counterpart: l’appel du vide. The “call of the void” if translated literally. It’s that urge to jump or to let go one gets when, for example, standing at the edge of cliff. A few photographs later and I was once again scrambling my way down towards the lowest point of the cliff. I held on to what little was offered by this rough terrain: trees, rocks or on the occasional shrub that seemed to have reclaimed its solitary throne. Finally, I reached the desired spot. To my surprise I found that there were steel inserts in the rocks bordering the edge, and I understood that these were where people attached their ropes in order to get down the cliff. Once again l’appel du vide crept its way down my spine.
I had sat there for 30 minutes, maybe more when I finally decided to go down. The cliff was steep, but was mostly composed of large fracture and small platforms where finding somewhere to put a foot or hold on with a hand was no difficult task. Occasionally my foot of hand would slip and a surge of adrenaline would flood my system, enhancing my senses. Onwards and downwards I went, like a spider climbing down a tree. I had now reached a gentler slope, despite this I was greatly slowed down since there were now fewer and fewer places to hold on to. Onwards and downwards I went. Onwards and downwards the void called me.
Time stretched, seconds turned into minutes as the adrenaline kept pumping through my veins. Despite this, I was calm and now had to plan my route three steps ahead. I moved slowly, carefully, fully aware that a wrong step would mean a painful death. The terrain kept gradually getting worse and worse, the further down I went, the more the rock was exposed to the salty sea air, and the more porous it became. I stopped for a while, my hand and legs having found a firm grip, and admired the view. Being halfway down a cliff gives an altogether new perspective and despite the high possibility of death, I found it in me to enjoy it. It was a beautiful view, on both sides the cliff rose high, cutting against the sky, the sound of the wind and the smell of the sea filled my ears and lungs and the blue of the sea filled my eyes. Never before had I seen a sea so blue. The rocks on which my feet rested then vanished. They tumbled towards the beach below. My hands were all that held me from following them. Time stopped for me. A seagull passed near me, taking an eternity.
While I hung there for what seemed to be an eternity, I managed to have one structured thought: of all the things I’ve heard about near death experiences, this was nothing like it. I wasn’t scared, I was calm. My instinct of survival then kicked in and moments later I had pulled myself up and was now sitting on a corniche. And then the fear kicked in, and the cold reality of what had just happened crept down my back. I spent what I reckoned was 10 minutes there before I dared look down again. The void was still calling.
I spent the next hour crawling back up to my coat, which I’d left as a visual guide to know which way I’d come down. Once sat next to it I sighed a breath of relief and once again looked down at the ship, rusting its way into the sand. And the void still called.
I spent the following days roaming around the island on all the tracks I could find before finally returning to Kyllini.