In The Caravansary

In the caravansary there was never any sleep, there no one slept. But if one did not sleep there, why did one go at all? In order to let the beasts of burden rest. It was only a small place, a tiny oasis, but it was entirely occupied by the caravansary and that, to be sure, was immense. It was impossible, or at least so it seemed to me, for a stranger to find his way about there. The manner in which it was built was partly to blame for this. For instance, one went into the first courtyard, out of which two round arches, about thirty feet distant from each other, led into a second court; one went through one arch and then, instead of coming into another large court, as one had expected, found oneself in a small gloomy square between walls that were sky-high, and only at a great height above did one see loggias with light burning. And so now one thought one had lost one's way and tried to go back through the archway, but, as it happened, one did not go through the archway one had come through but through the other one next to it. But now one was not in the first courtyard at all, but in another and much larger court, full of noise, music, and the bellowing of animals. So one had lost one's way, went back into the dark square and through the first arch. It was of no avail, once again one was in the second court and had to ask one's way through several courtyards before arriving back in the first courtyard, from which one had, however, actually gone only a few paces away. What was unpleasant, now, was that the first courtyard was always crowded, one could scarcely find any lodging there. It looked almost as though the quarters in the first courtyard were occupied by permanent guests, yet it could not be so in reality, for only caravans stopped here, who else would have wanted or been able to live in this dirt and uproar; after all, the little oasis provided nothing but water and was many miles away from larger oases. And so nobody could want to lodge, to live, here permanently, unless it was the owner of the caravansary and his employees, but these people I never saw, in spite of having been there several times, nor did I ever hear anything about them. And it would have been difficult to imagine that if an owner had been present he would have permitted such disorder, indeed such acts of violence, as were usual there by day and night. On the contrary, I had the impression that whichever happened to be the strongest caravan dominated everything there, and then came the others, according to their strength. True, that does not explain everything. The great main gate, for instance, was usually locked and barred; to open it for caravans coming or going was always a positively ceremonial act, and to bring this about was a very complicated matter. Caravans would often wait outside in the glaring sunshine for hours before they were let in. This, of course, was obviously wanton behavior, but one could never discover the reason for it. And so one waited outside and had time to contemplate the framework of the ancient gateway. Round the gate there were two or three ranks of angels in high relief, blowing trumpets; one of these instruments, right at the apex of the arch, extended fairly far down into the gateway itself. The animals always had to be carefully led around it, so that they should not bump against it; it was strange, particularly in view of the ruinous condition of the whole building, that this work, beautiful as it was, was not damaged at all, not even by those who had been waiting so long in impotent anger outside the gate.

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