vera mennens     
writings              






Daar beginnen alle klokken van Maastricht en van de dorpen in het rond, ook die van St. Pieter en van Cannes, te beieren en te boengelen; de vroegkerk is uit. Nu is het ook uit met de stemmige stilte van den Paaschmorgen. Onder mij, in de verte, aan de kant van de Bonnefantenkazerne, zie ik toebereidselen maken voor een voetbalspel; de menschen stroomen de stad uit naar den berg en naar de dorpen in de buurt; en uit de dorpen trekt de jeugd naar de stad.  Jolig rumoerig wordt het; mij wat al te druk. Om in rust en stilte te kunnen genieten van deze mooie natuur, ben ik naar hier gereisd. Nu het mij op den berg te vol wordt, zak ik liever af naar het Jekerdal, daar zie ik nog geen menschen. Langs de Maas en het kanaal raakt het vol met fietsers en auto's. Dat is ook een mooie vallei, die vallei van de Jeker, of van de Geer, zooals de Belgen zeggen, net zoo mooi, dunkt mij, als het „Geuldal"; wat smaller nog en met even mooie rotspartijen en meanders van het stroompje.  Van hier uit is ook de St. Pietersberg heel mooi van lijn; eigenlijk is hij hier beter te zien dan ergens anders. Aan de linkerzij van de Maas is men er te dicht bij, en aan de overzijde, van Gronsveld tot Eijsden, te ver af, om zonder kijker details te onderscheiden.

De ingangen voor de bezoekers van de ondergrondsche gangen liggen niet aan dezen Jekerkant. Wel zijn er verscheidene groote zwarte poorten, allemaal ver- laten groeven die prijken met „Verboden toegang". Toch doe ) ze heel mooi in het zonnig landschap, die donkere grotten; zwarte poorten in den lichten steen, die zelf een witte teekening geeft in het groene landschap. (Eli Heimans, de levende natuur, Paschen aan den pietersberg, 1914)












II


In 1811 a comet became visible for the naked eye and stayed in the sky for over 260 days. This comet, C/1811 F1, or Napoleon’s Comet was believed to have portended Napoleons’ invasion of Russia and the War of 1812. In the book War and Peace by Tolstoy, the character Pierre describes seeing this comet in the winter of 1812 after declaring his love to Natasha;

‘It was clear and frosty. Above the dirty, ill-lit streets, above the black roofs, stretched the dark starry sky. Only looking up at the sky did Pierre cease to feel how sordid and humiliating were all mundane things compared with the heights to which his soul had just been raised. At the entrance to the Arbat Square an immense expanse of dark starry sky presented itself to his eyes. Almost in the centre of it, above the Prechistenka Boulevard, surrounded and sprinkled on all sides by stars but distinguished from them all by its nearness to the earth, its white light, and its long uplifted tail, shone the enormous and brilliant comet of 18l2- the comet which was said to portend all kinds of woes and the end of the world. In Pierre, however, that comet with its long luminous tail aroused no feeling of fear. On the contrary he gazed joyfully, his eyes moist with tears, at this bright comet which, having traveled in its orbit with inconceivable velocity through immeasurable space, seemed suddenly- like an arrow piercing the earth- to remain fixed in a chosen spot, vigorously holding its tail erect, shining and displaying its white light amid countless other scintillating stars. It seemed to Pierre that this comet fully responded to what was passing in his own softened and uplifted soul, now blossoming into a new life.’  (War and Peace, 1867, Leo Tolstoy)





















IV ( ... )


























I


To start off clear,  Mount Saint Peter isn’t a mountain to begin with, which already disturbs the framework I was planning to have for this work. Ok, although there is no universally, generally accepted definition of a mountain, keeping in mind things like elevation, volume, relief, steepness, spacing, and continuity as criteria, following the UN Environmental Programme, the lowest height of a mountain to be considered a mountainis an elevation of at least 300 meters. Therefore due to its lacking 129 meters Mount Saint Peter would better be classified as a steep hill, but sadly Saint Peter’s Hill just doesn’t sound as imposing so we’ll refer to is as a mountain for the purpose of this work. On a Friday morning, late summer last year, I travelled to the south of the Netherlands for this Mount-Saint-Peter in Maastricht, approximately one kilometre from the Dutch-Belgian border. From a Dutchman’s perspective this so called mountain in the south very much seems a proper mountain if compared to its flat surroundings.  It's hot on the mountain road that morning. With book in hand I walk looking for an early exit back into the city.  Looking into the distance I pinpoint the exact location where I plan on being not to long from now. About half an hour ago I thought I could take a short cut, but barbed-wire fencing is blocking my path and I’m now doomed to continue straight into Belgium. I’m walking parallel to the cliff edge for about an hour straight when I hear a voice;  “Every memory here is precious, there never was and never will be a failed trip, even if one would get lost along the way.”

I look up and there you are waving at me with your notebook still in your hand, quickly I climb up to follow you. At the top of the road, you are restlessly looking out at the cliff wall, your hands in your pockets.A stone rolls on top your feet when you place one of your legs against the wall. All of a sudden you say “these stones tell us something about time.”
We both gaze at the rock and you continue with “de-mystifying and comprehending time can be a quite peculiar thing” And I ask you why. I can hardly hear what you’re saying so I take 2 steps in your direction and you quickly answer me with “Determining the exact time these stones came to be is just as interesting a study as how they came to be.”

You look down and as a shadow of the clouds creeps along your face.  “But it’s in-herently difficult it is like an historical study where there is no form of documentation and some key element is always missing. There can be no such thing as dates, because in accordance to what fact should the counting have started?”
  We walk on, well, you walk on. When I see you again you are at the bottom of the rockslide. We both look upwards, me from a distance maybe even in time.
"Where are we going?" I ask, as I try to walk towards you pushing the grass aside. Thistles stick to my legs and my trousers get stuck behind a piece of barbed wire. "How did you get here so quickly", I shout, but this time you do not give me an answer. Before I have liberated myself from the barbed wire trappings you suddenly start moving towards me. I pull myself loose but you run passing me by. Your footsteps stop behind me and when I turn around you have already started climbing down.
Your feet seeking support while the limestone starts crumbling down. You take a leap and disappear.











III


On easter Sunday, while the sun was still rising, biologist Eli Heimans was already outside of the city of Maastricht, walking towards Mount Saint Peter via the hollow road, where the north west side of the French fortress still lay in morning shade. The trees were still in winter, only some had leaves. Considering every landscape he had seen in the Netherlands he concluded that none had the surprising view of the Maas, which suddenly gets to you, if you walk from Eben to the Jeker across the mountain to the south-east, until you reach the Maaskant just above the steep edge of the mountain. From there you can look past Vise, far beyond Eysden and look over the Belgian border toward Henri- Chappelle and the hill near Vaals and Moresnet. That is where all the bells of Maastricht and the villages surrounding it , including those of St. Peter and Cannes, start to ring; the early church is out. The silence of early Easter Sunday is over when people gather to celebrate. Two photographs are accompanying the article called ‘Easter at Mount Saint Peter’,  written in 1914 but published in 1923. In a small footnote written by his son it says; Both pictures are the last photographic recordings made by Heimans himself; we found the plates after his death in his camera and developed them.