Hey guys. I wrote this for my travel writing 305 class as a freshman in college. The assignment was to visit a place that was made of stone and write a creative nonfiction piece about the journey. I’d love feedback on it if you feel like taking the time to read it. It is titled “Ordinary Melodies”. Thanks all.
By Mary Dolan
I climbed into my car on a Sunday evening. I knew from the second I stepped outside that I would regret wearing my mustard-colored spring jacket, but out of blind optimism I ignored the cold that stung my eyes and started driving past houses that I’ve memorized by now. A few quiet minutes passed, and the familiarity faded as I entered a neighborhood that’s different from my own. There aren’t two and three-family homes in my neighborhood like were in that one, with the sun faded vinyl siding and chain link fences. There weren’t many trees, but I noticed a few telephone lines that hadn’t been fixed yet after the wind storm from a couple days prior. The word “SAVAGE” was sloppily graffitied in black on a concrete wall beside a vape shop.
As the Roger Williams Park sign finally came into view, the multi-family homes changed into houses made of brick, or with freshly painted shingles. I took a right into the park and was confronted with a maze of convoluted twists and turns, with the occasional sign to assure me that I was headed in the vaguely right direction. The Temple of Music was deeper within the park than I remembered from the last time I’d been there, which had only been once before. I took my brother and a couple of his friends there last year when they had to film a video for their school project about ancient Greece.
Branches littered the grass, and sticks splintered under the tires of my car. The turn I was supposed to take to get to the Temple of Music was blocked off with yellow caution tape due to a fallen tree, and so I decided to continue straight, park in the Carousel Village parking lot, and hike the rest of the way.
The Temple of Music is an orchestral concert venue built to resemble ancient Grecian architecture. I’ve heard that that’s where they do Shakespeare in the Park, too, but I’ve never been. It’s really only used in summer, because no one really wants to lay a blanket and have a picnic on a snowbank. I figured it just stood there waiting for the other seasons to be over, when the music would come and fill it up again.
The blinding white sky told me that the rain wouldn’t hold back for much longer. I blasted the heat in my car for a few seconds as I braced myself to go outside again, and when I got out of my car, the wind slammed the door shut for me. I started up the patchy, emerald and brown hill with my hands balled up in fists and shoved deep into my pockets. My boots occasionally sunk in the mud as I made my way uphill.
I could see the pointed top of the Temple at the bottom of the hill I’d just climbed. I watched the ground carefully as I made my way down, my arms outstretched for balance, with a pen in one hand and a notebook in the other, hoping the avoid slipping in the damp grass. It wasn’t until I was safely at the bottom that I looked up again.
A few yards away from me was a massive tree, completely uprooted from the ground, laying defeated on its side. There was a sign still attached to it that said, “NO FIRES FOR BARBEQUE GRILLING”. I climbed on top of it, arms outstretched again, one foot carefully in front of the other on the slippery bark, wobbling towards the branches. The fragrance of earthy petrichor was stronger there than anywhere else I’d been yet.
I was at last close enough to get a full view of the Temple of Music. It was an even brighter white than the ominous sky, made only more vibrant by the surrounding gnarled and bare trees, and the gray dumpster beside it. There were four ionic columns on either side, supporting the rest of the rectangular structure. The other two sides were solid stone walls, but with the majority of them carved out to show two more decorative ionic columns. Two sets of elongated stairs on either side led up to the columns and into the Temple.
I hopped down and trudged towards the walking path along the water behind the Temple. The sound of wheels on stone echoed through it, acting as an amplifier. A boy was skateboarding in the Temple, back and forth, over and over again, his wheels grinding like an audible pendulum. I wondered if they could’ve ever imagined that that’s what someone would be using it for when they built it back in 1924. I stood out over the water, and the breeze whipped my hair around my head. I hoped that the boy would leave soon so that I could take notes without seeming like I was conducting some sort of study on him. Geese honked overhead, and they flew in a uniform “V” shape over the water. I had nothing better to do, so I counted them. There were eleven.
I sauntered along the path, peering across the water through thin white birch trees. A few minutes of stalling passed, and after a couple of crashes echoed through the Temple, the wheels stopped altogether, and I turned to see the back of a boy holding a skateboard walking down the path in the opposite direction of myself. I waited a couple more seconds before scrambling toward the Temple.
I ascended the staircase, through the columns and into the stone structure. I dropped my notebook on the stone tiles, and it made a thud that vibrated through the Temple. The geese continued to squawk over the water, and I knew the wind was picking up because my eyes were tearing and I could hear the “whoosh” in the air.
As soon as I walked in, I was struck by the seemingly perfect symmetry of it. I stood in the middle and tried to pick a side before going to the right, which like the left side had a shallow staircase that led up to the wall. I sat on the top step. It was colder and rougher than I was expecting. It was cracked, too, and I wondered what could have broken something so frozen and solid. There was a pile of jagged green glass in the corner, and I turned over a shard to reveal the “Heineken” label. I let it drop out of my hand, and it hit the stone with a graceful clatter.
I heard a faint feminine laugh and looked out across the field, laden with broken tree limbs, and a young man and woman walked hand in hand towards me. They looked at me writing furiously for a moment, and I pretended not to notice. They went to the opposite side of the Temple, hands still clasped, and faced the wall.
“Rachel loves David,” said the girl. She kicked the wall with her sneaker. The boy mumbled some reply, and her laughter, though soft, rang through the Temple and bounced off the stone, all the way to me, as if she’d done it right in my ear. They ambled down the steps again and made their way back the way they came. I crossed over to the other side, relieved to stand up off the frigid floor. My boots made a satisfying tap with every step.
On the wall, “Rachel loves David” was written with pink and blue chalk. The steps were speckled with years’ worth of black dots of chewed gum. I noticed for the first time the names of famous composers engraved on the wall, high up near the elegantly decorated ceiling. Hadyn, Mozart, Beethoven, Cherubini. I read that the Temple of Music used to be called the Temple to Music, which at the time didn’t seem like it made any difference, but I realized then that somehow it did. I leaned on a column, which was so coarse that it snagged my jacket, and with a final glance around the Temple I made my way back up the hill.
The Temple to Music sounds like someone decided to build it out of some sort of obligation, or because they couldn’t figure out what else to dedicate a temple to. The Temple of Music, I thought, as my boots sunk in the mud again and I felt a cold drizzle begin to tap on the top of my head, makes it sound like the Temple is derived from music. Like music sustains it, and makes it what it is. And it’s true, there aren’t any concerts played there at this time of year, but I thought about those grinding wheels, and the beer bottle, and the girl’s radiant laughter and the sound of my boots tapping across the stone floor. Where there’s life, there’s music. I climbed onto the fallen tree again, and looked back at the Temple of Music. It glowed whiter than ever against the darkening sky.