One day in February 2005, my brother Sébastien took me for a drive along the valley of the Meuse in Belgium. High up, near the top of the forested cliffs bordering one side of the majestic river, one could see the ruins of a castle. In answer to my question, Seb said this castle was called Poilvache (a funny name in French), and offered to drive up to it.
After crossing the Meuse
and driving uphill on windy roads, we arrived to a wide clearing
covered with snow. A path off the side led to the old castle. Unprepared
for a hike, I had put on a pair of Converse high tops
that morning; they promptly got soaked as we got out of the car and
started walking through the thick snow. After a short hike, we got to a
high wall and a locked gate: access to the fortress was closed for
another couple of months.
With Seb's help, I climbed over the
wall, and we set off to explore the grounds. We were alone, with only
the sounds of our feet disturbing the leaden silence. It was dusk. The
entire valley was open below us, with the sinewy silver path of the
large river down below. The sun was a dull pink through the filter of
the fog coming in with the night. It was blood-chillingly cold. The
ruins of the roofless dungeon stood three floor high, huge open walls
punctured with window openings.
In my mind, I could see how it
must have been, some 500 years before, when men huddled around fire
camps or tended to their horses. The unimaginable torture they must have
endured, wet clothes, frostbitten limbs, dark nights, the forest where
And we, visitors from another time, in the silence
all around, could hear horses neighing and the sounds of a garrison
settling down for a night long gone, but the biting cold was