Letters from the Underworld: Where the Sea Has a Voice

An archaeologist's favorite mysterious places

Not far from the Roman site of Empuries, in a seaside village in the shadow of the Pyrenees, I swear the sea was calling to me. It was just before dawn on the northeast shore of Spain's Costa Brava. In this little hotel in Cadaques, my husband and children were still asleep, and on this first day of January, I had awoken with the tremendous urge to head down to the harbor. I threw on some warm clothes and padded downstairs to the lobby. The front door to the pension was still locked in the pre-dawn hour, as I passed through the entryway the smell of fresh bread overwhelmed me - a basket of baguettes lay just inside the door, ready for breakfast. Closing the door behind me the chill hit my face -  I looked down the street; no one was out at this hour, not even a fisherman. 

Walking down the hill, cobblestones oily from rain, the streetlights glowed in moist yellow halos. When I arrived at the water's edge, the sky was barely beginning to lighten; as I turned, the full moon was sliding - a bulging pearl loose from an invisible necklace - into the cleavage of two mountains. The wind whistled on the surface of the water, sending it rippling into all directions, like an unseen conductor's arm furiously waving a crescendo of cymbals and timpanis. And then a feeling came over me that I was not alone. I heard a low hissing sound - the water was muscular, elastic.......alive. It was as though I had come upon a spirit unaware it was being watched, having a few more moments of reckless abandon before the human day began...when it would retreat once again beneath the diorite heaviness of the water. I stood there for the longest time, watching the surface of the sea erupt and congeal, separate and fuse, listening for whispered words in a language I did not yet understand. The moon had now dropped out of sight. The wind calmed, the patterns on the water relaxed and became tinged with the reddening dawn.

By the time I got back to the pension, breakfast was being served. I tore off a piece of baguette, still warm, and held it between my palms. In retrospect, it was a little like a prayer. Grateful to bury my nose in its comforting fragrance, I let the heat slowly retrieve me from the chill. Whatever frenetic force I had come upon, waltzing in the water, I knew would be forever etched in my memory. As I looked out the window at the sea, and the rising sun beyond, I felt fortunate indeed to have greeted the New Year in such auspicious company.

I brought home a few keepsakes from this magical place - a plain silver cuff

that likes to hang out on my arm between his neighbors from Thailand and Israel...

and these tiny salt and pepper shakers

that I am too afraid to use, so they remain on display in my kitchen 

these plates representing night and day

and this old photograph of a windswept seaside village, taken right where I stood when the moon dropped into a cleft between mountains and - in the hovering moments between darkness and light - 

where the sea spoke to me
Top photo from Google images, all others courtesy of author


  1. What poetic imagery here! You took us along and made us see. We too were transformed in this place, through the magic of words. Thank you.

    1. you do not know how much your words made me smile this morning.

      thank you, dear rosaria.

  2. this i read just this morning:


    I’ve visited the place

    where thought begins:

    pear trees suspended in sunlight, narrow shops,

    alleys to nothing

    but nettles

    and broken wars;

    and though it might look different

    to you:

    a seaside town, with steep roofs

    the colour of oysters,

    the corner of some junkyard with its glint

    of coming rain,

    though someone else again would recognise

    the warm barn, the smell of milk,

    the wintered cattle

    shifting in the dark,

    it’s always the same lit space,

    the one good measure:

    Sometimes you’ll wake in a chair

    as the light is fading,

    or stop on the way to work

    as a current of starling

    turns on itself

    and settles above the green,

    and because what we learn in the dark

    remains all our lives,

    a noise like the sea, displacing the day’s

    pale knowledge,

    you’ll come to yourself

    in a glimmer of rainfall or frost,

    the burnt smell of autumn,

    a meeting of parallel lines,

    and know you were someone else

    for the longest time,

    pretending you knew where you were, like a diffident tourist,

    lost on the one main square, and afraid to enquire.

    John Burnside

    the whole morning was a prayer, it seems. i live inside of it vicariously. beautiful.


    1. ohohoh...

      erin, thank you, for sharing this poet's words. what a fluid grasp of the experience of that mystical center....and through such elegant, myriad lenses. i am floored by the lines: what we learn in the dark remains all our lives, a noise like the sea..

      this gives me chills, the same way the sea did when i first heard it speak.

      yes, i am a diffident tourist, lost on the one main square, afraid to enquire (aren't we all?)

      but trying, trying, like us all...

      love, love


  3. I felt that I was there. Poweful!

  4. I've felt what you describe here a few times, but I could never write to describe it like you have. This is truly beautiful writing Amanda!

  5. gulp. i have to believe you, amanda, and i do. you write with such descriptive surety, there is no doubt you became part of something that to me seems otherworldly.

    you wrote this beautifully. i read the poem erin shared and i am thinking, "i am was before abraham." is that what it was, that you knew you were, even before amanda?

    i've been there too, and it is comforting to hear you describe what is so hard to describe, the warmth of the bread, somehow, only adds richness to the whole experience.
    you have stories to tell, amanda. i am a lucky reader.


    1. i am was before abraham.....

      i've never heard this before, and it is very provocative....i'm grateful you brought this to my attention, kj - must think about this for awhile...

  6. very nice memories you have!
    and a very poetic text

  7. Beautiful, poetic writing, Amanda, with gentle thrills for all the senses (including the sixth sense).

  8. How poetic. And I love the look of the sea in the picture, I can sometimes imagine it as a sort of animal but other times it's purely decorative. Where did you get the fabulous picture of the wisteria tunnel? I would love to see that place!

    1. thank you jenny ;-)

      the amazing photo of the wisteria tunnel came from the blog A Nomadic View

  9. Dear Amanda, as always I loved every word and I love the way you managed to convey all the atmosphere of your experience. I can completely relate to how magical the moment you experienced must have been. As someone who is enticed by natural elements, particularly the sea, not to mention the stars and the moon, I can complete understand how unforgettable that morning was and has remained in your perception.
    I too wear a lot of bangles and bracelets, they always chime when I am at work.;)
    By the way, I have been at that particular coast several times.;)
    Have a great week dear friend,

  10. You took me back to 40 years ago when i too went down to the sea on the coast of Spain...the morning stillness is there for all...and in it there is magic. I always wake before the dawn...where ever i am.....it is the most powerful time of day.....It is dark as i write now! I wear silver bangles from my travels as well....funny how alike we are! The smell of bread also always brings me memories. Traveling is a time when we seem to be more receptive......

  11. The sound of the sea has such a power.
    We love to go swimming in the sea before anybody else is there, when the rays of the sun on the waves create a silvery path on which you can swim as if it were an opening gate. I have not got such a power of words as you, Amanda, but I totally understand the magic you experienced.
    We have spent most of our holidays on islands. The loveliest was Brac at the Dalmatian Coast.

  12. Beautiful. I understand the call of the sea so well. It is a wild call, haunting, a call you cannot ignore. And once you answer it, it will live on in your heart forever.

  13. What a beautiful poetic post...powerful writing...and you conjure magical imagery in my mind! And wow..I am totally in love with your pepper shakers..how divine!
    Hugs and happiness

  14. I have searched for the words to describe a setting full moon in the early moments before dawn and yours are delightful and perfectly descriptive. The image of a large pearl dropping from an unseen necklace will stay with me. I have lived most of my life near water and have spent much time alone at water's edge in the pre-dawn twinkle of stars and moon. Keep writing... I am hungry for more


  15. OH, MY! Such evocative writing, each word oozing with power, breathing the image into creation within the mind. "Wow!" is indeed the word, the word of sublime energy.

    And maybe it was a sea horse calling your name. Or perhasp Posiedon himself.

  16. The imagery in this post was brilliant Amanda! I felt like I was there :-)

  17. tempted by the sea, yet you did not join it...what a sensual tale of longing and restraint.

  18. Such a listing of gifts is overflowing with gratitude. To have so much is one thing. To cherish it, another! Bravo. It was so nice to take this morning walk with you. I am wishing for the bread as well.

  19. those moments when we connect deeply with the natural energies - so beautifully described. those pre-dawn hours are so powerful. thanks Amanda xx

  20. Text and pictures especially the first one are stunning!!!

  21. You ARE the *Goddess* of Mystery and Poetry....this is why Greece (especially) and all the World claim you as their *Daughter*... your description of the Moon sliding into the Mountain's *Cleavage* was so descriptive....that the image your words created in my mind, exactly matched the photograph at the end. Sigh....

    Your silver bangle looks like a Crescent Moon...(your *Diana* bracelet?)...I love that you carry the World on your arm....

    You know I understand all the mystery and magic of that early Dawn....


    ♥ Robin ♥

    p.s. Love the new header and background! ♥♥

  22. 'the full moon was sliding - a bulging pearl loose from an invisible necklace - into the cleavage of two mountains.'


    Amanda this post made goose skin crawl across my arms, neck and ears. The writing was exquisite. It started off transporting and just stepped lightly straight into the sublime. Beautiful.

    (I, too, really like the new header.)

    Have a beautiful weekend, dear friend.

  23. I feel so blessed to have shared these words with you.You have taken me to that early moring hour,to the hill and the chill in the morning and the warm prayer in your palms.Thank you,thank you sweet friend,for taking me out of my skin for a while and letting me hear the song of the sea.Hugs,Cat

  24. Luscious Sis!

    Truly you have the gift of expression of the sensual muscular memory paired with the language of perfect words.

    This will stay with me all day as i attempt to wordsmith the narrative companion piece to a video I'm working on.

    Have you seen "Tree of Life"?

    1. sistah,

      i've not seen tree of life......do you recommend?

  25. I think what is truly special about your blog is your uncanny ability to combine images and words to so eloquently express your passion and love for all you do. You bring the feelings to life, making them palbable, and as such, we are eager to share them along with you. Thank you so much for bringing us along on your journeys, Amanda.


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