Let Parzival describe it for you:
Monsalvat. Aerie of the Gral, the sanctuary on the savage mountain, the castle with the Good Friday meadow circling it, rimmed by a river with bending willows. The realm of light and bliss.
Kardeiz is more precise:
We start, of course, in Monsalvat. The great castle of the Gral, set in meadows by a river, a dry moat running round to a huge gatehouse and drawbridge. Outside this dry moat are the practice fields (our knights take their training very seriously), some stabling (Monsalvat horseflesh is renowned) and the baths, a curious, very Roman building commissioned originally by my great-great grandfather, Titurel, (who had tendresse for all things Roman) and renovated at my father’s command. Surrounding these domestic arrangements is the Good Friday meadow. It’s where my father arrived when he came to claim kingship – unsurprisingly, on a Good Friday, although the name (confusingly) pre-dates that event – as the meadow is our fast way into the world. (A portal if you like. A door if it sounds less portentous. Or pretentious.) And outside the Good Friday meadow, encircling the whole place, is the green and gold forest, with crooked paths and many dead-ends and thickets, making Monsalvat unapproachable except by those whom the Gral has called.
(The Swan Knight).
There’s an impression of the castle here, populated in my mind-vision, from the walls and towers of Carcassonne, the cloister of Monreale, the Roman baths of Carleon and Frankfurt.
The Good Friday meadow is, as Kardeiz notes, the Monsalvat portal onto the world, or the “fast way”. Many years ago, a good friend who was a Reader in Physics, explained to me why time travel was theoretically possible and drew a little diagram explaining the Lorenz Fitzgerald contractions – that consequence of the properties of space and time, where the speed of light is not stable. So, I thought, this neatly fits with the Gral having power over space and time, so the Monsalvat family can use the Good Friday meadow as their teleportation (thank you, Charles Fort) device.
Parzival uses it first in adulthood – and every time it gives him motion sickness, sometimes literally. The meadow is what I imagine appearing at some point in the transformation music in Wagner’s Parsifal – a piece of music that delights me every time I hear it, although it frequently reduces me to tears.
My Good Friday meadow is also a place of pathetic fallacy – when Parzival first comes to Monsalvat, he describes it thus:
The grass of the Good Friday meadow was lush, for all it was late summer, the poppies and cornflowers and marguerites bright. The scent of camomile and pennyroyal rose as I crushed the meadow beneath my feet.
The meadow is welcoming Parzival, but after witnessing Anfortas and the gral ceremony, he finds the meadow “like a shorn hay meadow, sere and stubbly, bare patches in parched grass”. He runs across it, trying to escape, and he is sent from the meadow to travel through time and space – his ‘lost’ years. Later, when he returns to Monsalvat after the death of Tristan, the meadow is covered in deep snow, echoing the chill in his heart from loss. On a happier note, Anfortas notes that the butterfly orchids flower when Parzival and Condwiramurs have been making love…
So what kind of vegetation makes up the Good Friday meadow? What’s the soil type?
Butterfly orchids prefer a damp, neutral or mildly acidic soil, so this is the soil type. Other plants that would like this habitat are ox-eyed daisies, birdsfoot trefoil, yarrow, scabious, buttercups, cuckoo flower, ragged robin, knapweed, self-heal, cowslips and cornflowers, wild marjoram. Poppies, camomile and pennyroyal, the plants Parzival notes on his arrival in Monsalvat, will grow there. I have an image from a production of Parsifal in Salzburg in the 1980s which shows the Good Friday meadow as a riot of marguerites, and when in doubt I fall back on this – and you can see a little of the floral exuberance behind von Karajan and Hofmann in the first image on the Berliner Philharmoniker page about The Magic of Parsifal. Whether my Good Friday meadow is ever mowed or scythed is debatable, but there is a orchard area which is probably kept under control, as apple trees need a bit of weed and grass free space round their trunks if they are to fruit well.
What are those trees by the river?
The willows are either Salix Alba or Caprea. The symbolism of the willow has changed from celebratory to mourning, but Parzival know it for the soothing properties of the bark – always useful if you’re going to get in a fight… I always imagine the river as a bit like the Silent Pool near Shere, where the deep water is clear and you can see the water weeds waving from the chalky pond bottom.
What does this mean for me?
This all adds up, of course, to my ‘happy place’. It’s what I imagine while I am lying on the CT scanner or a patient phlebotomist is extracting blood from my little recalcitrant veins, while I am awaiting a consultation with kindly but hurried oncologists. And more necessary since my cancer has now progressed, new tumours have blossomed, and I’ll go on.