Monday, October 15, 2007

Fantasy island

Carole Cadwalladr on the genteel carnage of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Lots of funny and true stuff there, but the part that really caught my eye was this rather lovely bit at the end:
What saves Frankfurt for me in the end is the rest of the world. The British and the Americans occupy Hall 8, but Hall 6 and Hall 5, I discover, are distinctly more interesting. Nobody in Georgia or the Faroes Islands or Ukraine or Iraqi Kurdistan is attempting to publish yet another rip-off of The Dangerous Book for Boys. Nor is Jordan riding high in the fiction charts.

And while foreign buyers snap up British and American novels and translate them, we don't return the favour. Doesn't it frustrate you? I ask a woman in the Netherlands stand. 'Frustrate me? No. I just think it is a problem for you, that you see so little of the world.'

Tina Mamulashvili, a publisher in Tbilisi, shows me the works of Georgia's bestselling author, Aka Morchiladze.

'How many do you have to sell to be a bestseller in Georgia?' I ask

'If you sell 2,000 or more you are really successful. The average print run for fiction is 500 copies.'

'Five hundred copies!' I say.

And then she shows me a copy of Morchiladze's Santa Esperanza and it's a wonderfully inventive thing - a tiny explorer's sack containing 36 booklets and a map of a fantasy island in the Black Sea 'which is populated by Georgians, Turks, Italians and British'.
I want that explorer's sack with those little books in it! Or perhaps more to the point, I want to write something like that myself! Hmmm, must ponder this one--I am just bursting with energy this morning, rather mysterious...

(Here by the way were my thoughts on Cadwalladr's wonderfully appealing novel The Family Tree...)

4 comments:

  1. monetize your blog...

    http://www.predictad.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  2. I was intrigued too as soon as I read about this and having googled it I would love to read an English translation.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Santa Esperanza
    By Aka Morchiladze
    Synopsis

    Santa Esperanza is a multi-cultural country stretched on three small islands lost somewhere in the middle of the Black Sea. The islands are inhabited by the Georgians, the Genoese (descendants of the Black Sea settlers), the Turks and the British. The islands are often visited by tourists, who essentially view the place as an earthly Paradise. However, there are occasional tourists who take a closer look at the distinct and singular culture, as well as the traditions turned into taboos.
    Since the Crimean War, the Island has been under the British rule. Apparently, at that time they leased the three islands for 150 years from the last governor Sarri-Beg, a Turk of Georgian origin.

    The main story of the novel unfolds in 2002, when the British leave the islands and Santa Esperanza gains independence. The rivalry between the local powerful clans grows into a civil war, which has no clear political colouring, it rather is a clash of spiritual monsters reared during the lull of several centuries. For this reason, the war has no obvious cause, and the only tangible conflict is the primacy of the clan to receive the state insignia from the British Governor.
    The hostilities are instigated by the Visramianis, the wealthiest Georgian clan, owners of one of the islands. The family traditions and internal regulations comprise a sophisticated system of numerous prohibitions and complicated, opinionated restrictions, which eventually causes dramatic developments in the personal lives of the younger generation.
    One of the central stories is a love relation between Salome Visramiani and Sandro da Costa, the heir of an eminent Genoese family. For nearly twenty years the Visramianis have been fighting the relationship of their girl with the lad brought up on completely different principles and traditions. The Visramianis call themselves ‘the Preserved’ while looking down on the Genoese, considering them foreigners, and opposing the marriage of the loving couple.
    The love between Salome and Sandro, which began in school, finishes tragically: in the ensuing chaos, Salome, turned into a drug addict in the turmoil, becomes the head of her family, which eventually brings Sandro, the young poet stranded in the other part of the city torn by the hostilities, to commit suicide.
    The novel abounds in extracts from his diary and unsent letters, telling their adventures from childhood to the war onset.
    Another narrative line of the novel describes the life of Data, the prodigal son of the Visramiani clan. He is obsessed with playing cards, an ungainly and unacceptable pastime for the millionaire’s family. Data’s appearance on the pages uncovers yet another layer in the traditions and cultural life of Santa Esperanza, related to a popular local card game Intee (‘run’). The 36 booklets of the novel are designed following the Intee structure and their titles represent individual cards. The game is absolutely dissimilar to any other known card game, as it presupposes its own rules combined with no less complicated regulations reflecting life itself.
    The other local tradition that Data is tightly linked to is the singing: a unique kind of folk song, the Blue Song, only performed by women. Due to their proverbial passion, they were prescribed to hide their faces behind veils. Even nowadays, as a result of the ancient custom, the women remain faceless and nameless singing in clubs with restricted access. The emergence of the Blue Songs was rather strange too: a woman would sit at the waterfront, accompanying the waves with her wordless, but deeply emotional singing. Data is infatuated by Kesane, one of the singers. She also falls victim to the civil war: captured by the guardsmen, she jumps from the Citadel keep.
    Data, together with Panteleimon, an Orthodox monk, his only and the most loyal friend, flee the turmoil in a boat, not knowing whether they are going to ever reach any coast. The Eastern Orthodox Monastery is the oldest stone building of the island. It was here that the monks used to write the local history, preserving and unveiling the past in their chronicles.
    One of the main metaphors of the novel is a pair of windows. One is in the Monastery, through which a monk first observed a strangely grieving woman singing her Blue Song on the beach many years ago. The other is in the Citadel (which housed the museum during the British rule) from which Kesane, the bluemarina, jumped. These two windows have been facing each other for centuries over the old Slave Market Square, used for exactly that purpose in the Middle Ages. One can get an absolutely stunning view of Santa City from these windows.
    It is through the Monastery window that an old-fashioned arrow finds its prey, Nick, a mobster seeking refuge on Santa Esperanza. He fled Georgia only to find himself involved in the islanders’ entangled relationships. The Visramianis force him to marry Salome, but a mysterious intrigue and a constant necessity to hide, make him an irreconcilable opponent of his new family.
    There are 25 active characters in the novel. Among them are three British intelligence agents trying to ensure a peaceful transition of power. The British political priority is a formal hand-over of the island to the direct descendant of Sarri-Beg, the last governor. This happens to be an old woman known as Queen Agatha, who lives alone in considerable poverty in her small cottage. Nick, the Georgian mobster, and Parna the Standard Bearer, a professional gambler and Data’s friend, are among her courtiers, who share a tragic end with their Sovereign.
    Another line of the plot is the story of the Sungalis, who make up the fighting force of the opposing sides. This ethnic group, inhabiting one of the three islands, has its own century-old insular traditions and customs, demonstrating unwillingness to mingle and inter-marry the multi-cultural population of the main island.
    Seven or eight centuries ago, having decided to safeguard them, one of the Georgian kings asked the then governor of Santa Esperanza to take these people under his protection. (It was not uncommon for the Georgian rulers of the olden days to hide entire villages from the Mongol tax-collectors.)
    The Sungalis are illiterate peasants with a militant spirit, who strictly follow their archaic traditions and live in small communities on their island, where everyone is everyone else’s relative. In the tourist attraction areas they work as guards in cafes, restaurants, clubs and hotels. These goblin-like people are extremely open-hearted and ingenuous, though fighting and warfare is in their blood. With the Esperanza clans it is an old tradition to take them as servants, guards and bailiffs. As a result, every clan has a formidable host of the Sungalis at its disposal.
    The Sungalis have their own hereditary priests, but they don’t liaise with any official church. These people stranded in the history have two leaders: a retired bailiff Khetia, who keeps a country guest-house, and Martia, the head of the Visramiani security. The friendship and enmity of the two men with complex characters determine much in the narrative. Sly and crafty Khetia leads the rebellion. He is the one behind the entire intrigue, which eventually threw the country into the civil war. Resisting the whole idea of the war with all his heart, Martia nevertheless finds himself deeply involved in it, which finally leads to his death.
    Martia is hopelessly in love with Salome, also adored by a former sailor Luka, who is the author of a once best-seller. Luka’s character seems to have travelled from an old-fashioned novel. Despite numerous hardships, he radiates kindness and cheerfulness, his unbelievable stories and adventures entertain everyone around him. Luka’s line is entwined with that of his ex-wife, Jessica de Rider, the author of popular romances.
    One of the characters is Lamour the Walker, the representative of an old local trade: in the pre-newspaper times, his ancestors used to make a living by passing the news across and between the islands. But he manages to combine his hereditary trade with the job of a private eye, which enables him to sell gossip in a most cynical manner. Another character is Monica Uso di Mare, a journalist desperately in love with Sandro da Costa. She is the reason of unhappiness of an English writer Edmond Clever, who is famous for his several books featuring Santa Esperanza. One of his books is In Search of the Lost Pipe dedicated to yet another local myth: governor Ali-Bey had a pipe of such length that its end rested on the other island and seagulls were perched on it. Several pieces of the legendary pipe are truly sacred for a lot of islanders. One of them is Morad-Bey, a coffee-shop owner, trying to collect all the pieces in order to put them together.
    Rummaging through Queen Agatha’s possessions, Alfredo da Costa, the Museum Director, comes across a sack full of the pipe pieces. Three British agents assemble them only to find that Ali-Bey’s pipe was actually much shorter than it was believed. Alfredo da Costa, Sandro’s uncle and the sole survivor of the family, sets to work on the family history in the post-war Santa City.
    Just before the hostilities began, austere and mighty patriarch Constantine Visramiani died of haemorrhage. On his deathbed he clearly realised where his ambition had brought the entire country, but was unable to say anything due to serious brain damage. However, he managed to scribble the word ‘run’ on the blanket for his grandson Data to see. Data and Salome’s mother Kaya becomes a hostage of her own clan. Salome succeeds in putting an end to the hostilities, but the flourishing Santa Esperanza of the British period is razed to the ground. The main characters are dead. The culture and traditions reigning the small country throughout the centuries lie waste. The book finishes with the dramatic events unfolding on the Sungali Island, as it is attacked by the peace-keeping forces from three sides.

    As the entire story is narrated in a particular way, there are certain rules for the reader to follow. Santa Esperanza differs from ny other novel — it has neither a cover, nor an ordinary binding. This is a coarse traveler’s bag full of booklets and a map. Each of 36 booklets has its owm\n number and colour (faded brown, yellow, green and blue). They remind the playing cards and invite the reader to play the literary game: read the booklets in different order and you will get either 4 different novels or 9 large stories or 36 short stories or one huge novel.

    Santa Esperanza
    (Extracts)
    By Aka Morchiladze
    English translation

    1. White booklet
    CHEST FOR WANDERING, PLAYING CARDS AND
    SOME OTHER ODDS AND ENDS

    To be searched through with utmost care by those who have decided to undertake the trouble of reading these notebooks. Therein the searchers will find the contents of the book made out of these notebooks. Without the contents, they will never be able to make head or tail of the book itself (though, on the other hand, they might not necessarily need to be able to, after all).

    For the first time I visited Santa Esperanza (the same as St. John's Isles) in 1997. I stayed there for only four days, as it was quite a sudden decision of mine to visit the place, on my way from Istanbul, with too little money in my pocket, and even less time at my disposal. The simplified immigration rules were all in my favor: as is typical of most holiday resorts, one could peacefully stay there without any visa for a fortnight. But as soon as the fortnight's period of time expired, one had to rush to the nearest police station, equipped with one's passport and a good excuse, in order to generously explain to the local authorities the aim of one's arrival, and indicate the duration of his/her stay. If, meanwhile, one was happy enough to get some sort of a temporal job, one had to produce the contract as well, etc.
    Anyway, I didn't stay in Santa City (or St. John's Citadel) for more than four days then. But seven years later, I went there again; this time facing a lot more complications than I had experienced before.
    Well, it was not that the holiday resort immigration rules were no longer in force, but they were valid for the British citizens only, and for those from Europe without Borders. The rest of the ordinary tourists had to have their preliminary visas, or else they would never be allowed to stay at the place for even a fortnight.
    It seems very likely that Europeans have long forgotten about their visas whatsoever, while freely drifting from place to place all over their continent. But those who are the owners of the Georgian passports, have to fill in a huge amount of silly papers every time they feel like going somewhere. Sometimes they even have to certify the colour of their own eyes, to say nothing of the fact that they are to truly confess who has packed their personal belongings –their wife or their mistress – while they themselves were watching her carefully to avoid the terrible consequences of hiding a bomb, or some sort of poisonous capsules, in the remotest side-pockets of their traveling-bag.
    The owner of such a passport will also have to indicate, in some other papers, his future address and the exact sum of money which is or will be at his disposal. And so on, and so forth.
    But a real pilgrim never knows where he is going to end his pilgrimage. A real pilgrim simply likes to travel a lot. Anyway, it seems to be rather difficult for him to deal with the Europe without any borders ( if he is not a citizen of such Europe, of course), as far as the borderless Europe is always very curious about the aim of the pilgrim's pilgrimage, and about the sum of money the pilgrim is going to live on.
    Well now, it's somewhat clear with Europe. But Santa Esperanza is not a part of this borderless continent. It lies off the Black Sea Coast.
    Quite recently though, there was a war, and for that very reason it must have restricted its rules towards those other miserable Europeans who are not from the borderless Europe either (and who don't seem to be quite European at all).
    This, in its turn, must have been done for the sake of preventing them from fleeing away from their Patria.
    But where on earth could the visa for Santa Esperanza ever be obtained? This tiny country has no Embassies or Consulates anywhere in Georgia, not even in Russia. The answer to this difficult question was to be found in the internet tourist sites of the country. So, I started searching for the answer and, before long, I got it.
    It turned out that the country had no Ambassadors, as is the case with many former British colonies that now are the members of the Commonwealth. These three small islands have their Supreme Commissioner who resides in London, and ranks as high as a consul. The British side also has the Supreme Commissioner who resides in St. John Citadel. Furthermore, if one tries hard, one will find in Istanbul the man who might be considered the Consul of Santa Esperanza, and who is able to give a non-European European (who is not likely to be a real European at all) the cherished visa. The position the man holds is called that of the Supreme Commissioner too.
    As I had saved a considerable sum of money long beforehand, and had a strong intention to visit the Isles once more, I decided to avoid the "human bondage" of getting the British visa, then going to London and suffering a lot more from getting the Johnish visa, and found a shorter and safer way: I planned an easier trip to Istanbul, where I would search for the Office of the third Supreme Commissioner.
    The Commissioner hated Georgians… Or rather didn't very much approve of them (to put it mildly to sound more European). He might have had some serious reasons for his disapproval, but he didn't trouble much to reveal those to me. Strangely enough, he was a Georgian himself, but spoke exceptionally English.
    In the course of our conversation, I inserted a couple of Georgian words into my speech, as I felt rather short of my English. But the man replied in English, saying he didn't understand my Georgian (he himself spoke the Johnish variety of the language). In the end, he ordered me to come back three hours later.
    When I was back to his office, he kept inquiring, for good twenty minutes, about my occupation and the reasons for my need of a six-month visa. I did my best to make my answers sound impressive. The whole procedure felt like being at an exam, a rather stiff one. He made me answer numerous questions from the history of his own country. My answers must have sounded too ambiguous, for the only information I had about the past of the country had been obtained from a tiny brochure by a Mr. Nebieridze. I was quite certain though, that the Commissioner had already given me the visa, and even stamped it in my passport, but he hated to tell me about it.
    In the end he somehow managed to give the passport to me, and advised me to go by sea. That was a really good piece of advice, for it proved to be much cheaper that way.
    So, this is how I went to John's Isles for the second time and stayed there for half a year.
    During the last two months of my stay, I had been living in a rented apartment in the coastal quarter.
    February was already there, and I had to return home. The winters are generally very mild on those Isles, and one doesn't actually have to think about the frost at all. On the other hand, it's rather damp all around, especially for those who dwell near the sea, but it's always dry downtown. The sea is often stormy, and along the shore, twenty feet into the land, it seems to be drizzling non-stop. The sun is very rare in this season, but very welcome and very lovely. Such is the winter in Santa City.
    During those long six months, I was gradually becoming quite a native of the place. True, I didn't very much succeed in my Genoan talk and the local dialect of Turkish, but I managed to brush my Johnish. Frankly speaking, I still prefer this dialect of Georgian to the standard variety.
    I had made friends with a number of natives, and didn't at all feel like parting with them. I often sent telegrams to my wife, saying I had found a lovely spot to settle, and frequently promised her I would do my best to move the entire family there some day; I was also quite certain of getting a proper job easily. My wife wrote me back that there was another political unrest in Georgia, with lots of people marching, demonstrating and rioting all over the capital. Certainly, I didn't feel at ease on hearing the unpleasant news from my home country, but… You can never imagine what a life I was living in that fantastic city!
    It was the city that suffered from a war a year before, but there were no evident traces of the fact left or felt anywhere around. Such was St. John Citadel (or Santa City, as people prefer to call it). This illustrious residential spot was ready to overcome any troubles on its way – not with the means of brutality, violence or armed conflicts, but due to its immortality and magic! Oh no, please, don't think of me being a foreign tourist that admires the new places of interest. It's not that sort of superficial feeling that overwhelms me right now, and makes me speak like that; I feel and know it all from within and for sure! I have always been trying to invent a city of my dreams, but when I visited Santa City, I found the never-never land already invented for me. I realized it all the very moment I saw the place first, and had constantly been thinking about returning there since.
    And so, at last, I was there and happy! But, unfortunately, I had to go back home: first by sea to Trabzon, and then along the road to Georgia.
    It was not at all easy for me to leave. But it wasn't easy to live without my family any longer either. As for the family, well, they were already used to my long-term disappearings from time to time. Nevertheless, I was returning home, and like a man of infinite precocity, I started packing my luggage ten days in advance.
    During my stay in Santa City, I haven't lost a single day without writing something. There are some fine, thin notebooks sold at every shop on John's Isles. They have funny covers and remind me of my childhood notebooks – the thin ones of twelve pages – that were a bit wider. I bought nearly two hundred of those, and filled them with various stories. Some of the stories were condensed versions of the local historical facts, or of the current events borrowed from the local papers. Some others had been heard from the natives, and in case I failed to hear them to the end, I tried to invent the end myself. I had lots of them, those exciting stories recorded in my notebooks.
    All the stories were quite different, none of them resembled another. Every time I tried to record a new one, I thought a lot. No wonder I managed to succeed in understanding a great deal of the mode of the Johnians' life-style.
    Those more than a hundred notebooks (to be more exact, there were one hundred and forty-one, when I last counted them) made up a huge excess baggage. For that I had to blame my age-long passion for using unexploited notebooks – I could never relinquish a bad habit of starting a new piece in a fresh one! The temptation of buying them in huge amounts was boosted by the fact that they were extremely cheap – three-pence each. Thus, on the whole, all my expenses for them amounted to three local pounds only.
    So much for the notebooks. Now for something more important: All of a sudden, I found the way out – I found the key to the problem! I mean, I knew how to make a solid book out of those separate notebooks! The key was the initial device for everything that followed. If not that key, there would be no book at all. Frankly speaking, I didn't suspect I was writing a book when I started recording those stories. I simply did it for the sake of depicting some interesting facts and data, at times so indispensable for a writer.
    In other words, I thought I was ready to face the problem of taking a start on returning home. Generally, I am a very slow starter. Sometimes it takes me two to seven years of thinking and nursing the idea, before I actually write a book. But once the plot is ready, I can put it down on paper very swiftly.
    Five days were left before my departure, when a local friend of mine presented me with a pack of playing cards. This is a traditional gift on the Isles, and the most popular souvenir. But the ordinary packs for everyday practice, and those used for souvenirs, are quite different.
    As a matter of fact, it's definitely impossible to leave Santa Esperanza without those playing cards. Actually, I was going to buy a pack myself, but there are catalogues with prices for the souvenir packs, and the really good ones are rather expensive. It was quite obvious that I couldn't afford buying the extraordinary packs I liked best; but I couldn't easily make up my mind to choose amongst the ordinary ones. It was stupid to leave it as the last minute shopping, I know, but that's what generally happens.
    So, while I was thinking the problem over and over again, a friend of mine put a pack in front of me, on a cafe table, saying: "Here, take it and make a good use of it".
    That was a very expensive pack, and I felt terribly uneasy. It seemed unfair to accept the seven-hundred-pound gift for nothing!
    I made a desperate effort to take my wallet out of my pocket, but he stopped me by turning the pack over and showing me the inscription on it.
    According to the local tradition, the owner's name is often inscribed on the pack, in which case it indicates that the pack is hand-made and unique, created by some private artisan on request.
    My friend tried to set my mind at rest, saying the pack had been ordered a month and a half before, with the expenses shared among him and the other members of the club.
    I visited their club very often. My devoted friend's name was Li'le Mattallo, for he was the club owner's son. Now I guessed why he kept telling me (even as early as autumn) not to buy a pack, for the reason that I couldn't choose the right one.
    I still felt very embarrassed, but very happy at the same time. I was happy and proud, because the price and the beauty of the gift told me I must have been someone quite special to my friends.
    Soon afterwards, I left for my native city Tbilisi. But a week later, to your surprise, I was already on my way to London.
    You want to know all the whys and wherefores? Well, I was absolutely certain that my new book was due in no time! Once I realize this sort of a thing, I immediately start realizing the other: what takes me a long year to do in Tbilisi, takes only a short week elsewhere in the world.
    I was completely broke at the time. But a sympathetic couple of my immediate kin, living in a suburb of London, suggested a free boarding to me. I am not going to give their names here (for they themselves don't care about it at all), but I can't help admitting their boundless hospitality towards me every time I go off the beam, or feel so strongly about my wonderful city that start hating it.
    On board the plane to London, I was aware of something very important – I had found the key! I found it in the coastal quarter apartment well after midnight.
    It was Monica who drove me home that evening, promising to come to the port on the day of my departure. Dear old Monica! She has always been so good and kind to me. She is a real friend of mine, and a very pretty girl indeed. To put it into the Johnish slang, the girls like Monica can easily walk to and fro through the looking-glass. Nonetheless, she always says good-bye with the words:
    – I'm definitely unlucky with men!
    I went up to my bedroom, lay on my bed, and started examining my pack.
    True, I had a novel by Jessica Rider – "The Gorge of the Coloured Springs" – open and waiting, but I hadn't once glanced at my present since afternoon, and I felt rather desperate for that. So, I started to examine the pack thoroughly.
    I had seen numerous local playing cards, but these were really exquisite. The most essential detail about the whole matter is that the popular local game Intee is not played anywhere else. The playing cards for the game differ from ordinary French ones in two ways: there are different suits, and there are no colour differences, like RED vs. BLACK.
    The pack is made out of four suits, but they are not the hearts, diamonds, clubs or spades; those familiar signs are replaced by the local ethnographical ones, like vine, blackberry, thistle and dagger.
    Now I already know, how a dagger fitted into so many herbs, but not then. Vine means grapes, Blackberry stands for fruit, while thistle is a disgusting purple flower, an ugly weed with prickly leaves, which grows so high and mighty along the local country lanes. There are 36 cards in the Johnish packs, and the same was the number all told in mine. But the real Intee should be played with two packs.
    I can't present all the rules and regulations governing the game, as I am not quite sure of them myself. But what I know for sure, is that there are 9 cards in each suit, and those are not traditional Queens, Kings or Aces. There are four couples of men, women and life-stock though, as well as the heads of a squadron, and various trifles like wine-horns, boats, etc. Now, if in the traditional playing cards hearts and diamonds are the good-colour suits,
    in the Johnish ones we should be all in favour of vines and blackberries, for the rest two are considered to be the evil ones.
    Thus was I sitting in great excitement, looking joyously through the precious gift of mine.
    Being a master of playing cards is a very prestigious and profitable occupation in Santa City. The pictures are all very positive and mysteriously attractive. While studying them with admiration, I found out that they reminded me of Pirosmani, a famous Georgian naive artist, with the similar candid manner of drawing. Every master on the Isles tries to develop his own style, of course, but he can imitate anyone else's very skilfully as well. I used to visit the playing card workshops and watch the craftsmen at their work for hours.
    I might have been enjoying the pack for a very long while, for I even slumbered over it. In the end I got up and started putting the cards into
    regular suits – beginning with the lowest ones and ending with the men. I don't know why, but I started with the vines, then passed onto the blackberries, then I saw to the thistles, and then – to the daggers. It all got a shape of elongated rectangle. Generally, the souvenir cards are bigger in size compared to the ordinary ones, and when they made a solid picture, they even looked much better.
    As far as I know, the souvenir packs are always drawn as solid pictures, and only later are they cut into 36. This might be an old tradition of card-making followed by the islanders. Anyway, this is a hypothetical assumption of mine, and I won't go into that any further.
    The heart of the matter here is that originally the picture had been solid, and was disintegrated some time later!
    On wintry nights, in the coastal quarter, one falls asleep to the sounds of waves, thinking some pleasant thoughts. The wintry nights in Porta Nova Street are such as to… Well, I'd better stop here and simply reveal the core: while gradually falling asleep, it suddenly occurred to me to arrange my notebooks like those playing cards – each notebook for each card, with a similar sign on the cover.
    I didn't know then that I had already written the book. I just liked the idea of turning my notebooks into a pack of Johnish playing cards, perpetuating the marvelous pictures on the covers.
    But I knew for sure that this was only the initial device, the key to the oncoming wholesome solution.
    When I arrived in Trabzon, I was met by a friend named Ahmad O.Kaya. I had given him a preliminary call, and he came from Istanbul. He is an old chum of mine, but we can't meet very often these days. So, I was pretty certain he couldn't help reacting to my message.
    In our boyhood, we used to go in for basketball together, but later he had to emigrate and convert into Ahmad O.Kaya. When I was going to Esperanza, I couldn't find him in Istanbul. It was hardly surprising, for he is always to-ing and fro-ing between this place and another.
    I am not going to describe the notorious life-story of Ahmad O.Kaya now, but when we entered the inn and started teasing each other jokingly (which we always do, when we come together having missed each other's company for a long time), I told him everything about the notebooks and the playing cards.
    It all happened quite naturally. When something bothers you for a long time, you suddenly start discussing it with anyone who turns up at the moment. I started telling it all to Ahmad O.Kaya, the more so that he was my intimate childhood friend.
    Ahmad O.Kaya had heard about the Isles, but strangely enough, he had never visited them. He had a Turkish passport though, which made it easier for him to get there. In the end, we decided to keep in touch about the matter, in order to arrange our joint trip to the Isles some day… But I still couldn't help speaking about the playing cards and the notebooks. I even showed my friend the pack from Li'le Mattallo, and he studied it with a great interest for a good while.
    My fresh idea about the notebooks was as follows: There were about one hundred and fifty of them in all, whereas there were only thirty-six cards. So, I decided to rearrange my records, and rewrite them into thirty-six notebooks.
    Certainly, I could do my best not to abridge my stories or extract any of them, by trying to combine, say, four notebooks into a single one. Afterwards, I would have to choose the proper card name for each, and that would do. But there again I was running a risk of thickening my notebooks to a great extend, which was not at all proper. The playing cards are so thin, and the thick notebooks would lose every likeness to them.
    I told it all, in my lively and emotional manner, to Ahmad O.Kaya who doesn't care a wee bit about books or any other printed matter (for he never reads anything, including Turkish papers). But Ahmad O.Kaya used to be a General once – he has even won several victories with his army; Ahmad O.Kaya used to be a rascal, a cut-throat and all, and he knows very well how to find the gist. This sort of people have a nose for the most important; they always feel when and where to attack. Otherwise, they are not going to survive. At present, Ahmad O.Kaya has quit all his criminal activities (he made a peaceful owner of a small shop), but his wild instincts have not betrayed him. He still knows the trick of finding the enemy's throat within a second, as any new problem is an enemy to him, and must be defeated.
    Listening to my story, he suddenly asked me:
    "Why you wantin' this?"
    Which can be translated into our language as:
    "What's all the fuss about it?"
    I told him it seemed to be more interesting that way. He then said that if there wasn't a definite goal, it was no use turning those notebooks into the playing cards. Why should a book be made out of separate notebooks, if it doesn't serve any particular idea? It's much better to write an interesting book with a solid plot.
    He didn't explain himself exactly this way, but this was what he meant. Unfortunately, I suspected the same.
    "Playin' cards, ain't this? Now come, buddy, put them in four row, and
    you follow the suit…"
    We put our plates and bottles aside, cleared the space for the cards, and I started putting them in the regular order according to the suits. The vines came first, followed by the blackberries; then came the thistles, and then – the daggers.
    Ahmad O.Kaya kept observing the location of the cards for some time, slowly smoking his cigarette. Generally, he is not a rapid smoker, and when he smokes, he looks quite thoughtful.
    "What's them, cards?" he asked me after a while.
    Well, really, what are they? A game, I guess. That's what they are.
    "What has us got alike here? Suits, maybe, and them… yeah, numbers:
    four sixes, four sevens…"
    "There are no sixes or sevens here, these cards count otherwise."
    "But us has ones, and twos, and fours and all, right?"
    "Right."
    "So?"
    "So what? Nil and nought!"
    "Listen here, is there stories in your… uh… copybooks, hwich be of same, say, suit?"
    Ahmad O.Kaya slipped his index finger all across the blackberries.
    "You wantin' cards, ain't you? Here, make them your stories like one suit… You sayin', they draw a big picture on carton, and then cut it all up, right?
    So, do it same way, man! Draw a big fuckin' picture and cut it up. But mind you – similar numbers, similar stories, from suit to suit!"
    Ahmad O.Kaya said no more. It was me, who spoke for a long time after that. I was not telling the stories themselves, but I was trying to imagine them in a row, as four long stories of nine chapters told in different colours.
    "Come on, man! 'tis not enough…"
    Ahmad O.Kaya shook his head, lit another cigarette, and went on:
    "Look, there's nine card in one suit, and there's four suit in one pack, right? So, us's four same card: four mans, four womans and all, see? That's hwat us has! Make your stories a foursome, buddy! And mind you, you has to make your big story not only this way long, but this way long too."
    And he pointed his finger to the horizontal and vertical arrangement of the cards.
    Such a calculation was too much for me!
    It was not four stories only, but four plus nine, that would equal unknown quantity x, and the x had to be a solid plot from both – horizontal and vertical angles!
    Boy! Here one could easily go nuts.
    "That's them, damn cards! You can make any much gambits you want. That's hwat us calls real game! Come now, start gamblin'!"
    Ahmad O.Kaya put in his last remark very firmly, and the very next day he saw me off home.
    How could I resist going to London after that?
    Ahmad O.Kaya knows everything, and he knows everything for sure.
    Time and again he calls me, saying:
    "You had a one buddy, 'member?"
    He never mentions either his old or new name over the telephone. He is a runaway man, and has changed a lot. Too few care for him in his hometown, to many others he gives a scare, and a lot more simply hate him.
    At home, they insisted on my leaving at once, for they were afraid of my lunacy. Of course, all were going to miss me once more… Certainly, it was not easy to part again… Sure, it was not the olden times, when a man had to go far away to earn living… And it was but very true that my purse was perfectly exhausted… Even if not so, did I need to have a family only for the sake of talking with someone over the telephone? or even worse – with the help of the e-mail?! But this is what generally happens, while I'm away.
    My wife often says that I look much better at some distance (the further away, the better!). But in the close-ups, one can easily notice something crazy in my looks. That's why I always try to keep out of reach of the others. As soon as someone tries to approach me, I start packing my luggage. But this is our family secret. Thank God, I have a few friends of different feather, that don't flock together.
    During the first month of my stay in London, I hardly ever left my room. I went to a football match once, and that was all. My hosting family often said I was like the hero of one German story, or rather something like a poltergeist. They used to put my food at my door-step, as was the rule in old boarding houses. In short, I behaved like the invisible man, Griffin by the name, from Herbert Walls' fiction. But there was one great difference between us – I didn't go to the Bishop's place to steal things at night.
    I was sitting in my room all day long, making the list of the stories.
    I gave a title to every record, to every tiny note. I wrote the titles down on a separate sheet of paper, so that to be able to find out what had each notebook described. Then I found names for each of the thirty-six cards.
    On the Isles, each card has a short, one-word name; but I needed long, descriptive names for mine. Once again I recalled the naive artist Pirosmani, and invented the names similar to the longish names of his paintings, such as: Sarkiss is pouring wine, or Shatte is stealing a horse, or even longer ones, like: A childless millionaire and a poor peasant woman with her children.
    This was only a spring-board, the big jump was still waiting ahead. And for that I appealed to the scissors. I had huge pair of scissors with which I started cutting up my notebooks in the most ruthless manner. Then I glued different pieces to one another and fitted them into other notebooks. Then I cut and glued them again… And so passed the days and nights.
    In the course of these odd activities, I had to write a little, and to make some alterations, and to get rid of the rubbish, and to put aside some episodes that were precious to me, but didn't fit anywhere; I even had to integrate several stories into one, and disintegrate some others into several. I did it all till, at last, I got what Ahmad Goodie had bidden me to get.
    How did I get it? Well, it's another story… but I got a slight idea about the routine of the film directors, when they lock themselves up in a dark room for a month, while editing a film. But their position is much worse than ours – they can't shoot any more, whereas we can write as much as we wish!
    Anyway, I did all I could with those Johnish stories: old and new, fictional and documentary, altered and abridged… I endeavored to reduce those one hundred and something notebooks to thirty-six, and made their endings meet.
    I gave each chapter a name of a card, but I gave individual titles to the nine long and four short stories as well.
    In this awful to-do about the whole thing, I suddenly discovered that the stories in my new notebooks were quite self-contained, and they didn't necessarily need to be interwoven or linked with the others.
    Thus, in the end (it is only fair to tell you), it all resulted in four long, nine short and thirty-six very short stories that could be chosen out of the whole bundle and read separately, leaving the rest untouched.
    A kind of a small library we are having here, isn't it? Or rather A Thousand and Something Nights.
    I loved the idea at once! But my passion wasn't so blind as to keep me from writing the contents to which the readers will have to apply (in case they decide to read the whole stuff). But this was not the real end of it all. At that I'll keep you in a little suspense for a while.
    So, here we arrive at the contents at last!
    Ladies and Gentlemen,
    I am happy to present the contents of the book made out of thirty-six notebooks and some additional notes to them. Please, feel free to interrupt me any moment you have some questions or comments!
    The first COLOUR – SUIT of the Esperanzian playing cards is VINE or GRAPES, to put it the other way round. One bunch of grapes here stands for the lowest card, and the highest is presented by a bailiff holding a bunch of the same in one hand, and a spade in the other.
    The name of the first STORY – SUIT, consisting of nine chapters, is THE BOOK OF ECHOES OF THE OLD WAYS. There are no romantic or erotic scenes (so much essential to the modern literature) in it. But it describes some important facts from the history and culture of John's Isles (the same as Santa Esperanza), as well as some unforgettable events maintained in the folklore of the natives. It also contains a couple of interesting details that will help keeping the reader enthusiastic, and make him/her glide to the other notebooks eagerly.


















    2. Brown Booklet N1
    1 of Vine
    WEB-ESPERANZA – TOURIST SITES
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    History
    The history of Santa Esperanza Isles goes back to the Hellenic epoch, to the remotest times when there were Ancient Greek colonies all along the Black Sea coast. On two small islands of the archipelago, there can still be traced the remains of the Hellenic architecture and life-style. The Ancient Greek name of those islands might have been Hyppolitia, for the name leads to the world of myths and the Queen of Amazons once visited by Hercules himself. It is difficult though, to make any serious assertions about the toponym at present.
    In the Middle Ages, after decline of the Hellenic civilization, the Isles lost their initial significance. The inhabitants left the territory, and the polis fell into ruins.
    It was not until the 12th century that the Isles were inhabited again.
    Santa Esperanza Isles are situated 117 kilometers off the Georgian coast of the Black Sea. In the 12th century, the Georgian King David the Builder (1089-1125) managed to unite small scattered feudal monarchies under his mighty power, thus turning Georgia into a solid and powerful Empire.
    In spite of being a coastal country, Georgia had never developed navigation. But David the Builder still had spotted the small deserted islands in the open sea, and made every effort to exploit them for his own political goals.
    The Isles were skilfully turned into a well-pointed spear for the enemies and foes trying to attack Georgia from the sea (see maps).
    On the main island the King ordered to build a stronghold, the remaining parts of which still stand today (see entertainment/excursions). On the same island there was established an Eastern Orthodox Christian Monastery, named after John the Baptist. Later, it proved to be one of the richest Monasteries throughout Asia. The Monastery is still holding daily services, thus adding credit to the intercultural mood of Santa Esperanza.
    After decline and collapse of the Georgian Empire, the rulers, courtiers and warriors of The Fort (or St. John's Citadel) became short-distance-sailing pirates, the brave sea-dogs that enjoyed some strong ties with the agonizing Byzantine and Trebizond Empire, as well as with some cities of Crimea and, later on, with the Crimean Khans themselves.
    According to the Byzantine chronicles, the land referred to as John's Isles was ruled by Archil, a worthy offspring of The Fort Keepers, who declared himself the king of the place in the 15th century. In spite of the fact that the Pirate-King sold the Monastery to Constantinople without any preliminary permission or blessing of the Georgian Patriarch, it still managed to maintain the spiritual and cultural relations with Georgia. By then, Georgia had already been disintegrated into small feudal units again, and suffered from extreme poverty. It might have lost all the links with the sea as well, for there were no cities, villages or even small settlements to be seen within a week's walking distance from the shore.
    As a logical consequence of the increasing Ottoman aggression, Constantinople collapsed. This was followed by the birth of a new country that noticed St. John's Isles only in the year of 1603. It was Malik Pasha who first sailed for the main island with eight Ottoman galleons and conquered it without any resistance on the part of the islanders. The Fort Keeper, King Solomon, was converted to the Islamic faith, whereupon he was awarded the gown and the title of the Pasha of St. John's Isles. At the same time, he was appointed the commander of Ottoman garrison. In those days, there were about two thousand households living on the Isles. Among them were the military of the garrison, the higher representatives of the raiding sea-dogs, Georgian peasant farmers growing pumpkins and gomie (a staple local cereal crop), several Georgian and Greek monks, and families of Genoese merchants calling themselves Kaffians. One of the real grounds for the Ottomans’ great interest in the Isles should have been the increasing popularity and success of the place in the field of slave-trading that flourished due to the Kaffians. Malik Pasha was an Ottoman of a Georgian origin himself, who was kidnapped at the age of 15 and sold into slavery. For that very reason, he didn't do any harm to the Monastery. In general, Ottomans didn't intend to ruin, destroy or damage the Isles; they mostly sought their fortune there, and that was quite an acceptable and even comfortable condition for all sides.
    During the Ottoman rule, the Isles established themselves as the link between the Crimean Khans and the Ottoman Empire. It was the major assembly point and trading centre, as well as a favourable place for slave trafficking and distribution. (for more, click here)

    Guide
    Today, Santa Esperanza is a tourist attraction drawing visitors from many lands. It is not only a delightful holiday resort for the sun and the sea; the evergreen history of the island gives the visitors a good opportunity to have educational and intellectual holidays as well. This is the place where one can rest side by side with history!
    On Santa Esperanza, or The State Island, as natives often refer to it, there are two major tourist centres – Westbound Centre and Eastbound Centre. The W-Centre offers the visitors comfortable lodgings downtown, in the heart of the city. The name of the city is Santa Esperanza City or Santa City (though in the airports and documents it registers by its official full name St. John's Fort). The city is not crammed full of State Institutions.
    The E-Centre offers the visitors a cheaper holiday uptown, in The Bungalowland. It is the most favourable spot for entertaining, sea bathing and sunbathing. The Bungalowland is located along the most peaceful shore near the bay, where the sea is always calm. The holidaymakers can easily join excursions held by different sightseeing agencies from there as well.
    Santa City has twelve excellent beaches and one more advantage over The Bungalowland: those who are staying there can enjoy living in a magic of a city!
    Stylish cafes, taverns, smallish restaurants and clubs are all located in the historic parts that embrace three quarters of the city itself. The most significant landmark
    among them is Captives Square situated between two hills by the side of the sea. The residential districts of the city are mostly built on the slopes of those hills. C-Square branches into numerous streets running across the whole city. Therefore, it is the best point to start sightseeing for those who don't seek for the professional help and prefer to walk around on their own. They are sure to experience a lot of unusual on their way.
    At the bottom of C-Square, the visitors will find the remains of Hellenic palace preserved under the protecting glass-cover. From here they can start their Mystery Tour of the Glassdome Museum, which is partly located underground, and houses a full exposition of Santa Esperanza's Hellenic Period.
    On the southbound hill of C-Square there stands The Fort – one of the perfect examples of the medieval Georgian architecture (12th century), with late Turkish extensions and British interior planning. At present it houses The Museum of History of the Isles. On the northbound hill one can't help admiring the Eastern Orthodox Christian Monastery Complex with the 13th century Cathedral. The whole Complex is surrounded by protecting walls. The interior of the Cathedral is lavishly decorated with the exquisite murals and icons belonging to the brush of the famous Georgian icon-painter Theophillus. On the walls there are well-preserved ancient Georgian and Greek inscriptions as well.
    The Cathedral is open to non-Christian visitors Tuesday, 2pm-4pm. The Monastery Library available daily. Closed on Mondays.
    The oldest building in the City Harbour dates at the 15th century and next to it is Kigley Lighthouse (1859).
    The old part of the city is divided into five quarters: Gayery Quarter (the Big Profit Quarter), The State (the Chief Quarter), Chibuki Quarter (the Pipe Quarter), Genoese Quarter (the Italian Quarter) and The Coast (the Beach Quarter). The State was growing up around the Governor's Palace (19th century) throughout the 19th century. It is mostly a residential district with many small and family hotels. The quarter is very exciting from the standpoint of its architecture: its streets display a fabulous mixture of the Victorian buildings and Georgian wooden verandahs and loggias. On the junction of The State and Gayery Quarter there stands the Mohammed Mosque, a classical sample of the 17th century Ottoman architecture, with two mosaic Minarets. The Gayery Quarter was built by the Ottoman community and its streets still retains the oriental flavour. Those who happen to stroll in this area must taste the extravagant tea and coffee that are hosted at the old coffee shop Teetotallers.
    Those five quarters are all within an easy walking distance of the C-Square, and a stone's throw from one another. Thus, the visitors can enjoy their daily walking rounds without getting too tired. In case they are lost amongst the hustle and bustle of the city streets, they can easily find their way back with the help of the landmarks that can be observed well from every point: The Fort, The Monastery, The Minarets, The City Piazza Hotel and The Catholic Cathedral of Santa Maria del Esperanza with its silver cupola. The latter indicates termination of The Coast. The Cathedral was built in the 18th century, replacing the former smallish temple. <….> (for more, click here).

    Hotels and Guest Houses
    Santa Esperanza accommodation is truly democratic and every type of visitor is catered for. The highest building on the island is a 25-storey "City Piazza" (4 stars). The hotel "Rigotti" is a 7-storey building (5 stars) with the presidential suite, which saw the visits of Aga-Khan, Grace Kelly, Claus Kinski and other celebrities.
    One can also choose from economical three-star holiday inns and family run hotels. The cheaper accommodation sits alongside the eastbound bungalow network and neighbouring 4-storey back-street hotels managed by 8 bureaus. <….>

    List of hotels, photo images and condition <….> for more, click here
    List of tourist agencies <….> for more, click here
    List of tourist firms <….> for more, click here
    Restaurants, cafes, clubs <….> for more, click here

    Site contact:
    sunshine @santacity.santa.sa
    santasun @santacity.santa.sa
    suntravel @santacity.santa.sa
    esperanza @santacity.santa.sa

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    State System and Territory
    The territory of Santa Esperanza is subject to Her Most Excellent Majesty the Queen of England, with an especial status in the Black Sea. In 1857 Colonel U. Ralston, acting on behalf of the British Empire, and Sarri-Beg, acting on behalf of Santa Esperanza, signed the treaty of giving the whole land on a 145-year lease to the British Empire, reserving the citizens' title to their property.
    Santa Esperanza is led by the Governor (presently, Sir Cecil-Pitchgamer-Monte Cristo) appointed by the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Britain, with parliamentary consent, on Her Majesty's Service and after Her Royal Will.
    The Governor is subject to the local Law and the Constitution adopted in 1901.
    From 1919, the Santa Esperanza Parliament is the Legislative Body with limited powers. Its existence is confirmed by the first amendment to the Constitution. On expiration of the lease, in 2002, Santa Esperanza will be declared a Parliamentary Republic, whereupon the law-making powers of the Parliament will increase.
    On the island is stationed a limited British garrison as per substituted agreements of 1956 and 1987.
    The two leading political parties are Conservative and Liberal.
    The Parliament comprises 31 members.
    The direction is carried out by the Governor's Office comprising 7 departments. The Supreme Court comprising 7 members carries out the legal proceedings. The members are called Secretaries.
    Santa Esperanza has national military battalions: Johnish (Georgian), Ottoman (Turkish) and Catholic (Genoese-Italian). They are mostly destined to carry out the ritual operations.
    On the upper left-hand corner of the Santa Esperanza Flag there is the Union Jack. The rest of the flag space is white with a seven-pointed gold crown in the centre.
    Santa Esperanza has no National Emblem, but its non-official tokens are the crown, the sun, the moon and a bunch of grapes.
    The language of the state production is English. At schools there are taught four languages: English, Georgian, Turkish and Italian. The languages of education in the national schools are the students' native tongues, but the rest of the three are obligatory subjects on the curriculum.
    All newspapers on the island are English with supplementary pages in three other languages.
    Santa Esperanza enjoys freedom of religious belief and equal rights for all, though the principle of citizenship is still in force. <….>
    January 26th , The Crown Day, is declared the national holiday.

    Demography
    Santa Esperanza is a multinational State with population of 237 thousand people (after the 1997 census). 58% of the inhabitants are of Johnian (Georgian) origin, they speak Johnish – an overseas dialect of Georgian <….>which lost links with General Georgian in the 14th- 15th centuries. Thanks to the Monastery though, the islanders maintained one of the Georgian systems of characters (script), which is already out of use in modern Georgian. It used to be a special clerical writing referred to as Nuskhuri in Georgia, and Monastic on the island. Presently, Monastic is the alphabet of the Georgian community of Santa Esperanza used by book publishers and for printed matter in general.
    The Johnish talk is affected by another Georgian regional dialect Mengrelian. Mengrelia is one of the coastal provinces of Georgia, which used to have strong ties
    with St. John's Isles. Among Johnians there still are many that take their origin in this Georgian province.
    On Santa Esperanza one can come across Eastern Orthodox Church Christians, Moslems and Catholic Christians – all three in one land – which features perfectly well the whole history of the Isles. By tradition, when the islanders say "Johnians" they refer to the Eastern Orthodox Church Christians only, whereas the Catholic population is known as Genoese, and the Moslems – as Ottomans. The Catholic Christians and Moslems are identified with their ancestors: Italians (viz. Genoese/Genovites/Genoans or Kaffians, after their historical roots) and Turks (the same as Ottomans), as long as co-religionism was synonymous with compatriotism for a long time.
    19% of the population are Turks, 10% are Italians and 8% are British, whereas the rest 5% comprises Greeks, Kazaks, Jews and Spaniards.
    Santa Esperanza is an international and intercultural land. There are many mixed marriages here, resulting in a multitude of international families, which is one of the most extravagant achievements of the country.
    During the summer time, when the population of Santa Esperanza increases tenfold due to the tourist season, the island attracts not only the holidaymakers but also foreign dailies seeking for a temporary job in the field of service. The natives are never able to cope with the whole scope of work due to the lack of personnel, and some peculiarities of the local tradition.
    As regards the immigrants, they must take into consideration the principle of citizenship that is still in force on the Isles. It consists in giving the citizenship rights to only those whose ancestors had been registered as local citizens by 1919. The British are also eligible for this official status, while the local citizens are welcome to obtain the British passports as well.
    The age of the local families, or rather clans is also of huge importance in the principle of citizenship: the noble origin and the antiquity of the clan are the factors that are appreciated and sung praises of. The older the clan, the stronger its ties with the eventful history of the Isles. In this respect, the authority of the five-hundred-year-old clans is incompatible, the four-hundred-year-olds are runners-up, and so on.
    The Santa Esperanza Constitution does not discriminate any of the citizens, however it reflects the age-factor of the clans pleading their contribution in the life of the islanders.<….>

    Society
    The oldest educational centres of Santa Esperanza must have been submerged in the remote history of the Hellenic epoch. Unfortunately though, none of the data from that period are yet available to us. Later, the Island's mainstream educational institution was the Eastern Orthodox Christian Monastery. When Genoese showed up on Santa Esperanza, they established their national schools and the CatholicCentre of Education. In the 17th century it was again the Catholic missionaries who opened one more school, whereas The Madras was established after the Ottoman conquest.
    The updated system of education was sought for only in the last quarter of the 19th century, when two English public schools came into being. In 1902 Charles Heyes opened the first institution of higher education – Building Constructors College. Later on, during the twenty-five following years, there was launched a massive literacy campaign by opening six Navyand Engineering Colleges that were linked into Santa Esperanza Heyes Educational Network, referred to as University at present. Charles Heyes Square, Monument and Museum – click here. <….>

    www.amazon.com

    Edmond Clever
    In Search of the Pipe: The Flickering Charcoal Drowned in the Black Sea
    Milan and Andrews publishers

    Five stars
    The Baroness Leslie Prize, awarded for the best book of travel of the year, 2001.

    Reviews
    Observer: An exciting and thoughtful book about ingratitude of history, and cheerful people defeated by the myths... The plot is so delicate and transparent as though it is written with a crystal glass pen.

    Mail: A story about a bizarre place and even more bizarre legend tapping the flow of both the nightmarish past and the splendid sea flavour into your room... Another book by Clever about Santa Esperanza, written to convince the reader that even the world of a tiny island can be inexhaustible and inimitable.

    Santa City Times: Mr. Clever is a well-known man on the island. It's of little wonder that he perceives the local spirit so deeply and precisely. But still, this is a book written by an alien.

    Times Literary Supplement: What makes the book so unusual is that everything in it is utterly usual, described by an experienced author. But it all seems even more unusual once you guess it tells about some chimera in a very usual and realistic manner.

    Extracts

    " <...> Out of those four national myths that are still actual and vivid on Santa Esperanza, one tells about the longest pipe in the world. The natives call it "The Huge Smokestack Tale".
    The Esperanzian myths are peculiar in three ways: their contents bear a multinational character, their origin is pretty fresh out of history, and they are based on real facts with unreal, mythological endings.
    The task of tracing the smokestack tale is no sweat at all.
    In Gayery Quarter of Santa City there is an old-fashioned coffee shop "The Pipe of Ali-Bey and Basila". It is included in all sightseeing tours as a two-hundred-year-old rarity of a cafe all furnished with ebony and ancient stone tables. The coffee here is made after the "Turkish" recipe (known as "Greek" to Europeans), but the stone tables dash all the virtual links with purely Turkish roots. The Turks generally prefer to sit with their legs crossed, which can easily be observed in other coffee and tea shops around. This is a local tradition though, as in present-day Turkey it's very unlikely to see men sitting that relaxed in the public places any longer. Nevertheless, they still practice it on Santa Esperanza, and quite frequently too.
    It's noteworthy as well that contemporary Turks bear first and last (family) names, whereas on the Isles usage has it that men are still addressed with their first and second (patronymic) names.
    Anyway, this sort of discrepancy between the two has nothing to do with The Pipe at all. In the depth of the above-mentioned coffee shop, next to the counter, there is a dimly lit place over which a pot-bellied male is presiding. He is wearing a blue shirt, and a huge gold ring is glittering on his index finger. The ring is big enough to drive a nail in quite comfortably. No doubt, he is the owner of the coffee shop Morad-Bey: a gray-haired elderly man with a bushy handlebar moustache. He has been described to me many a time, and I recognize him at once.
    Morad-Bey's eyes are a pair of shiny jet beads.
    He is the patentee of the coffee shop name and none of the islanders dare use the same word symphony without his permission.
    Morad-Bey is well aware of his own drawbacks and virtues. He is the best expert and collector of The Pipe history on the islands, though a bit downhearted for not gaining monopoly on it.
    "Another Englishman interested in The Pipe issue", he chuckles eye-signaling a boy to fetch me a cup of coffee.
    I am expected to pay the bill, of course. I was forewarned that I could sit in comfort in the cafe for hours without ordering any coffee. But in case I conversed with Morad-Bey about The Pipe, I would have to take a long swallow of three cups at least, and a puff or two of the famous pipe in between.
    Three-feet-long pipes of fabulous beauty and a boxful of mouthpieces are set right on the tables for the customers to pick and choose. The utilized mouthpieces are cleaned, decontaminated and sterilized by a special staff of pipe-sweeps, absolutely essential to every coffee shop.
    There are prints and lithographs all around the walls.
    Each describes a particular episode of The Pipe history. The drawings by John Cannan are more than a hundred years old and definitely remind of Gustaf Dauret. Morad-Bey asserts that every drawing is unique and has no analogues. But if you are not well aware of The Pipe history, it's pretty useless scrutinizing them anyway.
    On special stands there is displayed some old stuff concerned with The Pipe events and three fragments of The Pipe itself. The overdried, soot-covered and dilapidated remains do not stir up any kind of fascination or curiosity in the visitors.
    "Only nine pieces have survived", Morad-Bey says being sort of envious of it all, " two are in the museum, and four are scattered among different people. They don't want to sell them. Who would? I was lucky in some way though. Initially, our family owned only one piece, but I sweated a lot over buying two more. The seedlings of Great Ali-Bey are our distant kinsmen. I had a couple of cottages in the Bungalowland, so I sold them and purchased the two. These are the laces of Basila's moccasins, and that is the sheath of Ali-Bey's nail-knife. None of the natives can afford having this sort of treasure. The exhibits are all insured. This glass is fire-resistant. At night I switch on the burglar-alarm, to be on the safe side. It is linked up straight with the police department."
    And still, what's The Pipe to Morad-Bey?
    " We'll need it again, I'm sure. We'll be badly in need of it, and pretty soon too." Perhaps, the owner of the coffee-shop means the on-coming delicate political atmosphere that is going to engulf the Isles. From 2002 Santa Esperanza will enjoy complete independence and the natives are debating a lot about their geo-political environment – Russia, Turkey and neighbouring Georgia.
    "NATO, you say?" Morad-Bey falls deep in thought for a while, "No, definitely not! Russia would never let it in here, I believe. If you give newspapers only the once-over, you'll find it out yourself… Besides, We don't need any rockets or tanks, do we? Anyway, there isn't enough room for huge missiles on this narrow strip of land." <...>"
    "<...> Even the exact dates of the myth are of common knowledge on the Isles: in the year of 1662, Ali-Bey became the Pasha of St. John's Isles. He was a man of the Orthodox Christian origin from Archiliani dynasty. There have never been any Royal dynasties on Santa Esperanza, for theirs were only the dynasties of Fort Keepers. When Ottomans annexed the Isles, they didn't even attempt to replace the native ruler. They might have realized that he was the best one to deal with the land, the sea, the winds and the local situation in general. An appointed Ottoman officer was sure to make a loyal Devteder, but not being an islander, he might shake in his shoes the very moment he stepped on the lookout tower of the Fort sticking out like a sore thumb in the open sea.
    The only demand the Ottomans set for the Fort Keeper – Solomon Archiliani – was that he should convert to the Islamic faith. The demand was rather conventional though. The Fort Keepers of St. John's Isles called themselves Kings, which was absolutely unacceptable for the Georgian Nobility, but actually they remained mere military leaders and pirates. The Ottoman Law even paid them well and fortified their garrisons.
    If a Johnish Fort Keeper died, his nearest relation – his son or his brother – inherited his position. A new candidate for the post needed confirmation with the pile of signed manuscripts, stamped scrolls and signet rings sent from Istanbul. Occasionally, it took years of waiting, since the documents relating to the tiny piece of land were often the last on the huge list of various papers introduced to the Sultan. So, in the course of the boring office stationery activities of read-write-sign-stamp type, this issue of little importance was often forgotten. It was a must for the new Fort Keeper to be a Moslem. But on the whole, Moslems had only one advantage over the others – they had the privilege of military service. On the other hand, the non-Moslems were refused permission to serve in the garrison, and although every Johnian had a nice set of rifles, swords and daggers at home, it would not help them to obtain the pirating licenses.
    Prior to the Ottoman conquest, there had been created a wide cultural and historic layer on the Isles, all due to the Genoese practices. This is another big lump of the local history: take, for instance, the story of the da Costa family, or the Spaniard, Gines de Pasamonte by the name, who initiated the development of the playing card culture. Strangely enough, the island known to be St. John the Baptist's in Georgia, and called Umit-Calle in Turkey (which translates as "The Fort of Good Hopes") is not recorded by any of these names in the European sources. It's referred to as Santa Esperanza, which means "Holy Aspiration" in Spanish, the name given to the island by the above mentioned poor adventurer Ginnes de Passamonte, the only Spaniard in the whole of the neighbourhood.
    We seem to be somewhat off the track in search for The Pipe at this point and need a little flashback. Thus, in 1662, Ali-Bey Archiliani, the nephew of the late Fort Keeper Karrakash, became Pasha of St. John's, whereupon he was called Ali Pasha. The islanders claim that there is an old folk song in the overseas Georgia, in which the name "Ali Pasha" already stands for Ali-Bey.
    I have never travelled to Georgia. This country has been under the Russian and Soviet rules for two hundred years, and Santa Esperanza, in spite of having the Georgian roots and culture, lost all imaginable links with it. For several years now, Georgia has been independent from the Russian dominance, and has gone through a series of civil wars. Each time I try to inquire anything about Georgia, the Johnians frown and become very cautious.
    As for the old Georgian song, it sings like: "You've betrayed us, Ali Pasha…"
    The individuals such as Ali-Bey are no more in our modern life, and they were scarce even in the Medieval times.
    This man was nothing like the eye-catching portrayals of heroism: he was neither blind nor ruthless, he wasn't even a poet or a drunkard. The chronicles don't describe any of his military achievement or triumphs. To crown it all, those tiny three islands lost something that shouldn't have been lost – his grave. The Esperanzians are terribly sorry about it. They might have invented the legend of his extraordinary death in order to conceal their shame and compensate for their loss. The story goes that Ali-Bey jumped into the sea and tried to swim around in search of Basila. But all in vain: he wasn't able to fight the rough sea, nor could he gain the shore, and thus he drowned. Whatever the truth, the scholars name the exact date of his death.
    Ali-Bey didn't watch the stars, neither did he worry about the shape of the earth; he did nothing specific to make himself a famous person from the Middle Ages.
    The Esperanzians claim their island to be the oldest seaside resort in the universe, and all thanks to Ali-Bey's shrewdness.
    Morad-Bey says, with a sort of bitterness in his voice, that there is the portrait of Ali-Bey, which served a model-source for the rest of his portraits painted some two hundred years later. The original was created in Ali-Bey's lifetime by an unknown Italian master, and now is exhibited in the museum.
    I've seen the portrait: strange clothing, a bit weary face, headgear of turban, a semi-circular sword hanging down from a thick plaited belt, and the eyes searching for sea-element.
    John Cennan furnished some sixty pictures on the motifs of the Ali-Bey and Basila myth. Cennan, being a real Artist, was all for Ali-Bey's fatal swim after Basila. <...>



    Brown Booklet N2
    2 of Vine
    LIBERTALIA

    An extract from a picaresque narrative by the 19th century adapter, who might have counterfeited the passages from the books by Daniel Defoe and Cervantes.

    Indeed a land-bound man was he, that Gines de Pasamonte: a peasant disguised as a caballero, the seventh child born to the family of a mule-driver. Shackles and handcuffs, mental asylums and a lot more had he left behind by the age of thirty. His broad face and clipped fingers would reveal his real essence to a shrewd man, whereas the cheapest whores would diagnose him by an overdried, scratched and chopped body. A knife-bound man was he, rather than a man of sword, though always managing to get a pair of decent clothes, in case he needed them, of course.
    A cheerful and giggling man was he, that Gines de Pasamonte, and smiling would he sit in the corner of the inn, if he could afford sitting in the same place for a little while. His travel-sack was filled with the queerest belongings of a Latin manual for arithmetic copied by some licensee, and "Poetics" by Aristotle translated from the same Latin. Odd was it, for he knew not the Latin language, but was keen on cards, comprehending all the tricks and trickery of that diabolical pack. To some degree he was a traveller too: now on foot, now by ship, whence he earned living by gambling. He had to flee from Madrid to Seville by some misfortune: sitting peacefully in a barrel-tub at the inn, he took off his shirt to rub himself well. He knew not, indeed, that an inn-maid, still a maiden, was watching him through the spy-hole. And quite inexperienced, she saw not what she should've seen, but a rare and harmless thing – a tattoo on his shoulder put by Gypsies whilst he was a boy. Unluckily, it was a queer, mysterious mark, seen by Gines de Pasamonte himself only once, for only once he happened to have two mirrors at his disposal. The maid recognized it as a devilish sign, and told it all to a friend of hers. The friend retold it to her parent whose second husband was someone Alguacil. That very Alguacil suspected that Gines de Pasamonte was keen on card games and entertainment, and could always get a pair of decent clothes. He started watching over the guest and soon realized that if he scared him out of his wits, he might get some easy money out of him. At their first meeting Alguacil mentioned the Holy Inquisition, at the second one Gines de Pasamonte hit him on the head with his sword hilt so ruthlessly, that the man hit the sack for a couple of days, while the hitter hit the road.
    How could a man that clever get to the Black Sea coast, in the midst of Kaffa-city? It had already been destroyed by the ill fate and turned into a mere life-stock station for the raiders and adventurers.
    Gines de Pasamonte was attracted to Genoese, boarded their ship in Seville, and set sail for Genoa. As for Kaffa, it was a Black Sea coast extension of the latter. On board the ship, he got acquainted with a kind-hearted young friar from Genoa, Carraciolli by the name, and a student Stephanelli. Gines de Pasamonte introduced himself as a country gentleman with a humble fortune. He soon reckoned that the monk's enthusiastic eyes and his faith in the good will of humanity might bring him a considerable profit.
    So once, in the evening twilight, Gines de Pasamonte withdrew his magic pack out of his inner pocket. He pretended to be looking through it for a while, sighing aloud every now and then. It was a Spanish pack of forty cards that were rather worn-out and faded. The sympathetic friar inquired about the subject of his grief, to which the swindler answered very eagerly:
    "Woe is me, good Lord, for I am an apostate! St. Sebastian has always been my patron saint, and so I gave an oath to the Heavens that I would have collected 41 images of him by the age of thirty. So, now I am sitting here counting in despair… I hoped that my eyes deceived me and there were 41 of them, not 40… But, alas! I'm lacking one! In several days we'll arrive in Genoa, and I'll be thirty tomorrow week. My purse is empty and I can't keep my oath. That's the reason of my woe. Besides, I swore that the 41st would be a significant and impressive icon, not like the ordinary ones that are sold everywhere."
    " Don't you worry, my son," said the friar, "I've saved some ducats for donation, but yours seems a Holy deed as well."
    And down went the rattling coins into the swindler's hand, while the latter was crossing himself enthusiastically. As for the student Stephanelli, he took to the swindler for his books. The student too had a book – "The Stories Told by Merchant Marco Polo to Rusticello from Pisa" – that he read day and night. He even read it in whisper to Gines de Pasamonte, on recognizing him a trustworthy man. Soon Gines de Pasamonte realized that the student and the friar were in league, and up to something.
    "This man was the head of a Venetian galleon in the war with Genoese who captured him and put in a dungeon. It was there that he told the Pisan about his travel to the East," explained the student. "There are many in Genoa now who think that going westward they'll come to the East. Methinks, one should keep going eastward to come to the East. The book proves the same. There was a Venetian city Sudac in the Black Sea, and there is Kaffa there. They say, the heathens are keeping control over the waterways not to let anybody in there. But we could get there by land."
    "I must set up a real republic", the friar declared on the fifth day. "A real republic – the land of the liberated people. Great Khans possess lots of lands and they'll give us some. I'll name it Libertalia".
    Soon it turned out that Gines de Pasamonte would be appointed the Chief of the Customs in the real republic.
    In Genoa they visited a house where they met seven youths. They seemed to be much crazier than the two. One of those was designated future Mayor, but for the time being he was the son of a wealthy and respectable family, and was planning to run away from home stealing a considerable sum of money from the family bank. He spread a huge map before Gines de Pasamonte, saying:
    " Here, this is how our world looks like in reality!"
    Gines de Pasamonte had never once thought about the appearances of the world, but at that very moment he thought it would be a really big game to join the crazy crusaders: free meals and fast money were awaiting him ahead, for none of them seemed a better gambler than himself. In case of need, he could even activate his knife. Besides, he had already got a couple of fency clothes.
    " Nobody knows yet that Libertalia will give a birth to a new nation. We'll convert Asians to our faith and marry their women!" Gines de Pasamonte became the member of the secret organization "The Splendid Orient of Libertalia".


    A LETTER TO THE MASTER

    "To Monsegn. Niccolo da Costa in Kaffa, a Genoan possession.
    From his proxy on St. John's Isles, Gines de Pasamonte

    The most cordial regards to you and your household, and the best wishes to all your practices, let St. Sebastian be with them forever!
    This is another annual letter written by me within the two years, and sent with your devoted servant Albanno.

    I was happy to see your ship in the wharf, inasmuch as it brought everything I had asked for in my previous letter. The cargo will be of great benefit to our joint venture.
    Now for the rest: you do remember well, by the sketches I sent you last year, the plot of land I have marked out for you. At present there already stands a wooden house, for the stone is rather scarce hither. But there are rocks all along the small northern island, and we could set a quarry there in the future. The wooden house will do for a time, as it is large enough and has a good capacity. The expenses are quite moderate, for the Fort Keeper Papuna is a very good man. Besides, the frequent gifts can always cut costs. The peasant farmers on the island are all King's serfs and the local garrison makes the ends meet by miserable pirating activities in Kolchis and low wages. There is poverty all around, but it isn't dangerous unless you try to humiliate anyone by mocking them.
    I'm working hard from dawn till dusk. I have chosen four peasant younglings and teach them Spanish fencing as skilfully as I can. They are sure to make good guards. Some day, I'll ransom them from the Fort Keeper. Most of the seeds you had sent me gave a good crop, and the peasants hither sowed them too, though being a bit cautious. This second year I hope for the better. I pay the Fort Keeper some extra money and he lets the peasants work in our fields. I gave the local Greek monastery some young trees and seeds after my good will. The monks seem content, for they thanked me, and are saying fraternal "Good morrow" each time we meet. It's very important as they cook the mood of the aboriginal people.
    We have a good addition to our stables.
    You might think that the king of swindlers and the great sinner (trading in captives), Gines de Pasamonte, has repented by turning into a peaceful farmer, but nay, not quite so! I have made a mental note of a plaza hither that seems ideal for establishing a slave-market. It is a big smooth plot of land between the Monastery and the Fort.
    It happened so, that I got a grip of good incomes, and they are going to increase further in the nearest future. Take the thirty sacks of wheat that I'm sending you now; those haven't been harvested on your fields, but gained in the cards.
    I have gained two excellent sites as well. One belonged to the head of a squadron and the other – to a poor captain of a brigantine. I'm only proud to say that half of the brigantine is also mine. I let them sail it in the sea, for the Fort Keeper beseeched me to do so. I was very glad to receive two new packs of French cards from you. It's hopeful if such goods can still be purchased in Kaffa.
    The natives are all playing "L'ombre", which I've taught them quite recently. It's another source of my income, but I don't mean to harm the people, of course. I hadn't even gambled with them until they gained some experience in it. Hitherto, there isn't enough money on the island. They mostly pay with eggs, pumpkins, horses, plots of land and the like. So, these are my usual gaining. Whenever they guess that they are losing, they get terribly angry and run away throwing cards into my face. Some time prior now, the leader of the monastery set a stern demand before the Fort Keeper to prohibit gambling practices, for the reason that the peasants and warriors were playing cards all day long. I went there with apologies and gifts, and our negotiations ended in a good bargain: the gambling has been prohibited only during the daytime, but allowed after dusk within a special cane cabin woven for this very purpose. The monks brought their measuring gadgets, demanding to place the cabin three hundred feet away from the monastery. And so we agreed.
    I'm glad you've spread the news about the lands for sale among the nobility. If things don't go wrong, which I am sure won't happen, we can give the lands on lease or even sell them on our own, bypassing the Fort Keeper.
    Hither I must throw myself upon your mercy, for I've had a huge plaque made of planed wood and stuck at the border of the land, facing the sea, without consulting you. It indicates the euphonious name of your estate.
    I called it "Santa Esperanza."
    Methinks, this place will instill hope in everyone, in case you approve of the name, of course. If you decide on something different, or if you wish to honour the name of some Saint, then, if you please, write to me and I'll change the name at once.
    The sunsets are very beautiful hither. Maybe, because you don't feel a city behind your shoulder. Solitude does not at all seem boring, and it's never dull with the natives. It's a bit odd though, that theirs are long moustaches and short beards, and their clothing – a bit queer. They are fencing in a very unusual manner and are fond of robbing people, but on the whole, they are timid and decent folks.

    Gines de Pasamonte,
    Santa Esperanza,
    August 17th, 1463."




    Brown Booklet N3
    3 of Vine
    THE MUSIC BORN OUT OF THE SPLASHING WAVES

    In the beginning there was a shore. On the shore there was a Greek column which is no more.
    The shore was patted by the water, at times even flowing and bumping into it.
    Monk Dositheos was sitting in the upper hall of the Monastery. It was the Tingeing Hall, and the monk was bending double in his humble, loose robe disposing nothing but his three long-nailed fingers. Those fingers were holding an ancient stylus of tender wood. Time and again, he dipped it into the blackberry ink, in order to tinge the island events of the last decade. The monk was scribing in the nicely stooping monastic calligraphy.
    The village that lay beneath was rather tiny those days. The fields were all arranged in the depth of the island. It was a perfect day for silence, accompanied by the soft splashes of the waves.
    From his window, Monk Dositheos had always got a good view of the shore and the surviving Doric column amongst the white ruins. The village too, spread before his eyes. It reminded of a hastily set picnic table, as if someone had taken off his cloak and laid it down on the meadow, whereas the rest of the picnickers had emptied their sacks generously, leaving none of the edible in them.
    Monk Dositheos had been staying in the Monastery since his adolescence. He was brought here from Samtskhe, a province in Georgia. He travelled by sea for only that once, and was sick to death and totally time-warped when his uncle helped him to deboat, saying:
    "You may never happen to go on another voyage in all your remaining days, feller. So, remember it all well."
    The monks knew everything, for they observed the whole world out of their windows madethatlarge by the building artisans. It was the time of observation and exploration, when people strove to see the faraway lands. For the world was a real universe, the kings were rulers, the foreign campaigns distant, the courage installed in the body, and the faith unshakable. The secular houses of the time were built with large windows, and the chief building artisan must have viewed the monastic cells with the same secular eye.
    Monk Dositheos was expected "to tinge" the book. This was how the art of scribing was called then, and the manuscripts, the same as books, were referred to as "tinges".
    He was writing a chronicle, which was as plain as his lent-time meal.

    "Se Forte Keepener Gotti hath giefed seil bot to his werreoures ond hie seilde to schora unknowen ond begotton marchandise: broccato, setuni ond yashmak."

    "In Martius mensis on comte se vindr, pickte smal stanes ond lik brids flien in se aer, crashende se dorum ond gatum se Fortana ond Monasteriona".

    "Se Forte Keepener Gotti giefed his dohtor to Gvaramianum, se sunu Vardanana, ond comte bot ond toc se bryd, ond hie haft feste. Ond se Forte Keepener Gotti giefed Monasterione se cuppe decorartede with turquoise".

    And Monk Dositheos was also watching a woman that would come along the crooked village lanes in the afternoon, and sit at the base of the Greek column till the sun sank into the sea.
    Monk Dositheos wondered if she had no kinsmen to fetch them lunches in the fields. Later he came to know that she had a husband but no children. The husband was one of the Fort Keeper's warriors that returned home late in the night, riding a mule. At night all the warriors left the Fort except those who were on night-guard. The night-guards lit the bonfires on the crenels to assure the skies above and the seas below that there stood a small island in the dead of night.
    The burning hay on the crenels was a real magic. It even looked magnificent when the fire was going out in the dark. Then the Monastery bell would give a voice and the wisps of hay would be added to the dying flames. At dawn, when the bells began to toll for the morning service, the guards crossed themselves, went down and headed to their huts, if they had any. The homeless stayed in the Fort where they kept their poor bedding.
    Each time Monk Dositheos entered the Tingeing Hall, he arranged his desk near the window, so that once straightenning his stooping shoulders he could easily look through it.
    He would look at the bare-footed woman, coming out of the woods, and along the stony shore. Nearing the column, she would take off her kerchief, fling it over her shoulders and go down like ninepins. Monk Dositheos thought that the woman had been made the wife of the man at an early age. He could even visualize it all as clearly as the village beneath. She seemed to have been married for ten years by the time, but was definitely childless. She might be the wife of the man who brought a humble offering of a cupful of copper coins four times a year, moaning about the same. It was rather difficult though, to make out the faces of the woman and the warrior clearly at a distance.
    Perhaps, the woman set by the sea, because she was missing her kinsfolk, her native village, or someone or something else, and watching the sea she thought they were over there.
    But the woman had chosen the wrong place. Looking westward, she could see nothing but the blue water expanse. She should have gone to the opposite side of the island and taken a seat there to get a good view of the two other islands. Beyond those islands there was the sea, and over it there was another shore. If one walked westward off the shore for ten days and nights, one could finally come across her village.
    Maybe, the woman knew nothing of the where-abouts of the countries and what-abouts of the sunsets and sunrises, or even how to read and write. Instead she could have her know-how of cooking a delicious dish, not even tasting it.
    Monk Dositheos eye-witnessed this daily picture in between the prayers, meals and other routine activities. In the course of time, it became the most familiar and exciting scene to him. And so it lasted throughout the autumn and the winter. The splashes of the seawater and the woman at the column – he got so addicted to this perfect accord that couldn't even imagine the shore without it. Every now and then he raised a little from his seat to catch a glimpse of the woman. Even if he didn't, he could see her in his mind's eye, for the sound of the sea would never let him not to. Any sound can cease or die away, but the sound of the sea is immortal; it's always there, like someone breathing steadily beside you: in – out, iiin – ooout.
    The Holy Virgin fast was close at hand, when Monk Dositheos, sitting near the window, heard something queer: he heard another sound accompanying the sound of the waves.
    At first he ignored it, but later he discovered that the fresh sound was tuning to the old one. At times it stopped, then suddenly restarted, synchronizing with the motion of the waves. Thus it continued for a while. In the end, Monk Dositheos stood up and hurried to the window. All at once he realized that it was the woman, still sitting at the column, who sang to the sounds of wave-music. It should've been her, for there was nobody else around to harmonize with the movement of the sea. Those who were familiar with the church music, with those singsong voices repeatedly rising and falling in pitch between the skies above and the earth below, would not be in error. Neither was the Monk. The woman was singing to the sound of waves. It was not a mere humming, but a real mellifluous diphonic melody, so much characteristic of the Georgian folk songs. Furthermore, her voice matched the sound of the sea so perfectly, as if the waves were some devilish instruments played by heretic musicians, in order to entertain the pleasure-hunters at some blasphemous place. But the sound of waves could not be heretic or sinful, and the woman's voice could not entertain the pagans. It was a wordless and joyless singing, beseeching for something and full of sorrow. The woman breathed after the sea, or rather sighed and groaned with it. And the two complaining sounds amalgamated into a musical ecstasy.
    The others from the Monastery brethren had also heard the voice, but Monk Dositheos preferred to keep silent. It all repeated next day, for the woman was there again singing to the waves.
    And then it kept repeating every day, except holidays.
    Nobody had ever heard a really good singing on the island, neither had they listened to any musical instruments. The real musicians appeared there only once, when the Fort Keeper's daughter got married. The father of the bride fetched them from somewhere, which greatly displeased His Holiness, the Patriarch. Occasionally, the peasants working in the fields hummed some toil folk songs inherited from their foreign ancestors, but those couldn't reach across the woods. The monks heard their humming only once while gathering tinder near the woods, but that was all and it had nothing to do with what they had been ear-witnessing lately. They heard no words, no Hallelujah or pleasure in the songs of the woman by the sea, it was only the human voice, and Monk Dositheos felt it must have been the sound of her unuttered thoughts and memories.
    The waves were beating out the following rhythm: a short breath in, and short breath out; a shorter in, and shorter out; a powerful in, and twice out-out; a louder in, and louder out; a rapid in, and snoring out; a deeper in, and weaker out; a silent in, and whistling out. Repeating the same rhythm three times, they began to talk a different sea-rap. They rapped the same thing four times, and then they changed the topic. In the end they glided back onto the initial rhythm so masterly, that it was quite intangible for a human ear.
    Monk Dositheos was listening and calculating for a long time, and at last he concluded that the woman knew it all very well. The sea never took a start, and so it never finished.
    Then there came the autumn, and then – Christmas. The windows were all hung with curtains, and the sea was stormy and rough most of the time. Now the waves were different: powerful and elevated, bristling up, boasting aloud and threatening, as though conducting the roar of the faraway warriors called to battle with trumpets and horns. That sinister sound-message was brought by the huge whitecaps that seemed to be born from under the winds blowing at ten thousand sails of the battle-ships. But that was a sound of a horrible noise that didn't feel like music at all. It sounded like the gnashing of teeth, like panting, puffing and blowing of the bloodthirsty battalions ready for a big battle. Who knows, it might even be the warning of the Multitude in Heaven, but the woman was still there, sitting by the sea wrapped in her husband's felt cloak, her scarlet kerchief still discernable in the nasty weather.
    And her voice was there too, taking the second part and echoing to this mind-boggling rage and fury, but echoing in a correct mood. Those who knew something of the church singing could not be mistaken. The monk drew the curtain for only a little while, for he was cold and otherwise wouldn't be able to manipulate his stylus well with the frozen fingers. Besides, the frost was going to spoil the blackberry ink. He looked at the woman and heard her bald, loud voice singing to the sea. Now it expressed a lot more than the unuttered sorrow – it appealed to a struggle. It wouldn't be easy to sit shivering among the parchments all day long without that brave and encouraging appeal of the warrior's wife.
    Then there came the Easter sun, and some small children with it. They listened to the woman singing her blue, marine songs. The unexpected guests must have come by chance, as the natives didn't frequent the Doric ruins. They preferred fishing on the shore beyond the Fort, for there was a prejudice against the place: people believed that the bottom of the sea was covered with the blackberry thorns there, and the fish avoided it for fear of being pierced and gutted.
    But the children still came. Who knew why? Perhaps, they lost their way, or simply followed the charming female voice reaching their ears amidst the sounds of waves.
    They came, but ran away as suddenly as only children can do. The woman noticed them and they might have been scared, Monk Dositheos couldn't guess for sure; neither could he hear what the woman was calling after them, when she sprang to her feet and followed them. He couldn't hear a word, but saw that she tried hard to explain something to the runners. She might be assuring them to join her singing to the waves.
    The children didn't. But in summer they did. Some were even brought to the Monastery to learn singing. The monk didn't ask any of them what the woman's name was, and didn't put a single line about it into his chronicles.
    Then there came others and also sang to the waves.
    It was only when the Fort Keeper appeared at the column, that the Monastery brethren started to discuss the matter aloud. He galloped up there with ten of his warriors. The warriors dismounted their horses, while the Fort Keeper kept sitting in the saddle, listening to the woman and her apprentices singing the blue, marine song. The choir consisted of some children and a couple of maidens. It all lasted for a long while.
    The monks were all standing at the windows, and they saw how the Fort Keeper summoned to one of his warriors in the end. The latter came up to him hastily and knelt before the Master. The Fort Keeper told something to the man and he went up to the woman. The woman came up to the Fort Keeper and knelt beside her husband. The Fort Keeper dismounted his horse, helped the woman to her feet and had a face-to-face talk with her for a while.
    Later, there spread a rumour in the Monastery that the Fort Keeper had burst into tears, saying he was reminded of all his sorrows and pains listening to the wonderful singing. He even awarded the warrior and his wife with something, but the monks couldn't say with what precisely. And Monk Dositheos understood that it was the end of one story, and the beginning of another.
    Monk Dositheos – lank and lean, sunken in his robe and hidden behind his black beard, walking with an unsteady gait, being a clumsy gardener and an awkward carpenter, but a generous prayer, a tingeing master and a man of unshakable faith – passed to the better world soon after the morning service during the Peter-Paul fast. When the service was over, he went into the monastery courtyard and up to the Tingeing Hall by the shaky wooden stairs.
    He fell down on his way. He had been a monk for twenty-seven years. At the age of twelve he was brought to the Monastery, at the age of sixteen he became a monk, at the age of forty-three he died.
    The warrior was appointed a foreman, and his wife lived on long after his death. Later, when the initial story was lost in the centuries, the islanders claimed that the unique songs originated due to the grief of the widow, and were sung by the island women only.
    Thus was the music born out of the splashing sea-waves and the female blue mood. Henceforward, those songs were called bluemarines, and the singers – bluemarinas.
    There are no words in the bluemarines, but only two mellow voices.
    I ♥ U Bey B.
    The Hearts Busted by the Bluemarines.

    *

    The bluemarines were the most extravagant and fascinating things to be found on Santa Esperanza Isles. They were sung only in nine clubs of Santa City, but never in public. There were numerous cassettes, CDs, and a bit ridiculous out-of-date black records sold everywhere around. But one was allowed to listen to them only at home and in private, not disturbing any of the neighbours.
    Such limitations and severe rules were imposed by the cautious English minds as early as the 19th century, when three English officers serving in the local regiment committed suicide one after another. At first everybody thought those were the mysterious cases of mass-murders, but later Dr. Birch assumed that the three young men fell victims to the nightly bluemarines sung by the sea. The poor souls were driven into extreme desperation and boundless sorrow after listening to them for a several consecutive nights.
    Those days, the bluemarines were sung only after dark and by the sea. The bonfires were lit along the seashore and the lonely women kept taking a singing round till daybreak. Small copper bowls were put near the fire for the visiting listeners to drop money into them. The amount of money was not fixed; it depended on the quality of the individual emotions.
    The audience could hardly see the singing women, but the foreigners fell in love with them instantly. The very first night they heard their voices, they were overwhelmed with an unbearable desire of seeing them and going to bed with them.
    Those foreigners were the English officers.
    First they used to visit the Genoan taverns, searching for delicious comestibles, then they went to the Turkish coffee shops, and sitting with their legs crossed, sank into the sweet smoke of a fine tobacco brand spiced with the delighting weeds. Those were the local weeds, by the way, that grew only on a high-up meadow. Finally, on their way home, they walked along the shore and were trapped by the bluemarines.
    Thus, the Governor locked the songs up in the buildings. For a century and a half, it was only the text of the bluemarine club licenses that hadn't changed a bit on the island. The new law murdered the bluemarines, but they rose from the dead and started a new life.
    The men still fell passionately in love with the singing women, or rather blue female voices, and the mixture of this passion with the inborn knowledge of their own mortality drove them as crazy as ever.
    Yeah, it all happened at times.

    **

    The open-air bluemarines were firmly sheltered by the English law. They didn't need any musical instruments or phonograms. All they needed was the sound of the sea. The sound-recording business didn't yet exist in those days, but before the gramophones were invented and it occurred to someone to have the sound of the sea recorded in some European town, everything had been already settled: there appeared the other singer in the bluemarines.
    That other singer was the starter. She would imitate the marine sound, which was not at all easy and proved to need an immense skill. The second singer then would start bluing to the first.
    This novelty caused revolutionary changes in the bluemarine issue, for the vocal duet gained a kind of freedom of musical interpretation. Improvising was not quite fresh in the art of singing, but now it reached the paramount heights and became even more attractive to the English. Thus, the new law only caused the explosive renaissance of the folk sorrow, instead of suppressing it, but it couldn't be helped any more.
    As regards the bluemarine club licenses, they went as follows: "since the local folk songs are performed in strange and depressing circumstances for many, since these songs have a mind-blowing influence on people who do not know anything about their essence or roots, I – the undersigned – take the license to open and run the folk bluemarine club, by paying … pounds, and confirm with my undersign the responsibility I take for following the Governor's order … not to allow any of my contractually bound employees to perform outside my club."


    ***

    Thanks to the prohibition, the bluemarines obtained one more mysterious feature.
    Earlier, the songs were sung in choir, which was even more impressive and utmostly amazing. This amazement resulted in a unique post-medieval document fabricated in four languages (no other multilingual documents had been composed on the islands up until the middle of the 19th century). Nobody knows the exact date at which it was written, but according to the verbal and graphical variety of the text, it must have been dating at the beginning of the 17th century. The document was addressed to Gabriel – Gibrail – Gabrielus – Gabrielle, the same as the King of St. John's Isles, the Pasha of Deniz Villeyet and the Fort Keeper of Santa Esperanza. It said that the clergy of the island and the religious communities were indignant at the shameless female sessions and their collective expression of the blue mood.
    Padre Cutio, Father Themestios and four Imams – all were bringing forward their own evidences and conclusions.
    In those wretched women the Catholic Christians saw mere witches, the Orthodox Christians asserted that if anybody had to express their feelings, they should have done so in prayers and church songs, and not in the form of that disgusting performance. The Imams added that they approved of tolerance towards the habits and ways of other religious communities, for they respected the international tradition of the island, but they would rather not hear the voices of those impudent women walking so openly and freely in their quarters.
    Gibrail Pasha was not quite sure to which confession he himself belonged to. He was wearing the Ottoman gown, but didn't go to the mosque; his ancestral great grandpa had built the church within the protecting walls of the Fort, but he had never once entered it. True, he sent to it the offerings of silver and precious stones (if he came into their possession during the short raids on, say, Russian vessels), but it was done with the help of a thirdhand proxy. He even sacrificed some good-quality paints to the unyielding Padre Cutio, whose frightening authority didn't allow the girls to raise their eyes off the pavement in the Genoan quarter.
    Gibrail Pasha Archiliani was seriously concerned about the complaint. He himself used to disguise in plain clothes and listen to the women for hours, sobbing bitterly behind the trees. But how could he confess to his weakness? So, he stated: let the women sing to the sound of the sea only at night, singing solo in turns; let them light only one bonfire, and in case there are even five who demand to stop singing, they should! As for the audience, it had to keep at twenty feet distance away from the singers. Besides, it was also agreed that the bluemarinas should quit as soon as the first haystack burned down on the crenel, which would be signaled by the Fort trumpets, and each of the listeners, if there were any, was obliged to leave the place rightaway. As for the singers, they had to leave as silently as the women leaving the bathhouses, without even casting a short glance at the nearby men.
    This was how the smart Gibrail Pasha managed to protect the women ( one couldn't recognize those singing in the dark, and couldn't point at them being witches or shameless performers). He also pleased the Moslems ( one couldn't see the female faces hidden in the dark by the dim light of the bonfire, if one didn't come close to them and stare at them). Besides, all devout Christians were given a better chance to neutralize the solitary singing voice by praying hard and reading aloud some special psalms.
    It seemed to Gibrail Pasha that he had settled the conflict peacefully. So, he went back to his beloved pipe with a greater pleasure. But he didn't even suspect what locks he had broken down, and how generously he had injected a bigger power into the bluemarines.
    It happened so, that some of the men listenning to the remade bluemarines found a string of love in them. But the other end of the string was torn off and their love became a real torture. The mute listeners fell in love with the invisible bluemarinas. They didn't even know who of the local women was singing that night. Earlier, they sang in a solid dusk choir, but now they drifted apart. In the city there were only eight of them who could sing. But then there came a Genoese girl and joined them. She came in secret, escaping from home, and started to sing to the waves too. The women wouldn't sing their names, of course. So, what not would an amorous man imagine, what blackthorn would he not catch himself in on his way, how insistent would he not be in tracing his chosen one, but all in vain! Even if he had been bald enough to dare speak to her, the woman would've denied her singing by the sea that very night. The men were in love with the voices, but they couldn't see their bearers. One of them even suspected that he had fallen in love with his own wife.
    The end of those love-stories was often tragic.
    Who knows how many worse things had happened prior to the mishaps with the three English officers.
    So, decided was it that the love for female voices was a mortal sin, worse than adultery. But it still couldn't be rooted up. There was multiple pain and passion all around, and thus was the first poet born to the island.

    ****

    Were those singers, or rather bluers really beautiful? Were the marinas, those wave-sound imitators, that pretty?
    It's hard to say. Mostly, those were the women akin to housewives with huge families and lots of children to be looked after. They started to specialize in their parts at an early age, according to their skill, mood, or talent. But among them there were many with broken hearts as well, who used to be unhappy in their marital lives. Their husbands walked out on them leaving nothing behind but bunches of children and empty larders. Some might even live adventurous lives henceforward... But all of them still maintained a mysterious air about them. The club owners didn't infringe the old custom, and arranged their clubs as nightly dark, dimly lit places. At the edge of the stages two small torches were always lit, and there was one in the middle too. The women were still half-visible, so men still kept falling in love with the vocal shadows alone.
    In the modern life, one more mysterious detail was added to the bluemarinas. It never happened in the bygone centuries that the names of the singers were announced publicly. Perhaps, some people knew them, but nobody revealed them, because the poor women might be scolded and disgraced by the clergy and the society. Their real names might have been known to their relatives, club-mates and the police, who had some secret files on them. But with the new epoch there came the need of posters that could by no means be ignored or prohibited. Thus, the women started to take assumed names, like Natello, Matanne, Eminne, Talitto, Seramme, Katanna, and hundred and one others of the kind. Often something quite ambiguous was added to those, like Birdie or Skies, for instance, and we'd got Mananno Birdie, or Petatta Skies, or something odder.
    When electricity became a means of entertaining as well, the bluemarine club stage became even more intriguing. The spotlights were arranged so elaborately, with such a devilish machination, that one could never manage to see the women's faces at all.
    As the time passed by, it became much easier to identify a bluemarina among the others. Some men even managed to enter into closer relations with them. But in spite of beautiful love affairs and great admiration, nobody ever married those women. It was a sad, but undeniable reality. If some admirers still suffered from impossibility of reaching their sweethearts, for there were armed guards at the back-room doors of the clubs, some others suffered from reaching and discovering them, for they were often disappointed. One of the fellows from the Nianiani family, for instance, who had tried hard to date with his best beloved, nearly perished on meeting her. In his daydreams he imagined a perfect beauty of a woman, but got a stout, short and miserable auntie instead. Later, he complained to his friends, that he had been cheated by someone, and sent a substitute. Anyway, he was completely struck down by this terrible stress, and it took him quite a while to recover.
    And still, everybody thought that the bluemarinas had secret lovers and not in the singular number. There were lots of interesting stories that went on permanently. As for the clubs, they even started to cheat the audience sometimes. The female figures on the stage were all pretty, but people suspected that the pretty girls were mere lures, lip-syncing to the others staying in the wings. The owner of the club, who could be blamed for such a shady transaction, lost the customers and public respect. But those were scarce cases. Most often, the clubs themselves spread such ugly rumors to undermine their widely accepted rivals.
    Among the Bluers and the marinas, it was the former that remained in the centre of male attention, although the latter was not less important. The bluers were considered to be easy-going, but fatal, dangerous and husband-snatching prostitutes, and when a woman is hated by some other three, it is very difficult for her to plead her innocence.
    The secret liaisons, deep sorrow and slashing the veins open, or even not begrudging one's own heart a single bullet, preceded by abandonment of the family, by endless quarrels and by serious damage of the vocal cords for swearing loud – those were the brutal consequences and atrocity of it all. Such was the fine that men paid for their passion towards the singing bluers, for identifying them and staying with them.
    It was the general opinion shared unanimously, though there were different experiences as well; hardly ever, but still were.


    Yellow Booklet N1
    1 of Blackberry
    THE VISRAMIANIS

    The Visramianis were not loved on St. John’s Island.
    What if they were the descendants of one of the eighteen chosen families? Being chosen doesn’t mean being likeable, in the same way as perfect doesn’t necessarily mean beautiful or good, it rather refers to commonplace. Take a chair – it’s perfect, isn’t it? But who’d say it’s more beautiful than playing cards? Especially if you stroll down the alley where the card artists toil over their counters with their Esperanza brushes. You wouldn’t even remember those perfect chairs on which the artisans, forever bent and often hunchbacked, rest their unremarkable bums.
    It was impossible to love the Visramianis, unimaginable to befriend them.
    But the Visramianis existed and there was no way to ignore the fact.
    They had been around since the times when the fortress construction began on the island. They might have existed earlier, but first made themselves known in those olden days. Probably they had some other name, if any, before that, but got the name Visramiani because one of them managed to become the overseer of a hundred workers at the fortress construction. Though his real name was lost over the centuries, he certainly was the first to be known under the name: he was called Visramiani not in the least to honour the Persian epic poem and its love story. That would’ve been impossible: in those times only very few select knew the Persian language in Georgia and sweet poetic reciting of the exotic verses was akin to magic. In reality, when this severe overseer sat down at the south wall under his supervision to calculate the expenditure of the stone and egg-mud mixture used in honing, carving and laying, he would repeat over and over again ‘how much’ and ‘what for’, which is exactly how it sounded in Georgian.
    A rogue of a man, miserly and calculating. He is said to have pushed one stone mason rolling down the stairs, which eventually cost him two thousand kirmaneuli to settle.
    The building stone, already honed and shaped, was brought on rafts pulled by boats. Stone was expensive on the island. But as is customary with masons, they need to tame the stone according to their liking, touch it here and there with their chisels and hammers, hit it in the corners and throw away the unwanted chunks.
    Apparently, Visramiani not only counted the how-muches, but the discarded pieces as well. What’s more, he collected them. Every evening he used to fill four sacks with chunks and chips, put them on two mules and take them to the builders’ camp. When everyone was asleep, Visramiani would drive his mules and their load to the far forest.
    When the fortress was completed, Vistamiani hired rafters and mules with all his savings and transported the building material to a then unnamed island south of the main one, later known as Visramiani. The king and the bishop of Chkondidi had promised every overseer of a thousand construction workers a stretch of land on this island, while the overseers of a hundred had been promised allotments on two smaller islands, next to the first one.
    Visramiani, the overseer of a hundred workers was also allotted a stretch of land, but who could have guessed that his would be a stone house. For over a century and a half there were only three stone buildings on St. John’s Isles: the fortress, the monastery and the Visramiani house on the southern island.
    The Visramianis didn’t belong to the nobility, were the king’s vassals though. However, as fate would have it, the runways of Santa Esperanza airport stretched across the first Visramiani estate apportioned to them in the 12th century.
    The Visramianis didn’t sell their land to the British air company, instead they leased it for half a century and on condition that one of their family should be the company shareholder and board member at all times.
    Wealth was not uncommon in the family.
    For centuries they had been wealthy shepherds and managed to accumulate riches thanks to successful wool and meat trade, later owned vineyards too. They maintained wonderfully warm relations with the Ottomans and, for that matter, with anyone ruling the Isles. In general, for certain historical reasons, they didn’t like the main island, the city and its citadel. Instead, they preferred to live on their southern piece of land, at some point named after the first Visramiani, and get richer day by day. But with the course of time they were obliged to buy houses in Santa City, to get seats in the drowsy Parliament and to become the owners of The Golden House, a well-known chain of hotels for tourists. Invariably, the Visramianis managed to hold the key positions: in banks, hotels, bungalows, even in the artists’ studios producing local playing cards. They owned seven family businesses.
    The Visramianis weren’t loved.
    It was easy to explain and difficult at the same time.
    They took pride in the fact that the first stone house of the island was built by the King, the second by the Head of the Church and the third by a Visramiani. Likewise, they were proud that the first islander to have taken a family name was their ancestor. They were also proud that every wool-stuffed cushion bought by tourists and embroidered in a truly Esperanza style was labelled Visramiani Merchandise. They took infinite pride in the memorial plaque attached to the main gate of the airport saying that it was here that the first stone house on Santa Esperanza once stood, built by a Visramiani, and in general, they were immensely proud that they existed, and though others also existed, they weren’t Visramianis.
    Their family traditions were peculiar and full of common sense at the same time. These had elements of anger and chivalry, but which one prevailed depended on the interpreter’s individual taste.
    Because they didn’t favour the main island and only considered it as their source of enrichment, for centuries the Visramianis had been leading a secluded life on the whole and even had their own, private cemetery.
    Whether due to a certain family convention or some trick, every male Visramiani had three children, while every woman begot two. There was some mysterious pattern here too: God would give each male two sons and a daughter, and both, a son and a daughter to a woman. So it began with the first Visramiani. The males would go bold very early and the nail on their right little finger grew divided in two. The women in the family had jet black hair and cornelian eyes.
    The Visramianis used another name for themselves. While it was their pride, others chuckled at it. They called themselves ‘the Preserved’. And not only because they had never changed their religious belief, but mainly because they had invariably married Georgian women, moreover, always sought young man among the Georgians for their daughters to marry. No one knew whether it was sheer whim or a family duty, but the islanders considered it humiliating that when the time was right, the Visramianis would prepare their boats and sail towards the Georgian coast.
    It meant a wedding: however impoverished, miserable, confused or ruined Georgia may have been, the Visramianis still sought the fate of their children there. Another peculiarity of their family tradition was that they took their sons-in-law into their houses, as was the common practice for daughters-in-law. In this way the young men immediately became members of their families. It must have been quite difficult to find a lad who would willingly agree to this as he would eventually become just another Visramiani. And if he came from a noble family that had paid its dues to the ancestral memory, why would he want to join his wife’s clan?
    But as it had been happening over the centuries, apparently such Adonises were possible to be found. The Visramianis spent years choosing their future in-laws. They even used to hire special men who were sent to Georgia to spy for them identifying prospective eligible young people. The Visramianis weren’t after a noble origin, but even common peasant girls could be expensive: which landlord would cheaply let his young serf, when her price would be increasing monthly for the next three years? But the Visramianis always found a way.
    Their family history was that of weddings, consequently it abounded in heroic, or in other words, daring stories.
    For centuries the Visramianis met their spouses at their own weddings. These were conducted in their own chapels by the priests who were also Visramianis.
    The advent of photography made things somewhat easier. The word of mouth descriptions and portraits by dubious artists became redundant, and eventually turned into a mere archive. The Visramianis own an immeasurable treasure in the form of forty boxes containing the reports of their scouts. The importance of their publication would be difficult to overestimate as they comprise wonderfully skilful descriptions of eligible men and women, their virtues, features and elegance. Among these forty boxes collected over the centuries, there were thirty-seven which contained the papers of the hapless candidates. But above all, there was no way to convince the Visramianis that the publication of these amazing volumes would make their family even greater.
    Indeed, photography seemed to make life easier, but thirty odd years prior to its spread, another misfortune befell Georgia, by then split into five parts: since four out of five were gradually taken over by Russia, and as the fifth had long been under the Turkish rule, completely different regulations were introduced into these four.
    One of such ungainly rules was the ‘first night’ right, which entirely depended on the master’s conscience. The worst were the landlords from Kartli, the heart of Georgia, as they seemed to have taken a liking of this Russian custom and applied it whenever they wanted. Once, a certain landlord Sumbatashvili agreed to sell a young woman to the Visramiani negotiators and the family representatives also arrived to sign the necessary documents. It was at this point that Sumbatashvili first heard that they were just peasants, free though, from somewhere far, farther than Imereti or Samegrelo, and wanted to buy the woman for a bride. Sumbatashvili ignored the fact that the buyers were foreigners and having compared the laws of the two countries, came to a conclusion: the custom should be followed and he had to be the first to try her. The idea agitated him so much that for hours roar could be heard from the estate house. Then, when things seemed to have calmed down, the villagers saw the visitors help the young woman mount a horse and gallop away.
    The story that unfolded at the forest edge was horrifying: the last rider of the Visramiani team stopped at a group of Sumbatashvili peasants who had been collecting wood and dropped a sack at their feet.
    There was Sumbatashvili’s severed head in it.
    Since then the Visramianis gave up looking for their future in-laws in the heart of Georgia and moved westward, to Imereti and Samegrelo. They never went into the Turkish part of Georgia as they didn’t believe in marrying a Muslim and then converting her to Christianity.
    The Visramiani wedding pattern was seriously disrupted by the international political climate, in which Santa Esperanza played its part. In Joseph Stalin’s opinion, these three islands under the British protectorate were awkwardly located in the middle of the Black Sea. He found them utterly irritating, considering them to be a major outpost of the world imperialism in the vicinity of his county. So he decided to grab them, once in 1938 and then again towards the end of the World War II, but on both occasions other political priorities of international nature prevented him to fulfil his base plan. Thus began the hardest times for the Visramianis, as Georgia, annexed by Russia for the second time, was part of the Soviet Union now and all the borders had been securely guarded since 1930 by the same Stalin. He had put such impregnable padlocks along that it was absolutely impossible for a foreigner to get into and look for prospective in-laws officially, and above all, there was no question of taking the chosen out of the country.
    And again, the Visramianis managed to find holes in the Soviet empire. Those thirty years can easily be called a period of abductions. Their scouts, who were the Sungali* and had already formed a family regiment, used to go to Turkey and then get into south Georgia following secret paths. They would travel from village to village, taking a close look at the young people, finding more about them and would even click their cameras if they could, and then leave.
    In order to abduct a chosen young woman, a group of four would take the same route.
    In Stalin’s times, there were only three such expeditions: one in search of a groom and two to abduct brides, and all were successful.
    Later though, the security system along the borders developed to such an extent that it became virtually impossible to get into the country. On the other hand, there were other developments: following Stalin’s death, the overall situation tended to be much slacker and one could travel to the Soviet Union as a tourist. The procedure presupposed two stages, as previously, and was successfully carried out twice, under rather romantic circumstances on both occasions. The Soviets detested their citizens marrying foreigners, especially those from hostile countries such as Santa Esperanza, which was viewed as a rightful part of the Soviet empire, being former part of Georgia, now lost. Likewise, it was never acknowledged as a sovereign state and was even stubbornly labelled as a territory occupied by the British.
    It was exactly for this reason that the Visramianis were obliged to invent various ingenious ways to outwit the system. Even though one marriage arrangement fell through, two others worked out. The failed one was for a time written in the family book of misfortunes, as Nanaya Visramiani flatly refused her family to even contemplate a contingency marriage plan for her, claiming that she considered Irakli Kldiashvili, an actor from Tbilisi, her husband even though the Soviet authorities turned down his request to leave the country.
    I’ll let you know here and now that Irakli Kldiashvili somehow managed to escape: in 1970s he arranged a fictitious marriage with a Jewish lady, which enabled him to leave for Israel, as at that time the Soviets allowed the Jews to go to their historical motherland. It was from Jerusalem that Irakli Kldiashvili phoned Santa Esperanza and said:
    ‘This is Irakli... Can I speak to Nanaya, please?’
    So finally this marriage also worked out, though it was exceptional in one other respect: the couple had no children. An exception invariably proves the rule. The Visramianis were not liked on Santa Esperanza, in general and in particular, their men and their women, none except the one who they used to say can’t have been a Visramiani. They said the baby girl was brought by doves from some unknown heights and put on their bed, between Kaya Visramiani and Owl, her husband.
    The Visramianis were disliked.

    *Sungalis – an ethnic group inhabiting the third, or the Northern Island, more commonly known as the Sungali Island. The Sungalis always maintained excellent relations with the Visramianis, used to be hired to work in their houses and on their lands. The Visramianis had supported them on many occasions.


    AT THE LIGURIA

    All went wrong at the restaurant Liguria at 2 p.m.
    There are always hoards of people hanging around, lots of youngsters frequent the terrace circled with trifoliate oranges. At around two in the afternoon many clerks and some of their seniors from the nearby offices come to have lunch here as the prices are relatively low, while their special – ricotta-stuffed pansotte – is absolutely the best in Santa City. Their soups are extraordinarily inspiring too, if you favour fish soups of course. It is the place one can often meet the English in the evenings, and if they come, they’re sure to get the best tables available at the restaurant.
    It was at the Liguria that the confusion started.
    What’s more, it was the height of the tourist season, which made it especially shameful as such things had never happened and if they ever did, they were turned into local myths, for instance, how Mamia Shugliani killed the judge in the magistrate courtroom having heard his sentence. I believe it happened in 1923, or in 1873, because for some inexplicable reason everyone insists on the final figure three.
    Ordinary cars didn’t drive along Porta Nova Street. Only licensed food trucks came here and very early in the morning at that. So when a loitering policeman saw a truck with Visramiani Chicken Legs in huge burgundy letters, he never smelled a rat thinking it had brought chicken to some restaurant.
    The truck stopped right in front of the Liguria, at the flower rim, and Data Visramiani stepped out.
    Had anyone witnessed this, he would certainly be surprised, to say the least, for the junior Visramiani wasn’t the one to ride a truck and distribute chicken legs to taverns. Moreover, why would the son and heir of the company head ride the company truck, even if he was only twenty and his parents had decided to expose him to the family business?
    In any case, everyone was perfectly aware that the junior Visramiani’s main passion in life was visiting the Intee houses, observing the gamblers, hovering over the tables and following the game. The junior didn’t dare play himself, but he was learning fast and had even hired a teacher without telling his father and grandfather. He thought that next year, at the 129th Intee Festival, he would play at the amateurs’ table to try his luck. At the moment though, he kept it secret, but continued to polish his playing skills from two to four hours in the back rooms of Mattallo’s club in the Gayery Quarter.
    On the whole, Data Visramiani wasn’t a bad guy at all if you chose to turn a blind eye on him being a Visramiani. Simply, it remained surprising that he stepped from the truck, looked at the terrace over the flower bushes and quietly called:
    ‘Tonino, Tonino...’
    Antonio, violently flushed, was flirting with a Norwegian girl, stroking her arm with his finger and explaining how her hitherto white skin was going to beautifully tan and lose its present red hue. He had met Ingrid – that was her name - for the second time and hoped that the third one, which he had already suggested, would crown it all.
    A slightly annoying thing was that her skin was burning and had Antonio given it a little more thought, he would have seen it as a snag in his plan.
    ‘Why do white women burn so?’ He asked himself bitterly. ‘Why’s the sun so hard on them?’
    ‘Tonino, Tonino...’
    Antonio turned:
    ‘Hi there...’
    On Santa Esperanza it was considered a sign of good manners if one addressed another in the native tongue of the latter, in other words, in the language foreign for the speaker. On the other hand, the other person also replied in the language foreign to him, but native for the addressee. The real gentlemanly conversation rules prescribed exactly so.
    The same happened now.
    ‘Where d’you find her? Bought a lobster in the port?’
    ‘You don’t understand a thing... Go, pray instead.’
    ‘Look, Tonino, I need to see Sandro da Costa.’
    ‘Sorry, Ingrid, I’ve got to talk to this ugly lad here...’
    ‘Not really ugly, I’d say...’
    ‘Can’t trust the eyes, can you? Should see him on the beach...’ Antonio rose, walked between the tables and shook hands with Data.
    ‘I’m in a terrible hurry,’ Data told him in agitation. ‘Need to see Sandro...’
    ‘Why the hell d’you need him?’
    ‘All hell can break if I don’t... You know my sister got married.’
    ‘I do. Quite some time ago.’
    ‘If you ask me...’
    ‘Come one, cut it.’
    ‘My brother-in-law’s in the truck...’
    Antonio looked at the truck.
    ‘You might’ve guessed we’re driving the truck for a good reason. Because we’re driving, we must leave soon.’
    ‘Or run for your life.’
    ‘Right.’
    ‘In other words...’
    ‘Tonino, I believe things are going to go sour. My brother-in-law’s a foreigner, as you well know. I think he’s not entirely comfortable in his own country either.’
    ‘Sure, there’s a war there...’
    ‘That’s not the point. Dad comes from that country too, but he’s different. He showed courage when he escaped across the border in order to marry Mum... But this one’s another story. I think he was an officer or something back home. Doesn’t let go of his pistol, ever... Apparently, yesterday someone said Sandro’s been in love with my sister since childhood and if not for our family tradition, he would’ve married her.’
    Antonio suddenly felt how hot it was and leant against the orange tree.
    ‘He insisted I accompany him... Couldn’t really refuse... It’s a custom in his country: if a husband hears such talks, he has to clear the matter with his rival and forbid him to even think about his wife. In case the other refuses, blood can be shed.’
    Antonio lit a cigarette. His fingers had turned strangely greenish, while a pair of sunglasses helped him maintain his courage. The tall Norwegian girl was smiling at him from beyond the bushes.
    ‘Does your family know?’ He asked Data.
    ‘No, he chose me... Take a look, he’s in the truck, but carefully...’
    ‘What the heck... Where d’you find him?’
    ‘He arrived on his own and then my grandpa hastened to marry them. This chap doesn’t seem to worry at all. In fact he was actually glad when he changed his name to ours because he’s wanted back home as a dangerous criminal.’
    ‘How d’you know?’
    ‘Heard bits and pieces here and there. Dad’s well-informed, besides he listens to his home country radio stations. Now it’s even possible to get their TV channels through a satellite. What d’you say, Tonino? What’s there to discuss with Sandro? I couldn’t refuse, but actually I’m a little scared. And what can you tell him anyway when it concerns his wife?’
    ‘Your sister...’
    ‘I wish Sandro didn’t turn up...’
    ‘He will, and exactly on time...’


    3 of Blackberry
    ONCE UPON A TIME IN A CITY, OR SALOME

    Today Sandro da Costa threw me two bunches of grapes over the fence. He didn’t hand them, rather dropped them down as the fence is very tall and had he decided to do it properly, I wouldn’t have been able to catch them anyway. They would’ve get squashed. Then Sandro made me look up and showed an airplane. Airplanes fly all the time, but Sandro da Costa helped me see them differently. A plane was flying in one direction, leaving a white trace, while a dove was flying in the opposite direction, slightly lower, but the illusion was that they had left from the same spot. It was a grey dove, a largish one. Sandro da Costa told me that the plane did indeed leave a track, but we couldn’t really see it. All we could actually see was the air in the distance. They teach him various things at school, but we haven’t learnt about the air yet. Then he told me that doves are stupid birds, only good for chance sightings like this. Personally I never think about doves. After this Sandro da Costa decided to jump from the fence into our schoolyard because he said it was not really appropriate to talk to a girl looking down on her, to which I violently protested. It is forbidden for the Catholic School boys to jump over the Bladlow School fence and talk to the girls during the lessons. He asked why I was missing the class and hiding under the trees while my classmates swat. I could’ve asked the same and said so and Sandro da Costa replied light-heartedly that he had grown bored and left. I wanted to answer in the same way, but checked myself. Then Sandro da Costa sat astride the fence, dangling his feet and watching me eat the grapes. I got annoyed and asked him when he would go. He wouldn’t until I did, it wasn’t polite to leave a girl alone, he said. Then I tossed him a bunch back, thinking he’d like to try them himself. He didn’t need a lot of convincing and set to work on his own present. Only then he confessed stealing the grapes from a counter that morning on Via Porta Nova. I feel guilty having eaten the stolen fruit. Despite this, I still believe Sandro da Costa is very interesting. When the competitions start in the boy’s school and we, the Bladlow girls are taken to the stadium, I will cheer Sandro da Costa. I have never done so before.

    This was the fatal entry of Salome Visramiani, a thirteen-year-old student at Bladlow, a private school for girls, in her very personal, secret diary full of Steve McQueen and Alain Delon’s photos and many other silly cuttings, which her mother Kaya Visramiani discovered.
    The diary, which didn’t show any order in its entries or exact dates or precision in the order of entries, shouldn’t have worried the mother because it also contained plenty about the teachers, other students and generally about the mankind.
    Its thick cover informed you: Salome, third year student of the Butterfly Class, strictly confidential. It was here, below the inscription that Steve McQueen’s tiny photo was glued, showing him in a sailor’s hat and with a smile of sham surprise.
    And indeed, Kaya Visramiani was smiling as she leafed through her daughter’s diary and remembered her own childhood, but this particular entry set her thinking. She put the diary back where it belonged and began to wait for the next appearance of the Genoese family offspring, rather a light-headed lad he seemed, on the quince-coloured pages.
    In this way, the secret stopped being a secret from the very start.
    A Visramiani couldn’t marry a Genoese. So it was from the beginning of times and, generally speaking, the Visramianis and the da Costas couldn’t be called friends. The da Costas had settled on the lands where the Visramianis couldn’t. It was a long story: there was no blood river separating them, but instead there was a lofty ice mountain and who’s the one capable of seeing a future threat in a thirteen-year-old’s confused scribble? A Visramiani. Only one of the family, no one else. But the most amazing thing was that the Visramianis’ dread was justified and Kaya sat in her lair waiting for Sandro da Costa to appear.
    She didn’t witness their first kiss, but she saw how Salome and Sandro da Costa kissed for the second time. But the second can be a millionth.
    This was twenty years ago, or four years on from that first diary entry: Kaya was sitting in the Chrysler belonging to her father’s bailiff Tandila. She had deliberately borrowed this long, blue, winged dinosaur from Tandila and drove where her senses took her. She went alone, though she could have sent any servant boy along to spy and listened to his report. But she wanted to see for herself. She was sitting in the car parked on a Saturday, languid street and waited for them to come out of the cinema. It was raining and people were sheltering in nearby cafes. She looked alternately at her watch and the cinema entrance, then glanced at a large poster with Brook Shields and some bedouins with heavily wrapped faces. Then she continued to watch the entrance again and finally, the show ended. It was midday. Everyone knows why is it that goslings with a fluffy facial growth take girls with knob-sized breasts, or for that matter, ordinary boys ordinary girls, to the cinema at this time of the day. The halls are practically empty, an occasional greybeard dozing in the third row, while others kiss each other just like you used to at the times of dark and not very dark film moments. The cinema air is special, once you have kissed there, you remember it for the rest of your life.
    They came out of the cinema and went down the street towards the State Quarter, laughing along the way.
    Kaya made a U-turn and followed them, but not quite, so she caught up with them and stopped. They were walking slowly, talking cheerfully.
    They were saying good-bye at the traffic-lights, playfully, jokingly, holding on to each other for what seemed forever. They were pulling each other their way, then suddenly clung and embraced, laughing. Salome tried to free herself but obviously was weaker or didn’t try hard enough. And so they stood at the crossroads, swaying in an embrace and Kaya Visramiani saw how her daughter lost herself completely in a kiss, kissing this skinny, curly-headed descendant of the Genoese in a pair of ridiculously wide trousers.
    Salome ran across the street and waved to the boy, who remained standing there for quite some time, waiting for her to turn the corner.
    It was that evening that the war broke.
    Tentatively first, of course, with all the required watchfulness and scouting, unexpectedly treacherous bans and new regulations: holidays on the south island farm as it was necessary for any woman to familiarise herself with the village life. No cinema any more for you because you frequent it too much. A girl your age shouldn’t be out after seven in the evening. You’ve got better things to do, like learning, instead of losing time on dance floors. You’re going to Oxford soon to continue your studies, then we’ll see.
    ‘You’re sending me to Oxford but won’t let me go to a cafe?’ Salome Visramiani remained without higher education, no one would send her to Oxford anyway. Though the Genoese preferred Bologna for their offspring education, who’d guarantee that the lad wouldn’t dash to see her in Oxford?
    Grandfather Constantine Visramiani set to look for a Georgian son-in-law. It was so complicated in those days that the search could have taken many years. The plan was for Salome to travel as a British tourist to Tbilisi and there, in a clandestine struggle with the local intelligence service, find a nice chap who would be brave enough to marry her, but more importantly, who Salome would find sufficiently attractive.
    She was a lovely girl, even for an outsider’s eye. She chose not to oppose her elders openly, but refused to undertake the husband-hunting tour.
    Salome got married ten years later. Eventually. She had her first baby five years later. She got tired of her struggle and had a baby.


    Yellow Booklet N1
    8 of Blackberry
    LUKA AND THE STRANGER

    It was late night. The distant city noise could be heard and the suburban lights could be seen. Luka was stretched on the beach, looking at the sea which couldn’t be seen any more at this hour. A motor boat was sailing in the distance, its well-lit cabin looked inviting and cozy. In short, it looked like a warm and bright place to be.
    Luka loved this beach with its abandoned, padlocked house, with waist-high weeds in the overgrown garden, with stinging nettles circling the gate and the sand swept up the slope, all the way to the walls. But these were obscured by the night. One could simply walk through the collapsed fence directly to the beach and enjoy solitude at the sea.
    Luka lay stretched on the beach, alone at the sea, resting his head on the palm of his hand. Even for a hawk-eye he’d look like a large piece of driftwood swept ashore. Nobody could say with any amount of confidence how these large logs and stumps ended up on this particular beach. Luka was convinced that these logs and stumps were sent by the Windies, the owners now in exile, because they were planning to return in winter and would need firewood. The Windies hadn’t been seen for several years, while the dry wood - which had to be handed with care, otherwise it would crumble right in your hands - was happily collected by young fishers for their fire.
    Briefly Luka thought of lighting a fire, but was too lazy to collect driftwood.
    He was still lying when he heard someone cough quite near, one short cough, nothing else, from somewhere in the Windies’ unkempt garden. Luka didn’t even turn, he just called out in the Genoese:
    ‘Ciao, pal. Will you spare Luka a cig?’ Then he added as he exhaled, ‘My poach got soaked, I was fooled by the sea...’
    There was no reply. Slightly annoyed, Luka now called out in French:
    ‘Monsieur, you’re trespassing, this is a private estate and you have to pay a fine –one cigarette, even if it’s French...’
    Still no reply. Luka sat up and looked towards the Windies’ garden. This time he called out in Turkish:
    ‘My name is Luka. Don’t you know Luka? I’d like to smoke very much, effendi...’
    There seemed to be some movement at the Windies’ doorstep.
    ‘Oh, my,’ Luka said in an approximation of English, ‘a gentry’d kinda nod when interfere with my thoughts.’
    Nothing. Still nothing.
    ‘I’ve got light,’ Luka said and struck his lighter. ‘Sea Goddess, if you’ve brought a loving couple, don’t worry, Luka can’t see a bit in the dark. Even if he could, d’you know how many lovers Luka has seen in his life? But he’s never told their secret, he only tells his own. Haven’t you heard of Luka the Writer? Is it too much to ask for a single fag for a man to follow his thoughts? If not for your cough, I wouldn’t have remembered about the fag...’
    A package was tossed in the dark and landed somewhere near.
    ‘God, John the Baptist and other seafarers will bless you.’ Luka searched the sand in the dim light of his lighter and rose heavily.
    ‘Oh, what’s this? It’s too generous... I wanted only one. I’d have smoked and gone to sweet sleep. Are you a lady? I’m sorry, signora, sorry.’ Luka turned the package in his hand, very long and thin cigarettes they were. ‘Rothmans Royals? Royals... I see, the long ones. Ladies smoke the long ones because they think long don’t they? They worry longer as well.’ Luka lit a cigarette. ‘I hope you don’t mind if I break the filter off, ma’am, it’s too mild for me, and as one told me a filtered life if no better... I say, are you one of the Windies, ma’am? Are they back? Luka used to take good care of your estate, day and night. Couldn’t really find enough time lately though, to put it all right, I dare say. But if anything ever happened on your property, it was always good, like love. I can’t really tell you all as it’s against my rules, but it’s here that young people often make love. Strange you should have left. If you hadn’t, you’d have mowed the lawn and the fence would’ve still be upright. Frankly speaking, I like watching the lovers. No, not that way, no... Hope you got me, ma’am. It’s just that it’s the best I’ve seen in my life, when a boy loves a girl and she loves him... You’ve inspired me for this tattle, actually I was quite sleepy. How about a nightcap, or something... There must be places still open near here, in the port, The Skipper for instance, half-an-hour’s walk, not more... Luka likes to talk. It’s around midnight, right? All that can happen happens at midnight... Right, ma’am? I think so. I do. The book I wrote earlier had stories which all came to me at around midnight. Yes. But people believe they happened to me. Because they were invented at midnight, that's why. What do you say, ma’am? And if you’re a man, get lost and take your darn fags!’ Luka threw the package.
    There was only silence.
    Luka shrugged in dismay, turned his back to the house and walked towards the sea.
    ‘Luka,’ he heard. It was indeed a woman calling. How could Luka be wrong? ‘Luka, come here.’ It was a soft voice, a little angry and completely fearless, but not the one that orders around.
    Luka turned quickly and spread his arms:
    ‘Where here? I’m blind, can’t see in the dark,’ and stepped towards the Windies’ house.
    He saw her, a pair of pants, a black coat, and struck his lighter again. She wore a thin scarf over her head and it completely covered her face too. She was tall, just like Luka liked them.
    ‘It took Luka sixty-three years to meet a bluemarina in this city,’ Luka said. ‘The bluemarinas exercise with the waves, I’ve heard.’
    ‘I’m not one of them,’ she laughed.
    ‘Why are you wearing a scarf then? I’ve heard that the bluemarinas usually wear scarves when they sing because they want to hide their faces... My name is Luka. Have you heard of me? Quite old now, I am.’
    ‘Sure I have. I’ve even read Luka’s book in my school days,’ she said.
    ‘It’s a night of surprises,’ Luka announced suddenly. ‘My shoes, pockets, hat, actually everything is full of sand and out of the blue comes a woman. Places I know are surely open in the port. Would you like to join me for a small drink?’
    Luka took her wrist, very casually. He felt a bracelet and attempted to get a better look of it in the darkness.
    ‘Is this gold, ma’am? Which means you’re not coming to the port, no strolls with Luka for everyone to see Luka and an amazing lady. The gold has spoiled all the fun.’ His head dropped. ‘Two banks, very opposing river banks. Penniless Luka and a wealthy lady.’
    She seemed not to be listening.
    ‘That’s how it always happens, all starts like a fairy tale magic. Or rather Luka begins the magic, but others fail to play up to him...’
    Suddenly the woman uncovered her head and looked him in the face.
    ‘You have to help me, Luka,’ she said briskly.
    ‘No, we can’t go to The Skipper,’ Luka uttered. ‘Where’s the bloody fag? Luka will never marry.’
    Green Booklet N 4
    4 of Thistle
    ROPES FOR GRANDMA AGATHA

    Deeply mistaken is he who believes that the significance of a rope is underestimated in the world and that the application of this humble-looking implement is confined to suburban clothes lines only.
    A rope can be used in thousands of various ways. For instance, in villages, they tie it round a stubborn cow’s horns and drag her home. Any example of its dry land implementation seems ridiculous in comparison to that of the lands washed by briny waters. The list enumerating types of ropes used in coastal areas comprises one thousand and two hundred words and are meticulously recorded in De Cremonte’s book published in 1589, which, incidentally, is kept in Villa da Costa library. The book begins as follows:

    It is widely acknowledged that in coastal areas particular worth is ascribed to a good rope, one that can be knotted with ease and unknotted with difficulty at the same time. I have no intention of discussing the differences between ropes, I merely note that there are two means to assess the soundness of a rope, namely its durability and its knotting characteristics. Its other features, such as thickness, texture, sleekness, slipperiness or kind of plait, should be selected with consideration for specific needs.
    The first and foremost quality of a rope is its durability, which is determined in the following way: one has to hold it in both hands and pull. However, the method is not applicable for cords or thin ropes. While purchasing a rope, it is preferable to be accompanied by a servant who will hold the other end and pull hard. No rope merchant will pull at it with all his might or heart, while a servant will, because he is drawn by fear.
    The second quality, or its knotting ability, is more difficult to define. A knot must be undone by a man, not by natural elements. The buyer should make a knot and then undo it himself. He must spent twenty times more on undoing the knot than on tying it, unless of course he is skilled in the knotting art and masters the secret of quick untying technique. If a man tires in his efforts to undo a knot, natural elements, such as wind, water or stone, will likewise find it difficult to untie.

    De Cremonte’s book describes everything connected to the ropes of those centuries. The great bibliophile, Alfredo da Costa, Chairman of the Citadel Library, used to leaf the book frequently and every time found it thrilling. He never considered The Ropes and their Usage to be a simple manual as he regularly discovered thousands of interesting things, just like any other hopeless man would. Recent social developments had affected Chairman da Costa immensely, and the rope book was among those ten, which he kept in a special box, to while the winter months, but had lasted well into the spring. If you asked signor da Costa’s opinion, this book gave more food for thought and was better for general guidance than Gustav LeBon’s The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, which he hadn’t read since his young days, but re-read in winter. ‘There are no masses in our country,’ he told his nephew that winter. ‘A smart man would certainly re-read the rope book.’
    One of the shorter chapters of the book described the ropes necessary for hangman’s nooses and the types of knots used for the purpose. The chapter itself was part of the section Nooses and Loops and How to Knot Them. Human hanging as a court verdict was an imported method, De Cremonte argued, but he also predicted that it would rapidly spread across the world as the most convenient and economical, least resource-consuming technique. According to him, hanging was most widely used at sea, though was addressed elsewhere as well.

    It requires no special skill to make a hangman’s noose. There are four well-known ways. On the one hand, a noose looks like a lasso loop, because the knot is made so that the rope can unobtrusively slide through. If the rope fails to slide or slides poorly, the knot is not made properly. The rope used for lassos, in catching horses for instance, is of another type, much thinner and sleeker, as opposed to a hangman’s rope. The reason is that the latter should hold the weight of a hanged man, while the former is only used to steady a struggling horse, which eventually complies, sensing the lasso tugging at its neck. A hangman’s rope cannot be either thin or smooth. It should be tightly twisted and at least two-fingers’ thick in order for the sentence to be executed quickly and properly. However, due to the fact that it is difficult to make a noose capable of letting a rope slide though easily and fast from a bristly type, hangmen have adopted the following method: they often wax the length which is to slide though the noose to reduce friction. When such a noose is put round the sentenced man’s neck, it seems to be fitting tightly enough, but the moment the trapdoor of the scaffold opens, his weight begins to pull him down, which means the noose tightens even harder round his neck. In case a bristly rope is used, it prolongs the torture of the sentenced man, while its waxed variety tightens harder and strangles faster, which testifies to the hangman’s humane attitude. In the future, when executing by hanging becomes more widespread, the hangmen will undoubtedly invent new, more convenient nooses and methods.

    Pensive after such a glum recount, signor Alfredo would certainly read out loud to his nephew extracts from The Skill of Binding the Captives, as well as from The Skill of Roping by Applying Appropriate and Inappropriate Ropes. The former, incidentally, said:

    Lately, the art of binding captives has acquired significant importance. Nowadays some admirable practices of binding captives are adopted in Spain and Britain. Herein we must explain that we do not refer to binding prisoners of war, but rather to immobilising the work force so acutely needed by the mentioned countries in various parts of the world. For instance, in the overseas colonies, in order to save metal, ropes are widely used during relocation of the local savage workforce, which prevents them from escaping. While iron cannot be cut with iron, it can cut a rope. But if the captives do not suspect the existence of such sharp material as steel, which is very likely the case, then thick ropes are definitely advantageous. Even if a captive possessed a knife, he could free only himself and for a short time at that, which renders the use of shackles useless on numerous captives who are made to work on the new Spanish and British territories.
    Each captive is tied neck-to-neck to another with a rope. Each has a special noose round his neck and it is virtually impossible to undo it as the rope ties him to two other captives, one on his right, the other on his left. Moreover, the nooses are placed so that the knots themselves face backwards, so even if they try hard, they cannot reach them. The captive’s hand and feet are free, and indeed, it certainly economises on the metal needed to make shackles and chains for all of them. There are thirty captives tied in a row, the distance between them is likewise determined by the length of the rope and usually measures approximately a yard if stretched to its full capacity. An overseer-cum-guard holds one end of the rope at the head of the procession, while the other has the other end. Even if a captive succeeds in cutting the rope, he will free himself only partially, because while he attempts to cut the second one linking him to his neighbour, one of the overseers will certainly notice the suspicious movement and pull his end of the rope. This will throw the entire row off balance, which can be followed by whipping.
    In a similar way, the overseers-cum-guards pull the rope ends during the works to remind the captives that there is no escape. However, it should be mentioned that the described method is more often used on the new territories where the aboriginal people are marked with low intellect. These, as the reader surely knows, are unable to even think about a tool designed to cut ropes. By the same token, the roping method is considerably cheaper and rope twisting skill is easier to learn than to find useable ore, melt metal and produce chain. On the whole, it is cheaper to buy a new rope to replace ten severed ones, than to produce a pair of shackles or a length of chain, even if they are destined to serve one forever.

    It is hard to imagine what was so painful, so profoundly unnerving in this book for signor da Costa, who used to discover deeply disturbing and abstruse ideas even in the section on marine loops and knots. Once he is believed to have said that De Cremonte is a greater politician and psychologist than Machiavelli. But the Chairman of the Museum was utterly mistaken assuming he was the sole and only one to be in the possession of this oldest and most disturbing book, because initially there were two books brought to the island around four hundred years ago, so there was another family that had the other one. Had you told Alfredo da Costa that the other copy of De Cremonte’s book was kept by the descendants of the Fortress Guards’ Head, later Kings and Pashas, he would’ve just laugh saying, 'Yeah, yeah, sure they’d need it’. He wouldn’t believe it, because if the Fortress keepers had anything, it was the Ottoman record books and some papers written in Georgian blocks, and that was until mid fifteenth century. Signor da Costa was the Chairman of the Museum open in the Fortress, the former residence of the Island past rulers. Who knew better than him that there was not a single new book, not to mention an old one, brought from Italy in his domain. The last ruler of the Island, Sarri-Beg, shamefully fooled by the British, was the least likely man to have read the ancient book sent from the Apennines. And in general, Alfredo da Costa believed he was the sole owner of books in the entire country. There might have been a couple still kept in other Genoese families, but certainly no true bibliophiles among them. So, da Costa managed to purchase some copies for his Museum, while real rarities he kept at home and would approach them, his Sleeping Beauties, whenever he felt like it.
    As if to refute the above, the book was in possession of Agatha, an old widow, Sarri-Beg’s great granddaughter and the descendant of the Archilianis, the Fortress keepers. There were narrow paths left to walk around in the tiny flat, where the old representative of the royal line dwelt. The rest was entirely taken by the remnants of the Archiliani’s glorious past, all that was saved of the dynasty, and among them, surprisingly, The Ropes and their Usage. True, it was a rare old book, but there was another, now nearly completely forgotten, that certainly no one else had on the Island – Flora Tristan’s tomes saturated with her rebellious soul and Suffragist ideas. Surely enough these looked totally out-of-place in the book crate of the late Sarri-Beg, a Muslim by faith, an Eastern Orthodox by conviction, a man of dignity and honour.
    Indeed, it must have been an amazing coincidence that in Santa City and the three islands of Santa Esperanza, there were two people reading The Ropes and their Usage that year. However, if Alfredo da Costa browsed through it in winter, Agatha found and read it in summer. The Archiliani’s had weathered the four centuries worse than da Costa’s book. It had lost the cover as well as some pages here and there. But it seemed all the same for Agatha.
    It wasn’t at all incidental that she dug the book out from the bottom of her wardrobe. It was kept wrapped in plastic, nicely tucked.
    At that time Agatha had a tenant, a thirty-five-old Georgian, a rogue of a man, ex-convict or ex-something similar, as he was trying to hide from someone. He literally forced his way into Agatha’s place, but she wasn’t intimidated in the least, instead, she immediately saw through him and offered him to be her servant, which he took as a big joke.
    Agatha had treated the fugitive with utmost consideration, and when it became obvious he couldn’t stay with her any longer, she even found him a safe place to lie low for a while. However, the poor soul was soon discovered in his new hide-out and murdered. In response, Agatha drew up a special royal edict, stating that a courtier had been killed and ordering an investigation. She had often issued similar papers, mostly to entertain herself, but lately due to realistic need.
    As for the rope book, she had given it as a manual to her Georgian tenant and would read out whenever she had time to spare. Not that he needed reading much, as he was perfectly satisfied with only looking at the illustrations. Agatha firmly believed that the chap, whose death she later mourned with all her heart as a good hand and a courageous fellow, would one day surely find the art of throwing a rope over the prison wall extremely useful. He should certainly get the skill of rapidly making loops through the cell bars, as well as a couple of nautical knots, something that all royal right hands had mastered in the olden times. So the Georgian practised with a piece of a blue linen rope.
    It was nearly half a year later that Alfredo da Costa, authorised by the Genoese community, secretly visited Agatha, the only and the last survivor of the Archiliani Fortress keepers. When he saw The Ropes and their Usage open on her reading table, he said:
    ‘Oh... this... you are... Indeed, we need ropes. We should tie them in the manner of porters, there is a chapter... about carrying heavy weights up the stairs...’
    ‘I know, da Costa,’ the Queen said.
    ‘Yes, sure,’ Alfredo da Costa concluded.


    Green Booklet N 4
    5 of Thistle
    FROM SANDRO DA COSTA’S UNDATED AND UNSENT LETTER

    Dear Tonino, my loyal friend,
    I’m writing this letter in utter desperation and confusion because I just don’t know what to do. Here I am, sitting in the Villa da Costa attic, in our room, looking out of the window once too often, waiting for some people to appear on our street.
    I’m not at all sure how this letter is going to reach you, but I’m still writing. Our phones are disconnected, so there’s no Internet connection. The TV screen is shimmering, nothing else. On the other hand, what should one expect? This morning I decided to look for you, because it’s already four days since I last heard about you. Neither do you know how I feel. Now it’s clear all too well it’s impossible to reach your part of the city, and that it’s utterly dangerous to get over here, but initially I thought I’d manage if I took a detour. I thought it would be easier if I walked across the wooded area and came to your restaurant, because I tried your home yesterday again but found it all bolted and locked. And thank God it’s bolted and that you’ve sent Clara and the kids to the village - you’ve never done anything that smart in your life. So, I assumed you’d turned your restaurant into a stronghold and were going through a lot of difficulty. Probably that’s how it actually is, but at the moment I’m terribly desperate having failed to reach you as the place is swarming with armed men and everyone this side advises not to even attempt getting to your side. I haven’t got the slightest idea where my uncle is, though some (these Sungalis are really thick) have told me that the Citadel will soon be freed and if Alfredo is there, they’d return him to us. Do you see, Tonino, what horror we’re in the middle of? Here I am, not even knowing if you’re dead or alive.
    My attempt to find a roundabout route proved futile. There are lots of checkpoints on this side too and I was repelled from everywhere. Whenever they heard I was da Costa, they earnestly advised me against crossing the line, as I wouldn’t get anything except a bullet. There was this girl, Monica, at the checkpoint, who told the guards that I was a poet. It’s the first time in my life, Tonino, that someone called me a poet. She is a journalist, Uso di Mare’s granddaughter, and I know her pretty well. She was determined to follow me wherever I was heading, but I flatly refused. At the moment I don’t want to be carried away by her. I’ll tell you about her some time later. So I turned back alone.
    What bothers me most is that you all ended up on that side. You are there by your restaurant (or rather I’d like to believe nothing wrong has happened to you, that you have used your talent to charm them), my uncle’s disappeared, Salome’s whereabouts are totally unknown - wish she were on their cursed island. I walked so much that I needed a breather. Terrible. It must be even worse in the port, because the tourists pass through the checkpoints there. I was told that tonight the airport will be closed and no one will be able to leave after that. And still, I was impatient, too keen to see you and to find out about everyone, whether they’re alive and well. As I turned back, I remembered it was possible to reach your side through Nikoloz’ garden. It’s pretty desolate as a rule, and I thought it wouldn’t be crowded this time either. Who’d remember this abandoned stretch, which seemed to be there for my convenience only? And so I returned and crept over the fence - actually it didn’t need any creeping as such, I just shuttered it a little and went through. My thinking was that I should keep walking south, slightly westwards, and would come exactly at the back streets of the card-making workshops. There are a couple of old, flimsy shacks. I passed two along that horrible path, and as I came up the third one, a blood-curdling discovery was waiting for me in the shape of Data Visramiani sitting in the shack. I was utterly surprised and so was he. But it was sheer fright in the beginning and I guess he was frightened too. So there he was, Data, wrapped in some old overcoat, unshaven and, in short, quite shocking to see. He had a Magnum revolver and that’s when I fully realised what was going on in reality. Here, on our side (see what words I have begun to use?) Data is an enemy, a wanted man, hunted to be used. On the other side he is likewise wanted, hunted to be used for their purposes. And all the while he couldn’t manage to flee the city. He was extremely depressed, nearly crushed. I offered to hide him for the time it would take to find a safe route out for him, but he declined it. He wasn’t alone. There was a monk, I think Panteleimon, with him, who I believe is his close friend, and very deeply worried too. There was another man with him as well, the one who once accompanied the Queen (hm, hm), Tonino, you know, during those days. Data introduced him as a friend too. As I guessed both were there to assist Data. I went on insisting he took refuge at my place, but he said he had a different plan. I was dying to ask him what I had intended to find out immediately after meeting him, but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to, because I clearly saw the man in a far worse state than me. Finally, I managed to ask him if he knew anything about Salome. He only smiled and shrugged. I persisted and he frankly told me that he believed she was fine, exactly as she’d chosen to be. And still, he turned down my offer, also, they discouraged me from moving onwards, as the monk said with conviction that there were their serious checkpoints at the card-making workshops and that he saw no way I could pass unnoticed over the backyard walls. Apparently, they had tried all these routes and were now waiting for something else. I also asked them about you, whether they’d heard about the developments your side. They hadn’t, and didn’t accept my offer, so I left them, completely destroyed and devastated. What is this, Tonino? What can we do? What the hell’s going on?
    Yeah, here I am, writing to you, but not knowing why. Writing indeed, but where to? How’s the letter going to find you? Here I am, meandering around, roaming this enormous house full of unbearable noises of silence, not knowing which way to go. I’ve just taken out the guns, our old hunting guns with da Costas’ names engraved on them. Remember, in our childhood, how we used to try to pry open the case where they were kept?
    Tonino, my loyal friend, I want you to be fine. Somehow the life has passed, in giggles and worries. I think it was a good life, of giggles and worries. Possibly there shouldn’t be anything else. But what is it that started now?
    What is it that has started, Tonino? Who needs this crap?
    I don’t know what my next step is going to be. Please, write back, with something similar. I’ll try to think of something for tomorrow to write.

    Your Sandro da Costa
    Mad-eye, as you usually say.



    Green Booklet N 4
    6 of Thistle
    DROPS FOR THE CORNELIAN EYES IN RAINY NIGHT

    The knocking went on and on. Salome fell face down on her bed and covered her head with the pillow. Was she crying or not? No, not crying, she was hiding. This was her way of hiding. Meanwhile, the knocking went on. The voices were heard from downstairs, from the front door. Couple of times they shouted up to her, so who knows what’s going on.
    ‘Leave me alone... leave me,’ Salome whispered into the pillow. Her voice died inside the pillows. ‘Leave me alone...’
    Then, it seems, the door was opened, or torn off the hinges, or shattered, or just the glass was broken down and a hand opened the latch: Salome Visramiani didn’t hear any of these. She didn’t hear heavy feet treading downstairs, people peeping into all rooms and then climbing the stairs.
    When the knocking stopped, she guessed they were inside. They wouldn’t leave now, whoever they were, once they had got inside. Salome sprang to her feet.
    She sprang up and dropped back across the bed again.
    ‘Leave me alone... leave me, you pigs...’
    Now they were knocking on her bedroom door.
    ‘Leave me... Get out... Get out, all of you...’
    ‘Salomey... Queen Salomey... it’s me, Martia, Salomey...’
    Salome pulled the door open and saw the family bailiff standing on the threshold.
    His face had a strangely greenish hue. His grey crewcut was wet.
    ‘Salomey... it’s raining,’ Martia said.
    The stomping continued downstairs.
    ‘Salomey, ‘tis your whoppin’ servant... Please, come with me, please, don’t abandon us now... Don’t leave us to the mercy of yer mother. We’re the Sungalis, so please, don’t push us to sin, or else all’s gonna be senseless. It’s bad enough as it is, look.’ He had a bandoleer round his waist, shining wet.
    ‘Who did I think it was?’ Salomeah asked herself. ‘Who did I think it was?’
    What difference does it make? All and everyone, together.
    ‘Salomey, we’re in a bad way... Listen, Salomey... Looks as if it’s gonna hush down... It’s either stayin’ and fightin’ or boltin’... meanin’ we’re gonna go to yer grandpa’s Big House and leave a coupla guys behind, in the city... You’ve got to help us, you, our Queen... I’m with me boys and you’ve got to come...’
    ‘What’s it you’re saying, Martia? What’s that you say? Where should I go, why should I? I’m at home, finally at my own place... What do you want?’
    Martia leant against the door post, covering his eyes with his hands.
    ‘I’m done in... darn it... ready to blow me brains off... Aint’t you a Visramiani or what? God knows which Istanbul yer uncles chose to ease off... But what am I s’pposed to do? Please, help me stop the woman... help me stop yer mother and take control – there’s no one else... See how it is? See now what yer grandpa was? He was and he controlled, just like this, with an iron fist... Y’know what she made me do? Salomey Queen, you can’t imagine. These here me hands, they’re bloody, I’m up to me neck in blood... sinking in blood... How’s me boys gonna live? Fidela? Or Kikola, ha? What he’s gonna do tomorrow? Yer mother made him shoot... made us shoot. Said it was just a talk. She called Sardion together with his Sungalis, to our place and ordered to kill ‘em. Said he was a traitor, on the Britts’ side... The Sungalis, them she made me walk into the trap aforehand. We’re all Sungalis, y’know, so if we’re gonna talk to each other, it’s settled. We speak one language, so we trust each other. This side, that side, it’s us, the Sungalis... But the bloodshed? It’s not a lamb, ain’t it? Not a calf, ha? Ordered us to kill two, inside the house, then said put ‘em on boats and throw somewhere. Made us shoot. Then made us shoot some Turks, people ‘em were... What can I say? Yer cousins are now with us, hostages... That’s how I am, yer mother bathed us in blood, Salomey, and I ain’t gonna step on the Sungali Island no more... And what for? For bein’ dog loyal? No justice there... And now, she says, now go and bring da Costas, at whatever cost... I came to you. I have no other way. We needs a go-ahead from a Visramiani. I’m totally tied now, head and hands...’
    ‘What needs a go-ahead?’ Salome asked absent-mindedly.
    ‘Stoppin’ her... stoppin’ yer mother. And then do somethin’ to calm down the country... You have to lead us, Salomey Queen, you... I couldn’t think of nothing better, I’m just a Sungali... I learnt to think only in me old days. Me boys’re here, others on that side are gonna kneel to you... You always been me daughter and sister, never treated us as servants... Come with us, help us stop yer mother, come along... I ain’t deserve a little bit of respect to help wash this blood off me hands? I’ve sinned and wronged you and haven’t told you all yet... That side’s gonna hear Salomey’s leading and will change... Something’s gonna change... What d’you say, Salomey?’
    What could Salome say?
    Nothing.
    ‘Hassan-Bey’s son, only seventeen, was killed by Platona’s sniper shot that hit ‘im right between the eyes on that side of the city. Hassan-Bey sent a letter sayin’ Kaya’s not gonna live... What am I s’pposed to do? Am I a general... or a peasant? Can’t look you in the eyes... Ah, if only we hadn’t... we shouldn’t then...’
    Salome said nothing. Her sleepless, puffy eyes were watching Martia, who hadn’t taken his hands off his face, as if afraid to see the lottery balls. What sort of silly things come to one’s head. White lottery balls with numbers on them. Golf balls, completely white. Wonder if Martia can play golf?
    ‘Where’s Dad?’ Salome asked suddenly.
    ‘Home,’ was the answer. ‘He’s lyin’ and starin’ into the ceiling. Sometimes gets up, takes a bottle inside, then rolls it empty under his bed... What shall we do, my Queen? What should Owl do? Don’cha know Owl? ‘Tis yer father.
    ‘Data.’
    ‘We don’t know. He was seen that side. They say he might be in the Monastry... We don’t know about Data, but will find out... everythin’.’
    ‘Can you play golf, Martia?’
    Only now Martia uncovered his eyes.
    ‘Can you play golf? White balls, you hit them and they roll...’
    Martia sighed. He thought what he had to think.
    ‘Please, don’t, Martia begs you, don’t do this again...’
    Then he went silent, dropping his head.
    ‘I’ll go... I need to go to the bathroom... all right?’ Salome’s eyes darted around the room. ‘Where on earth is it? Where the heck’s my bag?’
    She pushed Martia with her shoulder as she dashed from the bedroom. Martia remained standing in the doorway, leaning against the post with his elbow, biting his wrist. Then he dropped his arm abruptly, turned on his light feet and went down the stairs with the gait of a relaxed, carefree, or distressed man.
    Downstairs, the Sungalis were in the sitting-room. About a dozen young men, all heavily armed with an array of weapons, were standing around, smoking, stubbing their cigarettes in a large white ashtray. Martia as much as glanced at them and trudged towards the kitchen, without uttering a word.
    ‘We are in shit,’ one of them said and followed Martia. ‘Are we in shit? Shit, no less?’
    Martia stood at the sink, looking at the running water.
    ‘She’s stoned... Couldn’t really make sense to ‘er,’ he said as if to himself. ‘Don’t you dare tell others.’
    The lad left him alone. Martia put his palms under the stream, went on staring at it, with a vacant gaze.
    ‘Are we off?’ The same lad came back.
    ‘Yeah, we’re off,’ Martia said and turned the tap off. ‘Start the cars and I’ll be with you in a sec... You get with me... Tell the boys we’re goin’ to the fort first and then to Kaya’s.’
    The lad went out only to return immediately.
    ‘Dad...’
    ‘What now... can’t you leave me be for a minute?’ Martia put the revolver back and wiped his wet hand on his trouser leg. ‘What now?’
    ‘Dad, Salomey’s come down, in pants...’
    ‘Pants?’
    ‘Yeah, in pants... Now she’s puttin’ on a coat...’
    ‘A what?’
    ‘Yeah, said hello to the boys.’
    Martia dashed into the hall.
    ‘Salomey...’
    Salome looked at him, then back at the mirror. She was rubbing her eyes.
    ‘I need Visin.’
    ‘What?’
    ‘It’s the eye-drops. Can’t find them... Anyway,’ she shrugged, ‘it doesn’t matter. Shall we go?’
    ‘Let’s go, Salomey.’
    ‘Ha,’ she chuckled, ‘so Mum’s angry, ha? C’mon, let’s calm her down, her and others too. All together... send all to sleep, together. C’mon...’
    ‘The Queen goes into my car!’ Martia yelled suddenly. ‘Pido, Rostia, Katia, in here, with me... You go in the other and mind now, nice and easy... We’re taking our best, the very best mistress. Long live Salomeah, our Lady!’
    ‘Long live our Lady!’
    ‘Long live and hurray for the Georgian Queen!’
    ‘Hurray!’
    ‘Off we go!’


    Green Booklet N 4
    8 of Thistle
    LUKA’S NEW BOOK

    Hi, my name is Luka. Unce upon a time I wrote a book which I don’t have any more. It was either torn, or something, I’m not sure. Once upon a time I had a wife too, but she’d never admitted she was my wife. Because I’m Luka and she was ashamed, as I liked walking about barefoot and dozing in cafes. That’s why I’m not married.
    First I got married and then I wrote a book. The book was about my wife, but nobody guessed, because no one knew I had one.
    I adored my wife, who wasn’t like Luka in the least. Now that I’m already old, I want to find her. She ran abroad, away from me, pretended she wanted to study there. I was so sorry that I became a sailor. Once a sailor, always a sailor.
    Now I’m writing a book in order to find my wife. I’ve been thinking about writing something for some time, but to no avail. I was in love. I’ve always fallen in love with the young. It’s only now that I realise that, as always, my love is wrong, but what can be done? The realisation was so painful that I even gnawed at my hat. Just sat and gnawed at the brims. Then I was telling in the tavern that it was a shark.
    I had nothing else to gnaw and chew. By then I had already bitten my wrists, as I’d guessed it was my umpteenth bitter mistake. And in the middle of this gnawing I remembered my wife, who was once young, but was surely getting older, whether one liked it or not. That’s why I decided to find her – because loneliness is unbearably hard.
    My wife can probably be found in the phone book. Anyone can find her, but it wouldn’t be a real search. I’ve been trying to write a book for so long, but only now have got round to it. It is with the help of the book I must find my wife.
    My name is Luka. I always fall in love with the young. That’s a fact, take it or leave it. On second thought, I love my wife as she was then, because when I occasionally saw her photos in newspapers, I hardly recognized her. She certainly doesn’t want to get old, but she is. If you ask her, we’ve never been married, but we were a husband and wife. You wouldn’t discover any church or civic records, but that’s immaterial, because that’s how it was. Life caters for other kind of records.
    At the moment it’s a very different oddity that befell me. I’m walking around in the city with shooting and war. I’m Luka and they let me go through the checkpoints easily, even across the borderline where the Sungalis stand fifty feet from each other. I’ve been to the Sungali country with their grandfathers. And, above all, I’m a tramp. And tramps are never touched. What can one take from Luka? His pocket is empty. And he took his own life long ago. He’s only got something which is helping him to easily go through the checkpoints. When no one else is allowed to pass.
    If Luka doesn’t go to the port, he’ll die. If Luka can’t see a ship on water, what’s the use of being around? I’ve never ever seen anything as ravishing as a ship on water. If one considers carefully, it’s the best thing one can ever imagine.
    The only other thing that compares is stroking a dolphin on its back, which I’ve done on many occasions and which, I believe, is the same as my falling in love with the young.
    But stroking a dolphin’s back, or petting it, is a pleasure derived from the hands, while watching a ship afloat derives from the eyes. And a woman combines these two. I tried, but I couldn’t kiss a dolphin.
    My name is Luka and I’m writing a book. It’s many years since I’ve written a book. I think I’ve even forgotten the letters. I wanted to write this book, as I did the other one which I lost, in three languages, using three alphabets. I seem to have grown old, or else the worries have completely muddled my head. I began to confuse the monastic Georgian, Latin and Arabic scripts. That’s why I doubt anyone unfamiliar with these three languages of our Island will be able to read my book.
    I was saying that I fall for young women, but the truth is I hardly ever go to the dentist. Last time I visited one was twenty-five years ago. But what can I do? I’m Luka and I simply fall in love suddenly and desperately, with young women, but in my younger days it was the elderly ladies that fell for me. I call elderly those whose children are university students. That’s how I used to call them in my younger days. Why they liked me was that I used to have a beard and talked in a way that it made impossible for these women not to admire me. But I always liked others.
    Now, what sort of talk is this, thought Luka, who was writing now because he heard gunfire.
    Yes, I only write when there’s shooting outside. Noises from an array of weapons. Once I read an introduction to a book which said that this man only wrote when there was a war outside and for that reason his words were as moulded, raucous, hot and deadly as bullets. After the introduction I didn’t read the man’s writing itself. I lost the book. Cats carried it away, because I used it to prop up the window to stop it from banging in a draught. There were always some cats on the sill and they took it away.
    That’s why I’ve decided to write things when there’s shooting outside. However, I didn’t wish my words to come as moulded as bullets. If I did, I’d have gone to Liege to work in the Nagant factory. I prefer a peach to roast meat, a rosé to red wine. Probably that’s the reason I’ve commonly made a mistake whenever I fell in love.
    Now Luka has nothing to lose. He thinks he’s never ever had anything, for that matter. Still, he lost his wife. Luka’s getting old. Luka guessed that there was no good reason for the war to break out. And here he is, getting on in his years and witnessing the war for the first time. Of course it bothers him. He saw that the land means nothing. Probably that’s why he likes water with a ship afloat. Land is nothing, Luka would tell you, water’s all that matters. Because water belongs to all and everyone, while land has long been pulled to pieces. Luka has seen enough deaths. He dragged poor Pigolli, who was shot, with his own hands. Pigolli was Luka’s neighbour, disallowed the right to be buried in his ancestral graveyard, because the cemetery happened to be on the other side of the city.
    When we buried poor Pigolli, somewhere completely different place, and I stared at his dead body, I realised that death wasn’t frightening at all. Pigolli, as old as myself, wasn’t scared of death in the least. Neither of a bullet. He would sit in his yard counting them, saying ‘There goes number seventeen, and that’s eighteen’. And I guessed I wasn’t afraid of dying in that way. If I had a gun in my hand, I’d be frightened. Imagine how it feels to go up the gate of the other world carrying a gun. Who’d listen to you? Who’d listen to an armed man? He is just feared and that’s all. He fears and he’s feared.
    I realised that I wasn’t afraid and actually got used to the constant barrage in the same way as poor Pigolli did. Why should I be frightened of death if I died a long time ago? I’ve died a thousand times and at every death I lost a pound of flesh.
    Some might think it’s only a myth that a knight cut off his own flesh to feed the griffin that was flying him. In verity, that griffin is Death. It flies you towards the Paradise, but you have to feed it along the way with your own flesh. By the time you reach the gates, you might as well die.
    My name is Luka and I’m writing a book. You might think I’m thrilled with the fact. Well, I’m not, but I’m quite pleased. A lot of you won’t be able to understand my reasons for writing. In order to find my wife. I might be reminding you once too often that I’m Luka, but that’s how it is and it’s pretty important to my mind. That’s how it was then and it’s the same now: I am my own book. I also frequently remind you that I’m looking for my wife. It’s difficult to believe that I loved a young woman but am looking for the old one. It’s easy to understand Luka. He always searches with his heart. He’s known all his life that he loved his wife and if he’s a real man, he should find her in the wartime and make up with her. Any moocher can carry a gun. Go, find me a moocher who’d refuse to carry a gun.
    Luka’s been in love twenty-two times and never in his life he’s told any one of them how much and how deeply he loved her. It just happens that way. Luka did mention a knight, but not all rules of chivalry appealed to him, especially showing off in front of a lady, demonstrating one’s admirable qualities. For Luka, a true love is what happens effortlessly and not as a result of show-off. He had a woman like that, and lost her. But that’s all right, he’ll find her. Luka’s fat, but old still and able to memorise his dreams. Any old age can summon a woman from its memory.
    Luka’s never going to be old. He’ll always dress like a twenty-five-old lad. That’ll be funny, but Luka’s got wide wrists and wide-wristed men don’t age in the same way as the thin-wristed ones. The former still manage to look like men and not like the old. That’s how Luka is and he fell in love. Strange as it might seem, he’s going to use it to find his wife.
    Luka fell in love without actually seeing her. He had known it all along. He had loved voices ever since he was an adolescent, since he first heard it on their beach announcing it was dangerous to swim farther than thirty yards due to large waves. That’s how it was long ago, as that amazing voice used to announce. But I’ll tell you that story some other time.
    And now I have to write a book. I haven’t as much as glanced at her, just fell in love. I heard her voice and realised that Love had called on me. It’s first time in my life. I thought I was already old. I’ve heard that sometimes Love calls like this, uninvited, but it has never happened to me. And now it sent me a message saying ‘Hi, Luka. You thought you’ve paid your dues on the earth. Actually, you’ve got bits left, here and there.’
    So, that’s how I fell for a young woman. Younger than me, and not so old as to have a child at a university. Luka couldn’t disclose to her, because it was against his rules to perform heroic feats to show off to a woman. But the irony of it was that he suffered a lot of hardship because of her. And she gave him a gold thing in memory. Luka then thought he had made a grave mistake. He shouldn’t have fallen in love with her, because a gold thing is ridiculous. Had it been a matchbox, Luka would’ve kept it, no doubt, because it’s useless to look at a woman. You fall in love blindly. I always fell for voices. I’ve always fell in love with women through their voices, with all twenty-two of them. Had it been otherwise, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with this one and wouldn’t have committed his awful mistake. Luka’s not afraid of mistakes though. Only armed men are afraid of mistakes. It’s only in my old days that I’ve understood what war really was.
    What was surprising for Luka was the discovery that the amazing woman, he was ready to sacrifice his life for, but didn’t admit it, was one of the leaders of the war. Luka lives on this side of the city and his book is rather thick, because they shoot a lot. Luka will eventually include plenty of stories in his book, but it begins with the most recent ones. Luka, being who he is, easily and often goes into the other side, because he needs to recharge himself with the necessary amount of life in the port. And the discovery was that the young woman he was so deeply infatuated with, was the ruler of the other side. It meant that he fell for the Queen, the Ruler and the Commander-in-Chief. When had he erred so gravely before? Never. It’s not a shame to make a mistake, but has he lived so long only to finally receive a message from Love saying he was thus fooled?
    The young woman was oblivious of Luka’s love for her. He didn’t even hint to her, because Luka put his trust in the nature and its elements. The woman turned out to be smart, guessing that Luka was in love with her. Say what you might, but he benefited from the entire situation: he was deeply in love with her for some time and was infinitely happy. It was like a heavenly gift. However, apparently, Love had sent its parcel to another address. Luka happened to know the man who was the addressee. Despite his knowledge, he fell in love with her. He did no wrong. Probably Luka even served that man by guarding him for yet another mistake. Luka never revealed his feeling, so he did no wrong. The fact that he’s confessing now, doesn’t mean much, because Luka’s writing his book and as he writes, there’s shooting outside. Is there a better time for confession?
    It was a mistake and what would life be without mistakes? Simply, Luka finds it hard to admit that he’s still in love with the woman, who might, at this very minute, be sending a barrage of bullets with her cornelian eyes into this side of the city. Luka refused to believe. Initially he thought it was her mother who was in charge of all this. Indeed, she was logically the one to be in charge, as no one loved her and when is it more appropriate to lead a rebellion than when you’re only loved by armed men? But Luka was mistaken, because the daughter had obviously surpassed the mother.
    Luka wanted to go to the window and shout at her bullets flying in his direction: ‘Here, this way! Luka’s here!’ It’s her bullets that Luka needs most now in order to best remember and use the letters. Luka is wondering how it feels to be writing with, say, three bullets in one’s chest. He suspected the bullet-whacked writes differently.
    These thoughts and the mistake, and the love, which triggered the realisation that Luka loved the blood rather than the woman, reminded me of the time when I loved my wife, but differently.
    Please, don’t think, dear ladies of Santa Esperanza, that I’m writing my book for you. The other one I’ve written, you believed to be written for you and you fell for Luka. He was politely thrilled, then, twenty years ago, but he never sent out thank-you letters, as the book wasn’t intended for you.
    Sometimes I think that the best remedy in the entire world is sleep-inducing medicine. Is it possible that man was created for sleep? In order to forget it all? But Luka wasn’t born with the ability, that’s why he believes sleeping draughts are the best. And among these, I consider neat vodka the best, four draughts in one quick succession, to be repeated an hour later, to be administered during the day. I think I’ve advised the remedy to those who are unable to forget. The treatment should continue until one can endure. Then you will discover you haven’t got the flesh left to feed the griffin and you’re ready for the hell. Luka’s not afraid of the hell, he’s quite prepared to give his place under the sun to the one he loved last. Thus Luka decided one fine night. He was always sure the nights were ordinary. He used to go to a deserted beach night after night in search of the nocturnal peace. It appeared that the nights were perfect as they were, but they lacked the gunfire noise. That dusk too, Luka went to the deserted beach to watch the sunset, as is the former mariner’s custom. The sunset was gorgeous. I’ve seen better ones, but no gunfire was heard then. The sun seems to be dying when it sets in the sea, and if one dies like this, what better way can he hope for? But when the bullets were shot at it, I thought that the sun didn’t hurry, and though it was shelled, it died when it was destined to die.
    I’m writing this book for a certain woman. She should guess so. She might never read the book if, say, Luka’s house catches fire, but she should guess that much. It’s the second time I’m doing this. Now’s the time to confess that the first book, written twenty years ago, was specifically for her, to show her I wasn’t the one to be fooled and deceived into waiting for years for nothing. In return, she started writing books herself - the books where she tries to justify herself. I’ve read them all, because, as it transpired, she was my wife and nobody else. She invented a nom-de-plume, assumed the title of a baroness. She failed to hide from Luka. Someone who walks the city knows plenty. She moved across the seven seas. Every man in her book is Luka. But not intended for Luka to think that she’s his wife. Luka still thinks so. He’s absolutely confident it’s life-like. In her thirty books nine men commit suicide. Those men aren’t like Luka, but they all are Luka. It happens in books.
    There you are, things are easily said when bullets whiz around. In the beginning everyone thought it was fireworks display to salute the Queen.
    It’s essential not to get used to the sound. If you do, you’ll fall back into the routine. Meanwhile, I’m writing this book because the old one was torn and eventually misplaced. Moreover, my wife thought I’d written it to challenge her. I only wanted to summon her. It’s now that I intend to summon her. The address is right. If she fails again to realise she’s my wife, then it’s obvious she’s taking me for those men depicted in her books.
    It’s nonsense to ask oneself whether Luka’s going to meet his wife. That’s not the purpose Luka’s writing his book. Luka is writing in order to meet his wife where he is destined to, or, in other words, to guess that his wife has come back to him.
    My name is Luka and I’m writing a book.
    Once I fell in love with a woman. I always fell for the young, especially the kind you can’t take to the port. But I loved the port. Once I had a pal, a Cretan Greek, who is responsible for my love for the port, an unbuttoned white shirt and pointed black shoes. It’s not always that I wear a white shirt, but it’s invariably unbuttoned. Neither are my shoes pointed and narrow, as I’m getting old and my feet tend to swell, so now I usually wear sandals. But I’m telling you about the times when I had all of this, including a Cretan pal, and when I fell for a woman from a distant land and an altogether different kettle of fish, as always.

    Blue Booklet N 2
    2 of Dagger
    THE HAND

    He was lying in a very large, heavy, dark bed with a tall back, which if need be could accommodate eight people. The bed was made to last forever, a solid piece of work by old artisans. It rested on dragon’s claws and along its tall arched back there was a chiseled ornament of vine stems and leaves: not particularly elegantly, in fact deliberately crudely wrought, with two heavy grape clusters above the central arch. The linen was plain, but it caught your eye as the light always fell on them from the large tall window, where it stood. He was lying in this bed, among big pillows, buried under neat blankets, trying to reach the outside world in his mind’s eye, and sometimes even managed, though nobody noticed it. He was hard to recognise, because he had grown a beard in these two months and flatly refused to shave it off. In fact, he was a clean but difficult patient, as doctors would label him: with a grey beard and ruffled hair, he was lying on the white linen and only the eyes seemed to be remaining of his old self. There was no escape from these eyes for anyone entering his bedroom, as it was the time when, having lost the ability to express himself with words, he talked with his eyes and his right hand. He would add a word to his hand and eyes, but no one heard it except himself. It’s next to impossible to understand someone suffering from such an illness. It rained a lot as it was winter and once, in a vicious thunderstorm, when a lightning struck nearby, he murmured something about his illness, pointing his crooked index finger, which seemed to be broken in three places, at the window.
    ‘It’s a thunder,’ the nurse said. ‘And a lightning, master Constantine, but it’s far away.’
    He waved his hand and pointed at the window again, then at his own forehead. He wanted to say that something had struck him in his head, just like a lightning, but the nurse failed to understand him. Generally speaking, nobody understood him, though he made regular attempts to tell them something. He felt strangely helpless, thinking about weird things that made him mad, and he would groan. He was desperately trying to remember something, but couldn’t, while his groaning was usually taken as a sign of an approaching seizure. Unbearably frequently he remembered a flat and painful cane, which his teacher of French used to carry. When he was a child, she lived in their house teaching his brother and him French, chosen for some obscure reason. She would raise her flat cane, say a word in French and then lower it very slowly and haughtily. Then she would say another word and lower the cane in such a way as if she was indicating that she had a cane and was ready to hit them. She was an awful woman, really terrible. He still remembered her black dress with a white collar, her thin face and her hands, or rather bones, real bones, her shallow cheeks, a bun of her thin hair and her shoes with large buckles. It was this woman who used to wake him up in the mornings and set to raise and lower her cane. Also, he remembered fishers and ferrymen, who used to sail between the islands on their simple rafts, which served as ferries in those days. He was fond of a Sungali ferryman who always had some kind of plaything for him, a finely carved wooden figurine, or a ball on a string, which he skilfully juggled so that it appeared and disappeared in his hand. He also had a flute and taught him to play on it.
    Sometimes he wanted to tell all these stories, but he tired soon. Besides, he felt that no one understood him, judging from those dumb questions they asked him. So, in frustration, he would drop his right hand with the help of which he tried to tell his stories.
    It happened to him in a most unusual way. He had no recollection whatever of what and when it happened. Previously, he used to get up early, leave his bedroom and have his breakfast outside, in the open. This was his routine all year round. Occasionally, though, he used to have strange spells of drowsiness. At these times, no one went into his bedroom, no one had actually ventured since his wife’s death. They would only go there to clean up when he was out, otherwise he wouldn’t allow. He and his wife adhered to an artless old tradition: she always tided up their bedroom. Who would dare go into the master bedroom? That’s how it was in the olden days and that’s how he liked it now: he hated to see intruders. Initially they thought it was his occasional drowsy spell or whatever. They didn’t dare knock on his door until two in the afternoon, when Martia, his bailiff, peeped into his bedroom. Martia, being sent on an errand at half past ten, returned from the city in the afternoon. He seemed to be asleep, but Martia was alerted by his arm, unnaturally dangling from under the bedclothes. His breathing, which didn’t sound like snoring, was also suspicious. Martia tried to wake him, rang the bell, made a lot of noise, touched him, shook him and then guessed: either his master was already dead or was dying. He stayed around and, because he didn’t dare call for medical help himself, phoned his children. Three days later Constantine Visramiani opened his eyes. But just about, not more. And now, two months later he was lying in his wide, heavy bed, which seemed to be forever secured to the floor, and tried to communicate things. His children came, together and one by one. His trustee and lawyer, Samson Brass V, came, took some papers out of his case, put a luminous marker in his broken and pale fingers and asked him to highlight those bits which he didn’t like. Constantine smiled and made a fist, as if saying he’d show everyone where to get off. Brass laughed. The old man looked through the will, not very attentively, but he attempted to write something with the marker. He was trying for quite some time without much success and Brass approached him to help. The old man pointed to his scribbles and the lawyer saw four monastic letters written with obvious difficulty.
    ‘Data?’ Brass asked
    The old man agreed with his eyes and added something.
    ‘Anything special?’
    The old man waved his hand, but he also used his finger to indicate that he wanted Data to come.
    ‘Should he come?’
    The old man put his finger across his lips.
    ‘All right, sir... I’ll do whatever you tell me... You know, sir, how much I respect you. Several generations of my family have served yours...’
    The patient smiled and showed him a thumb up.
    Brass collected the papers and reached for the marker. The old man grabbed his hand.
    ‘Yes?’
    The patient held to the marker.
    ‘Shall I leave it with you, sir?’
    The old man nodded heavily and said something again. He tried to slip the marker under the pillow with his awkwardly upturned hand. Brass helped him, but thought as he left: ‘He hasn’t got a pencil. I wonder if the doctors forbade.’
    Paper and pencil was forbidden by Kaya, the dying man’s daughter, in an effort to guard him from unwanted worries. The doctors agreed, because they doubted he would be able to write intelligibly, which would certainly upset him and cause more suffering as a result. It was Kaya who called lawyer Brass, saying her father was in a poorly state and would he please come to let him look over the papers one last time, as the law demands, because Dad is the type easily upset by such worries and we don’t want his last days to be marred with anguish. Neither Kaya nor Brass knew that what happened four days earlier, taken as the second and last stroke and which brought all the family around Constantine Visramiani’s bed in haste, was nothing in reality. The doctors said his heartbeat was normal, his blood pressure was satisfactory considering his general condition, and even if it was another attack, it subsided, or else it might have been a simple dizzy spell which frightened them so much. In any case, it was taken as yet another indication that the end was near, so lawyer Brass was summoned to the deathbed. Kaya was sure that if any alteration was made, it would be in her favour.
    In truth, it was neither a stroke nor a dizzy spell. With his head tossed back, the old man lay observing a respectful line of his mournful descendants. He contemplated his children, but who knows what went on behind his half-closed eyes. The scrutiny continued for a long time, even well into the doctors’ arrival. He heard their muted conversation, then listened to the perturbed whispery bits and pieces of his children and his nephews, and then opened his eyes. He raised his hand and said something. This hushed everyone and they crowded the great bed visibly relieved. Kaya sat down on the edge, took his hand in hers and stroked it. The old man smiled at her, though he had already thought his thoughts. He said something, knowing that Brass would come the following day. He actually said so: ‘Call for Samson, you idiots’. Of course no one understood him, but Samson Brass came next day. The old man didn’t need Brass at all, he wanted Data to come. Data had been only twice to see his grandfather, and never alone. Christmas was approaching and he would surely come together with his family, but the old man wanted to see him alone. Samson Brass was a smart man and would immediately understand. The entire near-death pretence was acted out by him only to see his grandson.
    And now Data was sitting in front of him, astride, just like in his childhood, when he thought the chair was a horse. He was resting his arms on the back of the chair, his legs wide apart.
    The old man was talking, not altogether without vigour. He often helped his words with his hand, but Data didn’t understand Grandpa. Data didn’t interrupt him, the old man stopped occasionally for a breather, then he would resume, and the awkwardly shaped words, lost somewhere on the border between the man and the air, could be heard. The old man seemed to be agitated, looking at Data only occasionally. He went on, as if telling a story. Data sat quietly, watching him. He couldn’t bring himself to say he didn’t get a single word. He didn’t want to because he took pity of his grandfather. Meanwhile, the old man’s prattle was excited, serene and wise at the same time. It couldn’t have been otherwise, but suddenly it dawned on Data that poor Grandpa wasn’t really saying what he had expected to hear from the start. All along Data thought that Grandpa was explaining how important it was for him, Data, to become the head of the Visramiani family, to lead and reign them as Grandpa imagined. On his deathbed Grandpa was once again going to ask Data to turn back to the family and prove to his mother and his uncles that he, Grandpa, made no mistake in choosing Data for the role. On his way here Data was absolutely sure Grandpa wanted to say all this. How he would manage, with his eyes or his untiring hand, or some other method, Data didn’t know, but he had a reply prepared for the occasion. His answer was easy: OK, Grandpa. Then no one could tell the old man that Data had ignored his last wish. But now, in this huge room, sitting astride a chair, Data began to suspect the old man was trying to tell him something completely different. Grandpa himself seemed to be prompting that much, as it was inconceivable that he would put so much effort and time into communicating the message he had been reiterating over and over again throughout the last year. The old man was getting tired more frequently, took longer breaks and then, with a deep sigh, would embark on new stories, new admonition or advice. Who knows what he was saying or trying to tell his grandson? Possibly he was seeing something so horrible, so ghastly that he wished to ward his grandson off. Or probably he had already guessed that the mirrors where he now was, were completely different and wanted to instruct Data on his future actions.
    Later, when Constantine Visramiani was no more, Data knew perfectly well what to do. He was scared at the thought that his grandfather had foreseen it all and attempted to save at least one, to protect at least one so that he could remain a man capable of starting from a scratch. Data knew all this, because when Grandpa seemed to have finished talking, he couldn’t bring himself to say: OK, Grandpa. Because he didn’t know what to say OK to, he fell silent and stared at the floor, tracing the cornelian floorboards with his eyes.
    Grandpa was lying face up, staring at the ceiling. He was exhausted, very different, with a grey beard and two tiny black spots on his ashen, gaunt face.
    Data got up, ready to bid good-bye, hug and say something to the old man. At that moment Grandpa stirred and waved to him. Data approached him, thinking this was a good time to embrace him, but the old man pointed his thumb at the pillow. Data thought he was asking to adjust it, but Constantine shook his head and said something pointing to the pillow again. Data adjusted it and Grandpa murmured again, trying to reach the edge with his hand.
    Data squeezed his hand under the pillow thinking Grandpa wanted to give him something. He drew a luminous marker from under, nothing else.
    The old man beamed and indicated with his finger to uncap it. Then he took it and straightening the blanket over his chest, began to draw on it.
    Data stood watching. The old man made painful attempts to write. Data guessed that it was a kind of a message and helped Grandpa by flattening the blanket case with his hand. The old man smiled at him and continued to write without even properly seeing the place he was trying to scribble on. He managed five letters and it became clear for Data that Grandpa told him everything. The letters were all awry, askew and aslant, hardly visible on the blanket.
    The old man handed him the marker and smiled at him, content and seemingly relieved.
    ‘Intee.’ There were five letters, meaning ‘run’, written on the blanket.
    The old man waved at his grandson, as if dismissing him. He waved several times, in a way one waves off a pestering fly, and Data said:
    ‘OK, Grandpa... OK.’
    The old man smiled and waved once again, summoning him with the same right hand. Data went up to him, sat down on the edge and his grandfather patted him on the shoulder. The gesture was so playful, so youthful that Data shivered: for a second he even imagined that Grandpa winked at him. Then the old man waved his hand and Data said:
    ‘OK, Grandpa.’
    As he was going out, he looked back at the bed.
    Grandpa raised his hand, showing his crooked finger, which looked like broken in three places. He held it up this way for some time and Data repeated:
    ‘OK, Grandpa.’


    Blue Booklet N 8
    8 of Dagger
    3. A CAT MEOWING IN THE BIG HOUSE

    Jessica de Rider was a writer, God knows what kind, but a writer.
    She had made quite a fortune with her writing and had bought: a detached house with a garden in the heart of Hempstead, one in the Swiss Alps because she loved them and a villa on Santa Esperanza. Besides, she had a flat in Venice and a cottage in Tuscan countryside.
    Her last choice was south of Spain, scorching hot Spain, and for this reason she had collected a number of magazines to properly study the villas and all the necessary details before buying a new property. So much for her real estate, but she also owned two distinct pieces: a pink 1966 convertible T-Bird with nickel wings and a 42-feet yacht Fata Morgana also painted pink. At the moment she didn’t feel at all like looking at the Spanish magazines, which lay discarded around.
    Jessica de Raider was certainly not young. She had already forgotten her springs, but was heroically struggling to prolong the last days of her autumn. She witnessed the onset of the war and dropped her weapons.
    She missed the opportunity to leave the country. She considered it below herself to squeeze into the plane, so she stayed in the city divided into two, where bullets wheezed very suspiciously.
    In the port, in a private marina, her yacht swayed on the waves, but Jessica never went to either have a look at it, or for that matter, to protect it.
    That evening, when the Governor was seen off with fireworks and the first gunfire was heard as Kaya Visramiani’s troops seized the Military Museum and the airport, Jessica was seriously frightened.
    Then she decided against putting her name on the waiting list for plane tickets. Partially because she wanted to avoid the hustle of the queuing crowd, partially because she was drunk. She was terrified not so much of the country itself, or the city, or, say, a murky street or her garden, but of her own house much more. The house turned out to be too large, full of eerie noises and spirits for the time like this. In other words, Jessica was terrified of solitude. She was scared and set to fight solitude. She secured the house, found all the weapons available, put them around her and began to drink. She had plenty of wine. Had she been less sluggish, she could have been called a wine connoisseur. Her cellar was quite full.
    Jessica locked and bolted the back door of her house. She also locked the shutters, fastened them securely with ropes, and even moved a heavy chest against the back door. In the front she left only two windows uncovered. These two were right above the main entrance and overlooked the garden. Though she locked the front door firmly, it had two narrow glass panes, so someone determined to get in could easily break the stained glass and reach inside for the latch. That’s why Jessica took down several pictures from the walls and used the nails to add some protection to the windows. She was content with the result. Now everything seemed fine. She even ventured out to buy some basic necessities. No problem there as the grocery round the corner was still open. However, she only dared out with a gun, a reliable shotgun she had. She carried it over her shoulder, as well as a small revolver in her handbag. Knives, daggers, scissors, shotgun cartridges, a screwdriver and bottles were strategically placed at the sofa, near the open window.
    Later, Jessica called all this the wine diet, as she couldn’t resist writing a small book about her one-month war adventure: ‘Solitary Sentinel Jessica de Rider’.
    That’s how she used to sit around, often turning the radio up. Sadly, not a single world TV channel offered a full and acceptable coverage of the local events, and Santa Esperanza had no channel of its own. Sometimes the local news would appear on BBC World Service, not that it could boast of wide interest. There were frequent blackouts and then Jessica would stand at the window with her shotgun, guarding her garden. She even had a telescope, but the garden was rather dense. One could only look down from the attic, but even then wouldn’t be able to see much.
    Jessica was tipsy most of the time and such grogginess helped her a lot because she got quite familiar with her house. She lived through several days and her fear seemed to have deserted her. What would she fear in a place which had grown so familiar?
    And still, she was a little scared of a couple of rooms, where she didn’t even venture. The house creaked, whispered, rustled, chuckled, moaned and murmured, but Jessica wasn’t afraid anymore, because when the house used to sound this way, she was already dozing on the sofa, cuddling the shotgun. Jessica de Rider, the author of so many books, would even go into the shower with her gun. Besides, boozed up like she was, the house noises, emitted by evil or just naughty spirits, seemed somewhat distant and unthreatening.
    And still, she had a couple of adventures, also discovered she could drink all these pricey wines, leaving the unfinished bottles on window sills where the sun could easily spoil the meticulously-brewed beverage. She could drink and not fear anything, because it turned out that the talks between Jessica and wine had triggered something capable of creating an entire imaginary country. It was a magic country where Jessica fired her shotgun, but never killed anyone, or thought she had got rid of her enemy, who invariably returned to face her over and over again, just like in a fairy tale. Then, Jessica wrote in her entertaining book that she found out she was kind, because the country she had invented, turned out to be a real one. But for her, it was a fairy-tale-like, despite all the hardship that befell it, and a truly kind country it turned out to be, as no one ever died there. ‘I think I’ve bothered James Matthew Barrie’, Jessica thought. That’s exactly how she wrote after going through a highly effective alcohol abuse treatment, somewhere in Texas. But Jessica understood it later. Meanwhile, she really fired and really drank, walking about the house on her unsteady feet, an especially precarious condition around the corridor bends and stairs.
    This is how Jessica de Rider stayed in the middle of hostilities and this is how she fortified her house. But once, late in the evening, Jessica heard a meowing. As she had dozed off, initially she thought it was the music she had forgotten to switch off, or it was TV suddenly springing to life, or the radio trying to be heard. The room that Jessica had chosen to set up her military camp was a large one, the sitting-room. She never liked animals, never kept any pets, neither dogs nor cats, which she thought were worse. She called them ‘spinsters’ and considered herself a kind of a cat. So, when she shook off drowsiness, she realised that inanimate objects couldn’t possibly meow. It had to be a cat which had crept through the attic, or some other place. You never know with cats, they always find a way. Spinsters she called them, and they see life quite differently.
    Soon the cat began to meow with such vehemence that she was reminded of poor little kittens in distress. She grabbed her shotgun, ready to embark on a cat search. When she came to the top of the stairs and put the light on, she decided to go to the attic. She pictured how she would find somebody’s cat that lost its way, or a cat stuck, which couldn’t free its paw or even its head, couldn’t crawl either forwards or backwards. And here comes Jessica, puts her shotgun down, carefully frees the poor creature, cuddles it tenderly, takes care of it and they soon become friends.
    But the thoughts passing through her head were useless as the meowing came not from the attic, but from downstairs.
    Grabbing the shotgun, Jessica began to descend with caution. There were seven rooms and a kitchen downstairs. The sound wasn’t coming from the farther rooms, where the doors were kept locked, it was nearer. What bothered Jessica was that the meowing stopped. Apparently, the cat had heard her footsteps. She went into the hall and hit the switch. The hall was huge, the same size as the sitting-room upstairs, actually exactly above the hall. Oh, damn... Nothing here, neither a cat, nor anything else, no sound. Jessica looked around carefully and then opened the first door with the barrel.
    It was dark inside. She put on the light and had a good look. Nothing there, no sound either.
    Jessica de Rider prepared for a battle. She pulled the trigger with considerable effort and posed the gun. This is when she heard the meowing again and, without much deliberation, headed for the open door of the kitchen.
    When she was at the door, she called quietly:
    ‘Kitty, kitty, kitty... Where are you?’
    Trying to hold the shotgun with one hand, she felt for the switch on the wall.
    Snap...
    In the middle of the kitchen, in a rocking-chair, there was crammed a large man, unshaved and fleshy, grey and bold, bearded and funny. He had a white hat in his hand.
    ‘Uuu...’ Jessica wailed.
    ‘Meow,’ the man said. ‘Luka’s come.’
    ‘Nearly killed you.’ Jessica lowered the gun.
    ‘Nearly always killed. You nearly killed me then. Luka’s always nearly killed,’ the man said.
    ‘How did you get in?’
    ‘Oh, my God! What sort of welcome is this for an old friend? Plenty of empty bottles... Have you got any full?’
    Jessica stood holding the gun and crying.
    ‘It’s exactly like this in Jessica de Rider’s books,’ Luka said sadly. ‘Finally they met each other, an aging man and a woman fighting with her age. Now they have to start all over again.’
    ‘Start what?’ Jessica was leaning against the wall with her forehead. ‘Start what, Luka?’
    ‘Luka is a tramp,’ Luka said. ‘And the war’s ending, tomorrow, no the day after tomorrow... Luka’s missed some people. I’m not sure, either he’s in love, or just misses, but when he misses someone, Luka always visits them. Then he might disappear, but he still misses.’
    ‘Luka, I... I then... I left then. I had no choice. I left then because...’
    ‘Don’t... Yes, you left, but I didn’t follow you.’
    ‘How d’you mean? Darn the gun... But you are here, aren’t you?’
    Luka leant forward, probably wanted to take the shotgun from her. He couldn’t reach it, but the rocking-chair seemed to have propelled him and he grabbed it.
    And so they stood, holding on to the shotgun, staring at each other.
    ‘Thus they met...’ Luka managed to utter.
    ‘I’ll die,’ Jessica whispered.


    4. THE SEAFRONT STAR OF FATE

    It was a wonderful summer evening, full of pleasant noises.
    The sun had decided to wrap the city in cleverly and heavenly proportionate warmth. The sun didn’t resemble an unearthly beauty, it rather looked like a youthful widow who had always been cheerful. Her present state had certainly kept her in check, but her innate nature had survived, while the restricting straps had created something utterly sweet, warm, deliciously magnificent. The sun was standing in the doorway, just like that widow with shapely hips in tightly fitting mourning, showing her alluring curves, pale in a manner that only widows can be, but having preserved the flesh despite her loss, smiling at the passers-by. Such was the sun that evening, while the breeze seemed to be inspired by Ambrogio’s hand, that of The Fortunato’s renowned chef. He had a knack of sprinkling his divine risotto with the grated cheese, as only he knew the secret of the necessary amount, which made all the difference between his and hundred other risottos, and as he himself was heard to have admitted, it was the exact amount of the cheese which was decisive. Similar to Ambrogio’s masterly hand-wave, the breeze was taking the fresh scent away from the sea waves, only to sprinkle the city with it. This kind of seasoning proved truly ambrosial in combination with the sun, and the two had produced a hitherto unachieved effect. Unfortunately, such evenings, memorable for their ideally knotted naturalness, are pretty seldom. There are wonderful evenings, true, but there are few, but very few magic evenings like these. It’s possibly every five, no, every ten years that such an evening can be witnessed in May, or between the tenth and twentieth of September, and that’s about it. Besides, how long do they last? Half an hour. Not longer. Then the sun creeps into the sea, the pleasant breeze becomes more of a wind, upsetting the gentle balance of the delicious seasoning. Then, the dusk takes an upper hand and it’s not a peaceful evening any longer, it’s just dark. And how noisy the waves become at this hour? It’s at dusk that you suddenly remember they’re the waves. Before, they were peacefully calm and quiet, slightly foaming at the surface. But at this hour, on these evenings, at the short times of an inconceivable proximity of the widow and the grated cheese, all places of the Island are stunningly beautiful. Even the doorways, where the heavenly apportion of light fails to reach. Indeed, it’s the time when the light is gorgeously beautiful, if it can ever be described in these terms at all. At other times, what is light anyway? Is it beautiful? On the other hand, it’s the shade that brings out the beauty of the light. However, without the proper seasoning of the air, its attraction is lost forever. And so, it was such an evening, getting dark in such a way.
    Luka was sitting in his usual place, on the Windies’ beach. He had buried his heels in the warm sand, taking the evening in, breathing and watching it.
    The same place, the same house of the Windies, whose whereabouts were a mystery, the same garden overgrown with nettles, and the same beach. It was strewn with the round-edged pieces of broken bottles and the threateningly ugly, dried out branches, parched stumps, once powerful and many-limbed, now completely drained of life by the sea, lying weightless and eaten out from the inside. A funny crab was crawling near Luka for quite some time. He took off his hat and covered it. The crab moved underneath, crawled a little, pushing the hat forward. Luka looked down with a smile at the moving hat, which was hiding a backwards-walking creature struggling underneath. Then he took his hat, returning the monstrous looking fighter to the place where they started their game.
    It was the same old place and Luka had returned to the same place. He frequented the place. He had no choice. It was spring and soon the entire city would be swarming with the arriving holiday-makers. For instance, there was a big event scheduled in two days’ time: seeing off the Governor with fireworks and what not. Even the Queen had already made her appearance. The country would shit its share and move on. And all the while, Luka was in love.
    It was utter nonsense.
    It was so stupid that Luka couldn’t even admit it, though he hadn’t found it hard on previous occasions. He was a free man. But this time he was safeguarding the woman. Now, this autumn he was going to be sixty-four and he fell for someone fit to be his daughter, or even granddaughter, had he taken care of things in their due time.
    He’d surely seen her many times before, but it was right here, on the Windies’ beach, that he first saw her from so close. It was here that he met her, helped her out of an unpleasant situation. Luka was mercilessly beaten then, but he still enjoyed every minute of his adventure. And she was grateful. Simply grateful. Luka loved adventures. In the middle of it a new love would spring up. ‘Luka’s never going to be old’, he said once. He loved unexpected things too. He had seen so much, lived through such a lot of suffering and left them all behind, that now he was completely and absolutely free. But he was in love now and couldn’t do anything about it. They were no match. He had an amazing talent for falling for the women who had fallen from god-knows-where. It was like a weight suddenly dropping into the sea while loading a ship. It’s usually met with a loud laughter from the pier. Doesn’t happen very often, but still... And so, here he was, on the Windies’ beach, thinking back at the time when he first saw her in the darkness, how he lit his lighter and had a first close look.
    That’s how it was. Luka had fallen in love with Salome Visramiani.
    Luka was forever ready for a miracle.
    And, generally speaking, he believed in miracles and liked to perform them. He considered them as his adventures. Others called them mishaps. And so, he sat waiting for the miracle because it was exactly that sort of evening. No way Luka could be mistaken.
    The miracle came. It fell from the sky, right at Luka’s feet, between his hat and the crab. It came in the shape of the Rothmans Royals.
    An old trick. She remembered their previous meeting.
    Luka turned around in a flash.
    Salome had dark sunglasses on and looked exactly like the widow which looked exactly like the sun that evening.
    ‘You’ve come,’ Luka said.
    ‘I always come here. Don’t get up, Luka... How’re you?’
    ‘My bones’ve healed,’ he chuckled. He’d never tell her. He couldn’t bear to see her laugh at him.
    Salome said nothing.
    Wasn’t she a widow, though? At least for general public? She stood staring at the sea.
    ‘Waiting for someone?’ Luka asked. ‘Want me to leave?’
    ‘No... He doesn’t come here any more. It’s just a habit of mine. Pretending he’d come. Hoping he would. So I keep coming...’
    Luka laughed.
    ‘And Luka keeps comin’ as he knows the other chap stopped comin’, but you keep on, hopin’ he’d appear... See, Luka’s smart.’
    Salome smiled.
    ‘Found you easily.’ She put her hand on his head. ‘Luka, your head’s very hot.’
    ‘Why should it be cold?’ Luka sighed. ‘Salome, please let me have this packet, and I’ll give you this crab as a keepsake,’ he lifted his hat.
    ‘All right,’ Salome said. ‘Listen, Luka. There’s going to be a war.’
    ‘A whaaat?’ Luka had seen enough wars in his life.
    ‘No, seriously. A war’s going to break...’
    ‘How can you be sure?’
    ‘You know my mother... Unfortunately she’s going to start it, so I know.’
    Luka was silent. He lifted the crab and had a good look at it.
    ‘We haven’t had such weather for twelve years,’ he said and tossed the crab. ‘I won’t give it to you, ‘tis too ugly.’
    ‘Luka, please, be careful... Think of something, tell anyone you wish. I’ve been around all day, warning different people.’
    ‘You have?’ Luka asked blankly.
    ‘Please, be careful, Luka.’
    ‘I’m Luka. The war’s not gonna touch Luka... And you... Come with me, hide at my place again. I’ve still got two unbroken ribs and I’m quite ready...’
    Suddenly, Salome knelt at his side, took his unshaven, prickly cheeks in her palms and kissed him on the forehead.
    ‘Wow,’ Luka said.
    ‘Take care, Luka, please, don’t die.’
    Salome rose and went back, to the Windies’ garden.
    ‘I was born too early!’ Luka yelled. ‘Born too early! Damn... Still, I’ll see you from time to time! See you, at least! Nothing else... Luka doesn’t ask for anything more... Luka was born too early. But I agree. What’s the difference? What’s good for Sandro da Costa, is good enough for me. I’ll go with it.’
    Salome had gone.

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