RETURN TO BYZANTIUM
A Cosmic Love Story
ROBERT–BASIL WALLACE PAOLINELLI
Then shall I see God
without my flesh.
The moon was in its last quarter when Constantinople fell
In ancient times there was a city, a newly built city, one not under the aegis of the old gods of Olympus, that vast pantheon of immortals who had held sway as from days of yore: But the new city was under the Beatitudes and the parables which had heralded and revealed the mystical Christ, so the city therefore, was under the aegis of the new religion, Christianity, crusher of ignorance, bringer of a new spiritual light, kept burning by the followers of Jesus Christ, whose following, threehundred and more years after his advent had grown exponentially, planting itself into the soil and sinking its roots into the bedrock of the old Roman Empire. This new and Christian empire stretched from the Atlantic shores of Lusitania to beyond the Black Sea and north to Russia. All of the Mediterranean littorals, everything in between the Pillars of Hercules to beyond the Nile River and across Sinai and still further. Its influence reached even as far as India. This then was the city: Constantinople–New Rome: the first great city of Christianity.
The old Rome, the Rome of the fallen Republic and the corrupted Caesars, whence all roads lead to in the days of old, had been bathed in the blood of pagan sacrifices for too many centuries and, therefore, unsuitable for the capital of the new religion. Thus, New Rome was built in 330 A.D. on the site of the town of Byzantium, known since olden times, but relatively insignificant until it was chosen to be the capital of the new Christian state, founded by Constantine the Great, Emperor, founder not only of a new city, but, also, founder of a new empire: The Roman Empire of the East, ruled from New Rome, which city came to be known as Constantinople–the city of Constantine, the anchor, the centrum, the focal point of the new religion. And while Antioch and Philadelphia and Alexandria and other cities became great in their own way, it was Constantinople to which all roads now lead.
Constantine had wrested his great power from Maxentius, whose army he had trounced at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. The battle decided who would be emperor of the old Roman Empire. Before the battle, however, Constantine had a vision of a cross suspended in space along with the words Touto Nika, In this sign, conquer. And Constantine, touched deeply by this vision, sent out an order to his commanders that upon all shields and banners and flags crosses should be painted. and through the strength and new confidence of this revelation, he gave battle with Maxentius, his foe whom he conquered in the name of the vision of the cross. And a new order was set into motion which changed the world forever.
And for more than a thousand years, Constantinople reigned, sometimes majestically, magnificently; sometimes over–confidently, sometimes treacherously, sometimes richly, sometimes with the coffers of the treasury almost empty. Constantinople boasted of universities and lower schools, seminaries and monasteries, hospitals, libraries, music schools; and Constantinople was the home of thousands of Christians who laid the foundation of the great churches; and the greatest of all churches of Christendom was Hagia Sophia, the Holy Wisdom, named after God's Word. There the emperors were crowned and buried and there the Patriarches orated to the masses and watched over the dogmas.
But in the tragic year of 1453, after a long and steady decline, on the 29th of May, after onethousand, one hundred and twenty–three years and eighteen days, the reign of eighty–eight emperors and empresses who had sat on the first most powerful Christian throne, came to an end.
For on that day of lamentations, after six weeks of incessant bombardment by huge cannons, the guns of the besieger, Mehmet II, the Turkish Sultan, pulverized a section of what were once the heretofore indestructible walls of Constantinople.
At the Romanus Gate, Military Gate Number Four, which had taken the brunt of the cannonades,is where the wall collapsed and where the fanatical troops of the Sultan broke through the failed defenses of the long–besieged Constantinople, at which point the enemy troops pouring into the city through the breeches began the wild slaughter of men, women and children, the aged, the wounded. They raped the women then killed them; they laid waste churches and violated monasteries, killing monks and raping nuns, then killing them or keeping them as slaves. For three days they pillaged and plundered anything of value. They stripped the churches of icons; they opened walls in private houses and dug up basements in search of treasures, buried during the siege. They captured more than 60,000 citizens of Constantinople, then sold them, like so much cattle to slave traders, who in turn sold them again to the highest bidders. And those whom they did not sell into slavery, they beheaded or tortured killing not only citizens, but killing the city itself, the jewel of Byzantium, which would never be the same under the heel of the Moslem Turks who became the new masters, who would rule the violated city for over five hundred years, plunging a once enlightened city into a darkness from which it never quite recovered.
When the wolves of war captured the city of the blooded lamb, the soldiers of the marauding Sultan entered the holiest church of Byzantium and defiled it in the grossest ways. Then came Mehmet II, riding his charger in all his piratical and conquistadorial glory, and, at the doors of The Great Church, after paying proper obeisance at the entrance by touching his forehead to the ground in the Moslem manner, with that gesture and with a breath of a command, he completed the destruction of Constantinople by simply declaring Hagia Sophia to no longer be a church, but to be a mosque. And through force of arms ignorance and egomania he too, changed the course of history.
For over fourhundred seventy years, the enchained church was used as a mosque. But since, however, the reforms of Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, St. Sophia has been demosqued, and transformed yet again into something it was never intended to be: a National Museum, thereby (oddly enough) being ironically saved from suffering the further humiliation of having to be a Moslem mosque. Annually, thousands and thousands of tourists and students from around the world come to visit and to study Hagia Sophia, the surviving principal church of Constantinople.
There is yet another ironic twist to this long story: Most everyone thinks Istanbul, the new name for The City, is a Turkish word. It is not. In spite of the long Turkish occupation and cultural usurpation, The City remains Greek–named. For the word Istanbul, is a phonetic corruption of the old Greek phrase: Eis Tin Polis, i.e., To the city. This corrupted form might even be understand in its phonetic transmutation by the travelers of old, who, when asked, "Where are you going?" simply had to say: "Eis tin Polis", To the city, and everyone understood that to mean, Constantinople, now called Istanbul.
Anna D. walked down the Hilaiahmen Caddesi. Anna was a tourist, an American of Greek descent, an amateur iconogra– pher. This was her first trip to Istanbul. She was now on her way, wearing her favorite, down–to–earth English walking shoes, to Hagia Sophia, inside of which she would see her favorite icon: The icon of Christ Pantocrator. Back home, she had made an academic study of this holy image and now she would see it personally. She knew she would find it in the apse of the south gallery.
She had never been overseas before and while she was here she was going to take advantage of her position and visit not only such monuments as Hagia Sophia, but, also, as many of the minor churches or, the remains of churches, as possible. She was determined to visit every Byzantine ruin she could; to see every relic and icon; determined even to visit a pile of seemingly indifferent, long–forgotten Byzantine bricks in an out of the way neighborhood, the picture of which had caught her eye in her guide book. Her points of interests calendar was filled, but for the moment Anna was on her way to Holy Wisdom, and she was thrilled. Her roots in this place were deep and she was beginning to sensw the depth of those roots as she walked toward the Great Church.
Now at hand was a place which she had come to know only from oral family histories, tomes of history reproductions in art and art history books and Byzantine Studies journals and occasional papers and through maps and photographic slides. She was thrilled. A dream was coming to life.
She'd waited many years to go to Hagia Sophia. Now, as she walked, using her fine guidebook map and her intuitions, she knew she was close, and in knowing this, she experienced an onset of demureness, a deference to something beautiful, ancient and spiritual; something filled with mysteries; something which made her lower her eyes, cast down her dark brown eyes in honest, sincere modesty, by a woman from a good family, paying a visit to the land of her ancestors, to the very city of the generations of her ancient family. Anna was now face to face with her genealogical and religious roots, for (originally) her family had continuously resided in Constantinople, and had been Orthodox Christians since the 4th Century A.D. This long residency was documented on the back of an icon, kept in the family since that long–ago era. Each generation kept the icon and passed it down to the next, hand to hand, family to family, and eventually taken out of Constantinople during the upheavals therein and in Asia Minor during the War of 1922, when her maternal grandparents fled the ancestral home and took up refuge and residence in Athens, settling in until another war, the Greek Civil War of the 1940s disturbed the family equilibrium and Anna's parents decided to immigrate to the United States, where she was born, where she was raised with the tales of the past transmitted to her in Greek and English. She grew up and became an artist and a life–long student of history. She was an art teacher at a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. It had been the holy icon of Christ Pantocrator which had been given to her remote ancestors which she loved most about her heritage. The iconographer had written a note on the back to her remote great grandfather and dated it with the year and month of the presentation. She carried that memorized note and date in her heart as one would a secret meant only for her. But through the love of the family heirloom, she cultivated her aesthetic and spiritual love of iconography.
From afar she could see the tips of the four, superimposed minarets, added on to the church after the conquest of 1453 so that the muezzins could call out the daily prayers to the people. But, ironically: even the minarets have been silenced and themselves belong to the imposed silence of a museum, through the decrees of the new government bent on sapping the power of imams and mosques in the early days of the Turkish Republic.
Closer she came until from across the gardens she beheld the pearl of Byzantium, the Church of the Holy Wisdom in all its splendor. All the photographs, etchings and woodcuts and oils on canvas, depicting the ageless beauty of it; all the reproductions she'd seen through the years and admired had all at once been rendered useless, merely inept copies of the inexpressible beauty standing before her in this special place, this holy place, this place still exuding a spirit of deep belief in the great mysteries of the Christian faith––in spite of conquest and history.
Before her was an edifice of sublime creation of the Holy Spirit, made manifest through the deft hands of those ancient architects and engineers and craftsmen whose talents and faith took stone and space and color and form and exalted mystery, and turned them into a glorious temple of worship, where priests and laity sang hymns of praise to the Son of God and to his Holy Mother Ever Virgin.
At first she thought that the odd feeling she began to feel was that of her being very excited about seeing Hagia Sophia for the first time. All at once, however, she gasped for air and felt a sharp pain in her breast, and a dizziness came over her which made her stop walking and to struggle for breath and balance. Her vision was slightly blurred. "Am I having a stroke or a heart attack?" she asked herself as she verged on panic. But in the asking of the question she knew that it was neither thrombosis nor apoplexy she was feeling. But something was going on in her body. For all at once there was an almost pins and needles sensation starting from the base of her spine, like a coil unsprung, traversing quickly, upward in the channels of her spine, up through her medulla oblongata, and shoot straight across the middle of her skull; and at a point just between her eyebrows the pins and needles sensation stopped, and in that stopping there came to her, like a clap of silent thunder, a clarity of thought and consciousness spectacular! Nothing in her life's experience could compare to the heightened consciousness she now knew.
Her equilibrium returned, and she no longer felt dizzy, and her blurred vision was no more. There stood out before her the recognition that within––somewhere––she didn't know where, or, wherefrom, perhaps no one definable position––nevertheless, it was not her mind, not her heart at any rate, but there was a someplace, and she was feeling its physical effects, and deeply aware of its cosmic immensities, this something, which might be best described as a great inner peace with a sense of awe and a hint of an anxiety at the splendor of this boundless energy from which she was so suddenly able to grasp knowledge of the past, present and future, and a concomitant serenity heretofore unknown to her.
She had come into a new dimension beyond time, form and space––yet aware of being in time, form and space and out of it simultaneously. It was all too new and mysterious to her. She looked about for some place to sit: She spied a bench nearby. She sat to wait for Bessarion.
Among the more than fifty–five tourists alighting from the silver–toned Mercedes–Benz–air–conditioned tour bus, there was one man, one among many; an anonymous fraction among an anonymous whole. Outwardly, just another curious tourist––so it would seem. But that was not so.
He'd begun his tour from his hotel on the Galata Tower side of modern Istanbul, across the Golden Horn. The tower, built by the Genovese and the skillful stonemasons of Constantinople, yet stood in all its cylindrical glory in spite of wars, fires and the ravages of time.
From his hotel room he could see it quite clearly as he stood on the wide balcony of his room. When, however, he gazed at the old stone tower he always felt both sad and angry simultaneously––and he couldn't say why, could not account for such feelings.
This particular morning, before his tour's departure, Michael stood looking at the tower trying to understand why he was feeling the way he was. When, however, he stepped inside his room, the sentiments seemed to fade and he felt nothing in particular. Nevertheless, each time he saw it, the seeing of the tower caused anger, sadness and oddly enough, a sense of shame. And as he stood facing the tower, he had a refinement of the discernment of his emotions, which he realized, were not caused so much, per se by seeing the tower, no; but in what he was seeing from the tower! How could that be? That was impossible and incomprehensible! How could he possibly perceive two things, that is, seeing the tower from his 20th Century hotel balcony and seeing something from the tower, looking across the Golden Horn to the 15th Century into old Constantinople––not contemporary Istanbul!
How? He felt stunned, puzzled and worried deeply. He shook his head and went to the sink and splashed cool water onto his face. As he toweled off his face he could remember what he had "seen" (and "heard") from the Galata Tower and it frightened him, making him reel from the recognition of it:––
A city burning, the incessant sound of cannon fire, the screams of the wounded, the curses of the damned, and the last sighs of those dying by the vicious and greedy swords of the Sultan's soldiers. He shuddered and broke into a cold sweat and was half convinced he was going mad. Suddenly the ringing of his telephone, however, brought him away from the brink of seeming madness and a great question about his sanity. He gladly avoided the question and picked up the receiver. The call was from the front desk telling him that the tour director was making a last call to board the bus which would leave in ten minutes.
As the silver–toned, air–conditioned Mercedes–Benz bus passed the Galata Tower Michael stared at it intensely, perplexedly, and suddenly he felt very cold, then passed out, and did not wake up until the bus driver gently shook his shoulder. "Sir, we have arrived at Hagia Sophia. Are you not well, sir?" he asked solicitously.Michael looked up at the concerned driver's face. Momentarily, he was at a loss as to what to say to him, nevertheless, he managed to utter something about jet lag and feeling sleppy. Nevertheless, thanking the driver, he made his way out of the bus; when he was in a position to see the church of Holy Wisdom squarely, he thrilled at the sight of her.
He was an architect from California and a perennial student of Byzantium. He never knew why, he'd always been drawn to it, however. Through the years reading about Byzantium became a thoroughly enjoyable, consuming hobby, and then a spiritual curiosity lead him to study some theology on his own then became a catechumen in the Orth dox church and eventually was chrismated and he took the name of Saint Bessarion of Egypt. He never knew why he'd chosen that name, but he took it and he liked being called after one of St. Anthony's students in the desert. So he thought it only natural to unhesitantly go to Greece when a business opportunity presented itself. He jumped at the chance; and when his business affairs were over, he booked a three day tour from Thessalonike to Istanbul, primarily to visit and study, at first hand, Hagia Sophia, his most favorite of archetectual splendors of the past. The tour included staying in a four star hotel near the Galata Tower. He delighted in that, for he had read about this tower many times, and felt he knew its history intimately.
Hagia Sophia: He felt an immediate joy at seeing this architectural and spiritual wonder––more than he could have imagined. For suddenly he was feeling great waves of bliss wash over him, and he too felt woozy and sought a bench for his shaky legs.
Anna was now standing, strolling, living, as it were, in two separate worlds: The contemporary circumstances of times, places, dates, identities and passports and degrees and licenses, modern society which gives status and legitimacy through classification to people and things, and at the same time she could go beyond worldly limitations overcome them, they could be suspended, for but a blink of her eyes she could go back to a certain day, at a certain time, long ago, when she was waiting for someone named Bessarion––but she didn't quite yet know why or who this Bessarion was. But she would look from within and from without and find him.
As she strolled, she felt a nearness of something. What? Something exciting and dangerous; she could feel this mystery in her bones. She stopped for a moment and looked behind her eyes and saw houses ablaze and people in panic running for their lives helter–skelter while pockets of Byzantine soldiers battled the Turks, whose six weeks of unrelentless bombardment by the Sultan's cannons, had pulverized and crushed what were once the mightiest of fortified walls, the Walls of Theodosius, which had lasted for more than a thousand years; walls which had been besieged before––but that was in the days before gunpowder and powerful siege guns which could hurl an iron or stone ball, weighing more than a thousand pounds against the walls with devastating results.
Now these selfsame guns (cast by the Hungarian mercenary cannon maker, Urban, who'd sold his soul to the Sultan and aimed his cannons to destroy the bastion of Orthodoxy), these tubes of destruction, broke the very stones laid by the faithful, who had carried the icon of the Theotokos to commemorate the victory and salvation from another siege long, long before the tragic year of Fourteen fifty–three. In six weeks all the past glories of the city were nullified by cannon balls and by the hordes of bloodthirsty swordsmen bent on the total annihilation of the populace––if necessary–– to take and plunder, kill and rape for their insane Sultan.
Opening her eyes, Anna found herself back in the park in front of St. Sophia, and that something which had eluded her was coming into focus in her mind's eye. She could see a man almost dead with exhaustion after having swum from the Galata side in the middle of the night during the siege.
He had come to live or die for for Anna and for Constantinople. She recited the name, Anna and shuddered, for instantly she knew that aside from her present identity, she had once been another Anna of another time and age; and by or through some process she could not yet understand, the past and the present were now at her beck and call. Anna knew that she was, had been, was now again: Anna Doukas, daughter of Photios, now a monk in the Monastery of St. John of Studium, once a respected judge and scholar–antiquarian, poet, historian friend of prelates and confidant of princes. An opened–minded observer of the human condition for many years, who suddenly denounced the world, his position and his worldly possessions––even his family, an only daughter, received the tonsure and withdrew. Even his enemies were aghast that he threw up his world to lead a life of penitence, fasts, prayer and undergo other monastic austerities and to study and reflect upon the Scriptures. Anna knew in her heart of hearts that she was the daughter of Photios Doukas, returned nevertheless, was back in Constantinople, about to reunite with Bessarion, her lover of old, in the pay of the neutral Genevese, who sailed and rowed back to Pera (the Galata side) and stayed away from the Sultans siege.
Bessarion followed the paymaster of false logic and half–baked loyalties across the narrow channel to Pera––in a burst of misdirected loyalty to comrades–in–arms and to a narrow, mercantile neutrality, he crossed over to the other side, the other side of compassion, the other side of love, the other side of decency. It had never crossed his mind to desert; his solidarity, however, was costing him dearly; for on the other side ravaged by war, was Anna, whom he had abandoned. It had been (and continued to be) a cowardly act on his part. He had come to regret his original decision: which was that, after all, he had no personal quarrel with the Turks, and the Republic of Genoa, under whose authority he was had no quarrel with the Turks. The Genevese only wanted to be merchants and traders, and to be left in peace to trade, thereby becoming, instead, traitors to humanity. He further reflected, that if the capital of Eastern Christendom fell, well, such is the fate of empires and armies. Yes, he had fooled himself with this false reasoning. Gradually, however, he saw the meanness and the falseness of his reasoning and he was made humble by his having come to grips with his original decision, even though it had been, albeit, a painful process.
Two weeks passed, then began the third week of the siege. And his conscience would give him no rest, no respite from the sounds carried over the water to his ears, and, too, how his heart ached for having left the only person he ever truly loved in the world: Anna. Now he was paying for hisblockheaded reasoning, and his soldier's brashness, but he would pay no more. He was repentant, and he used the power of his repentance to redeem his cowardice in the only way he could: He swam back in the dead of the night with the aid of inflated pig bladders to buoy him, to conserve his strength for the final push to scramble up the steep rocks to an old and almost forgotten, quasi–secret door, one rarely used; but he knew of it and knew where was the key to open it. He also knew that he would find Anna on the other side of the midnight door, for she had sworn that, God willing, she would come every night at midnight and wait by the door until dawn, until her lover returned. She would stay no matter what. She was prepared even to die. She knew his act had ben cowardly, but she also knew that he would one day see his error and return. Her love for him was, therefore, great.
"Bessarion! Oh! I will see Bessarion," she said excitedly under her breath, expressed with the excitement and joy of anticipation. "Darling, blessed sweetness of my heart. Ah, the innocence of our love, oh, the grandeur of our fidelity. Darling, how my heart sings..." There was a lightness in her step as she felt his closeness more and more. Closer and closer, honing in on his beating heart, sending out its rhythm to her. "Oh, Bessarion, beloved mine," she called out softly, turning her head now one way searching him out in the crowds.
Michael, who had taken to a bench to rest his wobbly legs, closed his eyes and within the timeless space behind was a day in May, when his last ounce of strength was used to turn the heavy bolt with the thick, cumbersome iron key which he had to turn with two hands. Because the door had not been used in a dozen years, its hinges squeeked and the wood was tight in the frame because of the dampness, and it was not easy, but open it did, and Anna heard the creak of the opening door and knew it was Bessarion, her lover, returned to protect her and to live or die with her. "Oh, he has returned," she whispered and with her thumb and two fingers joined together, she quickly made the sign of the cross three times and uttered a soft prayer of deliverance to the Mother of God.
Michael opened his eyes. In front of him a number of Norwegian tourists stood for a group picture. He recognized them; they were also staying at the Hotel Galata. He stared at them. On the other side of the Norse visitors he saw her: saw Anna. Anna, who had waited without judgement on him, knowing he would return. For Anna there had never been any question of his returning: it was only a matter of when.
Two grains of the cosmos were about to coalesce in the material world: The past and the ever motile present would become one, recognizable, however, only for Anna and Bessarion. All about them would be the contemporary world with its many conventions and conveniences and traditions of the human condition; but for the two of them, they could live in two worlds seeming to be strangers outwardly, strolling (as they were now doing) separately toward Hagia Sophia, just two more tourists among the thousands, who come to visit and pay homage to the past glory of Constantinople still alive in its glorious cathedral dedicated to the mercy and the mystery of Jesus Christ, but be connected to a source beyond human ken.
On the surface Michael was clothed with the cut and colors of his time, and his body and gestures and idiosyncrasies were his contemporary aspects, but inwardly was the consciousness of the past and the present blended––he sensed the radiation of Anna, his Anna. Oh, it was all so clear what was happening, but also a little frightening. He saw the Norwegians disburse after their group photograph, and now that they were gone, she stood out as would a radiant star in a darkened universe suddenly full of light.
She came out of the darkness with a heavy cloak over her arm for him. She knew he would be not only wet, but cold as well, so she'd brought along some strong spirits and a hunk of bread, a small bowl of olives, a handful covered with oil to feed his body after his strenuous swim.
He did not have to ask whose arm it was touching him. He held onto her shoulders while she let him sip from the spirits bottle she held. They did not speak, and because of the darkness neither could see the other, but he recognized her smell and the rhythm of her breath and the familiar warmth of her body and the special way she touched his cheek.
They stood holding each other for many minutes, and every minute of rest and silent comfort from Anna restored his prowess. And with Anna's spirit fusing with his, he commended his spirit to God and understood he would die with her. This is what he was anticipating. They went to her home where Ariadne awaited them, as she had done every night since her young mistress started keeping her vigil––against Ariadne's better judgement.
Michael stood up in front of her (in) time present and time past ad infinitum. It happened: The coalescence of dimensions. Time ebbing and flowing; the dualities of the human perspective replaced by the absolute connection to the center of consciousness and time and the alpha of the limitations of time and the omega of time eternal. Only inches separated them. His light tan sports coat was unbuttoned. The white cotton shirt he wore was open at the neck and dependent from his neck was a cross potent. He felt it against his chest. It was the same kind of cross they had exchanged as pledges when they understood they truly loved one another and that they would die together, in Constantinople, long, long ago.
As he fingered the heavy gold cross around his neck, the inner vision blossomed into familiar scenes of deeply pledged love between the young Umbria soldier, a mercenary for the Genevese, and the Constantinopolitan maiden, who lived with her devoted duenna and housekeeper, Ariadne, who had helped raise her after the child's beloved mother, Theodora went to sleep and never woke up fifteen or more years ago.
It was then that the recently widowed Photios usurped his daughter's childhood and took her into his world of letters and ideas. He guided her like a captain of a strict ship: She was made to study and learn by heart old manuscripts and ancient scripts, old languages and long lists of vocabulary words from civilizations no longer in existence. That was the atmosphere in which she, little Anna, whose greatest loves were her mother, her nanny and her dolls had been raised. Suddenly one pillar of her childhood, her darling mother, went to sleep one afternoon in the cool summer garden, just beneath the fig tree she loved best; went to sleep with a beatific smile on her face and never woke up. But little Anna, not knowing her mother was dead kept insisting she must be very tired and so the house should let her sleep longer, and that she could eat after she had awakened. But she never woke up.
Although her father loved his scholar–daughter, she had very few girlhood friends, and as she grew older,.she never had any suitors because she was seen as an eccentric: Too scholarly for a women, too learned in things which did not concern females and, had been raised in an atmosphere not correct for a girl. For of what use would any of her erudite learning be as a wife maintaining a domestic household, caring for children and being obedient to her husband's wishes?
Yet Anna was soft and gentle and yes, even passionate with flights of romantic fancies seeing herself in some future as being a priest's wife perhaps, or the wife of a learned man, a judge like her father, who would appreciate her learning. But no one approached her, however. When her father incloistered himself, the social events at her home, where her father's friends (who had also her friends) would come to discuss scripture, the ancient philosophers and scripts and to recite poems, and debate subtle theological points, stopped. Suddenly, the world of ideas and possibilities which excited and fascinated the brilliant Anna came to an end. Rarely had they visitors afterwards. She spent a lot of time alone in her father's studio cataloguing his large accumulation of manuscripts and pieces of art and curiosities from all over the world. She could read most of the foreign scripts she found. Her father had been an unrelenting task master. "Since I have no son, it is to you, my sweet daughter, to whom I must transmit my learning, otherwise it is wasted." So with the years she could speak, read and write several languages; she was able to cite chapter and verse of the Holy Scriptures and she could hold her own in discoursing the histories and the ancient dramatists––she knew them all. Even the Latin poets flowed from her mellifluous tongue. One day, while in the market place near the old Acropolis, she saw Bessarion for the first time.
He was the son of a Greek father and an Italian mother from Umbria, where he'd been born and baptized into the Greek Orthodox church, but after his father's death raised as a Roman Catholic by his mother,. Anna saw and heard him haggling over the price of a sword with a Persian speaking merchant. Bessarion's Persian was atrocious; Anna's was perfect, but nevertheless she couldn't help but chuckle because his Persian was so god–awful yet a bit humorous the way he was speaking which had a flair all its own, and she also found him to be handsome and dashing in his military uniform and his voice, too, was melodious in spite of his fracturing a perfectly beautiful language. She also took pity on him because by his gestures, facial expressions and emphasis of his limited infinitives, she knew he wanted the sword every so badly.
Boldly she stopped nearer the hagglers and offered her services as interpreter to the Persian who gladly accepted her offer, for he wanted to sell the sword and be on his way before the Sultan's army got any closer and closed off all routes of escape for those who wanted to flee before the siege (which was inevitable) was in place.
She knew by his accent that the handsome soldier was Italian, which language she spoke most excellently––her father had made sure of that. But she did not suspect that the soldier also, spoke Greek; of course, not as good as his flawless Italian, nevertheless, he spoke it, as she would soon learn. With her help a price was agreed upon with the monolingual Persian.
Ariadne was now anxious to get home and eat their midday meal which she was looking forward to; but her young mistress had the audacity to stand and `continue to speak with this soldier long after the sword transaction was over and her linguistic skills were no longer needed. She could understand the words of the language they spoke; after all, she, Ariadne, had lived in a scholar's house since her youth and she had learned a thing or two herself. She'd even been to Italy with the master, all the way to Florence to some council or other. She hadn't quite understood it; but what she did know was that the Eastern church and the Roman church were now one. It was about time, too, she thought; after all, had there not been one church once before? But Ariadne in her simplicity had not understood the quibbling over subtle and not so subtle points of theology which had taken place and the politics of the council, which were also completely lost on her, and that the union of the churches was no union at all, but a vain attempt to buy protection for Byzantium against the menace of the encroaching, insatiable, barbarian Turks.
"Dear Ariadne," said Anna, turning to her duenna, "Signore Da Scheggia will accompany us to our home and will eat with us," she said, sweetly, matter–of–factly. Ariadne was shocked. What was the world coming to that a young woman of a good family would invite a soldier, a mercenary, no doubt, to their home for the midday meal? And at that moment she cursed her former master for having become a monk and for leaving two women alone to fend for themselves and protect themselves. Nevertheless, she also knew how lonely Anna was, how she longed for compnaionship. She grew up too quickly and had been raised improperly––so thought Ariadne––by being taught to read old tomes and scripts and not enough exposure to the domestic and womanly arts, although Anna liked to bake bread and to make her own clothes. However, she was more inclined to sit for many hours in her father's musty library and read rather than sit at the rightful place for a woman: the household loom. And who knew what was in all those books she read, and what did she see in those old maps she poured over and those heathen manuscripts she studied, which the old master had collected through the years? Indeed, bring him, this soldier home for the midday meal! How could she do such a thing? She almost turned red for the shame of it.Yet even though this great breach of morals and convention had been made, she could see how happy and animated Anna was with the young soldier. It was as if she had come alive from the dreary scholar's life she lived and became the young and handsome young woman she was. Very well, for th3 sake of the happiness of her young mistress she would set an extra place for this Italian Adonis with his thick hair and his noble bearing. Anyway, how much longer would any of them be alive what with Mehmet's army on its was to the city bent on capturing it?
The three walked to the house. Ariadne walked a few paces in front leading the way and was certain every busybody in the neighborhood was watching them take a soldier into the once respected house of a judge and scholar. She ignored the reproachful stares.
And it was while they ate that Anna discovered Bessarion was learned in architecture. But he'd been drawn to and tempted by the adventurous life of the soldier––or so he thought. He was yet untested in battle, He had done well on the drill field and in the saddle using a heavy wooden sword to learn how to wield a saber. He was a good swordsman on foot or on a horse. But he was full of over confidence and gave no thought to death––as most green troops do.
They stood staring at each other, these ancient lovers of long ago and in the seeing and the remembering of each other, their hearts sang in the 20th Century with the same ardor as when they had first loved each other those days long, long before.
In front of each was the contemporary manifestation of the body and soul of the beloved.
Michael stood there gazing in amazement at this beautiful, incomprehensible creature from the past who had all of a sudden appeared before him.
And simultaneously she was having similar thoughts. "I knew I would find him, and there he is; we loved each other long ago. And I still love him But I'm a married woman with children––yet I love him. What does it mean?".
"I still love her, but what about my wife? How do I explain this to her because she would never understand. Now I can't go back to her."
"How can I go back home to my family now that Bessarion is here?"
The two lovers stared with pure bliss of becoming aware of the other and remembering thoughts of the antiquity of their lives and their deaths and their now encountering one another and living that antiquity inwardly and remembering that past with the same clarity one remembers an event of just a moment ago.
But there was now compounded a moral issue each felt deeply, for standing there remembering their ancient, very human and deep attachment, they nevertheless did not forget their responsibility to spouses and children. Yet there was now a precedence: Their former love . Its age gave it precedence––or did it.?
"One would think that we would be eternally happy now that we have refound each other, but now I feel snared by my past––but it is not my past, because you are past, present and future to me."
"And I to you, beloved. How much simpler were our lives this morning than they are now. I'm overjoyed and at the same time wracked with pangs of conscience. I know by all the traditions and laws and sentiments of people I should not feel so about another man because I am a married woman. But is it wrong to love and want to be with a man I loved centuries ago, and to whom I pledged my heart for eternity? I don't know, I don't know. Do you remember our vows?"
"Yes, I remember our vows, we said them in Hagia Sophia, in front of the icon of St. Mary of Egypt. Was it destiny to have sworn our oath in front of her icon? I wonder. We swore we would love each other and suffer, if we had to, in the same way she suffered for the sake of our Lord. We were so naive; we deluded ourselves. We swore a too strong an oath, I think, and somehow that's a reason for our having to return to redeem that heavy vow."
"Yes, I think you're right." And that's what makes me a little sad amidst our great joy, my beloved BessarionMichael, I don't know what to call you."
"I don't care. Call me what you wish, I only know you as Anna. But that was my sister's name too. She was taken away when my mother died and I never saw her again. This is the first time in many centuries that I've remember that past family connection. Shortly before mother died she arranged for me to be apprenticed to an architect, and that's about the same time she gave my sister up. She knew she was dying and was putting her house in order. It was a sad time for me. My boy's world disentegrated. It was too great a sorrow for a lad my age. She sent me to Torquato Bartoletti, of Gubbio. He was a good and fair man. I was able to find peace once again through the kindness of his wife and his fair treatment of me in his house, and I came to love him like a father, and he treated me like a son––and treated his other two apprentices like sons. After three years he made me principal apprentice––quite an honor for a boy....and reminiscing, he drifted from Istanbul back to a quieter time in Gubbio, the quietude and comfort of a secure place, being a member of a family, eating at the Master's table, controlling the two apprentices by watching how Mastro Torquato did, with firmness and also, gentleness, but always with firmness and a smile for a reward.. But beyond the safety and comfort of the architect's studio there was also a pull in him to seek beyond the safety, leave the familiar and go out into the world beyond the studio, beyond the family, beyond the walls of Gubbio. He kept hearing of great tales of adventure. What he thought was adventure however, were the great struggles and shifts of power going on; one age was ending and a new one was beginning, and the birthing pains of the new age were interpreted as adventure, the way a young man sees the world, sees it naively, feeling it with the audacity and the prowess of youth. Adventure. That is all he understood. He became restless and instead of concentrating on his further studies of drawing, mathematics, metallurgy, stone masonry, the principles of carpentry and decoration and the like, he had his head in a romantic cloud of battles where he would not die and was always victorious.
When, however, he saw a band of Swiss mercenaries passing through Gubbio on their way to some war or other in the East, dressed in their shining breast plates and helmets, he experienced first hand their attractive, rough, down–to–earth ways and had been taken in by their coarse, sometimes, amusing language. He admired their lusty, devil–may–care attitude and he compared that camp life which he found so alluring to the relatively safe, peaceful, sometimes monotonous alternately creative life of an architect's apprentice––the best in the studio, the favorite of the master, guaranteed a position upon completion of his studies. But the call of the unknown, the strange, the exotic was strong.
The opportunity to change came to him in a most unexpected way: His dear master was thrown from a horse and died two days later from complications. His bereaved widow, who was from Venice, decided to close the house, give the apprentices the business and go north and live with her people. When Bessarion expressed a desire to move on, instead, he was excused from his apprenticeship, given a small sum of money left to him by his late master and, leaving Gubbio, he took the road to Bari where he would take ship to Constantinople, which seemed to figure so highly in the tales of the many travelers and refugees from the east.
He was able to hear the Greek language often and what he discovered was that a rich Genovese was hiring guards for his ships and for his warehouses in both Constntinopele and in Pera, on the other side of the Golden Horn from the city. The pay, so he heard, was good and he had a month before the merchant's galley sailed. The reason for the turmoil in the east was the continuous war made in that area by Mehmet II against the Christian world. Like a wolf, he attacked lambs. Those who could, fled, and those who could not suffered the conquest––but the merchants, who would remain loyal to their goods and arbitrary standards, they gathered into their barns and hired guards to save their precious goods, while others, of a higher mind, stood on the battlements commending their souls to God and facing the dripping steel of the Janissaries as they fought and died trying to save civilization from the madness of the mad Sultan
So, falling in with another band of Swiss adventurers, he used some of his money to receive some training in arms. He already knew the rudiments of swordsmanship and with disciplined training excelled in it, but he knew nothing of the crossbow, halberd, small cannons and mounted skills with the saber. He proved however to be a good student and learned his lessons well. The mercenaries, after a while, accepted him as one of their own and they tried to convince him to join them on their way to Trebizond, where the pay would be good and they would be surrounded by a beautiful city and beautiful woman and the open sea and breezes of the Black Sea. Moreover, Trebizond had no quarrel with the Sultan.
But he did not want to go to Asia Minor. He was bent on Constantinople. And when it came to enlisting in the merchant's Constantinopolitan service, Bessarion immediately signed on as a guard for the rich Genovese whose guards would protect the inventories in Constantinople which were to be loaded onto ships in the Phospherian Harbor. The very name, Phospherian sent thrills through his naive, adventurous spirit.
He became a regular guest at Anna's, for the warehouse he helped to guard at Phospherian Harbor was not far from the Gate of Eugenius where was the family home, not far from the old Greek Acropolis. Often he stayed late and even Ariadne eventually came to like the well–mannered youth. She also worried about what was to come of this relationship. Would he marry her? Would she consent to marry him? And what of the impending war the Sultan was to make on the city? The world, her world of simple decency and predictable traditions and customs had collapsed. Now that Anna had no parental restraints, what would she do if she got it into her mind (strong–willed that she was) to do something rash with the young Umbrian? Ariadne, then, would pray that the Lord and the saints would come to help her dear Anna.
The wind blew and stirred the fine dust on the ground and small leaves were carried close to it for short distances like small insects. Michael and Anna were holding hands looking at Hagia Sophia. The could hear many different languages. Together they each counted six languages, an even dozen, making him remark:––
"I can remember that when we used to stroll here we could hear a dozen languages spoken in a short time. I always that it to be exotic and when I said that to you, you thought it wonderful and you found out I also liked languages."
"Yes, I remember when you came to me and asked if I could speak Armenian, because you wanted to hire a goldsmith to make something, two crosses potent, with chains for us as pledges for the vows of our hearts and souls."
"I still carry that cross, and he reached inside his unbuttoned shirt and with thumb and forefinger pulled out his cross potent; and she, reaching in between her breasts, pulled out a cross potent of similar size and kind of chain.
Near to the Gate of Eugenius was the Armenian goldsmith. Her Armenian was not bad, she said, and Bessarion pulled out a parchment and un rolled and showed the cross potent he'd drawn to the deft goldsmith. Anna could see the talent that had gone into the drawing of the simple cross and she knew that her choice of staying with this brash man had been the right one for very often he would do or say something which would endear him anew to her, anew the freshness of their ever deepening love.
When the crosses were ready, they took them to a priest for a blessing, and on their own, having stopped in front of an icon of St. Mary of Egypt, they each in turn placed the cross around the neck of the other; and two innocent hearts were pledged beyond their own capacities of fulfillment. But what he had pledged in front of the icon, he would denounce at the Phospherion Harbor, whence he took ship with his neutral Genoan merchant whose goods would now be propelled across to the neutrality of Pera, while he stood guard on the deck with his crossbow and a glowing match for the ship's small cannon, while the Sultan's own cannoneer was leading 60 yoke of oxen, dragging his monstrous cannon from Adrianople to batter down the walls of Constantinople.
And later, when the cannon balls of the Hungarian cannon maker, Urban were ramming against the walls of the Gate of St. Romanos, Bessarion and his fellow guards sat safely by the Galata Tower. But even at that distance the sounds of the cannon could be heard––though somewhat muted––and the flash and smoke issuing forth from the muzzle could be seen. Every strike of the huge stone and iron balls against the wall of Theodosius seemed to echo to him across the waters to the Galata Tower where he and the others were billeted. And each echo he heard made his heart grow tighter and tighter until he knew that if he did not act quickly, he would pay for his assumed neutrality, his commercial cowardice, the rest of his life and he could not face that.
But that was yet to come. After their private ceremony she sent a letter to her father, via the abbot of St. John in Studio asking for a visit. A favorable reply arrived. She wanted to get his blessing for marriage. Their pledge in front of the icon was only the first step in their plan. They would marry and when the war was over they would have a family and live in some quiet, peaceful spot the rest of their lives.
The visitation took place in a small courtyard where the sun shone in and the shadow of an old olive tree gave them shelter. Father and daughter embraced and exchanged cheeks. She introduced him to Bessarion, with whom he exchanged a few polite phrases in both Greek and Italian.
The monk, Father Elias, the former Photios, was not a large man. He was almost bald and his beard and hair were long. His eyes looked like bright crystal lakes sharp on a winter's landscape. He had made many fasts and stood long, all–night vigils and lived mostly on bread and water and a few olives. He'd lost lots of weight. Anna had never known her father to be thin. But the monk's regimen had turned him into a leathery thin man, almost a stranger to her who know him as a chubby, well kept and rosewater smelling father of found memory. Now all that was changed.
"Father I have come to ask for your blessing and permission to marry."
He looked at her with unmoving eyes. Even before she finished her introduction he knew the reason for her visit. When he had spied the young Italian with her he understood immediately their relationship and the reason for their coming.
There was nothing for him to deny. In his present state of worldly detachment he had neither desire nor authority to either encourage or discourage their union. He knew his daughter, and knew hers was a pure heart and sensed the young man's good intentions. As Father Elias, he had surrendered the world to God, but he could not tell his daughter and her suitor so. How could he tell them, or help to make them understand the brightness of the uncreated light he had seen a hundred times illuminatge the dark refuge of his monk's cell? No; there was no explaining. Yet he must say something. It was expected of him, and he would not disappoint them.
"My children. A great calamity awaits this city. The greatest blessing I can give you is to tell you to leave, leave now, and never come back. Go, get ye as far as ships and money will take you, for when the gates are crushed nothing in this city will ever be the same. I give you leave to marry daughter, and may the blessings of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you and your husband. But if you stay your honeymoon will be short and your lives, also.
"If that is so, Father, then I must ask that you come with us to some safe place. I am a good swordsman, I shall protect you."
Father Elias almost wanted to smile, but he knew Bessarion the swordsman was serious. "Thank–you, my son, but there is no harm that can come to me. It is you, you two doves, which need protection. I am in the hands of the Holy Spirit and no harm can come to me. But you both are still of the world and all I can do is give you the benefit of my insight. If there are any consequences for not listening, I cannot say; I am not a soothsayer, only a simple monk. But if you stay you will suffer dire consequences. Now embrace me my daughter for the last time. My son, embrace your father–in–law for the last time."
They embraced. The visit was over. The two lovers returned to the drums of war and the crossed loyalties of oaths of unclear thinking about duty and honor.
The visit to her father was sobering. They walked all the way back to the house and spoke not a word. Their glum faces were an indication to Ariadne that all was not well. Had the master not given her permission to marry? Was it thinkable? She did not hesitate to ask this directly to Anna. And when she heard that he had blessed their coming marriage, and had advised them to flee, she pleaded for Anna and her almost husband to leave. She would make all the arrangements, for she knew people who could help arrange passage. They could go to Syracuse, where she had deep family ties. But Anna would not go anywhere without Bessarion and he was troubled for he found himself in a pull of loyalties and oaths and no amount of pleading from Ariadne would change his mind and Anna simply said. "If he stays I stay." Ariadne could not leave her young mistress so she stayed, adding that if this be their end, "Then let us celebrate your birthday on the twenty–ninth of May."
Together they walked into the latter day National Mmuseum. But when they entered, it was with the eyes of time past that they took their place in front of the holy icons and lit candles and prostrated themselves. A priest was censing them with billowing smoke from a censer filled with pungent incense. They partook of the body and blood from the cup of salvation, this they did as they walked about like other common tourists listening to polyglottal guides. Too, they stopped for long periods behind columns savoring the delicacy of their time travel. They seemed to be just one more couple marching in the marionetten parade of the surreal human condition.
But that was not so; for they were inside themselves, Anna and Bessarion and all of Constantinople were gathered in Hagia Sophia for the last vespers. The emperor himself, Constantine XI Palaeologus, the last of the Roman emperors, was there. He asked forgiveness from the Patriarch and from all of the bishops, both Latin and Orthodox. There were many Italians, Catalans. some French, Serbs, Bulgarians, even Genoans––some from every nation who had come to die for Byzantium, were present for the last service inside St. Sophia, the Great Church of Christ. While the emperor spoke there was weeping and wailing. Everyone knew the morrow would bring death or captivity to each man, woman and child and an epoch would come to an end, and Byzantium would be no more.
"Oh my love it is so sorrowful to see it all over again. My heart still jumps in fright. If you love me take me back outside, lest my heart burst for this revisited sorrow," she said.
They blinked their eyes and back into the contemporary flow of time and decay they went and out back into the sunshine.
"It's kind of difficult to keep up with what's real, not real," he said. "It's getting to me. I'm feeling disoriented. How about you?"
"When I'm back in Constantinople I'm trapped in its decay and destiny and there's not much to live for. But as Ann of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania with a mortgage to pay and kids to send off to school and all of my life there, I have no fatalistic direction. This going back in time goes against my belief in free will. Back there I can't change anything. Here, I can at least try and fall flat on my face––but at least I can make a choice. I believe we can avert disasters. At one time I did not. My father tried to warn us, but we were too wrapped up in our own enraptured egos to heed his prognostication––yet our love was sweet, but selfish. I feel as if I'm on a rocking boat in a storm. Hold me darling, before I float away from you." And for a long time they held onto each other anchoring themselves one to the otherr.
Anna after a while said: "I can feel freer holding you, than I can in our remote past in Byzantium––and yet it lures me, lures us and I'm afraid for my destiny. We must be strong. We are free as we are––but if we are drawn back into time I want to know the purpose of this reunion. Is it of God or of some demon? How did we get this way? This morning I was just an ordinary American art teacher and tourist on a summer holiday. And now we are ancient lovers reunited. Lovers sacrificed in violence!" She screamed a short scream and sighed a long sigh and fell into his arms weeping out a thousand years of tears and pent up sorrows.
Michael held her in the public park in front of Hagia Sophia, a pair of tired tourists. But when Bessarion held her he was himself wounded, but still strong enough to swing a sword.
"This is where we died," she said
As two janissaries pulled Anna away from him, he did battle with three others who attacked him with a ferocity uncalled for. With a final parry and a short thrust, wounded that he was, he was able to bring down one––but then because of loss of blood, he went down, and in a trice he felt the blades go into him. But he did not die. They thought him dead, however; and his two erstwhile assailants sought other prey. He could her Anna screaming his name: "Bessarion! In the name of our Lord, save me!" over land over he heard her pitiful invocation. And from a merciful source he lifted himself up, and using his sword as a cane, he made his way to the tumult of her screams and the grunts of her attackers. Anna was struggling against one soldier while another removed his light body armor preparatory to raping her.
Bessarion redoubled his efforts. With his last ounce of strength, he lifted his sword in a last conscious act and sliced deeply into the thigh of the would–be rapist, and cut his artery. Nevertheless, the fatally wounded janissary made swift work of Bessarion, whom he killed with a solid blow to his skull and down he went. The bleeding janissary could not stop the flow of his severed artery and he sagged and went down. When his comrade–in–arms saw him fall, he let Anna loose for a few moments; and in that brief interval she took a short dagger, a misericordia, out of her girdle and without hesitation plunged! it to the hilt into her breast and she was freed from the humiliation of savage rape. Her aim was true and she was dead before her lifeless body touched the ground and rolled a little––not too far from that of her lover's.
Her head against Michael's shoulder was very real. He felt the warmth of her head into his shoulder and this exchange of heat was comforting. Back in Constantinople, from behind his closed eyes, the lifeless bodies sprawled out in grotesque forms, were first visited by dogs, then rats and still later birds all wanting a piece of meat according to its kind. Michael shuddered at this scene, this remembrance, and through this scene he was finally able to understood why Anna said she would rather be freed from this repetition of the damned, this possessive and diabolical eerie and remote refinement of a past the were never compoletely free from. And if they could not free themselves from their past, they could never have any future. except the cyclical tragedy of their last day in Constantinople.. The realization came home to him with the clarity of a sudden and unexpected bolt of lightning in a cool black night.
How could they redeem their lives from the past for the sake of peace of their contemporary personages? To whom or to what could they turn to aid them in their quest for release from this insidious episode? Anna stirred and opened her eyes and raised herself up. "I heard your thoughts, MichaelBessarion," she said. "We can find a way. But first I'm suddenly very hungry and very thirsty. I find it ironic that all of a sudden I am driven by the all too human drive of hunger for food, while at the same time I am carrying the ages behind my eyes, but I would gladly exchange all the splendor of Byzantium right now for a surcease from the rounds of agony and sorrow and slaughter repeated like a Sisyphisian stone of existential perdition––trade it all for something to eat."
"Come beloved. We'll look for a restaurant. I have a small guide book".
They walked away from Hagia Sofia.
END, PART ONE
"Rejoice with those who rejoice;
mourn with those who mourn."
The cafe was crowded. It was good to be back in Greece.
They had each contacted their respecive spouses. Neither her husband nor his wife had a clue as to what each in his and her own way tried to say, stammered across the telephonic miles as they tried to explain the transit between the two worlds each lived in. Tried to explain the exchange of centuries and the reliving of the past while in the present.
A twenty page letter to her husband, George, back in Jenkintown, only confirmed to him that his wife had gone stark raving mad.With much excitation and grief, he showed her letter to their family doctor. The doctor didn't have to read it twice to realize that Anna Doukas needed help. George gave Dr. Sutton permission to telephone the American Consulate in Istanbul to see if someone at the consulate could locate her and get her to a hospital or onto a plane back to the States.
Michael's wife had no idea what he was talking about in his long letter, mailed from the border city of Edirne. It seemed to be a meandering jumble of fantastic tales of finding his bethroved with whom he'd died on the 29th of May, 1453. She broke down and wept. She showed the letter to her spiritual father; but the old priest was just las much in the dark as she was. His only consolation to her was that she offer up many fervent prayers for her husband's healing and protection. Father Leo volunteered to make inquiry for her and she agreed, gladly. But he was unable to come up with anything other than he had checked out and had taken the hotel's van to the train station and that was the last heard of him.
Her brother–in–law, an attorney, only shook his head in disbelief and disgust trying to understand how his brother could just throw up his life because he had run into an old girlfriend. But why did he have to fabricate the unbelieveable reincarnation nonsense he'd scribbled?
Obviously, to have thought up the cockeyed story he'd written, he had to have written that insane letter only after he had had too much to drink or had been high on some drug.
Anna and Michael checked out of their respective Istanbul hotels and rendezvoused at the train station. They had a last coffee at the station's cafe. The station was a beehive of sounds and motions and emotions. People were being sent off with hugs and kisses; arrivals were greeted with joy and happy voices; but the two who sat sipping a last coffee had no one to send them off. The floods of unhappy memories seemed to ebb, however, the further they got from Constantinople. Even their timeless visions had abated. The strength of the vision, although it was still there and still very sharp ahd impressive as an image, but it hd lost its imperative dynamic. They were no longer drawn deeply into the awareness of their former lives with that tortured density they knew all too well. They could now close their eyes and still see all of the monstrous things that had happened to The City and to them, but now it was as if lthey were watching the historical events and personal tragedy of themselves as detached observers of lthemselves in some high cosmic drame.
Indeed, the comparison to a drama had made them both smile almost out of fear of losing their minds. Once their inward participation had been so potent that it sapped them of their physical energy and swayed their emotions. But now, however, far from the roots of their agonies, the intensity of their visions had transformed from the heat of teh fighting from the battlements at the San Romanos Gate, to the gentle warmth of the island night wind wafting over lthe rocks and goats and villages of the small island they'd come to for rest and recuperation from their trials in the two worlds they lived in and the saddening long letters and phone calls of leave taking to their respective families.
Anna wept for days incosoeably for the loss of her family, the having to cut strong ties. Yet there was no going back to that life––butthere was not expunged from her her maternal longings and the desire for family and home, the domestic and professional life she had helped to creted and nurture for so many years.
Michael was leaning his back against a rock overlooking the small bay on the south side of the island which gently sloped toward the sea. It was almost sunset on the 21st of June. The prevailing silence and the quality of colors in the sky and the dark blue of the almost quiet sea gave everything a sense of peace and freedom from distress. It felt good to be sitting with his back to the rock warmed by the sun and to be alive and filled with the joy of a simple life after the hell of Constantinople, thought Michael.
They were living in an oddly built house part authentic peasant's stone hut and an artdeco addition with a large patio, designed by an eccentric expatriate from Winnepeg, who fancied himself a designer and an artist who had made the peculiar architectural amalgamation his home circa 1925 or so. There was peace in the house. Their choice of place and the acquisition of the house had bneen aulspicious from the very start. It almost seemed that they had been guided to the island.
Chance remarks made lby a young Dutch tourist on the train to Thessalonike got first Michael, then Anna thinking the same thought. (That became more and more common between them). The youth from Enschede said: "Hatera island is dead. It doesn't have a jhotel and there's a kind of grocery store that also serves as a kind of cage and smoke sho[p and post office.There are only two telephones, no cinema and no shops, and the beaches are kind of rocky. There's nothing there, really, except a couple of villages of fishermen and farmers. The people are kind of friendly, but no amenities, and the mail boat comes but once a week." His reasons for not wanting to stay on Hatera was why they chose to stay: to heal in the isolation each knew would also be good medicine.
To the side of the house there were no less than six fig trees; and nearby were apricot and peach trees; and adjacent to the patio the eccentric Canadian had planted a peaceful grove of twenty or so olive trees. He'd planted trees every place he could. There had even been a kitchen garden at one time, but it had not been cultivated for many seasons. But as soon as they could, they turned the sould and planted a few vegetables. A distant neighbor gave them two hearty tomato plants which took to their transplanting and soon were showing yellow flowers. So in spite of a late start, they would have a few vegetables for their table.
Michael was waiting for Anna. She was in the bath, for she had been in the garden for several hours and would meet him at the rock where they often went at sundown. She stood in front of the mirror and donned a wraparound khaki skirt around her waist, adjusted it, looked at herself in the mirror and nodding her head, slipped her well–shaped feet into her sandals and went toward the rock.
From her angle she could see him, but he could not see her, so Anna looked at the man who had joined her in tossing up their lives and live together. In the early days of their arrival in Greece, she had not left his side day or night––and he the smae; for each was the other's rock, an island of sanity, a focal point in the bizarrre events sicne the 29th of May last.She could see his strong profile and saw how handsome he was. And she had known him kindness, too. He paid close attention to her needs often anticipating them. In every way he was decent with her. After all, they had been together for over fivehundred years––at least in spirit and now in bodily fact. That had to count for something. Often her heart beat with a great love for him and that made her happy. He loved her; she knew that. His caring ways were demonstration enough of his worldly love, and she loved him since their initial encounter at Hagia Sophia, but it was a strange kind of love, for in spite of their close proximity, they had never been intimate. Even now in their first house they stayed each in his own room. But they expressed affection with embraces and by holding hands, like two young and shy lovers but nothing more. There was a kind of polite reserve, a modesty about them that did not emanate from their modern comportment. But there was beginning to be aroused in her a slowly growing curiosity and glowing passion for him.
The evening wind carried the smell of her rosewater to him. He drank deeply of it. He turned his head and saw her walking to him. He gestured with his left arm stretched out to greet her and invite her to sit close to him. Her back was against his chest. She sat cross legged between him resting her arms on his knees. His hands were on her shoulders gently massaging her and she liked it.
"I've fallen in love with you again, Anna." His voice had an almost sulty resonance and she liked that too. He stopped massaging her shoulders and his hands slowly sled to her breasts; he cupped them. She held his hands and felt a luscious thrill at his touch. It was good to be touched as a woman is touched by the man who loves her. "And I've fallen in love with you. There is no other man I wasnt in this life. I never thought I would ever say that lbecause I am a married woman, and I still love my husband in an odd sor of way...But because of what has happened to us, my past is dead and all I have is you and your love and its understadning of what has happened between us. When you say you've fallen in love with me, it makes me feel very special and wanted. I need to be wanted, Bessarion."
"And I need you too; and you are special, Anna. Even though we were in love long ago, I'm just beginning to see my way clear to you from my own perspective––that's important––and that's why I say I've fallen in love with you. It's as if I've just become aware of you as an individual person and not as a fixed entity from my remote past. Does that make sense to you, Anna?"
"Yes; lots of sense; I have thoughts like that all the time; and often I just have feelings about things which I can't express and then you say something and it all seems so clear.." She stopped as if to catch her breath and Michael replied:––
"You just described perfectly my own sentiments and thoughts. We even think alike. It's uncanny..."
"I wonder if we'll ever get used to it, darling, she said, "I can't begin to understand reading someone else's minds. It frightens me a little."
"Your're not alone."
Anna turned and facing him kissed him. And holding her closely he put his nose deeply into her hair and smelled the subtle rosewater, then put his lips first to one of her cheeks, then the other; and he kissed each of her eyes, and all the time their hands were rubbing the back of their necks. It had taken some time, but their physical attraction was strong and as the summer Solstice sun set in the west, the newly aroused lovers withdrew to the comfort and privacy of thier home land consummated their love, adding to the celestial harmony prevailing during this Summer Solstice; then they fell asleep in each other's arms and did not wake until late the next morning.
"I am with child," she said on the first day of September. It was the Feast of Saint Symeon The Stylite, i.e., one who lives on a pillar. This weatherbeaten saint withstood forty years of austerities while living atop a platform on a pillar sixteen miles from the city of Aleppo on the road leading to Antioch.
This austere saint's day was the day she announced her condition. They had been living a quiet, semi–contemplative and reclusive life. They had made a small altar atop a table which they had placed two icons, two candles and two vases of flowers and a prayer book Anna had found in the house. Every day they spent long hours in meditation and quiet in trying to come to some understanding about their return to Byzantium, and twice a day they recited the TRisagion Prayers and the Evening Prayers. One of their conversations was whether they should go to a priest and seek guidance from the church. But if the response from their spouses were any indication of how people, generally, were going to respond to their plight by thinking them gone mad, then it lws better that they keep their secret to themselves. Yet they felt deep within that they needed to share this curse–– or this treasure––with someone else. And it was for lthis reason that they had withdrawn to the relative obscurity of Hatera, so that they might discover the reason for this confluence of their bodies and souls once again. But no matter how still or for how long they sat in meditation, they could not plumb the depths of this mystery.
"We have been blessed through this child. He will help, in some way––I don't pretend to know how just now––redeem us," said Michael, as they walked out to the patio which overlooked the sea. It was late morning. Perhaps Ten a.m. For them it was late for they had gotten into habit of rising at four thirty a.m. The sun was hot and the sea was blue and clear and in the shallows the bottom could be seen and just below the patio was a clear view to the bottom; and resting on the bottom were broken, fluted columns. Local legend said that many centuries ago there was a small temple to Aphrodite on the island, but it was used as target practice by pirates, and it fell into the sea. When the tide was low one could see that the columns of the ancient temple were clearly doric.
"Our child to be is older than that old temple," he said, putting his arms across her shoulders and leaning over and kissing Anna gently on her lips. "We will be good parents, but he must be raised away from the modern world as much as possible without isolating him from it."
"She smiled. "How do you know it will be a boy?"
He smiled back. "I just know," he said, as he stood staring at the lsunken ruins from which he seemed to be hearing a distant voice from the past. But he ignored the voice and moved closer to Anna.
Why did you say our son must be raised away from the modern world?"
"Because he is not of the modern world. His conception is of another world. I don't have any other way of saying that just now. Bear with me, dear."
"I shall. But would it not be remiss of us to raise him in ignorance of the world? After all, it's his world, too, his patrimony."
"I don't argue the point. But for the moment it is a feeling that I have; but I know it would be best for his spirit to be raised in isolation."
"I do not challenge your feelings, but I don't agree with you. I am the mother. I have my own feelings. I must have a say in this, too. And I cannot now agree to anything. Let us wait, my love. Only time will help us see the correct path in this matter."
Return to Byzantium is suitable for the capital of the new religion. Thus, New Rome was built in 330 A.D. on the site of the town of Byzantium, known since olden times, but relatively insignificant until it was chosen to be the capital of the new Christian state, founded by Constantine the Great, Emperor, founder not only of a new city, but, al