Sunday, October 30, 2011

SAECULUM (A Novel:Part 6) – VESPER II.

SOL OCCAXUS (Sunset) Monday, 19 September, 2011

CREPUSCULUM (Evening Twilight)
I. Friday, 23 September, 2011
II. Thursday, 29 September, 2011
III. Thursday, 29 September, 2011
IV. Sunday, 16 October, 2011

VESPER (Evening Dusk)
I. Sunday, 23 October, 2011
II. Sunday, 30 October, 2011
III.
IV.
V.
CONCUBIUM (First Sleep – Coitus – Rest)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
INTEMPESTIUM (Midnight)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
VIII.
GALLICINIUM (Cock Crow)
I.
II.
III.
MATUTINUM (Dawn Goddess)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
VIII.
IX.
X.
XI.
XII.
XIII.
XIV.
DILUCULUM (Dawn Twilight)
I.
II.
III.
IV.

SOLI ORTUS (Sunrise)


VESPER


EVENING DUSK

II

The two men walked slowly, in the late evening shade of Wellington’s elms below the Alhambra’s walls. The air was warm and with most tourists gone for the day the predominant sounds were those of running water and the far-off chimes of the cathedral bells. Alonzo Aldahrze was dressed in a baggy, linen safari-suit and walked with the aid of his carved ivory-topped cane-stick. Alonzo was beginning to hobble. Finding an empty park bench he brushed away some fallen leaves, sat down and tapping his stick against the bench motioned for his younger companion to take a seat beside him. “Michael, I must rest for a bit. My leg is complaining loudly.”
Michael Mara looked concerned. “What happened to your leg Alonzo? Were you injured?”
“No. My doctor says it is part and parcel of my age. I disagree of course,” Alonzo smiled. “Distraction arthritis, I call it. In my imagination it is the consequence of chasing the beautiful women of my youth and turning too abruptly when yet another heavenly body passed by in the opposite direction. In truth it is an old skiing injury.”
“Would you not consider a knee replacement?”
“The pain is tolerable. It is my fate. If I ever become truly incapacitated I will consider it.” Alonzo paused for a moment he asked, “Do you believe in fate, Michael?”
“Yes and no,” Michael replied.
“Explain yourself my young friend,” Alonzo persisted.
Michael looked up at the trees and at the upper branches, which rustled briskly in the evening breeze and appeared to swipe away the returning rooks. He then looked back at Alonzo. “In my work, I sometimes feel so empowered by the clarity of the best of my ideas that I have no doubt about their successful proof. The intensity of those moments is so palpable, so intoxicating that I’m addicted. Some might call that fate.” Michael paused, as if exhausted by the uncertainty. “It’s not something I can explain to people easily. Unfortunately, the same clarity doesn’t often extend to other areas of my life so I’m beginning to question what fate has in store for me. I’m a little confused as to what direction I want to go in.” He looked at the older man. “I’m probably not making sense.”
Alonzo did not answer immediately but began drawing interconnecting circles on the ground with the tip of his cane. Eventually he spoke, “On the contrary, Michael, it makes perfect sense. Fate is just a meeting point where, at different moments in time, all the forces that play out their tunes on the strings of our lives condense in a single note of harmonious illumination. Perhaps what you are really saying is that your life lacks that harmony?”
Michael stared down at the circles. “Yes . . . yes, perhaps I am. Somebody else recently questioned me along the same lines but I drew back from an explanation. I’m . . . I’m afraid of the consequences of analysing it too much.”
“What about God, Michael. Do you believe in God?”
“Yes, but distant. Uninvolved. Disinterest in the human condition on both our parts.”
“That was Saint Augustine’s fault.” Alonzo rested his cane in the centre of one of the circles and rolled it between his palms as if trying to start a fire.
“I don’t understand,” Michael said honestly.
Alonzo smiled. “The early Christian church had difficulty in resolving the obvious and prevalent presence of evil in the world and in order to remove the heretic notion of God being somehow responsible distanced Him from it, and subsequently from the faithful, by making mankind fully responsible for that evil.”
“I do not have too much of a problem with that concept. Evil, as far as I am concerned, is a human failing. The difficulty of a hidden God, unapproachable as it were, is the fear of having to confront that evil, on your own.”
“Do not be afraid, Michael. Evil is of this world and, dare I say it, necessary. Knowledge will help you overcome your fear of it.”
“How?”
Alonzo turned his head slightly to look at Michael before he leant his hands on the carved handle of his stick and rested his chin on these. It was a few moments before he replied. “Michael, I have greatly enjoyed your company and I truly believe that fate has brought us together at this time. The work that you are engaged in sounds fascinating but it strikes me, that you are being isolated by its physical and intellectual demands. You are too reliant on your own capabilities, and the perceived value of your work. You have a great need to be understood as a person but you also need to understand the onus that this places on other people. It appears to me that this balance is absent in your life.”
Michael lit a cigarette and watched as the older man straightened his arthritic knee. He felt suddenly vulnerable and spoke quietly, “I do not follow, Alonzo.”
“I think you do Michael, but it does not matter. I sense that you are ready to try and find that complete harmony but you lack the knowledge of the path you must take in order to achieve it. All of us need guidance and fate has determined that I should be your guide. That is my responsibility.”
Michael brusquely stood up and shook his head, as if suddenly threatened by the older man whom he had only known for such a brief time. He paced along the path for a few minutes before returning to face Alonzo. He began rubbing out the circles on the ground with his shoe. “This is all very strange, Alonzo. Do not get me wrong. I do not want to appear impolite or ungrateful, but I hardly know you. Even if I am searching in some way for the harmony that you describe, why would you, a complete stranger, be offering to be my guide? What responsibility do you owe me? What right have you to assume that responsibility?”
“Do I seem like a stranger, Michael?” Alonzo lifted his chin off its resting place and looked up at the younger man. His gaze was unwavering, almost accusatory.
Michael bristled but then just as suddenly sat down again. “No,” he replied.
“Good. I understand your reservation, Michael. Believe me when I say that this situation is also difficult for me. I have known for a long time that I had one more unfinished task to complete, before my own destiny was fulfilled and its terminus reached. My offer of guidance is freely given and does not demand either reliance or dependence. Each of us has to find our own way to the elusive harmony that we all seek. My responsibility is to show you the doors, you must cross their thresholds.”
“What unfinished task, Alonzo?”
“Michael, may I tell you a story?”
“Of course, Alonzo. What is it about?”
“Leadership, destiny… many things. It might take some time. Do you need to be somewhere else?”
“No.” Michael’s answer was emphatic.
“Good. This story has its beginnings about six or seven thousand years ago in the small valley of Diwanah Baba, which is nestled high in the Hindu Kush mountains of the Nuristan region of modern-day north-eastern Afghanistan. It is the time of the vernal or spring equinox and the morning air, at that altitude, still feels bitterly cold. Half way up the side of a high, southwest-facing valley wall there is a small level area of ground hidden within a grove of sturdy holly oak and pink-flowered deodar. Surrounding the grove is a cordon of imperious cedar and junipers, which shut out the morning sun as it rises over the mountain ridge behind. On the flattened piece of ground there is a carpet of yellow asphodels…” Alonzo paused. “As an aside. What do you know of asphodels Michael,” he asked.
“The Greek flower of death and the underworld.” Michael answered with a schoolboy’s smile of satisfaction.
“Yes. You are right. A credit to your education.” Alonzo touched Michael lightly on the arm before continuing. “At that elevation, there is still deep snow on the ground and the footprints of ibex and snow leopard can be seen on the tongues of white snow that probe the spaces between the mighty cedar trunks. The thin air is scented with pine, wild rose, tamarisk and . . .” For a moment Alonzo appeared to lose his own thoughts as he involuntarily flared his nostrils and sniffed the air around them. “Imagine that stillness disturbed by the sounds of a small party of people edging themselves carefully around a large rock outcrop on the narrow track that leads from the valley below. They are pulling a reluctant, small, stocky horse behind them, that, despite being unladen, is having difficulty with its footing on the brittle surface of thawing shale. On reaching the level ground of the holly-oak grove one of the group leads the horse to the far end of the grove where there is a circle of upright stones about the height of a small child. Its handler, a beardless youth, remains close to the stone circle where he begins to gather kindling and fallen pine cones to lay down a fire. The remainder of the party, which consists of six men and one woman, move to the centre of the grove and position themselves to sit cross-legged on the ground, facing each other in a rough circle. Because of the bitter cold they all keep on their coarsely tailored sheepskin coats.
One of group is sitting with his back to the valley and looking up at the sky. He is stroking a large, bushy beard with one hand when his attention is suddenly diverted to an adult lammergeyer gliding on the updrafts of the valley walls. See there, the old man said as he pointed upwards to the large bird of prey. The bearded messenger-bird of the Sky God awaits his reward. One of the others said that this was a good omen and the older man nodded before turning his attention back to the group.”

Michael smiled as he listened to Alonzo as he began to voice the characters. The performance was achieved with the just the slightest change of accent and flicker of the mouth and eyes. It was as effortless as it was appropriate and was the magical art of a natural storyteller.

Once again we have made,” Alonzo continued. “The difficult journey to the sacred grove to celebrate the festival of Hekamaad and give thanks to the gods for bringing a new season of rebirth for the People. It is good that the omens are with us as you and I my friends, the seven ka-anuman, the Guides, the guardians of all our people’s wisdom have much to talk about. In the thousand winters we have lived in these valleys we, and those of the ka-anuman who have gone before us, have been the judges of disputes, interpreters of dreams, pathfinders of destinies and tellers of the story of the People. Each of you, your own destiny determined by being the first of twins of the same soul, was chosen at birth by the great Sky God to inherit the Guide’s birch-pole of the ka-anuman. The navel cord of your brother or sister soul is wrapped around that pole and binds you to their home amongst the stars. Today is the day that I have brought my inheritor Nadaksin to the mountain. He is not yet one of the seven but I have had a vision which I must share with you and him.

The old man paused. The only woman in the group spoke first. Ebabu, this is not possible. You have many seasons left. What visions do you speak of? You must be eating too much of the fruit of the mushroom tree.

The older man smiled before he answered: You know much of what I will recount but it is important to remind ourselves of our origins and our destinies. There was a murmur of approval from the whole group. In the time before the thousand winters, before we came to these mountains; the People lived in the land between the sea of the one thousand islands and the sea where they hunted the long-nosed fish of many eggs. In the beginning, there was Manuru, the Sky God, the god of the light, the father of all the gods. One day he saw his reflection in the warm waters of his daughter, the goddess of the waters Eana and desiring that men be created in his image planned to sow his seed. The coiled serpent God of Darkness heard of this and during the time of the first day-night, caused by the Moon God copulating with the Sun God, the serpent used the great shadow on the land to sow his seed in the waters of the Goddess Eana. Thus were created men. The Goddess Eana, seeing that the God of Darkness had deceived her, decided to create, from pure water uncontaminated by the serpent’s seed, the first seven ka-anuman, so that they could guide all the other children of the serpent. It was she who told the first seven to lead the people away from their land and to follow the white path of the great Sky God, Manuru. At one time, all the people spoke with the same tongue and had a common memory of our gods and there was no conflict between the peoples. That has all changed and now there are many tongues and differing memories. Each year brings new oxcarts and conflicts from the plains to the high valleys. I have been shown in a vision by our mother Goddess Eana, that it is time for the ka-anuman to depart this land, that it is time to lift our birch-poles and like the winter geese follow the sky-path down from the mountains. We, the ka-anuman are to take our knowledge and wisdom to guide the nations of the plains and the high plateaux…

Are you following me Michael,” Alonzo suddenly asked.
“Yes…yes. Please continue Alonzo,” Michael said sincerely. The evening breeze had settled somewhat to allow the rooks to settle.

The group were somewhat puzzled by the revelation and looked at each other with questions in their hearts. Ebabu, our father, one of them asked. What if we forget or are lost on the journey? The old man continued, I will tell more of my vision. I have seen the Goddess Eana asking her father, the great Sky God Manuru, how is it in the lands of different tongues that the People’s story and the story of the gods be told. The great Sky God tells the Goddess Eana that the ka-anuman already know the houses of his children, the stars, in their learning. He asks that we look at the houses and by carving marks on clay and stone, as we do with mountains and rivers on our water pots, then the houses will never be destroyed. Each house will have a name and will announce a story of our people. Each house will have a sound and will remember the tongue of our people. Each house will have a door to announce the wisdom of our people. When the ka-anuman were created the Gods rested from our affairs. They trusted us to do what was right. Do not forget that we are not the Kings who rule in the name of the gods, nor are we the Priests who interpret the will of the gods; we are the Guides who know the path between what is good and what is evil for the People. Now it is time for us to instruct the peoples in other lands what we know.
But there are only seven of us! The youngest member of the group protested.
Each house, the old man explained. Will remind us of more than just one memory. In my vision the great Sky God Manuru tells his daughter, the mother Goddess Eana, that our people the Weiminstan, are the people of the star path. We have to show other people the way of our gods by means of these marks. Then if our voices be silenced our marks will remain on the earth of the God Enanll. Our People will travel for another thousand winters through the lands of Indadra to reach Daraum the island of the blessed and the land of Enlladam. In my vision it is in the land of Weshukanni where we will stop wandering.

Ebabu, the old man, at that point reached into the shoulder bag he had carried with him and took out seven gemstones. These had been roughly cut into the shape of short, flat cylinders the size of which would just fit in the palm of a closed hand. He placed them, one at a time, in front of each member of the group with the exception of his own, which he held up in front of him. As the sunlight caught the stone it appeared to radiate an intense blue colour with occasional glints of gold. Each of the stones had a small raised central knob through which a fine hole had been bored and which allowed the passing of a chord that it could then be tied around the neck. Each of the group lifted their respective gem and examined it carefully. Into each cylinder surface a figure of a seated man holding a river in one hand and a snake in the other had been precisely carved. Above the figures are the sign of the Sun God and the upturned crescent of the Moon God. Surrounding the figures are a number of carved symbols and on each stone these were different.
Each of you must wear the stone around your neck and learn the marks of the others. Press these into the potter’s clay and the story will be told. The stones will be the tongues of our people; tell the people of our great Sky God Manuru and of his children the Sun and Moon who move from one hand to another; tell the peoples of our womb-mother of the waters, the Goddess Eanu, who gave us life and of her deceiving consort, the serpent God of Darkness, with whom she created our People and who waits to bring them to their final home; tell the peoples of the great Sky God Manuru and his struggles in keeping the twin strands of our destiny apart. We must explain to the distant peoples the reasons for the twin judgments that determine their paths. We must show that wisdom and folly, knowledge and ignorance, life and death, peace and conflict, beauty and ugliness, food and famine, good and evil is always necessary and will be with us always. That is the inheritance of the ka-anuman, that is the story of our People.

Ebabu, most pure elder, how is it we will know when we have reached the new home of our people, this Weishukanni? The only woman member of the group asked. Ebabu, the old man once more reached into his bag but this time withdrew a ball of soft potters clay. He placed it on the ground and flattened it into a disc. Leaning forward he took back each of the gemstones from the others and began pressing them at intervals into the clay. When he finally had placed his own he spoke quietly. This is the final secret. There are seven of us and we are also the children of the messenger of the sky, Araum, the God of the Time that governs us all. In his house the first seven ka-anuman of our people found their immortal home. It is from his crotch that we are reborn. In the night he is always carrying on his shoulders the twin Sky Gods, as you must in your judgments. I have placed the seven stones to show his house at the middle time of the longest night. Remember the house and when we see it again in the same position at the same time then our people’s travels are over. That is my vision. There was a pause as the group contemplated their future. Ebabu comforted them, Come my friends. The day has nearly passed and the Sun God is restless for sleep. We will talk of this again. It is time to take the mead and then offer the sacrifice of the horse to the gods.

Alonzo stopped abruptly. He leant back in the chair and took a long draught of water from the bottle they had bought at the kiosk earlier.
“A good story, Alonzo and well told,” Michael said with genuine warmth. “Where does it come from and what by the way is the Hekamaad?”
Alonzo watched Michael carefully for a while, tracing and erasing another geometric design on the ground with his cane. “The story is as it is Michael. It has has been transmitted as an oral tradition in a secret language from one generation to the next. The language is very precise and thus does not allow much in the way of change. The difficulty is translating it into English.”
“What’s the secret language?” Michael asked.
Alonzo ignored the question to answer Michael’s earlier query. “You asked me about the Hekamaad. This word literally means ‘horse-drunk’. There is increasing archaeological and linguistic evidence to suggest that most of the Neolithic ancestors of the Indo-European races, the so-called Proto-Indo-Europeans, were to be found in a five-hundred-kilometre-wide band that linked the Black and Azov seas in the west to the Caspian and Aral Seas in the east. From there they spread out in all directions bringing their proto-language and traditions to dominate the original inhabitants. To these people the horse was their most valuable possession and sacrifice. The word for horse in most European, Indian and Iranian languages has the proto-Indo-European ekwos as their root; the word meydho for mead is more obvious. The ritual of Hekamaad or ekwo-meydho is a spring festival involving both the horse and drunkenness. In Vedic it is known as the Asvamedha. The people of the secret language have a tradition that stretches back eight thousand years and which implies that their ancestors first migrated from near the Aral to the valleys of the Hindu Kush. About six thousand years ago, because of pressure from the Aryans, they then moved down to the Indus Valley. From here they migrated by coast and sea to Elam and finally as a People established the Mitanni empire. Along the way they were the first to develop the rudiments of writing and astronomy and that was their power. They were the original Magi of history and brought that wisdom to the early Sumerians and Egyptians. Their language was of the group we call Indo-Elamo-Dravidian, the first language of north-west India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
Michael cursed silently, annoyed at his ignorance of the origins of language, and tried a different tack. “It’s a fascinating story. I would like to understand it more. What of the blue stones? It sounds like they are still a significant legacy for the people you talk of.”
Immediately Alonzo’s face lit up. “That is it. I knew you would realize the most important thing. I told them so.”
“Told who?” Michael asked with a puzzled expression.
Alonzo hesitated. “The blue stone is lapis lazuli which in its purest form is only mined in one valley on the Daryz-ye Konkce River in north-eastern Afghanistan. For thousands of years, before even Alexander or Christ, it had been traded from there to Sumer, Harappa and Egypt. Its azure hue, the original ultramarine, decorated the idols and effigies of all the greatest civilizations. Its relative softness allowed easy carving and it was used to make seals of identification. They–”
Michael smiled as he interrupted the older man:

“Every discolouration of the stone,
Every accidental crack or dent,
Seems a watercourse or an avalanche,
Or lofty slope where it still snows”

Alonzo looked puzzled. “What is that poem and why the mirth?”
“I’m sorry, Alonzo,” Michael apologised. “They are from a poem called Lapis Lazuli by Yeats, the Irish poet. Your fable of the stone seals from the mountains and valleys of Nuristan reminded me of the lines. Somebody teased me earlier this afternoon about my ignorance of Yeats,” Michael hesitated, as if he were about to expand but then deciding against it. “Forgive my rudeness, Alonzo. Please go on with your story. What of the people, the Weiminstan, I think you called them?”
“Well remembered, Michael! The people of the secret language have always controlled the trade of lapis lazuli and their most sacred totems were the seven seals carved of that stone and given to the ka-unuman that spring equinox long ago in the sacred grove.”
“Do they still exist?” Michael asked incredulously.
“What? The People or the seals?” Alonzo queried.
“Both.”
“Is it not obvious?” The older man sounded disappointed. He leant his chin on the knob of the cane-stick, the inlaid eyes of the carved-ivory dragon-head held Michael in their fixed stare. It was a few minutes before Alonzo spoke again. “I am of the People Michael. Despite the efforts in the past of the Aryans, Persians and Greeks, and in more recent centuries those of the British and Russians; the People have survived. Even the so-called Taliban patriots of the Darul Uloom Haqqania madrash have failed to eradicate the true inheritance.”
“And the secret language that you spoke of?”
“Although Brahui is the remnant Dravidian language of Afghanistan, the secret language of our tradition is called in Kabul, Zargari, the language of the Afghan goldsmiths and traders in precious stones. It has been considered, by the few linguists who have been allowed to study the language, to be closest to the peculiar dialect of ancient Persian, known as Gurani. Deep in the past the people must have adopted the language of their commerce in lapis and spinel balases.”
“What about the seals?” Michael persisted.
Alonso smiled. “I would like to tell you the full story of the seals, Michael, but, in doing so, it means that you too become part of the story. It also means that you willingly accept my offer of guidance. Given your reservations earlier . . . are you prepared for that?” Alonso studied Michael’s reactions with an intensity that undermined any attempt at levity.
“Yes . . . I suppose so. Yes. Definitely! It feels right somehow,” Michael blurted out with false bravado.



Thursday, October 27, 2011

MAGNIFICATION




Some say that the 'devil is in the detail' but I am not convinced. A significant concern about placing everything under a microscope, employing higher and higher magnification; be it applied to particle physics, distant stars, our daily lives, economics, history, politics or even love, is that often one comes to a greater subjective conclusion than the limited amount of objective information available warrants.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

SAECULUM (A Novel:Part 5) – VESPER I.


SOL OCCAXUS (Sunset) Monday, 19 September, 2011

CREPUSCULUM (Evening Twilight)
I. Friday, 23 September, 2011
II. Thursday, 29 September, 2011
III. Thursday, 29 September, 2011
IV. Sunday, 16 October, 2011

VESPER (Evening Dusk)
I. Sunday, 23 October, 2011
II.
III.
IV.
V.
CONCUBIUM (First Sleep – Coitus – Rest)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
INTEMPESTIUM (Midnight)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
VIII.
GALLICINIUM (Cock Crow)
I.
II.
III.
MATUTINUM (Dawn Goddess)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
VIII.
IX.
X.
XI.
XII.
XIII.
XIV.
DILUCULUM (Dawn Twilight)
I.
II.
III.
IV.

SOLI ORTUS (Sunrise)


VESPER
EVENING DUSK

I.

As Michael Mara climbed the short flight of steps, which led up from the pavement of the modern Carrera de Darro to the older street level of the fifteenth-century avenue, he looked ahead, searching for the doorway of the small Moorish bathhouse or banuelo. The doorway was framed by deep shadows and he paused for a moment to let an exiting customer leave. The customer looked pleased and flashed Michael a giddy smile. The carved, wooden outer door was not that thick, yet once closed behind him the street noise instantly, and near completely, faded. He made for the small reception area where he had made the booking the evening before. There was nobody at the reception desk and while he waited for somebody to appear wandered into a small narrow courtyard where a stone fountain and seat and an unkempt orange tree stood. There was a decorative, iron, external balcony-walkway overlooking the courtyard and he thought he saw some movement at one of the doors that opened out onto it. “Hello. Hello! Is there anybody here?” he called up.
There was a clatter of footsteps down the narrow staircase, which he had noticed just inside the entrance, and a bronzed, blonde and blue-eyed girl with pierced nostrils and eyebrows appeared in the courtyard. “Perdone, Señor. I did not hear you coming in. Are you waiting long?” she asked.
Michael noticed that her tongue was also pierced and that she also had a small defect in the lobe of her left ear. “No. Not really. I have an appointment for a massage at one o’clock,” he explained.
“Come,” she said in a strong Scandinavian accent and he followed her back to the reception desk where she checked the ledger and then looked at her watch. “Oh yes. Doctor . . .eh. . .Vara is it not?”
“Mara!”
“Well it is good, you are on time,” she said approvingly as she reached down behind her and retrieved two thick bath-towels, which she then handed over. “If you go into the changing room …there,” she said pointing to a small wooden door off to the side of the courtyard. “And remove your clothing, you then go to the baths. When Isabella is free she will come to you for the massage.”
“Do I pay you now?” he asked.
“Sure. It is normal,” she said without looking at him.
Michael handed over the agreed payment and deposited his wallet and passport in a safety deposit box before gathering up the towels and walking to the changing-room door. He had to crouch a little to enter and stepped down into a mould-smelling and poorly lit room. To his left was the open archway entrance to the baths with its faded decoration of blue-and-white Moorish tiles and directly ahead there was a set of pegs for hanging clothes. On one of pegs hung what looked like a woman’s tracksuit and shirt and he wondered whether they belonged to Isabella. Turning right, he then entered a small cubicle at the end of the room and began undressing. Opening his knapsack to retrieve his swimming shorts he found that he had left them at the hotel and this oversight annoyed him as he quickly half-wrapped a towel around his waist and pushed open the cubicle door. He stopped just as suddenly at the sight of a fully naked young woman, who had her back to him, reaching upwards to retrieve her cloths from the peg.
“Oh! Perdone, Señorita,” he spluttered and made to retreat back into the cubicle.
The young woman turned without covering herself and smiled at his obvious discomfort. “It’s OK!” she laughed. “There is no need for you to be embarrassed. I will not be long.”
He thought her accent had the cadence of deep-south USA. She was in her early twenties, with the toned body of an athlete, spiky red hair and a small tattoo of a poppy on her shaven pubic mound. Michael noticed that there was a wet swimming suit on the floor. “I forgot my trunks. I wonder if they supply them here,” he asked.
The girl pulled a simple black t-shirt over her head. As her arms lifted her small firm breasts rose up as well. “I don’t know,” she mumbled from beneath the cotton shirt. “Why not ask at the desk?”
“I’ll do that. Thank you,” he said as he brushed past her to re-enter the courtyard and make his way to the desk.

The pierced Scandinavian was talking on her mobile phone as she sat on a small chair behind the desk. She looked up, a patronising smile creasing her face.
“I forgot –” he began to explain before the blonde held up her hand dismissively.
“It is not a problem, I think,” she said disengaging from the phone. “It is a Sunday and we close soon, yes. You are the last client and so there is no one to frighten. Isabella will not mind. Go ahead into the baths, Doctor Vara. I promise not to stare,” she giggled sarcastically.
Michael gave a sharp look but without replying turned back for the door that led into the changing room. The athletic young woman was just leaving; she smiled at him. “Enjoy the baths. Is this your first time?” she asked.
“Thank you. Yes it is my first time here. Where are you from?” he wanted her to stay and talk.
“Granada.”
“But the accent?” he queried. She wore no jewellery but he noticed that there was small triangular area missing from the lobe of her left ear, which was uncannily like the ear defect that the receptionist had.
She caught his stare and pretended to brush her hair back. “I’m on an athletic scholarship to Georgia Tech. Hurdles,” she explained before heading to the desk to retrieve her belongings. After a few words with the blonde receptionist she left, giving him a small wave as she went. Michael watched the outer door close behind her.
“Oh Doctor Vara.” the silver pinioned Nordic tongue called out.
Michael looked at the bobbing bits of metal coming towards him. “It’s Mara,” he said with too sharp, and probably unnecessary, he realised instantly, emphasis.
“Ah, I see! The archdemon!” She laughed.
He over-reacted to her laughter. “What did you say? I thought that all you Scandinavians were a polite people,” he said angrily.
“We are. Do not be so serious, man. Relax!” she said dismissively.
“What did you mean by archdemon?” he asked.
“Oh that! I’m a Buddhist and in my religion Mara is the tempter who along with his daughters, Desire, Pleasure and Restlessness, inhibits us from achieving Nirvana and Enlightenment. I had always hoped he might pay the bathhouse a visit at some time. Your name is such a coincidence.”
“It’s an Irish name,” he said apologetically.
“Whatever! I go now, so here is your deposit key. Ask Isabella to make sure the door is locked when you are finished. Good afternoon Doctor . . . Mara.”

Michael returned to the changing room. Turning left he walked along the tiled passageway towards the cool resting area at the end. Along one wall were open cubicles with unusual double-seated small shower baths. Steam was coming from a narrow doorway that opened into the cool-room and following the drafting mist he entered into a large vaulted room, which had the shape of a cross. Along the nave was a rectangular pool from which the steam rose and in two side chapels there were beds for massage. There was no electric lighting and the natural light that was available outside filtered grudgingly through small stained-glass panels cut into the domed ceiling. The tinkling sounds of running water coursing through a series of tiled channels on the floor, echoed off the walls. After a while these noises became part of the atmosphere and in the otherwise hollow quietness of the murky tropical dimness he began to feel somewhat unnerved. He thought that somebody was watching him as he removed the towel quickly and slid into the shallow bath. Suddenly a voice came from the direction of the passageway. “Relax in the warm water for twenty minutes or so. I will be with you then.”
Was that Isabella’s voice? He could not be sure. It sounded somewhat different.




The time passed slowly and the room became darker and darker. Michael Mara wished there was music.
“OK, I am ready for you now,” the voice announced.
Michael could just make out a ghostly figure carrying what appeared to be two wicker-lit oil-lamps into the upper apse. The figure placed these on wall mounts and after a little adjustment a cedar-scented yellow glow soon lit up the shadows. He edged out of the pool and pulled the towel around himself. As he moved towards the shadow figure he saw that it was indeed Isabella. She was dressed in a finely woven muslin shirt that reached down to her ankles. When she moved towards him across the beam of the wall-mounted light the impression he got was that she was fully naked underneath. Indeed where the material was damp, he noticed that it clung, almost transparently, to sallow glistening skin.
“You may remove the towel and lie face downwards, on the bed. Are there any areas of your body in particular that are stiff or sore,” she asked.
“No,” he lied as he dropped the towel and lay on the bed as instructed.
“I am first going to rub you down with a kese cloth. This gets rid of all the dead skin,” she said soothingly. She then proceeded to work on his arms and legs and then his back with the cloth until the skin tingled. Turning him over she covered his midriff with a small towel and repeated the rubbing on his chest. There was very little eye contact between them. When she finished she lifted a bucket of soapy water and poured it over him. He held onto the towel for safety. “Turn please,” she instructed.
He did what he was told and watched as a stream of suds disappeared into a drain. There was a sensation of silk air bubbles cascading over his skin and he wondered what was she doing?
“Turn over again please, Michael,” she said quietly. Isabella had her back turned to him and was dipping the lower part of her long shirt into a bucket of hot soaped water. Turning towards him she gathered up the hem and pinching the material into a balloon shape blew into the neck until it expanded like a bladder. This she then patted down on his skin from neck to knees in one descending movement until the air was gone and the fabric deflated. The sensation of air hitting his skin through the fine weave of the muslin, he thought, was like that of champagne bubbles moving mercurially everywhere. The whole cleansing procedure took about five minutes.“You may face downwards again please.”
He could not but help notice how her nipples protruded erect and proud against the damp cloth of her gown. “That was a great experience, Isabella. Fantastic,” he said a bit too eagerly.
“Thank you, Michael,” she said. “Now I am just going to cover you with some warm towels, while I dry off and change my shirt.” She disappeared through a side door he had not noticed and about five minutes later returned dressed in a standard white trouser and short-sleeved jacket uniform. Her hair was tied back.
“It’s an interesting building this, Isabella,” he observed as he looked around. “A little bit eerie though. Who was that girl I met in the changing room?”
“Which girl?” She sounded irritated.
“The red-headed athlete.”
“Oh that girl. That was Zoë, my previous client. She is also, in fact, my cousin. Nice body. Did you notice?”
Did he what, he thought. “Yes. Are all your family so gifted?”
“Only the women!” Isabella laughed at her own wit and at his expense.
Michael squirmed a little, feeling exposed and cold all of a sudden. Almost on cue she placed a warm towel over his buttocks and legs and began working on his back.
“I thought you were meant to be going home today,” she asked as she began massaging his neck with firm but agile fingers.
“I changed my mind,” he explained. “I wanted to stay in Granada a little longer, to see a bit more of al-Andalous.”
“Your Arabic pronunciation is not bad,” she observed.
“Do you speak Arabic, Isabella?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
Michael was enjoying the skillful massage movements and as the time passed felt more and more relaxed. As she began massaging his upper buttocks the movement caused them to rock from side to side and he could feel himself becoming erect. Jesus not now, he pleaded silently.
“Michael.”
“Yes.” There was panic in his voice as he thought she was about to ask him to turn over again..
“You should not lie so badly, Michael.”
“What do you mean, Isabella?” He was startled at the directness of the comment although it was said in a soft gentle voice. He thought it more an admonishment than accusation.
“You stayed in Granada to see me again. Did you not?” she asked.
“Yes,” he admitted.
“That’s better. There is no necessity to hide one’s true intentions. It is a waste of effort and willpower.”
“I –” Isabella’s fingers stopped moving. Her voice sweetened and cut across his defence. She whispered close to his ear:

“Were she to lose her love, because she had lost
Her confidence in mine, or even lose
Its first simplicity, love, voice and all,
All my fine feathers would be plucked away
And I left shivering’.”

“Very apt.” He theatrically shook his shoulders as he spoke, trying to ignore the astuteness and directness of the observation. “Yeats.”
“So, you are an Irishman after all! Yes it’s from The Gift of Harun Al-Rashid. Appropriate to the setting and the atmosphere. Don’t you think?”
“Yes it is,” he agreed.
Na’iman! We are finished,” she said as she gently squeezed his right ear lobe. “Turn over again and rest here for a few minutes. After that you can go and change. Do not shower. Let the oils work.”
“What does ‘na’iman’ mean?” He asked after turning.
Isabella smiled, the smile of an indulgent teacher. “Michael, you really do have some gaping omissions in your education. Have you never read Burton’s ‘Thousand Nights and a Night’?”
“No. At least not the original version.”
“You should, for many reasons. Na’iman is the polite greeting after being in the bathhouse, as we are. The modern reply is Allah ykhallik, God preserve you.”
Allah yuhanniki.” He dragged the phrase from his memory.
Isabella smiled again and flick-slapped him on leg with the wet corner-point of a damp towel before turning to leave. She stopped at the arched doorway and looked back. “Allah yuhanniki . . . God pleasure you . . . Very good, Michael. You have the makings of an oriental yet even if you have avoided Burton.”
It was his turn to smile as he spoke:

“And thus declared that Arab lady:
‘Last night, where under the wild moon
On grassy mattress I had laid me,
Within my arms great Solomon,
I suddenly cried out in a strange tongue
Not his, not mine.’ ”

“Touché, Michael! Yeats’ Solomon and the Witch. I am not sure whether to feel complimented or insulted. I will see you in a little while.”
“Isabella, wait! I need . . . I want to talk to you. Please,” he called after her.
“Of course you do, Michael. Sure. No problem. I will wait for you at the reception desk. Perhaps we could go for something to eat. I am hungry and I know a very good restaurant near by. Would that suit you?”
“Yes. Yes, of course. I’d like that.”

Sunday, October 16, 2011

SAECULUM (A Novel:Part 4)– Crepusculum IV.


SOL OCCAXUS (Sunset) Monday, 19 September, 2011

CREPUSCULUM (Evening Twilight)
I. Friday, 23 September, 2011
II. Thursday, 29 September, 2011
III. Thursday, 29 September 2011
IV. Sunday, 16 October 2011

VESPER (Evening Dusk)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
CONCUBIUM (First Sleep – Coitus – Rest)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
INTEMPESTIUM (Midnight)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
VIII.
GALLICINIUM (Cock Crow)
I.
II.
III.
MATUTINUM (Dawn Goddess)
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
VIII.
IX.
X.
XI.
XII.
XIII.
XIV.
DILUCULUM (Dawn Twilight)
I.
II.
III.
IV.

SOLI ORTUS (Sunrise)

CREPUSCULUM
EVENING TWILIGHT


IV

The only occupant of the room was a middle-aged man with short-cropped silver-grey hair. He sat in a high-backed swivel chair, which was turned away from the desk and which rocked back and forward with a slow rhythm as the looked out through the panoramic window of the elegant modern house situated on the Utliberg Heights above Zurich. He had an uninterrupted view of the Zurichsee Lake below as it stretched away to the southeast and in the far distance he could just make out the Glarnisch crest. He was thinking of his ski lodge in the valley of Flims beyond the crest when the intercom on the walnut desk activated. He swung around, away from the window and pressed a button on the console panel. “Yes, Fraulein Schmitt,” he said a little tersely.
“Your call to Granada sir!”
“Thank you, Fraulein Schmitt. I will take it on my personal line. You may go home now.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. I’m transferring the call through now.”
The silver-haired man removed the dark tinted glasses that he wore and laid them on the table. He allowed the telephone to ring a couple of times before picking it up. “Hello. One moment please caller,” he immediately said as he put down the receiver, loosened his tie, stood up and walked across the room. He opened the door that connected to his secretary’s office. Satisfied that she had left he returned to his desk and settled into the swivel chair. He picked up the phone. “Go ahead, caller.”
“Am I speaking to a friend?” a female voice asked.
The beginning of love is search – ” the silver-haired man answered.
But the end is rest.”
The silver-haired man smiled as he heard the familiar code words. “Masa ’l-khair, Solis sitti,” he said warmly.
Masa ’n-nur, Sahib al-Zuhur baik.
“Have you any progress to report?”
“Yes, but I am not sure that this line is fully secure.”
“There is no evidence of that at my end Solis but be discreet and I will understand.”
“As you wish, Sahib al-Zuhur. I arrived back yesterday morning but was unable to contact you before now. I met with our horticulturist, as we had arranged, and that meeting was successful and very helpful. His information is that the effect of the new fertilizer on the crop growth has exceeded all expectations. He is prepared to provide us with samples but has indicated that the cost of harvesting has increased significantly however.”
“The horticulturist is getting greedy. Is there any danger of cross contamination in the seeds? ”
“Not so far. If I do suspect that, then, I will cancel the order, permanently. ”
“That is good. How did the other meeting go? Did the wholesaler arrive?”
“Yes. Your information was accurate. He was there as anticipated. How did you manage to arrange it?”
“Alvorro . . .” A look of irritation creased al-Zuhar’s face. This was a mistake of his own making. He brought his hand up and ran it through the silver-grey hair. “I was owed a few favours. How did that meeting go?”
“The fruit is ripe for picking.”
“Very good. Proceed with caution Solis, as the market is a bit saturated at present and I do not want to alert any competitors. I have made an offer to the other partners of our friend for their distribution rights and demanded a quick answer. Let them apply the pressure on the wholesaler. Do you agree?”
“Yes. I will be able to monitor the wholesaler’s response at my end.”
“And Zoë?”
“She has watched my back.”
“I have to be in Corsica by next Friday and would like to meet you both there, either on Friday or Saturday.”
“Why Corsica?”
“I will explain when I see you. I’ll leave a message on your answering service on Thursday as to the time and place. We need to discuss a strategy as I have arranged for a further meeting with the distributors for the eleventh.”
“Where?”
“New York.”
“That’s fine by me. By the way, will I arrange for the horticulturist to come to Corsica as well?”
“Yes. That’s a good idea.”
“Fine. I will see you then.”
“Solis.”
“Yes.”
“Bring your dowry. It is time for the joining.”
“Perhaps! Mesik bil-kher, ” the female voice said as the line disconnected.
Messak Allah bil-kher,” Al-Zuhur said as he replaced the receiver.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ónsra: To Love for the Last Time




A few weeks ago a 78 year-old lady, a mother of eight and a widow for the past ten years came to see me for a consultation. Very hesitant at first she gradually relaxed to explain the nature of her ‘problem’. She had begun a new relationship with a man four years younger than her and was finding sexual intercourse uncomfortable. She was anxious to have the situation rectified if at all possible. ‘After all Doctor,’ she said plainly. ‘Given our ages this is probably our last chance for love.

Thankfully the ‘problem’ is easily rectified and she left the consultation in high spirits. I found the whole episode both incredibly heart-warming but also because of what she had said, very poignant.

The lady in question was in my thoughts last week, wondering how she was getting on, as I read an article by Lucille Redmond in the Irish Times on the loss of marginal languages and her noting of the calculation by linguist Mark Abley that a language dies out somewhere in the world every 14 days, never to be heard again. Abley, a Canadian, fell in love early in his linguistic studies with the expressive verbalisation of the Bodo language of North-Eastern India and although acknowledging Noel Chomsky’s argument that because of a very similar grammatical structure of all of the world’s languages that an arriving extra-terrestrial (analysing conceptual context) would understand the peoples of our world as speaking the same language, he pleads for the aggressive preservation of local dialects.


Bodo (pronounced BO-ros) is a language of the Tibeto-Burmese family of languages spoken by about a million people in the Assam State of north-eastern India. The Bodo people, an ethnic sub-group of the Kachari, are thought to be the aboriginal inhabitants of the Brahmaputra Valley where the names of all the tributary rivers in the valley are in the Bodo language.

The language itself is highly expressive and whole concepts, physical and metaphysical can be summarised in sometimes one word. One of the most expressive verbs is Ónsra: meaning ‘to love for the last time’.

Interestingly another sub-group of the Bodo people are the Mech, living mainly in the Kamrup district, and are called that not by themselves but by their Hindu neighbours. Mech derives from the Sanskrit word Mlechcha meaning ‘stranger’, and having originally changed their pagan beliefs to Hinduism to fit in with their neighbours, the Mech are now because they have remained strangers and somewhat marginalised, subject to intense proselytising by American missionaries.

The missionaries need to be somewhat careful though! For instance a Bodo hunter’s proverb explains how a hunted animal is tracked and killed by saying,

A hare dies due to its shit; a deer dies due to its footstep; a man dies due to his mouth.”



Carol King wrote a theme song in 1985 for the movie Murphy’s Romance called Love for the Last Time. The third verse goes:

Just think of it,
If we had missed the moment,
we might have spent the years ahead believing love had passed
I found a love to last a lifetime
I'm in love for the last time,
and time will make it last.

Ón, the verb for to love in the Bodo language is distinguished by a high vowel intonation on the Ó (denoted in written form by the ´ ) from the noun On meaning rice-powder.

And I thought of my 78 year-old Connemara patient, in love for perhaps the last time and not restricted in either imagination, perception or intonation to a last bowl of rice pudding instead.

Ónsra and beyond for her! And I hope for the rest of us.

References:

http://brahmaputra.vjf.cnrs.fr/uk/participants/jacquesson.htm
http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/Carole-King Biography/BE8657E8E09F350748256DA50031F549
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrdDY-Uh5YM