It is these and other critical issues that Fugitive Pieces addresses. The principal protagonist in Fugitive Pieces, Jakob Beer, suffers a most aggressive form of. The film, with cinematography by Gregory Middleton csc, opens the Toronto International Film Festival. Also from “Fugitive Pieces”, above left, Rade Sher-. of the Holocaust: Anne Michaels's Fugitive Pieces and W. G. Sebald's. Austerlitz. As I intend to show, the trauma of the Holocaust forces an arbitrary process of.
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Acclaim for Anne Michaels's FUGITIVE PIECES Winner of the Lannan Literary Fiction Award Guardian Fiction Award Orange Prize Trillium Award Jewish Book . A New York Times Notable Book of the Year Winner of the Lannan Literary Fiction Award Winner of the Guardian Fiction Award In a boy bursts. Abstract. Metaphors of pain: the use of metaphors in trauma narrative with reference to Fugitive pieces. This article is a contribution to the recent interdisciplinary.
I strained to join them, to rise with them, to peel from the ground like paper ungluing at its edges. Eventually Zakynthos town was rebuilt, the Venetian architecture overlooking the harbour painstakingly reconstructed. The English language was food. He softened my bread in milk or water until it was a spongy porridge. Kalo taxidhi, kalo taxidhi— safe voyage.
Bella turning the pages of a book. Or I remembered the name of a classmate but not his face.
A piece of clothing but not its colour. When I woke, my anguish was speci c: At rst I heard them from a distance, an incomprehensible murmur as I lay face down on the rug, anxious or despondent in the long afternoons.
I rolled onto my stomach so I could see his face, and eventually I sat up to learn. His family had shipped the valuable red dyes for shoes and cloth from Mount Ossa to Austria and made their fortune. From his father, Athos learned that every river is a tongue of commerce, nding rst geological then economic weakness and persuading itself into continents. Shortly after, his mother fell ill and died.
So he returned to the village of his birth, the place where his father had also been born. And this is where Athos took me: Its barren west and fertile east. Its groves of olives, gs, oranges, and lemons. Acanthus, amaranth, cyclamen. These were the things I did not see.
From my two small rooms, the island was as inaccessible as another dimension. Twenty- ve miles long and twelve miles wide, its highest hills fteen hundred feet above the sea. A port on the maritime trade route between Venice and Constantinople.
Zakynthos was the island birthplace of no less than three beloved poets—Foscolo, Kalvos, and Solomos, who wrote the words to the national anthem there when he was twenty- ve. A statue of Solomos presides over the square.
When Athos and his father returned to Zakynthos after the deaths of Nikos and his mother, they went on a night journey to Cape Gerakas to watch sea turtles lay their eggs on the beach. I was alone with my father. We stood silent at the blue grotto and in the pine groves.
I watched them caulking seams from the springs of pitch that bubble up from the black beach. We saw a man at the docks who knew my father. The muscles of his arms bulged like massive gure-eights, his licorice hair melted with sweat, he was stained with pitch. But he spoke katharevousa, the high Greek, like a king.
It was a lesson I never forgot. Once, in Salonika, my father left me in the charge of a hamal, a stevedore, while he attended to business with the harbour master. I sat on a bollard and listened to the hamal's fantastic tales.
He told me about a ship that had sunk completely and then risen again. Its cargo was salt and when it dissolved in the hold the ship bobbed up. That was my rst encounter with the magic of salt. When my father retrieved me, he o ered the hamal some money for looking after me. The man refused. Night after night, his vivid hallucinogen dripped into my imagination, diluting memory.
Yiddish too, a melody gradually eaten away by silence. Athos pulled books o the shelves and read to me. I dove into the lavish illustrations. His was an old library, a mature library, where seriousness has given way to youthful whim. There were books on animal navigation and animal camouflage, on the history of glass, on gibbons, on Japanese scroll painting. There were books on icons, on insects, on Greek independence.
Botany, paleontology, waterlogged wood. Poetry, with hypnotizing endpapers. Solomos, Seferis, Palamas, Keats. He read to me from a biography of the sixteenth-century Flemish botanist Clusius, who went on plant-hunting expeditions in Spain and Portugal where he broke his leg, then fell o a cli on his horse, breaking his arm, landing in a prickly shrub he named Erinacea, hedgehog broom. In similar fashion he stumbled upon two hundred new species.
And from the biography of the eighteenth-century botanist John Sibthorpe, who went to Greece to hunt all six hundred plants described by Dioscorides.
On his rst journey, he met with plague, war, and rebellion. On his second, he travelled with an Italian colleague, Francesco Boroni immortalized by the boronia bush. Then, in Athens, Boroni fell asleep by an open window and fell out, breaking his neck. Sibthorpe continued their work alone until he became ill at the ruins of Nicopolis. He staggered home to die at Oxford. His work was published posthumously, except his letters, which were accidentally burned as rubbish.
For four years I was con ned to small rooms. But Athos gave me another realm to inhabit, big as the globe and expansive as time. Because of Athos, I spent hours in other worlds then surfaced dripping, as from the sea. Inside the cave of my skull oceans swayed with monstrous ice- oes, navigated by skin boats. Mariners hung from mizzenmasts and ropes made from walrus hide.
Vikings rowed down the mighty rivers of Russia. Glaciers dredged their awful trails across hundreds of miles. In Timbuktu we traded gold for salt. I learned about bacteria three billion years old, and how sphagnum moss was pulled from swamps and used as surgical dressing for wounded soldiers because it contained no bacteria.
I learned how Theophrastus thought fossil sh swam to mountaintops by way of subterranean rivers. I learned that fossil elephants were found in the Arctic, fossil ferns in Antarctica, fossil reindeer in France, fossil musk ox in New York. Each island represented a victory and a defeat: They acquired grace— some grass, a beach smoothed by tides. I stared at fossil plants called crinoids that looked like the night sky etched on rock.
To go back a year or two was impossible, absurd. I paused when I ate, singing a silent incantation: A bite for me, a bite for you, an extra bite for Bella. I felt her touch on my back, my shoulders, my hair. Watching with curiosity and sympathy from her side of the gossamer wall. Although we could see anyone approaching from afar, we also could be seen.
It was a two-hour walk to town. Athos made the trip several times a month. While he was away, I barely moved, frozen with listening.
If anyone climbed the hill, I hid in a sea chest, a box with a high curved lid; and each time less of me emerged. We relied on one merchant, Old Martin, for supplies and news. One night, he and Allegra and their little son appeared at our door, their arms full of their belongings.
We hid Avramakis—Match, for short—in a drawer. While German soldiers stretched out their legs under the tables of the Zakynthos Hotel. I learned the power we give to stones to hold human time. The stone tablets of the Commandments.
Cairns, the ruins of temples. Gravestones, standing stones, the Rosetta, Stonehenge, the Parthenon. The blocks cut and carried by inmates in the limestone quarries at Golleschau. The tombstones smashed in Hebrew cemeteries and plundered for Polish sidewalks; today bored citizens, staring at their feet while waiting for a bus, can still read the inscriptions.
As a student, he wrote a paper on the karst elds of Yugoslavia. Limestone that develops slowly under pressure into marble—Athos describing the process made it sound like a spiritual journey. When Athos was seven, his father brought him home fossils from Lyme Regis.
It was to direct the course of our lives. Among other things, Wilson, like Athos, was a watercolourist. His pigments — the deep-purple ice, the lime-green midnight sky, white stratus over black lava—were not only beautiful but scienti cally accurate.
His paintings of atmospheric phenomena— parhelions, paraselenae, lunar haloes—depicted the exact degrees of the sun. Athos relished that Wilson made watercolour sketches in the most perilous circumstances, then at night read the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and poetry in the tent.
In their howling tent, the exhausted men ate hallucinatory meals. They smelled roast beef in the frozen darkness and savoured each bite in their imaginations as they swallowed their dried rations. At night, rigid in their sleeping bags, they discussed chocolate. Silas Wright, the only Canadian on the expedition, dreamed of apples. Finally, just as they taste their first mouthful, they fall into a crevasse. At their base at Cape Evans during the long winter night, each member of the expedition gave a lecture on his particular specialty: This was serious passion for knowledge; a biologist once traded a heavy pair of socks for extra geology lessons.
Geologizing quickly became a mania, even among the non-scientists.
Strongman Birdie Bowers turned into a rockhound, and every time he brought in a sample for identi cation he made the same announcement: The light animated lithographs of Carboniferous ponds and polar wastes, and glinted o the glassed-i n shelves of minerals and wood samples, the jars of chemicals.
Details gradually came clear, as I learned the words. By late evening the oor would be littered with volumes open to pictures and diagrams. In that lamplight, we might have belonged to any century. The entire globe hung beneath their feet. They no longer knew what they looked like, not the distant white esh under their clothes, nor their leather faces.
The sight of their own naked bodies was as far from them as England. Ceaselessly hungry. The snow turned their eyes to tinder and their faces glowed blue with frostbite. Across endless terrain split by invisible seams ready to swallow them without warning and without a sound. It was forty degrees below. These rocks later helped prove that Antarctica had been tectonically torn from an immense continent, from which Australia, India, Africa, Madagascar, and South America fractured, crumbled, strayed.
India smashed into Asia, the crumpled point of collision becoming the Himalayas. All of which the earth achieved with staggering patience— a few centimetres a year. The men, barely able to drag themselves, continued to haul back thirty- ve pounds of fossils from the Beardmore. Wearied beyond recovery, Wilson kept on recording his observations: When winter set in, they knew their companions would never return.
In the spring, a search party discovered the tent. Of England he recounted nothing of castles or knights. Instead he described owstone, dripstone, and other marvellous cave formations; spasms in time. Marble curtains bulging with petri ed breezes, gypsum blossoms, clusters of stone grapes, limestone ukes shining with breath.
And hanging above his desk was an especially prized possession: It was as if Wilson had painted my memory of the spirit world.
In the forefront was a circle of skis like a sparse and ghostly forest and, above, the breathtakingly divine haloes of the paraselena itself, swirling, suspended like smoke.
For many months all I saw were stars. My only prolonged experience of the outside world was late at night; Athos let me climb through the bedroom window to lie on the roof. Flat on my back, I dug a hole in the night sky. I inhaled the sea until I was light- headed, and floated above the island. Alone, in space, I imagined the Antarctic auroras, billowing designs of celestial calligraphy, our small portion of the sky like the corner of an illuminated manuscript. Stretched out on a cotton mat, I thought of Wilson, lying on an ice- oe in the darkness of a polar winter, singing to Emperor penguins.
I thought of Scott and his frozen men starving in the tent, knowing that an abundance of food waited, inaccessible, only eleven miles away. I imagined their last hours in that cramped space.
The Germans looted the harvests of the fruit groves. Olive oil was as rare as if we lived on the ice cap. Even on lush Zakynthos we craved citrus. Athos carefully sliced a lemon in half and we sucked out the sourness down to the skin, ate the skin, then smelled our hands. Since I was still young, the rationing and restrictions a ected me more than Athos. Eventually my gums began to bleed. My teeth came loose. Athos watched me falling apart and wrung his hands with worry.
He softened my bread in milk or water until it was a spongy porridge. As time went on, no one had anything left to sell. We grew what we could, and Athos foraged the sea and the hedges, but it was never enough. We survived on the overlooked sea peas and vetches, on hyacinth beans and nasturtium pods.
Athos described his plant-hunting to me as he prepared our meals. He tugged out capers growing from cracks in the limestone and pickled them; we were inspired by the sturdy contrariness of the plant, which sprang from the rocks and had a marked preference for volcanic soil. We could even have made a liqueur from the ower, and then after dinner resoled our shoes or bound a book with glue made from the roots.
And, if the meal is a complete disaster, Parkinson even tells you the best recipe for mummi cation. They saw no reason to disturb the three-hundred-year-old community, a peaceful mix of Jews from Constantinople, Izmir, Crete, Corfu, and Italy. On Zakynthos at least, the macaronades seemed mysti ed by the German agenda; they lounged in the afternoon heat and sang to the sunset crinkling over the waves.
But when the Italians surrendered, life on the island changed drastically. The night of June 5, Through the rustling darkness of the elds, late-night voices: In the zudeccha, the Spanish silver siddur with hinges in the spine, the tallith and candlesticks are being buried in the earth under the kitchen oor. Letters to absent children, photos, are buried.
While the men and women who place these valuables in the ground have never done so before, they go through the motions with centuries of practice guiding their hands, a ritual as familiar as the Sabbath. Even the child who runs to bring his favourite toy, the dog with the little wooden wheels, in order to place it in the hold in the kitchen oor, seems to act with knowledge.
A scrap of lace, a bowl. Ghetto diaries that have never been found. After burying the books and dishes, the silverware and photos, the Jews of the Zakynthos ghetto vanish.
They slip into the hills, where they wait like coral; half esh, half stone. They wait in caves, in the sheds and animal stalls of the farms of Christian friends. In their cramped hiding places, parents tell their children what they can, a hurriedly packed suitcase of family stories, the names of relatives. Fathers give their ve-year-old sons advice for married life. Mothers pass down recipes not only for the haroseth on the Seder plate but for mezedhes, for cholent as well as ahladhi sto fourno—baked quince, for poppyseed cake and ladhera.
All night and day and night, on the oor next to the sea chest, I wait for the sign from Athos. I wait to close myself up inside. I listen until I sleep, until I wake again, listening. The following night, Ioannis took them to a better hiding place, on the other side of the island. At the end of the week he came again, with news. He was stricken. His narrow face looked even narrower, as if it had been squeezed through a pipe.
Athos poured Ioannis the last inch of ouzo then filled the glass with water. Karrer took the list to Archbishop Chrysostomos. The archbishop said: Burn the list. Almost everyone managed to escape the night we came to you. The next day, the streets were empty. The shutters were half closed against the sun. The room was very hot. I saw it with my own eyes. The poor few they rounded up were waiting in the noon sun.
My father and I waited at the edge of the square, to see what the Germans would do. Caro started to weep. He stood up again. Archbishop Chrysostomos said a prayer.
And they shot her. Right there. Right in front of us all. We were trying to think what to do, to do something. Then suddenly the truck took off, in the direction of Keri. Where were they taking them? He stood all day next to the truck, talking to the poor people inside. The water rose around us, bullets tearing the surface for those who took too long to drown. Then the peaceful blue sheen of the Aegean slipped shut again.
After a while Ioannis left. I watched as Athos walked with him partway down the hill. When he returned, Athos went to his desk and wrote down what Ioannis had told us. Athos would no longer let me go out on the roof at night. He had been so careful to maintain order. Regular meals, daily lessons.
But now our days were without shape. He still told stories, to try and cheer us, but now they were aimless. How he and Nikos learned about Chinese kites and ew a handmade dragon above Cape Spinari while the children from the village perched on the coast, waiting their turn to feel the tug of the string.
How they lost the kite in the waves. The only thing that calmed Athos was to draw. The greater his despair, the more obsessively he drew. Athos collected poppies, lavatera, basil, broom, and spread them on his desk. Then, in watercolours, he made precise renderings. He quoted Wilson: Hagar left Ishmael in a clump of broom, Elijah lay in broom when he asked to die. Perhaps it was the burning bush; even when the re goes out, its inner branches continue to burn.
Important lessons: Find a way to make beauty necessary; find a way to make necessity beautiful. By the end of summer Athos rallied enough to insist that our lessons resume. But the dead surrounded us, an aurora over the blue water. Often on Zakynthos and later in Canada, for moments I was lost. Standing next to the fridge in our Toronto kitchen, afternoon light falling in a diagonal across the oor. Perhaps even then the answer had nothing to do with the question.
You will have proven to me my love for you is useless. Instead he must save me from the attempt; he must jump to earth. While I hid in the luxury of a room, thousands were stuffed into baking stoves, sewers, garbage bins. In the crawlspaces of double ceilings, in stables, pigsties, chicken coops.
A boy my age hid in a crate; after ten months he was blind and mute, his limbs atrophied. A woman stood in a closet for a year and a half, never sitting down, blood bursting her veins.
While I was living with Athos on Zakynthos, learning Greek and English, learning geology, geography, and poetry, Jews were lling the corners and cracks of Europe, every available space. They buried themselves in strange graves, any space that would t their bodies, absorbing more room than was allotted them in the world.
In September , the Germans left Zakynthos.
Across the hills, music from town spun through the air frail as a distant radio. A man rode across the island, his high-pitched yelps and the Greek ag snapping above his head. The next morning Athos asked me to sit with him by the front door. He carried two chairs outside. Sunlight blared from every direction. My eyeballs jangled in my skull. I sat with my back against the house and looked down at myself.
My legs did not belong to me; thin as lengths of rope knotted at the knees, skin dripping where muscle used to be, tender in the strong light. After a while Athos led me, dazed, inside. I grew stronger, each day climbing further down and up the hill. Finally I walked with Athos to Zakynthos town, which gleamed as if an egg had been cracked on the sharp Venetian details and dripped shiny over the pale yellow and white plaster.
Athos had described it so often: The narrow streets with laundry drying from the grillwork balconies, the view of Mount Skopos, with the convent Panayia Skopotissa. Athos presented me to Old Martin.
There was now so little to sell that his tiny shop was mostly empty. I remember standing next to a shelf where a few cherries were scattered like rubies on ivory paper. During the occupations, Old Martin tried to satisfy the cravings of his patrons. This was his private resistance. He bartered secretly with ship captains for a delicacy he knew a customer pined for.
Thus, cunningly, he bolstered spirits. He kept track of the larders of the community, e cient as a caterer at a ne hotel. Martin knew who was buying food for Jews in hiding after the ghetto was abandoned, and he tried to save extra fruit and oil for families with young children.
The Patron Saint of Groceries. His knobbly arthritic hands trembled as he reached deliberately for a g or a lemon, holding one at a time. In those days of scarcity his shaking care seemed appropriate, an acknowledgement of the value of a single plum.
Athos and I walked through the town. We rested in the platia where the last Jews of the zudeccha had waited to die. A woman was washing the steps of the Zakynthos Hotel. In the harbour, ropes tapped against the masts. For four years I'd imagined Athos and myself sharing secret languages. Now I heard Greek everywhere. In the street, reading signs for the farmakio or the kafenio, I felt profanely exposed. I ached to return to our little house.
In India there are butter ies whose folded wings look just like dry leaves. There are caterpillars that look like branches, moths that look like bark. To remain invisible, the plaice changes colour as it moves through sunlit water.
What is the colour of a ghost? To survive was to escape fate. But if you escape your fate, whose life do you then step into? The Zohar says: Each life saved: Full- grown forests still and silent, whole cities, under a sky of mud.
The realm of the peat men, preserved as statuary. The place where all those who have uttered the bony password and entered the earth wait to emerge. From underground and underwater, from iron boxes and behind brick walls, from trunks and packing crates….
When Athos sat at his desk, soaking wood samples in polyethylene glycol, replacing missing bres with a waxy ller, I could see—watching his face while he worked— that he was actually traipsing through vanished, impossibly tall Carboniferous forests, with tree bark like intricate brocades: The forest swayed one hundred feet above his head in a prehistoric autumn. Athos was an expert in buried and abandoned places. His cosmology became mine.
I grew into it naturally. In this way, our tasks became the same. Athos and I would come to share our secrets of the earth. He described the bog bodies. They had steeped for centuries, their skin tanning to dark leather, umber juices deep in the lines of palms and soles. In autumn, with the smell of snow in the dark clouds, men had been led out into the moor as sacri cial o erings. There, they were anchored with birch and stones to drown in the acidic ground. Time stopped. And that is why, Athos explained, the bog men are so serene.
Asleep for centuries, they are uncovered perfectly intact; thus they outlast their killers — whose bodies have long dissolved to dust. In turn I told him of the Polish synagogues whose sanctuaries were below ground, like caves. The state prohibited synagogues to be built as high as churches, but the Jews refused to have their reverence diminished by building codes. The vaulted ceilings were still built; the congregation simply prayed deeper underground.
Someday perhaps they would rise in a herd, as if nothing had occurred, to graze in a Polish field. I fantasized the power of reversal. Later, in Canada, looking at photographs of the mountains of personal possessions stored at Kanada in the camps, I imagined that if each owner of each pair of shoes could be named, then they would be brought back to life.
A cloning from intimate belongings, a mystical pangram. Athos told me about Biskupin and its discovery by a local teacher out for an evening stroll. The Gasawka River was low and the huge wooden pylons perforated the surface of the lake like massive rushes. More than two thousand years before, Biskupin had been a rich community, supremely organized. They harvested grain and bred livestock.
Wealth was shared. Their comfortable houses were arranged in neat rows, the island forti cation resembling a modern subdivision. Each gabled home had ample light as well as privacy; a porch, a hearth, a bedroom loft.
Biskupin craftsmen traded with Egypt and the Black Sea coast. But then there was a change in climate. Farmland turned to heath, then to bog. The water table rose inexorably until it was obvious that Biskupin would have to be abandoned. The city remained underwater until , when the level of the Gasawka River dropped. Athos joined the excavation in His job was to solve the preservation problems of the waterlogged structures. Soon after Athos made the decision to take me home with him, Biskupin was overrun by soldiers.
We learned this after the war.
They burned records and relics. They demolished the ancient forti cations and houses that had withstood millennia. The others were sent to Dachau. And that is one of the reasons Athos believed we saved each other. Wind and currents that stir up underwater creatures, bioluminescent gardens that guide birds to shore. On their brains, the rotating constellations, the imprint of longing and distance. The xed route of bison over prairie, so worn that the railway laid its tracks along it.
Geography cut by rail. The black seam of that wailing migration from life to death, the lines of steel drawn across the ground, penetrating straight through cities and towns now famous for murder: Though they were taken blind, though their senses were confused by stench and prayer and screams, by terror and memories, these passengers found their way home. Through the rivers, through the air.
When the prisoners were forced to dig up the mass graves, the dead entered them through their pores and were carried through their bloodstreams to their brains and hearts. And through their blood into another generation.
And those lost lives made molecular passage into their hands. How can one man take on the memories of even one other man, let alone ve or ten or a thousand or ten thousand; how can they be sancti ed each? He stops thinking. He concentrates on the whip, he feels a face in his hand, he grasps hair as if in a passion grasp, its matted thickness between his fingers, pulling, his hands full of names.
His holy hands move, autonomous. In the Golleschau quarry, stone-carriers were forced to haul huge blocks of limestone endlessly, from one mound to another and back again. The insane task was not futile only in the sense that faith is not futile.
This memory of beauty was accompanied by a bizarre stab of gratitude. But later I felt I understood. Sometimes the body experiences a revelation because it has abandoned every other possibility. Like the faint thump from behind the womb wall.
It is no metaphor to witness the astonishing delity of minerals magnetized, even after hundreds of millions of years, pointing to the magnetic pole, minerals that have never forgotten magma whose cooling o has left them forever desirous. We long for place; but place itself longs. Human memory is encoded in air currents and river sediment. Eskers of ash wait to be scooped up, lives reconstituted.
How many centuries before the spirit forgets the body? How long will we feel our phantom skin buckling over rockface, our pulse in magnetic lines of force?
How many years pass before the difference between murder and death erodes? Grief requires time. If a chip of stone radiates its self, its breath, so long, how stubborn might be the soul. If sound waves carry on to in nity, where are their screams now? I imagine them somewhere in the galaxy, moving forever towards the psalms. Sending their white messages millions of years, only to be crumpled up by the waves.
Whenever I came in, no matter how early or how late, he was already there, reading by the window. How to preserve leaf skeletons. The meaning of pole carvings. He had a beautiful watch from his father. Athos, do you still have it? One afternoon she came to pick me up, greeting me with a tug on my ears the way she still likes to do.
Daphne was only twenty then and always in a good mood. Come to dinner, she said to Athos. Athos asked, Do you like music? There we heard Vito for the rst time. His voice was a river. It was glikos, black and sweet. Athos, do you remember? Vito was also the cook. After preparing the food, he came from the kitchen rubbing the rosemary and oil from his ngers onto his apron, and then he stood among the tables and sang a rembetiko that he made up on the spot.
A rembetiko, Jakob, always tells a story full of heartache and eros.
One night he did not sing rst, but played something so mysterious … a story I seemed to know, to remember. It gave me an ancient, suspenseful feeling, like an orchard when the sun moves in and out of the clouds … and later that night Daphne and I decided to marry.
They laughed. Athos rubbed my hair. They laughed again. Daphne had set a pot of owers in the pile. A vegetable and herb garden in the back. Past Kolonaki Square, between Kiphissia and Tatoi, past the foreign embassies, palms and cypresses, past parks, past tall white apartments. It had taken Athos and me close to two weeks to travel the wounded landscape from Zakynthos to Athens. Roads were blocked, bridges out, villages in ruins. Farmland and orchards had been devastated.
Those without a scrap of land to work or money for the black market were starving. This would be the case for years. And, of course, peace did not come to Greece at the end of the war. About six months after the ghting ended in Athens between communists and British, with an interim government still in place, Athos and I closed up the house on Zakynthos and crossed the channel to Kyllini on the mainland.
We both understood that Athos must search so that I could give up. I found his faith unbearable. Looking out at the waves of Porthmos Zakinthou, I thought nothing would ever be familiar again. We took lifts whenever we could, in carts and on the backs of bone-rattling lorries that stirred up the dust climbing hairpin turns and spiralling down again.
We travelled long distances me ta podhia—on foot. There are two rules for walking in Greece that Athos taught me as we climbed a hill and left Kyllini behind. When we were both worn out, we waited with our satchels by the side of the road, hoping someone might come by to take us to the next village.
Often while we were walking, Athos put his arm across my shoulders. His touch felt natural to me, though all else was like a dream. And it was his touch that kept me from falling into myself too far.
It was on that journey from Zakynthos to Athens, on those crumbling roads and in those dry hills, that I realized what I felt: The landscape of the Peloponnesus had been injured and healed so many times, sorrow darkened the sunlit ground.
All sorrow feels ancient. Wars, occupations, earthquakes; re and drought. I stood in the valleys and imagined the grief of the hills.
It would be almost fty years and in another country before I would again experience this intense empathy with a landscape. At Kyllini, we saw that the great medieval castle had been dynamited by the Germans.
We passed outdoor schools, children in rags using slabs of rock as desks. A shame hung over the countryside, the misery of women who could not even bury their dead, whose bodies had been burned or drowned, or simply thrown away. We descended the valley to Kalavrita, at the foot of Mount Velia. At Kalavrita, in December , the Germans murdered every man in the village over the age of fteen —fourteen hundred men—then set re to the town.
The Germans claimed the townspeople had been harbouring andartes — Greek resistance ghters. In the valley, charred ruins, blackened stone, a terrible silence. A place so empty it was not even haunted. At Korinthos, we climbed aboard a lorry that was lled to over owing with other travellers. Finally, on a hot afternoon in late July, we arrived in Athens. A small glass table. Silk cushions. I was afraid that when I stood up my dirty clothes would leave an imprint on the pale sofa.
A little dish of wrapped candies on the table distracted me, gave me a painful glimmer, as when part of you falls asleep and then blood returns to the place. My elbows rubbed against my sleeves, my legs against my shorts. In a large silver-framed mirror, I saw my head looming above the thin stem of my neck. Kostas led me into his room and he and Athos picked out some clothes for me.
They took me to a barber for my rst real haircut. Daphne drew me to her, her hands on my shoulders. She was not much taller than me and almost as thin. She was, as I look back, like a very elderly girl. She wore a dress with a pattern of birds. Her hair was fastened in a knot on top of her head, a little grey cloud. She served me a stifhado of beans and garlic. I ate karpouzi outside with Kostas, who showed me how to spit the melon seeds all the way to the bottom of the garden.
Their kindnesses were mysterious and welcome to me as the city itself—with its strange trees, its blinding white walls. The morning after we arrived, Daphne, Kostas, and Athos began to talk. They talked as if everything must be told in a single day. They talked as if they were at shivah, at a wake, where all the talk cannot ll the absent chair.
Once in a while Daphne got up to replenish their glasses, to bring bread, small cold bowls of sh, peppers, onions, olives. I could not follow it all: When I woke, it was twilight.
They were leaning back in their chairs in a silent melancholy, as if the long Greek dusk had nally drawn every memory out of their hearts. Kostas shook his head.
We heard it on the radio. All morning the black cars made a trail through the city like a line of gunpowder.
We heard sirens, anti-aircraft guns, yet the church bells kept ringing for early Mass. They ew, he said, over the palace, over the chapel on Lykavettos. At the beginning, the waiter still pretended, brought out the menu; it became a ritual joke. Sometimes we even heard the one from student days when we were so poor and someone used to call out to the waiter: I imagined skipping stones with Mones on the river. Mones once caught his nger in a door and his nail came o , but he could still make the stones jump more times.
They took sun baths without their shirts. And maybe to pick up the Kathemerini, the Proia, any newspaper I could nd. A British soldier in the lobby o ered me a cigarette and we had a long discussion about the di erences between Greek and British and French tobacco.
The next day Daphne answered the door and there he was, bringing us meat in tins. She used to rub her hands with lotion to keep them smooth for her work. She gave us milk while we were studying and the glass always smelled of lotion, it made the milk taste pretty. When my father came home from work his hands were black, just like he was wearing gloves, and he used to scrub them until they were almost pink, though you could still smell the shoe leather—he was the best bootmaker— and you could still smell the polish, which came in tins and was soft as black butter.
He stole from us. Every day I saw him take something—knives and forks, needle and thread. He brought home butter, potatoes, meat—for himself. He watched me cook it and I had to serve him, while Kostas and I ate only carrots, boiled without oil, without even salt. He thought it would make me crazy, but truly I was happy to see you have enough for once. Leather, cotton, tobacco. Wheat, cattle, olives, oil…. People wrapped blankets around themselves and stood in Omonia Square and just waited there for help.
The train exploded as it pulled out of the station. Oranges and lemons ew, raining into the streets. A glorious sweet smell mixed with the smell of gunpowder. Alperstein shake hands and I wondered if they had traded smells and if all the shoes would smell like flowers and all the wigs like shoes. The good tastes he remembered chased all other thoughts from his head and he reached into his pocket.
He paid a large sum, all he had. The man on the corner rushed o in the opposite direction, straight home. Open it in the kitchen. Inside they found a dead dog. You have known us many years. Who could believe we would ever have such words in our mouths?
They ate the mother and threw away the child…. Stukas shriek. At sunrise the Parthenon is flesh. In moonlight it is bones. When Palamas died, right in the middle of the war, we followed another poet, Sikelianos, in his long black cape through Athens. Even from his grave. Armoured cars, banners, columns of troops a block long. But Greeks were ordered to stay inside. It was forbidden for us to watch. The few who could see anything from home peeked through their shutters while the mad parade marched through empty streets.
Mones had a bar of chocolate. His mother gave it to us the day we went to the cinema to see the American cowboy Butski Jonas and his white horse. We saved it because we were already planning our next expedition to the river. That day, we got the Alhambra and folded it and tore it in half and pledged our eternal loyalty like we always did, and Mones kept half and I kept the other half so that when we went into business together we could join them up and pin them on the wall, his half of the world and my half, everything shared right down the middle.
Wednesday, October n. Daphne and I heard a strange sound, not quite a breeze, very faint. I went outside. There was a tremor in the air, like a thousand wings. The street was deserted. Then I looked up. Above my head, from all the roofs and balconies people were leaning, quietly calling to each other across the city, spreading the word.
Send the tourists to the burned-out chorios. These are our historic sites now. Let the tourists visit modern ruins. The streetcleaners collected bodies. Everyone was afraid of malaria. Pedhi-mou, do you remember where the line is from? Do you remember the rest?
Nor were they interred by usual rites: Too many funerals crowded temple gates … … and none were left To weep their loss: Athos crossed his legs and banged the table. The dishes rattled. Kostas ran his hands through his long white hair. He leaned across the low table towards Athos. Her books are translated into more than forty-five languages and have won dozens of international awards, including the Orange Prize, the Guardian Fiction Prize, and the Lannan Award for Fiction.
Among many other honors… More about Anne Michaels. Put this book alongside The English Patient. Harold U. Join Reader Rewards and earn your way to a free book! Join Reader Rewards and earn points when you purchase this book from your favorite retailer. Read An Excerpt. Literary Fiction Historical Fiction Category: Literary Fiction Historical Fiction. Paperback —. Buy the Ebook: Add to Cart. Also in Vintage International.
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