Mary Irvine : Story Being Published in Greek
Or, as they say in Greece, πολλή δουλειά (literally ‘lots of work’). Have started writing a biography of a local celebrity and am trawling archives, interviewing, recording, telephoning – fortunately have a degree in History/research so I think I know what I’m doing. Others might beg to differ or even comment did I ever? The latter being those who have known me longest. I digress. Main reason for this ‘entry’ is a bit of trumpet blowing, of the own variety. Earlier this year I came across an international short story competition where the first prize was a return flight to Athens. Worth a punt for 10 euros. Just like buying a raffle ticket. I duly sent off the story which follows. A month ago I received notification I had been short-listed. Visions of Fame, Film Rights, the world at my feet… I didn’t win but the story is being published – in Greek – bet you can’t wait. But, until then…
A Dream Come True
In the heat of an afternoon tour round the ruins of Mycenae a woman suddenly sits down on a rock. The tour guide and others in the party show concern.
Are you ok?
Too hot for you?
I’m fine. You go on. I’ll follow in a few minutes.
Would you like someone to sit with you?
I really am fine. Just need a minute or two.
If you’re quite sure… Now, if the rest of you will follow me, just around this bend we’ll see the renowned Lion Gate. The Lion Gate was built …
The Lion Gate. It is the Lion Gate causing Jenny to hesitate. She’s not ill, she just needs time. For over forty years she has dreamed of seeing this acclaimed piece of architecture, losing count of the number of pictures longingly gazed at over the years.
She has watched every programme that revealed the treasures of Ancient Greece in the hope there would be a glimpse of this gate. She has waited so long and now she is apprehensive, even afraid. Afraid she will be disappointed, that, as so often in life, the reality will fail to live up to the dream. A dream that could either be fulfilled or dashed. A few steps more and she will know. But is she ready? Jenny still hesitates. Memories come flooding back, overwhelming her.
It is a Saturday morning so there is no school. A five year-old girl is sitting on a small wooden chair in the section of the library designated ‘Children’. It is her first visit. Jenny gazes round the shelves. So many books. A wondrous world. Her father has told her she can look at any of them and choose one to take home.
Dad makes sure her hands are clean. Mam lets her wear her second best dress. A short walk brings them to a big old formidable building with semi-circular stone steps leading up to two, heavy, shining brass-handled doors, one of which stands open. Above the doors is embossed the legend that this is the ‘Western Library’.
The girl and her father enter the dark, high-domed inside. They pass a very high counter behind which are two stern looking ladies. Jenny clasps her father’s hand tighter. It is so quiet, like being in church. They move on and Jenny sees, to her left, a strange wooden structure, like a roof on stilts. Each slope of the roof holds newspapers fastened by metal rods still enabling people to turn the pages.
An elderly man stands reading one of the papers. Then she sees beyond – thousands and thousands of books tantalisingly waiting. She could stay here and read for ever and ever. Her father smiles at her, enjoying her wonderment. He knows he has transferred his love of books. He guides her to the children’s section. He will return after choosing his books.
She rises from the chair to wander among the shelves, sometimes reaching out her hand toward a book, not quite daring to touch. She trails her finger slowly along the spines. Occasionally the finger pauses, the book is withdrawn, handled, opened and gently returned to its resting place. On and on until a book is withdrawn that causes her eyes to sparkle. There, on the dust cover, is the face of a man. The face is a golden mask. The eyes are closed. Holding the book to her chest she returns to her seat. She sits and stares at the face.
Ready? Agamemnon eh? Might have a read of that myself. Let’s go.
On the way home she carries the book carefully under her arm anticipating the delights inside
Jenny watches the last of her group wending their way round the corner. She wonders if the Lion Gate has the same significance for them as for her.
Jenny is fourteen and at the Girls’ Grammar School. Beginning her ‘O’ levels she chooses Classical Greek so she can read Homer’s Odyssey in the original. Her teacher is organising a trip to Greece. Full of excitement and anticipation Jenny rushes home. Her parents try to find a way. The trip costs £80, plus spend. Her father earns £9 a week. For the first time, they have to say no. The group leave without her.
Jenny, now a mature woman, stands outside a travel agent’s. She is staring at a poster displaying the treasures of Ancient Greece. Her eyes are drawn to the Lion Gate, the great entrance to the palace of Agamemnon at Mycenae. She books a Classical Tour.
Flying into Athens airport she has a strange, yet comforting, feeling of coming home. The ’plane lands at 3am. A coach and guide are waiting. She recognises a couple from her ‘plane. As dawn breaks only she and this couple are left. Their hotel is in the very centre of the old part of Athens. Seedy the couple comment. It is 6 a.m. She doesn’t go to her room. To the couple’s amazement Jenny declares she is going for a walk.
Do you think you should? It’s not safe.
I’ll be fine.
She knows she will be. Knows these streets. Knows exactly where she is going. As she walks through the streets, crammed with small basement shops preparing to open and street vendors setting up their wares on makeshift stalls, she has no need of directions. She has been here before but has no exact memory of when. She walks confidently through the narrow winding streets, finally arriving at a market place. More small shops and stalls. They had not been there on her previous visit – the one she can’t quite remember. It had been a meeting place where people met to discuss and debate. She walks through the market to a break between stalls. A sheer rock face climbs skywards. This she remembers.
Her eyes slowly follow its ascent. There it stands, still proud, its beauty and glory revealed with the rising sun. History pours from it. It beckons.
She is very impressive, no?
An elderly gentleman is smiling at her.
You are English and you are captivated by the legacy of Greece?
Yes. I’m going on a classical tour, Delphi, Corinth, Olympia, Epidauros, Mycenae.
The sun has reached its zenith. Jenny moves the long scarf from her neck, opening it out to protect her head. As the sun intensifies so does her desire to take the final few steps.
Delphi is atmospheric. Her group moves on. Jenny sits on the
designated spot. Closing her eyes she imagines uttering divine prophecies. She is overcome with emotion at the sculpture of the Charioteer. She climbs up to the stadium and in the dying sun’s rays admires the two peaks known as the Shining Ones. She washes in the Castilian Spring.
Corinth is a strange mixture of Greek and Roman architecture. Strange too, to stand in the very place where St Paul preached so long ago. She loves the Roman toilets.
Olympia, even in ruined state, is ‘big’. The sports facilities are surprising – a gymnasium, training ground and bath complex being provided for the competitors. Temples to gods, especially Zeus, who presided over the games. Workshops. She is intrigued by the corridor of cheats. Immortality but at what cost. She receives a mild rebuke for stepping over the chain surrounding the stone where the sacred flame is ignited. She wants to touch, to be in touch.
Epidauros is fun. She stands centre stage and recites the only lines of classical Greek she remembers. People wave from the top of the amphitheatre and clap their hands to let her know the acoustics are still sound.
Mycenae – the last stop before Athens and home.
The group enter the Beehive Tomb, so called because of its shape, but thought to be a treasury although nothing of monetary value has ever been found. They move on to the grave circle where the ‘Mask of Agamemnon’ was found. Now known not to be him it still retains his name. She has seen that golden mask in reality in the National Museum in Athens. Now she is at the very place where it was found. The group moves on up to the palace itself.
Sitting alone Jenny thinks of the journey she has taken. Not the present Classical tour but the journey that began the first time she saw the picture of the gold mask which led to her discovery of the Lion Gate. Now she has only to turn a corner. The gate will be there as it has for over three thousand years. Three thousand years since it guarded the owner of the Mask as he ruled, breathed, walked, laughed, lived with his family.
The gate represents so much more than the sons of Atreus, the Trojan War, the Mycenae civilisation. For her it isn’t just an object or even a place. It is an enduring idea, a culture, a history, a heritage, a past. Her past.
She is ready. Rounding the corner the Lion Gate stares proudly down at her. Smiling, she stares back. Tears roll down her cheeks.
This section: Mary Irvine: Writer and Philhellene
Filed under: Mary Irvine: Writer and Philhellene
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