Sunday, 11 June 2017

Lord Halewyn

Having an enchanting voice can make you millions, nowadays, not so in the Middle Ages. The best you could hope for was to become a minstrel, or a singer at a noble court. However, there were men who exploited their gift for a personal goal...

Lord Halewyn sang his chant so well
Whoever heard it came under a spell

By the magic of his voice Halewyn lured spellbound maidens to his lair in the greenwood, where he raped and killed them, until one of them outfoxed him. The story dates from ancient times and was told all over Europe in widely different versions. Around 1400, some Flemish bard composed a ballad on Halewyn's undoing you can now read here in English by clicking the pic.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

A Crack in the Wall

Far away, somewhere, and ages ago, there were two farms bordering on each other.
Both had been part of a Roman estate with a spacious and sumptuous villa, but as the times of the Empire were fading from living memory the surviving structures of the main buildings had become split up between two feuding families.

Thus says the opening of an age-old tale of two unfortunate lovers, separated by a physical wall as well as by the social divide between their families. The story of Romeo and Juliet is a Renaissance example of this genre and generally known, but its roots lie in pre-classical times, when Pyramus and Thisbe met with the same unfavourable circumstances for their budding romance in ancient Babylonia.

I wrote this short story in the same vein, but took the liberty to alter the storyline considerably in a rather ironic way. As a background I chose an early medieval setting, a time when the Western Roman Empire had ceased to exist, but before Christianity could stymie the natural impulse of female sexuality.

I hope you'll enjoy the result.

Friday, 28 April 2017

De Cucullina Rubra Fabula

Red Riding Hood in Latin

"In casa prope ora silvae vixerunt mater et ab omnibus amata filia. Maxime autem omnium eam amabat avia quae in altera silvarum parte habitabat. Die puellae natali dederat ei paenulam rubram quam ipsa ut puella diu gerere solita fuerat. Ex eo proneptis cucullo rubro paenulam cotidie gerebat quam ob rem latus ei nomen Cucullinae dedit Rubrae."

This is the first paragraph of my personal representation of 'Red Riding Hood' written in Latin and situated in a classical setting. It offers a new and intriguing perspective on this age-old fairy tale, not least by its lively dialogue between the young heroin and the big bad wolf, which is quite different than tradition has it.

Read the complete tale by clicking the picture link below.

If you don't read Latin – a forgivable imperfection, these days – don't hesitate to order the English (or Dutch) translation available on demand. You'll find the appropriate link at the bottom of the story.

Monday, 26 September 2016

The Garden of Unreality – 13. Shadow of a Ghost

The Notary's Letter

After so many years, these memories came back to me while I was reading the print-outs of your blog. I do not own a computer myself, but my daughter-in-law, who is what they call a lurker, sent them to me by regular mail as she realized your story regards the house where I lived as a law student. She’s not aware of my ‘downstairs adventure’, though, and we’d better leave it that way. I’ve always kept it close to my chest.

This dream has stayed with me over the years. I’ve tried to write it down several times in the past but, each time, the result I deemed unsatisfactory. Its substance always knew how to trick me into fruitless digressions. The above rendition is as good as it gets.

Did you ever try to picture a dream in writing? In the preamble the words already fail you. Everything seems equally important and nothing is what it seems. On describing a flight of geese, what flows from the tip of your quill may be an image of floundering fish.
Details, more details and tangled webs of sidetracks, they make you decide the only way forward in telling must be by a main road, cutting corners, filling in blanks, but there lies your problem. A dream is a dream. It’s not a story. It’s not rational, and by rationalizing you’ll effectively brutalize it beyond recognition.

Ironically, it is this distorted narrative, a mere shadow of a ghost, which lingers in your memory and if, after half a lifetime, it resurfaces it does so in a different setting. You have changed, your values have changed and the old pictures are painted in different colours with a different brush as they are revived in your mind’s eye in a different light.

Even so, I was quite appalled at reading the letters of this poor boy. His story seems to mirror my dream to perfection, the similarities between them being too close for comfort indeed. To me, it appears little short of a miracle that two people, decades apart from each other, would share parts of the same dream, and yet, he and I did, no doubt about it.
How can it be that two young children live through, be it in reverse, the exact scenes I saw in a dream fourty-odd years ago, and in that selfsame garden!

The whole case has been nagging me for days now and I can’t see my way to a satisfactory answer. That is what stirred me to write to you.
I hope you’ll excuse me, but I had to share this with somebody, anybody, bar relatives and neighbours, of course.

This morning, I was reading the story for the umpteenth time, and it occurred to me the boy could have spared himself and his family a lot of pain and sorrow, if only he had figured it out. But OK, he was barely nine years old.
He’s living in a dream, he tells. In dreams, anything is possible. There are no restrictions of space and time. As he wishes so badly to break the spell, why not dream it up? Perhaps, eventually, he did, or his little sister did, for in my dream they were reunited and went back inside together.
Did they, actually, return to their own world by then, or might the images of my dream lie still into their future? Who can tell?

Here this story ends.
To start reading at the beginning,
go to Part I, "The Promise",
and read your way up
as per the Blog Archive.

Friday, 23 September 2016

The Garden of Unreality – 12. The Dream

I was floating in a world of green. It seemed to last for an eternity. Almost imperceptibly, I was beginning to rise very, very slowly and, gradually, faster and faster in the direction of light. I was a dolphin. I leapt free from the surface of an ocean and played with other dolphins in waves which broke on a silvery shore.
From the woods behind the beach a woman came. She crossed the strip of sand, disrobed and swam toward me. For hours we played together and when the sun set I escorted her back to the shore. At the boundary of land and sea she spread out her garment of iridescent cloth and draped it on my head, covering both my eyes. She then embraced me. I felt a strange urge to stand upright and when she pulled away the cloth, I was standing beside her. I had become a roe and as a roe I followed her into the woods.

In the woods we were living for ages and I felt happy. I grazed with the herd but was always following her and when she slept it was me who watched over her. Less and less like a woman she looked and more and more like a girl. In the end, she was only a child. This made her uneasy and she started to roam farther and farther afield. At first, the whole herd was following, but ever more of them went astray and, finally, there were only the two of us left together.

One day, we heard a far-off voice calling, “Li’l sister, li’l sister, where are you?” and, at once, she ran off, with me following behind. Sometimes close, sometimes from afar, the call was repeated and, at last, we burst into an open space where sunlight playing upon a lake had conjured up the shimmering arc of a rainbow.

By the lake’s edge was a boy walking away from us. Once she saw him she called: “Li’l brother, don’t leave me. Please, stay!” and as he turned around she ran for him.
On reaching him they embraced and remained still for a long time, hugging each other and crying. I had followed her, hesitantly, to the lakefront and there I stood and watched.
Now they were talking and hugging again and after a long while they joined hands and went up a slope covered with flowers to a ruin which rose from shrubs not far off. In its centre gaped a dark gate with steps leading down to what might be a tomb or an entrance to the underworld. They went in, hand in hand, and once they had stepped out of sight the front vanished before my eyes and the gate with it.

For a long time I stood at the edge of the lake mournfully staring into the water. Then, on impulse, I began to move forward over the gently sloping bottom until the surface closed over my head. Slowly, I was sinking deeper and deeper. It seemed to last for an eternity and, eventually, I was floating in a world of green.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Garden of Unreality – 11. The Altar

One such moonlit nights, the student had been watching the goings-on from his balcony. He was in a frantic mood, pacing from his desk to the balcony and back again. He had to prepare for an exam on Monday and was behind schedule, but he couldn’t concentrate. His excited phantasies, even more than the din of the party below, proved too hard to endure and before he knew he had bounded down the stairs and rung the doorbell of the ground-floor apartment. He had intended to complain about the noise, but when a black answered the door and waved him inside without further ado, he was too flustered to refuse and entered on a scene the aged notary in his letter describes as “a subsidiary to Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Pushing himself through throngs of people talking, laughing, smoking, drinking and fondling in the candle-lit rooms and passageways he was wondering about the sweet scent that saturated the air. All the while, people were smiling at him and offered him drinks or a puff of their fags, which tasted queer but not particularly unpleasant. He began to feel more relaxed, even giddy, and when some pretty pushed her fag between his lips and, afterwards, sealed them with a kiss, he wasn’t even shocked by realizing she was a young man with heavy makeup. Instead, it made him laugh out loud, uncontrollably.
“Then,” as the notary writes in his letter, “the hostess cut through the crowd and took me by the hand.”

“She was wearing a diaphanous garment and a fantastic wig which made her all but look otherworldly. Her face half grey, half white, eyes and brows enhanced, her mouth a black heart, she led me into the garden and made me lay down upon a stone table. There she started to make love to me. She performed with flair and part of the guests who’d closed in around us sighed in sympathy."

"While she was bent over me, I sensed she might be more than a mere mortal, perhaps a moon goddess, and a sensation of intimate affection overwhelmed me and made me gasp in rapture.
I reached out for her, but the moon hid behind a cloud and I was on my own.
Then I had a dream."

Saturday, 17 September 2016

The Garden of Unreality – 10. The Inner Garden

A month or so after posting the last part of this tale on my blog I received a letter from a notary, retired to the country.
My story had raised old memories he’d rather seen left undisturbed but, by a strange coincidence, he’d felt obliged to impart a personal experience that might shine a new light on the unknown fate of both these lost children.

A law student in the mid-Sixties, he was living in a sub-let, a single room on the top floor of the house where once the ‘aunt’ of this story had been living downstairs. The current occupant of her spacious apartment was a young lady who did as she pleased. It earned her a nickname from the unseasoned country lad that he was, 'Madame Sans-GĂȘne', after a popular movie of the period, starring Sophia Loren. If she had known, she’d have laughed at him, if she’d cared.

His room had French windows and a balcony which overlooked the tree-shielded inner gardens. From his eyrie, glimpses of her taking sunbaths for a seamless tan and a dip in the pond afterwards had often aroused him, which conflicted with certain principles of his religious upbringing and troubled him mightily in his sleep. He felt deeply ashamed of himself, but couldn’t abstain from spying on her.

On Saturday nights, there were house parties, which often spilled into the garden.
Unkempt youths and older men bearing the unmistakable mark of existentialism, clad in black, chain-smoking and swilling wine, endlessly debated on questions of political philosophy, while the young birds who clung to their arms, eyes vacant, ringed with black eyeliner, passively awaited the moment their dark knights would be ripe for being coaxed inside for a quickie in one of the closets, newly vacated.

Now and then the hostess appeared from the house. She used to be draped in flimsy gauzes of different hues. Waving her arms so as to make the tissues undulate behind her in the semidarkness she seemed to float through the garden circling around her guests until she found some one to her liking and, after the briefest of mating rituals, led him or her inside. Behind them discussions, which had dimmed only slightly, resumed at full tilt.