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Monday, 15 October 2012

"My Beauty Of The Low Lands"

The caves in the cliff at Matala






She was small and beautiful
A youthful bloom seemed to shine
From beneath her sun tanned skin
Her blonde hair like corn silk
Framing her exquisite face
And she was my companion
For the bumpy bus ride
From Matala on the south coast of Crete
Over the mountains to Iráklion

We had talked a time or two
In the taverna society of Matala.
Danced a time or two at the Mermaid Café
Not knowing how famous it would become
From Joni Mitchell’s ‘Carey’.
But she was too beautiful 
For a tired old soldier like me to pursue
And she was always surrounded
By those wanting to share her beauty
Or her body! While the wind 
Carried  the smell of African dust
As we danced in the night.

When she talked to you
She had a habit of stepping closer
Right into one’s personal space
And looking directly up into your eyes
With those eyes so deep blue 
They were almost violet.
And although she was surrounded
By admirers,
For those brief moments of conversation
It was as though we were quite alone in the world.
She had a calm, often serious, beauty
But when she smiled at you
The smile not only lit up her lovely face
It seemed to light up one's life as well.

Now tired from the farewell parties
We shared a seat on the bus.
Her bare arm touching mine
As we talked about our mutual friends
And acquaintances among the freaks
And draft dodgers, deserters and ex-soldiers
That made up the floating population 
Of Matala in those days.
She told me her name was Helena
Which, she said, meant light,
A perfect name for this shining beauty.
Gradually she grew sleepy
Her head nodding until it rested
Upon my delighted shoulder.

I hardly moved for the rest of the journey
For fear of waking her.
I could smell the clean perfume of her hair
Feel the softness of her skin
Where her cheek rested on my arm.
See the beguiling white Vee 
Where her suntan faded
Between her perfect breasts.
My breathing slowed as almost
In a state of meditation I sat there
Loving the trust and closeness,
The warmth and the beauty
Of Lovely Helena  from the Low Countries.
And while the Greeks around us
Fervently crossed themselves 
At every roadside cross and shrine
Commemorating every fatal accident
On that twisty mountain road
I sat there wishing the journey
Would go on forever.

Eventually we rattled down 
From the mountains into Iráklion.
I bought a ticket on the Ferry
With the money I had received
From ‘selling’ my cave on
To it’s next occupant.
That was the way on leaving Matala.
You always ‘sold’ your cave for the price
Of the bus fare over the mountains
And the Ferry ride back to the mainland.

We shared the Ferry ride
Helena and I, across the Aegean Sea to Piraeus
Athens’ seaport, busy bustling and earthy.
We took a room together in a cheap hotel.
It was only when I went to the bathroom
And spied girls standing in the dim doorways
Of their rooms that I realised that
We had taken a room in what served
Piraeus as a Brothel! Complete with
Government Rules and Regulations
Printed behind the doors.
I made sure that I accompanied my
Beautiful friend to and from the bathroom
After that! But we both found it funny,
And perhaps it added a little to our passion,
But none to the tenderness that grew 
Between us that night.

Tenderness like a balm to my old wounds.
It was there I learned she had deliberately
Chosen to travel alone with me,
Away from the competition of her attendants!
She could switch from Dutch to German,
To English to French, easier than I could
Change hats! But she said, “French is the 
Language of Love, mon chéri”
“Rather than the gutteral language of my own country!”

She said she had always collected 
Injured birds and animals,
That was why she wanted to become a 
Veterinary Surgeon.
I asked her, “Is that what I am to you
An injured bird?”
“Mais non, mon chéri, but I have always
Had a way with injuries! To me you are
An injured horse, non? Like the knights
Used to ride!” She didn’t know that
My Chinese Horoscope sign 
Was the Horse.
“Now you must learn to let
Your scars dance, just as we did
At the Mermaid Café!” And we danced
Naked, to a tinny radio in a Brothel
In salty earthy Piraeus.

Next day we took  the lovely wooden tram
Up the line to Athens.
There to go our separate ways.
She to join friends for the overland journey
Across Albania and Yugosolavia to Austria.
I, forbidden that route by my Government,
Unwilling to allow the secrets I still carried
In my head, to venture behind the Iron Curtain,
Was forced to remain in Athens. 
Sleeping on a camp bed on the roof of a Hotel
In the centre of the city.
Waiting for a cheap passage on a *Gastarbeiter bum boat
Carrying poor Greeks across the Ionian Sea
To Brindisi in Italy and thence overland
To a life of servitude in Germany.

We exchanged names and addresses
She writing hers on the flyleaf 
Of my copy of The Lord of the Rings
Still only part read despite six months in the Islands.
And so we parted! She, again surrounded
By admirers, but stepping away once more
Into my personal space for one last kiss,
As her attendants glowered behind her back!

It was a couple of months before I heard
Leonard Cohen sing ‘Sisters of Mercy’
On an LP in a bed-sit in Notting Hill.
And a year or two before I met the man himself.
But ‘Sisters of Mercy’ became
Always our song in my mind!
Lord of the Rings was washed to a pulp
As I hitch-hiked through the Alps
Her name and address dissolving into 
Wet sludge in the bottom of a rucksack pocket.

I did eventually buy another copy
But the name and address of lovely Helena
Was sadly absent from the flyleaf!
I did eventually finish Tolkien’s saga
But every mention of Hobbit Holes
Cast my mind back to when I too
Lived in a Hobbit Hole  on a Cretan cliff face
In the ancient land of the Minotaur. 
And on leaving spent two loving days
With the most beautiful girl in the world!

If I had known then what I know now………(Sigh)

Copyright © Res JFB 15th October 2012


* Gastarbeiter = Guest Worker, in Germany. In those days many poor Greeks took ship to Italy and then overland to Germany to make money as Labourers in Germany’s expanding economy. As a consequence of that, I learned more German in six months in Greece than I did in two years in Germany. The Germans spoke too good English to allow us to mutilate their language  by holding conversations with us in German!