Deakin University

 

Fragments of a Map

A novel [continued]

Tess Brady



10

I felt more than a little excitement as I drove towards Chaffey. This was my fourth visit to Francisco's library.

It was raining quite heavily and I turned off the car radio to listen to the sound of the windscreen wipers on the glass. I'd always like the swish-swish of the wipers, the pattern it sets up, like a metronome to the road. I was glad that in spite of other engineering advances in car technology, sound had remained much the same for years. My old car had finally given up and I had purchased a new one - silver and fun to drive.

Sitting nestled in the passenger seat was a long thin bottle of very fine fino sherry. It was an Australian show variety; made using the traditional solera system and one I hoped Francisco might enjoy. He had often said to me, only the Spanish could make sherry, I hoped to prove him wrong.

As always, he greeted me in the library.

He took the sherry bottle and inquisitively inspected its labels, both back and front. I could tell by his expression that he was keen to try it. His hands felt the temperature of the bottle. "It's cool enough, shall we try your gift?" I nodded.

He went to a cupboard and brought to the place where we always sat, two glasses and a corking knife. I took the seat which I knew was meant for me. With very little ceremony, he poured two glasses of the fino sherry. He had brought to the small table not the glasses we normally used but two decorative ones. Most of the bowl of the glass was stained a deep blood red colour with a rim of clear glass at the lip. Into the deep red had been etched a delicate pattern of leaves and flowers. I was reminded of the trellising patterns I had been so captured by in the medieval manuscript and I wondered about the age and preciousness of these delicate glasses.

"Something special for this very fine wine. Something special for this Australian vintage." He looked at me and smiled enjoying the innuendo and he took his glass to his lips in what I would have under different circumstances interpreted as a sexual gesture. If I had been older or him younger, I thought, and a faint smile formed on my face. I dropped my eyes in what he must have seen as a demure gesture, but what was in fact generated by my sudden understanding and the subsequent slight embarrassment I felt. Perhaps, I thought, it had not been such a good idea to bring the wine. Such a gift obviously carried with it more than the gift of wine.

And yet I wanted to share the taste with him. The perfume of the wine, the anticipating moisture of the mouth, the lips, the tongue, the desire for taste. I wanted to share that game with him, but through my culture, my country's vintage. I wanted to share with him the taste of the New World. Of stone wineries only a couple of generations old, of vines still budding, of vats not yet black with age. I wanted to share the taste of this sherry not yet steeped in so much history. This sherry was still acquiring history and I liked that. I liked the scope of possibility.

I let my eyes slowly rise again and meet his. Without a word and not taking my eyes away from him, I slowly took the blood red glass to my mouth. I let the strong smooth wine moisten my tongue and my lips. Perhaps we had both known, not in our consciousness, but somewhere deep in the night dreaming, that I would one day bring this wine to him.

He smiled and spoke, breaking the moment. It was enough to play at this discovery, to travel the world of innuendo, of coveted gestures and possibilities. Desire is rushed at by the young and the hungry, but how much more delicious it is to let it stand for a while tantalising the mind until such appetite is aroused that all inhibitions are overcome.

Francisco told me the story of his glasses.

 

The Seventh Mandala - Desire

I remember vividly the day I purchased these glasses. It was in Saragossa, in a little shop not far from the cathedral. It was a shop I didn't often go into, mainly because I hardly ever went down that street. You see, leading from the cathedral to the river were a series of small streets, really nothing more than narrow lanes, most of them, and they were lined with old shops selling religious souvenirs. I had, of course, no time for such things and rarely went down that little street.

On this particular day it was raining, not unlike the weather outside today. I can't quite recall, perhaps I took a short cut through that street; perhaps I thought the awnings might give me shelter.

It was quite awhile ago; I was a young man then. I saw these glasses in the window and I knew instantly I must have them. Can you imagine that Senora; my youth was completely overcome with avarice? I rushed into the shop and spent my entire week's salary on them.

When I got back to my desk with my proud purchase, I was very disappointed that no one was interested in inspecting them. We had just had a tapestry delivered to the museum. It had been several years in restoration and such an event greatly overshadowed the purchase of a few sherry glasses, even these most beautiful ones.

I went down the stairs to the room where the tapestry was being hung. It was one of the Brussels series of the Virtues and Vices. We had two of the series, Original Sin and the Passions of Man. It was the Passions, which was being re-hung.

I stood there and watched it unfold, this magnificent tapestry and for the second time my eye was caught by unusual beauty. For the second time in so many hours I had found something I longed for, something I needed to touch and know.

The tapestry was worked in tones of blues and reds and depicted all the human passions through liturgical and symbolic emblems. The detail was extraordinary but perhaps the most memorable image was the multitude of wild spring flowers strewn upon a grassy meadow.

In my mind the two objects blurred together and I can't think of the tapestry without thinking of these glasses. It's odd, some were very critical, very passé about the tapestry. They thought the work a little too full blown, as if by the early sixteenth century the art of medieval tapestry had lost its prime, its youthful beauty, and like a man who had aged, the beauty and energy caught by the medieval weavers was also in decline. But, I did not agree. Even as a young man I did not agree. I knew wine needs to mature. So too do people, and so too do movements of art. I have no trouble at all with maturity, in any of the things a man can desire, in wine, in people or in late medieval design. And you Senora? You are quite fascinated with a late medieval map, isn't that so?

 

I avoided this opening to talk about the map and also the play on the wine I had brought. I also tried to avoid the intensity in the air between us. I was playing my own game. Just as he had taught me to wait for the wine, wait until my mouth salivated with anticipation, so too I was delaying the time when we could talk of the map. I wanted to hold out as long as I could; hoping that then he would be thirsty enough to give me what I wanted to know. Instead, I asked him about the tapestries. "You hadn't told me of this museum, was it within the cathedral?"

"Yes, yes. I have told you that the sacristy consists of a series of apartments. Leading from the first is a corridor, quite a long one, a very noisy place. I recall an echo, it was the flooring, they were polished wood and without carpet. We often complained about the noise the tourist constantly made as they went to see the tapestries. I don't know why it was never carpeted, no doubt something about authenticity. A lot of nonsense. Hundreds of years ago there was nothing like the queues of noisy tourists. There were pilgrims, of course, but nothing like these tourists who have no care for the fact that the scriptorium and library are so close at hand."

For a moment he was annoyed and I realised it must have been a contentious issue. On one hand, the tourist's admission fee was probably needed for upkeep, but on the other, the place was a functional cathedral, scriptorium and library. He explained to me that the scriptorium was a busy place where scribes worked mainly on presentation illumination manuscripts. He thought it slightly absurd that some new cathedrals still wanted to have hand scribed and illuminated gospels. "Of course," he said wryly, "they call themselves illuminators now, the humble word scribe is beneath them."

He poured a little more sherry into our glasses. "There were of course a few, those involved in restoration and antiquity who still preferred to be called scribes." His mood changed slightly and for a few minutes he was lost in this thoughts, back, no doubt, at the cathedral. He smiled, almost to himself and looking at me he said, "One or two, they were very kind to us."

I thought it odd that he had included me in his memory. Usually his language was more precise than this. But I made nothing of it. Clearly our talk had stirred up some potent memory. The moment passed and he continued talking about the tourist. "They were so noisy, it seemed impossible for them to walk down a corridor quietly. The problem was that the museum was only accessible from a staircase at the end of the corridor. And the staircase itself caused them to chatter even more because it was a particularly fine one. It had an elaborate metal balustrade where iron vines and flowers weaved around the supports."

"Trellised?"

"Indeed, like the decoration in many medieval books. If I remember rightly there were a few large and frightening beasts among the vines." His eyes laughed, "Not sufficient to scare aware the tourist. I thought we should erect a few gargoyles but nothing would keep the tourist quiet, their voices echoed down the corridor and bounced about the stone staircase. It was most distracting."

"And the museum was above the library?" I asked.

"Not exactly, but more or less. The first room of the museum, it is called the Museo de Tapices, gave way to other rooms, one after the other and in true Gothic style they all connected back onto each other. Not just the museum, the whole of the sacristy was built like this. The rooms followed on from each other but not always in a direct line. You might, for example need to go from one floor to the next in order to progress through the rooms".

He frowned, slightly. "I knew it well, the passage ways, the back stairwells. But anyone who first arrived found it very confusing. Still," he added, "for someone who is not used to it, a shopping mall or a large department store can be a very frightening maze. It's just a matter of what we're use to. And the design was a fairly standard security device." He grinned, "Security cameras and alarm bells weren't available to the medieval architects. Not that we are talking about a sophisticated labyrinth here. It would only take you a couple of days before you were familiar enough with it. It would have only hindered the casual intruder or the first wave of victorious soldiers hot for the spoils of their battle."

"Perhaps that might be enough, after a couple of days the victor might be calm enough to begin to value the cathedral's treasures and not want to just loot for the sake of it. What about the tourists?" I asked.

"Yes, of course, and there were some amusing stories about them straying away from their guide and getting lost. But they were always meant to be in the company of a beadle. That's what we called them, not guides but beadles! We had two of them, they wore wigs and dressed in long black coats. Very silly. I wonder if they still dress like that. Imagine having to wear a wig, like a lawyer's wig, every day at work. There is an English joke, they were called Beadledom and Beadledee! I don't understand this joke but I can see you like it."

I tried to explain it to him but I eventually gave up. Some things are just not translatable.

He continued. "It wasn't just the invaders that needed to be guarded against, it was fashion itself. The church waxed and waned over the question of piety, over the question of poverty, over interpretation, over dogma, over law. This map you are so interested in reputedly came from the Council of Basel, 1440 or there about, am I right?"

"Yes, no later than 1431. That's when Pope Eugene IV suspended proceedings and transferred a watered down version of the Council to Florence."

"And that is the crux of the issue. It is a perfect example of fashion changing in the Church. The Council of Basel was disbanded because the Pope won the day. There was something like a revolution going on, the bishops wanted to establish authority and override the Pope. They wanted to set up a kind of Magna Carta. Later, in 1460, Pius II issued a decree condemning what he called, how do you translate it?"

"Conciliarism."

"Ah yes. Pius saw it as a deadly poison and forbade under pain of excommunication any appeal to a council that questioned the Pope's authority. The decree was restated by his successors, Sixtus IV and Julius II. They were very wary and concerned about the rise of power of the Councils, of the cardinals, bishops and cannons and others in the Church."

Francisco had read well on the topic and he was determined we should talk of it. Perhaps, I thought, we had waited long enough. We talked of the politics of the 15th century Church and he reminded me of the power of the monasteries. Scattered over so much of the Christian world monasteries linked together by brotherhoods were potentially powerful institutions. They could align with kings and conquerors, they could hide objects and harbour heretics, and they could form a chain of safe houses for those travelling on Church or other business. So when the Carthusians in particular spoke out against this destruction of the Council system, of course the Pope felt threatened.

"In such a climate Senora, what do you think might happen to the papers which had been prepared at Basel during the Council? Do you think they would be proudly displayed? Once the Pope had put in place such a cloud of excommunication, which probably meant death, if not torture, do you think any library, any cathedral, any monastery would fly a banner saying they had these papers in their collection?"

He stopped talking as if he knew he had said just enough to intrigue me. Language had become the desideratum, and we were playing a game with each other, over the wine, the stories, the innuendo. Desire in all its forms was lingering like a gargoyle in his library.

And then he spoke again which surprised me. Perhaps he wasn't quite sure I had been lured into his intrigue, perhaps for a moment he simply doubted his own ability to attract. "There is something else you should remember. The Crusades, which virtually ended two hundred years before the time you are interested in, nevertheless, established communication route throughout the Western Church. Those links, partly trade and commerce links, partly road links, partly bonds of brotherhood, continued to be used long after the Crusades had petered out. So it would not be unusual two hundred years later for certain volumes, papers, documents, to find their way from Basel to Saragossa for example, since such connections were a part of the crusader routes. They are far apart, it is true, but there are times in history, and for some, such a time might well have been at the sudden closure of the Council of Basel, when it was prudent to put some distance between oneself and Rome."

Francisco suddenly switched to Latin which caught me quite unprepared. It was a habit I would become used to. I think he simply found English too difficult to maintain for a long period of time, Latin was more familiar to him and easier than English. I concentrated, but I had missed the first of his sentences. "...or there was another route. The German priest, Nicholas of Cusa, a mathematician, a scholar, an experimental scientist and a philosopher. Did you know he was a scientist?"

I didn't.

"A Renaissance Man. Before he was ordained a priest he attended the Council of Basel and in 1433 published 'De Concordantia Catholica', a treatise advocating the formation and maintenance of the Councils as an authoritative body in the Church. But by 1437 he reversed his position and came out strongly supporting Pope Eugene. He would have made many enemies at the Council of Basel. He was accused of expediency but it didn't harm him. He made a virtue of it. He taught a philosophy where man's search for truth was analogous to trying to convert a square into a circle. Expediency." He said in English.

I thought of the mysteries of the transcendental number *. But there was something else. Francisco's use of Latin had made the whole conversation take on an air of secretiveness as if he was giving me knowledge only available to the initiate. Were we now, I wondered, in the country of Sub rosa?

Francisco continued. "His philosophy taught a particular kind of scepticism which no doubt helped him so radically change his mind on the issue of the Church's authority. And it proved useful; he was made Cardinal of Brixen in Italy.

"But I digress, it was not his piety that the man was known for but rather his scientific experiments, he, for example, discovered and measured the weight of air. Just think of it. A man who makes a virtue out of expedience is remembered for discovering the weight of..." He gestured extravagantly, "Nothing at all!"

"He is not your favourite character in history?" I said in English.

Francisco leant towards me. "Senora, I will forgive him a great deal of human foibles for one thing. He collected a great library." And quite suddenly, as if Francisco's mood had changed he spoke once again in English. "Of particular interest to me was his manuscript collection. He re-discovered twelve lost comedies of the Roman writer Plautus."

This did not warm me to Nicolas of Cusa, I had always thought the Roman playwright Plautus to be overrated, and had not engaged at all with his comedies. "Cusa could have travelled to Spain?" I asked.

"Of course. I have been at great pains to point out to you how he was a cultured man of many interests. There is one other interesting thing about him you should know. He is responsible for a map of Germany. It was found in his library and printed posthumously. It's considered to be the first modern map of Germany. The map includes Denmark, Southern Scandinavia and the Baltic. Sadly for both of us it did not include Spain, so we cannot deduce from this map that he travelled widely in Spain, but what we can deduce is that he was very interested in the science of cartography, and he was a scholar who might well have been interested in the preservation of certain documents." Francisco smiled, pleased with himself and his story, but mostly I thought, he was pleased with my attention.

"The tapestries," he continued, "arrived at the Cathedral at about this time. So everything is in place at the same time, the first half of the fifteenth century. It's very interesting isn't it, to have so many things all happening together."

He paused now for a few moments and his mood changed a little. He touched the glass as if it held more significance than he was prepared to reveal. He continued. "The tapestries form quite a well known collection. I'm told this, you understand. It's not my field. Apart from the one I have already told you about there was a very famous crucifixion from Flanders, The Story of the Holy Cross and an often cited Esther and Ahasuerus from France." He poured some more sherry into both of our glasses and with more candour than I had seen in him before he leant forward and placed his hand on mine. I must have looked as I felt, slightly alarmed and yet not repulsed, for he continued to speak in his soft low voice and neither removed his hand nor progressed any further.

"What has captured the imagination of that particular tapestry is the opulence of the feast. It was a great banquet in the house of an important lord. The table was set ready for the feast." His hand on mine felt warm, almost hot. He continued to describe the tapestry. "At the centre of the table was the game, a peacock, dressed and succulent. To the side trumpeters blew their horns..."

"Francisco," I cut across him. My voice was hushed, almost a whisper. " I don't know what to do."

"Senora, you do nothing, absolutely nothing."

His hand tightened around mine and he stood up, leading me toward the small door in the far wall of the library. He opened it onto an antechamber where he must have taken his siestas.

My eyes felt wide open, my breathing erratic, difficult. I wasn't at all sure of what I was doing. Could I really be desiring this man, this old man from a world of libraries and cathedrals and tiny streets and dark red glasses?

He did not speak but with all the confidence of living, all the experience of life, he placed his hands firmly on my bottom and drew me to him. I smelt the rich taste of sherry on his breath. His eyes were fixed onto mine I could feel his hands slip under my skirt and caress my stockinged buttocks. Then, he pushed his hands in between my legs, parting them slightly, and pushing up he put pressure on my labia. In minute movements he withdrew the pressure and then applied it again, and again, and again. I began to rock gently with the movement. And in all of this he did not once take his eyes from mine. My breathing settled down and became long and deep.

I don't know how long we stayed like that; all time seemed to cease, as did everything else about the outside world.

"You are ready for me now." He said, forming the words almost without voice. And I was, quite completely and absolutely ready.


11

The phone rang. I was not in the mood for Eric but that did not deter him.

"The point is Meridian, there is a reason for a conspiracy." He always spoke rapidly but this time he was going a little too fast for me.

"Slow down!" I demanded with a sharpness which was not entirely meant.

"What's the matter?" He paused and then said very slowly, "Are you ill?"

How could I tell him? I felt soft and quiet and I just wanted to be alone to think. Was it melancholy? There was a kind of deep and quiet sadness in me, a sadness which comes from discovering something which is both profound and new, from discovering something which you know is transitory, as transitory as life itself. "No. Sorry. A slight headache." I lied. "Just slow down a bit."

Reluctantly, I did not have the energy to dodge his wishes, I agreed to meet him. He suggested a cafe in the old section of the port where he had to wait for a boat or a mariner or something. He'd been unclear about the reason, or I might have missed his explanation. It didn't worry me. It had been years since I'd been to the port, especially this section and, if I had to meet Eric for a dose of his conspiracy theory, then it might as well be in such a place. At the very least, I thought, I could do with the fresh air.

As I walked along the wharf I noticed a certain distinctive smell - the smell of old ports. I'd quite forgotten it and I breathed in deeply letting it fill my lungs. It's a smell not just of the sea but of people, of diesel and food and washing and stories and, of course, fish. It's a good human smell. It's the smell of yarns and adventure, of long boring days and of make-believe.

The cafe sat on the edge of one of the utility canals where fishing and tugboats lined the wharf. There were no yachts, catamarans or trendy weekenders here. The cafe reflected its clientele. In fact, I thought it a very Eric kind of place - the tea was well stewed, the coffee instant, but the soup was home made, chunky and fresh and smelling delicious. It was served with a very large slice of freshly baked white bread and a wallop of butter on the side of the plate. I could have ordered fish and chips but I'd smelt the soup and opted for that. I also ordered a glass of water, which caused a slight stir, everyone else it seemed, including Eric, order a mug of tanniny tea and ritually piled it with sugar.

"They're famous for their tea," he said, trying to encourage me.

"I've no doubt. " And I told Eric about the time I had boarded an overnight train expecting to find the sleeping berth I'd booked. But on boarding, I was informed my carriage had been derailed and I now had to sit up all night. As compensation, I was offered, with official seriousness, a free cup of Australian Rail tea. That was the last time in my life I drank stewed black sugary tea. Even the smell reminded me of that long uncomfortable night. There is everything romantic about an old fashioned sleeping berth in an overnight train, and absolutely nothing at all romantic about sitting up all night in a seat designed for someone else's body. I haven't risked the trains since.

"So what is this conspiracy?" I asked.

"Well, in order for my theory to work there needed to be a reason for drumming up anti-Italian feeling in America at the time the map was released."

I agreed. The coincidences surrounding the rediscovery of the Vinland Map were too far fetched. It made a lot more sense to see it all as some kind of master plan involving carefully orchestrated moves in England, Europe and America. "Unless of course," I joked, "the whole thing was a training exercise. You know a multi-national training exercise between MI5, Spanish intelligence and the CIA".

Eric frowned; he didn't like the way I'd throw such wild cards into the pack. He'd never liked it. "Was there anything, anything at all you haven't told me about, anything to do with your father's papers?"

I shook my head. "With the notes you translated you mean?"

"Yes. I'm sure you've overlooked something. Think, Meridian."

I thought back to that day when I had come across the notes written in Greenlandic - the old atlas, the woman at the gate, the uneasiness. Nothing came to mind. "What sort of thing are you looking for?"

"Something American, something about the..."

I broke in. "The Kennedys?"

Eric smiled. "Yes. What was it?"

"Nothing. A newspaper clipping. An old article before J F was president and the assassinations began. About the Kennedy brothers. I guess it was a 'watch this name' kind of article. I'm sorry. I didn't think it had anything to do with the notes."

"Can you remember if the article came from an Australian or overseas newspaper?"

I shook my head. "I'm not sure of the paper. I don't think I looked. I wasn't interested. But I did notice it had been sent to my father by a newspaper-cutting agency. The stamp looked like a government agency and the phone number wasn't Australian, the digits were all wrong. What does it mean?"

"That the Kennedys were involved."

I stared at him in disbelieve. Was that unfortunate family going to have to take on more conspiracy theory?

Eric could see my reaction. "The point is this." Eric continued doggedly, "If not the Kennedys then their sort - Irish American money. These fortunes, not unlike most great fortunes, were at times made less than legitimately." He stopped himself for an instant and carefully qualified his rash statement. "I'm going back to early last century and not all of these fortunes came that way, but there were some very dodgy business interests lurking about the place. The Irish connections in gambling, horseracing, and of course liquor, wasn't as publicised as the Mafia's, but it was there all right. The main difference between the Kennedys and the Mafia families who were satisfied with wealth and power, is that old man Joe Kennedy wanted respectability as well. We all know he had his eye on the White House."

"That was the gist of the article. But where are you going with all this?"

"At exactly the time the map was so sensationally released Robert Kennedy, as the Senator for New York, chaired the Select Committee on Improper Activities. Sure, it's not the famous committee, all we ever heard about was the Committee on un-American Activities, but Kennedy's Committee was just as important."

"What was it concerned with," I asked. "Politician's sex lives?"

"If only. Its focus was corruption in the right wing union movement."

Eric was beginning to make some interesting connections and I tried to concentrate a little better. He continued. "Shielded by all the publicity of the un-American Activities Committee Senator Bobby Kennedy was running his own shop prosecuting corrupt right wing union leaders." He had slowed his speech right down and was taking trouble to be lucid, he must have realised I was distracted. "Much of the Mafia activity, protection of one sort or another, had gone into the union movement. At the time, you have to remember, the union movement was about controlling the work force so that Family members, or those paying protection, could buy sweetheart labour deals."

Our soup arrived. It was a kind of vegetable minestrone mixture. I gave it some pepper for good measure and Eric, who was one of the few people I knew who ate and actually enjoyed salted fish, liberally sprinkled the salt over his. We buttered our bread and began to eat. It was delicious and I hadn't realised just how hungry I was.

Eric continued. "The old Mafia skills proved useful in keeping the workers in line and eradicating any whistle blowers. It was a lucrative business and industry paid up. After all, the economy was going well, manufacturing was in top gear and nobody wanted labour problems. It was post war boom times when, after so much austerity, people were spending on refrigerators, cars, radios, lawn mowers..."

"The modern woman in her modern kitchen." I pictured the 50's ads - a gleaming white kitchen filled with gadgetry of every kind. "The soup's great!" I added.

Eric nodded, "You should have had the tea as well, the whole package."

"Next time." I said to appease him, but I knew there was unlikely to be a next time. There just wasn't any reason for me to come down to the old port.

Eric continued. "Kennedy's committee, by investigating the union movement officials, was putting pressure on one of the biggest protection industries, probably bigger than the prohibition, that America had ever seen. He was hitting the Mafia or more accurately, large Italian financial interests and their dynasties."

"Has there ever been an Italian president?" I couldn't think of one but I only knew the famous presidents.

"No, and for that matter there is more likely to be a black president before an Italian. The Irish Catholics in the Kennedys won the new money race to respectability."

"And part of the way they climbed the social ladder of respectability was by discrediting the Italian Catholics?" I was beginning to see the point.

"That's the key, one lot had cleaned up their act but the other lot hadn't. In the union movement the Mafia was still using the old methods of sending in a hit man, intimidation, muscle, guns and bribery."

"And the new methods?" I asked.

"Public opinion. If you have a good press you can just about get away with anything."

"So they controlled newspapers?"

"In one way or the other. Owning the press became a powerful weapon. But don't forget the other great weapon. The banks."

"I don't follow you?"

"A bankrupt opponent was as powerless as one who had had a visit from the hit man. The press and financial institutions were the new hit men."

I had rarely seen Eric so colourful, he was enjoying the details of his conspiracy theory and was playing at it, imitating some character out of a gangster movie. It felt a long way from his museum office and his love of archaeology. A long way from the staid Eric I had known since childhood.

"We'll need to look, but I think the date on that newspaper clipping of your father's will match up with the date of the release of the map." Eric went on, "By itself, the map couldn't sway public opinion, it's just that it proved to be one more factor in what was becoming an ever increasing list. The rise of the Kennedy clan and the fall from grace of the Italians who, incidentally, were the enemy during the war."

"The Irish were hardly pro the Allies." I pointed out.

"Yes, funny how nothing is ever made of that."

"Public opinion." I suggested, and finished off the last of my soup by wiping the sides of the bowl with some bread.

Eric agreed. "Releasing the map on the eve of Columbus Day maximised its effects, the Italian community could no longer claim one of their nationals discovered America." Eric asked if I wanted another bowl of soup, he was still eating his and I had finished off ever drop of mine. It was tempting but I thought better of it.

Eric continued, "Just look at the intensity and emotions in the Italian community's defence of Columbus. It bore all the hallmarks of religious passion."

We talked for a time about the Italian-American judge, Michael Musmanno, whose books and articles defending Columbus were almost legendary in their passion. "He was chair of the Columbus Society, did you know?"

Eric didn't, but he recalled seeing the man. "When we were in Newfoundland, on the dig, Musmanno made a real nuisance of himself. He'd send up spurious reporters, I guess from the Columbus Society, to try to find out about the dig. We were all warned to avoid reporters or over curious outsiders. I saw him once; he was with a group of his people picketing a conference. He was possessed. Perhaps," Eric added, "he was almost as possessed as we were. He said something I'll probably never forget, he said the human mind couldn't handle a contradiction."

"That's a very narrow view."

"Yes. He wanted the world to be black and white. A truth was a truth, something mathematical and handed down by God. For him Columbus discovering America was such a truth." Eric had finished his soup and looked up at me. "What do you think causes that kind of need for certainty?"

"Some kind of fear, I guess." I was surprised by Eric's question. Had I over all the years sold him short, thinking him afraid of the emotional self? Was I the one who had always kept our friendship on an intellectual rather than emotional level? I made an effort to engage with Eric. "A fear of transcendentalism?"

He nodded, "The Shank's principle. You spend your life calculating *, trying to pin down the mysteries of the circle only to have someone else discover you made a mistake in your calculations. The transcendental can't be pinned down, can't be defined. That, not his calculation error, was Shank's real mistake."

"How many places did he get to?" I asked.

"Seven hundred odd. Just think of it. He calculated that many decimal places until the number resolved. But he was wrong. In an early calculation, he made a simple human error. He thought he travelled to the edge of the circle's mystery but he hadn't."

Eric took from his satchel a library printout listing all the newspaper articles associated with the release of the map. It was pages in length and the newspapers were prestigious ones: The New York Times, front page; the New York Review of Books; the New York Financial Review; the New Yorker.... New York. Yes, Robert Kennedy, the Senator from New York. I thought of the amount of publicity the Vinland Map had received. It was just too good a job for any university public relations unit, they were universally hopeless. Most of them would be lucky to get the release of a cure for cancer on the back few pages of a weekly give-away.

At this moment we were interrupted by a slimly built man, probably a seaman if the smell of fish was anything to go by. He spoke to Eric in a hoarse whisper and then handed him a parcel, wrapped in newspaper and tied up with a piece of fraying twine. Eric didn't introduce me to the man who appeared nervous and worried by my presence. I put my nose into the list of newspaper articles and left the two to conduct whatever business there was between them. The man left as quickly as he had arrived and Eric put the parcel into his briefcase. He winked at me, "Something I need for the museum," he said, and I knew from his expression he would say no more about the parcel.

Eric and I finished our lunch and decided to walk along the wharf. It was slightly overcast and a little too windy for me. I buttoned up my coat; glad I'd remembered to bring it. The seagulls, unperturbed by the wind, squawked at us, scavenging food. We had none to give them.

"But Eric," I continued our conversation, "even if the map's rediscovery was engineered by some international conspiracy carefully placing all the players in the right spot at the right time, none of it helps the authenticity debate. It wouldn't matter to a conspirator if the map was genuine or not."

"Exactly, but it would help. They'd expect to have the map scrutinised by experts."

"So if it's a fake it has to be a clever fake."

Eric nodded. "One made by an expert in old maps, someone," Eric took his time to finish his sentence, "someone like your father."

"Stop it!" I wasn't sure why, but Eric's continued suggestion of my father's involvement in all of this annoyed me.

"Okay! Okay!" He deflected my annoyance. "One thing that does trouble me is the way the experts at the British Museum, Skelton and his lot, changed their minds. When the map was first presented to them, when Davis sent it over for its first examination, they declined to give it the Okay. But later, when Yale called them in they were only too ready to pronounced the map a genuine article."

"Do you think they were bought?"

"I'm not sure. It's possible. I can't see Skelton's crew accepting an ordinary bribe, but maybe they might have been convinced by some idea of loyalty to their country."

"For Queen and empire!" I laughed.

"Let's not get too carried away. You can only buy so many people. A map purporting to be the first map of America will eventually undergo some independent examination."

"Or," I thought out loud, "some examination from the opposite camp. The Cold War was alive and hot at the time."

"Mmm." Eric was looking at a tug that was heading out to the main wharf, even in the dirty canal water its wash generated quite a beautiful white spray pattern. "If it was rediscovered to drum up anti-Italian feeling then it really didn't matter if it was a forgery or genuine as long as it could hold out for say two or three years as the real thing."

I agreed. My own library searches had found a number of articles in scientific journals debating the various outcomes of scientific tests on the map. Tests had been carried out on the vellum, the ink, and the mapmakers initial guiding lines under the ink, but none of it had been conclusive. For every finding there was a counter claim. One laboratory's conclusions were quickly refuted by another. I found it a tiresome set of articles dealing with ink particles and molecular structures and somehow I wasn't surprised by its inconclusiveness.

I had rarely found scientific evidence of much value in historical cartography. I wasn't sure why, perhaps our questions were too precise for science which, in spite of its publicity, is just not a precise discipline. Science deals in approximations and statistically likely results. The real world of time and substance defeats it. It was just like Eric's *, a simple enough idea, the number always derived by dividing the diameter of any circle into that circle's circumference. And yet it eludes science still. We can use our mathematical calculations for the business of a square and know we will generate precise results. But the circle? That's another matter. Our calculations are always, even slightly, inaccurate. Only the mandala can turn the square into the circle, the circle into the square.

Suddenly a flash of purple caught the edge of my eye and I turned sharply. I thought it was the old woman's hat. But it had gone, as quickly as it had appeared. I felt uneasy and I realised the old woman's chant was sitting at the back of my thoughts, troubling me.

For a time, Eric and I walked in silence until we had reached the end of the wharf and he turned to me. "Tell me your stories? Tell me about the far-fetched cases in the discovery of maps? There has to be others. Tell me the stories that make the Vinland Map look straight forward, normal. Isn't there a story about a map that turned up in a shop?"

"A butcher's shop. Yes, the Cantino Map." Eric was right. He needed to place the Vinland Map into its own history. When we isolate something, it can seem a lot more fantastic than when it sits in its natural surroundings. How marvellous the igloo looks, how ordinary and commonplace it is to the Inuit people. How strange the old worshipping of trees and yet how ordinary to bring one into the house and adorn it with garish trinkets at Christmas time.

I told Eric some of the more fantastic stories in the history of maps.

"The butcher," I began, "was using the map as a screen. He claims to have found it and thought it a curio, he had no idea of its value. It's quite a wonderful story, almost as good as the Vinland Map. But the story goes back much further than the discovery in the butcher's shop. It was the beginning of the 16th century, a time when maps were not freely available and the possession of a reliable one of the known world meant a great deal of money to merchants and governments alike. I guess they were as much contraband as drugs are today."

I thought of the seaman who came up to Eric in the cafe, his nervousness, his hoarse whisper and Eric's delight at the parcel. I knew Eric well enough to know he wasn't dealing in drugs, but I was also quite sure that what he carried in his briefcase, what was wrapped so clumsily in newspaper and twine, was both of great value to him and not quite legitimately gained.

"Imagine," I suggested to Eric, "that we had just been sitting in a tea house in medieval Portugal, one on the docks perhaps. Up comes an old seaman, he's just got off a ship, he'd been sailing with Diaz. You've arranged to meet him and he comes over, a bit embarrassed that you're not alone. He hands you a parcel; you don't open it but quickly hide it under your cloak. You hurry away, or maybe not. Maybe you stroll up and down the wharf talking to a friend, just in case the King's men are watching you."

Eric blushed. "That's not how it is..."

I laughed, "I'm teasing you, but you get my drift. In the parcel I'm talking about is a copy of Diaz's charts. Maybe not all of them, that would be asking too much, but enough, enough to guess at some of the other sections. You take it back to your cartographers and they work through the weeks, putting together the pieces. You've got other spies out working for you as well, hanging about the popular drinking places, catching gossip and snippets of stories from drunken sailors. All of this is collated. As the map takes shape the spies are given specific tasks, to find out about what happened after the ship left the sight of land, or rounded a particular cape. It's a jigsaw of course and a lot of chance and cunning is involved but at the end you have a map of..."

Eric interrupted me. "It's a paleochestes bone, well I hope it is." He explained, feeling obviously uncomfortable.

I gave him a quick hug. "Of course it is..."

He shifted from one foot to the other, obviously still a little uncomfortable. I continued, feeling that perhaps I had taken my tease a little too far. "The possession of a map or chart meant the possession of very valuable knowledge. Diaz and the period of great Portuguese navigation is a case in point. Access to the map room of Prince Henry the Navigator was almost impossible to any but the chosen. Those cartographers, scribes and librarians, at a cost of death, were bound to secrecy. In many ways, Prince Henry's maps were of more value than his jewels. The map room was the most secret, most guarded part in his kingdom. Well," I hesitated, "his compass was surrounded by a fort. But that's another story."

I continued. "Imagine the intrigue, the espionage, the secret dealing and bartering that must have taken place. It's the stuff of boys' adventures and buccaneering movies!"

Eric agreed but suggested it was probably not all together unlike the current industrial espionage or computer hacking so often talked about.

I told him the story of the Cantino Map. "Alberto Cantino was an Italian in the employment of the Duke of Modena, Erole d'Este. The Duke could see the enormous trade advantages in owning a map of the known world, and he financed his employee in a daring and fantastic adventure. Cantino went to Portugal, where in Lisbon he disguised himself as a horse-dealer and as such made his way untroubled about the city. He eventually came across, probably in some alehouse, one of the Portuguese Map Room cartographers who, for whatever reason, was prepared to copy a map for Cantino. None of this happened overnight. Cantino would have had to stalk his man, possibly blackmail was involved. We don't know, the cartographer was never caught and remained anonymous. It must have been enormously risky, so the stakes, whatever they were, were high."

"I guess everyone had a price."

"Yes, it's interesting but it's probably true. Especially if we think of other incentives besides money." I knew I too had a soft underbelly. If someone threatened the children in my life, I'd commit any number of crimes to protect them. I continued with the story. "The cartographer copied the official mappa mundi, the Padraõ, which was the standard map of the world. It was the map that all new information and discoveries were added to. It was of course constantly changing and what was copied was not the most up-to-date version." I wondered if that eased the conscience of the cartographer, made his crime a little easier to commit, a little easier to live with.

"It was no mean feat to smuggle out the map as the copy was done on parchment, a bulky and noisy material, and the security was meant to be the best in Europe. There must have been quite a bit of money used in bribes. It's my guess that at least one of the guards must have been in on the deal. No doubt, they all appeased their consciences by knowing they were only copying the standard map and were not giving away anything too new or precious. But, as I've pointed out, even this standard map was still closely guarded secret information.

"Cantino put his name to the map and in haste and secrecy it was sent to the Duke. It arrived at Modena in 1502."

"And the butcher?" Eric asked.

"For three hundred years or so the map had an uneventful life and stayed in the library of the successive Dukes. Obviously over time it became a curio and just part of the library's collection. But in 1859, in the middle of the Modena riots it disappeared. Most thought it had gone in one of the fires, but quite miraculously it re-emerged in the back section of a Modena butcher's shop nine years later."

"Some souvenir."

"Quite. But I don't know that it was found so innocently as the story would have us believe. After nine years the butcher or his mates probably thought they could claim to have discovered it and reap some kind of reward. I mean, in the middle of the 19th century what kind of person is likely to have both been in the back of a butcher's shop and been able to recognise the map?"

"Unless it was a priest or a doctor?"

I agreed, they were about the only professions which travelled equally across libraries and butcher's shops. Whether we like it or not, most of us stay well within our cultural and class boundaries.

"There's another map at about the same time which is also quite interesting, although its story is less romantic." I told Eric of the Pesaro Map, the first map to use the term Mundus Nova, the New World, and how in compiling the new world it drew on almost all the known evidence about America which was available in Europe before 1510. The map was interesting because it combined information from the lost drawings of John Cabot and the charts of the Portuguese navigators, Gaspar, Corte-Real and Fernandes. All of this knowledge the Pesaro Map added to the conventional maps of the time. It was probably the very map Cantino wanted, but not the one he got. It's interesting to speculate that Cantino might have had a hand in the theft of this map as well, but that's pure speculation."

"It's at the right time, did it turn up in Italy?" Eric asked.

"Yes, it's named after the Italian town where it was re-discovered by a marchese, Santinelli. Still," I looked at Eric, "we can't get too carried away with these romantic speculations. It wasn't re-discovered until the late 19th century. The first time the map was displayed was in 1881 at an international Geographical Congress. Like the Vinland Map there is almost 500 years missing in its history. Of course various efforts were made to establish its provenance but, like our map, it has also defeated the historians."

"Does it have the same cloud of forgery hanging over it?"

"No, probably because less is at stake. If the Vinland Map hadn't pre-dated Columbus there wouldn't have been anything like the fuss."

I was getting a little chilled and so we made our way to a section which looked as if it was out of the wind.

"But all of this," I continued, "is child's play when compared to the really big story of medieval espionage." I had consciously kept the best story until last. "A sensational scandal broke out just after Diaz had returned from navigating the Cape of Good Hope. At the time, 1488 to be precise, King John was on the throne of Portugal and his security in the Map Room was as good as any of his predecessors. Diaz knew his charts were extremely valuable both to him and to the King."

"He was paid well?" Eric asked.

"More than that. No King was going to finance further journeys if the captain couldn't keep his information secret. Diaz took particular care no idle seaman copied them on his voyage. They were locked securely away in his cabin and on arriving back to Lisbon, in December, he personally, and under guard, took his charts immediately to the Map Room. Imagine how valuable Diaz's new charts were. For the first time he had rounded the Cape of Good Hope, he carried the route to the Indian Ocean."

We found a bench out of the wind and sat down. The cafe was close at hand but neither of us felt like going back into it. Eric joked with me that I might need a cup of tea but I ignored him. I continued "Everything should have been secure but within months, in 1489, a map was produced in Italy, the Martellus map, which contained not only the details of Diaz exploration but his full nomenclature as well. Indeed, even today, the Martellus Map is the best description of the Diaz journey; a far fuller map than anything produced by King John's cartographers. The Portuguese security had been broken.

"It caused a sensation in all the courts across Europe. Breaking the security of the Map Room was a bit like robbing the Reserve Bank's vaults. Some places just define security. If they tumble everything else seems to, nothing is safe."

"So how was it done?"

"Paper. The invention of paper." I explained. "The problem for the thief was of course the size of the maps. Originally, if an illicit copy was being made of a map the scribe would copy sections of the map on small pieces of parchment and later paste them together. But parchment is noisy and cumbersome and the guards were on the look out for this. The invention of paper made life a lot easier. Paper, you see wasn't nearly as noisy. Certainly, the copier had to be a well-known and trusted member of the map room's staff even to get access to the maps. But once that was achieved, the invention of paper made it a lot easier for sections to be copied hurriedly and hidden in the thief's clothing. Over a couple of months an entire map could be copied."

"Was it money or politics?" Eric asked.

"Perhaps a little of both. Christopher Columbus left Lisbon in 1485 and went to Spain to try his luck finding patronage in the Spanish Court. His brother, Bartholomew, an expert cartographer, stayed in Lisbon working in the Map Room. He was making a large map of the world based on existing knowledge and the new charts. It was an official project and he was in and out of the place, and of course, had access to all the newly arrived charts. At the beginning of 1489, just after Diaz had returned to Lisbon with his charts of the African coast, Christopher Columbus fell into very hard times. He called on his brother for help. Both men, you must remember, knew the value of maps."

"And how to draw them." Eric added.

I nodded. "Bartholomew Columbus knew only too well the value of his work and the kind of money he could raise if he copied the secret maps and charts of the Map Room. He set to work using paper which was quieter than parchment. That was the genius of the man, the quietness of the paper. And because he knew what he was doing, he didn't need to make spotless copies. Later in Spain, with his brother Christopher, he could draw the charts again, this time elaborately and on parchment. He copied and sold various secret charts in this fashion and both he and his brother recovered from debt."

"And the Martellus Map?" Eric asked.

"Yes, his greatest achievement. Bartholomew Columbus simply pasted together the paper copies he'd made in the Map Room. All Martellus did was draw a border around the edge and lend the map his name. Martellus, an Italian cartographer was little more than a front man. He was a minor cartographer known more for his decoration and painting than for his cartography. His only other contribution to mapmaking that we know of, is a very beautiful folio of island maps. Martellus was commissioned to produce the maps not because he had any great skill as a cartographer but because he was so skilled at the decorative script fashionable in Italy at the time. What he produced of course was a medieval coffee-table book. His island folio was about decoration and beauty, not seafaring maps of the world. The folio is a far cry from the marvels and precision of the Martellus Map, arguably one of the greatest maps of the world drawn in that century."

Eric leant back. He'd enjoyed my story. "Those Columbus brothers had a lot to answer for."

"Maybe more than you think. What is really interesting for us, is that the Martellus Map, that is, the original one traced onto sheets of paper and then glued together, is held in the Yale University Map Library. It was anonymously donated in 1963."

"And there was an anonymous donor who purchased the Vinland Map from Witten and donated it to the same library, to the Yale University Map Room." Eric let out a low slow whistle. "Amazing how it all fits together, like bones of a prehistoric animal, bit by bit the whole paleochestes takes shape."

All the talk of forgeries had brought me back to my father's copy of the Vinland Map. Why had he kept a facsimile which didn't include the wormholes? Was it that my father wanted to view the map as it was first made? Neither Eric could make anything of it. "The point is Eric, it's on good vellum. Such a curio you think he'd have drawn on something less precious."

The sun was getting low and the activities of the wharf had changed making ready for the night. Boats were being secured and the sky, now grey, looked menacing. Another tug had pulled up just by our bench and was shutting down its engine. We stood up and made our way slowly towards the car park. I was glad to make my way to the warmth of my car.

 

12


Gabbett had made a time to see me. He had sounded cautious on the phone and had asked me not to tell Crete. The secrecy made me feel awkward.

"I'm worried, Meridian. She's drinking too much and..."

"The other night was my fault."

"No, at home. Wherever. It's not just that night." He pushed his coffee cup away. "There wouldn't be a week without her having a hangover, having to spend the day in bed."

I had no idea. I reached out and touched his hands. "Is there something you want me to do, talk to her?"

"I'm not sure. I feel bad about talking to you behind her back."

So did I and I was glad Gabbett mentioned it. The waitress came and removed our cups, wiping the table as she chatted away to us about nothing. When she left I dropped my voice and said "Gabbett there are things in her life that frighten me. You need to talk to her."

He took his time before he spoke and when he did, he sounded nervous, apprehensive. "I think you better tell me."

"I don't know much. She keeps lots to herself and just every now and again, there's something. I don't have a clear picture."

"Just what you know - anything."

I went to the counter and ordered a couple of clarets, a good strong earthy wine. If I was to tell him anything of what I knew we both needed the wine.

"She told me a story once, I've never forgotten it." I took a gulp of the wine. "It was when she was with her last husband, the violent one. They'd had a fight and he'd bashed her, ripped her clothes off her, and in a rage stormed out of the house. She came to and found herself sitting in the dark, in the far side of her bedroom. Probably she'd passed out or been knocked unconscious..." The story was hard to tell, and it was hard to listen to. We both needed to take our time over it.

I continued. "She came to, and as I said, she was sitting on her bedroom floor, all bunched up like a child, her clothes torn and hanging loose. It was dark now and she saw a light coming down the hall towards her. It shone into the bedroom. It looked like an eye, a single bright eye at the door of her bedroom. It was a torch of course, held by a policeman. By his side was a woman police officer. They heard Crete and turned on the light. They were kind enough to her, got her clothes, to a doctor, made her a cup of tea, that sort of thing. But she told me, and this is what really frightened me. She told me the worst was not the beating he'd given her, the bruises or the ringing in her ears, the torn clothes or the soreness in her shoulder. The worst was the fact that two strangers had just been able to walk into her house and find her like that."

I looked at Gabbett. "She said, That's what being a victim really is, forgiving him for bashing you but not forgiving him for letting strangers into your world." As I spoke those words I could picture her, hear her voice, see her resolve. I could hear her laugh about it, make light of it, as if the past was another place and she could escape it by living in the here-and-now.

"Can you handle that, Gabbett?"

He didn't know.

We talked for a little longer and then parted. I agreed not to tell Crete of our conversation although I did say I'd tell her we had coffee. I wasn't prepared to lie to her about Gabbett. Once again, I had warmed to him. I like his concern for her and his own doubt. Perhaps, I thought, this time Crete had found someone worth loving.

* * *

Francisco was, as usual, in his library. As I entered he rose and stepped towards me, holding out his hands. Once the door had closed he kissed me with affection. "You have been a few weeks, I thought I might have frightened you." It was a question rather than a statement.

I shook my head. But yes, I was a little afraid. I needed time to think. The space between us had narrowed and I wasn't sure if that was what I wanted.

I had brought with me my father's facsimile of the Vinland Map. "It's the one I told you about, it has no wormholes."

He was pleased that I'd eventually brought it to show him. Earlier I had brought my own copy but he'd been disinterested and asked again and again if I had another, one on vellum.

He cleared a surface on the smaller of the desks. There was an awkward silence between us and I unfolded the vellum, the noise of it seemed louder than usual.

"Ah yes." He said almost to himself, and he handed me a pair of white cotton gloves. I was immediately reminded of my father's ritual and must have looked curious because he added, "A habit, do indulge me Senora."

He seemed pleased with the copy and he bent over it, tracing some of the lines of the map with his gloved fingers. Breaking the awkwardness, I stood close to him, as close as an intimate would stand, and he looked up and smiled at me. Then, as if my closeness was the most natural thing in the world, he gave his attention back to the map. I looked at his hands; his fingers trace over the map as if the map was Braille, as if by touch he could re-associate himself with something familiar.

"It's such an interesting pastiche. No wonder it fascinates you, it has fascinated people for a long time. Can we take it for the time being that this is not a forgery?"

"Of course."

He smiled at me. "Good. Now look here," his hand moved to the area east of mainland Asia. "These islands, information about them must have come from the Mongol Empire. It must have come all the way to Basel." He looked up at me and then down at the map. "What I see here is the excitement of the Council, I see the excitement and intrigue that must have invaded Basel. Can you imagine what a great Church Council would have been like? Clerics, and monks, and deputations from heads of state, princes and marquise and scholars who had come from the far parts of the earth. Ideas from all over the known world. And from the past, from the Greeks and Romans. Translations, music, spices. Imagine the streets and corridors, the different dress, the accents, the colours. The exchange and sale of information, traded in the markets like any other commodity. And someone had come with information about the far reaches of the Mongol Empire. It's all here." He tapped the map. "They knew about the islands of Japan. Look what our cartographer called this sea, the Great Sea of the Tartars. And then the legend," he translated as he read, 'the Tartars affirm beyond doubt that a new land is situated in the outermost parts of the world. Beyond this land is only ocean.' So here, quite literally, was the edge of the world."

His voice was more animated than I had heard before. "And here, look at the medieval confusion over Prester John, placing this little outpost of Christianity, or at least something very like Christianity, in Africa. But you know," his attention was caught by the other side of the map, "I find the details in the Atlantic the most interesting."

He took off his glasses and cleaned them. "The Council of Basel must have had a delegation from the North, perhaps from Iceland. The cartographer must have had access to the Old Norse sagas. It's quite fascinating isn't it, how these maps evolved. How sometimes charts were copied and other times stories were drawn. Yes, stories shaped whole landmasses. The cartographer traced not science but the human imagination. And it's all here Senora, all of the talk and the activity of Basel."

I enjoyed his absolute delight and wondered now at why I had waited so long to bring this map to him. Was it something about the vellum, I wondered which made the map more real to him than those carefully constructed images in my books.

His attention was still caught by the map's depiction of the Atlantic. "It's interesting isn't it, how untidy the map is here. Compare the Atlantic to the tidiness of the islands of Japan and the Great Tartar Sea."

The islands to the east almost completed the curve of the European-Asian landmass, but the Atlantic islands were scattered about almost randomly in the sea. It was as if the Atlantic Ocean closely resembled the actual world, but the Tartar Sea islands were drawn to provide balance. Francisco was right to point out the oddity of the Atlantic, it would have been a far more usual practice if the islands had been placed in the ocean forming some kind of shape or pattern, or perhaps in a way which offered some kind of counter balance to the whole design.

It was not, I knew, the usual methods of a medieval cartographer, who drew their mappa mundi as much to reflecting the divine order and balance, the heavenly design of things, as to chart any navigational routes.

"That untidiness" Francisco continued, "tells us a great deal. Either a chart was being copied or those islands, the Atlantic section, were added to the map at another time."

"Do you agree with that?"

"Mmm, it is a theory." He hesitated trying to make up his mind. "No, not at all Senora, maps were always drawn with the centre of the world in the centre of the page. If the islands of the Atlantic were not intended on the map then the whole of Europe would have been placed to the left. The central axis would have been drawn somewhere through Asia."

Looking at the map, I suggested the Holy Lands as an alternative central position.

Francisco agreed. "The Holy Lands would be an acceptable centre, after all, the Crusades were now part of the Church's identity, saving Jerusalem and the Holy Lands had become an important aspect of life and faith. But look, it's not the centre, mid Mediterranean is. No, the Atlantic islands were part of the original map."

He let his body lean a little against mine, and said very quietly, "Would you like a little wine Senora?"

I nodded. He didn't move and I was glad, I like the feel of him so close, the gentlest of pressure against me. With Francisco everything was about suggestion, everything was engineered to heighten desire.

Once again, he drew my attention back to the map. "It's very interesting, these islands." I wondered if he was talking to himself or to me. "They weren't added later, they are too messy to be drawn from stories so they must have been copied from a chart. But which chart? The Norse were always thought to use stories rather than charts to navigate their way over the oceans, and I can't think who else would have navigated the Atlantic but the Norse? It's a mystery Senora."

"The Arabs?" I suggested knowing almost nothing of their culture.

He shook his head and smiled. "The Arabs got sea sick in the Mediterranean!"

"They still invaded Spain."

"That they did Senora, they were fast on land. Such wonderful horses!" His attention at last moved away from the map and I felt him lean just slightly more against me. "Let us have that glass of wine together." And this time he moved away to pour the familiar sherry. I took a deep breath of air sucking in the space. I knew I wasn't thinking too clearly and there was something important nagging at me. In all of Francisco's conversation, in the way he read the legends, in the manner his hands moved over the map, he was showing me it was not the first time he had seen this map. Could he have seen the original in the collection at Saragossa?

He spoke as he brought the sherries over. "This map, you do realise Senora, was not a work for God. It was a utilitarian copy, made perhaps in a hurry. The scribe was a little bit amateurish." He pointed to various mistakes that had been made in the Latin including in one case a correction. "The mistakes are more in the European section of the map. One would have thought that this monk at Basel was more familiar with the European names. Look how the 'r' was left out of Prussia."

I stared at the map and the aroma from the sherry began to fill the air. "Could it, " I wondered, "perhaps just be the cartoon of a map? Maybe a copy for the black market?" I was remembering the fantastic stories of the Portuguese Map Room.

"Yes, it is a very naked document." He took the sherry glass to his mouth and let a few drops sit momentarily on his lips until he moved them together, enjoying the taste.

I smiled. "The map." I said.

"Of course. And, you are probably right. I think it might have been hurriedly finished. That would certainly account for the mistakes."

He changed the subject. "So, have you finished your translation of the Tartar Relations?"

I nodded. "It sheds a lot of light on the names and legends of Chingis Khan's empire, most of which is now Russia, China and India. The bulk of the text tells the story of how Chingis divided his army into three to conquer the entire known world. He took one army to march against the people of the Caspian Mountains, a second army was sent towards India and the other, the third great army under the command of his son, Jochi, marched on the West.

"There were some really amazing stories about Chingis' adventures. In one story, as Chingis and his army approached the Caspian Mountains their spears and arrows began to tremble and move about in their sheaths, the horses shied and whinnied. Nervous, the army marched on, alert and watching for some strange enemy. As they came closer to the mountains, everything that was made of metal, the arrows, swords, and spears moved about so much that they made a terrible noise. Then quite unnaturally, on their own propulsion, they flew from their sheaths into the air and rushed towards the mountain. The braces, stirrups, and bites from the horse harness and bridles, the shields, helmets and all the metal the army carried, made off in a terrible and frightening racket. The heavier pieces of metal, such as the helmets and shields, trundled along the ground kicking up a cloud of dust while the other lighter object flew through the air. Chingis and his army fled in terror leaving the people of the Caspian Mountains unconquered.

"Another time, when they were in the north the army came across a land with paths and footprints and all sorts of sign of humans but they couldn't find anyone about. They made camp and waited. The Tartars, who were sun and moon worshipers rose early, as was their custom, to give homage to their sun god, but as the sun rose it caused the most terrible and loud noise, ripping itself from the night. The men fell to the ground crying out and covering their heads. Some found shelter in caves, but many died of the terrible noise. Chingis marched his remaining army away from that place, leaving the people, who lived underground, to their own inhospitable country.

"There are lots of these marvellous stories but what fascinates me is the story told by Jochi when he and his army returned. He told of a place he called Unipedland, a place of one legged, one armed men who could out-run the fastest Tartar horses and out-shoot their best archers. So impressed was Jochi that he left these people to their own devices and didn't try to conquer them. Just like the unipeds in the Norse stories of Vinland, both were fast of foot, accurate with the bow and arrow, and both were left unconquered.

"What I find quite extraordinary is that these two completely different sets of people, the Norse and the Tartars, both had stories of a tribe of one legged creatures." What is it, I thought, about the human mind, that creates these images, these same symbols? How is it that our dreaming invents a one legged creature who is faster than our horses, faster than our fastest runner?

And what of the other mythical creatures? Are mermaids and snowmen, are dragons and bunyips, are unicorns just part of the human daydream, part of the human imagination? How could these two accounts, separated by the divide of East and West, by the divide of land and sea, possibly come up with the same creatures possessing the same unlikely attributes? How could it be, I wondered, that one tribe of unipeds lived on Vinland and the other somewhere in Eastern Europe.

I told Francisco of my father's stories of unipeds, of the unipeds in the Norse sagas.

"What was it your father used to say about unipeds?"

"'I'm chasing the uniped.' It was a family joke, it meant something like chasing dreams or doing something silly or impossible."

"How I would like to have known him better."

"Yes, me too." I thought of my father and the fun we had with unipeds. And I let my mind play with his memory until from somewhere, some part of listening that had slipped and needed time to penetrate my mind, Francisco's words echoed around and around in my head: How I would liked to have known him better. I repeated them aloud. Francisco sat quietly and said nothing. He had, after all, said quite enough in that simple sentence.

I left the map and went to sit in the chair next to his.

"You knew him?"

He shook his head. "No, I wouldn't say that. I met him. Perhaps. He was the same, the historian of maps?"

"Yes. He had his own Chair..."

"Then it was he. I thought perhaps it must have been."

I wanted to shake Francisco; I wanted him to tell me everything, ever single piece of information, every moment of their meeting. "But where? When?" Was all I could manage.

"He came to the library, just for a short visit, a couple of days. That's if I remember correctly, and I have been going through my diary." Francisco digressed to explain. "When I realised there might be a connection, I thought you would want to know as much as I could remember..."

"Yes, yes."

"Well, it was an embassy who arranged the visit. I thought it odd at the time because it wasn't the Australian embassy and he was an Australian professor. Mind you, relations between the two countries have not always been so friendly."

"Which embassy?" It didn't make sense. My father didn't work for other governments.

"The American, the US embassy. I recall that distinctly as there was a fuss, some importance was given to such a request. I felt at the time it was a lot of nonsense. He could have written to me from his own university and I would have given him the same courtesy and attention."

But why? Why the American embassy? "When was this?"

"After the war. A little after it, we had managed to clean up the mess, already we had rebuilt the east nave and if I recall correctly we were still waiting for the glass window to be repaired. So it must have been..." He paused, "yes, before the theft, of course it was before the theft. I'd say late in 1955, perhaps 1956. Does it matter?"

"You know it does!" Witten had been sold the map in 1957. "What did my father come to see?"

Francisco spoke very softly. "You know, I cannot tell you that. Perhaps I have told you too much already. The library's collection is..."

"Sub rosa."

"Exactly." He smiled, "you remember?"

"The rose, the red rose? Of course."

"Leave it now, Meridian. You have brought this intriguing map to show me. It is enough for an old man." It was the first time I recalled him calling me by my name. "Come and tell me of your week. Let us talk of the living, the landscape of men and women."

I looked out of the window. Outside the sun was drawing long, long shadows on the grass. I knew soon it would be time for me to leave him. For some unspoken reason I had never stayed after sunset.

Francisco poured fresh sherries and began to tell me his own story. He used Latin.

 

The Eighth Mandala - Orientation

When I was a young man, in the library, I became fascinated by a particular manuscript. It was not unlike your fascination with this map.

Every piece of time I could spare, and some I couldn't, I would spend on the manuscript. I inspected every aspect of it. I knew the watermarks of the vellum, the batch of vellum it had come from, the parcheminerie, the scriptorium, the ink pigments, the nature of the script, the corrections, the nature of the binding, the leather and stitching used, the board, the... He laughed at his own memories of his obsession.

Even, as you, the wormholes and the water damage, the this and the that. There was nothing I didn't know about this manuscript. I had translated the text into three languages, and I had compiled a list of all the illuminations and borders. I was an expert!

One day my superior came into see what I was working on. He picked up the manuscript and commented on how beautiful it was. He drew my attention to an illumination of little importance; it was just a little bit of border down the side of one page. There he pointed to a very tiny white flower that, in spite of all of my scrutiny, I had not noticed or paid any attention to. I was after all an historian of such manuscripts. I wanted to uncover all the manuscript could tell me of its history, of the various processes used to make it, of the way it had been housed and used and how it had come to the library. I wanted to know how difficult it was to keep the quality of vellum; to find the exact pigment; of the events surrounding its making; of the life of the scribe. But here was my superior drawing my attention to a tiny insignificant white flower!

My superior, an old man, kept talking about the beauty of the flower, and how I was blessed and privileged to have been directed by God towards such a mission - to work on a manuscript of so great a beauty. He knelt and asked me to pray with him. I gave chorus to his prayers as was the tradition and then he left me feeling somewhat bemused by this tiny white flower. He had not wanted to know anything of my findings, of the life of the scribe, the herd the vellum had come from, the war with France at the time. None of it.

I sat for some time staring at the illuminated border that had so caught his attention. He had been so impressed with this tiny white flower and the beauty of its depiction.

Francisco stopped talking and looked, not at me, but into some private place, perhaps he could see the manuscript, feel the library and his desk and the gentle afternoon light coming through the cathedral library's windows. I had missed it. Completely missed it. I needed that old man's myopic eyes to see not just the flower, but the whole manuscript. All I had been looking at were facts and figures, pieces of vellum, pigments of ink, stitches of binding. I had forgotten in my earnestness that I was examining a manuscript, a total thing, a book, a book of prayer and thanksgiving.

I had forgotten its wholeness, its beauty.

He paused for a moment. It was the beauty which mattered, which really mattered, because that was what the manuscript gave to the world. How the document came into being and all the other stories were unimportant. They were like a mosquito buzzing around my ear. I had become completely distracted by the mosquito and I could no longer hear the great symphony.

I asked him if he thought I was so distracted.

I don't know. That's for you to decide. I know that after my superior left I put away that manuscript and I only took it out one more time. That was the day I left the library for the last time. I took out the manuscript to remind myself of the beauty of that tiny white flower.

 

He paused and leant towards me, resuming English. "And now let me enjoy your beauty as well."

He ran his fingers over the inside of my arm, pushing up my shirtsleeve. His voice was little more than a whisper. "Your skin is so pale, so white. I would like to see you naked, standing naked, from behind. Would you take your clothes off for me? Would you show me your beauty?"

There in the library, in the dying afternoon light and the rows of books I slowly took off my clothes for him. I did not strip; there was nothing cheap or tacky about the moment. I simply, quietly, and in the gentleness of that light, removed every part of my clothing and turning stood there, wrapped only by his eyes, his breathing and the warm hush of the library.

Was it a fantasy I had always had? Since that first time I found a library? Had I, even as a pubescent girl, wanted to stand like this, my white skin, pale and curved among the warmth of the rows of books? I wasn't sure. But I did know I felt at ease and comfortable. I felt completely and utterly safe in my nakedness, as if I had discovered some terrain of innocence I had not previously known.

 

 


 

Return to Novel Contents

Return to Exegesis Contents Page
Back to Archive Contents
Return to TEXT Home Page


TEXT Archive
October 2010

http://www.textjournal.com.au/archive
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Jen Webb
Text@griffith.edu.au