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Smyrna 1911 Alan and Eleni (part 1)

by George1947 

Posted: 16 November 2018
Word Count: 3367
Summary: This is a second story about people in the city. As yet, this, and the other four stories are unconnected. I would welcome comments that highlight a passage and say, "This is all waffle." or "Boring!!!" or "You are being self-indulgent. We don't need to know this." and, surprise, surprise, "Excellent, George, this is good stuff."

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As he was finishing dinner, a waiter came to the table and said,
"A note for you Mr Jones." 
"For me.  Are you sure?  
"It was left at reception a few minutes ago."   As the waiter retreated, Alan opened the envelope.  He read, 'I have something that may be of interest you. It is a unique and unrecorded piece from Ephesus.  If you are interested, meet me at the Cafe Salonique in Platea Aristotelou in the Greek Quarter at 10 o'clock this evening.  I will find you.'   He certainly was interested. As an accredited archaeologist, digging permits were not difficult to obtain, but an observer from the Ottoman Archaeological Bureau had to be present at all times to record and catalogue the finds before they were sent to Constantinopoli. You were allowed to photograph your finds and to let it be known that it was your discovery but they were not for keeping and never for sending out of the country. If you wanted to export anything, permission had to be granted from, not only the OAB but also the Department for the Interior and the national police. In reality, the only way to take antiquities out of the country was by bribery or personally knowing the Sultan. 

He arrived at the Cafe Salonique early and took a seat at the back of the room.  Alan sipped his cognac and dissected the scene. Outside, under a blue awning with gold lettering, the clientele gossiped loudly as if it were considered rude to exclude the people at the next table. Inside and out, a corps of waiters danced around the tables dispensing wine and beer and hundreds of small dishes of meze. A man appeared in the street. A short man wearing a shabby suit. He was agitated. He entered the cafe and began to make his way to the rear. Alan did not like the look of this fellow. He looked too needy. He looked as if he had not held paper money for a long time.  He approached Alan but suddenly, from behind, the head waiter called, "Get changed quickly and report to the kitchen."  This was not Alan's man. He was a dish-washer or the like, certainly not a dealer in antiquities. He glanced at his pocket watch. His man was late. Was he being set up?  Could it be some sort of a trap?  For heaven's sake. If it were, he would claim that he was there only to find out more about this blatant crime. He was a professional archaeologist. He was doing his civic duty, helping the police. 'One more minute,’ he thought, 'If he's not here in one minute, I'm leaving.'  Sixty seconds later he placed two hands on the table and was about to hoist himself to his feet when into the chair beside him slid the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on.  He was stunned. Where had she come from?  He would have noticed this woman. A halo of black curls and a pair of long, antique silver earrings framed a face which captured every aspect of womankind. She was lover, mother, wife and daughter. Had she said her name was Helen and had just arrived from Troy, he would have thought it entirely plausible.
"Mr Jones?" Her eyebrows lifted and her eyes widened.  "Did I startle you, I'm sorry," she said. "Her voice possessed a cadence that dropped away at the end of sentences. "My name is Eleni." All he could think about was that face, that body, that voice. What he wanted, was to feel her hair, kiss those lips, and touch her skin; his mind was tumbling. For half an hour he hardly stopped talking. He couldn't seem to stop. He told her about his life in Chicago and his early celebrity excavating Native American sites around the Great Lakes. He told her how the museum had asked him to lead an expedition to the new digs being opened up in Egypt and the Middle East. The new Director of the Museum wanted to make his mark and had chosen Alan to head an excavation to find something that would put the Chicago Museum on the map:  money was no object. He told her everything about himself leaving out a few details and amplifying many others. He forced himself to stop talking.
"Anyway, Eleni." it was the first time he had spoken her name. It felt like honey. "Enough about me. Do you have something for me?"
"Yes, I do" She cleared her throat and seemed sorry he had finished telling his stories. "It is not for me, you understand. I have a friend, a poor girl from Limnii, near Kusadasi. She found something in the fields and asked me to help her sell it, if it is worth anything. I know little of such things."  She pushed a small box across the table. "Please tell me what you think."  Inside the box was the marble head of a boy.  It was exquisite.  Though it was only the size of a cabbabe the detail of his features and his hair were of the finest quality.  He knew instantly that this was pre-Christian, probably from the Classical period, around 500bc. The marble was blackened on one side and bore traces of soil on the other.
"Is this all there is?  Do you have the torso?"
"This is all she gave me?"
Usually, in situations like this, Alan would disparage the object, saying it was 'not unusual, there were many such pieces to be found; had the body been there it would be more desirable; as it was, he could only offer..’, and such like. With this woman, though, he wanted to impress, show her he was a man of substance.
"This is magnificent." he said, "Wonderful.  It comes from the statue of a young boy. It would probably have decorated a public building; a library or a school.  A temple, maybe."
"Is it worth anything?"  she asked.
"Why, yes, of course it is.  Back home, a museum would pay about $500 for this. Even more if you could find a private buyer in Paris or London. If it were complete, if the body were available, it would be worth considerably more, $20,000, $30,000. who knows"
"$500?”  She looked surprised. “That is wonderful. But my friend would not know how to do these things.  Could you help her?"
"Well, she should report it to the police under the Statute of Antiquities."
"My friend is a poor Greek woman and these officials would take advantage of her."  She drew closer to him and looked into his eyes. Her perfume was sublime. "She wants to gather some money so that she can send her children to gymnasio. Is there anything you can do for her?" This face, this voice and this perfume took control of his senses. "I cry for my friend." Her hands moved forward a little and her eyes seemed to moisten.
 "Don't worry, Eleni.  Leave it to me. I'll work something out." And without knowing how, he was holding her hands.     
" You are a wonderful man. I knew you would help."  She squeezed his hand and looked into his eyes.  "How can I ever thank you?"

Sunlight was sieved through the muslin curtains of the tall lobby windows at the Grand Hotel Huck and the air was stirred by a series of ceiling fans. The marble and the mahogany had the place to themselves this afternoon. Except, that is, for Alan Jones.
He was early but the anticipation of seeing Eleni again was food and drink to him.  He ordered a cognac, what he had been drinking one their first meeting.  Since then his mind had been in rapture, her face floating across his mind’s eye unbidden. That first meeting had been a whirlwind but tonight, he was clear. He wanted this woman. But what if she were married? What if she were affianced? What if she did not care for him? He could not countenance such thoughts.
“Hello, Mr Jones." That voice. “Nice to see you again.” She was wearing a blue silk blouse and a white skirt that ended mid-calf. Around her neck she wore a thin gold chain from which hung a golden teardrop. Her bust, though not prominent, held the promise of abundance.
"Hello," he said. “Please call me Alan.”
“Very well: Alan.” she said, “You know, we were so busy with our talking last time, I forgot to ask you what you thought of our city.”
“I think it’s wonderful.  So many interesting people. Swimming at Platea Yalo.” He was thinking. “I’ve been invited to talk to the students at the American University.  And I really want to go to up Mt Pagus.  They say the view from up there is marvellous.”
“It’s true.  You can see all the way up the Gulf to the Aegean and sometimes, on a clear winter day, as far as Lesvos.  It is beautiful.  If you permit me, we can go together?” ‘Permit you?” he thought, ‘I’ll carry you if you `ask’.” A waiter appeared at Alan’s side. He ordered another cognac for himself and Eleni ordered a glass of Mavrodaphne, a sweet red wine from the Peloponnese. When the waiter had gone, she asked him how he had fared with his museum directors.  He glanced around the room, it was empty. Outside on the quay, the boats bobbed on the water and all was quiet at this siesta hour. He pulled his chair closer.
 “They were thrilled.” he said. “They wanted me to find more but I told them that the head of the boy had been a special opportunity”
"Did they think $500 was too much?" He wanted to say, ‘No, they sent the $1000 I asked for’   but he replied, “Not at all. They know it was worth every cent. They didn’t quibble.” He took a package from the inside of his coat and slid it across the table. She smiled and said, "My friend will be pleased," and pushed the package to one side as if it were no more than a box of kadaifi just picked up from the zacharoplastion. He looked at her for a few seconds.
"I know so very little about you.”
"Well, there's not much to tell.", she said.  “My family have been fishermen since the days of St Peter.  Originally, we came from Syros, in the Cyclades, but we have been in Smyrna for generations.  They say that the first Zacharious, that’s my family name, Zachariou, came here after one of my ancestors killed the agent at the Athens Fish Market when he discovered he had been cheating him.”  She turned her head to look at the passing horse-drawn tram car. He looked at her profile and pictured it on the side of an ancient coin. “But that is - histoire.” She turned back to him. “ Smyrna is the only home I have ever known,” she said. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else. It has brought me happiness by the netful, and sorrow on a single hook.”  It wasn’t just her voice. It was her eyes too. They invited you to enter her world, explore it. There were no barriers there.  Like an artist with a blank canvas. Carpe Deum. 
“I love it here, too” he said before he realised he had said anything. “I love the bay and the sky and the air and the hills.  I love the people here.” Just in time he stopped himself from saying, ‘And I love you, too.’ He went on, rushing to change the subject “Where do you live? Here in town?”
“Oh, up the hill, behind the hospital. My family bought land there many years ago and over time we have built three houses, all beside each other. My father, he is old now, he lives in the big house. My uncle lives next door and I live opposite with my son, Michalis. He is eight.”
“Oh, you’re married” he said, much too quickly.
“I was.  My husband is dead”
“I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry.”
“Yes,” she said, “he drowned.  He never got to see our son.” They sat in silence for a moment, she, with her head bowed, he, marvelling at the swing of her earrings.  “He drowned in a fishing accident.” She continued. “I’ve gotten over it now.  As much as I will ever get over it. At first, I didn’t give myself time to think about it. I threw myself into the business. The boats, the fish, you know.”  He nodded,
“You never married again?”
“No. Here in Turkey a widow-woman with a young son is like a three-legged donkey. No good for anything.” She laughed.
“Well, that’s just plain crazy. Back home you’d have them kicking your door down.” He paused. “Because, if you don’t mind me saying so, you are a beautiful woman.”
“Well, thank you, Mr Jones. You are very kind.”
“Alan.  Please call me Alan”
“Of course.  Sorry.  Alan.  But what use is beauty for a woman like me, sporia, just sporia. My only dowry is an eight-year son and the memory of an Islamic husband.”
“Your husband was Islamic.?  That’s unusual, isn’t it?”
“Not so unusual.  Not here in Smyrna.  Marriage between the faiths is more common here than in other parts of the country. Here, we are a salad. Christians, Muslins, Jews, we all come from the same root.  Different branches, same tree. We have a song about it. “Souzoukakia! O Malakia! Sto Smyrneika!” She sang a couple of lines, then stopped. “Deniz was a wonderful man. From a fishing family like my own. We lived near each other, we went to the same school, we were, how do you say, amoureux d’enfance.”  He wanted to change the subject.
“What is suzikak?” he stumbled.
“Souzoukakia smyrneika. It is meatballs, Smyrna style.  We mince pork and veal together and mix it with small pieces of bread and oregano and kumina and cinnamon,” she wafted her hand back and forth as if to say ‘you know, the usual spices, “then it is put in the oven and cooked in a tomato salsa.”
“Oh, I nearly forgot. The food here is delicious. And what does sporia mean?”
“It is a Persian word. It’s the dried seed from the melon. We also call them pasa tempo, time passing,” she said. “like a woman’s beauty. You will hear many tongues spoken along this coast, Greek, Turkish, Armenian.”  She went on, “Why, there are some camel masters who can speak twelve or fourteen languages.  Tongues from all along the Silk Route, Arabic, Persian, Uzbek, Urdu, even Mandarin.”
“Back home, we manage to get by with just one.”
Can you say all you want with just one language?  So many people, just one language?”
“We seem to manage pretty well with good old English.”  He was teasing her now.
“Here in Smyrna we use different languages for different things.”  Alan had to think about this. Yes,” she began, “Greek is the language of laughter - not only laughter.”  She thought for a second, “Of dreaming.  It is the language of our emotions, of how we feel.  Of families. Of drama.  Of the Gods. Of life and death, itself.”
“I see.” said Alan.
“French is the language of romance, of love and sex and jealousy and war. Then we have Italian, the language of passion and song and opera, the meeting of music and tuberculosis” she giggled and he laughed with her.
“What about English?”
“Well, now, Alan.” She became mock serious, “ English is the language of money. Whenever we hear English, we hold on to our purses.  Like this.”  She held both hands below her chin.  Did you know that at this moment, in your hotel, there are three of the richest men in the world, Alexander Mantashev, your American, Mr Rockefeller and the English banker, Lord Baring, and what language do you think they all speak – English!  Of course, there are Englishmen who can be charming – especially those from Scotland – they can be tres charmants.”  Without moving her head, she raised her eyes and he thought he caught a sly smile. “And as for the Germans.  Their’s is the language of industry. Is it any surprise that it is the Germans who are building all the railways here in Turkey? Did you know they are making a railway that goes from Baghdad to Berlin, Berlin – panayea mou!” she crossed herself. “Have you not noticed that the sound of trains, the clang of steel banging on steel, hammers, nails – it all sounds like German – hard, sharp, rasping.  And, – they’re all called Schmidt!”  Alan was laughing now. 
“What about the others?”  he said.
“Now Arabic.  Arabic is a mysterious tongue.  It is a language of the planets, of the earth and the sky. Arabic is a veil of poetry. It is a whispered tongue that is most eloquent around a desert fire as the stars slide down a dark sky and disappear below the Western horizon.” She paused. “Also, it’s what camels speak.” She shrieked and her laughter rang around the room.  Alan Jones was a man in love.  He raised his glass clinked it against hers, and said, “Yamas!, here’s to us.” and downed the last of his cognac. This woman reached parts of him that had lain dormant for donkey’s years.
 “And what about Turkish?” he said, after a while.
“Turkish is the language of the abattoir.” she spat out, all the humour gone from her voice. Alan jerked back in his seat as if he had been slapped. He looked at her and she held his gaze for a long moment. H could see that she was thinking ‘I shouldn’t have said that.’, yet the more they gazed at one another the more he sensed that she wanted to say a lot more.
“Why do you say that?”  he said. She looked away and suddenly the smile was back.
“Oh, I’m just being silly. I didn’t mean that. Turkish is just Turkish. That’s all I mean.”  In the silence that followed, Alan stared at her profile. The long antique earring hung motionless at last and he watched a tear slide down her cheek and fall onto the tablecloth. He reached over and took her hand.
 “Please tell me.” he said. “Please.” She turned to him.
“They killed him.”  Alan felt a chill go through him. His eyes widened. He sat upright.
“Wh-wh- what do you mean?  Who killed who?
“They killed my husband.  They killed Deniz.  They tied his hands and his feet and they threw him into the sea”
“Who killed him?” Alan said.
“His brothers.  His whole family. His brothers murdered him” she said, not sad, just angry. “After Michalis was born, a boy.” she raiseda finger for emphasis, “They thought that their boats would fall to me, and my family.” She was silent. “So, they killed him” she said quietly.”  Her thoughts were so heavy she could only dig out one at a time.  “They killed him because I was Greek. Because I was beautiful and I was Greek.” It was Alan’s turn to look away. What he was seeing and hearing needed time to comprehend. They sat in silence for a long time.
“How did you know it was them?” he said eventually.
“My father is an important man. He knows many people. He found out it was his brothers who killed him then sunk his boat.  Bastards!”
“What about the police? Didn’t they do anything?”
“Bah!” she spat out. “There was no proof, you see. No witnesses. No boat. No body. Here is Smyrna, it is not the promised land that you think it is. Here, money is stronger than justice, take it from me. In Smyrna, people babble about things of which they know nothing and the people who know everything, fasten their lips and look the other way.”  She paused. “The old Kommisar was more corrupt than all the others put together. He would sell himself, and all his children, to the fattest wallet, from his hat to his boots.

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 20:33 on 19 November 2018  Report this post
Hello George – There are certainly some features of this story that prompt me to say, ‘Excellent!’ For example I like the way you handle the need to fill in Alan’s background, by having him so excited and besotted on meeting Eleni that he can’t stop talking.
I also like Eleni’s remarks about languages – though a few readers might yawn. Depends how interested they are in languages. I wouldn’t worry about that, though; I usually take the attitude that if some people aren’t turned on by something I’ve written, it’s their fault not mine. Anyway, you make Eleni’s remarks interesting, and funny (Arabic is the language camels speak! I’ve a hunch there might be some Farsi-speaking camels too.) Also there’s a narrative element to the talk of languages, as Alan’s unsuspecting question about Turkish leads to Eleni’s outburst of anger at the murder of her husband. There’s a striking contrast too between the lightness of Eleni’s views on language and the dramatic change of mood that follows. All in all this is an excellent piece of storytelling.
When you say the stories are unconnected I assume you mean this one at least will be connected to a follow-up. (You do have ‘part 1’ in the title.) It reads almost like the opening chapter of a novel, or the first of a series of stories (maybe more than two). It makes us ask what comes next. Especially, how does Alan’s relationship with Eleni develop? And it’s clear Eleni has very serious family issues; will Alan become embroiled in these? I even wondered if there might be further developments involving Eleni’s friend, the ‘poor girl from Limnii’. This is the kind of thing that makes us keen, when we finish Chapter One of a novel, to go right on to Chapter Two.
Now, I’m a retired English teacher – so be warned! My eagle eye will spot even tiny errors. Your first sentence, for example, should read: ‘As Alan  was finishing dinner, a waiter came to the table and said…’ As it is, the grammar makes it say ‘As the waiter was finishing dinner, he came to the table and said…’
Carpe Deum – should that not be ‘Carpe diem’? ‘Seize the day’,  not ‘Seize the God’.
Finally, I’m a little put off by some of the Greek words and expressions, especially when I came to ‘a box of kadaifi just picked up from the zacharoplastion’. Some of the Greek words can be guessed from the context, but maybe you should think about whether some of them will cause furrowed brows.
This has been a very good read, and it succeeds for me in the sense that I really do want to know how it will go with Alan and Eleni in the near future.

Catkin at 01:34 on 20 November 2018  Report this post
Thanks for posting another chapter, George. I'm not going to read it immediately, as it's such a short time since I critiqued the last one - however, I will get to it in a couple of weeks.

One thing I often suggest to members who are posting chapters of long works is that sometimes, I can be helpful to new readers to give a summary of what has happened in previous chapters.

Chestersmummy at 12:18 on 20 November 2018  Report this post
Hi George
I have just read this and think it is a wonderful piece of writing, so interesting and with some lovely descriptive passages - I particularly liked "Eleni." It was the first time he had said her name. It felt like honey.  (my paraphrasing is probably not quite accurate) and like James I loved the way the various languages were described. I certainly did not find them boring. I also admired the masterly way you dramatically changed the mood of their conversation by mentioning the Turkish language - you managed to do this in a completely natural way.

All through most of this piece you also seemed to take on board the suggestion that you should use a fresh line when there is a change of character and this was a great improvement although I spotted one paragraph where this seemed to slip (the one beginning  "Well, there is not much to tell....")

Of course there were still some typos in your work and some words that I did not understand and which needed some clarification - what, for instance, is zacharoplastion?  At other times, you did a good job of explaining words that most people are not familiar with.  Words that maybe typos were cabbabe (?cabbage), Lesvos (Lesbos), amoureux d'enfance (d'enfants).

I also think you went overboard a bit when you said  that the MC 'marvelled' at the swing of her earrings. Do people do this even when they are enraptured? 

Apart from the above I was enraptured by your piece and look forward to reading more.


Carlyagain at 16:42 on 22 November 2018  Report this post

This is a good read with a lot of interest. I think Alan comes across well and Eleni has a spark and an interesting back story.

I found it challenging to read such a lengthy piece, not because of the writing but because of the lack of spacing between the paragraphs, other than the scene breaks. Can you add paragraph breaks? It's a shame that WW doesn't do this automatically.

I hope the following makes sense. I'm a bit tired, so I'm not sure if it does.

You've asked for nitpicks and other comments. My nitpicks include the typos - eg. muslin/muslim, it/It, cabbabe/cabbage.


This is a new scene so I would say Alan arrived at... and He sipped his cognac...

He arrived at the Cafe Salonique early and took a seat at the back of the room.  Alan sipped his cognac and dissected the scene. 

In this section you use a lot of short sentences. I often do this. However, I would advise showing rather than telling. Show the man being agitated. What makes Alan think the man was agitated? Also what makes the man appear needy (and what does needy mean in this context)? Is he going to be featured later or was he shown to simply portray Alan's interest? I ask as the man seems to be important and I wondered why he was approaching Alan until he was called away, but then we are told he is a dishwasher or something.

I feel this unfolds as if the man is the 'chewing gum under the mantelpiece', rather than Alan simply being on alert for whoever the letter writer may be.

A man appeared in the street. A short man wearing a shabby suit. He was agitated. He entered the cafe and began to make his way to the rear. Alan did not like the look of this fellow. He looked too needy. He approached Alan but suddenly, from behind, the head waiter called

As well as show/tell in the above, I would make more of the senses. You do note this but I would ask what was sublime about her perfume? Vanilla undertones, musk, lavender? Does it evoke another memory for him? 

Her perfume was sublime.

I agree about terms such as zacharoplastion. I can't guess and would need to stop reading to find out by googling the term.

In the following speech, I recognise that people don't always make sense, but is there a way you can rework it as the 'He/his/him' relates to two different men. eg. 'He found out it was Deniz's brothers who killed him...':

“My father is an important man. He knows many people. He found out it was his brothers who killed him then sunk his boat.  Bastards!”

The following line confused me as they'd had quite a conversation since Eleni first mentioned sporia. I can see how this leads towards the flashpoint but it did make me stop and look back to find 'sporia', so I would have him showing that he wanted to keep her talking, as he loved hearing her excitement and joy (or something like that) as she spoke about Turkey. He didn't want her to stop:

“Oh, I nearly forgot. The food here is delicious. And what does sporia mean?”

I love the way Alan and Eleni chat about the different nationalities and suddenly the conversation tilts into another orbit and we realise that their world has a dark side. The reader also realises this signals danger in other respects too, especially with regard to the marble head.

The ending is intriguing, particularly the questions you have raised. Why did they kill Deniz? Why is it an issue that she is Greek and her son was born?  I look forward to finding out!



salli13 at 08:04 on 29 November 2018  Report this post
 i enjoyed this very much and the references to lannguages and what they are used for.  I suspect Eleni is too good to be true, but love the line:-

Had she said her name was Helen and had just arrived from Troy, he would have thought it entirely plausible.

Too many uses of the word `Look' and too close together in these sentences:-

Alan did not like the look of this fellow. He looked too needy. He looked as if he had not held paper money for a long time..

Though it was, i'm sure, meant to be cabbage i actually don't think a person who dealt with antiquities would use this as a size comparison with a piece of art.  Maybe Melon would sound more artistic - IMO of course!  But a really great read and I would be interested in reading more to see if i am right about Eleni.

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