Read Hav Online

Authors: Jan Morris

Hav (24 page)

I was moved by the moment, and by the thought of all the life and history, all the secrets and confusions, all the truths and fantasies, all the strains of blood and conflict that surrounded me there that night. I felt it was all mine! But though I heard no more gunfire, and though as the time passed, while I stood watching in the warm night, a profound and peaceful silence fell upon the city, yet I decided there and then to take the Agent's advice and make my arrangements to leave.

The city was frightened now. In the bazaar a myriad rumours were going about — of a coup d'état caught in the bud, of an impending Turkish takeover, a Palestinian conspiracy, a Greek plot, a kidnapping of the Caliphate or an assassination attempt at the Palace . . . Mahmoud denied them all, but was increasingly evasive. Remarkably few people, I noticed, were taking their lunches at the Athenaeum. Another note arrived for me, this time from Mario Biancheri: ‘I shall not be at the market tomorrow. I have to go to Istanbul. I shall be at the Pera Palas. Ciao.'

When I went to the station to buy my ticket out, they told me that from that night the train would come no further than the old frontier. ‘I can sell you a ticket, but you will have to make your own way up the Staircase — no rebates.' I decided to drive up there and abandon the car at the station, or give it to Yasar, if he was around. I spent the morning saying my goodbyes, but already it seemed Hav's brittle society was coming apart.

Fatima for instance, the first of my friends in the city, was not expected at the hotel that day, or the next either — they were not sure when she would be back, in fact. Armand was not at his apartment, nor at the Bristol, where the barman told me he had not been in for his noontime Pernod for a couple of days. I looked in at the Fondaco café, but Chimoun was not at his soup, and the two Russians were nowhere to be seen along the promenade. I had a last lunch at the Athenaeum with Dr Borge (‘You see, you see!') and Magda (‘Remember the Victor's Party?') but Mahmoud was nowhere to be found — ‘He's probably with the Governor,' his assistant said.

I rang the Caliph again, and this time I got him. I congratulated him on not having been kidnapped. ‘The Wazir will miss you,' he said. I found Bob on the quay strumming his guitar as usual to a little thing of his own:

Nothin's goin' to be the same, no, no,

Not while the years keep comin'.

He grasped my upper arm, looked me straight in the eye and said: ‘The first rule of life: you never know, you never know.' The Signora was predictably tearful, as she accepted two months' rent in lieu of notice, and gave me a picture of herself, in slimmer times, to remember her by. When I threw my bags into the front of the car old Abdu the Egyptian, from the Ristorante Milano downstairs, came running out of his door to wish me luck — ‘but you will be back — you know the saying, “He who has drunk the water of Hav . . .!” ' I gave the thumbs-up to the Circassian sentries when I drove for the last time around the square, and for all their camouflage gear they responded with their old parade-ground smiles. Just as I rounded the castle ridge, to take the road north through the Balad, with a howl those black planes hurled themselves again out of the eastern hills.

Above me on the Staircase a long line of cars was already climbing. Others were following me across the flats. The winding track itself did not seem half so thrilling as it had when Yasar raced me down it five months before, and I drove up easily enough in the lingering dust haze raised by the cars ahead. Halfway up a Kretev stood, with his flock of goats, bemusedly watching the traffic. When I reached the top of the ridge, where the megalith stands, I stopped and got out of the car. It was cool up there, and very still. Not a breath of wind blew, as I climbed the little grass mound beside the standing stone.

Before me, over the tussocky moorland, the train stood at the frontier station, a thin plume of smoke rising vertically from its funnel, a clutter of cars and people all around. Once again I was reminded of Africa, where you sometimes see the big steam-trains standing all alone, inexplicably waiting, in the immense and empty veldt. I looked behind me then, back over the peninsula: and like grey imperfections on the southern horizon, I saw the warships coming.

TWO

Hav of the Myrmidons

Six Days in 2005

MONDAY

The Myrmidonic Tower

1

Lazaretto! — ‘just arrived?' — the famous Kiruski
—
old times' sake — High-tech — ‘not much like the old days' — a view from the top

The first thing you see, when you sail beneath the Conveyor Bridge, through the Hook into the harbour of the new Hav, is the Myrmidon Tower, the prime and very public talisman of the Holy Myrmidonic Republic.

By the nature of things it is not often that one can enjoy first impressions of a place twice over. But when the overnight hydrofoil brought me back to Hav, streaming in with foamy wake and a mighty rumble of engines, it really was as though I had never been there before. My emotions were different in kind from those of twenty years before, but no less compelling, and I felt just the same sensation of slightly unnerving paradox. Perhaps it was all in the mind — the impact of the old Hav had certainly been profound — but once again I seemed to detect some equivocation or ambivalence in the air, as we passed under the bridge just as the sun rose, and saw that phenomenal tower before us. I had never set eyes on it before, of course, and although it was familiar to me from a hundred photographs, still it came as a shock. There it stood, slim as a rake, two thousand feet of glass and steel, and vastly illuminated above its triple helipads, dazzling even in the dawn, was its iconic device — the Myrmidonic ‘M', flashing in sequential colours, red, yellow, green, blue, and set against the Achillean helmet outlined in gold, that is the state emblem of the Republic.

Disembarking at the Lazaretto resort is itself an unsettling experience. The minute I set foot upon the quay a porter in full Havian costume (wide straw hat, long white
gallabiyeh
striped with gold brocade) came swishing towards me. ‘Dirleddy,' he said, speaking very fast, ‘I think you are to be our honoured guest, you are expected, please follow me, your bags will be taken care of, welcome to Lazaretto, the name written with an exclamation mark because we believe you will find it a truly exclamatory experience.' The whole sentence was blurted out at a breath, as it were, as though by long-accustomed rote, and I remembered this as a Havian habit. The man did not wait for a response anyway, but led me at speed along tortuous shrubberied paths until we entered a hall of luxurious but queerly indeterminate design. It dazed me. It seemed like nowhere in general, but like many other places in particular, with allusions variously majestic, sinister and festive. It might be some Tolkienian grandee's palace. It was lit by flaming torches and swarmed all about by smiling servants in white and gold, bowing courteously and murmuring ‘dirleddy' as they passed me.

‘Welcome indeed,' said an alarmingly soignée receptionist, without much warmth. She was dressed all in gold Havian brocade, with dangling ear-rings apparently made of concrete. ‘Your passport please. As a fraternal privilege you have been granted a blue pass by the Cathar League of Intellectuals. This permits you to visit Hav City and to make use of the League's facilities, but please note that it expires strictly in two weeks' time. Your passport will remain with me, your blue pass will be sufficient for identification if required. My colleague will now take you to your suite and it only remains to me to wish you a pleasant residence on behalf of Lazaretto!' — and somehow she managed to make the punctuation audible. Packing away my passport in a drawer, she summoned another minion. ‘Palast One,' she said unsmilingly.

‘Palast?' I queried as he led me through the shrubberies again. I seemed to remember the word. ‘Yes, dirleddy,' he said, ‘all the suites at Lazaretto remember places in the former Hav, before the Intervention.' Ah yes, I remembered then, Palast was the cave-quarter on the escarpment, where the troglodytes lived. And what had happened to the old Lazaretto island itself, which I remembered as the site of a rather merry pleasure-garden? Hardly a single building had been left standing on it, he told me. It had been artificially joined to its sister island of San Pietro, where Hav's gaol used to be, and given over entirely to this huge resort, Lazaretto with an exclamation mark, and to a Diplomatic Suburb, the whole dominated by the Myrmidon Tower. ‘Very expensive,' said the porter, ‘all very expensive, all for foreigners.' No Havian guests at all? ‘No Havians, except in the Tower itself, of course, and unless our honoured foreign guests have blue passes, they are not permitted to leave the resort. But then, dirleddy,' he added, looking back at me over his shoulder, ‘why would any of you want to?'

I saw his point when he left me in my quarters. From my sitting-room balcony I could see the lights of Hav City, across the bay; outside my bedroom the great skyscraper rose grandiloquently into the early sunshine; between the two vistas my rooms offered me, as an illuminated tapestry above the fireplace declared in stylized Cufic script, ‘All That Your Heart Desires' — the Lazaretto equivalent, it struck me, of the notices in English boarding houses that used to forbid alcohol, loud music or Visitors After 10 p.m. But all my heart desired was sleep, so I was in bed by ten anyway.

In the morning I had breakfast at a canopied restaurant on the beach called The Salt Trade, in commemoration I suppose of Hav's ancient maritime connections, and asked for a pot of tea. ‘Hav tea?' asked the waiter. ‘Of course', I said. ‘Quite right too', he smilingly replied, but it turned out to be horrible — bright green in colour, hard-leaved and sulphuric.

A very English middle-aged couple sat at the next table, and smiled over at me. ‘Just arrived?', the woman said encouragingly.

‘Crack of dawn', said I.

‘Oh, you must be tired. Never mind, you're going to love it here, isn't she darling?'

‘Absolutely. Nowhere better. Suites grand, climate a dream, food first class.'

‘Well I don't think much of the tea', I said.

‘Oh you poor thing, you probably had that awful Hav brew. They've only just started to make it, you know, and don't seem to have got it right yet. But Arthur's quite correct, in general the food's marvellous. We're the Ponsonby's, by the way, I'm Vera, he's Arthur.'

‘I'll tell you, though' said Arthur, ‘you don't want to experiment too much with the local stuff. Before the kerfuffle we used to stay at the old Casino here, up on the coast, and there they used to force the stuff on us rather, urchins and Hav mushrooms and all that kind if thing. Here they give you a proper choice, and if I were you I'd stick to the victuals you know.'

I thanked him for the kind advice. ‘So you prefer this place to the old one?' I said.

‘Oh absolutely', they both replied. ‘Hundred per cent. Do you remember the mongooses, darling?'

‘Do I not? Bloody animals snuffling about in the middle of the night. But fair play, they've got it all right this time around.'

‘The thing is', she said to me, ‘one feels so
safe
here. The security's really marvellous, it's all so clean and friendly, and, well, everything we're used to really. We've met several old friends here, and just feel
comfortable
in this environment. We shall certainly be coming again, won't we darling?'

‘Oh, a hundred percent. I think it's bloody marvellous what they've achieved, when you remember what happened here.'

‘Perfectly wonderful', she said. ‘Well, have a lovely time, dear', she said as they picked up their bags and towels.

‘Watch the sun, won't you — it's fiercer than you think.'

‘And don't touch that tea again', said he. ‘Stick to the old Darjeeling.'

Lazaretto is the one reconstruction work of Hav that has been made readily public — ostentatiously public, in fact, to the world at large. Almost as soon as the airport was completed plane-loads of foreign correspondents, travel writers and tourist promoters were flown in to see it arising from the wreckage. They called it The Ultimate Destination, Resort of Resorts, Loveretto. Architectural critics wrote learned pieces about its Myrmidon Tower, without making much sense of it, and gossip columnists welcomed news of the glitzy goings on — Princess Diana was one of the resort's earliest guests, a publicity coup which put it permanently on the paparazzi map and encouraged a stream of TV celebrities and footballers' wives from Cheshire. All the construction work was done by Chinese companies. The architects were mostly Chinese too, together with some from India and the Arab world, but I had read that they all worked under the supervision of an aged Havian philosopher named Hayyam Kiruski.

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