The Past Tense Of Youth: Mountain Memoires

aivazovskiy_the_caucasus_1868Rana and I became confidantes following her conversion to Odalisque.   She had meant for me to open her diary and had somehow known that I had an important part to play in her life.  As she told me of her love for Gurel and his for her I knew that I would be the one to bring them back into each other’s arms.  My life with Gurel was of another time and place and yet had  also begun in the beauty of the mountains. Theirs  had been a wild untamed love there in the blue haze of the Caucasus.  She the daughter of Roma gypsies and he the son of a Georgian landlord .   During the Russo/Turk wars in 1877  Gurel’s parents who had settled in Circassia near the black sea , had fled back to Turkey fearing an imminent Russian attack on their land holdings.  They had left their five year old son with his Georgian grandfather vowing to return for him once they had settled. They never returned.   The child’s skin was not the pale skin of the Georgians but was instead of an olive comlexion like that of  his Turkish father.  His hair was thick , dark and wavy even at birth and his eyes a sapphire blue  like those of his  Georgian mother.    For most of his youth Georgia was at peace with the Russians ,who had made reparations,  and Gurel was sent to  school in St Petersburg.  It was in the streets of St Petersburg at the age of fourteen that he had first laid eyes on a dark gypsy girl playing a tamborine.  He had been so entranced by her that he had lost his way and seemed quite unable to move in any other direction except for the spot where he now stood.  There were others dancing with her but he could see only her.

Rana’s parents had come to Georgia from Romania .  They were part of a performing troupe and planned to dance for their money along with trading horses and  breeding chickens.  They made their camp in the Caucasus near the foot of Mt Elbrus and journeyed often to St Petersburg where they would perform for whoever had enough money to pay their worth.  They danced for the villagers in their mountain haven and for the nobility in the cities sometimes even in the palaces.  oliver dennett grover - harem sceneTheir youngest daughter, Rana, was a true Circassian beauty with raven hair down to her waist and wild eyes the colour of an emerald green forest.  By the age of fourteen she was aware of her powers over men and knew how to play them.    That first day he had followed her back to the camp site where she lived with her family and had dined with them under the stars.  He was in awe of the gypsy life and wanted to become one of them if only to be close to Rana.  She taught him to dance while he taught her to read and write.  It was a fair exchange and bound them ever closer.  Gurel was a brilliant student who excelled in the arts of writing and poetry.  He was also a skilled horseman and took his military training very seriously.  Every spare moment he would spend with Rana in the mountains where he was as free as she was to breathe out and experience the wonders of nature all around them.  A gentle world where there was harmony and balance in the order of things.

Theirs was a peaceful tranquil way of being far away from the needs and wants of others who would try to tame  or to separate them.  They made a troth there in the blue of the mountain mists to remain together as they were then in each other’s hearts for all time and entwined their bodies as one to seal their truth.  Only the soft folds of evening grace and the strange whispers of the forest could disturb them from their embrace.  A white horse waited patiently nearby for it’s young master to lead home over the mountain pass.  Soon with his arms wrapped around his gypsy love and the reins gripped tight in his strong, capable hands he and Rana would return to their waiting families.

And so their love would continue until the day Gurel was sent to university in the year of 1904.   His grandfather had previously tried to keep them apart but had been unsuccessful.  This time he hoped Gurel would find comfort in being with others who were of the same status.  Before long  he became so involved in the politics of youth that he grew more and more distant from Rana with each new dawn.  Gurel joined the social democrats and was determined to play an important part in the modernisation of his beloved Georgia.  Little did he know that the land he returned to would be no longer his, that his grandfather would be slain and that Rana would become a slave of the Ottoman Empire.  Dragged from her campsite and locked up in the harem she would no more be his alone.

On the day Gurel returned and all that had happened during his absence became clear to him he knew that he must find her. The villagers had told him of her parents dealings with Russian soldiers and of their intent to sell her.  A circassian of such dark exotic beauty would fetch a high price.  They had hoped to marry her off to the young Georgian landlord who would have looked after her family but he had abandoned them and gone off to Saint Petersberg.  They had to survive and selling their beautiful daughter would be for the good of all.

revolutionGurel had immediately departed for Constantinople joined by other young men from the village who thought they would fare better under Ottoman rule.  They could join the guards or become janissaries.  Gurel had heard of a group who called themselves ‘ The Young Turks’ who were trying to achieve the same ends as those of the social democrats of Russia . Maybe he could join them and in so doing commandeer their help in saving his beloved gypsy girl.

That day at the slave market when I had seen him ride toward her on his white horse with his eyes piercing a hole in my heart had been the first day of a life fulfilled.  Or was it simply fate that had  brought all three of us to the same place at the same time?  For what end and for what purpose?  I would soon grow to love them both more than I ever thought possible. Our lives would evolve and change over …. time … so …. much ….. time.

© Renee Dallow ( Hybiscus Bloom ) 30/!0/2013



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