The Past Tense Of Youth: Another life in a painting

idyll LeightonThe Hydro Majestic had been a haven for our love. A palace in the wilderness where we could explore the wonders of nature much like he had done with Rana in the blue splendour of  the Caucasus. It had been no coincidence that we two thirty years into the future would find ourselves leading parallel lives.  Had he known of this other life when fate brought us together on that divine evening whilst dining on the terrace?  There he was with his peers.  Some very dignified looking gentlemen somewhat older than he.  Yet he had seemed happy in their company. They conversed with animated expressions over their after dinner  wine and appeared to be going over some plans drawn up on paper.  Was he some sort of spy?  He was no Englishman of that I was sure and he certainly wasn’t from Australia. I couldn’t help but stare as I found myself drawn into the vacuous social banter of other hotel guests who had joined my parents and me for supper.  The mysterious young man  at the next table had intrigued me.  There was an air of mystery about him yet somehow I knew him.  Suddenly he had caught my gaze and he smiled across at me with a smile so dazzling that it almost blinded me.  One of the older men looked across at me and came over to our table and introduced himself .

Professor Humphries , it turned out was both an art curator and a professor of architecture and design.  He had come with his colleagues via Turkey where they had been investigating the possibilities of  consulting on the design of a new museum of art and sculpture for Istanbul. They had brought with them a young Turkish architectural student, whose parents  the professor had stayed with while lecturing on modernism at Istanbul university. It turned out that the parents had  asked the professor to take their son, who showed great promise and had just won an award for academic excellence, under his tutelage on his next project which was to be in Australia. The professor had been commissioned by Mark Foy, the owner of ‘The Hydro Majestic’, to consult on the rebuilding of the ‘Belgravia’ wing which had burnt down in 1922.  The work had stalled and some important finishing touches needed to be added.  The young Turk with whom I was enamoured had been chosen from hundreds of others around Europe, due to his award winning designs, to work on the wing supervised by the experts.  There was also a painting that the professor wished to buy from Mr Foy which was in the hotels picture gallery known as ‘ The Long Hall’.  My parents were fascinated by the professor but I heard only the name of the young Turk ‘Gurel’ repeating over and over in my head.  All the while the professor was speaking he and I had remained fixed in each other’s gaze.  After what had seemed an eternity he rose from his seat and came over to our table.  Professor Humphries introduced him and I was at once transported into a world of exotic splendours.

” I am very pleased to meet you” he said in a cheery voice quite devoid of any accent. ” Just call me Gerald if you find my name difficult.  It’s a very English name and probably much easier for you to remember”.

” Alright if you prefer but I assure you my memory for names that may sound a little foreign is completely in tact”

That he spoke English perfectly did not deter me one bit from my creative visualisations.  It turned out that he was half English as his father, also an architect,  had met and married his mother whilst on a field trip to Istanbul.  He had returned to London only briefly with his lovely Turkish bride but  soon tired of the normalities of English life and made the decision to live permanently in the country that had given him the great love of his life.  Not long after setting up their home in this exotic land their son was born.

After that first evening wondering through the lush green valley and traversing crooked mountain paths not too far from the hotel we realised that for some reason the universe had meant for us to be together.  We laughed and whispered of secret longings. I was of his world and he was of mine. There would be no need for explanations and no need to rush things.

The next morning at breakfast had not been stilted by the kind of long awkward silence young lovers feel when they don’t know if things will progress any further but was filled with the joy of true belonging. Afterwards we had visited ‘The Long Hall’ with the professor to view the painting  he wished to purchase for his museum in Istanbul.  And there it was. A masterpiece by English artist Frederick Leighton.  A young man who looked remarkably like Gurel and I like his muse.  The resemblance was unmistakable.  There we were the two of us very much in love concentrating on  what seemed to be an architects drawing.   No wonder we had felt as one from the moment our eyes met.  We had been so throughout the ages and it would not be long before I would come to understand the significance of our union.

© Renee Dallow ( Hybiscus Bloom ) 22/11/2014 

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