Idle Hours

In the olden times, in the Year of Our Lord 1937, as soon as the vernal wind had started wafting, I would cross the Danube with a handful of companions, to hail the passage of woodcocks in some of the parts of the Dobrudja. We reposed in propitious places, groves and copses, and sojourned at familiar friends', where I enjoyed the benefit of pleasing leisure. In some of the places, I would look for the woodcocks with my spaniels, in others: with my beaters. Notably in the ancient Tartar villages, hands would be found. Boys and girls in shalwars would stream out of the young woods, in pitched crying and wearing yelling; as soon as the firing in shooting line began, their yells and cries augmented into a sort of savage elation. It was then I shot many a parpadosmi in good haunts, whereupon I chanced into a barren steppe. I would not trace anything further. Burgeoning seedlings on the stretches, only from two places have I spied angled flights of bustards under the canopy, from afar. While I felt the South wind breath I guided my errant ways up to Balcic. Full of beauty: this ancient town, with surroundings so markedly Oriental; the solitary surface of the sea and the clear skies. The waves of the Pontus stir softly from the depths of Sunrise creeping up to the queen's desolate palace, and, at last, slothfully settle down in sweet extinct flutters in the rose gardens.At this time of young spring, there are no Europeans in the resort. Only the locals, bland and hospitable, as ever. When I descend from the tableland to the fountain underneath the limestone precipice, Tartar womenfolk and maiden dash into the valley, some with full, others with their clay jugs empty, to hail our arrival to the four winds. Each of us goes to their familiar hosts. My friends live down the precipice, above sea. The entrance – past the horn on the gutter-tiled hut's roof. I go down the stairs and reach the garden; from thence, the side of the house, and, from thence, the verandah. In the porch I find my friend Hasan. Friend Mariam-hanâm also hears me and, coming out of her clean, tiny kitchen, she promptly homes in on Hasan. They both take a deep bow, honor me with their stone-still smile, then straighten up and look at me with their large eyes which seem to loom from the depths of all times, or from an old print."Hasan-efendi and Mariam-hanâm, so glad to see you both!""Welcome!" Hasan-efendi murmured in a solemn tone. Mariam-hanâm keeps silent, in joy. Industriously, she has marked the scene with a red letter in her mind and spurts away toward the kitchen. The coachman has brought my trifles and my hunting coat. For a while, I bask under the golden sun, contemplate the sea, harking to its swirl. Then I seat myself on the divan in the porch, while Hasan aptly answers my few questions."How are things down here, in Balcic?""Things in Balcic are good, praised be Allah.""But does the health of my friends in Balcic blossom?""Thank Allah, health of people of Balcic is good enough; quick do the years grow. And the more the bygone years multiply, the fewer the ones ahead remain. Good were the many years that have passed; still, uncertain how those ahead of us are. Thus the custom amongst us mortals, we cannot change a thing." Friend Hasan sighs. I behold the familiar scenery, so dear to me. Pleasant, in this corner of the world, is all which pertains to the past: the still ruins and the memories of people. Romans and Byzantine people have come past; hoards after hoards of looting tribes from the East have followed one upon another. Bound for the Western world, they camped hereabouts for one brief moment, only enough to kindle a fire and graze the horses. Of all, the Turks and Tartars lingered for a longer time. Legend has it that our worthy neighbors, the Bulgarians, also ogled the lands, briefly and unperturbed. Nonetheless, they did not stop; the place was stony, the sea was salty. As I sit and ponder, Hasan-efendi carries on – languorously and monotonously. When I stoop out of the reverie, I learn that the wild fig trees have long blossomed on the cliffs of the shore. Mariam-hanâm sets about to prepare the candied fruit I fancy so. She has handpicked the first tender fruits."Master like the fig jam?""Master like." Hasan-efendi has been, for thirty or forty years, a türbe guard to the unknown holy man out in the Valley of Batova. After he had grown old, he settled down in Balcic. Now he whiles his time away by tending to his vegetable garden and orchard. He takes delight in prattling with me. When I am buried in my books and manuscripts, he leaves me, but when I'm out on the porch overlooking the sea, he abandons his plot and tools and closes in on me to parley. He dusts his shalwars off, tapping them gently with his right and left hand, then, with his coat sleeve, wipes off his sweltered brow."Sun today …is good," he says while he makes for the porch. "Sea, as Mariam-hanâm's silver platter… Empty sea – empty platter…""Coffee's ready soon!" Mariam-hanâm heralds from her miniature kitchen. My friend Hasan laughs, exposing his toothlessness. Here I am on my third day in Balcic. The sea, calm – up into the blurry indigo of Sunrise abyss. Underneath the overwhelming sun, the all-present splendor of garden blossoms. Overhead lingers a sloth which pervades even me. I ponder over whether I should add a Smirna tobacco smoke to the coffee under way and then recline on the divan. It would be jolly good to doze off until luncheon time – the moment when the smell of kebab and warm azyme insinuates itself into my nostrils from the place where Mariam-hanâm acts as high priestess. But here comes my friend Hasan, for a meeting of the minds. Friend Hasan is always in the mood for a chat when he observes me lounge, without reading or writing. I would not venture to say that Hasan-efendi spoke our language without any fault. Nonetheless, he seasons it with his own idioms in a peculiar way, claiming it in an outlandish manner. Therefore, I relish listening to him as he makes his speeches. At times, I would even scribble down a few things in my notebook. It is peculiarly this scribbling operation which Hasan likes most. It constantly encourages him to loom up in my proximity, towards luncheon time. As I make notes, he keeps silent, in awe. As soon as I have closed the jotter and slipped it into my pocket, he instantly says something else which, to his mind, is just as pertinent as what he told me a second before. He seems extremely confused when I do not produce and open my jotter again. Sometimes he is downright vexed. He ogles the notebook: he demands entrance to the world of journals and books – for his wise words."Friend Hasan," I comfort him, "good things are rare.""All too true," he concedes. "At night, thought I: why you only written some time in your bocket-book; and some time, written you have not. Sacred shrine in Batova, where I stand guard many years. Sacred shrine not equal in the whole world; also, Balcic, where we from, have not had an equal under the sun: similar, as good word comes from the lips of Hasan. If word is good, you, beim, write down to your bocket-book. But not all word is good, and so you not write it all. I think, efendim, good word comes from Allah. But Allah – prayer and peace may it be with Him – do not have only Hasan; Allah have many who believe; as much as sand in the sea, that much who believe had Allah. When is Hasan's turn Allah think of him, then Hasan says a good word. But this: rare, only from times to times…""I fancy what you tell me, friend Hasan," I yielded."If fancy, then write down to bocket-book.""There's no need for it, that I can remember without writing it down.""Was he then not good word?""Oh, but it was." Hasan made a disapproving sound and frowned, deliberating with himself."I learned, Mihale-efendi," he resumed, "that in our Balcic – there are no other town like Balcic in the world … It may be someone said that Balcic not the most famed town?""It is famed, friend Hasan.""I hear that here, in our Balcic, live our philosopher man Nasr-edin. Was it ever a greater philosopher man than Nasr-edin?""Never!" I sturdily replied. "I also see Nastratin-hogea as the greatest philosopher ever. Didn't know he lived in Balcic, though.""Yes, yes, lived in Balcic," Hasan innocently proclaimed. Must write down into your bocket-book. Maybe another man said Nasr-edin lived at Ienisheir town, in Anatolia. Is true, Nasr-edin lived at Ienisheir; but our elderly, who most of most learned scholars, leave letter that Nastratin-hogea – as you call him – came to us and did honor to Balcic; live here and was dead here. Is true, been to Anatolia to scold Sultan Timurlenk; then left Anatolia and Timur and everything, and came to Balcic. Came to Balcic, to rest from the evils of emperors; other truth there it is not." I replied to my friend Hasan: "I do not doubt it; I believe, you're right.""Then write you down to your bocket-book.""Very good, I shall.""This stands proof, beim," my friend Hasan went on, "this stands proof from the old people, who hear this from other old people, that Nasr-edin sat one day in the mosque at Mihrab and spoke: 'Children of Allah, kneel down and humbly worship Allah, for Allah hath not put wings on camels in the valley of Batova. For if camels had wings in the Valley of Batova, they would fly into the heavens, tumble into your gardens, onto your roofs, on the heads of the faithful.' This Nasr-edin said, for people in Balcic should remember. Good this?""Good.""Then: write down to bocket-book.""I shall.""And said another thing," my friend Hasan resumed inspirited; "he said this to faithful, who gather around him: 'Praise Allah, for the acorn from the oak is not as huge as the muskmelon or as honeydew. If the acorn were as big as muskmelon or honeydew, we could not bask in the shadow of an oak.' This good?""This also good.""Then write down to bocket-book.""I shall, Hasan-efendi.""Other prophesy said Nasr-edin: 'Ye faithful of Balcic, hear ye that unto yer home, the famous town of Balcic, shalt come a nation of hardworking and wrathful people and will not forgive ye for living here; these people will squint at ye from underneath their cap, with eyebrows as thick as whiskers.""This not write?" I was uncertain, for I am not an enemy of Bulgarians, as I am no enemy of any of the nations. As he noticed me waver, Hasan-efendi saddened."This not write? This no good. That prophet said," he added, "is good. But not good that become true what he said. Best prophet does not tell truth. If you wrote that down at bocket-book, I may die merry, beim. If come to us man hardworking and wrathful, there all is over, we lift the white flag; we die." I wrote this down in my notebook and Hasan-efendi sighed contentedly. Then Mariam-hanâm asked us to lunch. One good luncheon with my friends. On the same day I took off and was never to see Hasan-efendi and Mariam-hanâm again. From that day and from that year on, the boundaries changed, as did the people and the dominions. I wished to learn what had happened since then in the renowned town of Balcic. A familiar local brought me a billet from Mariam-hanâm, last autumn."Master Mihale," Mariam-hanâm writes, "great joy we have; this letter we write, very much we pray to Allah to call us where our better half Hasan-efendi. He great joy as he gone to Allah; we also want go to Him. We have great joy and we weep… Send you kavanoz 1 full of fig jam." Excerpted from Eastern Reveries, 1937

by Mihail Sadoveanu (1880-1961)