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Night Visit

The following is a text that I wrote in French while I was living in France and have just translated into English.  This is the first time that it has been published in either language.  I wrote it the day after the incident.

***

30 July 2001, Anjou, France, 11:10 p.m.

The neighbours have sent their children to bed.  I can hear windows and shutters banging.

It is strange.  Their windows remain open all day, letting in the stifling air from outside, and they close them in the evening when it is a lot cooler.  I do the opposite.  Each to his own taste.

The window of my bathroom, an en suite to my bedroom, stays open all night.  It has solid bars, conceived to discourage any thief who might have had the laughable idea of trying to find something worth stealing in my apartment.

The bars, around ten centimetres apart, do let in quite a lot of visitors however.  Every morning, I remove the leftovers from the nocturnal meals of the two spiders who are comfortably installed in ambush in my bathroom.  They sort through the Unidentified Flying Objects which have had the audacity to penetrate my home while I am asleep.  I leave them there on purpose, as a first line of defence.

From time to time, I receive the visit of a big moth who has temporarily lost sight of the moon and, led astray by my bedside lamp, braves the bars and the spiders.

This evening, I am reading.  I am not yet in bed, but am sitting on it, with my back to the room.  Theoretically, I am immersed in Emile Zola’s La Debacle, but I am having trouble concentrating.  I can still hear the windows and shutters banging.

I am starting to have some auditory hallucinations.  I hear something fall in the bathroom.  I raise my head.  I listen.  Nothing.  Anyway, there is nothing susceptible of falling in the bathroom.  I go back to Zola.

I hear some sort of movement behind my head.  A big moth.  I see it out of the corner of my eye when it changes direction.

First thought:  its colour is very dark.

It passes behind my head again.  I bid it “Good evening!”  Yes, I talk to moths.  I know, I am crazy, but this is not the right moment to discuss that subject.  I raise my head to look at this nearly black moth.  I am wearing my reading glasses and am surrounded by an artistically out-of-focus decor.  The Flying Object has gone into the bathroom and makes a left-hand turn before plunging towards the bathtub.

Second thought:  it’s not a moth;  it’s a bird!  How did it manage to get through the bars?  I’m going to have fun trying to catch it to set it free!

Third thought:  it looked odd.  Why?  Its flight.  It’s not a bird!  It’s a bat!

Fourth thought:  what do I do now?  Help!

Interior Dialogue

“First of all, we must remain calm.  It’s a tiny, little bat from Anjou.  It’s nothing like the enormous vampires in South America.”

“Maybe.  But it’s in my bathroom!”

“That’s true.  It’s in your bathroom.  But it’s there by accident and it’s more than likely that it wants to be somewhere else.”

“Then why doesn’t it just go away?”

“It would already have done so if there weren’t any bars.  You’re going to have to help it.”

“I  don’t mind doing that, but firstly, it needs to know that I’m trying to help it and don’t want to hurt it.”

“Well, tell it that.”

“Yes, yes, of course!  I take an accelerated course in Ultra-Sounds, specializing in Bat!”

“Like all living things, it feels your thoughts.”

“In that case, it mustn’t be very confident at the moment.”

“So, you already have that in common.  In your opinion, who has the biggest problem?  You, or it?”

“All right.  But what is it going to do when I go into the bathroom?”

“If you were in its place, what would you do?”

“Huddle in a corner and pray.”

“So, that’s probably what it will do, too.”

“Bats pray?”

“Let’s stay on the subject.  In your bathroom, there is a living creature who is afraid and wants to leave.  You need to make it understand that you are going to help it and that it must trust you.”

“And all that through my thoughts.   A piece of cake!”

I put Zola and my glasses down on the bed and walk the metre and a half separating me from the bathroom, which is vaguely lit by the bedside lamp.

If we start with the premise that the very, very, very tiny-little-animal-hiding-somewhere-in-the-dark doesn’t like light very much, switching on the bathroom light would be a mistake.  Therefore, we won’t.

When last seen, this really-minuscule-little-thing was plunging towards the bathtub, fortunately white, and has not made the slightest sound since.

Different things decorate the top of my bathtub:  among them, my toothbrush and the toothpaste;  the latter in the form of a little plastic bottle.  Between the two, there is something dark-coloured.  It is not moving.

Right.  Let us say that it is the bat.  How am I going to take hold of it?  This is my first bat rescue.  Let us do the same thing as for wasps and bees:  a clean cloth.

I explain, out loud, that I am going to fetch something to help it out of there.  It listens to me attentively and does not move.

I find a tea-towel in smooth cotton, in which the bat would not risk getting stuck.  I return to the bathroom.

I explain to it that I am going to take away the tooth-brush that is just in front of it.  Which I do.  The bat does not move.

It has magnificent ears – all rounded.  What a pity that I can’t turn on the light to see it better.  Naturally, I can’t take a photo of it, either.

I can’t see it very clearly and am very surprised when, after having told it what I was going to do, I pick up the bottle of toothpaste.  It is clinging to it.

I start to put it down again, then decide to try to pass it like that between the bars.

Despite its immobility, its nerves must be very taut.  They snap, and it lets go of the toothpaste.

I put down the bottle and tell it that I am going to try to take it with the tea-towel, but that I would have preferred that it were turned the other way.  It seems to understand and begins to turn around.  I am astounded.

It slips on the enamel and spreads its wings to land in the bathtub.  I can see it a lot better.  It is very beautiful.

Now, it is turned the right way around, but its wings must be folded.  It does not agree with this.

It tries to fly onto the edge of the bathtub, but does not have enough room for take-off.  It slips.  It can’t hold on.  It tries again.  This time, I understand.

I hold out the tea-towel and it grips the side of it.  I lift them both slowly.  The bat folds its wings and I pass the tea-towel between the bars.  The bat is outside.  We look at each other.  It does not fly away, but I am absolutely certain that it knows that it is free.  These few seconds during which it remains clinging to my tea-towel, looking at me, are a gift that it is giving me.

“Go!”, I tell it.  The bat unfolds its wings, holds on for another instant, then takes off into the dark.  I bring in the empty tea-towel.

I feel a bit uneasy.  This bat has greatly troubled me.  I have the impression that I have been dealing with a being of an intelligence that is equal, if not superior, to mine.  Different, of course, but not inferior.  I feel very humble.  I am not sure that I like this feeling.

In my bedroom, I look at the time:  11:20 p.m.  The last three hours have taken only ten minutes.  Apparently, that is what is known as Relativity.

I go to bed.  I am exhausted.  I wonder what the bathroom spiders think of it all.  I shall have to ask them tomorrow.

***

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On 25 May 1479, Charles d’Amboise, in the name of Louis XI, took the city of Dole and massacred all of its inhabitants.

All of the contemporary chroniclers agree:  never was a more abominable massacre ever seen.  Never had there been more blood, brains and innards scattered throughout a city’s streets.  It happened on 25 May 1479.  On this day, at six o’clock in the morning, the inhabitants of Dole, who had already been under siege for three months by the royal troops, suddenly heard “great fracas and great rumblings”:  a group of Alsatians had just penetrated their city “by ruse and felony”.

Immediately, the portcullis was raised by these traitors, the drawbridge lowered and the favourite residence of the Dukes of Bourgogne (Burgundy) delivered to the soldiers of Louis XI.

Trembling with fear inside their houses, the Dolois heard horses’ hooves and clicking of armour;  then a terrifying, inhuman voice roaring :  “Kill them all!”

Terrified, most of them went to hide in their cellars.  A few, however, wanted to see the face of this man who was condemning them to death.  Going to the windows, they could see, through the slits in their shutters, a cavalier “with glittering eyes” who, standing in his stirrups, was inciting his men to carnage.

This is how the Dolois saw for the first time this diabolic Prince, known throughout the kingdom for his taste for blood, this great favourite of Louis XI, this human beast whose name made whole provinces tremble with fear :  Charles d’Amboise.

Travelling through the streets on his black horse, screaming his calls for death, he soon arrived before the Notre-Dame Church where some Dolois Companies of Archers and Arquebusiers were attempting to defend themselves.  Then, with a great laugh, he roared:

“Kill them all!.  Let not one remain!…  I want to see the blood of the  Comtois flow like a river in the streets of Dole…  Go on!  Kill them!  Kill them all!…”

The French immediately rushed on the houses, breaking down doors and windows, and the Prince gave the signal for the massacre by slicing off a woman’s head with a blow from an axe.

Immediately, the attack began.  Never had such butchery ever been seen before.  For four hours, they killed, they raped, they eviscerated, they exploded heads with blows from hammers.  Entire families died by the sword, others were burnt alive in the cellars – one of which would be called Cellar of Hell…  There were cadavers everywhere.  The soldiers were trampling around in blood, in bowels and the debris of brains…

Around ten o’clock, the most ferocious of them, the cruellest, began to tire of killing.  But Charles d’Amboise, Charles the Satanical, whose armour was red with blood, urged them on.  His eyes protruding from their sockets, foaming at the mouth, he was screeching :  “Kill, kill!…”

And the butchery continued.  When they had no more swords, they slit throats, stabbed, crushed heads, strangled.  Soon, there was no-one left to exterminate.

Then Charles d’Amboise attacked the cadavers.  As there was no-one alive, he cut off the heads of the dead;  and this appalling work amused him.  He roared with laughter, crying out:  “Look at them, these earthworms!”

While he was busy with his twentieth decapitated body, a soldier came to inform him that a group of Dolois had taken refuge inside a house.  He straightened up, an ugly expression on his face, and was about to rush over there when he changed his mind:

“Leave them there to breed!  They’ll give us some little ones that we’ll take pleasure in coming to kill in ten or fifteen years!…”

***

On the following day and those that followed, Charles d’Amboise, obsessed with murder (his contemporaries would say “possessed by the Angel of Evil”), would continue to burn villages, rape and kill the unfortunate Comtois by hundreds.  Throughout the whole Spring of 1479, and throughout the whole Summer and throughout the whole Autumn, untiringly he would kill “with a wolf’s smile”.

Winter brought him back to the side of Louis XI who would make him his Counsellor and the Governor of Bourgogne.  But, as soon as the good weather returned in 1480, he left again, sword in hand, hungry for cadavers and thirsty for blood.

Seeing him pass with his green eyes too shiny, his triangular face and his long, slim hands, the people say:  “It’s the Devil!…”

After the appalling massacres led by Charles d’Amboise in Dole and the whole of Burgundy, he was suddenly struck down, at Tours, with a mysterious illness which made him let out “inhuman cries”.

At the end of the year, he decides to go to his castle of Chaumont-sur-Loire to organize a feast there.  But at Tours, he is suddenly struck down by illness.  Transported to a nearby manor, he retires to bed, a fetid perspiration flowing from him, and soon begins to let out horrible cries…  The doctors hurry to his side and want to examine him.  He swears at them and continues to roar with pain.  He jumps and leaps on his bed.  A witness tells us that

“He twists as if he were the prey of flames.”

Finally, he enters into agony.  An agony so strange, so unnatural, that the people who approach him do not stop making the sign of the cross.  However, these gestures seem, not only to terrify him, but to make him suffer.  He emits appalling, inhuman cries which remind them sometimes of horses, sometimes of the cries of a pig being slaughtered.

After which, he roars blasphemous words, insults God, swears at the saints, says outrageous things about the Virgin and curses the Pope, to the consternation of those present.  It is then seriously thought that he is possessed by a demon.  Monks come to exorcise him.  He rudely pushes them away, spits in their faces and pronounces so many sacrilegious words that the unfortunate monks flee, appalled…

Finally, on 14 February 1481, after an attack of convulsions which almost throw him from his bed, Charles d’Amboise dies.  He has on his face an expression so revolting that no-one accepts to stay with his cadaver.

Three days later, they go to bury him.  For this considerably important person who is the King’s intimate Counsellor, Governor General of Ile-de-France, Champagne and Bourgogne, that is to say one of the highest dignitaries in the kingdom, a solemn funeral is held in the Church of the Cordeliers d’Amboise.  There are present, under a dais, the Bishop d’Albi, the dead man’s brother, princes, mitred abbots and penitents in hoods.

At the altar, a Cordelier says the Mass for the Dead.

But suddenly, at the moment of consecration, this monk begins to gesticulate.  Those present, astounded, see him wave his arms as if he is pushing away something or someone invisible.  Several times, he descends and climbs the steps, stumbling.  Then he stops, with his back to the tabernacle, looking terrified.  At this moment – he would later say – a voice that he is the only one to hear clamours in his ear:

“Stop, Priest, stop!  Your mass is useless!  It has no meaning!  Laughable!…  This damned man is already with me, body and soul…  Why bother blessing an empty coffin!…  For this coffin is empty!…  Empty!”

The poor Cordelier, just for an instant, believes that he can see before him a grimacing person.  Trembling, livid, he makes the sign of the cross, descends the altar steps, walks towards the catafalque and cries out:  “Open this coffin!…”

The Bishop d’Albi rises and asks for an explanation.  The Cordelier repeats:

“Open this coffin!  I will only continue to say this Mass after being certain that the body of Lord d’Amboise is really there…”

Then, the guards remove the mortuary sheet and open the coffin.

Those present let out a cry:  it is empty!

Immediately, princes, bishops, mitred priests, monks, penitents and ordinary people, panicked, run towards the door and flee.

And never was the body of Charles d’Amboise ever found…

***

This story can be found in many works, and notably in a book by the Prince de Broglie, La Tragique Histoire du chateau de Chaumont.  The Prince de Broglie was the last inhabitant of the Chateau de Chaumont.  That is to say the descendant – a distant one, but a descendant anyway – of Charles d’Amboise…

There has never been any explanation.  His body was never found.

The first idea which springs to mind, is that someone removed it.  But who?…  And why?…  Louis XI?…  Upon learning of it, he had an attack of apoplexy.  And then, he was too superstitious to commit this sort of action.  Having people hanged and profaning a coffin are two different things…  No, it could not have been Louis XI.  So who?  A member of the Amboise Family?…  For what reason?  There remains – and this is the opinion of a few Historians – the hypothesis of the body being kidnapped by Charles d’Amboise’s enemies, whether they were parents of the unfortunate inhabitants of Dole, or of lords despoiled by Louis XI’s Counsellor.

This could have been done so that Charles d’Amboise would be damned by preventing him from benefiting from:  (1) the religious ceremony called absolution;  (2) a burial in holy ground…

***

The thing that remains inexplicable is that the Cordelier asked that the coffin be opened, for it is very certain that, if the body had been removed by Charles d’Amboise’s enemies, these people did not go to the monk to tell him about it…  even in Confession!…  But there is another hypothesis.  It could be supposed that someone, who had had knowledge of the kidnapper’s secret, hid behind the altar and spoke to the Cordelier monk.  Who, troubled and appalled, thought to have had a vision…  But this is only an hypothesis…

So, the conclusion is an enormous question mark…

***

During Charles d’Amboise’s funeral service, a Cordelier monk suddenly asked for the coffin to be opened. It was and everyone present screamed in terror: the coffin was empty. His body was never found.

I didn’t write anything last week.  I was involved in a few personal problems and was not able to spend as much time as usual on WordPress.  So, firstly, my apologies to all of the people whose blogs I usually visit but didn’t.

I’m back again this week – obviously – and here is the link to Madison’s page:

http://madison-woods.com/index-of-stories/untitled-071312/

If you click onto the little blue creature underneath the story, it will take you to a list of more 100-word stories.

Here are the photo prompt and my 100-word story:

It comes every night.  It starts with the black handles on the white wardrobe closing in on me until they’re about to crush me.  Then they move far away, and the room is enormous and I feel so small.  Then the handles come back again, and it keeps going until the dream starts.

The dream itself is terrifying.  I don’t know why.  Nothing happens in it.  But I’m terrified while I’m dreaming it.

There’s this tree.  It looks dead.  Then a buzzard comes and sits on it.  It just sits.  It doesn’t do anything…

Doctor?…  Doctor!…  Oh, my God!…  He’s dead!



Don Allan is a well-loved columnist in Canberra and writes his column for The Chronicle. He has had censorship problems in the past, but this time, his column didn’t appear at all. I have re-blogged the missing article on my political blog (sadly neglected recently) called Smudges, Blots and Stains (http://mkdennis.wordpress.com).  I have tried to post a link directly to his article on his website but WordPress keeps attaching it to my blog so obviously it doesn’t work.  The name of the article is “The Zo Fable” and its date of publication on Don’s blog “Allan Takes Aim” is 2012/07/11.  You can get to his blog by scrolling down to my Blogroll and clicking on Allan Takes Aim.  I apologize, but it’s the best I can do.

Allan Takes Aim Blog

Because they could not find my column in this week’s Chronicle many people from Canberra and surrounding areas sent me an e-mail wishing me good health in case I had caught the dreadful new strain of flu currently laying many people low.

Thanks to all for your best wishes but let me assure you I am well and looking forward to posting a new column in next week’s Chronicle.

And let me say the same thanks to my overseas correspondents.

At the same time let me assure you also that you haven’t missed anything because I have since posted the missing column “The ZO Fable” to my website.

Regards to all,
Don

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Presence

Today, I have decided to post a poem that I wrote in 2004.  It was originally in French and came third in a competition whose theme was “friendship”.  I subsequently translated it into English and re-worked it a bit.  The second version was published in an anthology in the United States of America in 2006.

I have typed the French version, printed it, added the accents, scanned it and inserted it below.  The English version is underneath the French one.

Its French title was “La Consolatrice”.  I have changed the title in English.

I prefer the French version of this poem because it is more sensual and suits the subject better.

The English version was baptized a “prose-poem” by an American expert.  It was the first time that I had ever heard of this style of poetry.

***

Presence

***

Sleek, supple, black coat shining,

She steps gracefully across the Chinese rug,

Skirts a floor-cushion, then pauses near the sofa,

Her green eyes anxious, questioning.

***

The seated man holds an opened letter in his left hand.

His stunned gaze travels around the sun-drenched room,

Seeking something … or someone.

She can feel his suffering.  It worries her.

***

Spicy perfume, from yellow roses on the coffee table,

Tickles her nose.  She sneezes.

The man extends an approximate hand.

She moves closer, meeting his caress.

***

The man speaks.  She doesn’t understand the words

But leaps lightly onto his lap.  He takes her in his arms,

Lays his cheek against her velvet head.

A salty drop, landing on her tiny nose, startles her.

She tastes it, then snuggles down and starts to purr.

***

Heather, aged 15, with her 13 year old sister.

Auntie Heather was born on 6 October 1918.  Her mother and father, my grandparents, had been courting for six years when they finally married on 5 January 1918.  This was because Pa (short for Papa, later for Grandpa) refused to marry while the other men were away at war.

Grandma had very nearly stood him up on their first “appointment” as she called their dates.  She had confided to a work colleague that she wasn’t really attracted to him and thought that she wouldn’t go.  Her colleague had encouraged her to meet him, saying “You never know, you might like him.”  Much later, she had confessed this hesitation to her husband, who had replied, “I knew where you lived!”

During the First World War, Australia’s soldiers were all volunteers.  Pa had volunteered but, although he passed muster on height and chest measurement, his request had been refused.  He wouldn’t say why.  Later, when the War dragged on and thousands of men were being killed or wounded, height and chest measurements were lowered and Pa thought that he might be accepted this time.  He was refused for the second time.  Grandma used to say that men who had volunteered and been refused should have been given some sort of badge to wear so that they didn’t receive dirty looks from passers-by in the street.  Pa played sport and looked like a strapping young man who just didn’t want to go to war.  After his death, Grandma found his application papers with CARDIAC written across them in red.

Heather at the beach.

So Grandma, who, at the age of sixteen had refused her first offer of marriage, finally had to wait until she was twenty-nine before being able to tie the knot.  Pa was thirty-five.

Their first child was born nine months and one day after the wedding, at home with the assistance of a midwife.  Grandma’s pregnancy had been a bit rough and so had the birth, but mother and daughter were doing well, even if both were very tired after the ordeal.  Grandma managed to say to the midwife, “I just saved my good name!”  To which the midwife snapped, “You would have saved your good name if she had been born three weeks ago!”

While Grandma was still weak, one of her husband’s aunts paid her a visit and enquired about the baby’s name.  Grandma replied that she was to be christened “Brenda”.  The aunt exclaimed, “Brenda!  Brenda!  Brindle!  Brindle cow!  If you call her Brenda, I’ll call her ‘Cowie'”  So Grandma, in her weakened state, agreed to change the name, and my aunt was named Heather Catherine.  Relatives sent white heather to her from Scotland the Brave.

Heather with her future husband.

When Grandma had recovered sufficiently to go for a walk with her baby in the perambulator (later shortened to “pram”) “an old biddy up the street” (Grandma’s words)  admired the little one, then proceeded to say insinuatingly, “My daughter had her baby one year after her wedding!”  Grandma rose to her full height of five feet two inches and replied icily, “Well, my daughter was born nine months and one day after my wedding!”  Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

The little girl had her mother’s blonde hair and blue eyes but her features were those of her father.  Later, a dark-haired hazel-green eyed sister came along and Pa, who would have loved to have fathered a son, refused to allow Grandma to risk her life a third time to try to have a boy.

Heather with her father and mother on her wedding day.

The girls grew up in a two-bedroom brick house, with a dog and an enormous aviary in the backyard.  The birds were Pa’s but the dog was everyone’s.  She was a black Pomeranian who loved to taunt the biggest dogs she could find on her walks, then, when chased by them, leap into Grandma’s arms and let her deal with them.  Grandma was not amused by this.  She wasn’t afraid of dogs, but an angry German Shepherd, still being insulted by the black curly bundle in her arms, was not a reassuring encounter.

The girls shared a bedroom and this arrangement displayed its limitations when the younger of the two went into a depression (known as a nervous breakdown then) and piled all the blame for her state on her sister Heather, who was twenty years old at the time.  Not only did young Heather have to assume the burden of her mentally ill sister at this time, the antagonism lasted for the rest of their lives.  Her sister continued to systematically blame her for everything that had gone wrong with her life and eventually stopped talking to her.  At the same time she did everything that she could to try to turn the rest of the family against her.  Fortunately, not always successfully.  Auntie Heather maintained a dignified silence through it all.

The family (left to right) Heather’s sister (my mother), me at 14, Grandma, Heather’s husband, her daughter at 10, and Heather.

Despite these problems, which hadn’t yet reached complete maturity when I was born, Auntie Heather became one of my godmothers.  She was consulted, including by her sister, my mother, for questions concerning the correct way to dress for a particular event.  The sisters even collaborated as a medical first-aid team during the Second World War.  Auntie Heather always knew what the text-book said to do and my mother always knew how to do it.  Things didn’t go as well when they tried to reverse the roles.  The whole family was on first-aid alert duty on the night that the Japanese attacked Sydney Harbour.  The siren was at the end of the street, a few houses away.  On the bus, on their way to work the next morning, the girls thought that people were joking when they heard them talking about the attack and the siren going off.  They had slept through the whole thing and could have been fined for it.

Same people, different places. We’re all a bit older.

Auntie Heather was the matriarch of the family.  She outlived her parents, her younger sister, her husband (a high-ranking Free Mason) and her only child, my cousin.  She died last Friday, 29 June, and will be cremated tomorrow, 4 July 2012, in Sydney.

She is survived by her four grandchildren and her son-in-law, but I am the only one left who knew her when she was a young woman.  Which is why I have written this.  All of the people in these photos, except for me, are now deceased.

Several times in the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries, navigators in Martinique declared having seen a merman who came out of the water to observe them.

If we study the first beliefs of men, we notice that all of the people who live by the sea have in common the myth of an ancient man coming out of the sea to educate them.  It is the Vinak-Car (the fish-man) of the Guatemalas.  It is the Cuculkan of the Mayas.  It is Manco-Capac for the Incas and it is Quetzalcoatl who comes out of the Gulf of Mexico.  On the Celtic coasts, it is Hue-Gadarn.  In India, it is Parascharya.  And must we recall the Neptune of the Greeks, and the Venus of Hesiode, who appeared in the waves?

Of course, these are all legends.  But what if the legends were really memories?

Two great astronomers, Shklovski and Paul Sagan, have seriously asked themselves questions on the legend of the Akpallus, and they wondered if it does not speak of beings who came from somewhere else, in the early days of humanity, to “launch” civilization on Earth.

The Akpallus are creatures who came from the sea and are remembered by the first Sumerian civilization.  Our History begins in Sumeria.

The famous astronomer Sagan gives the following hypothesis:  extra-terrestrial visitors, in space-suits, based on a space ship which landed on the sea, came to bring to men the rudiments of knowledge.  They appeared on the coast of Sumeria.  Hence the legend of the Akpallus, who were creatures that were half-man half-fish (the helmet which imitates a fish head, the breathing apparatus which represents a tail).  The sign of Pisces, which would unite the “initiates” of the Near-East, could be connected to this fabulous memory.

***

In the XVIIth Century, a merman belonging to Genoa sailors who claimed to have captured him in the Aegean Sea, was shown in different European cities. But it was perhaps a clever trick…

We could do away with the hypothesis of the Extra-Terrestrials and consider that the men, on the coast of Sumeria, really saw fish-men, whom they took for gods.

***

This is the oldest legend of Western Humanity.  Or rather, it is the oldest document.  Berose, who was a priest in Babylon at the time of Alexander the Great, is supposed to have had access to cuneiform and pictorial testimonies several thousands of years old.  And he has left us an account of the earliest times.  During the “first year” (that is to say, the first cycle), an animal “endowed with reason”, called Oannes, is supposed to have come out of the sea, coming from the Persian Gulf.  Its body was that of a fish and a man at the same time.  This creature taught men.  At sunset, Oannes dived back into the sea, spending the night “in the deep”.  For it was an “amphibian” creature.  After that, there were several generations of similar creatures:  the Akpallus.

As we can see, all of the religions of the maritime peoples have their origin in the apparition of beings resembling humans, emerging from the sea.

***

Life has perhaps appeared, developed and disappeared several times on Earth.  And the idea of a first humanity living in the oceans should be considered.  In this case, the “men of the seas” who were sometimes found, in former centuries, would be the degenerated remains of the first humanity.  The leftovers of a first extinct evolution…

***

For all of the children who have read Hans Christian Andersen, there is no doubt about the existence of mermaids…

The question that Benoit de Maillet asked himself in the XVIIIth Century was “Could there be creatures of human form in the sea?”  He dreamed a lot about the Botal Hole.

This is the path of our Naturalist’s reflection.  The child, inside its mother’s womb, breathes through two openings which correspond with four vessels, through which the blood coming from the heart is able to circulate without entering the lungs.  One of these openings is called the Botal Hole;  the other is the arterial canal.  The child lives like this, in the liquid environment of its mother’s womb.  At the moment of birth, air enters for the first time into his lungs where blood begins to circulate.  And the Botal Hole closes.  Benoit de Maillet concludes that, for some beings, the Botal Hole does not close completely.  They can therefore lead an amphibian existence.

Buffon pursued research in this direction.  He cites several experiments performed on little puppies, that he obliged to be born in a tub of lukewarm water.  He left them there for half an hour.  He removed them for the same length of time.  He put them back.  Going alternatively from water to air, the little dogs, Buffon tells us, were breathing perfectly in each element.  So Buffon concludes:

“It would perhaps be possible, while being careful about it, to prevent the Botal Hole from closing in this way and to create, by this method, excellent divers and amphibious species of animals who could live equally well in either air or water.”

***

As for mermaids, many illustrious men have studied the problem of monsters.  Ambroise Pare said:

“It should not be doubted that, just as we can see several monsters in diverse ways on land, in the same way there are also strange sorts in the sea.  Some are men from the waist right to the top, called Mermen;  others are women and are called Mermaids.”

Nearer to our time, the admirable Michelet, in his book La Mer, consecrates a chapter to Mermaids.  He asks:

“If these beings really existed, why were they so rare?”

Then answers:

“Alas, we don’t have to look far for the answer:  it is that they were generally killed.  It was a sin to let them live, for they were monsters…”

Perhaps the last Mermaids, the last Mermen, vestiges of an adventure of Life which aborted, did not survive longer than the XVIth and XVIIth Centuries, an epoch still rich in marvels and prodigies of Nature.  Perhaps there is still a small number of them in the oceans, hiding in distant abysses, forever far from humans, definitively afraid of our turbulent growth…

***

From Antiquity to the XVIIIth Century, men believed in the existence of mermaids. Sailors even gave very detailed descriptions of them.

Pliny, in Chapter Nine of his Natural History, writes:

“A deputation from Lisbon was sent to Emperor Tiberius to announce to him that a Triton had been seen and heard in a cavern.  Nereids have been seen on this same coast.  One of them was dying.  Her moans were heard from afar by the inhabitants.  The Legate from Gaul wrote to Emperor Augustus that several dead Nereids were to be seen on the coast.  I can cite witnesses (who occupy a high rank in the Equestrian Order) and who have certified to me having seen in the Cadiz ocean a man of the seas, of a conformation perfectly identical to ours.  During the night, this man of the seas boarded the ships!”

The Naturalist Rondelet, who professes in the XVIth Century in Montpellier, writes in his Histoire des Poissons:

“There was taken in Norway a marine monster after a great torment.  All those who saw it gave it the name of Monk, for it had a human face, but rustic and not very gracious, the head shaven, and a sort of monk’s hood on its shoulders.  The extremity of the body ended in a wide tail.”

And Rondelet continues:

“The poets say that there are Nereids (that is to say a feminine being, of human form, which lives in the sea).  Pliny considers that this is not a fable.  Some were seen on the beaches in former times.  Their complaints were heard.  Some were seen in Pomerania, with a beautiful woman’s face.  I have heard it said that a Spanish mariner held one in his ship, but that one day she escaped, threw herself into the sea and appeared no more.”

It can be read in The Great Chronicle of the Netherlands that in 1433, off the coast of Poland, a marine man, with palmed feet and hands, who let himself be touched by everybody, was fished.  He does not speak, but he seems to understand very well.

In the XVIth Century, navigators brought several mermaids to the King of Portugal who managed to keep them alive for a few years. He showed them to his friends and tried in vain to teach them to speak.

The King of Poland has him locked up in a tower.  But the man of the seas goes into such a depression that it is thought that he will die from it.  He is taken back to the shore, where a great crowd is assembled.  He waves goodbye, plunges and disappears forever.

Father Bonhour, a French Jesuit of the Renaissance, writes:

“Mermaids, of whom the poets speak, are not just inventions.  They have been seen in diverse countries.  Philip, Archduke of Austria, brought one with him to Genes, in 1548.  Another appeared on a beach of Holland at the beginning of the century.”

But it is to the Naturalist Benoit de Maillet, a precursor of Darwin, and who is the first to maintain, in the XVIIIth Century, the thesis of transformism, that we owe the most abundant documentation on the men of the seas.  Benoit de Maillet was Consulate of France in Egypt and Inspector of French Establishments in the Levant.  He made numerous maritime observations which he consigned in his work Entretiens sur l’origine de l’homme (1748).  For him, the origin of Man is in the oceans.  Voltaire, who makes jokes of everything, derides him.  But the collection of testimonies taken from the chronicles of Portugal by Benoit de Maillet demand our attention.

The King of Portugal in the XVIth Century, Manuel, nicknamed the Great or the Fortunate, is having a glorious reign.  Vasco da Gama opens the route to the Indies.  Brazil is conquered.  The Court of Manuel is grandiose, enriched by the treasures of Africa and Asia.  But never is a more surprising gift made to King Manuel than the one mentioned in History of Portugal and Relations of the East Indies:

“A fishing net, thrown at the point of India, brought in fifteen men of the seas which were immediately sent to the Lisbon Court.  Thirteen died during the voyage.  The only ones to survive were a woman and a young girl.  They came to King Manuel who never grew tired of admiring them.  The Oceanides appearing very sad, the King had them lowered into a shallow place in the sea, bearing light chains which prevented them from escaping.  And the Court, aboard boats, were able to watch their evolutions.  These creatures lived for a few years during which, each day, they were taken to the sea.  But they were never able to learn to speak.”

Here now is something taken from The Great Chronicle of the Netherlands:

“Today, six men who had gone by boat to the Diamond Islands were preparing to return home.  It was sunset.  At the edge of the island, they noticed a marine monster.  This monster had a human face and its body ended like a fish.  He had black and grey hair, a long beard, and the stomach covered in hairs.  He had a ferocious air.  When he emerged, he wiped his face with two hands while sniffing like a dog.  He approached so closely that one of the men threw a line to him to see if he would catch it.  But the man of the seas dived once more and no-one saw him again.”

This report from the captain commanding the Diamond Quarters in Martinique was received by Pierre de Beville, Notary of the Quarters of the Maritime Company, in the presence of the Jesuit Father Julien Simon.  It contained as well “the separate and unanimous statements of two other Frenchmen and four Negroes”.

Mermaids and other marine monsters as they are shown in the XVIIth Century work “Physica curiosa” by G. Schott.

Here is something else, which occurs in 1746 and is reported to us by Sieur Le Masson, employed by the Marine:

“A sentinel making his round at night on the walls of Boulogne noticed a man gesticulating in the moat.  He hailed him without receiving a reply.  At the third summation, the sentinel fired.  When the cadaver was recovered, it was  noticed that it was that of a man of the seas whom the tide had left in the moat.  The inferior part of the body had the form of a fish.”

On 8 September 1725, Monsieur d’Hautefort sends to Count de Maurepas, Minister of Louis XIV, the following sworn account:

“Seven ships had dropped anchor on the  Banks of Newfoundland, when, around ten o’clock in the morning, a man of the seas appeared on the port side of the French ship Marie-de-Grace, captained by Captain Olivier Morin.  He firstly showed himself under the barrel of the Foreman Guillaume L’Aumone.  Immediately, the Foreman took a boathook, but the Captain stopped him, fearing that the monster would drag him down with him.  For this reason, the Foreman only gave him a blow on the back, without stabbing him.  The marine man circled the ship several times, went away, came back, raised himself out of the water as far as his navel.  This all lasted from ten o’clock in the morning to midday, and the monster was seen for all this time by the thirty-two men of the crew.  They were all able to notice the following particularities:  the brown and dark skin, without scales.  All the movements of the body, from the head down to the feet (visible in the transparent water), were those of a normal man.  The eyes were well proportioned, the nose wide and flat, the teeth white, the ears similar to those of a man, the feet and hands the same, except that the fingers were joined by a film, like those that exist on the feet of geese and ducks.  To resume, it was a man’s body as well made as those that one sees ordinarily…  Around noon, the singular creature went away from the ship, dived deeply, and no-one saw it again.”

***

To be continued.

It’s Friday again, and 100-word fiction time.  The link to Madison’s page for her story is here:

http://madison-woods.com/flash-fiction/forbidden-100-words/

All of the other stories can be found by clicking onto the number next to the funny little blue creature at the bottom of this post.

The picture and my story are here:

“Ouch!  Mu-um!”

“Come along, Moira!  Keep up!”

“I can’t!  They keep grabbing me!”

“What keep grabbing you?”

“The brambles!”

Jennifer sighed.  Teenagers!

“Just rip yourself free!  They’re old clothes!”

“I’ve tried!  I’m stuck!  And it hurts!”

“Well, stay there!  If you can’t get out of a bramble bush, you deserve to spend the night in the woods!”

“You’re not going to leave me here?  Mu-um!  Come back!  I swear, it won’t let go!  Mu-um!”

Five minutes, Jennifer thought, picking and eating a ripe raspberry, oblivious to the watching predator.

She died quickly.  Now, he could take his time with the girl.

The holy phial – part 2

Legend has it that, during Clovis’ baptism, a dove from Heaven brought a phial containing holy oil.

Such a surprising story has obviously met with some scepticism from Historians, and even from people of the Church…  Some Benedictins, like Dom Mabillon, some Jesuits, like Father Jacques Longueval, some Bollandist Fathers, etc., have, over the centuries, delivered severe criticism of Hincmar’s text and have quite simply declared that it is only a legend…

All of these good ecclesiastics refuse to believe in the miraculous apparition of the holy phial.  And their objections have been taken up by the Historian Leber who lived in the XIXth Century.  He very curiously begins by refuting this story, not for “cartesian” reasons, but for material ones.

He doesn’t say:  “I don’t believe it because a dove can’t come from the sky with a phial in its beak.”  He says:  “I don’t believe it because there must certainly have been enough oil to proceed with the baptism…”  Here is his text:

“It is said that at the moment of baptizing Clovis, the holy oil not being there, Heaven deigned to supply it by sending a phial filled with a divine liqueur whose perfume filled the whole church.

“This fact does not have a believable character.  It is difficult to believe that the oil which was supposed to serve for the baptism of a monarch had not been prepared or brought ahead of time into the sanctuary, or that there was not enough of it to accomplish the ceremony.  As no-one was counting on a prodigy, the necessary precautions must have been taken.  The oil must have been prepared, not only for the King, but for six thousand subjects who were baptized with him;  or, according to Gregoire, three thousand soldiers and more, not counting the women and children.  The negligence that is supposed here cannot be conceived.  The fact is not likely in itself.”

***

During the coronation of French Kings (here, Louis XVI), the holy phial was brought in great ceremony to Reims by members of the Order entrusted with its safekeeping.

There is another fact that troubles the Historians quite a lot:  none of the chroniclers who were contemporary to the prodigy mention it:  neither Gregoire de Tours, who recounts the baptism of Clovis however, nor Fredegaire, his continuator, nor Bishop Avitus, nor even Saint Remi in his testament…

Saint Remi only writes:

“Deus…  plurima signa ad salutem praefatae gentis Francorum operari facit!”

That is to say that some prodigies were done by God for the conversion of the Francs…  Some authors have concluded rather hastily that by “prodigy”, we must understand “holy phial”…  Which is known as “soliciting a text”…  In fact, the more rigorous Historians consider that this sentence of Saint Remi is extremely vague and that we do not have the right to see in it any allusion to the holy phial.  On top of which, if this prodigious event happened during Clovis’ baptism, a dazzled Saint Remi would not have just made a vague allusion to “prodigies”;  he would have related the fact in all its details…

***

In fact, the first chronicler to really speak of the holy phial is Hincmar, Archbishop of Reims, who wrote in the IXth Century, that is to say four hundred years after the event…  He claims to have taken his information from ancient chronicles.  Which ones?  He doesn’t say.  Therefore, Hincmar has been accused of completely inventing the story of the dove.  However, a few researchers have discovered that the story of the holy phial was known before Hincmar spoke of it, and that it belonged, in the form of a legend, to Reims folklore.

***

The reconstituted holy phial was used for the last time on 29 May 1825 during the coronation of Charles X. Since then, it is part of the treasure of the Reims Cathedral.

The genesis of it has been reconstituted.  Clovis’ baptism having been the most important event in the History of the christianization of Frankish Gaul, it could be thought that fairly early – around the VIth or VIIth Century – the Reims priests must have shown to pilgrims the phial used by Saint Remi.  This phial, authentic or false, it doesn’t matter, was considered a relic.  And we know that sacred objects were frequently conserved in recipients in the form of a dove which were suspended inside the churches, above the altar…  As well as that, on the drawings, the fresques, the mosaics which represent a ceremony of baptism, there is often a dove – the Holy Ghost – which descends onto the head of the new Christian…  It was enough for the good people to see this reliquary in the form of a dove holding a phial in its beak, and a mosaic showing Clovis’ baptism, for the mixture to give birth to a legend…  A legend which the good Hincmar, in good faith, reported to us…

***

And for over one thousand years, he was believed.  He made a mistake, but we must however recognize that it was a great idea.  An idea which was used for the first time in 869, during the Coronation of Charles the Bald, and which consisted in using Clovis’ balm for the unction of the Kings of France…  By this find, not only did he serve the interests of the city of which he was the Pastor (the Archbishops of Reims became in this way the consecrators of their sovereigns), but he made the Kings of France the only monarchs made sacred by the use of an oil from Heaven, which placed them above all of the Kings of Christendom.

This is how a marvellous story, born of a legend, was able to give, for around one thousand years, to forty Kings, the power and the prestige which was necessary for them to make France…

***

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