30 November 2010

I Wish I Could Have Enjoyed it With You

Bettina Schinas née von Savigny

Brigitte Eckert has contributed a section from her translation of Bettina Schinas' letters from Greece in 1834-1835.  Bettina was the daughter of Friedrich Carl von Savigny (1779-1861), prof. of Roman Law at the Berlin University and one of the developers of the new (Humboldt) university, and Gunda Brentano, from the Brentano family. She married one of her father's students, Konstantinos Schinas, who later became, among other things, the first director of the Athens university. Bettina went with her husband to Nauplion in 1834, where they lived in a house at Ag. Giorgios, and then moved with the government to Athens in 1835.  She wrote almost daily letters to her family, telling about the mud, the cost of food, the problems of finding medical care, poor mad Staikopoulos in Palamidi, the stress every evening of having to get in or out of the city before the gates were closed.  From Athens, she wrote about the difficulties in finding adequate housing, the smell of the dead in the ruins, the gossip at Otto's courts, and much much more.

Bettina Schinas arrived in Nauplion on 9 October 1834.  She died in Athens on 24 August 1835.  Her Schinas letters were published in Germany, edited by Ruth Steffen. Brigitte Ekert is preparing an English translation from the manuscripts which are kept in Muenster.  Future entries here will have more contributions from Brigitte and Bettina.

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To her parents, May 7-18, 1835. Athens.
At 5 in the morning with S. [her husband] to Greiner, where the party gathered, having coffee there. She, Prokesch, is going to give birth soon so she doesn’t ride anymore, he, Greiner, went with her in the coach and me. On the box, young Mr. Beeg, a guitar at his neck. On horseback the daughter Greiner, the two oldest Armannspergs, Prokesch, S. and 8-10 young gentlemen. The weather was heavenly, everywhere people who were enjoying walks on the feast day of May 1st.  After half an hour we were at Ampelokipia, a place with many olive- and other trees, water and even laid-out gardens. Katakasi has bought there, building now a little garden house, next year a summer house. We rode on 1-2 hours,  though finding no path, and got out two times. Finally we reached Kephisia at about 10. We had a long walk and breafast at 1, walked again from 2 to half past 3, were back in Athens at 5. At 6 we all had lunch at Prokesch’s.  At half past 8 S. and I and the two Armannspergs went home in Prokesch’s coach. The excursion successful as possible, everyone was cheerful, the weather splendid not too hot nor too cold.

The village of Kephisia lies on a low hill in the middle of olive-trees which spread further along the sides. In between single poplars, big mulberry trees high up climbed by grapevines, figs, vines, gardens (not our kind, but vegetables, some flowers, grass with wild flowers, trees, vines.). The houses are ruins to a great extent. A big beautifully-vaulted mosque serves as stable to 4 cows, but without doors. We mounted the minaret by the steps outside. The view is celestial; one sees the gulf, the mountains around and the islands grouping splendidly. In front of the mosque is a small grass plot surrounded by a wall, a wide marble staircase leads down to a rather big place entirely shadowed by one of the biggest and most beautiful mulberry-trees I ever saw and a huge plane-tree which has a little square wall around its stem as a seat. At a corner of the place crystal water flows out of two little pipes, at Turkish times probably not as thin as a little thread.

Where ever one walks are springs, wells, flowing waters. At first we went through marsh, gardens, crossing creeks etc., where you would turn being conscious there’s no getting on; several times between two walls enclosing gardens with clear water flowing out of Turkish wells, watering the place as a brook as the old drain does not exist anymore, until it finds some way out. In these brooks we walked on top of prominent stones, led by the gentlemen who stepped into the water, sometimes waiting until they put stones or shrubs where we could not have gone further. I myself,  in rubber boots, was waterproof. We reached the well of nymphs, a square walled low place, the wall 3 feet built of marble slabs, open at the side where the water streams out as a creek of 2-3 feet and about the same depth. I don’t remember I ever saw a water so clear, the room was about 9 feet deep and each very little stone at the ground was surrounded all the way down by a colourful rainbow, which was refracted and multiplied amazingly often by circles in the water produced by swimming beetles; beautiful flowers grow at the borders of the creek and bend over it, on them innumerable golden beetles  and dragon-flies of manifold colours, the ground was covered by tendrils. All shadowed by olive-trees. Only the well with its marble wall in front of the trees in full sun.

We were there at about 12 without suffering the heat at all. Ruins of columns were liing about. The people still believe in the existence of Nereids. A woman had told one of the gentlemen who were with us: I had a daughter but the Nereids took her away. When she was 13 years old she went once to the mountains where many springs are and stayed away several days, came back, but sad and didn’t retrieve her peace of mind, again and again she had to go to the springs, we urged her, it didn’t help, her yearning was violent, it gnawed her until she finally died. All this happened because she had seen the Nereids. . .

An old water pipe crosses the main street on a wall 12-15 feet high, you pass it through a vaulted door opening. On the other side the path which leads to the mosque and plane-tree follows a long way this wall. I don’t know if the door has been surrounded by stalactites on purpose or if it was built by the waters, I think the latter because they happen to be at several places. The door is thick with jagged stalactites, on top of it grow little trees like the red acacia, covered by blossoms, ivy from an old stem twines around and grows through the wall which produces little fig-trees at some places. The bank of the brook is grown over with the most lovely flowers and the wall with flowers of all colours . . .

After breakfast we walked around the village through a shallow valley to a little hill on the other side. We sat in the shadow of an evergreen oak-tree which is now full of young leaves. On top of the highest branch sat a black headed golden-yellow bird which seemed to be pleased by the company because it was looking down and started to sing most lovely again and again. In front of us the shallow valley with it’s beautiful vegetation covering the hill of Kephisia around the houses, the village sitting prominently in the green, backwards we saw in the distance the mountains behind Argos; in the foreground the cut in the mountains where the way to Eleusis runs; on the left above the olive-trees near and distant mountains; on the right the sea, Salamis, Aigina etc., this all felt like a dream to me. I wish I could have enjoyed it with you.

 Copyright © Brigitte Eckert 2010

Ruth Steffen: Leben in Griechenland 1834–1835. Bettina Schinas, geb. von Savigny. Briefe und Berichte an ihre Eltern in Berlin. Verlag Cay Lienau, Münster 2002.   ISBN 3-934017-00-2.

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