13 May 2011

Bare Planks and Green Silk

A short account by Bettina Schinas of a visit to Petrobey Mavromichalis, with appreciation to Brigitte Eckert for her translation.
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 12 November 1834, morning .

As D. Ipsilanti was called only ‘Prince’ in Greece, naturally meaning him and no other person,so the old Mavromichalis, well-known even abroad, is named just by the Turkish ‘prince’ = Bey. He first came to us, missed us, S. visited him and found him in bed suffering podagra (gout) but promising a visit as soon as he would be able to walk. So I went Sunday with S. to see him as I had wished very much. 
After we knocked with an iron knocker a woman dressed in Greek style opened the door -- a red fez with braids, an overskirt open in front  and closely fitting at the back, some folds at the sides, short half-open hanging sleeves, a skirt and jacket with sleeves which let the white shirtsleeves hang out in folds. The jacket just reaching under the breast and very close at the sides so the shirt which is closed to the throat is all visible in front. 

We stepped into a courtyard, not big, little chambers made of irregular rough planks attached to the sides, walked on planks deeper into the court under a simple porch straight, then left, to get into the room which lies to the rear of the building. Walls, ceiling, floor covered by planks, the single wall with windows and another one plainly whitewashed, the door in the right corner, left of it cupboards in the wooden wall, upon them, close to the ceiling, some icons put up.  At the right side wall a few wooden chairs, a small door if I am not wrong, a big suitcase with a Persian carpet and some pillows as a couch, at the end a small lopsided window, maybe a cubit high. In the wall facing the entrance a few little windows, over them a long board along the wall, as at the other walls, carrying books etc., under it a long Turkish divan made from wooden stands, planks and a mattress on them, topped by Persian carpets and cotton clothes reaching to the floor, along the wall rich cushions covered by Turkish clothes, smooth, with velvety arabesque patterns. 

At the 4th wall next to the divan the bed was standing, at foot sitting the Eparch (provincial governor), a priest and another man eating lunch   at rough wooden table . The bed was extremely clean, the Bey completely dressed, wearing  a beautiful green silk fur[-lined robe] and a red fez was sitting in it with a heavy silk cover up to his knees. A beautiful old face but still looking young -- strong, fresh without wrinkles. Beautiful lively eyes with an expression of infinite kindness and goodwill, so mild and so good. You can see the pictures of most of the people I am writing about in Berlin as copper engravings, do so to be able to share my experiences better than only from my descriptions.

The venerable man was very surprised to see me coming in. S. told him that I had wished so much to meet him so I would pay a visit to his sickroom. He pressed my hands very warmly and kindly.  I sat down close to his bed, observing while he spoke to keep his features in my mind. He too watched me with an expression of joy, S. had to translate for us. The Bey made me report how I liked Greece and how I decided to live so far away from home, which relatives I left back home etc. Finally he asked looking very intently if I ever heard his name in my country, if this old man is known there? 

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Previous letters from Bettina Schinas:

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