Sunday, May 25, 2008
Music of our Love - Part 2
From where she stood, she could see a narrow room covered with mirrors. She entered the room and studied the dazzling turquoise blue tiles of the rectangular washbasin. The sun blazed through the cut glass window. She liked her reflection on the mirror. Masses of long curly red locks adorned her tear-streaked face. She had never seen hair the color of Princess Hafsa’s Perhaps she used a substance? Well, she would find out soon enough.
“Ah! There you are” said an attractive woman, with a pleasant voice emanating from a green robe. From around her neck dangled an enormous five-pointed star, encrusted in turquoise.
“I am … I was Tatiana, but today, I think my old name no longer suits me. For the time being, Laughing Golden Eyes will do.“ She bowed her head gracefully and slightly, without hauteur, but with just the right amount of respect. ”You must be Lady Maryam.”
“I am she, and Laughing Golden Eyes suits you. In Turkish, it is Hurrem, not that any one of us is really fluent in it.” She took Hurrem by the hand. ”We must hurry. I assume along with your many talents you are a good rider?”
“I have bested many young men,” she replied, letting herself be led away
Maryam mused and chuckled within her, ”I think she is going to be more than any of us wished for. Princess Hafsa is wise in the ways of the world, especially the men’s universe. Being a woman, she is on to every feminine trick, as well.”
She displayed several gauzy veils for her to inspect. “You are thirteen. It is an Islamic custom for girls of that age to cover their face and hair with the veil. You will wear it among men who are strangers, except in the presence of your Prince- Suleyman, the Princess Mother, the Chief Black Eunuch, your father, Brother Dominic and all the girls and women inside the harem.”
“You left someone out of that list, yourself,” said Laughing Golden Eyes.
It had been deliberate on Maryam’s part. She was interested in knowing just how well the young girl listened while others spoke and how sensitive she was to those around her.
“Of course we shall see each other often. I shall be one of your teachers. I didn’t mean to take myself off the list,” she said.
“I should like that very much.”
Covering her face with a veil did not seem an excessive sacrifice to her. So long as she was free to continue her pursuit of music and knowledge, a silk veil over her face was perfectly acceptable. “Put on a good face,” she remembered her father’s last words.
“This is the bond of Hurrem, I shall and I will wear the veil. I hope someday, to have veils as opulent as the Princess Mother’s.”
Maryam’s robe was a deep burgundy, so she chose a frothy dark green one. Maryam showed her where the clips were to attach them properly.
“Once your eyes have been lined with Kachol, (kajal) they will jump out and devour most anyone.”
There stood a chestnut-maned Arabian mare, with the prettiest almond eyes she had ever seen. She ran her hands down her velvet neck. There was a hand-tooled saddle on her.
“What’s her name?”
Maryam replied, getting into her own Arabian horse effortlessly.
“That’s entirely up to you.”
Hurrem hesitated. She noticed it and reassured her she should first get on the saddle, try it on for size, and proceed on their journey through the streets of Istanbul, to the Palace in Pera, by the Bosporus. She could be thinking of it as they rode.
Never one to waver, Hurrem asked ”What’s the word in Arabic for beautiful?
“There must be hundreds of adjectives to describe beautiful. Arabic is an even richer language than Latin, and that is saying a great deal,” replied Maryam.
“Just tell me please, a word you know.”
“Jamila, it is. Thank you.” replied Hurrem. ”Come Jamila, show me a gallop!”
A thousand thoughts ran over Hurrem’s mind, as she sat on a gilded chair, surrounded by musical instruments in silver.
“This will be your music room. You may play them as often and as late into the night as you wish … after you have done your lessons.”
These centered on a profound and daunting study of the Qur’an. She would commit all the shuras and hadiths of the Prophet Mohammed to memory. After she had mastered reading the Qur’an in Arabic, she could read the works of Ibn Batuta Ibn Khaldoun, and other names she could not remember just now.
The awe inspiring Arabic calligraphy was a must, as was Persian. In addition, to reading the works of the French Troubadours, she would take on Boccaccio, Petrarch and Dante, in the Tuscan dialect.
There would be endless court etiquette to learn. On top of all that, she had to learn Turkish, the language of the Turkic – Mongol tribe, the Othman – Ottoman, which had left the steppes of Central Asia a hundred years ago, to conquer all the Byzantine lands, especially Byzantium, now known as Turkey with its capital Istanbul (the former Constantinople).
“Listen carefully, Hurrem,” said the Princess Mother Hafsa.” Your most important duty will be as friend and companion to Prince Suleyman. Keep him amused, entertained, and charmed, play and sing together, ride together, and engage him in a duel at shahmat (chess). Do not let him win because you wish to please him. He’ll see through you and he’ll be disappointed. Challenge him enough so that he never loses his interest in you.”
“Never, never bed him nor allow him to kiss you or fondle you. Never show him your nakedness except that of your heart and mind. Remember, you are not his concubine. Your home is with me. You do not belong in the harem, although you are free to go into the harem as often as you wish and make friends with some of the odalisques. For the time being my motherly advice to you is to sty out of the harem.
Hurrem could smell the essence of pink roses on her skin. It wafted into her nostrils, intoxicating her. Her golden red hair was decorated with tiny scented white roses.
“These are all difficult tasks Princess Mother, but I shall endeavor to succeed.”
“I’m sure you will my dear child. I believe in your strong character and morality. Now let’s see…” she said gesturing jeweled hands and armlets towards a movable armoire of gilded wood. It was entirely hand decorated in blue colored bulbuls-nightingales. Three giggling slave girls glided it on wheels and stopped in front of Princess Mother. They slid the armoire open with graceful gestures.
“Let’s see,” she repeated, “what ensemble would you like to wear?”
“I would like to try the white robe embroidered in silver thread,” she glanced at the Princess Mother to gauge her reaction.
“A wise choice,” she replied, ”White symbolizes light.”
“And purity Princess Mother Hafsa,” she murmured.
“I am certain that the colors will not be lost on Suleyman,” reflected Princess Hamsa.
“Have you seen first blood yet?”
“Oh no. It will come when I’m ready,” she smiled, showing off her three dimples, one on each cheek and another one on her chin.
“The slave girls are your dressers and assistants. Be kind and patient with them. I do not tolerate mistreatment of any sort, not even rudeness. Ah, here’s Lady Maryam, my best friend.”
Both young women hugged affectionately. Princess Hamsa spoke to Hurrem.
“You remember her this morning at my house near the slave merchants?” Tatiana nodded. “She may have informed you that she will be your teacher and confidante. I am now confirming it,” said Princess Hamsa.
“I think the Lady Maryam will be an inspiring teacher,” replied Laughing Golden Eyes.
Princess Hafsa seemed pleased. “We shall meet again later in the day. Remember, you and I must always converse in Russian, is that clear?”
Without waiting for a reply, she whirled and strode imperiously down the wide halls of her palace so quickly that Tatiana stopped breathing for a few seconds.
“Take a deep breath, Hurrem, the girl of the Golden Laughing Eyes who used to be Tatiana not so long ago,” said Lady Maryam. “We are rather pressed for time and there is much to do. Follow me.”
So the gilded armoire stuffed with gowns and robes one more beautiful than the other was to be for her exclusive use. “ I don’t know what to think I’m so excited.”
She lost herself in a maze of thoughts and emotions and did not pay attention to the corridors and halls they traversed. Soon, she found herself inside a large yellow room that reminded her of a prism. She gasped. Every window refracted light in a different way because the colors of the stained glass designs created those patterns and illuminations.
Lady Maryam smiled and spoke first. “Before you take in your surroundings, and examine your suite of rooms, I would like you to get to know your slaves.
The tallest blonde in the emerald green robe is the eldest at twenty. She is Zelfa. She comes from Circassia.
Suheyla, the dark-haired girl in orange is Persian. She will teach you how to play Shahmat (chess) and become a skillful player.
Zahira is the other blonde with her hair in plaits. She is Serbian and no one knows gems and minerals better than she.
All the girls will familiarize you with your surroundings and your toilette. I must go and assist with the preparations for the celebrations and receptions which will take place until well into the night.”
Lady Maryam hugged Hurrem and planted a light kiss atop her mass of golden-red hair. “ Be of good cheer. You are in good hands,” she murmured.
Hurrem observed that her three slave girls entered the gilt and blue tiled bathroom with her.
“Ah that will not do. I am not going to undress in the presence of any one, not even women. I am quite capable of washing and cleansing myself,” she mused
“Please don’t take offense Zelfa, Suheyla and Zahira. I am used to doing all my ablutions by myself.”
They smiled with compassion and told her.” We understand your modesty Golden Laughing Eyes.”
She is only thirteen, a virgin and inviolate. We are not here to give her a hard time, on the contrary. We are here to look after her wellbeing.
“Allow us to show you a few things like how your bath pool works and how to regulate the flow of warm water and the degree of heat you wish for your bath.”
“You need to know how to use the steam room properly, you where to find your bathrobes and towels and the use of the different herbs for your hair and body.”
I must not be churlish to the … towards my slaves. I consider them more my helpers and friends, as Cleopatra with her handmaidens. Let them show me everything and then I can be alone and feel comfortable with my thoughts. “You are right of course, how silly of me. Please show me everything I need to know,” Tatiana replied by way of an apology.
All four entered the magnificent bathroom, which in Arabic is called a hammam. Tatiana gasped once again. Porcelain tiles of blue tulips tiles tinged with white covered the ceiling and the walls. The floor was a contrast in white tulips with a shade of blue. The washbowl was an iridescent blue and its two porcelain spigots seemed to have been crafted by a master for they seemed like real tulips. Tatiana took a closer look at the washbowl and the tulip spigots with specks of gold to numerous to count.
"They remind me of the dark blue heavens with all the stars blazing,” stated Tatiana excitedly.
“It’s lapis lazuli,” said Zahira.
“This semi-precious gem is mined in Central Asia close to the …
“I know, the Russian steppes.” Tatiana interrupted Zelfa.
The pool, which she presumed to be her bath, was also in the same lapis lazuli. Garlands of jasmine surrounded its edge. Seven wide steps led down to the pool that was devoid of water at the moment.
“It must come up to my shoulders!” exclaimed Tatiana.
“The ancient Romans had pools like these. The former occupants of this Villa were Byzantines but clearly influenced by things Roman,” explained Suheyla.
“Who would not be if they had any sense of civility? In Russia we had huge metal round tubs. The servants poured warm water from big pots that boiled in the fireplace. Papa always said Cleanliness was next to Godliness. I spent at least an hour or more every day on that tub. This will be heaven,” Tatiana declared.
She swirled around in delight and then asked perplexed.” But where are the windows. I shall surely suffocate with all that steamy water.”
Her slaves showed her that three large windows had been embedded into the tiled walls. When you opened them, sunshine streamed through the latticed windows.
An armoire of carved wrought iron shaped like leaves gave it a light and airy feeling. Through the leaves she espied what she took to be her bathrobes and towels.
Two matching wrought iron tables held blue and green porcelain and ceramic bowls and bottles shaped like butterflies that surprised and delighted her.
“These contain essential oils like bergamot from Sicily, camellia from China, camphor from Yemen and olive oil from Tuscany. The Princess Mother observed that you do not decorate your face with either henna or cosmetics, nor do you line your eyes. She likes that. You are a natural beauty after all,” explained Zelfa whom Tatiana deduced to be the eldest among the three.
“It would make me ever so happy if you Zelfa, Suheyla and Zahira would prepare my bath and my hammam every day. Please lay out my bathrobe and my intimate apparel and the oils for my skin. I would like to use fresh lemons on my face every day and infused camomille on my hair. Then and only then shall I remain alone with my thoughts. What do you think?” she asked, gazing into the eyes of all three slaves.
From the expressions that emanated from their eyes and their faces, Tatiana knew she had struck the right chord.
“It is a clever compromise. Everyone will be happy with the arrangement. The Princess Hafsa in particular since she has chosen Zelfa, Suheyla and Zahira with meticulous care for their loyalty, integrity and the quality of their education. Yes! They will make good companions. I will learn a great deal from them.
Oh! Ah! I’ve never felt water so warm and caressing. It comes up to my shoulders. The water soothes my sore body. It’s pure bliss. The pool is wide enough to allow me to float. Let me see if I can do it. Yes! I am doing it. I am floating. I could stay in this position forever.
She surrendered to the torpor that was slowly traversing her body from her toes to her ankles then slowly towards her knees and then her belly.
Suddenly the vision of Princess Mother Hafsa and her firm admonitions jolted her.
“You will be Suleyman’s best female friend and companion. Let there be no carnal relationship between you. He must not touch you or caress you in a way that you and your father and I would consider lustful. Never use your body to entice my son. Enchant him with your songs and your music. Delight him with the Russian dances of dexterity and grace. I might even join you in some of joyful dances. Dazzle him with your intelligence. Do not be afraid to possess opinions even if they are contrary to his. Disregard your breathtaking beauty. Act as if you are plain or even ugly. Ask questions continuously- from Suleyman, from me and from your tutors. Learn to best him at Shahmat (Chess). It is my duty to warn you. Be ever watchful, for you have enemies in the harem whom you have yet to meet.”
She lost her balance and sank to the bottom. She held her breath and propelled herself out of the water with her legs. She decided standing on the tiles was safer for the moment since she was still adjusting from all the events that had taken place to her father and to herself since this November’s early light.
I don’t like the idea of enemies that I don’t know and have not even as mush as glimpsed. But the situation is what it is. I trust Princess Hafsa. I am in her powerful hands. Lady Maryam is someone I should cultivate. I think the Princess Mother would like that.
She saw tulip shaped soap bars for her body and distilled camomille to wash her hair.
Sing Tatiana of the Golden Laughing Eyes. Sing your fears away Hurrem.
And she sang in a sweet and crystal voice. The arches in the hammam amplified her voice so that Zelfa, Suheyla and Zahira, who stood outside her door, listened and smiled with pleasure.
“There once was a girl from a far country,
Who met a Lord of high degree,
They liked each other so tenderly,
Now she lives in a Villa by the sea,
No one knows she’s frightened,
But herself and God.”
“This is going to be a most intriguing evening. That beautiful young girl has Music and Derring-do in her heart. Let us hope she develops her skills of intrigue as well as she manipulates all those instruments,” said Princess Mother Hafsa to Lady Maryam as they both took sips of Mokha coffee out of their tiny Dresden porcelain cups.
She was across the hall from Hurrem, and she was lying langorously in her own hammam as Lady Maryam sat on a golden chair on the tiles of porphyry beside her.
“Aaah! My Golden Laughing Eyes. You are breathtaking in this virginal white robe. Let me adjust the folds of your Al-Amira,” exclaimed Princess Hafsa.
Al-Amira was Arabic and it described a veil in two transparent pieces, also in the purest white cloth. One piece rested on a matching toque on her head and the other a tubular foulard that enfolded her swan’s neck.
“Thank you, my Princess Mother,” she replied curtsying gracefully and lightly.
“Now you must forget about your physical beauty and concentrate only on your beautiful mind and your character full of light and song,” she instructed Hurrem
“I shall do that Princess Mother,” she replied in her melodious voice
“Walk with me to the theater, krasivaya maya. You memorize thousands of musical notes so it should be easy for you to remember your way back through all the halls and passages. Zelfa, Suheyla and Zahira will be waiting for you in your bedroom suite.”
“I think that I will be able to find my way back easily enough. I might make a few wrong turns but in the end with the help of Allah and my wits I shall prevail in this endeavor.
Tatiana…Ah No! I must get used to calling her Hurrem of Golden Laughing Eyes in front of others, particularly in the presence of my son, will prove to be a formidable presence in his life, she mused.
“Hurrem, I cannot stress enough the importance of this first meeting. First impressions are memorable. It is up to you to set the tone of the meeting as well as the success of the musical fest,” she said.
“I realize that Princess Mother. I shall do my utmost to be my natural charming, musical and spontaneous self. That is all I can do.
“Here we are.” She lifted both of her hands indicating the theater, which stood in regal splendor before them.
It was only then that she saw the unique rings on all her fingers. They fitted her just above the joint after her golden lacquered nails.
“Why they’re all yellow gems! I wonder what they are?”
She would learn much later that the Princess Hafsa was partial to diamonds of every color and shape.
Hurrem took in her breath and remained wordless for a bit, and then leaped as high as she could for joy and hugged the Princess Hafsa.
“It’s beautiful! It’s Beautiful! Thank the Lord. I am so happy.”
I am sorry I had even the slightest misgivings. Something tells me she is The One, decided the Princess Mother.
“Enter Hurrem. This will be your world with Suleyman, for the time being. Who knows what the future will rain down upon us?
She felt her eyes cloud with tears. Don’t cry, you silly girl, you’ll spoil your looks and your mood. Be happy.
Go and survey your world by yourself. I must supervise the birthday celebrations for my son, Prince Suleyman. I have not forgotten that today you turn thirteen. I have a surprise for you too. Give me a hug and kiss me on both cheeks. You don’t mind if I leave you alone with all these musical instruments? Some, like the oudth and the kanoun, the nay and shahnay may be unfamiliar to you. I’m sure my son will be happy to teach you.”
“I will be delighted to have Prince Suleyman as my musical tutor, but these instruments, extravagant though they may appear, are my oldest friends and companions.”
Ahead of her lay the blue Bosporus. What an inspiring place to play. She took a lyre, strummed it a little. It won’t do. It was out of tune. She wondered if the golden strings affected their sonority and clarity. She examined the lyre. The strings appeared taut.
“Ah, someone knew enough not to use pure gold, else the strings would all be bent out of shape.”
Gold was too malleable a metal. She took the lyre, ran her hands slowly and lightly on it strings. She did not hesitate. She began tuning it.
“Now. Instruments, I am speaking to you. I would like to sing an Ode on the occasion of Prince Suleyman’s birthday. There was no time for me to compose something expressly for him on this occasion. I will adapt a joyous Ode I wrote before…our capture and simply insert the name of Suleyman, wherever it’s required.“
She played around with the melody and the Latin lyrics for a bit, “ I think I’ve got it. Yes. Yes, I‘ve got it.”
On orders of Princess Hafsa, the doors of the music room were left wide open, so that her entire household and entourage could take delight at the joy of Hurrem’s music, and the music of her joy. She was facing her instruments and perforce her back was turned. She could not see the only spectator who counted.
“It was wise of the Princess Mother to have thought of that detail. I just want to concentrate on playing and singing.“
She was filled with mixed emotions. My carefree life with no responsibilities is over. Destiny will force me to make many decisions and adjustments.
Some inevitably would bring on unendurable anguish, but she had no idea of any of that yet.
I don’t wish to think about my new life today, any more than I have to. I need a retreat, an escape, albeit a temporary one. Music has always given me pleasure and solace. Today on Prince Suleyman’s birthday and mine. It will also give me a matchless opportunity.
Prince Suleyman bent down to kiss his mother’s hand.
“A good afternoon to you my Beloved Mater. You urged me to come alone. Here I am. Indeed, Ibrahim will join us for the singing round the cake. I shall summon him whenever I’m ready. This year, I shall be blowing 15 beeswax candles, over one meter high. I think I’m ready. Meanwhile, I am too curious about your cadeaux. Truly I cannot stifle my anticipation for I know you are the most original gift-giver I know.”
His mother placed her forefinger, entirely covered in yellow diamonds from India, over her son’s lips. She took his hand and smoothly guided him towards the music room.
“Now is the time, dear girl, to make your musical entry.” She prayed silently that Hurrem’s intuition would be put to good use .
Then Hurrem’s voice flooded the palace with wonder.
“Oh, the sun is slowly sinking,
Oh the sun is slowly sinking,
And you know not my name… Su- ley -Su–ley-man.
And you know not my name… Su – ley –Su-ley-man.
Now the moon is rising bit-by-bit…Su-ley-man.
Now the moon is rising bit-by-bit…Su-ley – man
And you know not my name…Su-ley-Su-ley-man
And you know not my name Su-ley-Su-leyman.
What we need is you, my Su-ley- Su-ley-man.
To resonate with our music together.
What we need is you, my Su-ley- Su-ley-man.
To resonate with our music together.
She beat and thumped on a small round tambour (drum) as she chanted what she had just sang.
Suleyman stood mesmerized. He dared not enter the hall, lest he break the spell. He took a very slow and careful peek.
”Her beautiful angelic presence overpowers me for the moment.”
He tiptoed on his soft handcrafted leather boots, to where his mother was standing, less than a few feet away.
“She’s a peri (A Muslim angel). She is adorable and I could get used to this,” he whispered into his mother’s ear as he enveloped her in a tight embrace. ”Thank you, dearest Mater.”
“That is my birthday present. She is singing and playing only for you so … enter as quietly as you dare, sit down and listen. Why not join her in song or in the instrumentation.”
“Mater, you have gone beyond my imagination. This is heaven sent.”
But when he turned to face his mother, she had vanished. He was now alone with the beatific creature for at least an hour until it would be time for his small dinner party, which his mother was hosting.
He entered the hall, walking on eggshells. The Peri was chanting Gregorian vespers. Once in a while he caught the name Su-ley-man.
Is she praying for me? I am overwhelmed.
He reclined on the softest looking cushions, afraid to breathe and hoping not to cough involuntarily. She began to sing a Russian song on the zithara,
At that point, he forgot himself. He was transported into the music.
I know that song! My mother sang it to me when I was a child, I can still remember the words.
He could no longer contain his excitement. He bounded from the cushions and ran to join her in a duet of “The Birch Trees.” His fine baritone voice singing as he walked swiftly towards the immense dais to join the divine shade.
If only I had learnt to play the zithara, he thought with regret. He realized with a start that she was still singing ”The Birch Trees”. At his questioning look, she explained during a musical pause, ”My lyrics.”
He waited for the next pause, ”May I have them?”
She nodded but continued singing and playing. He hummed, La La La along with her, and swayed gently to the rhythm.
This is the first time I share a wonderful experience like music with anyone, much less a breathtaking girl. I have that impression. I have not had the time to observe her closely. Her singing and playing have overcome me.
I think this must be Prince Suleyman, but I’m not sure. His bearing is regal, like one born to wear a crown, or many crowns. I am too involved with the music to really have a good look.
When the song ended, Suleyman and Hurrem remained in silence. For both, it was the famous “Pausa” in a musical composition. The ethereal flow between them felt natural and right. Her oval face was almost lost in a sea of long, golden red locks. Her eyes blazed, as if she was drunk. Indeed she was, from the music!
“Oh! Please forgive me, I am usually not so distracted, that I forget my good upbringing. Your music has so affected me. What is your name, my musical sorceress?”
He was addressing her in Russian. She decided to reply in French. ”I used to be Tatiana, but now I’m called Hurrem.”
“Hurrem, may I compliment you on your golden laughing eyes? It is a pleasure and a rare treat to come upon a creature such as you. I am Suleyman,” he stated simply.
“I wish you a most festive and happy Natal day,” she replied and whispered so low he could barely make out the words ”Today, is my 13th birthday.”
“Well, now we are sharing birthdays as well as music,” he found it difficult to suppress a series of deep chuckles. His mother was smarter than his father. That was a fact. Oh, he was a warrior and often led his armies to victory, but she read human beings as adroitly as she did books. This was the principal reason why his mother was his father’s favorite concubine. Indeed, she was the only woman who lived, strictly speaking, outside the boundaries of the harem. The Sultan wanted to avoid gossip of the worst kind … that in deepest secret - he sought the counsel of a woman and a concubine, in matters of state!
“Princess Hafsa, your mother, has ensured that as much as possible my turning 13 is also to be a memorable occasion.“
“So, you’re not too sad or homesick?”
She thought about that for a while, before responding. “There is mostly sweetness, and a dollop of sadness. My father is in Istanbul, which gives me strength. Soon, I will be immersed in so many studies and activities, that I won’t have time to miss him too much.”
He liked her manner and choice of words. A bright girl. Strong willed. Brave. She began tuning a silver lyre.
“I have an idea,” he said. ”Why don’t you compose something here and now in honor of my birthday, I shall do the same to honor your day.”
“It’s a splendid idea,” she replied, the dazzle in her eyes was unmistakable. She laughed heartily. “If we are still friends next year and the year after next, and so on … we can continue this tradition ad infinitum.”
“It is a promise! You have the word of Suleyman: he exclaimed with delight.
She picked up a tambourine, tapped it, shook it in syncopated rhythm and burst into a song in French, “ Suleyman, est ma Bel ami.”
“I have never wished for a long lasting friendship with any boy or man, other than with my tutors and spiritual Advisors. Except for Ibrahim and Karash. Girls and women let alone a young girl were something that never came to my mind. I would like to share an everlasting friendship with the golden laughing Hurrem. She of the many talents. God please deign to grant me this,” he prayed silently, as he abandoned himself to her music. Soon it would be his turn to compose a merry Ode in her honor.
This is my best birthday yet, reflected Prince Suleyman.