The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #85, From a Georgian Han, 2
In this episode, four more sketches of life in a Georgian han.
The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Fourteenth Era, Part 20, ~1190 C.E., Mtskheta
There’s a box made of stained and knotty slats that a finger will just about fit between. Some kind of cage that houses a beast. I seen a guy stickin’ his pinky in and the demons inside nearly tore it off. Squawkin’ a racket like Beelzebub’s jinns, and rustle and fussin’ like a room full of kids. But I seen their owner slip his hand in after hushin’ and shushin’ with soft coos, and there on his finger a bright green bird big as a crow and as like to be mean. His beak a wide leer, his eyes like veneer. And just like a salesman, incessant he squawks.
“Ya hear that,” the trader suddenly blurts. “This girly just said ‘Alhamdulilah*’”
* Arabic: praise be to God
At that my inner landscapes light up and for a moment I’m back in Tiveria and this han’s clatter and clamor and clash softens and takes on musical tropes and I hear that parrot who sounds like Ethop*.
* see episodes 57-61
A sadhu from India, basket on his head, lays out a rag, the color of dust; maybe it once had a saffron shade. Sets down his basket, and sits cross-legs. Pulls out his ney* and begins to play. The lid of the basket flops to the side. Arises a cobra in a threatening sway. Husky porters and wispy scamps alike be froze by that coil of ice. Squeaky flute, hypnotic sway. Then sudden, the beast uncoils and leaps. A lightning surge at a little boy — quivery lips and trembly knees — a moment later the snake strikes a rat as it scuttles in a pile of hay. Just like that rat, the cobra and man come to a sudden and violent end, swallowed up in the fury of the crowd.
* Persian flute
On a sheet of paper, prayer-rug size, I’m scribin’ a hanging for the beit midrash, *‘Song of the Sea’*. I’m just at the phrase ‘horse and rider, ‘soos v’roekhvo’ as the gates of the han in a gratin’ squeal blow open and a squall of boilin’ snow blasts into the court, in razors of frost. In its midst, two riders on dappled mares, ice for manes and ice for tails and a tattered blanket froze to their flanks. Two Mongol soldiers are hunched on their backs, sheepskin leggings, sheepskin coats, sheepskin caps tower from their heads; sheepskin boots all crusted in snow. Their wispy eyebrows, mustache, beard spiked in drippin’ icicle spears. They talk and it sounds like the howlin’ wind. Horse and rider the sea cast in.
*-* see Sh’mot/Exodus 15:1-18
There’s a gaggle of local philosopher types. You know the kind: they read a book and now they spout like a king on his throne, full of pretensions and drunken dreams. The world’s all wrong and they know why! Well, they’re sittin’ on barrels, leanin’ on rails, drinkin’ their wine and barley ale. This one has hair pulled up in a tuft like a Mongol warrior; that one robed, sackcloth and cowl, like a Frankish monk. But mostly they look like they’re peasant poor, unripe, unwashed, unmanageable. And foul of mouth like the devil himself. Me, I’m scribin’ a folio of psalms, Davy’s masterwork praisin’ the King.
Curses and shouts. A scuffle starts. Like wind on a pond, swirl and sweep, a ripple drives across the court. Then another, transverse, and where they meet, turbulent froth, swirl and sweep. Around the han the storm careens, arks of spray, wave on rock, the glitter of glass shatters on a wall, tables overturn, like men overboard that thrash in the sea. The wind screams. And like a squall that shrieks and blows, light cuts the cloud; the wind starts to gasp, the thrash of hail now gusty rain, then sprinkle and patter and the sun bursts thru, and there in the courtyard, bloody heads, some crumpled bodies groan on the floor, fragments of tables, remnants of stools, flotsam and jetsam strewn around, and our world-redeemers limp or run from our han before militia arrive.
In the corner of the han, once again the sounds of labor and purpose return. The tea seller bellows a thunderous curse seein’ his shattered table and chairs. His cups and teapots now in shards. Even his samovar is all kicked in. But what to do? Like a man, he shouts at his whimperin’ girls:
“Cut your whinin’. Hustle your asses to the potter’s han. Find Yusuf. Tell him of the brawl and bring back at least twenty cups and four or five pots. Tell him I’ll come later today to arrange terms.”
To his boys:
“Git your lazy butts down to Grigor, and bring him back. Make sure he has plenty of glue and pegs as well as a couple of boards and poles.”
Then into his cave of a kitchen he stomps. Scuffle and clatter, mutter and curse, til out he comes, mallet in hand and takes to beatin’ that samovar.
Meanwhile his wife with shovel and broom begins to clear out the rubble and glass. Me and Batkol we meet her down there. A couple of boys are seriously hurt. We can’t let the soldiers just drag them off. (Them’s Batkol’s words, but I suppose she’s right.)
One boy, it seems his shoulder is broke. There’s a carpenter in a nearby han who has a gift for settin’ bones. Some local gadabouts take him there.
The other lad is a harder case. Seems he took the brunt of the storm. Eyes punched in and head all swole and looks like he swallowed a tooth or two. I notice his knuckles are torn to shreds. I suspect some other boys are missin’ teeth.
We takes him home, lyin’ in a cart, and carries him on a board inside. Our physician, Yosie, visits each day for about a week to treat his wounds until he can finally sit up in bed. He’s inclined to talk, more than a bit, tho his bloated lips and achy jaw makes him hard to understand. And tho the swellin’ of his head goes down his swollen dreams, they lack a cure.
His tale has many times been told. A wealthy father, a pampered boy. The father dies, the young man lives a profligate life. Clothes and drink and many a mistress and many a friend deceivin’ his heart and thievin’ his purse. And yet this man-child brims with pride, nor lackin’ compassion, nor lackin’ faith.
Shota his name, and he lived with us more than a year. Handy he were to earn his keep, first with a broom and his orderly eye; then hammer and saw, repairin’ benches, windows, doors. And then to mixin’ a well-made ink, grindin’ pigments, cuttin’ quills, preparin’ glue and gum and paste. He even came to our *beit midrash*. Many a friendship grew from that. Indeed he turned his eye to a girl, a rabbi’s daughter. Such broken hearts.
Maybe that’s why he finally left. Or maybe it was that inner call in him. A modern prophet he confessed to be, and the road and foreign lands allured; chivalry, mystery, and truth, all were callin’ him in the wind.
So our Shota Rustaveli left, and some of the midrash* I told to him, you can read them in his master work, The Knight Who Were a Panther’s Kin.
* tales to explain or expand biblical stories
In the next episode, a sefirotic exploration.