After a few days they came to Naxos, the home of Ariadne and the white wine. And also the home of Anastasia Demetriades who claimed descent from the fishtail people.
Our dalliance with Athens and Delphi was more than a few days, but their classical charms cannot mask a more magnetic force at work. We take the train down to Piraeus and board a boat for Naxos. Big boat. Slow boat. Naxos just one stop of many.
Is there any hidden meaning that the ship is named for Naxos?
As a person who grew up landlocked, I started thinking of all salt water as big, monstrously, incomprehensibly big. And I suppose that the Mediterranean is big in its way: months ago we started at its mouth and still haven’t reached its tail.
But the Aegean is not big. We cover the distance from the mainland to Naxos in five hours, including a stop at another of the Cyclades.
We arrive with the hour creeping up on midnight. My first impression is of light shining in the darkness of the sea, then of a small wharf crowded with people. Buses. Trucks. Scooters. Cars.
It takes half-hour to find our way in Naxos town. The buildings are ancient and too close together for Alison and I to walk side-by-side in most places. In other places I must duck to fit under wooden supports or stone arches.
In the morning I am surprised to look out from the terrace and see a very small church off to my right.
After confession and after Mass in the very small church, Finnegan met Anastasia, and they had breakfast with Papadiabolous the Devil at a breakwater café. Papa was cryptic today, and it seemed as though he and Anastasia had a secret. This was peculiar, for the only one of the Brunhilde that Anastasia ever shared secrets with was Finnegan.
Alison and I have coffee at a breakwater café. Greek coffee: a powdery grind, a potent dose of sugar, a tiny cup. We can see expensive sailboats in the harbor, and fishing skiffs. Is that a diesel motor yacht nearest the mouth of the bay?
“There has been a bird on the main stack of the Brunhilde for days,” Finnegan said. “He sticks there and will not leave.”
“Yes, a bird, a gannet,” Papa Devil said.
“Manuel says that it means someone else will die,” said Finnegan.
“Manuel knows that someone else will die,” Papa said, “and it wasn’t a bird who told him.”
Do you feel this way? Finnegan does and I know I do:
A bigger game is afoot, but we don’t really understand the rules, or our role, or who all the players are, or what actions to take to make a difference. We’re capable, yes, but mysteries buried in the past and the speed of the present make it hard to engage. We are Watson, not Holmes. We are Odysseus, not Athena.
People invent and follow religions to address this feeling. Finnegan drinks to address this feeling. I study the cosmos of physics and read Rumi to address this feeling.
What do you do?
But there is something about Naxos that emboldens Finnegan, incites him for the first time to directly question the Devil about what’s happening and why.
The Devil may not provide a revelation, but he’s obliging.
“…But the cops and robbers are only partly of the same species. It is really a game of counter-agents and counter-counter-agents. There are two groups of a different basic, and the dialogue will have to be talked out in blood. We come to the narrow way now. I have not played the Devil for a game. Anastasia has only recently known that I am not the old Devil. For a long time I was not sure that you knew, Finnegan, even though you drew the face that I will wear tonight, and perhaps will die in.”
“That was a good old ship we were on, though she kept bad company. I do not believe that any of us three will ever board her again. However we leave here, it will be by another boat, my own or Charon’s.”
I’ve never felt comfortable with others’ explanations of the bigger game. And that’s one thing I deeply love about this novel, and why I’ve come across the planet to drink first coffee and then white wine on the breakwater of Naxos: it offers a half-dozen explanations of the world’s bigger game and doesn’t try to hold one above any of the others.
Couldn’t they all simultaneously be true?
“Tomorrow seems pretty uncertain,” Finnegan said. “I’ll be surprised if the sun even rises.”
“There’s the further difficulty that it may turn into a double ambush,” Papa Devil said. “My hawk may be tangled by a Retiarius waiting for her. Our antagonist is very clever, and he seems to be following into our trap too easily. It’s a risk that might kill us all.”
“You are cheerful this morning, Papa Devil,” Anastasia said.
“In rare good humor, the mark of a fool. I hope you children have a happy day of it. It is possibly your last day on Earth, and it will be nice to have a happy one to look back upon. I hear you are to have a sort of picnic.”
What would you like to do in your last day on earth? What would you like to look back on?
The sooner we answer, the sooner we can have it tucked away.
Shall we have a picnic?
Still on the corporeal side of the River Styx,
A couple of images used in this piece came from Wikimedia Commons:
The image of the church is via Templar 52: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Naxos_Metropolis.JPG
The header image is via Templar 52: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Naxos_port4.JPG