Title: E Kuqja e Demave (The Red of Bulls)
Author: Mira Meksi
Place of Publication: Tirana
Year of Publication: 2012
The plot: The story takes place in an ancient city of legends, bullfighting and alchemy in Spain, where Babel – a Translation House – is situated. The narrator (the novel is narrated in first person) goes there to translate a Spanish romantic writer into her language of origin. For the first time, she leaves her small, isolated, Balkan country. There, she discovers an unknown universe which is beyond her wildest imagination: she discovers opium as an instrument that enables penetration in the mysteries of consciousness and literary translation; discovers extraordinary performance of bullfighting and the mythical, almost sensual rite of bull killing; she discovers her true and very dangerous love for a famous matador; she discovers the Icons’ universe within the great universe; she discovers the Warriors Against the Forgetfulness of the Icon White Monks, , who have been working for many years to decipher the mystery of the red colour of the icons of Onufri, the famous Albanian iconographer of the Middle Ages. Above all, she finds out that she is “the chosen one”, the missionary of decipherment of the mystery of Onufri’s red. Two worlds are present at the same time, the one of bullfighting and the one of Icons, which have the red colour of blood in common; they fill the labyrinth spaces of the novel that create mystery, thriller, suspense and even the prototype of Death itself. Now, submerged in the universe of the Icon and accustomed to its idle observation, the narrator manages to communicate with Onufri, the medieval iconographer within opium’s foggy hallucinations. And, through the alchemy of her extraordinary sensitivity and image memories of Onufri’s icons in the Museum of her country, she achieves to decipher the hundreds-years mystery of the red in his icons: it’s a human blood red, because the colour has been extracted from the ground that was kneaded and leavened with human blood in a famous battlefield in the Albanian land, where Skanderbeg fought the ottomans.
Same as the disappeared Rublev – the notorious 15th century iconographies, whose icon “Trinity” that I evoked afore had become a model after the verdict of The Stoglavy Synod, and for which Rublev himself was later elected a saint– the same way Onufri haunted my slumber where hazy impaired visions tangled with the fumes of opium, promising a heavy sleep on leaden lids. The flashy gleam of his icons had paved way into it. He wore a crimson cloak and seemed as large as life, although I was conscient, during the first minutes, of my drowsy state. But, as I stared long enough at him, I began to experience his own time, and wandered lost into the labyrinth of a dream-wake state, which soon replaced the deep reality in me. Only in dreams one is mostly oneself, they say; the soul buds as the body reposes, and passion embraces the mind faster and stronger than one’s awake, and the soul soars, because, they say, the power of the soul reigns higher while one sleeps in alleviation … I concocted my own world that same night, while I was in an opium-drenched dream; the world Plutarcus writes about: a world that one shares not with the others; I had assembled its elements gradually in time; at brief moments I was soon conscious of my reverie, and then my inquiries had a decisive aim. In my recollection, it was the color of Onufri’s uncommonly inflamed cloak that made me ask him:
-Are you in eternity?
-Do you live beyond time? – insisted I.
He then addressed to me:
-Eternity is neither in front, nor behind, nor is it beyond the time.
-What is, then, eternity?
-It is the dimension where time is an open site.
I narrated then the marvel of that day, and lined up the details orderly; I told him about abbot Juan’s solitary cell at the Varuela Monastery, which seemed remote from this world; I re-stated how I eyed incessantly the icon and how I’d planted myself in front of it in a feverish contemplation; and the impossibility to measure the sum of hours or even decades that slotted down into me while I kept viewing it.
-Which icon was it? – he asked me.
-The Apparition of the infant Christ in the Temple, – said I, the icon they keep at the church of Saint Triada; when suddenly all its intricate details were revealed to me eyes, all that I had contemplated for hours or years in the cell of Verula Monastery; but it was at the Castrum of Berat that I’d first laid my eyes on it.
Onufri spoke as if he was following directly the display of the detailed revelation of the icon that I’d experience:
– The scene is the interior of the Temple of Jerusalem; the tapestry also configures this. Yet you can see, partly, in the background, the gables of a church; and further, another, more complete and noble building that evokes the Temple; its architecture is outlined as a reverse perspective, so that the spectator finds himself within the composition. Forty days after his birth, on the 2nd of February, the son of God is escorted into the Temple, in order to submit like all men to the Law issued by Moses … The Mother of God is placed in the center, bestowing her son. And Joseph, her husband, follows after her, with a couple of thrushes to bequeath. Ensuing, Anne, the prophetess, with her left hand handed out, pointing at the Savor of Jerusalem, while she holds the unraveled scroll of the Law in her right hand. Simon, the elderly of the Temple, opens his arms to Jesus, while Mary’s still with her arms out towards the Son; the cloak covers his hands, a sign of respect, down from the sanctuary vault. Built upon the siborium, the altar evokes the Sacrifice of Christ, as two holy gates seal up the altar itself.
-Yes, – explained he to me after this description. This icon represents a theological synthesis of Christ’s mundane existence: his obedience to Father, up to self-sacrifice, the mission for which he descended upon the earth and for which we laud him, the glory of Resurrection.
In my account I spoke about the red bend that flaps at the summit of the temple, and how my friend in the white cassock had explained to me kits unique fervor and glint without peer and unparalleled in all icons of all times produced; I accounted, too, that as I kept contemplating that ribbon, I’d, for hours and centuries, trod down a path which sprawled ahead but also floated infinitely above up into the thin air …
-The red bend over the Temple symbolizes the Prophecy, – Onufri then interrupted me, and so unveiling his arcane, the truth of which wasn’t undisputed even among the monks of Verula. After his statement he repeated the words of prophecy, once voiced by Simon, the guardian of the Temple: “His presence here means fatality and resurrection for many a man of Israel; he’s a sign of adversity, there to render visible the thoughts relegated in men’s hearts; and addressing then to Mary he adds: – A sword will penetrate thy soul, too!
-The red bend, – I resumed, transformed me into a ray of light and catapulted me so far I could pervade the figure in the icon, all its content: the colors, the lines; and beyond all, my eye grasped vivid skies and a kind of light beam which I thought was surely the divine … I embodied it and lived an existence of light…
A long pause of hush.
-How could this happen? – I asked with my heart on my sleeve.
-The matter of this icon is suffused by a dense and cosmic energy, but it lives in a dormant state – he explained. – It is your gaze, your eyes uplifted there that ignited the life in it.
I considered that the time to ask him the very question that hung at the tip of my tonge had come. Because among the fumes of opium, when in my ordinate mind, I was conscient that I was living in a haze, I often wanted to ask him the question, the one whose answer was obviously my mission, too, as hermano Juan had evinced but without words.
-Onufri’s red, as they coin it now the red color of your icons, diffuses a flare that displayed the invisible before me. What sort of red is yours, Master; what’s the matter in it?
I felt his presence intensely. The haze was gone, and my permanent reality had enveloped me again. I could hear his breathing, heavy of age, while the glittering of his colors, his aura, enkindled me. We set one next to the other on a stump, both embellished by an enflamed sky, under a flaring dusk. Onufri was clad entirely in his cloak, and for the first time his eyes matched mine.
The extract is translated from the Albanian by Idlir Azizi