Around the bend – Poppies and Bullets
It was on the Island of Lesbos that I found it.
I had climbed the hill and entered the remains of the castle through the shaded portal. A sea of scarlet poppies spread everywhere, from the sun heated stone walls to the solid stone ramparts.
There was almost no one there and I waded through the lovely weeds or followed the winding trails within the ruins as I read the little handout and gazed about enchanted.
The sea sparkled azure and aquamarine in the bay below where the old buildings and winding streets of Mitilini clustered around the waters edge.
It was May of course, for by June the wild flowers have withered in the heat. Flocks of migrating birds had risen with the sun and continued on their journeys.
I sat down on a flat stone with the scarlet faces of the flowers nearly eye hight and munched on a spinach and feta pastry. My thermos was full of cold spring water from a well I was assured ………was Aristotle’s. I wasn’t totally convinced, but I had smiled and nodded.
‘Efhahreestoh polee’ I had said as the old woman had filled my thermos from the bucket.
‘Pahrahkahloh’ she had smiled back.
It’s rare that you get to smell poppies. There have to be masses of them and a still, hot day, as it was in the ancient square within the castle. No sea breezes eased the heat up here. Then I saw it. Just a glimmer between the flowers, instantly gone. It wasn’t the flash one gets from glass, it had been a softer gleam that had caught my eye.
Parting the flowers I saw, wedged between the white stone rubble from the walls, the metal casing of a spent shell. I wiggled it out from it’s hiding place and held it up to see it better.
Almost at once I heard the friendly voice of the only other visitor at the castle. An older gentleman, rather stooped, who had come up quietly along the trail behind me.
“Is that an 8mm shell?” he asked.
“I haven’t the foggiest. Do you know?” I replied. I held it out and he took it and examined it carefully. I watched as he turned it over.
“Yes, it is. It’s quite common around here. The Germans used the Mauser in World War 2 and this is the ammo for it. You see this?” He began to point out things about the bullet but then stopped and said, “Actually I think you might be more interested in this.”
Reaching into the sagging pocket of his old twill safari vest he brought out a metal object. An ancient spear head lay across the palm of his hand.
“It’s bronze and from it’s design I’m guessing about 500 BC. I’ve seen another like it but larger, about eight and a half inches long, in a friends collection. I found this on a ramble outside the walls.”
He handed it to me, and as it lay in my had I felt nothing but it’s warmth and weight. Often such things have some ‘feel’ to them but I guess with time, just lying peacefully among the flowers and the crumbling walls, anything it may have held had faded away over the centuries.
He placed the bullet on a stone next to me amongst the poppies and I lay the spear head down beside it. We looked at them in silence for a few moments and he spoke again.
“You know what they say about poppies don’t you? That they always grow best and brightest on old battle fields. A botanist friend of mine said they love iron. That’s where they do best.”
We looked around at the blazing poppies covering every inch of the terrain and thought of the thousands of years of wars and spilled blood that had soaked into the forgiving ground.
One could have felt a deep sadness. It was my first feeling. But then I felt the warmth of the sun, was dazzled by the blueness of the sea and the sky … and I felt better. Like something was saying “Wait! There’s more chapters – it get’s better! Really!”
I smiled up at him. “Well, it’s nice something good came out of it.”
“Yes, it is.” He stooped, collected his spear head and with a nod wandered away.
I rose too, brushing off the crumbs. There was more to see. I moved away, leaving the shell behind me.
. Lesvos and Lesbos are both correct. It is the Greek island just off Turkey.
. The Castle of Mytilene is built on the top of the hill above the town of Mitilini, near the area of the southern port, and it is considered as one of the biggest castles of the Mediterranean. Its construction started since the Byzantine era ( 483-565AD ) with the use of ancient structural materials and was completed during the years of the domination of Genovese Gatelouzes ( 1355-1462 ). Afterwards it is fortified with defensive works until the Turks occupy it in 1462.
. Thank you = Ευχαριστούμε: ef-hah-rees-TOH
. You are welcome = Παρακαλώ. Pah-rah-kah-LOH