I have made very good friends over the years. They have enriched my life in countless ways and helped me overcome painful situations. Yet, I have never met some of those friends in person. They belong to the world of fiction and an impenetrable barrier sits between us. Well, that is not entirely true…every time I have sought their help they have generously shared valuable lessons and inspiration. They have never asked for anything in return but I feel I owe them and perhaps this humble entry will go some way to repay my debt.
The first one is a Greek king, who went to war in order to “rescue” another man’s wife and experienced the most eventful journey home ever written. Over two thousand years, he has enjoyed an awful reputation as a womanizer, hedonistic and impious scoundrel but in my opinion, his story is one of the best metaphors of human existence ever composed.
Odysseus was extremely resourceful and had in his extraordinary intelligence the key to fool even the wrath of the gods and defeat his enemies. He taught me to pursue one’s goals relentlessly and endure setbacks and pain when they are required to achieve a worthy goal. He was no angel, his hands were covered in blood and left most of his ideals shattered by his journey through life. Yet, he was not afraid of the truth and always loyal to his friends. Odysseus is the only king I would greet with a bow and inspired me with an everlasting fascination for Greek history and myth. I cannot stop wishing that, perhaps one day, I will encounter the old rogue and get to ask him about Troy, Circe and Polyphemus and hear his own account of the tale. More importantly, I would try to convince him to tell me about those other stories that the blind poet forgot to sing about.
My other friend is a wealthy count but do not think that he was born into an easy life of money and luxury. Edmond started his life as a sailor based in Marseille but his plans for a quiet life with his fiancée were destroyed by a deadly conspiracy. His enemies made every effort to give him a dishonourable death but Mr Dantes was no ordinary man. He did not only survive his ordeal but emerged wiser and stronger to avenge the injustice that ruined his life.
After all his possessions and even his freedom and honour were taken away, Edmond found a new foundation to rebuild his life. That foundation was knowledge, knowledge first imparted by the wise Abbé Faria but then expanded through travel and an extensive network of informants. It is that knowledge and the wealth accrued through it that allows Edmond Dantes to exact his revenge. As always in life, he paid a heavy price for his goals and despite all his achievements, the life he desperately longed for is irretrievably lost. But even at that juncture, Edmond stoically accepted that only suffering makes you really appreciate happiness: “There is neither happiness nor unhappiness in this world; there is only the comparison of one state with another. Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss. It is necessary to have wished for death in order to know how good life is to live”. If only I could share a bottle of good red wine with Edmond and find out about his life with Haydee! but, alas, as he said, all we can do is “wait and hope”.
Another of my friends is the man born without the fate line in his hand. He is a sceptic adventurer who travels the world ostensibly seeking fortune but invariably helping the underdog. Corto is the perfect romantic hero; he is both a gypsy and british, was educated by a rabbi in Spain and became a man in Asia. He lived through the most dangerous events of the first quarter of the twentieth century but under a strict code of honour that impelled him to risk his life to protect human life, beauty and decency. Thanks to him I travelled everywhere; I found a treasure in Siberia, fought in the Great War and the Russian civil war, made friends with revolutionaries in Brazil and looked for a golden house in Samarkand and the lost continent of Mu. I tracked his steps in Rhodes and Istanbul and when I visited Venice, I truly hoped to meet him at his house to finally discuss Utopia and ask a million questions about his life. But Corto Maltese has always been very elusive and that is why I am never sure whether he is entirely fictional.
It has been said that Corto disappeared during the Spanish Civil War but I happen to know that he lives on. He just changed his name and moved to North Africa. After a heartbreak in Paris, he set up Rick’s Café in Casablanca and pretended that his romantic ideals were forever buried under the cynical Mr Blaine. However, despite the whisky and the years, Corto could not fool himself for long and once again, helped the couple in trouble, asked the band to play “La Marseillaise” and made the ultimate sacrifice for a cause greater than him and the love of his life. Yes, Corto, I know it was you who left for Brazzaville to help win the war!
These are just some of the friends I have been lucky enough to meet. I cannot thank them directly but perhaps some of you will find them good companions on your own journeys and I am sure they would be pleased by that.
In the meantime, I always learn something new when I revisit their stories and as Dumas said of lost friends, they are all buried deep in my heart. Until we meet again, fast wind and good fortune to you all!!