Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Isihaki house (Μετόχι Ησυχάκη)

Isihaki was left in front of his family home, as he had asked for in his wish if he were to be the lucky winner of the Back to the Future Earth Super-Draw. He felt very lucky indeed to be the winner of the lottery that God organised once a century for all the departed souls. It was open to all residents of heaven and hell who had been there for at least a century, but in the last millenium, a heller would win every century without fail, which made the heaveners think that the lottery was rigged, or God was over-sympathising with the hellers, showing too much compassion for the plight of those who had gone to hell, and wanted to alleviate their burden by giving them hope that they might one day win a mini-break away from their misery. (God never let the heaverners and hellers mix; he refused to judge anyone in death, but preferred to keep things separate lest reincarnation was invented, and people began to take it for granted that death was purely that: it was pretty much the same for everyone once they left Earth.)

When Isihaki heard his name called as the winner, at first he thought that God had made a mistake, since he was living in heaven and he had only been dead for just over a century (he felt too young to be so lucky so quickly), so he put off answering the call for 13 years, until he got the summons that if he did not come forward, the prize would have to be re-drawn. (God was horrified at the thought of this, as He had secretly been hoping for a miracle to happen. that a heavener would win. The only reason why hellers had been winning so often in the last millemium was that there were simply many more of them,so it was only natural that they had better chances of winning. The previous millenium yielded a better run - the numbers of residents in heaven and hell were more equal.)

The winner of the lottery was allowed to return to Earth (if s/he wished; winners had the opportunity to decline the prize, which was non-transferable; since only hellers had been winning for so long, it was never refused). The only conditions were that they had to return to the place where they were born, regardless of where they grew up, and they would be in invisible mode, so as not to disturb the present dwellers on Earth. The prize had a short duration, just enough time to take in the changes of the place. The winner could go anywhere, on foot, or by catching the local transport, but would remain unaffected by any possible dangers that they may encounter while there, eg high winds, earthquakes, tsumanis, accidents, etc - they were already dead and could not die twice - and their eyes and ears would be in good working order (no matter whether they were deaf or blind on their departure from Earth), in order to maximise the full experience. At the end of the half hour, they were once again automatically transported to their original placement (ie heaven or hell). 
The house of Isihaki is a network of partially connected buildings on the same site in the village of Alikianos, under a preservation order due to its extraordinary architectural features which show the historical development of the construction of buildings in the area. The Isihaki house was used in 1897 as a military base by Timoleon Vasos in the Greek revolution against the Ottomans, which yielded autonomy to the island of Crete. There is not much web information about the house, but it is estimated to be about 150 years old. It contains elements that show the development of Cretan architecture as a continuation from Venetian times. Despite its dilapidated state (this web page attributes this to WW2 bombing), it still exhibits features of a house belonging to Cretan nobility.  

Isihaki found himself feeling warm under a sun-filled sky, standing in front of an edifice whose outline was distinctly recognisable. He couldn't work out the time, but it felt like morning, judging form the shadows cast by the sun. He could hear voices coming from one side of the village, but there were very few people about. The season was more discernible - it must be autumn, judging by the falling leaves from the trees. The house that his father had had built for their family had suffered from the ravages of time, as was to be expected, but it was still standing. It was a desolate sight to see it so unkempt, but he had expected this. Peering through the door, he found that the staircase leading to the upper levels had been partly destroyed; it was clearly not being inhabited now.

The stairs that led to the entrance were only slightly visible, camouflaged by the overall decay, but still quite sturdy and usable, and the house did not look as though it was ready to fall down. Seeing it empty initially made him feel overwhelmed with sadness, but he put things in perspective: he was here for only a short time, he had to use his time wisely, and he was being given the chance to enter the house undisturbed. With trepidation, he moved towards the steps in front of the house. Before entering, he glanced quickly behind it at the other buildings that had sprouted around it. None looked like anything he remembered during his time on Earth. What surprised him was how close they were to his family home; there were no others there at the time he was alive, but now, the whole place seemed to be full of square structures, all made of materials that were unknown to him. "We must have many descendants," he thought.
He entered the house and turned left towards what he recalled as the the part of the house that led to the courtyard. The tiles on the floor brought back memories of the people who had trod on these floors: his parents, brothers and sisters, his father's business partners, priests, military officers, Turkish pashas, friends, villagers and servants. Images of people flashed into his mind; in heaven, he did not see them or even think about them, but now that he was on Earth, he began to have what felt like earthly feelings, which he had not felt since his departure from Earth. It now occurred to him that he had been released from these feelings once he had left the Earth and they never troubled him. Was this prize God's way to prove to the soul that the afterlife was indeed the best one?
He could feel the pressure of time running away from him. Again, that was another forgotten concept in heaven; there was time for everything, and there was no such thing as stress. Time was a fluid concept for him; even though he didn't know how much time he had left, he knew that any moment, he would be back in heaven. He continued into the stables and storage areas, but they did not seem to grab his attention so much. They were also lying in ruins, and there was little for him to see there, apart from the crumbling remains. He walked through the arch and came back out to the main entrance of the house, where he saw the magnificent valley of Alikianos in front of him. There was a large building standing across from the family home, and what seemed like a tidy flower garden. Among the flowers there was a monument of some sort. He was relieved to see that the inscription was written in Greek:
"... and the brave free fighters of our village who fought the Germans in the battle of Crete in '41..." Isihaki was now confused: Why had the Germans come so close to the south? How did they get here? Why did the Greeks fight them? Were they still fighting them now? And more importantly, what happened to the Turks? His first thought was that there was still a war going on. Just as he had put the thought in his mind, a group of young people passed by the memorial site, the first people he had seen walking by while he was there. He watched them file past - they all looked young, they appeared reasonably dressed, their clothes were not dusty, they looked well-fed, and they appeared carefree, laughing together, with no signs of pressure on them. More importantly, they all wore shoes, which were a luxury in his days. He could not ask them anything, but this sight imbued him with peace. And then he heard their teacher speaking in Greek: "Come along now παιδιά, don't dawdle!" The children were at school, and they spoke Greek. The village could not possibly be at war; this feeling lightened his soul.

A metallic wheeled object passed in front of the road. The noise frightened Isihaki at first, but it whizzed by so fast that he did not have time to take in the novelty. Time was running out. He decided to concentrate on what he wanted to remember, not on what he had obviously missed out on. He turned to look at the house again. Through the broken windows, he could see trees and houses behind the house. It seemed quieter there, so he walked around the outside of the house and found a well-maintained wide lane. A woman was walking along it, trailed by a young child. "Τίνος είναι, άραγε;" he wondered, but he knew that the answer to this question would remain a secret to him.
He took in some familiar sights of the old which were sitting in harmonious combination with the new. He recognised the old stone walls that bordered the new structures. How grand they were, with their sleek smooth finish and perfect lines! And the foliage never looked more lush. The area was full of trees. The houses were surrounded by rich dark green foliage. The village lay very close to the path of the mighty Keritis river, which Isihaki presumed was continuing to provide the village with water, a sure sign of prosperity.
He saw that God had been good to his future villagers, a feeling which filled his heart with peace of mind and exuberance. He consoled himself with the thought that his efforts towards freedom in the last minutes of his life had not gone to waste. The world of his village was indeed a better place than in the past. And with this on his mind, his felt his soul rising above the ground, as it had done on the day he had lost his life in battle, the atmosphere clouding over and a lightness in his heart removing all signs of any distress that he might have felt in those few minutes that he had been granted to spend back on Earth. 

Bonus photo: the Isihaki house also had an indoor toilet. 

All photos taken on 25 October, 2013. More photos and links can be found in this photo set.

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