-Those birds are so magical!!! exclaims Charlemagne, amazed at what he has just witnessed from the Womb of Time, the cave behind the waterfall where the lady writer has received him and his friends Samuel ibn Nagrella and Ziryab. The writer is only partially controlling the events happening on the water screen, which the three men watch from atop the howdah carried by Abul Abbas, the resuscitated elephant Charlemagne had received from Harun al Rashid. When all were watching sequences of spiraling times on the water screen, the hybrid birds perched atop the howdah flew through the waterfall into the scene. They shapeshifted into two Lakota performers of the Wild West Show, Charging Crow and Black Hawk; then they started a conversation with the spirit of Annie Oakley, who was taking a nap in a Venetian gondola. Charlemagne is expressing his thoughts about Annie Oakley’s story.
-I feel strangely responsible for the misfortunes Annie experienced in Barcelona, he says. I sent my son Louis to besiege that place, back in the day… Also, I still wonder which strange circumstances really made me become ‘Holy Roman Emperor’… All this adventure with the Pope was surreal. Today I feel for the people suffering everywhere, and especially where I brought turmoil. I am remembering that Venice also did revolt against my measures…
-Well, says the writer, it’s good for you to recognize this, but do not block anything through guilt and shame. Now the world needs good thoughts and enough willpower to build a better tomorrow! Remember the chakra work we talked about before one of the birds stole my ‘chakra paper’ to give it to Annie, she says giving a funny look at ‘the feathered thief’.
Alone in her gondola, Watanya Cicilla (Lakota for ‘Little Person who does Great Things’) aka Annie Oakley has opened her shotgun case where she has kept the ‘chakra paper’ she was given by Charging Crow and Black Hawk who visited her from the Womb of Time. It has been a while now that Charlemagne is wondering if the half hawk / half raven creatures are the dream ‘clones’ of the birds he saw when he started his spirit adventure in Northern New Mexico: the inhabitants of Blue Spruce Woman, a very special tree… Lost in his thoughts, the Frankish Emperor watches the screen, wondering what Annie will do next.
The former sharpshooter, in her spirit form, is remembering many things as well, all alone in her gondola, in a deserted Venice. For the first time she realizes that the shape of her shotgun case, made out of elephant hide, also looks like an elephant head… She is starting to feel for all creatures, and wishes she had not shot living birds just for show purposes. She is grateful for the wildlife sacrifices for her family’s survival, but she understands that many abuses were committed. Humans have to be reminded to always be grateful for what they’re given, and to take only what they need from nature. She is determined to make amends, and is happy to have kept some personal items unrelated to guns in what she now uses more like a suitcase. She has brought a few pictures and illustrations of herself, together with a saddle blanket and a pair of red shoes. She cannot help wondering what her mission really is regarding the pandemic she was told is affecting the world of the living, but she decides that her beautiful red shoes will sure look good on her while she trusts the process.
-Look, gentlemen, says the writer in the cave. Annie is putting on her red shoes. I wonder if they’re as magical as Dorothy’s shoes!
-Who’s Dorothy? asks Zyriab.
-The heroine of a great movie, answers the writer, but let’s focus on our present heroine for now, Annie…
Annie has decided that whatever happens, she will try to eradicate grief and to focus on love, since so many people among the living are suffering in the heart and lungs area. As she wonders where a sign will come from, a dolphin appears by the gondola. With the characteristic smile of these amazing beings, the mammal seems to be willing to share something with her.
-Look at that! whispers the writer. A dolphin has come to greet Annie! now that there is less pollution in the deserted city, aquatic creatures can venture out to discover the canals! I love those creatures so much. I always see them as the cousins of birds, swallows to be precise. I call dolphins the swallows of the sea because just like swallows fly around cars on mountain backroads, dolphins accompany boats…
The water screen shows the dolphin swimming around Annie, poking the gondola’s beautiful brass oar lock with its nose.
-Oh, how beautiful! marvels Annie. I hadn’t even noticed that detail of my gondola.
-Samuel, look at that! exclaims Charlemagne. This strange dragon horse is exactly how I imagined Bayard!
-Well, maybe Miss Annie will finally help you totally get rid of your guilt and anger while “riding” that particular mount, answers the wise vizier.
In her gondola, Annie is really happy to have a new animal companion in the dream realm of lonely Venice.
-Do you want me to ‘ride’ this horse? she asks the dolphin. I guess I can give it a try; moving this thing must be similar to maneuvering a canoe…
As she’s getting ready to grab the oar and start rowing towards an unknown destination, the dolphin suddenly jerks away from the boat to grab in its mouth something falling from the sky.
-What was that? asks Annie, impressed by the dolphin’s skills.
The dolphin comes back by the gondola to drop its catch by Annie’s feet.
-Oh my God it’s an eaglet! Is the poor thing alive? Annie wonders as she checks the heartbeats of the baby bird.
-I had chosen a bronze eagle to ‘crown’ my palace! whispers Charlemagne, who really starts to feel that all the animals present in his vivid dream are coming from the depths of his own symbolic world.
In the warmth of Annie’s palm, the eaglet gradually opens its eyes, and the dolphin starts giggling, whistling and making happy little squeaking sounds to celebrate the life of the baby bird. The mammal, happy to have saved the eaglet, is now pressing Annie to get the gondola moving.
-OK, OK, I’m coming, she says… Let me put my scarf in my hat and use this as a little nest for this sweet baby! Here…
The dolphin giggles again and splashes Annie with its flukes.
-Haha, she laughs as she wipes her face, I like your tail; it looks like a moon crescent. You’re as mischievous as my first Wild West Show horse. Sometimes when he chased flies he would slap me in the face with his tail as I was lying down on his back during rehearsals!
This memory brings her joy as she mentally looks in the rearview mirror of time, eager to use it for something different than her old shooting trick. She decides that instead of a gun on her shoulder she will carry her memories in a bindle, to see if they can be of some use for this mission of a new kind.
Even though in a new role, gondolier Annie is happy to finally get some action going. After securing the “hat nest” in front of her and gently patting the eaglet’s forehead, she gets up, grabs the oar and is off on her new adventure.
-Let’s see where we are, she says. I remember that someone took pictures of Cody’s gondola and mine before we started our little cruise, just across Piazza San Marco, ready to go in that direction. Frank had made fun of me because I thought San Marco was Marco Polo… Anyway, I know we reached that San Marco shore, and then we entered a narrow canal on the right. I guess it’s where I am now. Is there any ‘street name’ on the walls along the water’?
The first challenge for Annie is to keep her balance as she leans to pass under one of several little bridges over the canal. The dolphin, ahead of her, giggles at her effort and then swims to the right edge of the canal to force Annie to look into that direction.
-Oh there it is! Thank you, dear friend, I’m seeing it now on this façade. “Campo San Moisè,” she reads. Moisè really sounds like my real last name, Mosey, and I think Moisè means Moses in Italian… Some people would spell my last name that way… I’m sure it is a sign that the waters are opening a path for us to succeed in our mission, whatever that mission is! she exclaims.
-Haha! We can use some of her confidence, smiles the writer, convinced that Annie is a helpful addition to a story that really has a life of its own.
Annie is rowing with renewed energy in search of new signs along the way. She loves admiring the old houses along the canal. She particularly appreciates the narrow rectangular windows elaborately decorated with ogee arches. They give her the impression that, any minute, Aladdin will jump from a balcony to land in her gondola, falling from the sky like the eaglet rescued by the dolphin. The baby bird looks pleased in its improvised nest, happy to discover the city with its saviors. After each bridge, there are new surprises, like those beautiful lions’ heads supporting stone balconies.
The writer catches a glimpse of the name of this canal section: Rio dei Barcaroli.
-Oh! she observes. This sounds like the title of an old song in my elders’ dialect. It is dedicated to my hometown, hence its name la Barcarolle Verviétoise… They say the author of the lyrics borrowed the melody from Venice. I guess gondoliers would sing those notes in a canal such as the one Annie is rowing in…
The only song one hears now is that of the giggling dolphin that accompanies Gondolier Annie.
-Dolphin, we have reached Grand Canal! she exclaims. Look, this is the Rialto Bridge on the right! For some reason though, I’ll leave it behind. I want to go left…
After passing by two narrow canals across the intersection she just left, Annie decides to go upstream again in the third canal that crosses the sestiere (borough) di San Polo.
-See! We’re entering “Rio di San Polo”! reads Annie in a triumphant tone. No matter what Mister Butler says, I decide those neighborhoods are named after Marco Polo!
-Who is this Marco Polo she keeps talking about? inquires Ziryab.
-I wouldn’t exactly call him a saint, smiles the writer, but he became very famous for his travels. He was an explorer from the 13th and 14th centuries. He was born in Venice, or so they say, and returned to Venice after spending 24 years in Asia, mostly China.
-So he was a world wanderer like me… concludes Ziryab.
A beautiful ‘palazzo’ along Rio di San Polo presents the characteristic ogee arches that Annie loves, and she also notices that the layer that once covered the bricks is almost gone now. Maybe the town is not as opulent as back in the day… Before leaning under the next bridge, she admires a charming bell tower seen on the right bank of the ‘river’, and clothes drying on a set of cords across a double window.
-They have to be careful not to drop their laundry in the water as they hang their clothes, she laughs. Dolphin, don’t you think those bicolor poles look like wooden Christmas candy canes, which a giant would have placed upside down in the water? Well, maybe they don’t have those candy canes here in Venice in the first place… and I guess dolphins don’t celebrate Christmas either, silly me… she sighs, starting to feel a bit lonely despite the presence of her dolphin and eaglet companions.
After giving her a big smile and playing around the “Christmas candy canes”, mooring poles called “pali da casada”, the dolphin turns left on a tiny canal, inviting her human friend to follow suit. Soon they reach another cute little bridge, but Annie has to be very careful not to crash into the stone dock right after the bridge.
-Why didn’t you warn me, dolphin? It’s dangerous!
Without “answering”, the dolphin giggles again, gives her a new tail splash, dives under the gondola and darts back from where they came.
-Hey, wait! I can’t turn like this, waaait! she calls to no avail.
Sad to see her friend leave, she understands that maybe it’s the dolphin’s way to tell her that the gondola trip has ended and she now needs to discover the streets of this neighborhood on foot, to fulfill her unknown mission. She carefully places the oar back in the boat, grabs her elephant-hide case and the “hat nestle” where the eaglet has fallen asleep, and she hops off the gondola. The streets are as empty as the canals, and Annie longs for company. Without giving it much thought, she turns right on the first narrow street she encounters, wondering what to do next. After a few steps she stops in front of a Venetian masks store. She’s in awe at the details of so many beautiful artworks waiting for someone to wear them to adopt a new personality.
-What an impressive collection! she marvels. And such a cute doll in the foreground! I really love the rhino too. It’s as if that strange cut-out character was holding its front horn!
–La sagoma di carta è Pantalone; e perché non lo chiami un unicorno? Hai perso il tuo senso di magia? asks the shopkeeper, smiling at Annie from the door frame.
-I don’t speak Italian, she apologizes to the man talking to her. He wears ample puffed pantaloons and a beautifully embroidered silk coat.
-I was saying that the paper doll is Pantaloon, and asking if it’s because you lost your sense of magic that you don’t call the animal a unicorn, he translates.
-Well no, I call it a rhino because it actually IS a… Who are you anyway?
-I’m the one you’ve made holy since you became a gondolier, says the man with a wink.
-The one I made… Marco? Marco Polo??
-Himself, he smiles. I know I spent many years abroad, but I thought I would still be a good Venetian guide for you. Welcome to this modest but magical store, he says, inviting her inside.
-I am grateful and honored, she says as she enters, giving him a curtsy like the ones she would make after her shooting gigs for the Wild West Show.
-Please have a seat, says Marco. I will make tea.
Annie looks around her before sitting at the little table by the shop window. The eaglet has awakened and he looks into her eyes, wondering if she will be his “humom”…
-Don’t be afraid, little one, she tells him. I’ll ask Marco if he knows what to feed you.
She carefully places the “hat nest” on the floor and reaches out to the she-doll that attracted her from the street. She takes a seat and starts studying the doll’s beautiful garment. When Marco comes back with a tea tray, he seems moved by her choice.
-Here, he says as he pours a cup of jasmine tea to his guest. I am convinced that good conversations go hand in hand with tea. I’ve also brought a bit of raw fish for your winged friend!
-Oh thank you! she beams, directly starting to feed the baby eagle, which starts devouring the fish she feeds him piece by piece.
-You’re welcome, he smiles. I hope you like my humble abode. I chose to dwell here in spirit for a while because masks can reveal so much.
-Funny since masks are supposed to conceal, observes Annie, looking into the eyes of the doll she picked.
-But they can tell so many stories, answers Marco.
-I guess so, recognizes Annie. That rhino on display reminds me of a three-horned specimen owned by the Sells Brothers. I worked in their circus for a while…
-I had never seen such an animal before my travels, answers Marco Polo, so I called it ‘unique horn’.
-“Unique Corn,” chuckles Charlemagne, bringing to his forehead the ear of corn he still carries. He is eager to learn more about the new character who has appeared on the water screen.
-I remember, continues Annie, when I started working for the circus, I was a bit scared of these big “unique horns”, although the first one I saw had three horns! That’s why the brothers had bought it in the first place; they had the poor thing on display, like many other “freaks”, animals or humans… Rhinos can be intimidating at first, but after a while they prove to be very docile and placid. That year was so important in my life. I had just met Tatanka Iyotake, Sitting Bull, in Saint Paul, she says, stirring her tea with a tiny spoon whose handle is adorned with a butterfly.
-See how masks trigger stories? says Marco with a wink. Saint Paul, the Apostle, is actually the one whose name is honored in the nearby canal, not me, he smiles.
-Oh, says a disappointed Annie. Well, I’m still very grateful to be with you!!
-Thank you! laughs Marco. It’s great to have company indeed. What brings you to Venice-the-temporarily-ghost-town? It’s been strange here lately. Some would call it dull since the virus started, but I actually find it appeasing.
-Well I think it’s precisely what brings me here, says Annie. My friends Charging Crow and Black Hawk showed up when I was asleep in the gondola, to tell me about their discomfort regarding something that happened to them before the Wild West Show came here to Italy, although the other important reason for their visit was to ask me to do something about the virus that looks like a pomander.
-Pomanders are good! objects Marco.
-Yeah, especially when they adorn fake trees that make the world sick… ironizes Charlemagne. He wants to eat back his words the second he looks at his corn ear to realize its kernels are becoming sick too, swelling and turning greyish blue. Concerned, he keeps this to himself.
-Well, Christmas pomanders are good, says Annie, but their shape reminded my Lakota friends of what the virus looks like.
-Ah, I see, says Marco. But here in Venice people would also wear pomanders. Some even had a collection of those silver balls filled with aromatic herbs, precisely to ward off illnesses.
-Strange, says Annie… Maybe it means all is not bad with the ‘pomander virus’? Like a terrible ‘prank’ to send a message to humanity? A clown friend of mine at the circus used to say that his kind are indeed doctors and philosophers, because through displaying apparent bad or stupid behavior they act as mirrors for people to rectify their own wrongdoing. Could this pomander be a mirror of what’s not working for the society of the living?
-Well, says Marco, while remotely observing your adventures before you came to the shop, I was thinking to myself that it was close to a miracle to see a dolphin in Venice canals. I had not seen a single one since those monster cruise ships invade the lagoon daily. I must admit the ‘human lockdown’ is quite a respite for me, for the city, and of course for the water and sky beings.
-Right, says Annie. So maybe we have to focus on that aspect while whispering to the ear of the living when they dream. “Mother Nature is taking a break” is a first message we can convey to soothe their hearts.
-I like the idea, says Marco. I will thank my fellow Venetians to keep our city clean and calm for a change! But what other role do we have to play in all this? All I know regarding the virus is that it seems to cause a respiratory illness, which affects the lungs of people all over the world. I wonder why you and I are supposed to be able to do something though.
-I don’t really think in terms of ‘why’ but rather ‘how’, answers Annie, always practical even in spirit. However, maybe I can think of an explanation. When alive, we might have had predispositions to fight this particular kind of illness. And remember that souls have memory, even genetic memory… I know that people dear to my heart battled with lung-related diseases. My dad died of pneumonia and my sister Lydia of tuberculosis, which was supposed to be extremely contagious, but I was fine around her…
-Wow… Tuberculosis is the “new name” they gave to what we called “consumption” back in my times… I actually died of consumption, says Marco Polo.
-Interesting, says Annie. And the official cause of my own demise was called “pernicious anemia”. One of the things it made me struggle with was shortness of breath… I’m pretty sure holding lead bullets in my mouth for so long did nothing to improve my health either, but well. It seems we have a pattern here… You know, I have been thinking about my times here in Italy and before that in Spain, where I caught what I think was the first wave of influenza that swept the world while I was alive. Not all viruses are biologic agents affecting body cells though.
-What do you mean? wonders Marco.
-Well, she goes on, when I became spirit, I went back to observe some of the things that I had started questioning before I left this world. The thing that hurt me the most and turned me into a survivor at a very young age was my father’s death. Like I said I lost him to pneumonia. When I reexamined his own life, I realized that the virus that stopped his heart from beating had started a long time ago. When he was only 13, THIRTEEN, he fought in a war. He never wanted to talk about it. I was five when he died.
-I was five when my mother died too! gasps Marco.
-Oh wow… I’m sorry about that, says Annie. I know the feeling. I felt I had to replace my dad in the household when it happened. And when I grew older, I asked my mom about those war years, not only the one in which my dad fought, but also the Civil War. She would sigh, sit down, put her hands on her heart and… say nothing as she wiped her tears. I have now understood that the lungs surround our heart, center of our emotions. So I wondered: what if the symptoms affecting the lungs are related to unspoken emotions?
-What if… whispers Marco, lost in his own thoughts.
-I mean, if you think about it, she goes on, when we’re hurt, or when we worry, or when we feel deep grief, we tend to hold our breath, eventually preventing tears from flowing, thinking it will help in the process of ‘getting over it’, and maybe it translates into really damaging our heart and lungs on the physical too! You and I know, since we’re in spirit, that unaddressed grief does not die with the body… It goes down through the next generations. Our unresolved or suppressed issues may be the terrible energetic legacy we leave behind.
-Man, this girl is smart! says Charlemagne, still looking at his blueish ear of corn, wondering if the plant is also suffocating for some weird energetic reason.
-So tell me, Annie. Did you have children? asks Marco.
-No, she says, looking down on the floor and grabbing her hat nest to put it on her lap and pet the eaglet. I guess it’s why I love pets so much…
-Why didn’t you become a mom? Marco insists.
-I don’t know, admits Annie. I used the excuse of our frequent travels and a lifestyle that was not what a child needed, but the truth is, I was terrified.
-Of what? her friend asks.
-Of death… she whispers.
-But what do you mean? Children are LIFE!
-Yes, for men it’s quite the obvious equation. Women can die giving birth though… That thought always haunted me, and paralyzed me.
-Maybe it was part of the legacy left to you by other ancestors then…
-Maybe, Annie admits. So what about you, did you have children?
-Yes, smiles Marco, three beautiful girls: Fantina, Bellela and Moreta…
-You can tell this man loved his children, says Charlemagne who remembers his own daughters and wonders if his choices were always very thoughtful for them.
-Why do you have a sad smile then? Annie bluntly asks Marco.
-Surprised by her directness, the explorer senses it is finally time to reveal the big secret he never told anybody else when he was alive, a secret that he both cherished and dreaded…
-Because of Kököchin… he admits.
-May I ask what or who Kököchin is? asks Annie.
-Don’t get me wrong, says Marco. I adored my daughters, and my wife was a good person. But sometimes I couldn’t help wondering how my daughters would have turned out to be if Kököchin had been their mother. But she was so young, and the Kahn was so powerful… And I was so intoxicated by those stupid ideas of honor and loyalty to the ‘rulers’… I was so influenced by my father whom I had imagined, missed, blamed, hated, loved, idolized for fifteen years before he finally remembered he had a wife in Venice, who had been dead for the longest time, leaving an orphaned son who wondered why he had never seen his dad! he ends up shouting.
-Wow… Whether it’s good or not for the living, I think you do need to let go off some emotional baggage, says Annie in a soothing tone. It would be an honor and a true privilege for me to be able to help you process what sounds like unaddressed grief.
For some strange reason, Marco feels ‘at home’ with Annie, she feels like family, even though it’s the first time they meet… Wondering where he could start telling her about his repressed feelings, he finally understands that it is the reason why their encounter had to take place in a masks and dolls shop, and he gently takes the doll out of Annie’s hands.
-Please meet Kököchin, dear one, he says as he holds the doll’s face in front of Annie’s.
TO BE CONTINUED: here