There were two loves in the life of Father Eduardo Conspiratorez:
The Holy Church (Him) and the Madonna Countessa – languorous eyes, sensuous smile, so seductively alluring. He still hadn’t decided which one he’d choose. The flesh or the soul? The Madonna and the Father would meet in secret. Venice seemed perfect for such secret amorous adventures. Damp, dark, cloistered, and crowded Venice perched. Venice was secretive, opaque and rife with superstitions and blind alleys and sinister inhabitants. The narrow streets barely wide enough for a person, were twisted with bewildering turns. You’d crawl though one of these only at the end to be greeted by the expanse of the Grand Canal, and beyond the Adriatic Sea – enchanting you. The meandering streets were almost like a metaphor for the trials of love itself.
Cobwebs of mist rose from the canals, veiling the lanterns. Rats were in abundance – disembarking off the ships, scurrying along the wharves, gnawing off the wood-beams, and bringing with them the dreaded plague. The Black Death.
Throughout Europe travel was supremely hazardous and not to be taken lightly. But in Venice, small in size, compact, with a merchant aristocracy, fiercely independent, commercial, with a global outlook; travel was the norm. Everyone in Venice was either a traveller or a merchant. The variety of goods that poured in from the ports where a veritable feast for the senses. Minerals, sandalwood, cinnamon, nutmeg, figs, pomegranates, hides, ostrich feathers, pearls, ivory, copper, silk, gums and Asian slaves. But underneath this cupola of a global bazaar, Venice could be cruel. Women were treated as chattel. Slavery was common and abuse rampant. A popular piece of advice to prospective Venetian husbands urged:
‘The wife, who has not sound judgement, must not guide the husband. Her weak constitution borne by the excess of bile humours propensities her to capricious rumbustiousness’
Yet, amidst this chauvinism, Father Eduardo Conspiratorez was more enlightened then most. Blessed with a strong mother he had developed a deep respect for the female kind. Which was why the beautiful Madonna Countessa loved him so. He was different because he respected women. And he loved them as much too. They’d caused him countless grief in his younger years.
They’d meet secretly under the roof of the Casa Barone, a building belonging to one of Eduardo’s merchant uncles who was away. His heart would soar like a bird in anticipation. His joy knew no bounds. A little bird would start flitting in his heart and would not stop until he’d held her tightly in his arms and nibbled on her ears and devoured her lips. Those were frivolous times. But more then anything it was the way the Countess Madonna looked at him that did it. A look of brilliant, radiant and carefree happiness – a look that said anything is possible with you darling.
Oh joys of joys!
And how they’d make love under the moon’s silvery light. Engorged in the delights of sensual pleasure – touch of skin to skin, feel of breath on hair, heaving up and down of chest, tussle of hair, feel of muscles, soft cheeks and perfect breasts.
But Eduardo also wanted to love Him – God. A women’s love was for now but God’s love was eternity and what better way to show that more noble love then to give up this frail carnal love, a love of the flesh, for an immutable love of the infinite soul.
For the love of God is something real to the 11th century mind. In-fact, there is no question of its existence; it is taken as real, has form as substantial as the things you see with your very own eyes.
Thus the tempest raged in Eduardo’s heart. But for the meantime as he lay in Madonna Countessa’s arms, it was becalmed. Bestricken by shame:
‘I love you’
‘But what do you know of my love?’
‘I know it exists’
‘Exists. What a funny word that is eh? Exists. My love exists. But it says nothing of what it means to exist. What it involves. What it feels like. Does it say anything of the knots in my stomach? The joy of the heart? The dissolving away of my troubles. How it feels when I touch your skin. To feel your sweet breath on my breastbone. The smell of your hair. The warmth of your body. Exists. Hah! What an impoverished and poor word it is!’
‘What would you have me say then darling?’
‘It breathes. It soars and it swoops. It gets angry and it gets jealous. It rages. It belittles. It hates. It…
‘Ha ha ha!’ and so they kissed