“What is this place?” asked Kate. Kate was a princess and princesses are not accustomed to being brought to places like this.
Zaza looked at the slip of paper. “The Hinnom Heights Hotel. Between the Scottish Church and the Old City.”
“Zaza, you naughty boy, you can’t be trusted,” said Kate, and the cloud of delicate perfume rising from her mingled with the dry scent of the pine
trees and dry, autumnal Jerusalem air.
“Jerusalem,” said Zaza “you can smell how much holiness there is in the air, and in the afternoon we will go to the Church of the Crucifixion to
visit Shota Rustaveli.”
“He’s dead, isn’t he?” asked Kate indifferently, pulling a cigarette out of a pack of an American brand. “You go visit Rustaveli, and I’ll go shopping.
I hope that apart from God, they have a few other things to sell in this city.”
“Ah,” said Zaza, “good morning to you. We have a reservation. This is the Hinnom Hotel?”
“Jehennom,” said the reception clerk, an Arab Christian from Sheikh Jarrah.
“And who, might I ask, is inquiring?”
“Please.” Zaza handed him a visiting card.
David, the reception clerk, looked at the card upon which were written the names and titles of Prince Zaza Tsitsishvili and his wife Princess Kate –
Ekatrina Ignatova. What a day, he thought to himself. Princes in my hotel. Why not the King David? But maybe – oh, the dreams. He called one of the boys who were standing at the entrance to the stone-paved courtyard and sent him with the heavy suitcases to the 3rd floor.
“Isn’t there an elevator here?” Kate disdainfully flicked her cigarette ash onto the stone flags. Bougainvillea plants, geraniums and jasmine put out
their fragrance and silvery tendrils, and pine nuts lay buried in the piles of needles from the evergreens that shaded the garden. The prince looked at the sweet courtyard that was the heart of the hotel and saw the girl sitting at its extreme end reading a morning newspaper, and immediately he did not want to go anywhere else. For the prince, like other noble Georgians, was a religious man, and religious men fall in love very easily.
He followed the tall princess, who wore jeans and a knit shirt and long, dangling earrings. Her long, black hair was gathered into a bun and on her
feet she wore the most stylish of Italian shoes. The cloud of her delicate perfume, Opium by Yves St. Laurent, filled the staircase that climbed up to
the first, second and third floor.
“There’s no television here!” exclaimed Kate, and looked scornfully at the suite. The refrigerator was simple and empty and without a mini-bar. The
boy opened the door to the balcony and the western city wall of Jerusalem spread before them. Along the all the kilometers of the length of the wall running from north to south there was only the Jaffa gate. A mass of sounds – the bells pealing from the Church of the Dormition, the cry of the muezzin from one of the mosques on the Temple Mount and the noise of the hubbub of the city rose into a golden and wonderful day.
“A dream,” said Prince Zaza and inhaled the city, and the princess looked at the jeans and the green T-shirt he was wearing. What an ugly toad, she thought, a toad. I wish he’d go into town already and I’ll find me someone here good enough to spend time with. Let him go to his monks, to pray, to cross himself. Let him look for God and find him. “God is present here in every stone,” said Zaza, and lit a cigarette, instantly polluting the clean air and Kate thought that God could be present in so many things but not in this ugly thing she had married. How hard it is to be a noble. All those trips,a nd the visiting cards. Why hadn’t she married Bagrationi?
“Ah.” The prince turned to the boy who stood at the door after he had shown them the secrets of the room, with its patterned floor tiles, the bathroom with its Armenian ceramics which the prince examined with interest and the bottle of wine and the pitcher of lemonade with rose petals floating in it and the wonderful platter of fruit that stood on the table. The princess stood next to it and with bored carelessness popped late grapes into her mouth. “Where can a person buy hashish in this town?”
“It’s illegal,” said the boy.
“What do you mean?” asked the prince. “And how do you expect a civilized person to spend his day without a cigarette?”
“I’ll check if there’s any at the desk.” The boy straightened up and the prince slipped a ten shekel piece into his hand. “Is this enough?”
“Thank you,” he said. “I’ll find out and let you know.” He returned a few minutes later, with a little package of blossoms and a packet of papers.
“I’m sorry, there’s no hashish, but there is grass. They say that it’s good stuff.”
“We’ll soon find out!” said the prince. “How much do I need to give you?”
“No, no – it’s part of the service. The hotel owner’s father is from Persia, and there it’s customary to use cannabis indica as part of the ritual.”
The prince regarded him with interest. ‘Where do you know things like that from?”
“I’m a student at the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus. I’m working here during the vacation to save some money and to collect some adventures and stories.”
“Ah,” said the prince, “and do you smoke?’
“Not when I’m on duty.”
“Too bad,” said the prince. “I would have invited you to have a smoke with us.”
“What are you studying?” asked the princess.
“History and literature.”
“Have you ever heard of Shota Rustaveli?”
“I once went with my father to his grave at the Church of the Crucifixion.”
“By the northwestern pillar,” mused the prince. “What a story!”
He sat down by the table and looked through the door at the walls of the old city and the black dome of the Church of the Dormition, beneath which lay the cemetery travelers and researchers and anyone who ever done anything in this land of holiness and madness are buried.
“What a story,” said the princess, and sat down next to the prince. The prince crumbled the flowers and separated the seeds from the dried petals
and rolled the paper and took out a fine-looking mouthpiece that had evidently seen a lot of use and stuck the cigarette into it. Then he rolled
another two cigarettes and laid them on the silver tray and gestured to the student to sit down next to him. He lit the cigarette, took a drag as if he were tasting a wine, and a pleased smile spread over his face. “A land of milk and honey,” he said, and passed the mouthpiece over to the princess, and the princess shut her eyes and smoked and then passed the mouthpiece over to Amnon who decided that in any case the vacation was almost over and he was going back to university and it had been a long time since he last sat and smoked with a prince and a princess.
When they started on the second cigarette, Amnon excused himself and went down to get a bottle of water and a few things to munch, because maybe the prince and the princess would be hungry after they smoked and David regarded him with interest and agreed to take some of his duties off his shoulders and he disappeared up the staircase. And when he got back, the prince and the princess took out a bottle of Georgian wine from Kachti or from the Magrelia estates and they clinked glasses. The sun passed the zenith and the city wall was dry and sharp and devoid of any softness.
“Ah,” said the prince. “You know, our Shota was the chancellor of the exchequer of the kingdom of Georgia. And not just the chancellor of the
exchequer, but the chancellor of King Tamar’s exchequer. Why aren’t you asking me how come the king was called Tamar?”
“I don’t ask a whole lot when I smoke,” said Amnon, “but I’m a great listener.”
“The stinking Georgian men couldn’t call Queen Tamar queen, but only king so that their Muslim Seljuk neighbors wouldn’t laugh at them so they called her King Tamar and she was worth a lot more than any man,” said Princess Ekatrina Ignatova and Amnon looked at her and knew that he would go anywhere after such a woman, crazed with love.
“Ekatrina Ignatova is from Tamar’s family,” said Zaza. “You only think…” He stopped and then continued. “King Tamar was in love with Shota Rustaveli, who was a philosopher and a poet and a historian and a chancellor of the exchequer and a great lover and he couldn’t live without his king and she couldn’t live without her chancellor of the exchequer. But several hundred years ago, just like today, there were things you couldn’t do, that maybe you wanted to do or maybe you should do but you couldn’t. So, in order that she could remain queen he resigned from all his royal positions and came here. He became a monk and built the monastery in the Valley of the Cross and there he wrote the greatest book that was ever written in the Georgian language, his despairing love song to King Tamar, “The Night in the Tiger’s Skin,” and he never loved another woman.
“Ah, l’amour,” said the princess, and Amnon could see that she was crying.
“She came to Jerusalem.”
“I came to Jerusalem,’ said Kate, and there was a tenderness about her.
“I have brought King Tamar to Jerusalem,” said Zaza Tsitshishvili. “We have an appointment today with Shota Rustaveli.”
Amnon crushed the cigarette into the ashtray following the prince’s gesture to do so, and everything looked logical and possible. The last light on the walls. The Old City was tender again. The illusion of the airy tenderness on which so many dreamers have crashed. “We are all dreamers,” said Amnon, and lights of the city began to twinkle on. “Yes,” said the prince, “what great luck,” and the princess looked at him and instead of a big nose, thin lips, incipient baldness and the filth of his clothes, she was sitting next to Shota Rustaveli, the man who had stopped the world so that his queen could continue to be king and for her sake he went to Jerusalem to build her a church and write her the most wonderful book in the world and love her with a passion that he changed to stone and paper until he died, faithful to the woman he loved.