Table Mountain and the Legend of the Querulous Giant who Blasted the Cape Sea Route Free

Table Mountain Cape Sea Route

For nearly four centuries the Giant of Table Mountain watched over the only Cape Sea Route connecting the Mediterranean Sea, past Cape Town, South Africa, with the Indian Ocean.

Table Mountain and the Legend of the Querulous Giant Adamastor

Ancient Greece was not only a time where culture and philosophy flourished but a time of great tales too. Such were the Greek Myths, stories about gods, goddesses, and their daily rituals. According to the ancient Greeks, Uranus, meaning sky or heaven, was their greatest god, and his wife was Gaea, or Gaia, meaning land, or earth. Uranus and Gaia had many children, some being the twelve Titans who ruled the earth. One of the Titans was Cronus, who later fathered Zeus…

Zeus, eventually, with the aid of two of his brothers, Poseidon and Hades, won the war against the Titans – which were rather tyrannical uncles – and banished them to three places around the world. One such place was the dark and gloomy underworld of Tartarus. The second place was a British Island in the far west, probably the Outer Hebrides, or the Island of Strangers, or even Western Isles, in Scotland. The third place, where poor, old Adamastor was imprisoned, was situated at the southern end of the world,  at Table Mountain.

Although… Adamastor appears to be a mythological character created much later, and by the Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões who lived in the 16th century and is, to this day, considered the Portuguese language’s greatest poet. Still, let’s hear his account as it explains superbly how the Cape of Storms, or Cape of Good Hope, near the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula (located in today’s Western Cape province of South Africa), received its name.

So, back to Adamastor, restricted under Table Mountain…

After a few hundred years of being locked away Adamastor was feelings rather bored. There he was, a strong giant once leading a busy life, now confined to a small stony place covered with shrubs and fynbos… not even mighty trees! So Adamastor, to give some purpose to his days, decided to take action and do something good: protect! Yet guard not only the area where he’s been locked up but the entire continent of Africa.

Table Mountain Cape Sea Route, Departure of fleet from Lisbon harbor by Theodor de Bry, 1592
Departure of fleet from Lisbon harbor by Theodor de Bry, 1592

This was around the time when the Portuguese navigators first sailed along the west coast of Africa all the way down… and Adamastor saw them arriving, out of the corner of his eye. He grunted but said nothing, did nothing, just kept an eye on them as one would with naughty children. Waiting for the navigators to do something wrong, and knowing well that they will. The Portuguese sailed on; busy on their route that took them for the first time through these foreign seas, further south they floated, approaching the southernmost tip of Africa. Adamastor said nothing, again, but grunted, rumbled and crossed his arms, I am watching you, and a strong wind swelled the Atlantic Ocean. Still, the navigators kept sailing on, their sails swelling with the gale, their ships angled. When they eventually attempted to approach the land, for fresh water, fresh fruits and maybe some eggs too, Adamastor had had it. He coughed and he puffed so much, that the waters of the Atlantic AND the Indian Ocean swelled, especially along the line where they meet, by the southernmost tip of Africa.

So Bartolomeu Dias, the first Portuguese sailor to attempt sailing down the west coast of Africa, around its tip and up its east coast, towards India – to buy the precious spices (ginger, black pepper, nutmeg, clover – the great Bartolomeu Dias dared not sail further, but turned back his ships and set his compass to home.

It was but a few years later when another Portuguese navigator, Vasco da Gama, showed no fear. He had seen the storm approaching, so he thought, really hard, what he can do next. He weighed his options. Run for cover, or head out to open water for some sea room? If he ran for cover, the preferred choice, the danger lied in being caught in the storm closer to shore, with no room to maneuver or runoff. Smashed against the rocky shored he could end. But if he sailed away, towards the open ocean, he could very well sail towards the middle of the storm.

So when Adamastor raised the winds, Vasco da Gama lowered his sails. When Adamastor swelled the waves, da Gama kept speeding on, aiming for flat spots of sea between the giant breakers, all the time making sure he kept the land to his left, staying on his initial course of rounding the Cape.

Da Gama did a great battle with Adamastor. Storm after storm Adamastor threw at the Portuguese ships, terrifying the sailors who were already scared for they had reached the dreaded Cape of Storms and were nearing the place where Dias had given up. And although his sailors were ready to cut a deal bargain with Adamastor, Da Gama wanted to prove that he was not Dias, and he was not superstitious either.

Table Mountain Cape Sea Route, Cape Point, southernmost tip of Africa
Cape Point, southernmost tip of Africa, photo by Clayton Cardinalli, Unsplash

But Da Gama was clever, not only brave and stubborn. He promised Adamastor a better name for his southernmost rocky spot, one that will bring more visitors over, thus increasing Adamastor’s kingdom. He shall name it the Cape of Good Hope.

Finally, a deal was struck and Da Gama sailed past and reached India, thus establishing the first sailing route there from Europe, the Cape Sea Route. And Adamastor got his large kingdom, to protect.

The Cape Sea Route below Table Mountain after the Suez Canal opened

The Cape Sea Route was in high demand until 1869 when the opening of the Suez Canal provided a much shorter route from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean, thus rendering the long trip around Africa inefficient… Until the Ever Given cargo ship, a 400 meters long Megaship, got stuck in the Suez Canal due to strong winds (perhaps it was Adamastor?) and a sandstorm and blocked the Suez Canal in Egypt, when it ran aground diagonally on March 23rd 2021.

Etymology: The name Adamastor is an adaptation in Portuguese of the Greek word for “Untamed” or “Untameable” (Adamastos) (which the Portuguese did tame eventually).

Fynbos, a small belt of natural shrub-land or heath-land vegetation located in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces of South Africa.

I hope you enjoyed my tale about Table Mountain and the Legend of the Querulous Giant who Blasted the Cape Sea Route Free.

Discover more legends and read about Cape Town and about a beloved Great Dane, the first dog to be enlisted in the Royal Navy during World War Two, in my book Joyful Trouble (available as an eBook, paperback, large print and hardcover).

Joyful Trouble, military dog WW2 novel

The Fox and the Tiger, a Fable

The BLT, the Bear, the Lion and the Tiger

The Fox and the Tiger is a fable as old as life, yet I like to imagine it taking place shortly after humans appeared on the Earth, perhaps hailing from Africa, a time when animals still spoke among themselves in a language understood by humans. A time of peace and harmony. Today tigers, in their natural habitat, live freely only in Asia, but foxes are most versatile, and we find them on every continent save for Antarctica.

The Fox and the Tiger, a fable

Once upon a time, and a long, long time ago when animals still shared the same language and spoke to one another, an orange fox with a bushy tail met a red-yellow tiger with great paws.

The tiger showed off his stripes that seemed to move like waves along with its sinuous muscles, smiled charmingly to parade his long, yellow teeth, a piece of raw meat still stuck behind one of them, then stretched one paw to admire his long, sharp claws, and prepared himself to devour the fox.

For what help is a fox that crosses a tiger’s path, but to become his snack?

fox alexander andrews
I wonder what question is this fox asking us? Image by Alexander Andrews, Unsplash

Yet the fox lowered her head, avoiding direct eye contact just like Mother Fox told her a million times (and the little fox did pay attention each time), swiped her tail left, then right, and spoke softly and sweetly.

‘My dear Sir Tiger,’ she began, ‘how stripy your stripes are, how grand your teeth, and how sharp your claws are. You must think of yourself as the King of Beasts, and with a great cause’ she added quickly. ‘But does your courage compare with my own? Look at little me,’ and saying so Fox bowed, making herself appear even smaller. ‘Let us walk together and I will show you what I mean,’ and with one rounded movement of her front paw, she pointed ahead, waiting for Tiger to start moving.

‘What do you mean?’ Tiger growled low, irritated, masking a burp for he had just gulped down his breakfast, and that gave him gas. Everything seemed to cause him gas lately.

‘Let us step side by side and if Man will catch sight of me and not fear me, then it is you, Sir Tiger, who is indeed the King of Beasts, and so you may devour me on the spot.’

Tiger gave a crooked smile, his stomach rather crampy, but the thought that topping up his breakfast with a little fox might relieve his cramps appealed to him. Plus, it would be an easy task. While Fox, moving lightly, made sure she kept away (for she was rather scared of the great Tiger… and his breath was quite stinky too), yet half a step ahead of the big cat.

So, soon enough after their encounter, Tiger and Fox rambled side by side on the broad path. For the great vulture flying with the clouds they were but two flowers, one orange, and one red-yellow.

Yet any beast or traveler that as much as caught sight of them ran away in an instant, screaming with great fright.

After a while Fox lay her head low again, swished her bushy, orange tail, turned, and said sweetly, ‘See, oh great Tiger, Man and all the beasts we encountered ran away at the sight of me, before even seeing you.’

Tiger didn’t know what to make of it, all true and staring him in the face, yet not understanding little Fox’s cunning plan. So he turned, rambled in his throat, and ran away himself, losing his snack, the fox, and taking only his bruised pride with him.

Tiger had seen well that men and beasts appeared to be afraid of Fox, but had not noticed that Fox had borrowed from him, shamelessly, the terror he inspired.

Moral of the story:

Never despair, rather think of a way out and you will soon be safe.

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

Did you know? In South Africa the The Cape fox (Vulpes chama) is called an asse, cama fox or the silver-backed fox. It is a small fox-like animals, native to southern Africa. It is also called a South African version of a fennec fox due to its big ears.

You can enjoy The Fox and the Tiger and MORE in:

The BLT, the Bear, the Lion and the Tiger

The BLT, the Bear, the Lion and the Tiger is a picture book inspired by true life events, the real friendship between a BEAR, a LION and a TIGER.

Why Rhino is Grumpy and Hippo is mad at Hare, folktale part 2

Why Rhino is Grumpy and Hippo is mad at Hare folktale part 2

Following part one, let’s get to the bottom of this and learn Why Rhino is Grumpy and Hippo is Mad at Hare, a humorous retelling of an African folktale that also teaches a lesson or two.

Why Rhino is Grumpy and Hippo is mad at Hare, folktale part 2

There, curled up under a tree, with his feet pulled under his gigantic body, his head resting on one side, his horn pointing sideways, his ears folded back and only his nostrils quivering, gone from this world, slept Rhino.

Why Rhino is Grumpy and Hippo is mad at Hare, folktale part 2

 Rabbit tiptoed closer, completely unnecessary as he knew how deep Rhino could sleep, pulled a leaf from the tree, and tickled Rhino’s nostril. Just for fun. Rhino squealed to complain, still fast asleep, and Rabbit covered his mouth for colossal Rhino sounded just like the teeny puppies he’d spotted by the human’s farm.

Next, Rabbit plucked another leaf and scooped a few Matabele ants, vigilant not to let them crawl on his fur, then ever so careful, while balancing on his tiptoes he let them fall, one by one, into the sleeping Rhino’s ear.

Rabbit quite liked these ants, these diver ants known to pick wars even with the termites, and he quite feared them too. ‘They should do the job quite fine,’ he thought. And in the shadow of the night his front teeth were the only spot to stand out.

Then Rabbit tiptoed away, hiding behind the tree trunk. And not a moment too soon as Rhino jumped from his sleep and the earth shook, some even say it cracked at his feet and the crevice can still be seen today – if you know where to look. Rhino sprang to his feet half-dazed with slumber, half irritated by the ants diving deeper and deeper, crawling round and round into his ear tube. Rhino growled and grunted, grunted and growled, screamed his pain, and trumpeted his anguish while running to the left, running to the right, unsure if the great Zambezi River was the solution or the great baobab nearby.

That’s when Rabbit called out at the top of his voice, while still keeping a safe distance. ‘Shame, what an itch that must be! But help is at hand! Allow me,’ and he came around from behind the bush to get Rhino’s full attention. ‘It will be like pulling out a tooth,’ Rabbit went further.

Rhino stopped from his agitation, still shaking his head, his mouth now clamped shut. ‘Never mind,’ said Rabbit. ‘I’ll use my paw then,’ and he pretended to reach inside Rhino’s ear.

‘So good of you, Rabbit,’ said Rhino, ‘To use your small paws for such a job. Mine, although mighty strong for they support my colossal weight, are too thick.’

‘Mine are just as strong, if not stronger,’ said Rabbit stopping what he was doing and looking down at the light shadows that were his legs, pale white in the moonlight and much lighter than the black Rhino’s ones, completely lost in the shadows.

Rhino grunted, fed up with Rabbit’s chatter and with the ants that were again dancing inside his ear, and eager to have the hare’s help again. Rabbit took the grunt as a defense, one as full-bodied as Rhino was, so he riposted hastily, ‘I’ll prove it to you. Though a tug-of-war,’ and moved away.

The words were still steam leaving Rabbit’s mouth while the cunning long-ears was already tying the other end of the rope around Rhino’s hind leg. Then, with the shadow of a grin stretching his mouth, Rabbit jumped behind the anthill and shouted ‘PULL!’

Rhino pulled, for the ants were squirming in his ear and he wanted them out. He pulled and he ran like his life depended on it. He made it for the forest, away from the anthill, and as he ran the rope stretched like the metal tongues of the Mbira, the musical instrument the humans called ‘the voice of the ancestors.’ The rope stretched and as it did so something anchored it at the opposite end. Something mighty heavy for it forced the Rhino to stop from his chase and it nearly pulled his back leg out of its socket.

as he ran the rope stretched like the metal tongues of the Mbira, the musical instrument the humans called ‘the voice of the ancestors.’

How the Rhino grunted! And how the echo grunted in reply, at the opposite end of the rope. And the more Rhino pulled, the more the rope tensed and something from its opposite end was fighting the Rhino, even pulling the beats towards the shoreline.

Rhino had forgotten all about Rabbit’s boasting by now. And Hippo, who was snoozing while enjoying his juicy grass, had forgotten all about the long-ear’s big mouth as well. Yet here they were, both giants tied to each other through a long rope. Pulling for what they were worth, towards the forest and towards the water. Grunting and bubbling, squealing and growling, making such a commotion that it covered Rabbit’s giggles.

Halfway between the two strong beasts, rolling over with laughter, was Rabbit. So giddy with the outcome of his mischief that he let all worry slip down the ant mound, and he, too, rolled away with it.

The moon was right above Rabbit’s head by now, who looked like a white, round rock on the move. First, it caught Hippo’s eye who gave an all might roar, fed up with Rabbit’s trick and goggle-eyed with outrage. Hearing Hippo’s clamor and catching sight of Rabbit’s glee, Rhino forgot all about the ants when he realized he got played by the hare. So he changed his direction quickly, unbelievably especially giving his massive body, and headed for Rabbit at full speed. While from the lakeside Hippo did the same. How the earth shook. How the night air vibrated with roars of thunder. How lost little Rabbit suddenly looked, for it seemed like he will soon be turned to pulp.

Why Rhino is Grumpy and Hippo is mad at Hare , African hare
The moon was right above Rabbit’s head by now, who looked like a white, round rock on the move.

Something hare hadn’t counted on. Or had he?

But prankster Rabbit hadn’t survived this long by living in fear. So he kept one eye on the roaring, rimmed Rhino, and one eye on the howling, humped Hippo, while his moon-washed, fluffy legs quivered with anticipation, his whiskers pulsating each time the ground shook. Waiting, was he, trembling was his fluffy tail, thumping was his little heart, thudding in his ears… readying himself for the right moment.

From its left, Rhino came charging quickly and deftly. His massive horn seemed to attract the light of the moon like a magnet, pointing towards the skies, as if it was showing Rabbit where he will end, and soon.

From its right, Hippo bulldozed closer and closer while clamping its mouth, its sharp tusks gleaming in the moonlight too, pointing Rabbit towards the possibility of a very spiky ending.

Between them stood Rabbit, shaking with the tremor of the earth, not with fear – as he told the story later, and many times over. And Rabbit stood, not moving, till the right moment, when he jumped forward, giving one of his award-winning leaps.

Rhino, at top speed, crashed headfirst into Hippo, who couldn’t slow down either due to his massive size. Horn against tooth, rhino’s hard skin plates against hippo’s soft skin, hippo’s massive body against Black Rhino’s compact frame.

No winner emerged, just two bruised animals with two wounded egos, and, in the distance, the painted reed frogs and their whistled chorus of laughter.

The following day Rabbit had a sore tummy, sore from laughter, but also big plans to move his residence. Why? Because Rhino’s bad temper (some said because of the ants still lodged in his ear, Rabbit thought that due to his mischief) turned the horned black beast into an impossible neighbor during day time; while at night Hippo scoured the river banks endlessly, still searching for long ears, wanting revenge.
And Rabbit? In search of a new home, away from the enraged Rhino and Hippo, but also away from the farming fields, and away from a sweet, although boring, life.

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

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Why Rhino is Grumpy and Hippo is Mad at Hare

Why Rhino is Grumpy and Hippo is mad at Hare

Discover Why Rhino is Grumpy and Hippo is Mad at Hare, a humorous story after an African folktale that also teaches a lesson or two. Part one.

In African folktale Rabbit is often the trickster, as can be the mouse or the snake. The two large animals who are tricked are most commonly an elephant and a hippopotamus, but a rhinoceros is also sometimes mentioned.

Why Rhino is Grumpy and Hippo is Mad at Hare

The shadows just began dipping their toes into the wide Zambezi River when Rabbit woke up from his daily slumber. As he stuck his nose out of his shallow scrape dug into the soft soil his whiskers caught the evening breeze and Rabbit licked its sweet nectar thinking how well his life has turned.

From his burrow, he could sniff the carrots and the fat lettuce fields from the nearby farm, planning his menu, then he could hop-hop-hop and help himself till his tummy burst, and – say what they may – since humans settled nearby, even the falcons had moved away. He was safe!

It must have been the Nyami Nyami, Rabit was sure, the great spirit of the Zambezi River that kept all his natives safe. No wonder it flooded the human settlements every now and then; no wonder the river bobbled into so many mighty waterfalls (now this, Rabbit hadn’t seen with his own eyes, but hoped to, one day), and no wonder that no bridge could ever be built across the mighty Zambezi. So fierce a body of water, so wide, that the humans from one riverbank could not even wave to the humans living on the opposite shore.

Why Rhino is Grumpy and Hippo is Mad at Hare. sunet over Zambezi River
Sunset over Zambezi River – It must have been the Nyami Nyami, Rabit was sure, the great spirit of the Zambezi River that kept all his natives safe

Well, Rabbit sniggered, they got what they deserved for intruding into the Zambezi habitat. And, goody, he also got what he deserved, smiled Rabbit, wondering if he should choose the carrots or the lettuce that morning. Perhaps the sweet, gold corn?

Annoyed with having to make up his mind, Rabbit looked towards the riverbank in search of something to amuse himself with. That’s when he spotted Hippo’s shiny head and tiny ears sticking out of the dark waters.

‘Hippo-Ho,’ called Rabbit, ‘Hippo-Ho, you munch, munch, munch on grass all day long, yet you say you’re mighty and strong,’ he said and flexed his arm in the direction of the river. ‘Look at little me, I eat three, three types of veggies. I must be, I know I am stronger than thee!’

But Hippo didn’t move, he didn’t even turn his ears – away from Rabbit, you know, as to not hear. Hippo chose to ignore Rabbit altogether.

Yet Rabbit, stubborn like any long-eared creature, kept pestering Hippo, voicing his tirade again and again till Hippo – finally – snorted in reply. ‘I heard you the first time. You’re as annoying as an itch, Rabbit. What will I have to do to have some peace and quiet?’

Rabbit revealed his long front teeth in their entire splendor, his smile even catching one of the last rays of the setting sun. ‘Why, join me in a tug-of-war,’ he called, then thumped and bounced on the spot, his long ears flapping up and down, his fluffy tail quivering.

The sky was still blue behind Rabbit’s burrow, but had turned orange on the river’s far bank, signaling Hippo it was time for food. Before heading along the river bank where he knew a spot with sweet grass, and not wanting Rabbit to follow and learn his secret pantry, Hippo threw over his shoulder, ‘Name the place, Rabbit. You’ve got yourself a tug-of-war,’ then snorted, considering it a task as easy as winking.

Why Rhino is Grumpy and Hippo is Mad at Hare. The sky was still blue behind Rabbit’s burrow, but had turned orange on the river’s far bank, signaling Hippo it was time for food.
The sky was still blue behind Rabbit’s burrow, but had turned orange on the river’s far bank, signaling Hippo it was time for food.

‘By the ants’ mound,’ Rabbit’s voice trailed across the quiet bank. At this Hippo grunted, looked behind at the mound, then ahead towards his secret, sweet patch of grass that appeared to be waiting for him, still full of the day’s sun. Hippo’s mouth watered, his huge belly growled, while evening’s long shadows didn’t help either, making the distance appear that much bigger.

Rabbit, which had heard the growl, said ‘but wait, let me save you the trouble by tying this rope around your ankle. I’ll run to the hill, the half-way mark, and after I jump behind it I’ll shout PULL! – and we’ll commence.’

Done, and Rabbit’s smile grew even bigger as he rubbed his front paws, the rope coiled around his forearm. It was the same rope he had found near the carrot patch and took to his burrow, thinking nothing of it.

A flock of Egyptian geese flew overhead, shadows against a red sky, and their pecking calls sounded like laughter to Rabbit’s ears. When their calls became but a whisper in the night’s breeze Rabbit stood in front of the ants’ mound, as round as Hippo’s back but with a pointy peak in the middle, twice the height, His ears picked up the hissing of the army inside, but also something else, a soft rumble behind it.

‘Yes,’ smiled Rabbit again… (part two coming tomorrow).

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

Huberta the Hippo: Amazing Adventures of a Happy River Horse

From the Land of the Zulu it is said
That a hippo, once, began to migrate.
“Wait a minute,” I hear you say,
“Birds migrate, hippos wallow, in the water snort and play.
How can a hippo from the Land of the Zulu suddenly migrate? Leaped? Flew?”

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Discover more stories about African animals on my blog here.

First Snow and Saint Nicholas for Thursday Doors

First Snow and Saint Nicholas for Thursday Doors, a short story

The first snow of December is winter’s first gift, coming from Saint Nicholas, yet not many know its significance. For that sneeze feeling you have in your nose before winter’s first coat falls, that’s just Saint Nicholas’ beard tickling your cheek.

At the beginning of December, the flakes spiral and dance to the ground the same way Saint Nicholas’ white beard floats behind him as he strides along the road. Each winter since that first one, almost two thousand years ago.

But don’t look out for his arrival for you won’t see him on the road. Cladded in a brown cassock, with white hair framing his silhouette like a cloud, and his silvery beard thrown over his shoulder – so he won’t tread on it – Saint Nicholas’ figure is more like that of a majestic tree than of a man. In his right hand, he holds a stick, a branch of an apple tree, and over his left shoulder, he balances a bundle. It isn’t a big sack like some would expect, rather a modest one, well used, and almost hidden by his snowy mane.

What got him going in the first place? What keeps him on the road still? Some say it is his love for God, for helping those in need. Some believe it is the joy he feels in his heart whenever he offers that much-needed contribution.

For the sum of all the joy that December’s first snow brings to all, is equal to the joy that swells Saint Nicholas’ heart when he strides forward one more year, and makes it snow, a sure tell-tell sign of his impending arrival.

A medieval door to the Church on the Hill in Sighisoara
A medieval door to the Church on the Hill in Sighisoara

The white stone arches of the maritime city of Patara, in Lycia, have long been reduced to ruins, and its once busy harbor is now but a white beach. But once, during the 3rd century, this town founded by none other but the son of Apollo, the god of archery, truth, and healing, was a known harbor at the Mediterranean Sea, and along the trading routes going through Asia Minor. It is said that even Paul and Luke changed ships here.

Saint Nicholas first walked this earth here, in Patara, before settling in the nearby city of Myra. He was fortunate to be born in a wealthy family so he could enjoy a formal education. During those times only upper-class males had such rights. Yet all young Nicholas wanted to do was to learn about God and aid those less fortunate. And helping them he did, for after the timeous death of his parents, he shared his wealth with the poor.

And he did so in a very peculiar way, for he was a rather shy young man who preferred to observe, rather than judge, and to act quietly, rather than boast.

A medieval Thursday Door – The Church from Hill Cemetery, Sighisoara

Night after night Nicholas donned a brown cassock and tiptoed around his town, secretly delivering food and gold coins to those families he knew were in dire need.

One such family was that of a widower who had three hard-working daughters, yet they were too poor to even get married for their father had no money to pay for their dowry. Unable to do much work outside the home to provide for themselves as women were not even considered fit for labor, a harsh life, of poverty and uncertainty, was foreseen for his three girls.

It was the coldest winter they’ve ever known, and the wise men of Patra were whispering it was God’s wrath that had fallen over their village, for people had turned away from one another. Work was scarce, food had become a sweet dream, and even wood for fire was a dear sight.

They had never heard such howling, as if not one, but a clutter of lynxes found refuge outside the city gates.

They had never seen such a snow bridge extending the land far into a still sea now, and narrowing the strait to a choke, freezing all activity in the harbor.

They had never smelled so many different kinds of fire, for the people of Patra having run out of the usual amount of wood stacked for winter, had resourced to burning rags, leaves, even old trash to keep warm.

Medieval Sighisoara in winter - Imagine 164 houses and thirteen public buildings up on a hill, within the protective walls of a fortress. Tall or short, stone or wood, depending on the wealth of their owners, the houses have one floor, some two. But not more.
Medieval Sighisoara in winter – Imagine nearly 200 houses within the protective walls of a fortress. Tall or short, stone or wood, the houses have one floor, some two. But not more.

One such night, all that the widower’s family of four had left for dinner were four potatoes they cooked over the shadow of a fire. When dinner was ready the father asked the oldest daughter to take his cooked potato along with some sticks and deliver them to their neighbor, a lonely woman. Nobody saw the young girl rushing through the still village in that icy dark, nobody but a man dressed in a long cassock. He saw the girl’s good deed and the smile that grew on his face was the strength that kept him going forward that night.

 For he too was a lone visitor in that arctic darkness, moving silently from one needy shelter to the next.

One year passed and it was time for the oldest daughter to marry, yet both she and her father knew it will not happen for they were, each day, poorer than the day before. And winter had come again.

Except that one morning when they woke up the father and his three daughters found a pouch with gold coins outside their front door. They were merry of the unexpected gift, they shared some of it with their needy neighbors, and it was still enough left for the eldest daughter to marry.

But where did the money came from? The father would have like to know.

But we know, don’t we?

One more year passed and the time came for the second daughter to marry. Yet money was scarce again. Until one early morning, when another pouch with gold coins was discovered outside their home. Merry were they, a happy wedding happened and two neighbors were aided this time.

But where did the money had come from, again? The girl’s father promised himself to find out.

Thursday Doors - Sighisoara in winter
Sighisoara in winter

Although we do know, don’t we?

So when one more year passed and winter gripped the village once more, the girl’s father hid outside his home, pulling his cloak tight around him, thin protection against winter’s sharp bite, his hood lowered against the gale, seeking shelter behind their only olive tree. Waiting, more eager to discover the identity of their benefactor than he was worried that chills will take shelter in his old bones. And just as Nicholas approached the poor man’s house the father stepped out of the shadow. Nicholas of Myra took a step backward and threw the pouch through the window, thus it landing in a shoe, then ran. He wished more than anything for his gesture to remain anonymous. The girl’s father only caught sight of a man dressed in a common cassock, departing in a hurry. So he followed him and thus he witnessed more good deeds.

And that winter night the old man felt less and less the bite of the arctic wind, the warm blanket of hope and gratitude settling on his skinny shoulders.

 And he even caught sight of their benefactor’s face. A young man, whose eyes spread such wisdom and love, as only the city’s elders’ did. A man who shed a tear outside each needy household, yet smiled after leaving the gift behind.  A man whose shoulders hunched more and more upon leaving each establishment, as if for each gift he left behind he chose to take away some of the troubles, the worries, the pain hanging over each family.

Thursday Doors - Sighisoara in winter

It was the night between the 5th and the 6th of December, a date the poor man’s family will always remember, a date that remained in folktales and is celebrated by Christians as the night of Saint Nicholas, Moș Nicolae.

I remember, as a child, cleaning my shoes and placing them by the window, hoping that Saint Nicholas will leave an orange and a few chocolates in them. The hope of being remembered. Small joys for a small child, apart for winter’s first snow.

Some say that if they’ve been naughty they found a small wand made from the wood of an apple tree. Maybe even torn from Saint Nicholas’ staff. It is said that if it blooms when placed in water is sure sign that Saint Nicholas forgave all their naughty deeds and that he smiles again.

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

How Does Snow Smells Like?

And not only the first snow, but the way the air smells around that first snow. Clean and fresh, soft, as if it’s just been washed, although it hasn’t. Isn’t it? I write from memories.

To me, snow smells of pine trees, woody, of open spaces, of holiday, of promises and of hopes. It smells as if anything ~ good ~ is possible, and as if dreams do come true. First snow smells like that.

I know that the frozen air has the opposite effect on the human olfactory system, and that we actually have less chances of smelling when it is cold outside because the mucus inside our nostrils dries up, so less particles reach the nerve receptors in our noses. Yet I do solemnly swear that I can smell the first snow and that I can smell the change in the air, before it first snows.

And I know that the air is supposed to be extra ionized when it snows, as it hold more moisture. Add it is a drop in temperature and a decrease in air pressure that makes it snows. Yet isn’t it more to that first snow than science?

For there is a change in the air before it snows. Some call it happiness or anticipation. For others it is the emotional charge of childhood.

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🙂 For Dan’s Thursday Doors blog feature over at No Facilities– do visit and participate by creating your own blog post celebrating a world of doors. 🙂

I’ll leave you with a face in a door:

Sighisoara, Faces in Doors, Thursday Doors