Smyrna, August 1922: The largest Greek city is delivered to fire, rope and knife; all of Eastern Greece, to annihilation. Unable to come up with an explanation, governments in Athens speak of an “Asia Minor Catastrophe,” pretending it was not Greece herself that was driven to the slaughterhouse that month but some distant country in another continent.
Athens, September 1922: A collegium of bishops clears one of its members from pending allegations and legitimizes his election to the position of Oecumenical Patriarch of New Rome Konstantinople.
Konstantinople, July 1923: A patriarch is forced to abdication. The reforms that he had rushed to implement are all retracted or neglected; all, except for one: the abolition of the Calendar.
In Marshfield, in Kímolos, in New Ionia, and finally, in Wexford, seasoned emigrant who arrives, settles, resigns, packs up, relocates and restarts, a whole decade from November 2002 to September 2013, this man leaves Wisconsin for Greece and Greece for Ireland; and then, exile to Kímolos, for the hard years from September 1950 to June 1960; and then again in Kímolos, refugee and hermit the whole time from September 1640 to December 1650. Different times they are, and changing places, for an expatriate who seems to change but little from century to century and keeps returning to the same island. Young victim of yet another population exchange, too old to change his ways, and now already a middle-aged professional without specific ties or designs, he seeks solace in that special pastime of middle-aged expatriates: time and again he will set out to review the old life in order to find out what went wrong and when. His country ruined and his church divided, looking at days that may belong to two different calendars, he writes and tries to remember and, mostly, talks to himself. He still has to keep the times of at least three different lives: his own, the others’, and an infinite series of inexhaustibly branching what-ifs.
His original intention was to simply commit to what had at first looked like a very simple exercise: the description of passing years in a small community, at a certain place, and for a defined period of time. His chosen narrator could be a monk, a psalmist, a mathematician, a political prisoner or a doctor; a man anyway who is certain of unshakable truths – the kind that clings to ancient rhythms. The time did not have to be any more than ten years; the place, no bigger than a tiny island in the Aegean. In the beginning, an order was applied of clear definitions and forms. But writers do not define the outcomes of their stories, and soon he realized that, within his own study, in the pages of his own book, he was not the only one speaking. Sitting next to him, there had always been a second writer, and sometimes a third one too; several others had been watching and, in due time, they came forth and made themselves known. They were not the only ones with a story to tell. The island, greater in fact than its size, could not stop growing. Sometimes it felt as if Kímolos was nothing smaller, in fact, nothing less, than a perfect and detailed image of a fallen Creation. When this kind of realizations take place, more changes are bound to follow. The writer himself became a reader first and then a character in other writers’ stories. As for the time limits that had been so carefully drawn, those ten years that the unsuspecting author had meant to capture in seven neatly divided chapters, they too began to expand as soon as they were put on paper. For having caught the shadow of the times, the times’ peculiarly circular rhythms these years of his began to replicate. Something else he had in mind; he had sought other things. What he found was, again, that old and so familiar New Time of ours: a lattice of overlapping cycles that somehow erupted from the Loss of 1453, or from the Surprise in the 1492, or from one of the even stranger times that followed thereafter; a spherical expanse that apparently reached its outer limits by the end of the seventeenth century; and a circle made of dilemmas and enigmas, and which can now only contract back to its original size. But he also found a passage.