Perfect light floods the residency's rooms at the Golubitskoe estate at sunset. In the summertime, at about half-past seven, the air starts to fill with the warmth of the brightest sun slowly ending its daytime journey in the waters of the Kerch Strait. At this hour, the water that sparkles all around the residency finally gains the upper hand: sunrays sifted through discreet clouds catch their reflection in the sweet and salty waters that seem to be splashing as far as the eye could see: the estuary glitters from south to north, the artificial infinity pond flaunts its perfection, and the sea drives its waves towards tomorrow. The vineyard rows drowning in the light seem no more real than pink flamingos stirring salt with their long beaks in South American seaside creeks.
This light can envelop objects in such a way that, captured in the frame, they immediately gain the magical power of fairy-tale characters. This light capriciously repaints red roses sitting on dense bushes white and white roses red, while the warm but cunning wind makes you close your eyes. When squinting, you already believe that the white rabbit's waistcoat has just flashed somewhere amongst the flowers, but once you open them you cannot point your finger on where exactly you've spotted it. The magnetic quality of this light gives it the power to shut out the rest of the world: regardless of the people around you, it forces you to be alone with it. It cuts out every little detail that fails to keep up with it from the landscape, muffling traffic noises and making it unthinkable to imagine a ship on the horizon. In the world of this perfect light, there exists only the light itself and the one person that witnesses it. This light is not for those who build marinas or wait for the return of travellers or yearn for good news by reading the colour of the sails.
Taman's lands have been welcoming settlers for a long time and have never resisted guests. Of these, the most talkative and inclined to document their tracks have been the ancient Greeks. To reach Taman, they had to cross the Black Sea, which in their language underwent a transformation from Axenos Pontos
to Euxinos Pontos
. The sea turned from 'inhospitable' to 'hospitable' gradually, in the course of being conquered. As soon as the welcoming lights of the Hellenic apoikiai
lit up on the other side of the dark waters, the sea turned from dangerous and frightening into familiar, almost home-like.
This is a familiar rollercoaster, with fear at the bottom of the plunge and knowledge on top. However, this knowledge was not as much about what was hidden in the dark waters
as it was about the fact that this sea could be crossed, that it had a different side that could be reached, and it was inhabited by people just 'like us': not only do they not walk on their heads but they also share the same principles, the same beliefs, the same faith.
One of the principles that the Hellenes carried on their ships was that of hospitality. It is not surprising that researchers consider The Odyssey by Homer – a poem about seafarers' adventures, brimming with encounters with 'strangers' and 'friends' – the most important source on this principle. For instance, here is the reasoning of King Alcinous (Poseidon's grandson), who received a dispossessed (but no less cunning) protagonist at his palace:
'Hearken to me, leaders and counsellors of the Phaeacians, that I may say what the heart in my breast bids me. […] But in the morning we will call more of the elders together, and will entertain the stranger in our halls and offer goodly victims to the gods. […] But if he is one of the immortals come down from heaven, then is this some new thing which the gods are planning; for ever heretofore have they been wont to appear to us in manifest form, when we sacrifice to them glorious hecatombs, and they feast among us, sitting even where we sit. Aye, and if one of us as a lone wayfarer meets them, they use no concealment, for we are of near kin to them, as are the Cyclopes and the wild tribes of the Giants.'
Alcinous connects the arrival of the wanderer with the manifestation of the will of the gods and, if you follow the text of the poem, turns out to be absolutely right, as the reader knows that Athena not only tipped Odysseus off to ask the Phaeacians for shelter but also took time to escort him to the royal palace. Here is how the French researcher Daniel Payot interprets this fragment, analysing hospitality in ancient culture:
'This statement is interesting, as it associates the arrival of the stranger with the arrival of the gods. This does not at all mean that the stranger is himself deified or mistaken for a god; and in his response, Odysseus takes care to very explicitly dissociate his own arrival from that of the gods, his own person from that of a god. But it [the arrival] reinforces a dimension that is omnipresent in the Homeric problematic of hospitality: the stranger is welcomed insofar as his arrival is a decision of the gods, taking place under their aegis, the aegis attested by a ritual, feast and word that replaces a pact. The relationship, if you will, is contractual without ever being dual: hospitality is a matter for three parties: the welcoming, the welcomed and the god who sends the latter, vouches for them, and sometimes also appears themselves. The feast, the rite set up this xenía
, this contract, this institutionalisation of hospitality in which we therefore recognise the two elements that Benveniste distinguished: the gift and the pact.'
It is interesting that both the gift and the pact in this logic turn out to be conditioned by some common natural and, at the same time, legitimate field that is outlined by the divine will expressed explicitly (by poets? by philosophers?) or latently implied (in shadowplay?). Generally speaking, the Hellenes believed that their global desire to host guests where they themselves did not yet reside, which led to the large-scale conquering of foreign lands, was facilitated by Phoebus Apollo, the companion of the muses. One of them, by the way, was Clio, a master storyteller who could spin a yarn at the merest hint.