Last Letters from Hav

Jan Morris arrives in Hav as the most recent in a long line of powerful colonizers and illustrious visitors. Many of them have commended Hav to the world and left buildings, stories, and customs, now regarded with deep affection by the local inhabitants.

Each day begins with the trumpeted “Lament for the Dead Knights,” a tribute to a heroic minstrel in Saladin’s time. The motorized traffic is prohibited from the main square until 7:00 a.m., when the tumult of the morning market is unleashed.

The early days of her stay are wonderfully exciting as Morris tours the haunts of the indigenous Kretevs and the waterfront with its extraordinarily electric ferry. Later, the dangerous race over the roofs of Hav generates a new hero in the town’s timeless tradition. The House of the Chinese Master adds an element of merry wonder. Casino Cove, a gambler’s paradise, can be accessed only by luxury yacht.

By the third month, a deeper mystery takes hold, indicated by the mazes, the cultural totem of Hav. The narrative becomes mazelike when profusion begins to tumble Morris’ descriptive images about and the summer heat prostrates everyone. Yet, this is the time said to be favored by such previous visitors to Hav as Sigmund Freud and Richard Wagner.

What better place to meet a community of ascetic agnostics? Just down the road are the Cathars, a heretical cult holding to ancient beliefs of good and evil. They convene secret meetings and attend dressed in hoods, the women veiled.

Then, suddenly, mysteriously, black aircraft pass overhead. Seemingly insignificant symptoms cumulatively signal a major disaster. Morris, in her battered Renault, joins a long line of cars climbing the winding track out of Hav while warships glint on the southern horizon.

Any armchair traveler will delight in the opaque allusions and exquisite anecdotes told with an incomparable, bouyant relish for the fantastic.