In 1850, an Irish doctor by the name of Charles Hern was appointed by the British authorities as resident physician on the island of Kythera. He was young and was blessed with the typical charm of the Irish. One evening, at a ball at the British governor’s palace, he met a young Kytheran girl, Rosa Kasimatis, who came from one of the island’s most illustrious families. Rosa was young and said to be very pretty and Charles fell in love with her. He asked the Kasimatis family for her hand, but they were less than impressed and turned him down quite bluntly. This did not stop him, however, and he married Rosa, but her family’s disapproval led him to put a certain distance between them.
Charles and Rosa went to another Ionian iland, Lefkada. Rosa gave birth to a son, and his father named him after their new island home, calling him Lefkadio. They then had a daughter. Charles was soon called back to his native Ireland and arrived in Dublin with his wife and children. Despite the Irish’s well-deserved reputation for their hospitality, the Herns were not warmly welcomed, particularly as Rosa, a foreigner, was an orthodox Christian, a result of the schism in the eyes of the ultra-Catholic locals. Their hostility was evident from the outset.
Charles was then sent to India. He went alone, leaving his wife and children behind in the care of his family. They took such advantage and treated Rosa so badly that she could take no more: she abandoned her children and fled, returning to Kythera. The Herns then turned their hatred for Rosa against her children…
At the age of 13, the young Lefkadio lost an eye while playing with his classmates. He was almost totally rejected by his father’s family. As soon as he was old enough, he ran away and travelled around the world, as if he were looking for a mother that he had barely known. He started in Paris where he became a journalist, then went to London, and later the United States where he married a mixed-race cook and made firm friendships with some illustrious people. He lived for a while in Martinique where he became interested in zombies and other creatures from the Afterlife. He was invited by a friend, a Japanese ambassador, to visit his country. He arrived in Yokohama, fell in love with the daughter of a samourai, and married her.
He took Japanese citizenship, and a Japanese name, Koizumi Yakumo. He immersed himself in Japanese culture, notably in the legends and anything connected with revenants, as Japan has for a long time been one of their prime homelands. Among other works, he wrote several quite unique books of Japanese ghost stories. He died in 1904 and was buried in a Buddhist ceremony, regarded by the Japanese as one of their own. His publications brought him a worldwide reputation. He has remained in Japanese hearts, and many visitors come to Kythera ech year looking for their hero’s mother. Among others, in 2011, the island welcomed his great-grandson, 100% Japanese, but fascinated by his Greek ancestry.
Meanwhile, having returned to Kythera, Rosa was reunited with her family, the Kasimatis. She and Charles Hern were divorced. She never saw Lefkadio or his sister again. She married again, with Giovanni Cavalini, a Lloyds agent from Trieste who was also an Austrian consul. He built the magificent archondiko in Avlemonas, which I happened to be visiting some time ago. He and Rosa lived there for many years. She gave birth to five children whose descendants still own the fine building. I asked to see a portrait of her. Eleni Harou, the island’s expert historian who had already regaled us with her stories, replied that there was neither a portrait nor a photograph of her, to the great despair of the Japanese tourists who came looking for any trace of Rosa.
“So we’ll never know what she looked like”, I said.
“A long time ago”, Eleni Harou replied, “I knew a woman called Catherine Kaliveri Harou. Her godmother was Rosa Hern’s daughter. One time, when she was little, she was placed in a rocking-chair, and she was getting bored. In order to entertain her, her godmother brought out a big box of old photos and showed them to her.
“See here, Kitoula, this is our Rosa”, and the little girl saw a photo of a very fat lady.”
“And so she ended her life getting fat, surrounded by her children and granchildren.”
“Not at all”, Eleni Harou cut in. “She lost her mind and she was sent to an asylum in Corfu where she died.”
“The mystery is solved”, I cried. “A victim of her love, she lost her mind.”