Monday, June 22, 2009

Father Arthur Liolin Presents Impressions of Faik Konitza and a Mystery!

A Copy of the Faik Konitza Bookplate that was appended within the books of his personal library

A few weeks ago, at a seminar held at Harvard University, Father Arthur Liolin presented impressions of Faik Konitza. I was particularly interested in the contrasts that he pointed out between Faik Konitza and Bishop Fan Noli. Below, I have presented Father Liolin's impressions that include a fascinating mystery that you are challenged to help solve!

Impressions of Faik Konitza

by Very Rev Arthur E. Liolin

Harvard University
Dudley House
Seminar on Faik Konitza: An Albanian Luminary
28 April 2009

It is a pleasure to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

It is altogether appropriate that this gathering meet in Harvard Yard,
where our Luminary Faik Konitza and his ideological, or rather patriotic twin: Bishop Fan Noli had studied early in the 20th Century.

As a matter of fact, it was in the 1940s that the Albanian Student Society "DRITA" gathered here. Outside the window of Dudley House, I notice several establishments that have once been Albanian-owned: Nini's Corner [a famous newsstand of the Nini Family], the Greenhouse Restaurant, the Harvard Valeteria [by the Nicholas Family of Belmont] and the GAP Insurance agency [owned by Arthur Kotelly.]

Literary Savant: Faik had inspired Noli and encouraged the priest and future bishop during the course of their writings, discussions, shared work for the newspaper Dielli, from 1909 onward and activities relative to the growing impetus toward an independent Albanian state. Both were once called: "Masters of Finesse," owing to their prowess in diverse languages and literary stylistics. Notably, Faik had become a close friend of the noted avant garde aesthetician Guillaume Apollinaire.

Others here are most competent and academically equipped to present scholarly perspectives of the singular figure we recall today. Permit me to share a few impressions to help flesh out aspects of the personality of the man, by means of contrasting him with Fan Stylian Noli. To my mind, since the two had worked so closely together from time to time they might be considered one another's alter ego.

Contrasts - although ofttimes simplistic - are yet interesting characteristics to plumb and can provide a fruitful idea of how life was back then both for Faik and for Theofan during the formative years of the early 20th Century.

Both men are often considered columnal twins of the Albanian national awakening. Both studied here at Harvard, albeit under different economic circumstances: Konitza with an imperial air, Noli as a mendicant monk. Both had a deep admiration for one another - despite an on-again and off-again relationship owing principally to differing points of view when it came to the political leadership in the homeland of the late 1920s and 30s.

Of Noli, Konitza would write: "The day on which Noli celebrated the first liturgy in the Albanian language was a turning point in the history of the Albanian Renaissance. We cannot forget it, nor let anyone else to forget it." Conversely, of Konitza, Noli had said of him: "he was my first real mentor and role model."

As well and interestingly, although a Muslim by heritage, it was Konitza who reportedly had suggested to Noli the patronal nomenclature of St. George when the Albanian Orthodox Church first formed in 1908. It bespoke of the respectful esteem, shared counsel and ecumenical spirit among them and others during the renaissance period of the Albanian leadership.

Noli and Konitza by Contrast

Always the reformer & revolutionary, Noli stayed on the left in politics.
Konitza, on the other hand - while espousing Albanian independence - eventually came toterms with King Zog's monarchy. It became a sore point between the two of them
between 1928 and 1939 [when then Fascist Italy invaded and annexed Albania.]

Different personalities: Konitza - an aristocratic bey & scion of Muslim
landowners, was raised in a life of advantage. Noli - by contrast, was born and bred in humble village origins. Interestingly, both were born in Albanian settlements outside the borders of present-day Albania:

Konitza in what is present-day Northwestern Greece; Noli in European Turkey.

Konitza loved the music of Richard Wagner - passionate impresario of the Conservative Right.Noli revered Beethoven - beacon of revolutionary democrats - and wrote a much-heralded biography of the musician.

Konitza was erudite, elegant and superbly attired; an aficionado of haute cuisine.

Noli was a pure scholar at heart, wore sandals most of the time, and was a vegetarian long before it became a fashionable trend.

Konitza, enjoyed the company of elegant and exotic women and for a time, reputedly had a relationship with the famed fan dancer, Sally Rand, where they would meet at a once known resort hotel in Swampscott.

Noli was a celibate whose contact with women was pro forma and excruciatingly correct: educated women such as Edith Wilson [the President's wife], Dr. Demetra Tsina Elia, the first Albanian female physician, Berta Schoenstein - an Austrian scholar and Mary Johns: his secretary during the last twenty years of his life and scion of the London Theatre, as well as others who assisted him with his translations.

Although considered the preeminent Albanian literary stylist of his times, Konitza actually published few works - notably what shall be mentioned by others here today. While Noli - the ever prodigious writer - left over 42 books when he died: translations, compilations, history, biography and a vast liturgical compendium in both English and Albanian.

Noli delivered the Funeral Oration for Konitza in 1942. In it, the venerable bishop and friend credits Konitza with finding the hitherto unknown stema - coat of arms - of the 15th Century Kastriotis from a Latin history of Skanderbeg by Martin Barletius, presumably found, if I am not mistaken, at the library of the University of Louvain in Belgium.

A MYSTERY: I leave you with a Mystery. Hopefully, you may help to solve it, as I know that students and scholars make excellent detectives. And that mystery is the missing whereabouts of Konitza's Library, presumably of several hundred volumes, many of which ought to be rare. Further, in this detective search, I offer you a clue.

That is of a bookplate. Being a classic bibliophile, Faik had his own bookplate, that one must rightfully assume he had appended, as is the custom, on the inside cover of each of his possessions. Only the initials: "F.K." denote the owner, with an inscription below the initials in classical Greek: "Let them conjecture and calumnize me to their hearts content. It bothers me not at all."

In this regard, it would be most appropriate to disseminate on the internet, a copy of this bookplate with the added option of informing antiquarian book dealers of our inquiry.

The copy of the bookplate is reprinted here as a courtesy of the Archbishop Fan Stylian Noli Library and Archive, located at the Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America, 523 East Broadway, South Boston, Massachusetts 02127


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