Zenovia’s secret (Chapter 6)

Posted by: Maria Atalanti

Published on: 10/07/2022

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This text is the product of fiction. None of the characters described are real. In this chapter, Penelope Delta and Ion Dragoumis are real, historical figures. Their connection with the characters of the novel is fantastic.

Alexandria 1906 – 1910

It had been five years since Demetrios fell ill. Little by little, Zenovia had taken over the entire business. She turned out to be a very smart and capable entrepreneur. Her dynamism and determination had impressed but often frightened their partners and competitors. At a time when women had little role in public affairs, Zenovia acted without inhibitions and second thoughts. With the simplicity that characterized her, she considered her role natural and supportive to her husband.

Demetrios felt boundless admiration for his wife and often wondered what he had done in his life to deserve such luck. When he told her so, she replied with a laugh:

-You are the kindest person in the world. That is enough. God sent me to take care of you, as you have taken care of me. Life is given and taken.

Despite her success, Zenovia also granted power to their son. This was done gradually and discreetly. She entrusted him with various negotiations and did not intervene at all.

-If he makes a mistake, she used to say, it doesn’t matter. Thus, he will learn. From his mistakes.

Evangelos was a smart young man and learned easily. The problem was that he preferred fun to work. This was another reason why Zenovia entrusted him with initiatives. She knew that the sense of responsibility would force him to act more seriously.

She often talked to him about the poor past of both his parents and tried to make him understand that all this can easily be lost.

-You must fight, she told him. Life gives us nothing. Everything may go away within a day. And you, my child, are not used to poverty. You don’t know how to manage it.

The influence of Zenovia on her son was such that she kept him in a balance and despite the tendency he had to have fun and late nights, he also responded well to the business.

In 1906 Penelope left with her family for Frankfurt. Maybe this was because her husband had jobs there, maybe because they wanted to take her away from Ion Dragoumis. But her love for this man was flaring up. It was not going down.

They kept correspondence with Zenovia and she informed her that she had begun to write and was preparing a book with historical content for young people and children.

-My goal, she wrote in Zenovia, is to educate Greek children, and especially those who live abroad, about the history of Greece.

Zenovia had no doubt that she would make it. Her education, sensitivity and excellent use of language were the guarantees for her success.

Although this activity gave some meaning to her life, she did not stop thinking about Ion. With Zenovia they had developed such a relationship that she felt that she could tell her anything without encountering criticism or contempt.

She wrote to her in one of her letters:

-The fact that I insist on keeping our relationship platonic, does not help me at all. Many women surround Ion, and he certainly will not stand up. Many times, he has pressured me, but the power of my upbringing is so enormous and oppressive that I cannot overcome it. A few days ago, I sent him a letter full of despair. I copy an excerpt to you:

«… I only know that I love you, do you hear it, Ion? I love you wildly and I want your hug and your mouth that kisses passionately, I want you all, mine forever, and I ache mercilessly and unbearably, and I want to leave tonight, before my letter, not to talk to you anymore, not to write to you “I love you”, only to come there, to rush to your house,  to hung your neck, and without a word, to drown your breath, kissing you on the mouth, until you close your eyes and drop your head on my shoulder, pale and weary, half-dead with emotion, pain, and joy that kills. I know I’m crazy, but love drives someone crazy.” *

-And you, my friend, will consider me crazy, but these feelings overwhelm me every day and sometimes give me strength to live, sometimes they kill me…

Zenovia was really terrified of Penelope’s drama and tried with words of love and encouragement to give her courage to endure this Calvary that she was going through, until the circumstances of life placed the events where fate destines them to stand.

In 1908, after the information that Demetrios had received from his friend, the banker, Antonios Papadopoulos, they both traveled to Cyprus. Demetrios had in his suitcase a significant amount of money to deposit in the name of Zenovia.

As Antonios Papadopoulos had informed him, a cooperative savings bank had been established by the lawyer Ioannis Economides in 1899 under the name “Lefcosia”. Since then, many moves had been made to expand the institution to other regions. On this trip they would have to visit Nicosia to deposit the money, with the prospect a new cooperative savings bank will be stablished in Paphos in a few years.

Neither of them had visited Nicosia until that moment. The trip was arduous because it was done with a carriage they took from Limassol. Demetrios suffered a lot and so they were forced to stay a few days in Nicosia until he recovered. They met Mr. Ioannis Economides personally and admired his vision for the creation of a bank in Cyprus. He was impressed by the not insignificant amount that Demetrios deposited in the name of his wife and thanked them very much for it.

-With such deposits, our institution will soon be able to progress, he told them. My intention is that in a few years’ time all the towns and villages will have co-operative institutions. My goal is to create a bank. I have contacts with the British Commissioner, and I hope to be able to persuade him to issue a declaration soon. Cyprus must move forward.

Their stay in Nicosia gave the opportunity to Demetrios and Zenovia to get to know the city. Although the capital of Cyprus, it was a small town, much smaller than Alexandria. It stretched lazily where the plain of Messaoria began, surrounded by round, uniform walls with eleven bastions, which, as they were informed, were built by the Venetians to protect it from the Mohammedans. Unfortunately, however, this did not happen and in 1570 the Turkish troops occupied it. The Turkish occupation of Cyprus lasted until 1872, when the sultan ceded it to the British Empire. When Demetrios and Zenovia visited the city, its population consisted of Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, Latins, and Armenians. After the advent of the British, some improvements had begun to be made, the roads were upgraded, the marshes dried and other similar things, but it was still a very poor city.

However, walking through its streets, visiting its many churches, the Women’s Bazar, which took place once a week and all the women sold their products there, both really liked it. They felt, behind the buildings, the old air of the city, its glories, its distant past.

As soon as Demetrios had recovered, they went to their home in Paphos, where they stayed a few days to see Zenovia’s mother and then returned to Alexandria.

Evangelos had done well with the business while the two were away. He combined the school with a daily presence at work in the afternoons.  He wanted to prove to them that he is capable, and they must consider him so. Demetrios was very proud of his son, but Zenovia had her doubts, if this lasted for longer, whether Evangelos would respond. But she showed nothing. On the contrary, she praised him for his success.

Thanks to Zenovia, life in their home passed relatively calmly and without many surprises. Demetrio’s health was fragile but the great care and support he had from his wife kept him in a stable condition. He himself felt as happy as ever. At such an old age, he felt that he was in the cocoon of love and grooming in which children live in the infancy of their lives. They had reduced their outings and basically stayed at home. In the evenings they talked in between them, and this exchange of views and feelings brought them closer to each other.

Evangelos had almost reached adulthood. He was seventeen years old and would soon finish school. He was a pretty good student and helped in his parents’ business also. Zenovia saw his tendency to feast and have fun and tried to keep him in balance. It was important that this desire to come in second place, never to be the goal of his life.

Demetrios wanted Evangelos to be sent to London after school for a year, for more specialization in trade. But Zenovia had her doubts as to whether this would be possible. The care of the Demetrios required her to be at home longer, and Evangelos had to be able to devote more time to the business. Even though they had excellent partners, the presence of some family member was necessary.

In 1909 Zenobia received a letter from her friend Penelope along with a book. The book was entitled “For the Fatherland” and was the first book published by her friend. It was a historical novel that took place in the Byzantine era, around 995 AD., when the Byzantines were fighting against the Bulgarians. A novel, hymn to love and homeland. Zenovia could see, behind the lines, Penelope’s soul in love, trying to express herself. You could not read it without crying.

In the evenings when they were sitting with Demetrios she would read it to him loudly. Demetrios, who never had the opportunity to learn history, was enchanted by Penelope’s eloquent narration and the events he knew for the first time. Even Evangelos read it and found this way of drawing knowledge much more interesting than the history lesson at school.

In her letter Penelope, among other things, wrote in Zenovia:

My dear friend,

I am very afraid that I will lose Ion. He has met an actress, Marika Kotopouli, and his attraction to her has taken him away from me.

You see, I am like an air that permeates his spirit and captivates his soul. She is flesh that stimulates all his senses and satiates his earthly needs. We are people made of flesh and spirit. It is not enough to captivate the spirit. You must feed the flesh as well. And I could not offer him this food. And now I’m losing him…

Zenovia found it difficult to answer to her friend. Whatever she said could not be a consolation in her drama. She simply wrote to her:

My beloved Penelope

The forces that dominate the world have put many obstacles in your way, and it seems that somewhere your roads are parting. Do not resist fate. And don’t forget how many gifts life has given you. Your book is a masterpiece. Both Demetrios and Evangelos liked it. We all cried while reading it. Find solace in the world of writing and be happy to have lived a great love. Not many people have this opportunity in their lives.

I kiss you


Five years have passed since she had met Penelope. Five years to see her struggling with this web of love and not being able to end it up. Surely life would decide for her. Where human beings are unable, fate acts.

Five years that Demetrios was not in good health. Five years that by taking care of her husband, she managed to get to know him better and admire the greatness of his soul. An extraordinary man, with a small child’s heart, who was never given the opportunity to let it mature. And now, at the age of 75, Demetrios was opening the layers of his soul. Now that his body was weak, his spirit was expanding, sucking the world around him, and shining with wisdom.

How many years had she lived in Alexandria? Close to twenty. The course of her own life was absolutely unexpected. A wind had lifted her from the mountains of Paphos and deposited her here, in Alexandria. Dizzy from the storm that carried her she did not have time to think. She adapted to this new world and loved it.

Surely her life in her village would be colorless and indifferent. Would this course be her choice? She did not know. Her childhood dreams have never had such an ending. No girl dreams of marrying an elderly man. But they all dream of marrying such a wonderful man. And if the only price she had to pay was his age, let it be. She certainly did not regret her life. A life that she may not have chosen herself, but she would never exchange!


*excerpt from a letter from Penelope Delta to Ion Dragoumis dated 27/7/1906, which is currently at the Benaki Museum


Penelope Delta 

“For the Fatherland” Penelope Delta


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