Considering it's the world’s most precious metal, the most status of symbols and the world’s first ever currency and has been around since ancient times - flakes of it having been found in Paleolithic caves dating back to 40,000 BC - gold is so valuable that even Egyptian pharaohs and temple priests adorned themselves with the stuff as an integral part of their rituals.
I came closest to it in my lifetime this summer while meeting with the much-respected Mugur Isarescu, Governor of the National Bank of Romania, who after 27 years at the helm is the longest serving such governor in the world.
The kind and influential gentleman invited my Transylvanian-born wife, Columbia, and I to his ornate downtown Bucharest office one afternoon and offered a guided tour of the intriguing numismatic museum inside the bank with the well-informed, erudite museum director, Ruxandra Onofrei.
And there, lo and behold, in a small room - with the simple twist of a key (I kid you not, no fancy complex coded alarm, just an old-fashioned key) – was an Aladdin’s cave of treasure - around two-three kilo to be more exact – glittering bars of the precious stuff, right there at my finger tips (that is, if I could only have thrust them under the glass surround and lifted the three bars). Value: an estimated 3.5 million euro.
Such close proximity reminded me of another anecdote related to gold.
A veritable cache of booty, even more valuable than the one at the National Bank of Romania Museum. One that helped lead a creative Scottish writer to pen the exciting, immortal tale, ‘Treasure Island.’
I’m speaking of Robert Louis Stevenson, of course, that erudite Celtic Man of Letters.
Due to the close links between Ireland and Scotland, Robert (Robbie to his friends) had relatives living along Ireland’s northwestern coast, in the county of Donegal, a charming wee place otherwise known as the ‘Forgotten County.’
It straddles the famous, picturesque ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ and is the very place where the week-long ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ takes place every year. In fact, beginning this year, twice annually, in late June and September.
Having visited Donegal on holiday many, many years ago, Robbie heard about the invasion by the Spanish Armada in the 16th century. Or, more accurately, the attempted invasion. For, in its efforts to help confiscate Ireland and England from the English and return it to the Irish Chieftains King Philip 2nd of Spain sent over a massive fleet of top-notch galleons, loaded up with doubloons (and weapons aplenty, of course).
But their efforts were a classic case of very bad timing. And very bad weather.
After a drubbing at the hands of the English at the Battle Gravelines, a storm whipped up over the Atlantic, the worst in generations, and treated the remaining sturdy oak ships as if they were the balsam-wood toys of children. Most ended up wrecked upon the rocks, hundreds of sailors manning them swept overboard, most ending up the bottom of the briny, along with casks of wine and chests of treasure.
Several such galleons capsized near Gola Island. Across from the place where dear Robbie went on holiday. And - by sheer coincidence - the very place where participants at ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ are taken by ferry to help release the Muse.
And where, proudly, I had the honor of speaking at the annual 'Gola Island Day' earlier this year and read excerpts from my contemporary novel 'Pretty Ugly,' part of which is set on the island itself, with a couple of local islanders key to the plot and book's ending.
When Robbie heard the swashbuckling tale of tragedy linked to the name of the island, he thought (his hearing wasn’t so good) ‘aha, Gold Island.’
From that to ‘Treasure Island’ requires a small leap of imagination. To a well-written, classic novel that has enthralled millions since its first publication in 1882, however, a much larger leap is required.
So, if you are curious to know more about the mysterious Gola Island and enchanting tales of land and sea, I would - with the utmost of modesty - suggest you read 'Pretty Ugly,' then sign up for next year’s writing retreats to enjoy the experience of a lifetime.