Maria Luisa Ambrosini and Mary Willis
authors of

". . .the Queen of Sheba discovered America. . ."

Chapter I


Clelia and Sancia, lived in the Yucca Valley Desert. They had three cats. Clelia read unusual books. "It's possible, you know," she said, closing Ambrosini's Secret Archives of the Vatican and gazing rapturously off into space, "that the Queen of Sheba discovered America."

Sancia looked up from her sewing with a doubtful grinned.

"It's true."

Sancia continued her double sided embroidery which she had learned from the Chinese. It took a lot of concentration to work on two pictures at the same time, one backed by the other. She stitched only cats.

"Sheba was known in antiquity for her intelligence."


" In Solomon's time, it's documented in Hebrew . . ."


". . . that the Queen of Sheba sailed the Atlantic," Clelia reopened her book, "and 'ninety-five degrees to the west' she found a land called Sypanso. It doesn't say whether she called it that or some native called it that. Anyway, Sypanso was overgrown and gorgeous. It was larger than Africa." Clelia turned a page. "I wonder how she knew that."

"Do you suppose she walked across it?"

"Do you suppose she was the source of the 'white legends' of the Aztecs?"

"Was she white?"

"A papal encyclical didn't sanction images with non-Western types in sacred roles until 1951."


"And this would have been . . ."


"Long before Jesus. Ambrosini says the same kind of cotton grew in the Indus Valley and in Peru in 2500 B.C.. Its seed is killed by salt water, so it didn't float there." Clelia turned another page.

"Float where?"

"She doesn't give the direction of flight."

Sancia continued stitching on a blue cat dozing in a pale blue field. Her silk was patterned all over with stars and symbols as intricately as an oriental rug, if not a Tibetan tanka. Its colors were monochrome and electric blues. Some years before she had been told by a Tibetan lama that she was a tanka painter in a former life but, because her colors were not traditional, he added, with a bright, gentle, apple-cheeked smile, "You've forgotten how."

"Martín Alonso Pinzón, captain of the Pinta, brought a lawsuit against the Columbus family."

"Not the great man himself?"

"Columbus was dead nine years."

"After his voyages?"

"This was 1515. The Pinzóns had found the document about the Queen of Sheba through a friend who was a cosmographer at the Vatican Library."

"In 1515?"

"Before the voyages. It's in the papal library."


"Well, of course, lost. There's too much junk there. Nobody ever finds anything, except . . ."

". . . by accident."

"Of course, by accident."

"I suppose you want to go look?" Sancia turned her frame over to expose the brilliance of a silver-green cat. It shimmered with patterns of darker greens and darker greens and darker greens and blues.

"Well, don't you?"

Sancia stitched in silence.

Clelia and Sancia Aleander were twins. Clelia, because she was such a beautiful baby, had been named after the daughter of the Petticoat Cardinal, Alexander Farnese (who later became pope), of whom the Romans said "he created the three most beautiful things in the city, the Chiesa del Gesù, the Farnese Palace, and his daugther Clelia." Sancia came second and was identical, but she needed a different name so they called her Sancia after the Neapolitan queen who washed the feet of the poor, which may have been a mistake. Sancia believed that the body has no substance, but is only pattern. "We are formulas," she was fond of saying. "If our formula is on file somewhere in the Celestial Mind, then you can remake us as often as you please. It accounts for twins. It accounts as well, if you think about it, for the resurrection of the body and possibly cloned sheep."

"Do you believe in the resurrection of the body?" Clelia asked in astonishment.

"No," Sancia said flatly and as plain spoken as ever. "But DNA could account for it." After a few more stitches she added, "I believe we are all dancing molecules, and when we die we again become part of the general stew."

Sancia stitched in silence, trying both to think and not think about the Queen of Sheba discovering America. What she really wanted to think about, and had been thinking of before Clelia barged in on her thoughts, was something Clelia had read out of The Secret Archives of the Vatican a bit earlier: ". . .the psalter. . ." Clelia had read ". . .of gold leaf written with ink made from melted rubies. . ." Sancia had been mulling this gold and ruby image while Clelia progressed from page ninety-eight to page one hundred fifty-four where she then broke in on Sancia's thoughts with the Queen of Sheba.

But what Sancia really wanted to continue to think about was whether or not Ambrosini and Willis had literally meant "gold leaf," for all the gold leaf she, Sancia, knew about was like a film, a fragile, feather-light and destructible film. A film about which a gold-leaf-applying-artisan in Thailand had once said to her - when she remarked about the little squares of gold leaf that the Thai people stuck onto the Buddha as a form of gift, penance, worship, she was not sure which: "Don't they blow away?" - "Yes," he had said as he went on laying down the glittering squares and rubbing them smooth over the black stone body of a Bodhisattva, "they blow away with the wind. What else is gold for?" But you could hardly write on it, she was thinking. And melted rubies? Was that just a metaphor for scarlet ink? If rubies were actually melted the "ink" would have to be kept at such a high temperature that it would melt the quill, even a steel quill if they had had steel by then. "She mentions this without explanation?" Sancia had asked her sister.

"You're too literal minded, you lose the beauty of the image."

But Sancia was still thinking about ruby ink and gold leaf right through the introduction of Columbus and the Queen of Sheba. The word "ruby" had a brilliant color to it, but actual rubies tended, as far as she had witnessed, toward the pink. One would surely want a garnet, or one of the artificial red stones of today to make the kind of vibrant scarlet ink that the image implied. Oh, to write with a ruby laser!

Clelia was fond of saying, "You're a hundred years earlier than I am, and rather primitive."

"I like to understand things," said the namesake of the Queen of Naples.

"Do you want to go to the Vatican library, or don't you?"

"To look up the Queen of Sheba?"

"Well, I'll start here, of course."

"But I should start packing."

"Oh, would you!"

From the Tim & Karen Greenfield-Sanders Collection

Chapter II


Now Sancia's idea of packing was to call the immigration authorites first to see what the rules were for taking cats into Italy. For the twins, at thirty-three, had three cats: two cats were female, one was called Queen and the other was called Sheba. The male was called Of - or Ofy as cats tend to take on the diminutive even if they are almost three feet long and weigh thirteen pounds as Ofy did when he had attained his majority. Queenie was smaller, about normal size. Sheba was quite short from nose to tail and quite round and a bright red/orange tortise shell. Ofy was almost the color of the Yucca Valley desert. He was solid orange but dusted over with a patina of white so that against the sand and the little golden winter grasses he quite disappeared.

Queenie's hair was a little longer, though she was not quite a long-hair, and she had had a rough life. The twins, in their singular life style resembling nuns in a hermitage, only wanted two cats. Rather they wanted none, but two, when there was no other place for them to Be, were acceptable. Three were too many. So Queenie had been given away, along with a check to feed her for the first month, to a poor family. But the poor family moved -- with the cash from the check, Sancia was willing to bet -- so Queenie came back. Then again, she had been sent off with a cousin, but the cousin soon moved to a "no pets" apartment and so Queenie came back again. Older, wiser, she seemed to enjoy telling Sheba and Ofy about her adventurous life in the great world, how she'd seen more and heard more and learned more and . . .

Well, of course, Ofy and Sheba couldn't tell her it was because she wasn't loved. Rather sorry for her, they treated her kindly, giving her first place at the bowl, and included her in their desert games: "Up the Saguaro," "Circle the Cresote," and "Jump the Joshua," when they could.


Sancia had to find out about taking the cats to Italy because if they couldn't go she wouldn't go. And, of course, if Sancia wouldn't go Clelia wouldn't go no matter how eager she was to wander the halls of the sacred scrinium, to search out the history of the -- as history had it -- "sex-pot" queen to see, indeed, if Sheba had been an ancient mariner.

For the cats, having adopted the beautiful twins, the beautiful two turned their lives inside out to accomodate the cats. Sancia and Clelia felt sorry for all creatures whose nature man had changed and then, quite often, abandoned.

Clelia longed to tramp through the Archivum Arcis in Castel Sant' Angelo and to commune with the Archangel Michael who, from the roof, guarded its treasures. She wanted to pursue the Queen as she set out from Sheba, for the Q of S, like the twins, was born of desert people. Clelia wanted to document each step as that early adventuress strode from the sand into the bustling sea port, built her ships, loaded her goods, stood at the prow of her own Santa Maria to discover the new, vast, fertile and abundant lands.

But deep in her psyche Clelia knew that Queenie and Sheba and Ofy, who purred as they jumped like merry-go-round horses against her legs, were the gold leaf of her life. Round and round they would go, their backs arched, their tails high, their silky orange fur like golden gossamer down, cold from the wind. Sancia, of course, was her melted ruby.

"If we are only going for six months, they can't be in six months quarantine. Why we'd have to pick them up on the way back."

"It's the law," the kind and patient voice was a little less kind and a little less patient than it had been at first.

"But surely if six months quarantine is for eternity, a single week should be fine for six months, don't you think?"

"I don't think its proportional."

"Six months for six months."

"I'm afraid that's it."

"Well, thank you," Sancia said, and vowed as she hung up the phone, "We'll see about that!"

"Maybe," she said later to Clelia, "we could write to the Pope. Surely, if he wants us to do research on the Queen of Sheba, he could use a little pull in the right places. I mean it's ridiculous. They're healthy cats."

Clelia was deep in her books. She tracked down every reference she could find to the Queen of Sheba. Though there wasn't much in the Yucca Valley Library, the interlibrary loan system was a good one, and the books Clelia had subpoenaed were stacked high on her desk, on the shelves, the chairs and the floor.

Queenie and Sheba and Ofy delighted in her research. They explored every new space in each new structure that the incoming books created on their arrival and that the outgoing books left in their wake. They sat, as often as possible and mostly individually, but sometimes all three, or at least two, purring on the book Clelia was reading. She must lift a paw to see the end of a sentence. At times she had to lift two or four or even six paws to turn a page. But Clelia, used to the scholarly inclinations of Queen, Of and Sheba, didn't mind - much.

She read and read about the ". . .queen of the Sabeans who came to Jerusalem to test the wisdom of Solomon. 1 Kings, x. . ." Starting with her own dictionary and her own Bible, she graduated to esoteric texts in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, even though she read neither Latin, Greek nor Hebrew, but she felt she must, in preparation for the privilege of reading in the papal library, at least be able to pretend that she read Hebrew and Latin and Greek. The sign -- "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" -- affixed to the Cross had been written in those languages, and no other, and they were, therefore, the languages of the Vatican Library.

Sancia's contribution to all this Aleander research was to sit stitching and listening to whatever Clelia wanted to read her. She would help her sister puzzle out the meaning of each reference to Regina Sabean, La Reine de Saba, Shebah and Seba. Fortunately most of the references were brief, for there is very little room allotted to women in history, and three thousand years ago there may not have been much cause to celebrate one more "fertile and abundant" land, all vegetation and wild animals, savages and high mountains, for no doubt the whole world was like that, except "home" where the winds howled, the sand blew, and burning bushes spoke from the side of the road.

After all the Chinese, as Sancia was quick to point out, had swanned around in the fourthteenth century nodding in on continents: Africa, India and probably America, then gone home and burned their ships. The Middle Kingdom they had decided, being the center of the world, was quite the best -- and quite enough for them.

But because Sancia couldn't concentrate as fully as she needed to on her double-sided embroidery while Clelia was always asking her what she thought about married popes or women priests or Sepúlveda saying: "Indians are not fully human," or Vatican balls or heretics who said: "Every soul is a city," she began doing primitive little paintings of Queenie, Sheba and Ofy. They posed among the books, modeled upon the pillows, sat upon the sills. And because she liked the idea of melted rubies, she painted Sheba in bright red. Queenie she painted in gold. Ofy who, because of his great size, was sort of a transitional cat anyhow, she painted in taupe with touches of mauve, puce and gamboge.

Thus they waited for a letter from the Pope, hoping to receive permission to bring Queen and Of and Sheba to Vatican City to sit with Sancia while she sewed, if not actually to visit the Secret Archives with Clelia.

Chapter III


"You know," Sancia said to Clelia, after they had waited three months. "It's like writing into the void. You write a letter, you send it out and it's sucked into the void."

"A black hole?"

"Yes, a black hole."

"Shall we send Queen as a gift to the pope?"

"Not on your life."

"I mean as a nuncio?"

"A what?"

"An ambassador," and Clelia quickly added, "to speak for us."

"You're just trying to get rid of her again."

"Aren't you the pious one."

"We mustn't separate them again. It's wicked, like Columbus selling native American's in Spain."

"Stuck together like the Holy Trinity."

"Six months quarantine."

"Maybe not for the Pope."

"So we assumed. We've heard not one echo from the void."

At that moment Queenie began to howl. Ordinarily she had almost no voice, but suddenly she was a Swiss cat, high on a mountain, yodelling. "EEEEow, Meeeeow, Eow, Eow. Meow."

"I think she wants to go," said Clelia.

"I think you've scared the wits out of her. Poor Queenie," Sancia scooped her up, cuddling her close beneath her chin, petting her, murmurring to her, "Poor Queenie, my itsy, bitsy, witsy woo. Don't be frightened Queenie, weenie."


Queenie didn't mind the idea of six months of quarantine. She'd lived on cheap, meatless cat food before with that poor family. She'd even tasted the rigors of street life when the apartment-living-cousin had gone off for an occasional weekend and put her out with a note to the neighbor to keep her dish filled with dry cat food. Queenie, being resourceful, had supplemented her diet with a few mice and bits of old steak from garbage cans. These were far tastier than that stuff that crackled when you chewed. Quarantine did sound like a cage, but, c'est la vie, life is a cage. She was a philosophical cat. She had tasted different environments with relish, and she felt now she would like to discover a new world, and perhaps titilate her taste buds with a little Mouse Parmesan.

Besides, she had implied to Ofy and Sheba already, if somewhat prematurely, that she was going to be sent as an ambassador to the Pope. Being well aware that she was not the house favorite, she felt she had to have a few "perks," a little inside information, a soupçon of ego satisfaction even if she had to draw her sustenance from the tenuous, half-understood speculations of her mistresses. But then, she was used to riding the lower circuits of the spiral, going down, she felt, always going down and down. But down, she had learned, wasn't as bad as some less experienced cats implied. Indeed, there was a certain reckless, if somewhat curtailed delight to be got from the short end of the stick. So she turned round and round, stopped meowing, caught her tail in her teeth, and went to sleep in Sancia's lap.

It probably gave the wrong impression, she sighed, because after all it was Sancia who didn't want to send her to the Pope. But Clelia had taken to making a fortress with her books. She kept them on three slanted book racks she had improvised from music stands which she had found in the cellar along with a trunk full of books, one of which mentioned the Queen of Sheba.

Chapter IV


It seemed that the Queen of Sheba had been the Intellectual of the Ancient World, one of the Intellectuals of All Time. She had kept old Solomon on his toes by asking questions, getting answers, and making questions out of those again. "What is the world made of?" "Why?" "Surely there's something more important than measurement, mathematics and rules?" And, "why did God do such a botched job?"

It was grueling. Poor King Solomon was losing face; he was having a terrible time, so when she asked for a down payment on a triumvirate of ships, "Three," she specified, to set out to the west and look for -- was it Paradise? (That's how His mind ran.) he gave them to her and wished her God Speed! (And hoped She wouldn't come back.)

So off went Sheba, back to her native Sabaea in southern Arabia, her ancient kingdom noted for its extensive trade in spices and gems. As she strolled beside her camel train full of Solomon's money she dreamt of other worlds and other ways, of the courage to go and do. She suffered continuously from a certain lively sense of curiosity.

When in her three fine ships she finally set out, she carried, like a merchant marine, a cargo bought by tenth century B.C. King Solomon, who hoped the Q of S could, indeed, merchandise all those beads to the natives wherever she landed. Then if she did come back, he moaned, she'd at least bring some gold. Gold, that is, aside from whatever form of wealth she might bring to repay the gift? loan? blackmail? which he had given her to avoid any more of her questions. He, like most of the later Renaissance men, Conquistadores, etc. was keen on having his gold and eating it too.

Clelia deduced all this about K S's mind-set from a parchment she found in the trunk. It lay crushed and beribboned down even further than where she had found the book on the Queen of Sheba. Neither she nor her sister had any idea how that trunk or its content had got into the Aleander cellar in the Yucca Valley desert.

"I think Queenie put them there!" Clelia laughed delightedly as she pored over the document she could neither read nor translate, but the contents of which she felt intuitively. It spoke to her directly. On a liver-skin parchment she kept writing her impressions of it with her quill pen fashioned from the plucked feather of a peacock.

Sancia, Queenie, Ofy and Sheba watched the iridescent feather of greens and blues and purples and golds waving above the fortress. Sancia counseled Q, O and S not to attack. "Don't knock down the books trying to catch that tempting feather. She'll pull your whiskers out."


Again, Sancia was trying to concentrate on several things at once: painting Sheba in crimson and green, listening to Clelia, who always had interesting things to say, and the whole pageant of thoughts raised by one after the other of those interesting things. Clelia had read that all that was left of Henry the Navigator's research institute at Sagres was the "great wind-rose compass". Sancia tried to picture what a "wind-rose compass" might be. The image so fascinated her, she could hardly let the other things she was thinking about pass through her constipated consciousness. What was a wind-rose? Did it mean something real? Was it poetic license on the part of Mss. Ambrosini and Willis? Sancia's fancy oozed out a mystical-misty-rose color which hovered above the ground and was periodically erased by the wind. She loved the wind, as you must if you live in the desert.

"Do you know," Clelia hooted one day, "that Pope Stephen put the corpse of Pope Formosus on trial? He brought the 'putrid cadaver' in its papal robes right into the court room. Put him on trial," she laughed, "and condemned him. How's that for life after death."


One night Clelia had a dream and Sancia had the same dream, but of course they didn't know they'd both dreamed the same dream until they compared dreams in the morning. Both had dreamed that Queenie, the orange cat with the slightly longer hair, put on red boots, sat on a red horse wearing a red cape which, falling all the way to the ground, covered both rider and horse, and, bejeweled, rode to the Vatican, escorted by a sea of cardinals. There she cured His Holiness of leprosy, handed him Clelia's Avvisi re the Queen of Sheba, introduced herself as Queenie, the first third of the triumvirate that forms the appellation of that august lady, first explorer of the Americas.

Well, of course, when they checked it out and discovered they had dreamed the same dream, that settled it. Queenie, they decided, had probably been walking in the night - giving out intuitions like papal dispensations - and what Queenie wanted, they wanted, as they felt they had mistreated her a bit earlier in life. (Besides by then they knew that a good deal of history hinged on the matter of who escorted whose horse where.)

So she was charged with an encyclical penned on parchment and hung with the gold silk cords and lead balls of a Papal Bull. Only the most important Bulls have golden cords. They even bought her a pair of red boots and a passport with big seals all notarized. They sent her via the mail, first class, and marked her "Pera Youra Requestia." And she got through because the Italians honor the Pope and don't pay much attention to the post.

Queenie was delivered, red, long-haired and quite as courtly as a gentleman might be, and so was her Avvisi.


So that's how Queenie, the title-third of the Queen Of Sheba, got sent with an Avvisi as a Nuncio to the Papal Court and resides there yet as a Catto Vaticano. And that's how the document relating to the Queen of Sheba (which the cosmographer friend may simply have given to the Pinzóns) was returned to La Biblioteca Apostolica e l'Archivio Segreto Vaticano. Of course, the cosmographer's original copy may still some day turn up in the bundles of unclassified documents in the Miscellanea.

But the Pope wasn't interested in whether or not the Queen of Sheba had discovered America. Like most fellows, he didn't want to see one of the "old-boys" achievements pre-empted by a woman. So he just stuck the Avvisi some where, where, no doubt, it will turn up for the wondering scholar's eye in maybe 3,000 A.D., when they sack Rome for the ninety-ninth time.


Ofy and Sheba hear by the catnip vine that Queenie is having a ball. She walks across the "Borgo" Passage between the Vatican and Castel Sant' Angleo at night. Sometimes on one wall and sometimes on the other, and once in a while, down on the floor of the passage itself, she goes in slow and stately progress, honoring the title she bears. She says the Roman cats are amazingly beautiful, just like Clelia and Sancia. The flight she says, however, wasn't all that marvelous, but she is glad she did it at least once. Being in a cage with just mail for company was peaceful enough, but she thinks six month's quarantine would have been beyond her strength.

She pads freely around in The Archives, she says. Nobody seems to mind where she goes. Perhaps it's because of the red boots, which only the senators of Rome were allowed to wear. Maybe, she thinks, they think she's a senator. She sees all sorts of amazing things as she perches on the shoulders of scholars who come to read in the Secret Archives. She often sits on the shoulders of one of the only two women who frequent the vaults who, she is convinced, are the Mss Ambrosini and Willis. She also discovered that the Knights Templars worshipped an idol with a cat's head, and that someone had said: "Their uniform was white, their spurs were gold, and their allure was pride." She liked that sentence very much.

She discovered that no one knows what discovery voyages took place during the lifetime of Henry the Navigator, or thereafter until Cristóbal Colón of Genoa set out. Henry's archives, built on the Sacred Rock of Sagres, were the Cape Canaveral of their time. They were even more secret than Pope Sixtus IV's vast parva secreta (containing pornographic books) which lay under the Borgia Apartments hard by the Courtyard of the Pappagallo (Parrot).

The best of the telepathic stories she sent home was directly from Mss A and W: Pope Pontianus and Anti-pope Hippolytus were, when the imperial police had had enough of their papal bickering, sent them to the labor camps of Sardinia -- together. Working in the mines the two -- before dying -- became friends.

Clelia and Sancia get along fine now with just the two cats, Ofy and Sheba, and still love the desert. The latest little painting Sancia has done is Queenie as a ruby in the diadem of the Pope's tiara.

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Copyright © 2000 through 2015 Jan Haag

Jan Haag may be reached via e-mail:

Jan Haag is a novelist, poet, painter, cattipointist, textile artist, and
former Director of National Production Programs for the American Film Institute.

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