Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Flavor in Space: Ch 45

Sometimes in the lonely black, words are sent out, long and slender, glistening in starlight. They adhere to capsules, floating junk, ships, and people. Strung together, they become lifelines, webs hanging, nearly invisible.

For some, these words are lies. Crawling along in the dark, they pull themselves through space hand over hand, foot over foot, clinging desperately to the web.

I found myself feeling my way across one of these webs. At the center the lines and patterns became a mesh, a mat, a sack, a blanket and there, lying at the center was a human being, a beating heart. The rhythm of the beating matched my own and, seduced by a kindred human spirit, I rested there, with my legs, hands, and back on that webbed blanket, sinking in. I tried to move but my legs were sluggish, my hands were entangled. The more I struggled, the more the I sank in, sticky web looping around my chest and neck, now slimy and glistening.

Now I cut myself free, and I'm falling. Back to my own world, back to the surface.

I land in this old garden. I sit in the half dark of the night on this old wooden balcony, black and smooth from generations of feet.

The sky is all grey and orange. Patter of rain falls into this gloom. When I came here first almost a year ago, I moved the rocks of the garden a bit. It was an old patch of mud and trees before, a back yard, an unused spot for the collection of broken roof tiles, planters, shells, rusty sheet metal, and half rotten wooden boards. I moved the stones to open up a channel for a river, a small piece of an endlessly flowing river. White water rushing soundlessly under the house, under the neighbors houses, slipping around rocks, boulders, stepping stones, mountains, ferns, and the old hairy palm tree that was once crawling with caterpillars. The soundless river slips by it all, and then on under the next house where the old servant lives and cooks delicious smells every evening. The river plunges down under screens and reed blinds. It flows over the bones of dead, hastily buried after the plague. The white river rushes by, endlessly cleaning the bones in the mud and gravel and the gloom and the half dark.

I long to leave my little perch and dive into the foam, dip under the surface, and learn the forbidden secrets. But I know, now my place is here on the old causeway, sitting in the garden, listening to the rain.

From the web in the dark above, my friend sends down a line. She climbs down to dangle on the silver tendril, on haunches. I don't notice her until she calls my name. Her eyes are wide, her face is innocent and she says she was scared, alone in the dark.

From my gloom I look across at those starlit eyes and I know that sitting here in the garden is not nearly as scary as climbing back into that web.

I draw some soundless white water and wash the glistening slime from my insides and out . I know I will have to bathe many more times. The guck of one web easily becomes a catalyst for more, spun from my own saliva coated words.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Flavor in Space: Ch 43

I realize that art is free. An artist does not work for pay, she cannot work for pay. For pay, art will not come. If a great artist receives gifts or pay, it is a useful convenience.

There was once a woman who danced on the riverside. Her name was Okuni and she was once a shrine maiden, but for some reason she decided to leave the cloister and dance on the river side for a crowd. Okuni didn't dance for pay, she just danced. Her dances mimicked the powers of the day. Sometimes she danced as men with swords and egos. Sometimes she danced as cowards, sometimes as the vain or the young or the old. She could become anyone, and, I imagine, she just loved to dance. Her art became known as Kabuki, and it was eventually made illegal several times.

And so I live in the city of flowers, where art was once the currency. Flowers and beauty filled rooms and streets with dreams. The atmosphere was such a heady broth that even water could be sold here. People might pay to enter a room or see a show.

But to tread a path of flowers or walk in a gallery of blossoms, that was free. The whole main street, the Flower Seller's Street, was a great hall of cherry trees.

I wonder where Okuni is today. I arrange my flowers, fresh from the riverside, in the little red bucket by the street.

Flavor in Space: Ch 42

A week later we talk about selling water. Water is, basically, free. But, there are places where the atmosphere is so beautiful, where customers experience such a good time, where the cushions and tables and walls are so stylish, where the girls are so kind... in such a place men will pay for water, and they will pay far beyond its normal value.

The chemist takes his friends from the capital there. They are rich and they buy water. "Buying water is for gentlemen," he says. "A gentleman is a man with strict morals, so only gentlemen should be allowed to buy water. After all, all gentlemen want to have affairs with beautiful women."

"There are those who don't have morals, and they are people who don't respect others. They should not be allowed to do this. They should not be allowed to buy water because they don't respect people."

"Rich people usually are gentlemen. Rich people tend to have good morals" he says. I disagree with him, but he tells me, "Perhaps, but there is a trend that rich are good, and that is why they are rich."

Flavor in Space: Ch 41

I know a chemist who is interested in sanitation. Clean water for the world is what he wants.

He describes, "There are people in the Middle Kingdom who live near factories and are poisoned by bad water. They need clean water and I want to design chemical filters that will give them clean water." Forget that the filters are disposed of in the Middle Kingdom. It is a big place, in its vast factories, under its poison brown skies, workers assemble the parts for the whole galaxy. "They need clean water," he says.

I reason with him, "In Aidni there are many people who bath in water that you call dirty and they even drink this water, but they don't get sick. Each, in their own body, have helpers who break down the inedible things in the water. There are those who live inside the stomach and make the water clean. Was it not the same here in Nohin?"

"It is true," he says, "that at one time here in Nohin, here in Otoyk, we once had these helpers too. We each had a fellowship in our body that broke down the poisons and made our water clean.... But we don't have it anymore. Our water is cleaned for us in big tanks with many machines."

"So we have lost our fellowship, and we can't drink the water from the river anymore? How do you imagine the future? Will we develop these helpers again? Will we eventually be able to drink the water from the river again?"

The chemist stops his talk, and decides to come back in a week and tell me. He comes back with his decision, "It is much more efficient to clean all the water for all the people with one standardized machine. It is very difficult and very dangerous to develop cleaning devices in one's own stomach. To develop personally in this way would hurt one's stomach everyday for years, and maybe some people might even die."

Flavor in Space: Ch 40

Towers rise up into the white air in the distance.

Cherry blossoms are blooming and I stop beneath a tree. It is here that I receive a call from my family back across the galaxy. My little black plastic box vibrates and pretty soon I'm chattering away in my native language with my mother and father.

At times like this, it's nice to float. To flutter in the air just a few feet from the ground, head high, listening to the voices of home come across waves of light and sound. We talked for a long time.

Flavor in Space: Ch 39

Floating through the broad spaces of the 5th street boulevard, a vast highway lined with high towers and filled with bubble mobiles, one might catch sight of the huge concrete building complex. This is the Otoyk City Citizen's Institution for Sickness. Massive beige walls lined with identical, un-openable foggy grey windows stand at 90 degree angles. A fortress for disease, it's towers rise into the grey sky. I rarely pass it when it is not raining.

At night, a line of small black spaceships wait at the entrance. Each ship houses a lonely man, waiting to fly someone somewhere. But here, as everywhere else in Otoyk, there are 10 small black ships for each customer who needs to ride. To drive a little black ship is a life for those who have lost their "meeting grounds," their work, their reason. For a while I taught had a student who was one of these men. He was not interested in my Nacerima language; he was, at one time, an interior designer and we talked about design. Eventually, he came less and less frequently and even told me that he was losing his mind and spending time in an institution. Then he came no more at all.

I have a friend who lives in a bubble tower of aluminum and plastic across the street from the Citizen's Institution of Sickness. Climbing the stairs is like climbing a ladder into space. It's dizzying to look down at a small stream far below. The stream is coated with concrete and lined with fences, to keep people from getting to close to the surface of the earth. Beyond the stream sometimes I find my way into the old dyers quarter.

Between the abandoned workshops and dye factories, old market streets still wind through the clusters of old houses. I walk them sometimes, and I feel a joy doing so. Despite the emptiness that has fallen like twilight, the narrow alleys and curves make for exciting walks. Each store sells some hidden delicacy crafted by ancient hands.

At an old fruit stand an old woman, unable to stand, swivels her body on a low chair in the shade. She barks orders at those, a bit younger than her, who can still move and help the occasional customer. The oranges are a good price, and so are the golden fruit. I buy a bag of fruit halfway between lemons and oranges. An old lady recommends them to me; she says, "I like the bitterness."

Flavor in Space: Ch 38

Those who lived by the muck of the rivers. Those who sipped tea in the old huts nestled in bamboo groves. Those who rose and fell like mayflies selling spring. Those who sold fish and meat and shoes. Perhaps they knew how to see a river pebble as a mountain, perhaps they knew how to expand a tiny space into a great hall. But to those who lived on mounds of earth they called mountains, to those who felt they were higher and deserved to be, to those people, the mucky beach pebbles were just slimy and needed cleaning.

There were those who preached about equality, and they, in flowing robes, donned the closed toed shoes of foreigners. Their children would go on to build towers that scraped the skies and eventually jet away in bubble mobiles. They decided that people in the north and the south, people in the mountains and the valleys, people who cut men and people who cut meat should all be proper citizens. They decided that crowded alleys and small wooden huts were not worthy of citizens, whether well established or newly recognized. Teams of bulldozers entered the old neighborhoods to wipe away the blood and toil and tears. Towers were erected in alignment with the sun.

And now they say we just shouldn't talk about it. Some things are better kept as secrets. "We all look the same anyway," they say. Take a new name, take a new job, find a new reason. Let's forget the surface and its rivers of tears. Face the sun, the stars, climb the white towers into the white sky.

Flavor in Space: Ch 37

I live here on the surface, where the old walk the narrow streets, or a few children play ball in a distant alley, as if to hint at the swarms of the past.

Towers rise into the white air in the distance

I was placing flowers in the bucket in front of my house, working out messages with sticks and curves. An old woman walks by with her dog. She smiles, "What a waste, putting flowers in the bucket there..."
I said, "I was hoping people in the street could enjoy them. After all, every house has a bucket like this in front. It's always full of water anyway." But she didn't hear or understand me.
She said, "Yeah, there are not so many children here anymore. I have grandchildren but they live some place far away. There used to be kids everywhere here playing and running around. Its very quiet now."
"When was that?"
"About 40 years ago."

And so I find myself living on a surface, quiet and textured, like the old wooden boards of my house, or like the beige stucco that has aged with a few chips and holes. The wind rattles my old glass windows that slide on a rusty iron track. There is rarely sound of talk or laughter, although the walls are thin and papery.

I wonder when people will land and come back to the old ways that wind through this quiet city. And so I fill the bucket with flowers and imagine the festivals of the future.