Heraclitus, Heraclitus, you cannot lock the river — Nâzim Hikmet
Heraclitus, Heraclitus, you cannot lock the river — Nâzim Hikmet
Eudoxia had forgotten he was coming and was surprised to see him as he walked through the garden to where she was chopping aubergines, but she had space and offered him Room 3 for 25 euros a night. Since it was a cash transaction he assumed he could do pretty much what he liked, so long as he cleaned up.
The lost ink roller had turned up the day before. It was lying behind the wall at the top of the old mule track. This steep path, connecting village to beach and tracing the side of the volcanic hill, is now intricately paved with wide marble steps that were ceremonially celebrated by the community when the final slab was laid in 1983. With the arrival of the cheap moped it’s become almost redundant. Lone figures slowly pass each other, struggling with the steady incline. The ruins of the Disco On The Rocks are at the halfway point, a languid and enticing reminder of this thoroughfare’s former place in the life of the island. He returned many times to where he’d last used the roller, just below the museum, searching amongst figs, ashes, leaves and ledges, confused and helpless. Developing an increasing intimacy with the sprawling fig tree, on one of these fruitless visits he sat, palms open, waiting for the fall, dozing off at the moment of the single drop of the day, which landed silently, bruising and bouncing, beginning its transformation from fig to festering organic matter, to join the putrid pungent mess in the dark recesses of the steps. Slow down, look down, watch your step. They will stick to your sandal shoes and ooze, disorient you and fill you with regret and longing, but they will resist making a mark on your expensive Zerkell paper, so don’t make any assumptions. They will not comply, mule fodder for absent donkeys or lonely children, fruits for finches no longer visiting, seeds to fry and chutney, dark and moist, then dry as parchment.
The clever wooden tower by the lake almost award-winning. The viewing platform that’s all about the climb, the steps of spiral and the objective is arrival so leave your mark. The pine needles collected and flown out from a tarmac path in a London park packed in the bag for this here. To scatter where he was seen on the red bike beside this Lake Konstanz, down over grass grebes and ducks early morning. Germination not expected. You do what you can at the time in the place knowing you’re out of your mind.
Kreuzlingen Switzerland, Oct 2017
The subtlety of the experience is utterly beyond you. You wave your arms and legs around and think you’re having a spiritual moment. You hug me and I feel nothing. It’s all about you, always. Every particle of my being is responding to the finest and most subtle flicks and leanings of this air stream. Being rooted in one place is not a static state. Each appendage, each curvature, each texture is subtly different, emanating from a fluid core. Don’t ever call me beautiful, glorious or grand. Your adjectives reveal your own projections. Keep your hands off and stand well back.
Paradies, Konstanz Germany Oct 2017
You’re the first through the gate. You prowl like the dogs packed and ranging in their territorial landscape, silently eyeing each other you are. It’s clear who’s in the ascendancy. They’re lying down from vertical to ground level lolling and rolling, hard and defiant. Their colour shifts across each individual, shaded with a subtlety lost in chemical treatments and smooth mechanical finishes. Pomegranates, olives, quinces and grapes make for a tantalising offering here in the Agora spread across your well-used rectangle of fabric and worth the money. The fragments are bits, chunks, stocked, stacked, rolled, salvaged, laid out, revealing slots and assembly methods, hidden means of elevation and connection. We know how to extract and shape it with a mix of olive oil and water to quench the overheating in the saw cut. Never a perfect cylinder you say but we’re not interested in perfection or what the earthquake will do when we’re dead.
Agora Izmir Turkey Jan 2018
He takes a shortcut through the park in torrential rain, passing the deserted lake of amusement with its awkward swan pedal boats tethered lifeless at the edge. Now the animation comes from the heavy drops falling, splash, pound and ripple. Momentarily sheltering under the awning of a windowless building he hears the distinctive sounds of thumping, thrashing and children’s voices emanating from deep inside. This is made additionally sinister by the accompaniment of the heavy rain, creating a spatial cacophony where sound and action are synchronised and shaken.
Basmane is a quiet terminus where a few tracks end, wind up, four platforms with a roof and frontage designed in 1864 by the English architect John Turtle Wood, clasping his wife’s maiden name (Turtle) inside his to create some distinction that pleased them both. A few years later their Turkish adventure takes them to Ephesus and the great discovery. There is a shocking newness of the train to Selçuk, and of the embankments and platforms that line the route. This journey takes an hour and costs less than his coffee at the Etiler Mahallesi.This is the start of it. The sudden flash of flat surface across the window of the train. This grey matter is fresh, smooth and hinting at modernity in its embrace of construction techniques from the cities and highways of the west, now long absorbed and eclipsed by the relentless mega-constructions of the east. Yes, he remembers, China used more concrete in three years than the USA during the entire 20th century. Compacted from sea beings with shells to make the compound that is so essential, with the name that sticks in the cold chemistry classroom and in the cement mix, calcium carbonate, not grey but white.
The destination is Ephesus, birthplace of Heraclitus, inspirational ancient Greek and first philosopher to go beyond the material towards process and becoming. He’s come to find him.
It’s early afternoon and he’s looked at the map often enough to comfortably find the start of the walking route of approximately four kilometres. He negotiates a goat on a leash chewing bark from a roadside tree, and heads west on the road to the coast and the small airport. And, yes, it’s signposted to Ephesus and the Temple of Artemis. He’s travelled 2000 miles for this, a symbolic start for The Naming, and to see the birthplace of Heraclitus. The anticipation is a palpable mixture of anxiety, expectation and delirious excitement. Go straight, keep straight, the road is dead straight, you can’t go wrong and it’s signposted. After passing through a military checkpoint he continues along this path, which is adjacent to the busy vehicle road, with an unfathomable linear raised centrepiece. It’s also a designated bike track, with entrances to farms off to the right. Suddenly there’s another sign to the Temple of Artemis, written in English and Turkish, also off to the right. He follows this small track, slightly confused, because he’d assumed that this temple, as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, along with the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, would be in the heart of the ruined city, this city up ahead, in another three kilometres. This is not Ephesus.
It’s a winding dirt path and the hawkers can see you coming before you see them. They know the land and the score. This is their livelihood, and they’re kept out of the main archaeological site by security. Mehmet speaks fluid English. He’s small and middle aged with a limp and a quiet intensity. He draws you in with skilful use of eye contact. He has something very special, a book that you cannot buy, with unique impressions of Ephesus as it was and is, a semi transparent image of a sparkling new edifice cleverly peels away to reveal the same building in ruins. He demonstrates. Timing is everything, catch them by surprise. They are expert at this and he almost succumbs but is not keen to carry a book at this early stage in the walk. That must be Mesut’s little car parked over there he realises later. Emir travels by bike and has impressive, but on closer inspection, tattered, concertinas of postcards that he rapidly unfolds to show their quantity and quality. They bounce and sway and need no explanation. His one English word is “postcards” and he repeats it with a growing urgency and volume to make his point, “postcards, Postcards, POSTCARDS.” The price varies depending on the time of day and the potential customer. This is late afternoon and Kino has arrived on foot, without a tour bus or car, so he starts at 20 lira. They are guardians of the temple, here all day every day, with mouths and lifestyles to feed from the pockets of visitors still struggling with the currency. He is conflicted, two things are going on at once, dealing with these sales pitches and taking stock of the temple, a place where Heraclitus was said to spend his later years in the company of local children, finding more wisdom in them than with the adults he’d rejected. In all the talk about the grandeur of Ephesus he was not prepared for this, a sunken rectangle of waste ground the size and dimensions of a soccer pitch, with a solitary column to one side and some scattered stone fragments around the edge.
He returns along the winding track, turns right to rejoin the still straight path. He notices that it’s punctuated with concrete winged statuettes every 100 metres. They are clearly visible from the passing cars and trucks and designed to demarcate the route. He’s walking. The step is from heel to sole to toe. Heel, soul, toe. Bikes overtake, ridden by a family of French tourists. They go on straight ahead. Follow the bikes. The trajectory, his mind wanders. Keep the weight low, passing through the knees. He’s demonstrating the Tai Chi walk to a group of novices. Heel sole toe, keeping the weight low, heel soul toe, experiencing the subtle transference of weight. He’s a boy soldier inventing manoeuvres, the reverse wheel, the triple stamp, heel down hard, extra studs in the thick leather soles for more impact. The pressure starts to ease and he’s now almost gliding, hovering on an invisible cushion of heavy air. Once isolated steps have become a continual flow. He is weightless, as if treading water with rubber flippers. He looks down to an earth base of dust and small rocks. He remembers the dead dirt underneath the parquet floor in Carlisle, where he made his first video, in black and white because they could never agree on the colour balance. He sees and hears the clapper board. His feet feel different. They are no longer his. The atmosphere is changing as he draws closer to his long awaited destination. A thread is inexorably pulling him towards the home of Heraclitus, the great Ephesian scholar philosopher, adored by Nietzsche, admired by Deleuze, mocked by Plato, loved by children.
The statuettes that lined the road stopped a while ago, the track surface has changed to crumbling tarmac and it feels that he’s covered more than three kilometres, but he questions his judgement and keeps going. Then the airport appears. Has he missed a turning, a sign to Ephesus? There was no sign. With an inner shudder he finally gives up and turns back to eventually find a turning off the main road and a sign for cars saying ‘Efes.’ Flanked by trees and bushes on the parallel walking path this was not visible and it was so straight. No sign on this path for walkers. Time is now running out for a visit to the great ruined city this afternoon. Tricked, humbled, enchanted or intended, he returns to Selçuk and opts for the last hour before closing time of the newly refurbished Museum of Anthropology, a tragically deprived and withered fig tree in the courtyard, and what must surely be a room devoted to Heraclitus.
Fig Tree at the Museum
Here it is then, a bland cubic building on the edge of Selçuk. You pause outside to look for the tethered goat you passed earlier climbing a tree on the pavement. How did it get over the wall? Is this a portent? You’re here and not here. Your disappointment is a heavy raincoat. Sometimes feelings are a warm bath. This is a cold one.
Closing your eyes you picture Heraclitus walking along the straight track you’ve just taken. He’s heading for this village, an hour’s stroll from his home deep in Ephesus city. He comes here weekly for specialist foot massage. It’s a stone’s throw from his temple and also has good pomegranate juice. He’s wearing surprisingly expensive-looking sandals. And he’s gone. It’s late in the day and you decide to go inside, celebrating failure as a trusted friend. Something will come of this, and if it doesn’t then you missed the moment.
The automatic doors open and close with that reassuring sound of mechanical sliding, open, slight pause, close, meet in perfect vertical alignment, revealing white walls and a ramp, recently installed for wheelchair and buggy. After the disappointment of finding the withered fig tree at the entrance, you’re not sure you even want to be here, but you’re driven by the certainty that you’ll find him here, your lost one, your mentor, your perfect father of crazed acceptance, the weeping philosopher. It’s taken two days to get this far, tube, train, plane, plane, taxi, train, fruitless walk. You’re restless, incomplete, hungry.
Two uniforms are chatting behind the ticket desk. It’s late in the day and they don’t seem bothered. There’s not much incentive to make sales when you’re paid by the hour. They know every centimeter of this vestibule. This is their domain and they own it. They they spend more time than with their families. You apologise for interrupting and hand over the cash. No one asks for your ticket and you’re alone with the displays, with vessels and statues, and a bronze bust of a philosopher made 700 years after his death. It’s in the Roman style and he would dismiss it as idealised fakery of bearded ‘wisdom.’
There’s an almost silence, a soft electrical hum. You’re alone with pieces of pottery stolen from graves, stored and sealed to accompany the dead sister, husband, mother, child, not intended to be seen by anyone but their gods, so keep off. This is their stuff. You picture the flask in use and the wine it held and you feel disgusted to have this opportunity. You think about how archaeology makes theft acceptable. We break the seal and let in the sound and light of our civilisation and prejudices, to plunder their deepest secrets. Their secrets were his. Their lives, habits and rituals are his memories. Their certainties are his uncertainties. Your discomfort increases and you choke on something.
You clench your fists and move on. You’re following a route carefully designed by someone. They’ve thought about this, planned it over many months, perhaps with an architect. It flows irresistibly through these rooms. Who’s leading? Is it him? There’s no one else around. Another set of doors open automatically and you step outside into the fading sunlight. The early evening birdsong is intertwined with the rumble of a distant car and the bleat of that tethered goat. You pass a reconstructed floor mosaic and re-enter the building at the other end of the patio. This must be the journey’s end.
The space you now enter is carefully lit for dramatic effect. The entire room is dedicated to two glistening statues of the goddess Artemis. Their once painted contours have eroded, leaving a uniform pale gleam that reveals the fantastic detail in their making. They face each other. They look at each other. Beautiful Artemis and Great Artemis is the pathetic translation into English of Harika and Mükemmel. Words fail you too. They are magnificent and menacing, with elaborate headpieces and smashed faces. She is immense. And she is immense. You’ve met your match. Their torsos are covered with a myriad of perfectly carved bulls testes or small breasts, likely symbols of her power, no one quite knows, and why should they. Long buried in the sand and rejected by looters from the British Museum as too pagan for Victorian tastes, they now stand here in Selçuk, basking in this glow of artificial light. You turn slowly from one Artemis to the other. We are completely alone. As a superior being she celebrates your way of speaking as a rhythmic enhancement of language:
Beau beau-tiful Art Art-emis, Gr-great Art-emis, d-daught-ter of Zeus, I l-look for Herac-li-tus and I f-find you, his g-god-dess, y-you who he wor-shipped b-beyond all others. Your t-temple over there was c-called c-con-sidered by the p-people of then one of the s-seven w-wonders of the ancient world. I w-will worship you too, you too, you too. I f-feel your intense power. These f-fools, they are f-fools, have made a shrine for you here. They do not realise what they’ve done. This is now your s-sanctum here in the m-museum. I s-see this. I see you. I ack-nowledge you. I look for him and I f-find you.
You sink slowly to your knees, take a flask out of the rucksack, fill your mouth with water and, pursing your lips, blow a fine spray over their torsos, certain that wetting the bulls’ testes is what needs to happen. Replacing the flask, you find your phone, connect the portable speaker and choose the right song. The beat, it’s all about the beat, What God has Chosen (Jumpster Dub) mixed by Miguel Migs.
Somehow it got all twisted…..twisted…twisted…
Thank you God for givin’ me the heads up…..
Somehow it got all twisted….twisted…twisted….
You shift your weight from one foot to another. You dip, flip, pound and spin, slow, fast, slower, very slow in a clumsy, perfect and imperfect ritual for these goddesses, great and beautiful, in sync with the rhythms that you know so well. As the song comes to an end you slowly sink back to your knees. Your hands have slipped into a yogic prayer pose. You feel the tears come slowly. The wetting is now yours.
You’re interrupted by another uniform. He taps you on the shoulder. His grey eyes are unblinking as he strokes the edges of his beard.
What you do? Disrespect. Stop. No more.
No. P-please, I do respect. I know. I un-derstand. I see. I m-meet curator and explain, please?
No one with that name here.
The c-curator, she he who m-makes decisions.
Decisions are with me and this is how I find you.
This was for Ar-temis and Herac-litus. S-somehow it got all twisted.
You speak of Heraclitus the Greek in what is now Turkey?
Yes but I thought…
Your thinking is of no interest. This is how I find you.
You f-found me.
I find you.
You’re not asleep. You’re aware of your breathing and see the pulse moving at the back of your wrist where the watchstrap squeezes. There’s a bright halo around the stones and grasses at the edge of your vision. He’s talking to you. He’s talking. Fuck this is not weird. He’s telling you things. He says Nietzsche had him all wrong, too full of himself, Osho too, what a joker. He’s glad you’re here in this wreck of a site, this place of once temple. He talks about how Artemis is also like a scary all-powerful mother. You feel the same way and this is something. He tells you how they keep on coming here in their white horseless chariots in their tens of thousands to see what? It’s a Turkish practical joke. At least there’s no entry fee and the only people making money are Emir and Mehmet selling them their shabby books and postcards, day on day. Postcards, postcards, postcards, POSTCARDS, Emir repeats his only English noun with increasing urgency and volume. Catch them as they touch the ground, before they understand the lira. He knows their methods and does not judge them. And these visitors are not looking for him. They’re looking to see a wonder of the ancient fucking world and this is just a pile of rocks, let’s face it. And he laughs and doesn’t laugh.
You’re so stunned to hear him, to smell him. You know this might be as good as it gets. You put your hat back on and pull it down over your ears. He asks to see the coloured bendy things you bought for Sofia in the museum shop yesterday and he says that’s a start. He invites you to come back early tomorrow and play here, to the place where he spent his time with children because they held more wisdom for him than all those self important adults, like these earnest visitors with their electronic gadgets. He’s sick of all the vacuous seriousness. They see what they want to see. This is no wonder. You’ll need some balls and oranges, and your hat. Bring your camera but don’t be acting up for it.
You take this in and feel a rush of excitement and gratitude. You understand. You respond:
Ok ok yeah. Alright, alright, ahl, ahl do this for ya, oohh, oo oooh, ah like Nietzsche but ah getcha, this is the place, this is the place for dancin, ah really wanna show ya, they forgot it, ah remembered, man, man, ahm a cherry, ahma ahma cherry, take ma time ah really wanna know ya, hold on Oho ah feel, yeah, oho, ah feel yeah, ah feel, ah fee, ah free. Everybody wants to be free. Ah know, you know, ah know you know ah know you know, yeah.
Hastings comes alongside like the fishing boat marooned on a traffic island outside the station. You thought it would be a good follow-up to Ephesus. Now the test comes. The studio in Duke Street backs on to railway tracks. This row of warehouses on the north side has direct access to the lines, goods out, materials in. Matt is looking down from an upper window either for you or the wood delivery for his stove. He pretends it’s for you and shows you up the steep stairs to the large empty room with cracked windows and a new plywood floor. What do you think? Isn’t it great? Yeah, yeah, great. Your breath turns to steam. You keep your hat on. This is it, your base for the week. Even with the industrial heaters blowing it’s numbing cold. It’s a shoes-off zone with the newly varnished floor. Fair enough. Well, no, actually it’s not fair. This is early February and the wind is coming straight off the sea. It’s a gift horse but you’ll give it a go. Short bursts. How much can you take? You chalk up some thoughts on the rotating blackboard. You move around to music in slippery socks. You’re not thinking straight.
Look what you give to me…see what you done to me….
This is the place… this is the space you want me to be, inside….. me to be….with your hat on….ah got ma hat on…….your hat aint gonna subside…side ways…you make it for me in Japan..…I like your style, your way to be….the sounds outside your window, clankin me, yeah….ahm outa here, where the air is ever so…..ever so……clear today…..dry …..walk with me…
To reach the beach Matt says go around or over the top. You’re not quite sure what this means but he looks busy so follow your nose. You come to Queens Road, which runs down the hill and into the centre of town. It’s faded but hanging in there. Half the stores are rent-free charity shops. Others are empty. You photograph all of them to prove a point, already knowing that this is the 13thmost deprived town in England. Nice index. Good score. The sun emerges as you cross the green below the castle and there, look there, is the beach and a wide expanse of sea. There’s the horizon, ocean’s edge, Channel’s limit, due south, restless waters, no glint, shoreline, pebbles, little train, fishing boats rocked up and beached. And The Jerwood.
John Jerwood, oyster trickster, makes a pearly fortune in Japan. Pay the locals, keep the profits, feed the fashion industry back home. Cultured pearls. Captured molluscs powerless to resist human interference. Prized open, cast aside, farmed for exquisite shiny spheres of calcium carbonate, the stuff of cement. Measured, graded, inspected, carefully packaged and labelled Exclusive Jerwood Pearls By Appointment to His Majesty King George VI, because she couldn’t get enough of them.
Family free, his fortune sits and feeds a collection, a foundation, and now a gallery to house the collection. Bring it here, the Jerwood, and house it right on the beach, The Stade, new building, blended, designed to fit, merge with the tall dark net sheds. No. Approve it and you’re stuck with it.
The Stade, the sloping beach, the harbour of towing and winching fishing boats, largest of its kind in Europe, each one paired with its own rusty hauling tractor. The Stade, a shingle stretch, with a history of ownership and liberation as common land for the people, a defiant legacy of occupation and settlement, rough sheds, sea gardens, fish stalls, suspended driftwood mobiles, territory long claimed and squatted. It rocks. It’s ours. We resisted. We lost.
The Stade Hall, council owned, also blended in blackness with the net sheds, has a large piazza outside for public use. You are the public and you see this and claim it as an open studio where you can keep your shoes on and warm up in the café. It’s yours. You return later in the week to move across it in free form. This place holds a tension that escapes you in the warehouse over the hill in Duke Street. No walls, no limits, fresh air, birds overhead, sound of waves. You move, inside your mischief, cut across, bounce, stamp, aware of people watching in the café and immune to them. You’re an occupation. You’re also here to make impressions of the cracking and seagull splattered ceramic tiles of the Gallery.
The Stade, a vast expanse of wet and drying pebbles, round, oval, dense, smooth, adjoining, abutting, slipping, sliding. They’re in this together, washed up, pushed down, messed with by tidal surges, spat on by waves and foam, here today, buried tomorrow, exposed to light and darkness, damp and dryness. You pocket one and hold it tightly as you walk around. It feels warm, then cold. It changes shape. It feels slightly different every time. You chose this one. It’s one of a kind, one of billions, solid state, picked up, taken for a walk.
It’s round and smooth to the touch, with slight indentations in the surface if you scrape your nail. It’s the size of a golf ball. No it’s smaller. It’s the shape of an egg. No that’s ridiculous. It’s the weight of a 2 pound coin, almost. It’s the colour of olives, of driftwood, of amber, of Mediterranean soil, of the sun, the sea, the feathers of a pigeon, the skin of a turtle.
Stay with me…be with me…take me home…talk to me….spend time with me…get to know me better…..you, you chose me…..I am the one….you are the one, the other one…..
And there, almost completely camouflaged, the eyeless corpse of a sea creature somebody called a small spotted catshark and someone else a lesser spotted dogfish or scyliorhinus canicula. Identification numbs the senses. Not knowing its name you can swim in its subtly mottled skin, a former pebble friend.
Underfoot they crunch, slide, grind, nudge and disappoint the day-trippers who long for sand and stumble across this crunching surface on their way to the water’s edge, the land’s edge, to gaze out and away from island mentality. If only it was sand.
Turn around and the cliffs behind you look as solid as the beach feels unstable. You’re not the first to be drawn to them and you’re back crossing Queens Road again in the early morning. You pass a holm oak, tightly fenced in on either side, planks cut to fit. The bark, like the spiked fencing, is covered in black anti-climb paint, with warning signs on either side DO NOT CLIMB. There’s a property on the other side. The owner resorts to desperate measures to prevent garden access. You’re looking for a tree to focus on and this may be the one. It’s survivor and victim. Evergreen, wind bent.
Further along the path opens up and you see them. The soft contours and winding tracks of the Castle Rocks are inviting, especially for the thousands who’ve inscribed names, love hearts, obscenities and swastikas on every accessible surface of these rock cliffs. They’ve come well prepared to make a mark, to leave a trace, with chisel, scribe, screwdriver or penknife. The name, my name, your name, is mine, yours, we’re here, been here, are here, were here, will remain here, forever, look. Look closer and there’s a different story. Carvings from 2003 are fading away. Sharp lines are softening. But Max over there is still sharp, thanks to the clean angles of his three letters or the depth of the incisions. You take out a flat decorators knife to gradually scrape the name away until only the faintest impression of Max remains. It takes about a minute and leaves a small pile of sand at the base. These rocks crumble to the touch. They taunt the pebble beach below. We make sand while you long for it.
The Stade has seen it all. The new black block buildings sit on deeper memories of storms, net hauling, daybreak and death. Fish stop wriggling out of water and hit the slab and the chip shop. The town is heavy with mixed messages. Archie Belaney from James Road plays the Indian as a boy, disappears, becomes the Native American as a man, fools everyone, feathered up as Grey Owl, Apache half breed, beaver saviour, prolific author, celebrity speaker, world tour. The truth posthumously revealed by ex-wife after booze-fuelled death in Saskatchewan. George Bristow shopkeeper in Silchester Road, guns and birds, shoot em and stuff em, little carcasses tastefully displayed for the home or museum, bright colours, glass eyes, skilled craftsman. Collection grows and shakes the world of identification. Hastings now celebrated for rare sightings and exotic visitors. All in question decades later as Bristow’s links with Egypt surface. Museum removes his collection and the scandal hits the national papers as The Hastings Rarities Affair.
You see a link here between these two earnest English men and John Turtle Wood (b 1821) excavating the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, sending his finds back to the British Museum in wooden crates dragged to the railway station in Selcuk, burying one of his workers suffocated in a hole of excavation. This station he’d designed a few years earlier when he called himself an architect. These three, four with John Jerwood, fulfill their missions with a sense of upright masculine entitlement, doing the right thing in their clouded eyes.
You’re looking out the window on the first floor of the old department store in the High Street. This was Williams and Griffin, Colchester’s own, which started out down the hill in the street of your ancestors. It’s now Fenwicks. They’ve splashed out on the refurbs, although the metal-framed windows haven’t changed. You’re looking across to the other side of the High Street that is a high street, top of the town and top street in town, always has been, always will be, walking tall historic buildings. At the summit the once fresh wet fish shop run by the other side of the family, the well-off ones that your great great aunt Charlotte married into, and now a well branded Subway selling the cheapest cuts in a showy white roll as deceptive as Trump.
You look across to the top floors on the other side. They all have them, but with no obvious access, and you wonder what’s up there and how to get there. It’s a thought and more than one two three two, second or third floors that from here look empty or full of junk. Are people living up there, as they do in the Holloway Road, access built into the gaps between shops, a door, a double door, a busy road, a major route north south and called A1 that says it all. Here it’s the A137 and if you had to choose between the Holloway Road and the High Street you’d go for this here, where you walked down the hill as Max with blue hair and over-designed flyers that said Max Attack. You see yourself strolling purposefully right to left saying hi to teenagers and waiting to be recognised. And you were. That was the point. Recognition was enough.
You were straight from the Bingo Hall, talking to punters on the hard metal chairs, older people maybe lonely and wanting to chat except who were you with your wild hair and fancy clothes and they were busy with the game paid money to be there might be on to a winner this time, too engrossed to make quality contact, the numbers on the sheet, the card, the flyer, the book, the dibber, the dauber, where’s my dibber, this sheet unique to me this is the one, must concentrate he’s started calling, eyes down, the numbers, the numbers, Kelly’s Eye, Rise and Shine number nine, Gandhi’s Breakfast eight nothing, Between the Sticks eighty six, In a State twenty eight, Key of the Door, Never Been Kissed, Doctor’s Orders, Nearly There, Top of the Shop, that’s the ticket. Press that button, be quick. And you’ve won a nice tin of biscuits and you’ll enjoy them all the more. Your unlucky lucky night, try again next Tuesday is what I do where I come and it’s my culture so don’t bring yours in here. I’m not interested. I’m not going, not my cup of tea. If you felt out of place that was the plan. You were the vehicle, the vessel. You were Max. It was not your idea as if that mattered and beyond an idea it was an encroachment, a transgression, and a good photo opportunity for Philip. And you’ve erased it from memory.
This is not what you choose to remember as you look out the window. You see an even earlier you walking up the hill towards the sixth form college to talk to Nigel about a live soundtrack for the Happening you’re planning for that huge deserted water tower at the very top of the hill that they still call Jumbo. This building that’s still out of bounds and defiantly untouched, impervious to developers, vacant, like those windows across the street that you’re still looking at. It’s what they conceal that intrigues you and suddenly this becomes a work, a mission, to try for access with the simple request that it’s all about photographing the view from up there. That’s it. Can’t we just take a look, and this is Jonathan, well known director of a local arts centre, to give you credence, ease the nerves, open the doors, up the stairs, and maybe you’re Max again, or another of your ancestors who walked these streets for their lifetimes doing the right thing and the wrong thing or you wouldn’t be here thinking these thoughts.
You carefully touch the sharp crusts, snapped off in an unconvincing even pattern, brittle, dangerous, demonstrating when stones become aggregate and for effect, the look of it, just lovely, the concrete edge of a huge building at ground level for nudging. The pebbles give strength to the dull grey syrup mass, manufactured offsite and assembled here, following the plans passed down from architect to second architect to construction manager just like this, precise vertical lines of edges, edge on, look what we can do with this stuff, nice detailing Jason. Chiselled and snapped, wear goggles at all times and marvel at the so regular organic edge, while the perpendicular symmetry tones it down more than a shade. Stone colours highlight in the monotonic grey mix of seeming super-strength with the fifty year only guarantee before the cracks appear, so the concealed steel frames do the holding. Metal and concrete make the perfect marriage of construction, hold and fill. It’s out of fashion and time fixed now, decoration to the exterior of a place holding thousands of soft volumes for page turning, to become ignored through familiarity.
You stand there in the wind trying to commune with this massive structure of achievement, fingers outstretched, bloodletting a short step away, hurt me and I’ll kick back and blunt my foot. Your fingers are soft and fleshy, no longer hardened by the rough work that sits and fits here now. You lean in and roll them across and between the interspaces, interstices of safety. Punch this right here and you’ll end up in hospital. You feel the pain more inside than out, the alienation, the scale, a temple without gods of meaning, a mosque without prayer, a signature building to enhance careers, a folly of ambition that comes down to this: you can’t even touch it. And the wind gusts in channels blocked and shaped, weather systems defined by arrogant unforgiving architecture.
You lean into the wind. You hear pebble voices resentful of being reduced to aggregate, a collective cluster of unanimity, like me, like you, a good size sorted and sifted for this particular mix, B3071, punch in the numbers and the machines will do the rest. Trevor explains because you asked, and he’s a technical expert on the manufacture of concrete, not to be confused with cement, as if. It’s a Colchester family business, D.B. Concrete, Dave Baxter, Don Bradshaw, Di Bassett, de-brief. He reveals the acronym and we immediately forget, seduced by this nerdish powerhouse, you can ask him anything. It’s a special day for Jonathan and this is how he wants to spend it, on this visit. They keep it local and with a higher margin than the multinationals next door. Special attention and Trevor’s knowledge fill the gap. He keeps on going, the Romans invented it and some of theirs is still hardening; the bag of sugar in the back of the truck to throw in if there’s a traffic delay and stop it setting before arrival. But then it’s sugar-wrecked and Pete, if it is Pete or maybe Jin Soo, has to drive back and disgorge the spoiled load onto the waste pile over there. Can’t do much with that, becoming hardcore at best. The drum turns continually behind his cab. It’s mixing it up on the move, turning at the right speed, rotating, wheels turn, drum spins, north south, east west, at the SAME TIME. The stones, the aggregate, are t-treated like illegal immigrants trapped in the back waiting for air and dispersal. The fluid state, a chemical process of hardening, reaches a near climax in heat, give it a day, another day, from submission to complete resistance, solid state to walk on. It pours out in a s-steady stream, filling crane buckets and trenches, guided by the site workers who’ve seen it all before, saving their banter with Jin Soo, the driver, the carrier, the medium, until he’s ready to return to the base of D.B for another load.
You ask yourself if you could ever live opposite a graveyard or cemetery. And that’s what you’re doing.
You walk out the back door, squeeze past the pristine car that’s too large for the backyard, turn right alongside the house and you’re facing the always six lanes of traffic, three by three. The heavy automobile flow is a psychic safety curtain that hangs between you and them, as a lone pedestrian dealing with the issues of getting across the street, simple as that. You can do this.
On the other side is the square cemetery. Paths go around the perimeter and through the middle creating shortcuts to the City Park and downtown. What initially felt like a taboo has become your familiar route. The cemetery is alive and dead, critiqued in one of its online reviews as “in deplorable condition…is this how the city treats our beloved?” Slabs of stone are engraved with names of the long or shorter dead of Halifax, buried here in the Christian tradition of digging a hole large enough for a coffin, itself large enough for the corpse and sealed up in the soil out of sight, with a few grams scattered by the mourners before the workers move in to finish the job, make it tidy. Up goes the hopeful soul or has that already happened because the death moment is long past. She was unconscious in intensive care for five days and the nurses suspected her time was up. He would have preferred a cremation but forgot to make a note of it.
The grass is mown each week by a former unemployed man in heavy jeans, grasping the stand-on hover mower as it zips around up and down, passing between and over graves, with him on it. He drives it with determination and agility, reversing to back up or re-trim when necessary. Although he’s from the tidy crew he can’t contain the growth and sabotage of the largest plant forms, accepting that most of the disarray here is created by the flourishing trees. Enlarged roots and fallen branches break up the regular lines and blur the spaces between the plots. This is a place of quiet death and organic evolution. The trees benefit from human decay. The slabs crack and fall over. The names inscribed in the 19thcentury fade and disappear in the now.
Mark’s car love is real. Yours is entwined in the older technology of a five door without value and was never actually this intense. His is fuel efficient with leather seats to mould and sink into like the finest armchairs. Hypersensitive, it squeezes into the driveway, sending out messages of accuracy and danger. He tells you how the love began and how he couldn’t resist. It’s an emotional moment. The shiny black of the bodywork, the dark sheen, globally the most popular colour of automobile, portrays an image of confidence and efficiency. The bodywork, the sprayed high-gloss enamel finish, reflects sky and surroundings with a polish and precision unrivalled by other hues. Here black is more than a colour and transcends taste, choice, style or self-image. It’s the black page in Tristram Shandy, the black square of Vladimir Malevich, the black painting of Ad Rheinhardt, the black ink that eases out of the tube and ingrains fingers so you look like the manual worker you long for. Even when the car is decayed and dumped, the sheen, now dimmed to an indeterminate grey-black matt surface, perfectly holds dust, pollen and other air droppings. While in its pristine state the near world reflects back at us from the almost glass surface of the bonnet, hood, lid or nose of the vehicle, immersing us in a dark space so intense as to fade out into colourlessness. The car is black and not a hearse.
You now walk through this cemetery most days, occasionally catching visitors or mourners at the recent graves. This land was neatly staked out using a ruler, claimed and now owned by the city. The Old Burial Ground downtown is smaller, more haphazard, and came about through necessity. This one was mapped out by the city fathers, a square next to it for the City Park, another one for the Museum over there. This square is for the dead, the laid to rest, fallen asleep, put out of their misery, murdered, self-killed, perpetually dreaming. The grief is tangible in the soil and air. And it’s also imaginary, time healed. It’s a plot of land that holds stones, trees and bones. The lost, gone, once here, alive now dead, more dead than alive, skeletons perhaps communicating underground like tree roots, mothers, grandfathers, aunts, great uncles, babies, gone, vanished, disappeared, while the still alive, the kicking, are unable to access rituals of ancestral contact. No one showed them. Death is best forgotten. It’s a foreign land.
There’s another level of endemic grieving close by, ingrained through decades and centuries of theft, loss, intimidation, slaughter, broken promises and disempowerment, a remorseless mourning for what was stolen by these dead ones, your ancestors, who are here privileged by a graveyard, with social standing guaranteed by the grandeur of a monument costing money. You take our land and our way of life, our future and our prospects, and you stick us in an uninhabitable place, pollute the river and call it a reserve. You forcibly remove our great grandparents from their homes to residential mission schools to learn your language and lose their identity. You beat the Mi’kmaw out of these lost children if you hear a single word spoken. You speak of the devil and in Christ’s name. Now you shift the blame and leave us to it, hands clean our problem.
Give us these fine downtown fields of rich soil composted by your dead, you the great polluters of our land. Give them over or we will take them by force. You’re a voracious, dishonest self-righteous rabble, and an embarrassment to our ancestors.
She goes into the museum looking for the Mi’kmaq displays.
Yesterday she stood outside Mic Mac Mall holding a sign saying Mi’kmaq Mall as a hurried gesture of defiance and solidarity. Mic Mac, in this form, with a space between the syllables, has a catchy ring of contemporary living and fast food, so why change it to this weird thing that no one can spell. Then there’s Mac as a prefix for so many Scottish surnames, Mac as an iconic world-beating snack that even starts with Mc but who cares, and before that it was Mac the Knife. You ok Mac? And the tarmac, so vehicle and airplane friendly, and the Mick of Jagger, Hucknall and Mouse. Mic Mac simply makes sense. These two were destined for connection before the Mall word entered the frame. Who came up with this? Bring me the copywriters and I’ll give them a bonus, Mic Mac Mall. Everybody loves it. It sticks in the brain like a product hook.
Did you spell it right on your sign? Andrea asks her later. Did anyone see you? Was it essentially conceptual art? Were you doing it for the indigenous ones, the first nation of here, or to appease your own sense of guilt?
She had to do it, even though it was a hurried print-out made in Mark’s office, as if a piece of white paper with black lettering will make a difference. That wasn’t the point. It was a symbolic start. And it marked the manifestation of an empathic rage, an acknowledgement of the trashy juggernaut of the English language rolling over everything in its path. And she stands holding a piece of paper in front of the official entry sign that’s made of pressed concrete, marking Atlantic Canada’s second largest mall, with 117 brand name stores including Bunnyland and the Build-a Bear Workshop, with cars passing her on the smooth road surface on their way to the parking lot, on stolen Mi’kmaq land. She makes eye contact with drivers when they catch sight of her. They glance away quickly, sensing an infringement and that it’s just a question of time before security intervenes. This is just the kind of situation that Allied Universal Security are paid to deal with. She gradually realises these drivers are not her target, it’s the mall owners she wants to reach, Ivanhoé Cambridge in Montreal, a ‘global industry real estate leader’, with social responsibility listed on their home page. French-speaking, and with their own historic issues with the English, they are sure to understand. Sylvain, Nathalie, Mathieu and Claude are in the leadership team and board of directors. She will ask them to change the spelling as a gesture to the Mi’kmaq people of Atlantic Canada. Then she will ask for land.
Public Affairs and Communications, Ivanhoé Cambridge, Édifice Jacques-Parizeau, 1001, rue du Square-Victoria, Montréal, Québec Canada H2Z 2B5
Dear Public Affairs
As a supporter of the indigenous Mi’kmaq and Maliseet people’s of Atlantic Canada, on a recent visit to Halifax I was shocked to find the mis-spelling of Mic Mac Mall. I’m sure you recognize the offence this causes a First Nations people of such distinctive and proud heritage as the Mi’kmaq. This is the equivalent of your company being publicly misnamed as IVYHO or at the very least losing the acute accent on Ivanhoé, which is clearly important to you and represents a link to your French heritage.
I also note in your mission statement that you have a clear commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR), are committed to ‘the wellness of the planet as a whole’ and to ‘giving back to the community’. You may have heard of the success of the Mi’kmaq community in Halifax in having the statue of Cornwallis removed in Halifax last year. This statue honoured the founder of Halifax, Edward Cornwallis, whose shocking ‘scalping proclamation’ offered a large cash reward to anyone who killed a Mi’kmaw person. The city finally saw sense and removed his statue.
Your gesture to rename Mic Mac Mall as Mi’kmaq Mall will be enthusiastically received, and an ideal example of ‘giving back’ to the local community within the context of CSR. You would also, no doubt, gain considerable positive press and PR coverage.
I look forward to hearing back from you about this important and sensitive matter.
And where’s her rage now? It’s here in the museum, where the Mi’kmaq displays have been removed and replaced with an innocuous creative project where individuals make a ceramic plate about This is What I Wish You Knew, with short interviews to complement the awkward exhibits. These rely on headphones, creating that extra effort for the causal visitor. It’s easier to spend some time with the bullfrog incongruously sitting in a glass aquarium on the other side of the room. Barely alive she breathes and rests with nowhere to go and waiting to be fed, in her own residential school removed from her family, and on display here as the only non human living creature in the museum. Why a bullfrog? The English name sticks again. It must be a frog that looks like a bull. Yes, she can see that. It does have a bull’s face and a toad’s body, close enough, little heartbeat revealed through finely pigmented mottled skin. It’s alive and breathing, swivelling eyes looking out at her through the glass seeing the tripod and the camera seeing back. They are also static and barely moving, the camera and Kino, recording the aquarium scene while no one interferes like you’d expect. This seems good enough and the only relationship she can achieve here on this Saturday afternoon, while on the other side of the room there are the plates and recordings, twelve or so. This will be a commitment, perhaps filming and being with the bullfrog is enough.
She walks across and puts on the first pair of headphones, starts to listen and then cannot stop. What’s revealed in these interviews is momentous, telling, shaming and huge. There are shocking levels of sadness, dissipation, disempowerment, recovery, hanging on, in recovery, not making it, loss, suicide, illness, murder, deprivation, and these are the ones who volunteered, who had the commitment to take this on and answer the question of this is what I wish you knew and now she does. No one else is participating in this experience. Perhaps it seems like too much effort. Headphones on, headphones off. This solitude increases the intimacy of the listening experience. She is being spoken to directly. Tayla Paul’s is the third one she comes to. Paul is a common First Nations surname here and in New Brunswick. Tayla knows her lineage. She’s unquestionably Mi’kmaq. And she does the smart thing and repeats the phrase, this is what I wish you knew, at the start and end. She talks about her plate design with a tree falling down and the other stuff comes in, as it does in all the interviews:
There is a difference of philosophy between the two cultures that has evolved over thousands of years, the cultures living here and sharing the land right now. There are two conflicting worlds, one that’s developed and one that’s undeveloped and pushed aside. There is no assimilation. There is no living my life freely as I want to within the other culture. There are no allowances for both cultures to be represented. My connection to the natural world is internal and when I see broken trees and developments, when I see rampant development and over-development, no recognition that there is any preexistent value beyond resource and resource extraction. When I see this, this is all on me. I feel this every day.
The reserve I’m from I have never lived on because of pollution. Before I was born it was polluted. You cannot touch the water there or pick things up off the beach and there is a 40% cancer rate. I was 12 when the government promised to clean it up and I’m 40 now. I don’t see any way to return to my reserve, to return to the land that was designated for me.
This is the world we live in and it’s very conflicted.
These are Tayla’s words transcribed without seeing her face looking out from the screen in pain, without hearing the intensity in THIS IS ALL ON ME and I FEEL THIS EVERY DAY. She is simply describing her reality and Kino’s landscape changes at this moment. It is this simple and this awful. Conflicted doesn’t cover it. And you don’t hear a thing without the headphones and can just walk by and be bored with this display of strange plates and written statements, and not even notice that the bullfrog is alive, so still.
The city needs a central park and it sits here between the cemetery and the museum. They named it the Halifax Public Gardens.
She arrives early on Sunday morning, wearing a dark blue trilby and a black suit jacket, and heads straight for the green wooden benches, forty of them lined up in parallel rows. She imagines the local factory in production in the 1880s, the cast iron frames imported from Scotland. Someone ordered the wrong size and it’s too late, the shipment has arrived and they have to make the best of it to meet the deadline from the superintendent of works. This is why they look disconcertingly small. They are small, suitable to seat older children and adults less than 5 feet 3 inches in height. And this is why she’s here, to mess with them when it’s quiet, to occupy them and film herself in the process. They’re empty, expectant, abandoned and painted with many coats to protect the wooden slats concealed underneath. She wonders who chose the colour, this uniform insipid green that’s become a standard Western icon for park, grass, leaves and vegetation. Paint them green because this is a public garden of grass and vegetation.
She sets up the tripod beside the bandstand on the other side of the path and presses the record button. One or two joggers pass by, ignoring her and the tripod, intent on their routine. She slides between the empty rows, occasionally holding onto the back of a bench, lurching and stopping, lurching and stopping again, then runs towards and away from the camera with a stumbling deliberation that questions the value and purpose of conventional walking. She settles momentarily in the far distance, beyond the furthest bench, close to the still-closed café, then moves slowly forward to sit in the second row, off centre to camera left, her right. She leans forward and takes a small packet from her pocket, carefully peels off the wrapping to reveal a scalpel. Unseen, she slices off a flake of paint from the underside of her bench. It reveals many layers of previous painting, all similar colours. She holds up the fragment between thumb and forefinger to locate a similar shade in these lush surroundings, but fails to find one. There is no match for this particular green. Is it Forest Splendour, Pharaoh’s Gem, Picturebook, Spinach, Government Green, Base Camp, Blade, Scott’s Pine, Green Paw Paw, Funk, Mangrove Leaf or Plasticine?
She finds a colour chart of British Standard (BS) colours for reassurance. Canada must surely adhere to the BS system. Is it 220 Olive Green, 262 Bold Green, 226 Mid Brunswick Green, 221 Brilliant Green, 228 Emerald Green/Viridian, 280 Verdigris Green, 282 Forest Green, BS2660-5061 Pine Green, BS2660-5067 Atlantic Green, BS2660-5065 Clover Leaf, BS2660-0010 Paris/Viridian Green, BS2660-6073 Bottle Green or BS2660-6074 Mid Brunswick Green? It’s close to Atlantic Green but not that close.
Her paint flake fails to match colour charts or vegetation, so is it green? In making the comparisons she sees the immense and subtle variations of green around her and experiences the hollow truth that this stark English word is the descriptor for all this. She remembers the Mi’kmaq words for green. With no adjectives in the language they mean he/she/it is the colour. Stoqonamu’k is green. Stoqonamuksit is dark green. In Greek, chloros means having green as its colour.
She looks around slowly. There is no paint flatness here. Green is a mysterious multi-dimensional world of intense subtlety, completely integrated into the life forms that generate oxygen for our survival. She’s lost in a quandary of identification, swimming in a pool of layers of mystery where green is no longer a colour. She sees it as an integral part of plant life, always changing, continually moving towards a new state. The space between green and grow as ghre is the origin of the word in English and this make more sense to her, reinforced by the lack of growth in the flake of paint she’s still holding. Its only evolution is towards a slow fade and disintegration.
Green does not exist, she says aloud before beginning to slide again through the parallel benches. Green is a scandal of misrepresentation. You’ve been cheated. They don’t want you t-to know the truth because then you’ll know too much. If you rely on your perception, on what you can actually s-see-experience, you’ll enter the mix, this realm that I’ve been in. The grass is not green. The ball is not green. The grass may appear a one-colour from a distance but close up it’s continually changing, translucent and shifting. This patch holds clover, slugs, daisies and b-buttercups, so in summer it’s also white and yellow. Don’t taunt me with your inadequate green adjective.
She wonders if she’s still talking out loud or to herself and is not bothered either way. She’s not letting this go. She feels outraged, furious with kindergarten teachers and family members who encouraged her to think of colour as an identifier, a label attached to the identity of significant objects in her life as a small child, where colours are so clearly demarcated and amongst the first words to be spoken. And then the damage is already done. The world is red, yellow, blue, green, orange, purple, brown, grey, black, white and pink, always pink. If colour is an illusion in nature then what about my skin that’s also continually changing colour?
These childhood colour references must also apply to products and brands, where establishing the precise reference is vital for the repaint and the repeat. Are these benches a Nova Scotia park brand? Who has green in their logo? Green and yellow logos definitively evoke feelings of youth, nature, and cheerfulness. Subway and Sprite are great examples of companies that use this logo colour combination. She thinks of the potential cheer in holding a limp Subway roll part-filled with the cheapest cuts and a can of sickly Sprite in the other hand. This is cheerful living of the highest order. She thinks of the plural of logo as logos, which stands for reasoned discourse in Ancient Greek: “He who hears not me but the logos will say: All is one”, Heraclitus. And then the redskins, the Redskins, an American Football team based in Washington, the Washington Redskins, the Redskins for short, whose owners still insist that the term is not offensive to anyone, especially as, apparently, Native Americans were consulted about the name and logo, the profile of a Blackfoot man with feathers, approved by a Blackfoot chairman, when this was not his land. The Washington tribes are the Cayuse, the Chehalis, the Chinook, the Kalispel, the Klallam, the Kwalhioqa, the Lummi, the Nez Perce, the Nooksack, the Quileute, the Quinault, the Skokomish, the Tenino, the Twana, the Umatilla, the Walla Walla, the Wasco-Wishram and the Wenatchi. No Blackfoot here, only a rousing chant from the fans “Hail to the Red-skins. Hail vic-to-ry! Braves on the war-path. Fight for old D.C!”
Redskin is a racial smear invented by the invaders in a clumsy attempt to depersonalise the people they were obliterating, while this dehumanising insult has now been repossessed as Red Power. And red logos are ‘bold and make a statement’ so they didn’t see this coming. She thinks about green in a similar light, and the dismissal of her ‘green credentials’ as another kind of prejudice. Colours are continually used as simplistic slurs. Predictably, the only skin colour that escapes this is white, pink, pinkskin, pigskin, paleskin, and the pressure to have lighter skin is still insidiously pervasive in Brazil, India, China, Korea, Japan, Ethiopia, and linked to class and social status. The whites win out and lose the game.
She will no more be identified as green for her ecological beliefs any more than she will allow the lush vegetation all around her to be coloured with the same word. She now feels disgust at the look and sound of it. Green is more than useless, it needs to be removed, banished, obliterated.
All colour words are gone. They vanish from books, dictionaries and online references. The meagre human brain is slowly reprogrammed to no longer see or recognise them. Where the colour words once sat on the page there is a space, a gap, in which to imagine other descriptions, other ways of being with the thing described. These spaces open up to become plateaus of subtlety and mystery. The ball is no longer identified by colour and instead reveals its essence as a physical existence with unique material qualities, equivalent to a stone or pinecone. You see and experience all this at the same time. The process is interlinked. You look-see-feel-experience in one state that was previously crudely simplified in a single colour name. This is now about essence. The words ‘colour’ and ‘rainbow’ remain, channelling the spectrum. Your mind slowly retrains. It takes a few months.
You’re labelled as severely visually impaired (thanks) and colour is not in your consciousness. You’re acutely colour-blind and see the world in tones of grey white black. Yet you’re completely in the experiential world. Your intense perception of difference becomes the one we seek to learn from. You hold the keys. Your fingertips reveal more than we see. You take your time with this worldview. Your clothing harmonises in a random way. Matching becomes an embarrassing thing of the past. Your perception is so acute that small glimpses are an experience of wonder and near fear. You’re an open-eyed newcomer.
The constant and unpredictable movement of the variegated plants in air currents. The gloom of light loss and the sudden emergence of highlights, liquid light across surface creating shade and drama. Thick cloud conceals absorbs blankets a haze is on this outside. Step inside to electric power up artificial light. Switch on switch off. Rock that switch in anticipation of instant response. The lights aren’t working I can’t see a thing. The loss of light and life. Enough, more than enough. Hold it up to the light. Turn around. You look so good in purple orange blue. You look great. Thanks. How do I look? It’s 100% cotton spun woven and then dip dyed with this, this, this purple liquid. Wash separately at 30 degrees. How clever of them to create blue chrysanthemums and green tulips.
The once evocative paint names, like Vintage Chandelier, Natural Calico or Delicate Seashell, are replaced by numbers, using a variant of the BS system. The painting of interiors and exteriors is considered crass, and avoided in favour of revealing the essence of surface matter. We admire and desire unpainted plaster and timber. Many paint producers are facing bankruptcy. We no longer choose cars for their colour, their enamel is automatically sprayed with variations of the rainbow stripes of the LGBTQ flag. The subtlety of the spectrum stays as the in-between, dissolved, the cross-faded. Pigmented paints become irrelevant, garish and unhelpful as a counterbalance to an essence of being that incorporates light and darkness. Pain and paint are such close neighbours.
She walks back to the tripod and switches off the camera.
The park is under the topcoat now, behind the eyes and ears. You’re drawn to find other ways to mess with it, to lift the carpets, tousle the hair, open the windows. There will be more trips.
The first one will involve guerrilla gardening and you’ll need to prepare for it in Mark and Andrea’s kitchen. You remember the seed ball recipe from that episode in Whitstable with the giant trebuchet catapult. This machine was redesigned from an earlier foray outside the halls of residence of Warwick University. Then it was about inviting students to bring out their cuddly toys, owning up to keeping them hidden in their bedrooms and revealing their not-so-inner child as they offered up their loved ones for adventure.
This time the catapulting symbolised a critique of anthropomorphism and talking cartoon animals. It became an act of mock reverence as, one by one, another collection of once cherished toys were slotted into the taut hold of the extended bungee, with a seed ball carefully balanced on their round bellies. Tricky. They became support cushions in this act of dispersion, catapulted in an arc across the grass beside the Gorrell Tank Car Park, an engineering folly in its own right, a reservoir covered over with concrete and tarmac. Below, the ebbing water is visible through evenly spaced metal gratings and, once pointed out, came to represent one of the four elements of Empedocles. Easy to miss if you’re vehicle-focussed and don’t look down. It stands alone as a public car park run by the local council, while the tank underneath is owned by Southern Water, held together by rusting subterranean steel props, and under constant repair and regular nocturnal dredging by specialist pump trucks. Distressed neighbours in Reservoir Road, woken in the small hours, are not sure who to complain to.
In the process of the launch the seed ball separated from its creature support, a once ‘transitional object’ of childhood, and its flight became an act of guerrilla gardening, as each ball contained a cocktail of soil and native wildflower seeds. To the assembled audience you successfully referenced two more of Empedocles’ elements in one action, earth and air. The soft toys were gathered up for future deliveries. The seed balls stayed where they fell, to settle, germinate and infiltrate the grass.
Another guerrilla act in Whitstable involved the illicit planting of high-grade vegetable seedlings in the nearby plots of spiky ‘ground cover’ shrubbery. Publicised as ‘low maintenance gardening at its very best’, you challenged the misery of ground cover by thwacking these shrubs with your clipboard and pointing out what they were clumsily designed to conceal, the earth, here on the site of former allotments, a place where vegetables were once grown to feed the family.
Now, in Mark’s kitchen, you find yourself questioning the term ‘seed ball’ and its Californian origins. It’s too prosaic for the innovations you’re planning. You decide on the Greek sporos bala and to add slow release organic fertiliser to the mix. The earth here is more fibrous than the heavy clay of Whitstable and needs extra water to act as binder. In cookery terms, make sure you keep the mixture firm. You expand the recipe to two varieties. The dark are infused with extra compost. The lighter contain the seeds of starflower, painted trillium, rhodora and lupin, sourced from the wildflower section of the Halifax Seed Company on Kane Street. The dark are designed for tree nourishment, especially where the grass is spreading close to roots and stealing essential nutrients. The balas are set out to dry in a low oven and then placed in two layers in a small shoebox, separated by wax paper like expensive chocolates.
You borrow a last century wooden dibber from the impressive garden tool collection of Ashley, Mark’s neighbour. His labradoodle, Bella, has other ideas and jaw snatches it from his hand.
‘She loves anything wooden,’ he says, as he jerks it out of her mouth and offers her a well-chewed pine stick in its place.
You register his use of the word love and recall how often intense emotions are expressed in pet interactions, wondering how it would be if this was applied to wild creatures. It has to be a pet thing. Ashley shares his life with Bella while the raccoons that scratch around on his shed roof at night are pests and just plain annoying.
‘You wouldn’t take a raccoon to the grooming parlour unless you were crazy in the head. It’s a whole different thing. You should see what they did to my lawn last summer looking for June bug grubs, turf sliced and rolled up like they were professionals. If Bella ever did that she’d get a hiding to remember.’
This is how the conversation would likely unfold, so you let it go.
‘You and Mark going up to Keji? Take it easy up there with the deer ticks. Wear pants and keep em tucked inside your socks. Get sprayed up. You don’t wanna come back here with that Lyme Disease.’
You look at Bella’s fur curls and recall the soft toys lined up on the wall of the Gorrell Tank Pumping Station at the back of the car park. You think of launching a young Bella from the catapult and the uproar that would cause, even with a soft landing, even if she loved it.
The Australian breeder Wally Conron is credited with creating the labradoodle in 1989 as a potential non hypo-allergenic guide dog for visually impaired people with allergies. It proved a failure but it was too late to go back. The dog was done. A version of this particular mix had already appeared in America. It even made a regular TV appearance as Fang on the Get Smart show, but Wally was instrumental in establishing the current lineage, so much so that they are now internationally known as Australian Labradoodles. Still haunted by the legacy of what he sees as a doomed experiment, Wally is on record as saying that he’d created a Frankenstein with a lot of problems: “healthy labradoodles are few and far between and most are crazy or have a hereditary problem.” The Australian Labradoodle Association of America (ALAA) disagrees, or chooses to rewrite history, saying they are generally considered healthy dogs, while also admitting their common health problems include hip and elbow dysplasia, eye diseases and Addison’s disease. No mention of mental health issues here. And it’s reassuring that Haakon and Mette-Marit, the Crown Prince and Princess of Norway, are passionate labradoodle owners.
Bella was purchased as a puppy from Labradors by Design on the Bay of Fundy, right across the water from New Brunswick, and just 45 minutes from Halifax. Sue, the founder, met her first multi-generation labradoodle at a llama sale in Montana in 2005. Being a llama owner she instantly recognised that this was exactly the kind of dog that llama people should have, and from that moment she was hooked. Her puppies retail at $2275 after $225 spray/neuter discount, shots and microchips, and come with a two year health warranty, like a new washing machine.
‘What do you want with a dibber?’ Ashley says.
‘Oh, I’m doing a project at Dalhousie while I’m here,’ you lie.
‘What kind of project?’
‘It’s about seeding native plants into the grass. It’s all the r-rage in Europe. We’re making a trial patch.’
‘Sounds pretty strange to me, grass is grass, but if it’s all the rage. What do you think Bella, shall we lend the dibber to Kino here?’
He waits for her reply then goes to hand it over. Bella tries to jump for it again but you lift it high out of her reach. It’s a traditional dibber with incised rings to calibrate the depth of dib for seed or seedling.
The dynamic has imperceptibly changed and it feels as if Ashley and Bella are now teamed up against you in a subtle power game. They are in collusion. Or are you imagining it? Or is Ashley irritated by the mention of Dalhousie, as a reminder that his neighbours are professors and he’s a retired automobile mechanic. Perhaps he wanted to say:
‘Fuck Dalhousie, with its Professor of this and Chair of that funded by the Beaverbrook Foundation, I’m up to here with it. Nothing against Mark and Andrea, they’re good neighbours and all, but they just don’t know how to talk straight, if they ever did.’
As their house guest you are implicated in this resentment and may have made a mistake in your lie about the imaginary Dalhousie project. Why didn’t you tell the truth?
The truth is a personal thing. The truth is a close secret. The truth is unknown, an idea that cannot be revealed until it’s done. The truth does not exist before the action is completed. The truth will unfold. And he wouldn’t understand, would he? But will your untruth come back to entrap you if he mentions your project to Andrea in the backyard before she sets off to work at Dalhousie? She’s only aware that you’d like to meet up with her Mi’kmaq colleague, Rebecca, to talk about Two Spirit culture in Atlantic Canada. Andrea says that if you’re a First Nations academic these days you’re sure to get a job at a university. That tide has changed. Only that one.
Reconciliation is featured every morning on the CBC radio station that Mark plays in the background as he boils the eggs and grills the toast. Quiet voices unused to being heard speak about the horrors of Residential School, without wanting to make a fuss. Their strained words are allowed to run on where a standard interview would be cut short. This is different. There’s been a directive from the government to fill out this broadcast time to evoke remembered misery and pain in an atmosphere of implicit apology and concern by experienced anchor men and women so we can get through this and forget about it.
‘Can you tell us a bit more Paula? What do you remember about being taken away from your parents?’
Reconciliation is a word of six syllables, a mouthful. There’s no equivalent in the Mi’kmaq language. Friendship and trust come closest.
‘So can you reconcile the polluted river on our Reserve please, Carol, CBC Radio anchor woman?’
‘We’ll certainly pass that on Paula. My job is to professionally fill out this timespan, Paula, and yes I am on a good salary, but let me tell you I trained hard to achieve what I have and I covered a lot of indigenous stories when I worked as a young reporter on the Halifax Courier. I think we all need to move on, don’t you?’
‘What car do you drive Carol? Do you get a gas allowance? Do you live in one of those big houses in Dartmouth five minutes from Mic Mac Mall? Has Canada been good to you? Do you celebrate Canada Day?’
‘I’m the one asking the questions here Paula and I think we’ll say goodbye at this point and fade you out. Fade her out, David. And who have we got on the line next? Tony, welcome to The Current on CBC Radio One. You are a Residential School survivor, Tony, is that correct?’
You want to move on and you want to move back at the same time to find out how to move on. You’re here to reconnect with indigenous culture through Mi’kmaq rock carvings from the rosy perspective of a 22-year-old who experienced Hopi and Apache ceremonies in Arizona and New Mexico. You still hear the drumming, chanting and foot stamping in your head. You see the carefully painted full-face Kachina masks and matching costumes as they climb up the ladder and out of the kiva chamber to line up in an arc and begin the Buffalo Dance, the Velvet Shirt Kachina Dance, the Deer Dance, stamp, stamp, stamp. Your chest quivers. You cannot speak. But this is not Arizona with a showcase Native American community self-sustained through intricate silver jewellery designs and controlled tourism, their houses carved out of the desert mesa like a New World wonder. You get privileged access from your Two Spirit friends Jim and Tom, a privilege long gone after so much disrespect from crass visitors. The dances and rituals are now sealed tight. This is not desert Hopi country, it’s lush Mi’kmaq land occupied by descendants of a few First Nations survivors and the conquering European colonisers. Your boxed collection of sporos bala and Ashley’s dibber seem laughable in the face of this. Then you remember Heraclitus’ words of encouragement and decide to push ahead.
As you close Ashley’s side gate and navigate your way past Mark’s car and back into the kitchen, you start to question the other label from Whitstable, ‘guerilla gardening’, and decide to explore its origins. You find a reference to Gerrard Winstanley and the Levellers, who occupied Common Land to grow vegetables for the poor in 17th century Surrey. Gerrard challenged the concept of land ownership, declared all living things equal, and was seen as a Radical, a Heretic, an early Communist and an early Anarchist. So many labels for a simple act, supported by the pamphlets that wrote him into history. This is a more comfortable fit. You’ll be a Leveller in the City Park.
You choose late afternoon, thinking it will be quiet, and make your way to the darker fringes, away from flowerbeds, main paths and lawns, carrying a canvas bag of stuff: the boxes of sporos bala, a large water bottle, a picnic blanket, Ashley’s dibber, a packet of spare seeds and the camera. You’re looking for native trees and neglected corners. There’s plenty of scope. Responsible people stick to the paths, so by wandering off you quickly discover patches of uncultivated ground and exposed tree roots. You try to look as if you’re nonchalantly feeding the squirrels and birds, kneeling, rummaging. You’re doing nothing illegal. Or maybe you are. Then these two words, cultivation and legality, strike you as representing bedrocks of colonial entitlement. We employ our outstanding legal system to justify our theft and cultivation of your land. We are the cultivated. You are the savages. This realisation encourages you to embrace the illegal and the uncultivated with renewed energy and rightfulness.
The first box is now out of the bag and on a patch of nearby grass, to allow for extra speed. You keep the lid closed to fend off pigeons and crows who sense that seeds are in the mix. You gradually develop a planting rhythm. You put your headphones on and start to dib to the music on the off beat, hold turn, hold turn, press push, reach, take, place, turn, seal, tread, spray. Don’t walk away, Don’t walk away. Stay, please stay. Don’t walk away.
You’re a Leveller planting wildflowers and nurturing native tree species, trees diminished by the local ecosystem and their own brittle names, Jack Pine, Red Pine, Choke Cherry, Striped Maple, White Ash, Black Ash. Only the Trembling Aspen escapes mediocrity, rescued by the subtle movement of its leaves. The truth is that you won’t see the results unless you’re back in Halifax in a year or two, so this is invisible mischief. Mischief that is not mischief. You’re breaking some imaginary or actual code of park behaviour, introducing native plants that would be seen as weeds in a cultivated flowerbed, a bed for flowers, a flower grave, weeded out, weeds out, dig it over or fetch the weedkiller, the Spectracide, the Roundup or Green Gobbler, removed, poisoned, cleared, tidy soil, clean sheets on the bed, clear the moss from the grave, it’s a credit to the city, tulips are looking nice this year.
A Code of Park Behaviour:
A Code of Park Levelling:
It’s Levelling. It’s for public land everywhere, revenge for the green, the grass coaxed and trimmed into a carpet of flatness for the summer picnic or the backdrop for the wedding or Prom photos. The machinery, in hundreds of varieties and brands, has been designed for one purpose only, to keep the grass clipped low, handheld, electric or petrol driven. We don’t want to see any bare patches. But there are spaces where the earth shows through and here you’re able to easily insert balas with your dibber. It fits your palm comfortably, this assistant and collaborator, and it becomes more than a tool. It’s now a ritual object, sacred and universal. Planting and feeding that’s what you’re doing, you and the dibber. Then you notice a small circular engraving on the handle and, recognising it as the Mi’kmaq symbol for heaven, you suddenly realise that this is not a normal wooden dibber. It wasn’t turned on a lathe. It’s a cultural artefact, a museum piece, traded in for a few cents to buy food for a starving family. Does Ashley know this?
The box has begun to sag as moisture is absorbed from the grass. You lift the lid and the balas spill out onto the ground. You’re quickly surrounded by crows and pigeons pecking at the lighter ones. You distract them with a scattering from the spare seed pack. You collect up the remaining ones and abandon the box. After all the careful preparation you are thrown by this chaos. At the same time you feel elevated. This is what you wanted. This is the other truth. You had a plan and it went wrong, you fed the birds. You wanted it to go wrong. Your energy increases. The idea of acting furtively evaporates. You move freely and expansively in a sequence of martial art-inspired movements and gestures. The birds keep away to give you space. The dibbing is perfect. The sealing of the holes is effortless. The watering of the hidden seeds is flawless. You are unstoppable and invisible.
You look up and see Heraclitus sitting on a nearby bench, this one larger than the diminutive green ones on the other side of the park. He’s a tall man but fits comfortably on this unpainted wooden seat. He’s trimmed his beard and looks smart in city clothes. A rolled yoga mat is attached to the outside of his briefcase. He could be an architect or a new media professor from Dalhousie. Like the last time you met, you hear him without seeing him speak.
‘My fragments continue to infatuate scholars with insufferably detailed interpretation and close translation, leading to more obfuscation and confusion. They insert their own agendas in my words: Lebedev on my style, Sassi on my harmony, the disastrous Osho on my intuition, Nikoletseas on my modus cogitandi, Csikszentmihalyi on my flow. Have they nothing better to do? I am not flattered by this and observe that they feel compelled to fill spaces that are better left empty. Isn’t it obvious that my thinking is closer to poetry than the convolutions of western philosophy? You came to look for me in Ephesus and the Temple of Artemis, while they sit in libraries wrestling with the logos. You look for truths in unlikely places, and with me more than the overblown Nietzsche. You’re on the right track. Nice dibber, by the way.’
You find a dark pool outside the Langham Hotel. It’s triangular and does not photograph well. The still image fails to capture this suspended plane of darkness in the road, holding the rainfall. The rain falls and pools, settles and waits, as a heavy lingering and miraculous reflective surface that takes you deep and down, a centimetre of water that shaves to nothing at the apex, where wet becomes dry. The road markings of weather-resistant white and yellow stripes almost define the edges of the triangle. This shape is not man made. The straight edge of the kerb is human assembled.
Two steps on is the black limousine, with her/his driver waiting in the front seat wearing an appropriate peaked hat. Its paintwork surface is also a dark imperious pool of contour and reflection. The potency in space of this colour is so loaded as to overwhelm. And when the order goes in for the new consular car it’s always for this, without question. Black is shaded, reflected, glossed, gleamed, refracted. Always shines up so well, doesn’t it? Regular polishing is the secret, taking pride in it, buffing it by hand for the final touches. You can see your face in it. Ignore the clouds and the trees. It’s Portland Place London W1, and the Langham Hotel, if you shift your viewpoint slightly, hungry to be represented here. In this reflection.
You’re at Ashley’s front door, returning the dibber.
‘Thanks again for this, Ashley.’
‘Glad to be of service. Get your work done?’
‘It was perfect, such a simple and effective tool.’
‘Like me, simple and effective. That’s how Jean used to describe me anyhow. You wanna come in for coffee?’
‘Thanks, but I was on my way out. I’m heading over to the City Park. Would you like to come with me, Bella?’
‘Now that didn’t come out right, did it Kino? You mean you’re asking me for permission, not her, right?’
‘Oh yes, sure. You’re in charge. She’s your dog. That’s what I meant. It would be a privilege. And it’s up to you of course.’
You’re grovelling and he knows it. This is what he wants. He’s thinking how you wouldn’t casually ask to take Mark’s new Audi out for a spin, you’d need to tread gently. He’s doing you a big favour.
‘Good to straighten that out.’
‘How is she by the way?’
‘Full of energy, boundin’ around. Two years old and still behavin’ like a pup. C’m on you. Look who’s here.’
‘So it’s ok with you?’
‘Sure, so long as she’s kept on the leash. Can’t be runnin’ around over there. Whadya think Bella? Can we trust Kino to take good care of you? You wanna go? Out? Go outside? Walk? Knows every word. Look at her go. What a character, all legs ‘n ears. Wait up for your leash now. Yeah, the red one. You’ll likely meet some of her compadres over there.’
‘That sounds exciting. Anyone in particular?’
‘Let me see now. There’s Frank and his grey wolfhound Clint. You can’t miss them, huge motherfucker but real gentle with Bella. You might run into a guy with a stick wearing a trilby hat, that’s Percy. His terrier Cyclops has one side of his face white and the other black, strangest thing. You might get along with Percy, came over here from the UK way back, talks weird, used to be called Persimmon they tell me. And then there’s Sheila with Macy, her Jack Russell. Bella can’t get enough of her. OK drink some water first. Now off you go.’ He hands you the leash.
‘Any time, so long as you ask real nice. No mud on those paws, mind, or you’ll have to wash her down y’self when you get back, and she hates it.’
‘Sure. We’ll be careful, won’t we Bella.’
Now the work begins. She’s your talking stick, your passport to another country, a place with its own language, imagined and unfamiliar.
‘Well done Bella, good girl. Stay close. Come on, that’s enough. Take it easy. Calm down. Take your time. No rush, we’ve got all morning. No, I wish I c-could let you off the leash, it’s not allowed, we can get in big trouble. And you wouldn’t want that, would you? Ashley would be upset with us. Watch out, Bella, you can’t go around crashing into people like that. How did you sleep? What did you have for breakfast? I had the usual with Mark, yeah. He always serves up a piece of dark chocolate right at the end, after the toast. Nice idea, eh? No I haven’t got any with me. Didn’t know you liked it. How are you f-feeling today? I’d never’ve guessed. You seem ok. Something you ate? Looking forward to seeing some of your friends? You gonna behave? Good girl. I can’t wait to see who we meet up with. You’re my entry pass to this world, Bella. You give me credibility. You know that?’
You’ve almost got it, the place where communication falls between talking to a child, a subhuman, a close friend, and yourself. The listener never replies. We can say whatever we like, it’s a private discourse. Each complaint, How dare you. Come back here you wicked girl! is a release of pent-up aggression or smouldering hurt. Each stroke, pat and coo manifest the love we crave. Now you’re ready to tread more dangerously with her.
‘Do you actually like Ashley, Bella? Don’t you think you deserve better? Do you pretend to love him to keep him happy and get rewarded with treats? Wouldn’t you rather be out of the city where you can run wild and free? Snakes, bears and racoons? You’d figure it out, Bella. You don’t like the name ‘Bella’? You hate it? You have to swallow deep every time you hear it? So do you have another preference, a name you call yourself? Kronos? Pronounced the Greek way? Emphasis on the second syllable?’
You notice that her leash is attached to a branded pink Cath Kidston harness and wonder why it’s taken you this long to notice it. Her mobility is controlled by designer bondage. Her black collar is studded. You wonder if Ashley has unconsciously taken pleasure in all this strapping, keeping his beloved under tight control. Is this another reason he wants her kept on the leash? Collar and lead are pet essentials. They represent mastery and restraint. But the wild dogs of Izmir roam freely across the ruins of the Roman Agora, after hours and closed to visitors, possessing this land with a terrifying dignity.
Now we’ve arrived in the park. The sun has broken through the clouds, there’s a slight breeze, and plenty of dog walkers and dogs being walked, yanked and dragged onwards, backwards and sideways. Amongst them you look for any sign of the couples Ashley said we might run into and spot Frank and Clint heading in our direction. Kronos becomes animated. She tugs on the red leash, straining the muscles around her neck and upper back. The pink harness holds firm. Clint is unmistakable as a wolfhound standing above waist height with a purposeful loping stride. His attitude to humans is appropriate to his stature. He embodies physical prowess and is oblivious to the harsh words his ‘owner’ barks at him.
‘Keep goin’. Steady. Leave it Clint. Leave it out, son of a bitch.’
Amidst this grumbling Frank’s long face sags. His thick eyebrows and the corners of his mouth hang in ironic imitation of a bloodhound. He displays a deep sadness and resignation, rather than the irritation he’s directing towards Clint. You make an approach, to enter the second phase of the research.
‘Hi. You must be Frank. Ashley said I might see you over here.’
‘So this IS Bella then. I was wondering for a minute there. You doin’ the walkin today? You from overseas?’
‘Yeah, I’m visiting from the UK, staying with Ashley’s neighbours. What a great day to be outside. We made straight for the park didn’t we Bella. Is this your usual time to be over here?’
‘That depends on the weather and Clinty here. He don’t like to go out in the rain, do you boy? Sometimes I can’t get you out the goddamn door, can I Clinty? You just wanna sleep all day and you know that ain’t good for you. Then you give me the same idea, don’t you. And I go back to bed. I guess we’re both kinda depressed. Low energy, lethargic. I know pets is supposed to make you feel good, but somehow we just bring each other down sometimes, ain’t that right Clinty? On occasion we both lie there, me on the couch and him on the carpet, and stare at each other. I might say a few words about how the world’s gone nuts or about my useless brother Tony and he just listens, twitching his ears now and then. You know when I need to sound off don’t you boy. Sometimes I slip him a piece of one of my Prozac pills and put the reggae on real loud. Then we shake a leg big time. We sure know how to party when the time is right, don’t we Clint. Hey why am I telling you all this when I don’t even know you? Guess I was thinking you was Ashley for a minute there, watchin’ Bella jumpin’ around. Anyways, he knows my story, our story, me and Clint. Did he tell you?’
‘No, he only said we might meet you here.’
‘Well that’s for sure. When we’re out and about this is where we come, to stretch these legs, watch the birds, look at people and dogs, share a sandwich and a candy bar. Old pals ain’t we Clinty, livin’ our lives together. Hangin’ out and hangin’ on. Reckon I might be the first to go, eh? I asked Ashley if he’d take him on if I ain’t around no more and he said he couldn’t provide for two dogs. You wanna take him back to Europe with you if I don’t get through the week?’
‘Sorry Frank, I live in an apartment, no pets allowed, and there’s already a three-legged wolfhound in the neighbourhood, it wouldn’t work. That’s the reason I’m making the most of having some time with Bella, getting a taste of what I ordinarily can’t have. Anyway, we’d better be moving on. Great meeting you both. Bye Clint.’
Kronos is on the scent of squirrels. She pulls in different directions and barks at the sight of one. It’s hard work reining her in, so it’s a relief to glimpse someone who might be Sheila sitting on the next bench, with a maybe Macy wagging a tail at the sight of her.
‘Do you mind if I sit down on this bench next to you?’
‘Sure, it’s public property, and that’s gotta be Bella. You the dog walker? Ashley hurt his leg? Won the lottery?’
‘I’m staying next door for a few days. I offered to take her out. We get along. I love dogs. Is this Macy? Hey there. Ashley was telling me about how much she likes Bella. I thought she might be more excited.’
‘Off her food, that’s the reason.’
‘Are you concerned?’
‘Sure I am. What’s the matter baby?’
‘She looks ok, her nose is shiny.’
‘Yeah, but no barking. Usually she’d be making one heck of a racket with Bella here. Something’s up. Look at me. Macy, look at me right now! Let me see your eye sockets.’
‘Will you take her to the vet?’
‘I’ll give it a day or two. Other bills to pay. I’ll get some steak offcuts from the Wood ‘n Hart Meat Market, see if that interests her. What do you say to that Macy? Fresh steak for dinner. Pan fried or as it comes? Let me know later, OK? Hey, what you found under that leaf there? Put it down you stupid dog. Drop it right now! Don’t eat it for Christ’s sakes, you’re already sick you dumb fuck! Did she eat that? Could you see?’
From where you’re sitting you recognise it as a sporos bala or seed ball left over from your guerrilla gardening efforts the previous day, one that escaped dibbing and was likely carried over here and dropped by a bird or squirrel. Intrigued that Macy would show interest in this, you also feel compelled to lie.
‘I’m not sure, Sheila. It looked harmless enough. Wasn’t a toadstool or some other fungus, maybe some grass cuttings?’
‘Never seen her eat grass before. Bella wasn’t interested.’
‘People change. Appetites change. I’m into spinach and alfalfa sprouts at the moment. Must be the same for dogs.’
‘She’s no gourmet. Knows what she likes, don’t you girl? Now you just be sure to get rid of that shit, whatever it was, right now, like a good dog. She knows just what I mean don’t you Macy. Throw it up! Spew it out right now! Come here and I’ll squeeze your belly. Look at that, works every time. Well done, baby. Now don’t you go eating up that vomit. Come over here and sit quiet now. What do you make of all this Bella, eh? You’ve been real quiet. So you’re staying with Mark and Andrea. Don’t see them around here much since they lost their dear Charlie last year. No more dog walking for them. They tell you about Charlie?’
‘There’s a big framed photo of him in my room. They miss him a lot.’
‘You must be staying in Charlie’s room then. So that’s how you met Ashley and Bella. What a guy, what a girl. Come over here Bella. You just lie still Macy. Come over here, let me see your curls. Don’t you look beautiful today. Ashley been taking you to Pampered Pooch over at Mic Mac Mall for another freshen up? The money he spends on you Bella.’ You realise that Sheila hasn’t made eye contact with you since she started talking, and now she’s completely focused on Kronos. You mention your name and wonder if she’ll take it in. ‘But he thinks you’re worth it, doesn’t he, eh Bella? All those chilled meals too. He spoils you, doesn’t he? Do you deserve it? You think so? You just look up at him with those eyes of yours and he can’t resist, can he? You’ve got him right where you want him, haven’t you? I wish some dumb guy would throw money at me like that. Then I’d be the pampered one, wouldn’t I, Bella, eh? Maybe I’d have myself a new coat and shoes, and maybe I’d get rid of Macy here and buy myself a nice labradoodle just like you, well, way better than you, a puppy even more cute than you. How would you feel about that eh, Bella? What was your name again? Kino? Strange. Don’t think I’ll remember it. Say hi to Ash. Come on Macy we need to get you those steak trimmings. Say goodbye to Bella.’
We stay on the bench for a while chatting.
‘I hope Macy will be ok, don’t you, Kronos? You known them a long time? I can imagine. Do you get steak sometimes? Really? I didn’t know there was a vegan diet for dogs. You get extra vitamins to compensate? Me too. They get mashed up in your food? I swallow mine with water. I don’t know if they make a difference. What’s the time? Things slow down when you meet your friends. Is it always like this? Shall we move on? Get some more exercise?’
You start talking to yourself now. Is this any different from talking to Kronos? How’s it going? We get this far and I like what I find. I need a break. I’ve lost control. Don’t be ridiculous, it’s not about control. We’re in this dark soup, a shabby park of casual dereliction, held together by hosers waiting for their pay cheque and the sports results, like in the cemetery, the same white people, same ground, same land, only separated by a few blocks and a different logo. I know the feeling. It takes a particular mindset to enjoy manual work when someone else calls the shots, laying out the bulbs for you to dib, specifying which autumn leaves to blow. This is how it goes. Yesterday is gone. The arc of the sun is not a shadow maker. I wake up with a deep desire to walk the dog, the d-o-g. I think about those three letters and how they resonate. In this bilingual country ‘chien’ waits patiently for approval. And then the associations: you Dog, you Bitch. You dirty dog. You filthy bitch. You mongrel. You piece of dog shit. What are you sniffing around at?
We’re walking again and you decide it’s time to practice on strangers. ‘I bet that one’s a handful sometimes. What gorgeous eyes. Who’s taking who for a walk here? You wanna meet Bella? Hey, are you two checking each other out? Ah, take a look at them. Sometimes they just don’t listen, do they. How did you get to be so cute? Bella here really loves you, don’t you Bella. That’s like a double leash, very cool. Never seen one before, nice weave. You sure enjoyed that, didn’t you. You must be really proud, he’s so well behaved. Now come over here, good dog. Nice talking to you. Have a great day.’
You rest at another bench to note down which of your comments made most impact. Kronos looks tired from all the interaction and sits beside you. This is a precious moment for both of you to take stock. It’s been more intense than you anticipated. You’re out of your skin and feel some nausea at the necessary scale of deception in these conversations. You want to say, look I’m here with my dog, that’s it, or please talk to me straight, not through what you imagine your dog thinks, it’s not difficult. Breathing helps, and counting. At one hundred you close your eyes. As you reach two hundred and fifty you open them and see in the distance a slight figure carrying a stick in one hand and a leash in the other. He floats across the grass as if barely touching it. His cushioned shoes and dark cane give stability on one side, while the leash in his left hand, pulled at a consistent tension by a sturdy black and white dog, also supports his fragile frame. He’s wearing a grey hat. Cyclops clearly understands his role in this navigation of space as an essential partner. He is another kind of guide dog, assisting balance and maintaining a consistent distance from his owner. The leash is always taut, responding to Percy’s movements in a well-rehearsed duet. Percy is more animal in his movements than his dog. Cyclops is steady, plodding and stable, with a low centre of gravity.
His face is pied, in an almost perfect balance of black and white, white and black, the colour divide looping around his nose and giving the impression that his eyes are different colours when they must be identical. You notice your hearing is more acute than usual. You can clearly make out the intensity in Percy’s voice:
‘Are you ok? How did you sleep? Did you think of me? We’re walking in the park again, enjoying this gentle exercise. How well you parented Vanessa as a substitute for her own distracted mother. Those tender moments that I walked in on. Vanessa, you’re here again, always welcome, you know that. Did you see the daffodils are just visible, the ones we planted together in the fall? You are in my dreams every night. We are often struggling to arrive somewhere or swimming in warm waters, ageless and intimate. Come Cyclops, pull less hard, ease off my darling one or I fear I may stumble. You’re right, perhaps I do need a new stick, or at the very least a new rubber for this one. How blessed we are. I shall prepare a fine meal tonight. We will dine together in the salon. Later we can sit on the sofa and listen to Mozart. Yes. Now, come, pull me, pull me. You are divine. We make such a fine couple. That’s what the neighbours always say. Shall we share a bed tonight, secure in our devotion? Do you remember when we first arrived in Canada as young emigres and how I stumbled as we stepped onto terra ferma? Even then needing a little support in my mobility. And you were always there with a helping hand and now a leash. We are inseparable still…..we are as one…..the leash, the stick, you and I, in balance….I feel your touch, so light, so fragrant….you are not gone, only here, here you are, warm, free and strong…the liquid light, the soft shadows across your face….now gone, flit away…we step out as one, joined at the stretch…in tune, adept…spoken to, spoken for…that journey that we almost took, you went anyway…no room on my plate….your eyes hold such an intensity that I have to look away….the aspen quivers, the chestnut bleeds….we trace an arc from radial points, never the same ellipse…the philosopher seeks, I let you go…I wronged you…you forgave me, I cannot forgive myself…we breathe the same air and sometimes it is unbreathable…we tread the same terrain, ungovernable after rain…we see the same warnings, can no longer hold a silence…we bark as one, call out as one…see no danger, only timidity and reserve…stuck there, here, slipping dipping darkness looming….come, my dear one, look, see….enough. Let’s rest a while.’
He sits down on a neighbouring bench. Kronos strains to make contact with Cyclops and this alerts Percy. He looks up, first at the commotion, and then notices you. He appears distracted. You make the first move.
‘Excuse me for asking. Would you be Percy by any chance, and this Cyclops?
‘Oh yes, you know us. You do look familiar. So this must be the marvellous Bella? Would you be a friend of Ashley’s then?’
‘An acquaintance more, a friend of his neighbour.’
‘And Bella granted you this pleasure?’
‘She did. I feel honoured.’
‘We both are, such a delight, always.’
‘I thought I heard you speaking to Cyclops earlier. It sounded quite personal.’
‘Personal? No, normal for us. We are confidantes. We define our secrets to make the inner tangible. You cannot commune with another creature without revealing your thoughts and hopes.’
‘How long did it take to find that balance in the way you walk together?’
‘It was quite instinctive with Cyclops. He seemed to recognise my needs. We’ve gradually refined it over the years.’
‘Excuse me for asking, but I was wondering how you managed before Cyclops?’
‘There was no before Cyclops. There has always been a Cyclops. Always Cyclops as a lodestar, a limb extension. There was no before, only now, and then. We pause. We move on. We are one. There is no conflict, only continual challenge and mild struggle, recognised by us both as a necessity.’
Kronos looks on and listens intently, ears cocked. You sense a new intensity in this domesticated animal bred for human pleasure. She is at one with these fellow creatures, Percy and Cyclops, ready to lend assistance or create confusion at any moment. You perceive her for the first time as integrated, unmasked, difficult, defiant. You see the leash as a parody of restraint and decide to release her. Percy follows suit. The two dogs shake themselves. They do not run wild. For some time they look at each other, admiring each other’s lolling tongues. They lick their eyes. They rub noses. They play with mating postures and amble off into the bushes side by side. Now out of sight there is no reason to wonder. You decide to rethink their animal category. Not dogs, tail beings, four leggers, arcs, planets, stars, waves, yes. The two waves are interconnected and become one in the distance. Cyclops’ great skill is empathy and he merges with Kronos in a similar spirit to the one he shares with Percy. The actions they create, the fluid movements, flash as a blur of chestnut brown, black and white, creating a camouflage that becomes a slow-moving mist, in and out of the vegetation. They are in a delirium, demonstrating a mastery over sensation that’s very far from squeaky dog toys and the grooming parlour.
‘Is this normal, Percy?’
‘When these two become one? Certainly. Perhaps my overheard mutterings make more sense to you now.’
‘It all started with me wanting to explore how people talk to their dogs. I wasn’t expecting this.’
‘Not many have the opportunity. You and I, us and them. Shall we call them in?’
‘Are they safe?’
‘Completely. Let’s leave them. Would you like to share a sandwich? I bake my own bread. No meat in there in case you’re wondering. Perhaps I can also share an experience that I’m compelled to return to each day.’
‘Thanks. Delicious. I’m all ears.’
‘It’s the tulip. This particular one behind me at the corner of the flower bed. I’ve known it since it entered the soil in bulb-state last fall, dibbed and covered without care or precision by gardener Derek. He, knowing it would likely survive, was disinterested if it failed. Not me. I sensed this would become the one and brought focus and nourishment to the surrounding soil until the snows came in December. It pierced through last month as a green shoot and then came the daily shifts in budding. The constancy in my anticipation, has been almost unbearable, not for its impending passing but an awareness of my place in this cycle, and an inexplicable devotion. Cyclops is attuned and leads me to this spot daily. The colour is neither pink nor lilac. The exquisite stamen. The petals extended in mutual support, hanging, trumpeting.’
‘It’s hard to resist a tulip, even though I’m pretty committed to native wildflowers. I wonder if they go native sometimes and crop up in wilderness. I thought I saw one at Beachy Head a few years ago in the long grass away from the cliff edge. It was a similar colour to this one. Afterwards I thought it must have been a cransesbill or that someone had planted it there as a guerrilla act. There’s something so outrageous about them. And the history they carry. I was reading that tulip bulbs became hugely inflated in value in 17th century Holland, sometimes even costing more than a house.’
‘This is a common distortion. There was no ‘tulip mania’. The variegated were much prized and the wealthy of Flanders invested heavily in them. A personal collection of tulip bulbs was considered a mark of refinement and social standing, much like today’s art market. Then the crash came. In paintings of that period they soar, rage and flicker, revelling in their fame. And I choose to believe that the Dutch understood the true value of these flowers, so sadly lost on Derek. At this time of year they are priceless. But why am I so besotted by this particular tulip? It’s not even variegated.’
‘Don’t know that I’m qualified to answer such a profound question. I’m guessing it was a gradual process that crept up on you. There was the moment of c-connection as you saw the bulb covered over. Perhaps its burial represented something significant for you. When it was invisible you took care of it as more than a potential bloom. You became its guardian. Now that it’s in flower you have a personal relationship with it, like you do with Cyclops. Am I close?’
‘You have it of course. I was testing you. I have a tendency to be mischievous. I understand what is going on only too well and I prepare myself as the petals begin to curl, day on day. It’s the poignancy of it all that sometimes overwhelms me.’
‘Will you be back here tomorrow, Percy?’
‘Why do you ask?’
‘I’m planning to volunteer as a waitress at the Park Cafe over there. It’s a way to get more inside knowledge about the park and its customers. I did something similar in Norway a few years ago. It was a memorable time, a lot happened. I became almost invisible and behaved in ways that wouldn’t be acceptable for regular staff members.’
‘Are you silver service trained?’
‘Self-taught but good on style and attention to customers. There’s a freedom in not being on a wage. Would you like to meet up again and I can explain more? Say at 11? I’d like to treat you to a coffee and Cyclops to a bowl of fresh water.’
‘Cyclops gets the best deal, their coffee is undrinkable. Perhaps you can improve on it by supplying your own beans. We will look forward to it. And now I regret that it’s already time for us to move on. I have an appointment. Cyclops, come and join me now please. Join!’
The dogs reappear side by side and wait in front of us to be re-leashed. They’ve quickly returned to an amenable pet state, as if preordained in the bushes. Percy takes a last look at his tulip before he and Cyclops drift away towards the other side of the park. He waves to us from behind, knowing we’re watching them. His voice begins to carry, as before.
‘Tomorrow, yes there will be time. We must reflect. As if it was that easy when it is. A fine unintentional mess. Perfect. A latte may be the solution. We walk on. We return. We will not desert you. Or your stamen.’
You let Kronos take the lead back. As you exit through the north gate the clouds are building steadily and it begins to rain. Her paws, dusted with mud from the bush adventure, begin to discolour as the liquid takes hold.
That evening you leave a note under Ashley’s door:
Dear Ashley, I forgot to mention that Sheila said to say hi to you. Thanks again for giving me the chance to take Bella out and get to know her better. We walked and talked like old friends. She really is a credit to you and loves you to bits. It’s hard to explain why this was such a special time, so when I got back I wrote a poem about it. Hope you like it. Kino
The Glory of Another
It never happened and it changed everything
She is a special diamond
I was famous for a few hours
Glowing in her light
So much and so little
My shadow left me
How they laughed
Like a deluge
So many great people
And other dogs
I will never be the same
Until you smash the mirror
That holds this moment
Thank you Bella
Imagining you is enough