Monday, November 26, 2012

Jogging with Roussel 13



It is December 5, 1930, and Martial Cantarel is having a small intimate dinner for some of his friends who gather regularly to discuss Orientalist subjects, and to hold infrequent show and tell sessions bringing in objects of curiosity. Among those present are Dr. Lucien Proin, a local alienist and exceedingly good-natured curious man, Nedda Skariovsky, a mysterious Eastern European woman whose magnetic presence and knowledge of ancient Eastern languages was profound and intimidating, Francois Postel, a vibrant young man of 20 descended if only dubiously, from the great 16th century Orientalist Guillaume Postel, Abu Dakni, an Iranian painter with a far-ranging knowledge of Persian Miniatures, and various students who popped up from time to time to listen to the sparkling conversation, and view the incomparable rarities presented. This evening Martial Cantarel, Nedda, and Abu Dakni had been very involved in discussing the vicissitudes of Pre-islamic Iran, and then the Pre-Zoroastrian cultures as well, and finally, in discussing the Yaz and Margiana cultures in relation to a text that Martial Cantarel had shown to the group some weeks before, an Avestan spell book which Abu Dakni was keenly interested in, and had promised to elucidate further with an amazing discovery of his own, which strangely, Nedda Skariovsky also seemed to know something about, if only in the vaguest manner, muttering a broken phrase, seemingly in Avestan that sounded something like “Nivoir etyeti nizbayanguhanmana,” which Ab Dakni translated to the astonished group as something close to, “Why do you conceal praise of my wondrous home?” As the group had gathered this month, Abu Dakni had four art students carry in a marvelous, and seemingly very heavy trunk which was of an extraordinary construction and shape, like a regular round topped trunk that had been extruded into an oval, or toroid, and which did not hinge, but had only viewing doors placed around the circumference, and sections on top which slid open. After an excellent dinner of pheasant, and various eastern salads, the group retired to the large Cabinet where Cantarel held his show and tell sessions, this time only allowing himself, Nedda, Abu Dakni, Francois, Lucien, and Abu-Dakni’s main student assistant Marie to enter the private denoument of the rare and exceptional object. Abu Dakni then told a story about how he came to acquire the object before he would reveal its contents.

It seems that many years ago in 1899, Abu Dakni had been collecting old Persian books in the region of what was once Bactria, and had found an exceedingly rare volume by Ferdowsi of Tus describing the impetus of the Persian tradition of ‘miniature painting’ contained as an added section along with the normal selection of stories one finds in the Shahnameh, or Epic of Kings. It told of an early Avestan priest who had used magic to shrink himself and his palace, and all its inhabitants down to a small size, and by doing so render them virtually immortal, but the story went further and told the story of how Rustam, the well known hero, had by accident discovered the miniature city, and wrested it from its hiding place high in the mountains, and brought it as a gift to a young princess in the city of Herat. It was then that the Princess, a young girl at the time, fell in love with a tiny court painter who lived inside the city and whose paintings she coveted, and which were given to her willingly on account of her great beauty and fearsome size. The princess fearing her precious treasure would be discovered as a blasphemy kept its real nature secret, but introduced to Persia the tradition of miniature painting which lived on, though its origins had receded into obscurity. And strangely enough, in the back of the book was a roughly scrawled map of some contemporaneity which Abu Dakni endeavored to follow, and hired porters, and guides and went into the mountains of Afghanistan where he found remnants of the old Durrani Empire in a high mountain stronghold where he met an old man who spoke Avestan, and who sold Abu Dakni the trunk and its contents with a warning, “Marhka makha mahi, madhomaethana hukereta,” which Abu Dakni could make no sense of. The old man then said, “Beware of licentious women!” which made Abu Dakni smile, but not laugh, as he wished to show the old man a great deal of respect. For years, Abu Dakni said, he had thought it only a curiously carved stone, and perhaps the doll house of a rich member of the once great Durrani empire, though he could not see how it could have been possible to carve such an intricately manifested object with so many perfectly formed parts.

At the end of this rousing story, Abu Dakni ceremoniously began to unlatch the intricate trunk covering to reveal a stunningly carved mineralogical masterpiece. Made of obsidian and alabaster, there was a perfectly round center ring whose tubularity was ovoid, as if an egg’s silhouette had been extruded to form a solid ring of obsidian surrounded by a miniature and exceedingly detailed alabaster city of a multitude of tiny but elaborate multi-story buildings which all curved in one direction as if they were perhaps meant to be read as a form of cursive calligraphy. There was another outer obsidian ring which was also a modulated calligraphic architextural hybrid and was both a palace and a wall around the city, so that when you looked at the entirety there was some sense of a visual pun, namely, that the convention of a city around a walled castle had been mutated to become a wall that was also a palace surrounding a city. The Orientalist group pulled in close to view the elegant and rare object, and Cantarel and Lucien were down on their knees looking into some of the little windows and grilles through which marvels could be seen, when all of sudden, standing completely naked in the center of the city was Nedda Skariovsky, her hair standing up as if electrified, and then she spoke these words, “BAODHO AD ADHAOYAMNO,” at which the city’s alabaster uniformly lit up as if from an inner light, then, “AHMAI GEREDHMAHI GRAMTO,” at which the city began to vibrate and lift off its trunk pedestal floating up to where Nedda could manipulate certain of the city’s buildings like manual controls. Next, she said, “HAPTANKHAITIM HARAITHYO SPENISHTA,” and the city unlocked itself like a puzzle, inner and outer rings growing farther apart pushing everyone back against the walls of the room, and wind began to blow out from some of the turrets in the city loudly like horns, and Nedda’s hair began to grow upward and twist into a vortex and pass into a purple cloud studded with emerald flashes of lightning where it disappeared disconcertingly, the cloud growing larger to fill the entire upper region of the large room. Then came the final words, “VAYA FRAKAFRAMA RETHREMCAYOISH,” which seemingly froze everything in the room, including Nedda, and there was a stunning silence, but as time passed, something even more curious happened, a new kind of light came from the alabaster or into it, rendering the entire model a living x-ray, so that everyone in the room could see that around the perimeter of the tiny city, little spherical rooms were lighting up and inside them tiny beings were being raised from miniature sarcophaguses, each wearing a helmet fashioned in the likeness of a snail’s shell. All of them began to file down to a passageway leading to the navel of Nedda Skariovsky whose insides one could also see. Inside of Nedda Skariovsky there were already scores of tiny snail helmeted little beings, some holding complicated astrolabes, some musical instruments, and some of the little beings were holding things which looked like both. Looking closer, Canatarel and Abu Dakni perceived that these tiny beings were in fact botanico-gastropodal hybrids, plant-snails, their pale silver green translucent skin revealing tiny networks of purple veins inside which, and Cantarel had put on a pair of telescopic goggles to see them, shell-less aquatic snails floating like flying carpets, or nudibranchial Spanish dancers. Then, the little helmeted beings began to file out into the city into diverse regions, and some went inside Nedda, and the city became more articulated as the puzzle piece quartiers slid along invisible pinions and linkages into revolving and counter-revolving rings of architextural calligraphy, and Nedda’s hand began to move certain buildings as the erstwhile controls of an unknown process, and the entire assembly began to move upward, including Nedda, apparently its pilot, into the purple cloud, and disappear! After the event was over, Abu Dakia looked at Cantarel who was chuckling, and said, “And to think, that thing was found in a region originally called ‘Derangia’ by the Romans!” To which Cantarel replied, “Never a dull moment in Orientalist studies, my friends! Let’s drink and sing the praises of our Parisian Persiana!” Khóng-dek-lèn had wandered in from the library and was rubbing up against Cantarel’s calf with his bald feline head. Francois Postel chimed in, “She seems to have been the ‘licentious woman’, and she certainly took much license with your property, Abu!” “Yes, completely the reverse of easy come, easy go,” said Doctor Proin following Marie out into warm carpeted rooms, sphinxes of stained glass and marquetry like marbled endpapers. “Something I never expected,” muttered Canterel, “trouble with the trans-temporal natives! I would certainly like to meet one of those snail scribes, and hear a little more about their remarkable journey!”