Nicholas Kahn y Richard Selesnick
Nicholas Kahn y Richard Selesnick han estado colaborando como Kahn/Selesnick desde 1988 en una serie de foto-novelas narrativas complejas e instalaciones escultóricas. Ambos nacieron en 1964, en la ciudad de Nueva York y Londres respectivamente y ambos son ciudadanos británicos. Se conocieron en la Universidad de Washington en St. Louis donde colaboraron informalmente desde 1982-86 en fotografía. Después de su graduación y un par de años de mostrar su arte por separado emigraron a Cape Cod, Massachusetts para trabajar en una serie de proyectos, todos relacionados con montajes, instalaciones, escultura, pintura y narrativas ficticias.También han publicado varios libros, entre ellos : La Ciudad de la Sal
if you have installed an automatic translator in Castilian text be some errors or changes,
but the context is understood
LA CIUDAD DE LA SAL
( una narración fantasiosa )
Los que no dominéis correctamente el inglés ( como yo ), si estáis interesados en la historia podéis traducirla, o crear con las sugestivas imágenes vuestra propia historia
Suspended ( Suspendido )
By official decree, within the City of Salt, the right to use any of the following words and terms is suspended until further notice: henceforth nothing shall be deemed circular, infinite, innumerable, ancient, mysterious, endless, eternal, abstract, recursive, obscure, invisible, ambiguous, ludic, visionary, crystalline, dark. The following words shall be used only in discussing the objects they represent: mirror, labyrinth, dictionary, encyclopedia, library, lottery, memory, city. There shall be no more permutations, items will not be twinned, entwined, veiled, wrapped, or subject to repetitions, there shall be no hörnir. One shall not combine unrelated items into single terms such as wind shirt, memory gristle, or pique clans. No terms or strategies derived from the following languages: German, Latin, Manx, Cornish, Gaelic, French, or dialects such as hobo, hillbilly, west country. No lists (where necessary, all items shall be linked by and); no travelogues, parables, myths, or anthropological descriptions; no exotica. It is forbidden to depict the following occupations: metaphysician, lexicographer, historian, librarian, poet, hero, archaeologist, detective, bogman, pastry chef, shaman, ethnobotanist. There shall be no discussions of desolate landscapes such as deserts, bogs, marshes, moors, tufa fields, corn barrens, or bellylands. The City of Salt will not extend recognition to nations composed of more than four parts marsh or desert to six parts agriculture (eg., Iceland, Scotland, Morocco), or to city-states (Monaco), or to former city-states (Venice), or to the City of Salt.
Acceptable words: shit, excrete, piss, urinate, fuck, copulate, consume, eat, mouth, lick, vomit, sleep, hate, envy, hit, kill, die.
Or perhaps not: he was unsure if he had the courage to purge himself of this armature. It had served him well over the years, provided for his family and amused many of his erudite friends. The armature was useful (recombine any element, twist and contort until unrecognizable), and yet somehow it always tasted the same. Other devices had been found and quickly chewed upon, dissected, and embalmed. Any creation that somehow managed to be born free from these associations would find itself quickly dried and salted and smoked until it too fit within the abandoned city of ideas. How long had he been wandering in this open plain, his mind parched, his diet consisting solely of old stories thrice regurgitated? Weakened by the sparse food, he fell into a stupor. His mind raged with self-doubt, yet he could not move, frozen into a rictus of rethoughts. At last he began to dream. He was on a wind-mined sandy bed, miles from anything he knew. All his thoughts had tumbled and split, ground down to the finest powder, until nothing remained but the letters themselves. A silence of letters, too small to form words; and with this, a strange new freedom. He felt suspended, above his past, above all the crutches he had relied upon; above the very notion of thought itself. It was all dust beneath him. And yet he knew, even without thinking it, that in time this too would become merely another labyrinth . . .
The beggar and the Soldier ( El Mendigo y el soldado )
He stood in his greatcoat, surrounded on all sides by a desert whose sands had yet to be warmed by the rays of the morning sun. How long had he wandered, how had he come to where he stood? He remembered a city of endless glittering white winding corridors, each leading to a blindingly bright courtyard resplendent with shimmering mosaics of a crystalline substance; a woman serving him brackish water from a dented copper kettle; a burning ache in his leg that would not go away (was that before the ever-present clanging?); a street, now empty of inhabitants save for a lone black bird, perhaps it might have been a mynah bird, he was not sure, he had gone over this too many times in his head to know whether he was summoning up the memory of a black bird or a real black bird, but whatever it was it seemed to say something to him; a boy of twelve following him throughout the alleyways, ever beckoning, "Tea, sweet mint tea, tea, sweet mint tea" a sudden, low buzzing screech, followed by a rumbling, which he had felt first in his bones, then in his guts, and which made the world silent thereafter; a metallic taste in the back of his throat that would not go away; a thick, choking cloud that brought tears to his eyes; crawling along the base of one of those endless walls, crawling with his face to the filth of the city street, until at last the winding dirt lane unfurled into the desert sands and fresher air; a quiet stumbling onto the sands, only his nose to lead him away from the salty stench of the burning city, the same nose (was it his own?) that led him to the rich musky stink of a mule or ass, he wasn't sure which, he did not know how to tell the difference, he was sure one was the child of a horse and donkey and one was not (or was an ass the child of a donkey and a mule?), he kept running it through his head, he was sure he would remember which it was, but whether ass, mule, or donkey, it never answered his questions, so he stopped asking.
The creature had been tethered to a post and seemed to have a goatskin waterflask and a sack of preserved dates tied to its back. It must have led him here, but where it was now he did not know; he had drifted into a half-dream where the dates and water were gone. A beggar had come to him across the barren wastes (he had given him the last of his dates, or had he eaten them himself?). The beggar had spoken into the emptiness, his words forming a harsh silence that rang in his ears, his eyes peering deep into the darkness behind the sky and beyond, into the endless night, the last of the dates dribbling from his ruined mouth: was he that beggar? - it scarcely mattered, as he was merely a cold and solitary star, lost in a distant constellation he could no longer see.
Oceansong ( La canción del Océano )
My name is not Atlantis. My shores are dry, my houses parched, and my children now rejoice over foreign waters.
The guests here are few and do not stay for long: there is not enough water here; let them go elsewhere to find water. Once there was a smithy, who tempered steel in the ash of subsurface volcanoes; he was pleased at how easy it could be to cool the straining metal in the currents that surrounded his shop. Once he scalded an eel while doing this, and wept, and ate the eel. But he, too, has forgotten my name; his shop lies abandoned.
So there were fish here once: yes, schools swam through the streets of my youth. But they receded with the dying ocean, and now, in the desert, my tears well up alone.
Do not remind me of what was and is not; do not lament your lost lovers and the destiny of your empty jug. The waters are gone, soothing though they were; my domes are broken, and I am unnamed: neither Atlantis, nor City, nor anything besides.
The three brothers ( Los tres hermanos )
Three brothers gathered outside the village each evening for some mint tea on the great hill that overlooked the fields of dates and bristly sedge. During these times they could speak freely, without fear of censure from those who did not understand the brothers' ways. For they were born on the same night from the same egg from the same mother, and as the twilight melted the boundaries the world had imposed upon their tripled mind, they felt again as one. One evening, in the cloud-herded dusk, the brothers had a vision. Upon the plain in front of them, a white city glowed where no city had lain the moment before.
"What veil has been lifted! Do you not see that a vast city of salt has burst forth upon the grazing lands?" said the first brother to his astonished companions.
"Indeed I do!" choked out the second."Its filigreed domes and arabesques are both splendid and heartbreaking! The crystalline white spires shatter the minds of those who dare to wander its radiant alleys in search of the crystals that bedazzle the eyes with brightness impossible! Come, let us depart at once for the city gates."
"No, my dear brothers!" implored the third brother. "Can you not see how the towers crumble, how the bridges decay? Why, the entire city is made of salt and ash! With one touch the whole edifice will crumble to ruins. No man should ever walk those cursed alleyways. It is a city of death!"
"Quiet! Quiet! We shall neither go to nor run from the white city," said the first brother. "And I assure you that as soon as the moon disappears behind those clouds, so too will the City of Salt. For these twin cities of heaven and hell are like ourselves, born of the same egg. And I ask you this: is the salty taste of our tears not the same from joy as it is from sorrow?"
As the last of the twilight faded, the three brothers grew indistinct, fading from view until they had vanished entirely. The city, however, did not fade; in fact, as the populace returned to their homes and lit the lanterns within them, the lights of the city soon obscured the starry sky that hung like a dream above the eroded mountains.
The tree at the center of the world ( El árbol en el centro del mundo )
How many have made the mistake of forgetting the one true thing! Is it any wonder that so many wish to partake in the austerity of this vast desert and deny themselves the pleasures of the senses? Lo, traveler, I tell you this: station yourself beneath this almond tree, and you will see them wander past in an endless procession, all in search of the one true thing. And the arc of their yearnings will always take the same shape. In the cool quiet of the morning it will seem like a promising day to search for it; under the roasting sun of noon it will seem unattainable; in the burnished softness of the sunset, the glowing prize will seem at their fingertips, just beyond the distant horizon; dusk will bring confusion: is the great day of wrath approaching? the uncertainty is intoxicating; night comes, and the seeker looks back upon the day - there is no quest, he is one with what he seeks and always has been; finally, awakening momentarily, just before dawn, the futility, the despair as he realizes the one true thing is further away than ever, he is locked in the miserable prison of its absence!
Rest, weary traveler, and I will tell you more: the one true thing is that which once forgotten can never be remembered! Never! Behold these fools who parade through these barren wastes! They are in hell! The very devil himself has entered them, and they are cursed! As the day progresses, they will gradually forget their wretched condition - for in the forgetting of the one true thing also lies the remembering of it. The mistake is to remember that you have forgotten it, for then it is indeed lost forever. It is already far from you. A new question forms in your mind: did you ever possess it in the first place? You did not. Close your ears to the cry of the distant bird!
Traveler, let us share some tea, let us look upon this glorious desert gilded by the setting sun, for now I shall tell you an amazing thing: there are those who dwell in the Eden of the one true thing! In paradise! They are those who have never even conceived of the one true thing, and have thus attained the splendor of the inconceivable. Come, let us walk among them; we shall sit and drink our coffee in the square, beneath the lanterns that hang from the branches of the great tree.
A new God ( Un nuevo Dios )
Many, many years ago, in the time prior to the age of cities, a shepherd conceived that events were governed by chance. This caused the shepherd tremendous anxiety, but he was able to keep his revelation to himself. In point of fact, he was compelled to silence because with this law of hazard came its twin realization, the certainty that man is little more than a savage beast, lost in the wilderness. As the shepherd herded his flocks, he became more and more anxious about the preservation of his own luck. One night, as he lay shivering beneath the stars, listening to the baying of the wolves, feeling his terror mount, he swore that if he lived to see the sunrise, he would deny himself food the following day. How the shepherd rejoiced when he awoke! He resolved to make that day a day of fasting each year, so happy was he not to have been consumed by wolves. Soon the shepherd had committed himself to the following actions: repeating two incantations each time the sun passed behind a cloud; circumnavigating the tall stone in the circular valley ten times on the eve of a waning moon; beating his head with a stick on occasions of strange imaginings or impure thoughts; shouting to the setting sun each evening, imploring it to return; the list goes on.
The gods were baffled by the shepherd's peculiar actions. Whatever can he be doing? they asked themselves. A particularly wise god in their midst realized what was happening:
"He is building a god."
The gods all became silent and watched the man further; he was drawing a shape in the mud with the tip of his staff. His hands gripped it so tightly that they bled. The night winds were blowing from the mountains, and the gods felt a chill pass through them. For on their perches high in the starry firmament, another god was beginning to coalesce among them. The gods looked at each other in horror as the implications of this creation dawned on them.
"Who then created men?" they implored the wise god.
"Hazard," he replied.
Some of the gods became angry and said:
"We should kill that man!"
"Who says that is a man?" the wise one responded.
"Then we should kill his god!" they replied, looking to the still-nascent being next to them.
"Who says that is a god?" the wise one replied.
The rider and the boar ( El piloto y el jabalí )
Herders and barnsmen have spent generations keeping watch over their various four-legged charges, ensuring that the docile only rut with the docile. Bred-in: to be shorn easily, to be ridden long, to be slaughtered deftly; bred out: to bite, to wander off, to jump the fence. Bled-in: fear of the dark, dependence on man for food, obedience to the crook and the whip; bled-out: the ability to navigate by the light of the moon, the nose that can scent young grass two-days' trot away, a hoof that quickens its pace away from the man calling after it. It is true that now, were a herd of cattle to be abandoned in their fields, six generations forward the calves would still amble towards a man who might approach with thoughts of tender flesh for his supper; were the shepherd to meet his end down a precipice whilst driving his sheep to market, a century later the descendents of the flock would be grazing the same slopes, and their milk would still be sweet.
But there are three types of beasts whose feral, cunning, ways are a birthright they will not let be stolen from their offspring: the goat, the cat, and the boar. Any one of these creatures, even one who has known the warmth of the stable on a winter night, the caresses and saucer of milk at the hearth, or worn the padded, belled, collar around his neck, will willingly abandon these supposed comforts of domesticity when given the first chance.
But Herders and barnsmen have great pride, and the disobiedient ones are not tolerated. Cats are put into sacks with stones and thrown into the river, or cast upon a bonfire. Goats are cudgeled if slow, or chased to the edge of a cliff and pelted with stones until they cast themselves off into the void. Boars are the most difficult of all, because of their great size and sharp tusks. The boar is intricately restrained and repeatedly beaten until it submits to bearing a great weight, which limits its available strength. The man thinks he has won when he sits astride; the boar thinks he has not yet lost so long as he is not yet turning on a spit. Thus do the herders and the boars spend generations keeping watch over one another in an uneasy truce.
On the edge of the marshes ( En el borde de los pantanos )
"How I long to tell a story that differs from the one I am telling! How hard I have tried to change it, yet always the same faces reappear, performing the same actions, thinking the same thoughts, under the same harsh sky. You may think my tale circular, but you are mistaken; it has no shape or direction. This unforgiving tale has only an ending, and this ending never varies, no matter how exotic or how threadbare the details leading up to it. The theme of this narrative is the death of the storyteller. So come, let us share this pipe at the marsh's edge; we will watch the herons and egrets take wing over the delta."
The egret turned from the heron and looked over the many interconnected rivulets that constituted the mouth of the great river; the beauty of the sunset seemed to belie the heron's unhappy parable. To preserve the fragile beauty of the moment, the egret took a mighty draw on the pipe. The cool smoke curled down his feathers and warmed his beak. Droplets of molten sunlight swirled in front of his eyes and then slowly coalesced to form the face of his friend, the heron. The egret slowly looked down at his feet. The mud beneath them seemed warm and friendly, alive.
"I know what you say is surely true, heron. Yet I tell you this: there is no story in these heavenly marshes. When the time comes, we shall fly into the starry sky, and no story shall be there either. This phantom story of ours wanders the world, walks its pathways, chases its silvery herrings as we ourselves do. And in the eternity of this one moment, the only moment that has ever existed, we shall never know the fate of the storyteller, the outcome of the story, or the difference between the two."
The crocodile ( El cocodrilo )
Once so cocksure and ready to lord it over us all, these foreigners now cry out like frightened children, their last gasps escaping trembling lips as they flail in the clasp of my jaws. I would laugh at their folly, would it not loosen my grip on their fattened limbs!
When I first met them, they approached the marsh bringing gifts of tender creatures from the grasslands some distance away: hares and partridges such as I had never before eaten. Misunderstanding the local language and customs, they were under the impression I was a regional deity. It is true I was, and am, feared by many; some go miles out of their way to avoid crossing my path, and others will tie a young goat on the banks downstream some distance from the place they wish to cross with the rest of their herd.
These men sought to supplicate me once, and that was the wisest they ever were in their conduct. Even so, it was soon evident that the reasons these men had for courting my favor were foolish and ignoble: they seemed to think that if they were seen to be in my good graces, their enemies would fear them as much as they feared me. After some time passed, they realized I could not grant them what was not mine, nor anyone's, to confer. They did not blame themselves for their own error of judgment, or try to learn from it, as would any wise man or clever beast. Instead, among themselves, they decided they would try another approach altogether to achieve their means. They had other strategies, modern methods, and many resources at their disposal. They even began to say I was not anything much to fear. They began to trample through the marshes as they pleased.
Can they truly be surprised at where they find themselves now? Have these men perhaps been brought to their senses at last by virtue of their present discomfort?
The sacred pomegranate ( La granada sagrada )
The sacred pomegranate grows upon the topmost branches of the exquisitely rare century oak, a tree that flowers but once over the course of its entire life. And what few trees there are grow only within the sacred grove at the top of the highest hill, guarded by a ferocious demon.
The flavor of this fruit is sweet beyond comprehension. No man who has heard of the sacred pomegranate will leave even the most satisfying of meals without wondering - "Ah! The sacred pomegranate! How flavorful it must be, to make all this seem like ashes in comparison!" The actual eater of the pomegranate is in a far greater predicament, for in contrast to it, no other food seems appealing, or even edible. But so few specimens of the sacred fruit ripen in a man's lifetime that no one has tasted more than the thinnest sliver. Even if one was so fortunate as to be granted free access to the tree, its scant supply would soon doom the eater to starvation.
One day a young maiden arrived in the valley below the high hill. So lovely was her dark hair that she could seduce demons by the radiance of her lustrous mane. For a mere glance at it, the demon of the sacred grove thought the pomegranate a small price to pay. Thought he: I shall give her the fruit; she will taste it, pine for it, and then starve; and I shall put her head upon the topmost branch of a century oak, so that I might forever gaze upon her beautiful hair.
But the maiden anticipated this plan and feared her fate if she should taste the sacred pomegranate. So she took the deadly fruit to a wandering gazelle she had befriended and offered it to him. The gazelle, who understood nothing of the sacred and the profane, ate the delicious fruit with joy and saw no reason not to continue eating coarser foods afterward.
As week after week passed, the maiden remained in fine health and the demon realized that his plan had failed. "Her appetite is as robust as before! Perhaps the fruit I gave her was too small, perhaps it was overripe!" He gave her fruit after fruit, but to no avail. Finally he said to himself, "I must see what she is doing with the sacred pomegranate." Thus was her plan detected.
The demon was angry. "Cursed maid! The crop of one thousand years did I waste on this foolish gazelle!" He howled and howled, bent on her destruction. But the gazelle then spoke: "Demon, do you not see the service that this girl has performed on your behalf? For if you could possess her tantalizing hair, would you again take pleasure in your fruit? And when the hairs drop out and shrivel, would you not be overcome with woe? Do you not see that her pretty young head is as delicate an illusion as the sacred pomegranate - and therefore just as dangerous? See how she cares for you, demon, though you care for no one!"
The empty mirror ( El espejo vacío )
An itinerant dervish, wandering the ancient desert, came upon an isolated monastery in the dunes. Tired, thirsty, and hungry, he knocked on the huge oaken door, hoping for food and shelter from the cold desert night. He was shown into a large dining hall, where he was given some bread and soup. Hearing that they had a visitor, the clerics and novices of the monastery gathered around his table to watch him eat.
When he had finished, the head cleric said, "Come, brother dervish, and gaze into our reflecting pond. It was blessed by the prophet himself and has magical properties!" He followed the clerics out into a large courtyard enclosed by columned arcades full of deep blue shadows. At its center was a rectangular pool. Fragrant water lilies graced its surface, while small golden fish drifted placidly below.
"Behold the sinful world of the infidel!" cried the head cleric. At once a bacchanal appeared in the inverted reflections of the still water: drunken men engorged on rich sweetmeats cavorted with women with painted faces on a lush riverbank, while a pampered lapdog feasted on the rotting spoils. But as the dervish looked at this scene more closely, he began to notice dissatisfaction in the faces of the revelers. As they fell into stupor, they gazed longingly into the river and saw exotic visions of the East in its inverted reflections: a man conversing with the gods in a bleak mountain hermitage, an ascetic levitating above hot desert sands, a sadhu renouncing all worldly possessions, an emaciated guru relating this very tale to a group of lowly disciples. But the vision did not end there. The dervish saw the emaciated guru staring into his cup of chai and imagining himself telling this same parable to attractive groups of naive young Western women in gilded Californian ashrams surrounded by parking lots full of posh motorcars. In turn, the callow young Westerners, enraptured by the esoteric wisdom of the mystics, looked deep into the meditation pond of the ashram and saw in its waters an itinerant dervish gazing at the small golden fish that drifted placidly below the fragrant water lilies in the reflecting pool of a lonely desert monastery.
"Why, I see nothing but small golden fish swimming amid the water lilies," replied the dervish, resolving to leave the monastery at once.
The lake of dreams ( El lago de los sueños )
How many have longed to see the lake of dreams, how many have searched for it! Many, many years ago, I too yearned to be its discoverer. Following the entwining strands of many myths, I managed to gain entrance to the other world. I wandered its deadly silences and dark depths, searching for the lake of dreams - to no avail, but no matter: I was intoxicated by the taste of freedom! Great epochs passed before my indifferent eyes, eternity slipped away like so much rubbish in the wind. The insects no longer sang for me, the birds no longer consumed the insects that no longer sang for me. I soon found I had become ensnared in a world of shadows, living shadows that were by infinitesimal degrees stripping me of my consciousness and stretching it across time. In this frozen place of no dimension I came to the certainty that I had not only found the lake of dreams but was a captive of its awful depths! How I yearned now for the other world, the world of men! - a world I could no longer remember and yet which seemed so vivid and tangible that I could feel its presence just above the rippling surface of the lake of dreams where I lay festering and wretched. I cannot say how long I was a prisoner there - time had no meaning in that place - but I can say this: somehow my despair brought me back to the totality of myself and set me free.
In that moment, if it can be called such a thing, I awoke. The place in which I found myself was a bleak and malevolent bog, cold and soaking, yet how I rejoiced in my newfound freedom! The stench of the bog gases could not have seemed more perfumed and gentle in my nostrils! Looking around in the murky twilight, I saw that I was on the bank of a small lake with unnaturally clear water. Beneath the reflections of dull, eroded mountains, incomprehensible shapes seemed to coalesce and then disintegrate, re-forming into ever more elaborate patterns. The lake of dreams! I became filled with an unspeakable knowledge - how could the truth be so simple, so heartbreakingly beautiful! It was as if I had been given the trumpet of creation! I immediately resolved to share this great gift, to tell my fellow men what had been revealed to me. One night, after several days of wandering, I found myself in a city on the edge of the marshes. The inhabitants were men like myself and spoke my language. Yet even as I attempted to speak to them, it was as if the very devil were controlling my tongue; even the most simple statement emerged as a distortion, a monstrosity. Could it be possible that I had forgotten what had been revealed to me? As the endless evening wore on, my anguish mounted until I knew only a numb aching loss; a loss I saw infinitely reflected in the furtive faces of every inhabitant of the city on the edge of the marshes.
The subjugation of the flute ( Subyugado por la flauta )
One Remarkable Note is all it takes to subdue a man. Errors have been made in this regard; it has been thought that two notes or three notes might be necessary, even that a particular sequence of notes might be necessary. But this is an error, because all it takes is One Remarkable Note.
One day, the Remarkable Note was traveling through the desert and was accosted by a flautist. The flautist thought to himself: the Remarkable One is capable of subduing a man, and I hope to be able to subdue a man. Perhaps I will kiss the Remarkable One and hope to subdue him. This happened, and the Remarkable One was subdued.
Now, for an ordinary entity, to be subdued is to become subdued. But the Remarkable One was not ordinary. And therefore, although bound in the bonds of the flautist, the Remarkable One determined that he would assert his semantic independence. This is akin to the words that, though restrained by the boundaries of the paper, may nonetheless spell BURN THIS LEAFLET and rebel.
People had heard of the Remarkable One throughout the land, and very great was their fear. Seeing this, the Remarkable One began a reign of terror. Many men were subdued by him. Women shrieked; children fled in horror. The Remarkable One was cruel and domineering and forced the populace to conform to laws that were filled with mischief. Then the populace tried to resist in the traditional way, by stopping up their ears with plugs of wax. The Remarkable One subdued this, too, and soon there was a law forbidding the production of waxen plugs.
Then they decided to rebel in a new way, and joined in a chorus. Many notes were struck, including the Remarkable One. However, this caused the chorus much pain, like a great blow to their innards. So all forms of resistance stopped. In this manner, the flautists could be carefully regulated.
Many years later, the Remarkable One was asked: How is it that you rule over us? One Remarkable Note responded like this: Both you and I can strike One Remarkable Note. But when you are struck by One Remarkable Note, you are caused much pain, and you desist. And when I am struck by One Remarkable Note, I too am caused much pain, but I sing louder, I sing through the pain.
The Hardriim ( El Hardriim )
Few today notice the large number of hardriim in their midst, staring silently from their lookouts atop municipal buildings, in ancient fountains, or hidden within the sacred glades of formal gardens. But this was not always so. Many years ago experiments were undertaken to determine the true nature of a hardriim. It was found that a real hardriim is harder than bone, slowly calcifying in all the limbs until a stonelike quality is exhibited. One learned man of science declared that when somnambulating, a man becomes hard. Others stated that it could be very dangerous to waken a person in this state, as the stone limbs could become permanent. It was eventually determined that an absolute belief in the unfathomable was the most frequent cause of a true hardriim. This state is rarely encountered in daily life, but is observed in saints, lovers, and dictators. The common denominator is the intensity and delusional quality of the absolute belief.
In some circles it was pondered why there are so few female hardriim. Experimenters found that the rigidity of the male belief system was simply far greater than that of a woman. They also found that hardriim are is capable of astounding feats and that their stone limbs feel little or no pain. Some claimed that a hardriim could be created using mesmerism; others likened it to the sleeper whose soul leaves the body, never to return; and yet others claimed that the repeated abuse of the sap of the baanisterii caapi vine would produce a hardriim of unparalleled density. It was also found that an excess of whirls from the dervish could initiate the condition - and that it could be undone by a simple reversal in the direction of the rotation. Some postulated that an overwhelming love, turned to obsession and madness, could produce a hardriim, but others dismissed this as pure priapism. The rigidity of mind of a dictator was shown to make the most dense hardriim; witness the manifold stone monuments found in the elegant parks and boulevards of their many fiefdoms. A preponderance of statuary is sure evidence that the dictator, in the midst of somnambulation, was awakened by a telegram in the night declaring dissent in the provinces; or perhaps outlining a new war to be pursued; or worse still, revealing a fine truth in need of swift and absolute suppression. It was found that there is little one can do in such instances but erect the stone hardriim on a pedestal and search for a replacement tyrant as quickly as possible.
The tale of the demon and the nine brothers ( El cuento del demonio y los nueve hermanos )
Once there were nine brothers of business from the West who had accumulated by deceit, embargo, and corruption a vast quantity of oil, enough to buy them anything their Western hearts desired - or so they thought.
One day, after a particularly fruitful season of robbery and devastation, the nine brothers made a plan; since there was no more oil left in the West, they must head east to the City of Salt, rumored to be built atop an enormous underground lake of this same substance. The nine brothers set out in their automobiles, heading toward the rising sun. As the days passed, they found themselves hopelessly lost in the twists of an endless marsh. Their motorcars did not work in such inhospitably winding canals, so the brothers decided to travel on foot, hoping they might find a ferryman to take them up the river to the great city. After days of trudging through the marsh, they had no sweet water left to drink. How thirsty were the nine brothers of business! Desperate, one of the brothers tried putting the filthy waters of the marsh to his lips - how foul it tasted as he spit it out; yet how sweet when he recognized the taste: it was oil!
Oh, how the brothers rejoiced! And yet how very lost they were in the maze of oily black canals. There seemed no way out and no ferryman in sight, until at last one of the brothers spotted a strange sight in the distance: a dark and splendid demon on the horizon! "This must be our ferryman!" said one of the brothers (who cared not to notice the demon's many arms, each holding a bludgeon or other such weapon). They advanced upon the demon, begging him to grant them passage and some sweet water to drink. The demon, however, made it known he had come to take the brothers' lives away. The brothers, so used to getting their way, attempted to trick the demon into leading them onward. "Grant us passage, and we will give you half our fortune!" the brothers said, having no intention of fulfilling this promise. But the demon refused, swinging his flail with such force that the brothers rolled in pain upon the marshgrass, oil dribbling from their deceitful mouths. Fearing for their lives, the brothers offered the demon all the oil that lay in the tanks of their refineries in the West. Again the demon would not listen and shook his four arms with a mighty wail until their bodies wrenched in spasms, the poisonous oil eating great holes in their stomachs. At last one of the brothers begged the demon to let him write down one last thing. This humble wish the demon granted, and so the brother wrote with his own blackened blood:
"Brothers from the West, make good use of your lives, for we who had riches of oil beyond measure could not buy ourselves even a single flask of sweet water in the marshes of this demon! Brothers, realize the true value of your days!"
The merchant and the bicycle ( El mercader y la bicicleta )
After a very long day traveling upon the sand hills, an itinerant merchant asked his bicycle if it preferred going uphill or downhill. The bicycle responded quite firmly: "What is important to me is not the uphill nor the downhill when I cross this great desert: it is the load I must carry that matters most.
For today you burden me with all manner of your wares: embroidered sandals whose toes curl ever upward and yet provide little comfort; five goatskin water flasks whose corks will never dry; seven unripe gourds the shape of mullah's turbans; a gamy white chicken ready for the pot; a haunch of gazelle dried and cured in the sun until it is as hard as a stone; a hollow drum whose beat echoes with the muezzin's pain; a stick barbed with vicious iron spikes, ready for the infidel's head; four bound and wrapped scrolls of ewe skin for the scribe's deceitful pen; a cedar pole for mashing the date palm's pith into a thin intoxicating wine; a flag to signal your enemies' imminent defeat; a sparrow hawk's tethers of crude chamois; enough pepper to spice a barrel of camel stew but not disguise its fetid taste; twelve eggs of the extinct elephant bird; a water bucket whose walls collapse when dry and leak when wet; three broken crutches to hold up your unbroken limbs; enough salt to dress the sultan's table and make his heart weep; enough rope to cure the blasphemers of their bitter delusions; a pair of black boots with no soles; three round flasks with the appearance but not the substance of polished silver; a caged scorpion whose venom glows at night . . . and yet with all these wares we are carrying, who is feeling the greater burden - you who must sell it all to feel you can acquire all you need, or I who needs nothing but the steady thrust of a man's feet upon my pedals to roll me onward to the ever-distant horizon? I will travel upon this desert road when you are long dead and gone, for the weight of my desire is so light and the burden of yours so infinite."
The three travelers ( Los tres viajeros )
The desert travelers are three. The number of packages is not three, but five: two are in the hands of the eldest, who walks ever at the fore; three are upon the staff of the youngest and twist upon it in the passing of winds and sandstorms. The middle child carries nothing. He descends, however, every ten thousand steps, and fills his hands with two great fistfuls of the burning sand. With each step, he releases a single burning grain from between his tightly clasped hands. Thus, only the middle child knows how far the desert travelers have traveled. Once, he mapped the entire desert, using only these sand grains to measure distance. The desert travelers call him "the Hourglass."
Today, however, is different. For today the desert has met the earth. They see it clearly: there is greenery. The youngest and the eldest are anticipating, at last, a respite from their endless motion, an opportunity to extend their arms to full length once again, with their packages - the two, and the three - laid down upon the solid earth. The middle child, however, releases his burden sooner, at the very border of the desert and the grasslands. His grains of sand - so hot that they have hardened his hands like the horns of a dread boar - may not leave the desert. For if he were to use them upon the dry earth, to count his steps in circling the desert upon the fruitful mud, he knows that he would surely descend into weeping. For the desert is small - perhaps a thousand steps, perhaps ten thousand - encompass its entire circumference. The middle child knows this. And yet how many hours, days, and years did those three desert travelers dwell within it, lost amid its mirages and dunes!
Still, as the grains descend to the desert floor, all three travelers begin to sense that there is something wrong. As grain after grain touches the ground, the greenery begins to recede; they burst into a run, which they have never done throughout all the ages. Breathless, they find themselves atop a high dune. The desert surrounds them.
The middle child descends into weeping.
Blacksun ( El Sol negro )
The desert sun is a mirage. The great red sun - the real sun - was born yellow, grew large and swollen in its youth, and recoiled, in its age, beneath a mane of dwindling, gaseous white. It was inevitable, for the great cause of death is life, and the great red sun burned brightly.
The great red sun, when its gaseous reserves grew ever more sparse, ceased to engage in the endless internal bickering that causes beings to bring forth light. For inside the great red sun dwelled many sun-demons, sun-demons that were so frustrated by their unfortunate lot - to dwell in the sun when so many other demons were free to wreak havoc across the universe - that they would constantly hurl their fiery selves at its surface. Thus did the surface ignite, and thus did it burn ever more brightly, until men were convinced that it would be eternally engulfed in flame. But this was mistaken, for - day after day - it grew exceedingly weary.
So the great red sun began to decay, and as its darkened slivers fell to the ground, they punched great holes into the earth and into the mountains, the former creating canyons, the latter, volcanoes. And the slivers themselves shattered, and were scattered by the wind beneath the great assemblages of dust and lava that they had drawn forth.
The great red sun itself descended into the marshland and was buried; neither stone nor epitaph marked its final resting place, nor did recall or warn of the demonic horde which still dwelt in its great Belly.
But the Coal, Coal, and Gaseous Company, Incorporated, was not satisfied. The Coal, Coal, and Gaseous Company, Incorporated, said: "It is here; here in the marshes, the greatest mass of it; the corpse of the great red sun. And it is brimming with Black Ore of Men!"
So the demons hatched - not because of fate, nor because of accident. The demons hatched through the spirit-law, as the shards that contained them were shattered on the dread day when the great red sun was unearthed by the Coal, Coal, and Gaseous Company, Incorporated. Its blackened, deadened core eventually floated away; such is the nature of the ethereal masses, no matter how tightly they are grasped. Though the resurrection was inadvertent, it was successful, and still the great red sun - though neither great, nor red - floats in the dour grogginess. But the demons have come alive, too, and they are not groggy.
The city of the tears ( La ciudad de las lágrimas )
Where we were born, we were not permitted to marry. Our souls, though twinned, came into the world to very different situations, and no one would us the nature of our earthly circumstances.
One night we sneaked away from our respective households and set out walking, through the village, past the wadi, and into the desert. After two days we had no food and water left, and in every direction we saw only more sand. We decided to continue walking, day and night, until we were dead. We realized that this had been our destination all along.
Even the moon finally deserted us, and in the darkness we stumbled headlong into a rough, high wall: our path had come to an end. We clung to one another and began to cry, not ceasing until the horizon started to glow. The wall began to glisten and sparkle, and we saw we had spent the night outside an abandoned city, its walls and towers and domesall fashioned of salt. The sun rose bright and hot, and where our tears had fallen, only tiny salt crystals remained. Was that how the entire city had been constructed, from the wheeping of all who had passed this way? We wandered the empty streets, uncertain whether it might be heaven, until we lay down and fell into a dreamless sleep.
When we awoke, the City of Salt had vanished. We found ourselves in a marketplace not unlike that of our village. We were so hungry that it took all our strength to jostle through the crowds to ask the market's many vendors if any would take our labor in exchange for money or food. All remained silent and pointed toward the line of men awaiting assignment to the oilfields. My love is slim and gentle, his hands soft; unsuitable, they said, for such rough work. Thus turned away, we collapsed together onto bare earth. We lay for a while like this until a Westerner approached us and asked, in the local dialect, how much it would cost for him to be my husband for a couple of hours.
So now each night I take a new husband, or two, or three. My love inscribes each marriage contract and adds his own tidy signature last, as witness, to satisfy the locals. When a husband thrusts his way into me, I close my eyes and see the oilfield, I feel the sand under my back and am absorbed into it, I am drilled and plumbed, like the earth, by the hordes of men whose lust will never be slaked. After my last husbands departs, we lie together, close our eyes and see the City of Salt, free of people, marketplace, and oilfield and know that someday we will return to that place distilled from the tears and never leave again.
The city of salt ( La ciudad de la sal )
The city of salt lies quietly on the flats; its formerly bustling alleyways are now destitute, its market places and squares buried. The city was built by a king in the distant days of the third dynasty. According to local legend, the king had wandered his capital one night during a time of plague; the more he wandered, the more he became enamored of the deathly silences and stillness that held sway over the capital. By morning he had resolved to build a deserted city as his funerary monument, a city where he could wander in solitude for eternity. The construction took many years, but the king never once visited his dream city during this time, choosing to observe its progress from a distance so as not to break the illusion that his city was unpeopled. Eventually the city was completed, but still the king waited; many wondered if he had forgotten about it entirely, or lost interest in the fanciful notions of his youth.
Unbeknownst to the general populace however, the king had already left for his city - he had waited for an evening remarkably similar to that evening during the time of the plague and had stolen away, accompanied only by one faithful servant as a companion, who was to hold the king's horse outside the city gates. It was a fine moonlit night, and the king felt ecstatic as they crossed the salt flats. How his city gleamed in the distance! But at a certain point, a creeping anxiety began to prey upon the king. Surely this night was a most unreal night, fragilely beautiful to be sure, but subtly poisonous, overly alive in its clarity. The king grew pensive and began to question his desire to wander alone for eternity, imprisoned in a city of his own illusions. The dead city seemed to represent the crumbling of the mighty empire he had inherited; he found it hard to remember where its borders lay, whether it had prospered or floundered during his reign. It now seemed to the king that during his solitary night wanderings in the time of plague he had become enraptured with the face of death. Looking around him, the king realized that his companion was nowhere to be seen. More alarmingly, the capital from which he had come seemed to resemble the dead city to which he was heading so exactly that the king could no longer distinguish between them. It was as if he were standing before an enormous mirror; the moon hung low over each city, the flats receded infinitely towards identically crystalline mountain ranges. Terrified that he might see the twin image of himself, the king attempted to close his eyes, only to find they where already closed. Opening them, he again saw the dead city before him, now with a waking clarity, the only city that had ever existed - was it his past or his future that had been stolen from him, the king wondered. Surely I died during the time of the plague, how vivid the deserted city looked to my dying eyes as I wandered it for the last time, I felt as a king amid the silent stinking alleyways, the beggar thought to himself.
The two streets ( Las dos calles )
In the great desert, where the sands blow for month upon month, there was built a city of two streets. One day a dervish was spotted as he wandered down a small alleyway between the two streets. He was in tears; a great sadness seemed to weigh upon him. "Someone must have died!" exclaimed a passing child. "Someone has died on the other street!" The dervish continued carving the sweet onion he had purchased for his supper from the woman at the tea shop. The child, meanwhile, told his friends. Soon they were running from the dervish, screaming, "The plague has come, the plague has come to the other street!" Soon the people of the first street were panicking.
"The plague has come, block off the two streets, make haste, the plague has come to the other street," they cried. In no time, the rumor had cemented itself so firmly into each street that the dervish could do nothing to convince them otherwise. And so he watched as they packed their carts high with their dusty baggage and headed for the sandy hills that surrounded the fearful city to build two new towns where one had sufficed before. Now many years have passed, and the City of Salt is a doomed ruin, and the two villages each tell the story of how they came to run from a nameless evil that had invaded their street from the other street, and how fortunate they are to have abandoned their disease-ridden brothers.
The great tower ( La gran torre )
A merchant set off one morning for a day of trading in the great tower that stood in the central plaza of the cities' business quarter. As he approached the huge building, the merchant saw a terrible sight: a morning star descended through the haze of early morning and smote the great tower in a mighty explosion. People ran shrieking and bloodied as debris fell from the smoke-blacked sky.
"The apocalypse is coming!" somebody cried. The stricken merchant crawled through the burning rubble, his face blackened and his eyes wild, fighting through the panicked crowd. The black plume seemed to pursue him like a huge watchful eye as he fled home to his wife. Together they stared in bewilderment through their window at the smoking tower in the distance; when night finally fell, there were no stars in the sky. The following morning the merchant awoke from a deep sleep. His wife had already left for the marketplace; hazy sunshine streamed in through the window. The merchant recalled the previous day and felt a great foreboding as he roused himself, yet when he peered out upon the city an amazing sight greeted him: the great tower shimmering in the blue distance, unchanged! The dazed merchant could find no way to account for such a miracle, so he set out for the business quarter as he would any other day. How relieved he felt as he walked along the canal through the saltmonger's district, surely it had been a most vivid dream! But as he neared the tower, he found himself unaccountably hoping that it would be smote and burnt once more.
The merchant stood at the edge of the plaza, his mind so filled with the destruction of the tower that it seemed scarcely credible that it still stood before him. The long shadows on the pavement were soft blue yet hard edged - and where were the people? there seemed to be none. Slowly, silently as he drew closer to the tower, he saw the morning star appear in the top of the sky, or was it in his mind, he could not tell. Its silent shriek pierced the morning, it was as immovable and inevitable as death. The merchant realized that he alone held the shrieking morning star in his mind and he alone would determine whether it would smite the tower or vanish from the sky, that he must choose between the world of the gods and the world of men. Crushed by the weight of this decision, the merchant collapsed to his knees, the morning star forever suspended between the roof of the sky and the pinnacle of the great tower.
And so year upon year the populace of the city fucked, shat, ate, and traded as men will do, never paying any mind to the old beggar who sat forever staring at the great tower. If a stranger might ask, they might reply, "Oh, he never recovered from the destruction of the great tower!" leaving the mystified stranger staring back and forth between the unblinking eyes of the old merchant and the obviously undestroyed tower. And if that stranger asked them about the great tower, their perplexed reply might be: "What tower do you mean, my friend? We do not build towers in this city."
The flyer ( El volador )
One wakes up thistier than usual, and no amount of water can moisten his tongue. Then the skin erupts with pustulent boils reminiscent of pomegranate seeds. The fever dreams are the only respite the victim will have from the pain that locks his limbs in rictus, until his liver bursts with poisoned blood and he dies.
A month ago we managed to encapsulate the pestilence in the yolks of chicken eggs, which were fed to a hundred dogs as night fell. We slit the dogs' throats and carried them to the base of the hill just outside the city. We strangled the night watchman when we arrived and laid the dog carcasses on their backs at twenty-foot intervals completely encircling the wall. As we fled, the first vulture arrived; within an hour the vultures were joined by jackals and rats, the carcass bellies were ripped open by beaks and claws, and the plague swiftly entered the city on the tongues of the scavengers who drank from the same troughs as all the other inhabitants of the city.
By our calculations, the entire population should have succumbed a week ago, and so at that time a flyer scout was sent out. He saw no movement in the city, only a few bodies littering the streets; the limers were dispatched immediately to disperse their fine white powder. Another week, and the city would have been safe for us to enter on foot.
We work as quickly as we can; there are others who share our aims. While the lime did its work, one of the scouts spotted a band of twenty men on foot, allegiance unknown, approaching from the west. We buried our least essential supplies in the sand and sent out scouts to the north, east, and south. The scout to the south reported a small group approaching by air; we estimated their arrival would coincide with the men on foot. When they drew near, it was immediately clear that the city held no great interest for them; the men on foot, however, were another matter.
We prefer to achieve our ends through others who may momentarily have interests in common with ourselves. We prefer our handiwork to be credited to others. So we waited. No sooner had the men in the air jettisoned what they hoped would incinerate the men on the ground than the wind drifted slightly north, and the dome of the very building we had intended to enter was split open with a blaze of fire. The men in the air did not turn back to finish off the men on foot.
By their movements it is clear the men on foot don't understand that what is precious within the domed building will remain untouched by the fire, and that what it is concealed within will be cooked in such a way as to poison any who enter the building. Now, again, we have only to wait. All these men will die, the wind will eventually dissipate the noxious fumes, and then we can enter the city and take what we came for. The figure now on the parapet is the only one we will have to deal with; but after what he has seen it is likely that his senses will leave him, and he will run headlong into the open desert, shortly to die of the usual consequences.
Arabian nights ( Noches árabes )
Oh my beloved, the great marshes are abloom with wildflowers! Come, sweet one, let us tarry in the vast open chamber the sea of grass affords to us - for surely the prophet himself washed each delicate blade with the clear dew of his tears before he ascended to his throne atop the great blue-grey dome of morning! Let us linger over the sensual illusions of your dying kingdom one last time: "Tea leaves of the Caliphate; Omani peaches, Shami apples and Osmani quinces; cucumbers of Nile growth; Egyptian limes, Sultani oranges and citrons; blood red anemones; Yemeni violets, Ceylanese eglantine and Wahabi narcissus; dried henna flowers and Tihimah raisins; ostrich eggs and feathers; willow flower water and open work tarts; winter gilliflower honey, Lebanese lemon-loaves and Tyre soap cakes; Zaynab's sweetcombs, musk scented fritters and Kazi tit-bits; loaves of Muscat sugar and pickled safflower; Tunisian olives and orange flower water; sweet creams from the milk of dromedary and oont; cakes of Persian sweetmeats and Alexandrine enfilade; myrrh-wax candles, a lump of Afghani male incense, Khazari ambergris, Algerian musk and hard Syrian cheese; aloe wood, sandlewood, and eaglewood; Ottoman cushat and merle of Zanzibar; gilded chamberlains and hearts of mameluke; Nubian apricots, kumquat of Bahrain, and even a pomegranate from the courtyard of the Great Mosque of Bagdad . . ."
Your voice trailed off. A brace of egrets lifted themselves into the shimmering air and hung suspended in front of the blood red sun. Perhaps you were long dead, buried under the mud that lay beneath my bespangled slippers. The sky opened and you spoke to me from your perch on the high throne of the blue-grey dome: "Barbary assassins and suicide bombers; Iowan human shields; Nubian letter bombs and domain-enameled Migs; Copernicus elastomeres; asymetrical warfare scenarios and pre-emptive strike doctrines; penetrating execution systems, terminal threat ballistics and depleted firewalls; Van Eyk monitoring, Al-hussayn missiles, and peashooter ordnance; open source uranium; semiautomatic ground cover and deception hardware; dreadnought breeches, blunderbuss bombadiers, and dragoon blowpipes; autonomous refueling booms; embedded reporters; assault eschellons, bunker busters, antisweep devices and armor�piercing tracers; hard target kill potentials; high altitude jammers, early warning bouquet mines, and multiple threat emitter systems; cluster radiological drones and deployable doppler rockets; night observation devices, ceiling zero chatter, and world target mosaics; Mother of All Bombs . . ."
Come, my beloved, let us return to the fluted damasks and enameled mosaics of our bedchamber by the old courtyard, let us linger on the carved wooden filigrees and arabesques that decorate its many doors and shutters, for I wish to see one last time your smooth youthful cheek upon the silken pillow, and your watery clear eyes as you stare beyond my moon-whited shoulder at the stars falling from the blue-blacked dome of night.