Thursday, March 16, 2017

Intermundia Airport (Chapter 2).

Chapter 1 here

Back inside the terminal, he knew his next move would have to be to find a bathroom and take a proper look at his features. He lacked a mental image of his face, and this blank space where his thoughts were lodged unnerved him so much that he was reluctant even to touch it. But he had to look – if anything at all could jog his memory, it was surely his face.

Nothing, it turned out, was easily found in the peculiar geometry of the terminal. The persistent curvature of its design made him feel like an infant orbiting a new kind of womb which had been designed by mathematicians and sculptors. All its lines were curvilinear, and all its structures nestled neatly into the whole in a manner which suggested an aesthetic abstraction of the beehive or wasp's nest. Here and there, long corridors branched off from the main building. Their carpets were a rich, fleshy red, and the smooth, white arch of the ceilings gave the whole the appearance of a whale or shark's famished gullet, through which the people moved like snacks fleeing the digestive track.

Finally, in the atrium of one of these corridors, he found a bathroom. The bathroom was long and narrow, and smelled of a citrus disinfectant. The people at the basins all seemed to pause in their ablutions, and regard their reflections with a melancholy warmth, as though the images in the mirror were people to whom they were bidding a fond farewell, after long, tumultuous shared adventures. A jaunty, repetitious melody was piped into the bathroom, but he found that there was a peculiar sense of irresolution or absence in the culmination of the figure, such that the melody created in his mind the looping image of a beautiful face slowly brighten to a wide smile, only at the last to reveal a toothless and cankerous mouth.

Having paused for some time at the cubicles, he edged nervously to one of the wash-hand basins, and regarded his appearance in the mirror. He was, he guessed, about thirty-five. He had brown curly hair, short and untidy, and large blue eyes which he thought were the colour of a declining evening sky, reflected in cold water. Besides the slightly piercing quality of the eyes, his appearance struck him as unremarkable. He was pale and slender, with the look of one of those introverts who strike most people as passive and emotionally neutral, an impression owing not to a lack of passion but rather a certain waxen, inexpressive quality about the physicality. He knew that type of person vaguely in his own memories: the type who smiled detachedly and kept their own counsel, having seemingly resolved that life was a boisterous party at which they knew nobody.

It was not mere disappointment in his looks, however, which troubled him so sorely. It was that his reflection stirred neither the slightest memory, nor inspired in him any discernible emotion whatever. He knew that the reflection in the mirror was his own, that the appearance which returned his searching looks was in some vital sense himself, only by a logical necessity of spatial correlation. Beyond that, his physical body was a stranger to him, and looking at his face elicited no greater connection than that of a passer-by on a busy street. Had his reflection abruptly turned its back, and proceeded towards the door of the bathroom, it would have had engendered no great shock of dissociation.

This estrangement from his body filled him with a sorrow which felt unprecedented to his dim recollections. They had taken everything from him – his entire past, and any connection to his physical selfhood, was utterly lost. All that he had to hold onto were his present stream of thoughts, knotted as they were in the unravelling of a pervasive nightmare logic. In the mirror, his body was convulsing slightly, and tears streamed down its face. An elderly Japanese man, dressed in a funereal suit, patted his shoulder gently – that gesture again. He turned and glared at him.

He made his way up to to one of the elevated footbridges that spanned the perimeter of the terminal. Observing the scene from this particular vantage point, it was clear that the crowd broke down into two separate groups. There was a smaller minority of people like himself whom he called “New Arrivals.” The New Arrivals all exhibited varying symptoms of extreme disorientation and anxiety. He had to assume that they were all in the same position – that their memories had been wiped and they had no idea where they were. The second group he called the “Departees” and the “Comforters.” The Departees had come to be at peace with the circumstances of their abduction and were now leaving Intermundia Airport – back to their old lives? They all had that peculiar, almost mystic placidity which they tried to impart on the New Arrivals, by way of reassuring glances and that insufferable petting.

Clearly, there was some kind of process at work whereby frightened New Arrivals were gradually transformed into contented Departees. Their minds were first wiped clean, and then remade so as to completely acquiesce to the process whereby their identities had been stolen, and remoulded as self-effacing model citizens. Perhaps Intermundia Airport was a kind of re-education camp were everyday people were indoctrinated, and then sent back into the world as the hidden operatives of an ideology or agenda so vast and esoteric that their activities went everywhere unnoticed. Whatever the case, he had now at least acquired a goal and a purpose: to resist this process with every fibre of his being. They had made him forget everything, and that fact alone he would not forget. To have found a goal and a provisional plan, even one composed entirely of rage and opposition, brought on a mild cessation of his churning nerves. A fire which had blazed in his nervous system cooled to to a more patient simmer.

He then felt yet another pat on his shoulder, this time with a considerably less friendly import. Turning from the railing, he found that he was accosted by two security guards. The guards were an odd couple indeed. One was middle-aged, small and paunchy; the other youthful, tall and lean. The middle-aged guard was balding, with grey, wet-looking hair. The sides had been scrupulously combed back, and the remainder on top formed a near perfect rectangular peak at the dead-centre of his forehead. His face, closely-shaven and filmed with perspiration, was plump, boyish, frog-like and endearing. He had the air of a perpetually harried yet good-humoured uncle.

The younger man had a shaved head, tanned complexion and handsome Latin features. He looked sleepy and arrogant. They stood facing him for a moment, the older shifting nervously, the younger man's body immobile, his eyelids flickering as though he was falling asleep.
'Hello, sir', the older one finally began, 'if you'll excuse me, sir. My name is Eddie. This is my colleague Giacomo. Your case officer, sir, would like to see you now, and it is our privilege to accompany you to his office.'
'What if I don't want to go?'
Giacomo edged closer to him, his manner more languorous than insistent.
'You'll see your case officer,' he said, 'one way or another. Don't want to go now is fine with us. We get to take an hour off. You wanna make life difficult for yourself, and easier for us, you're welcome to.'
Eddie cast a reproachful glance at Giacomo.
'What my colleague means to say is that you can see your case officer any time you please! There's no obligation, none whatever. It's up to you! The thing is, though, it's really better – better for you – if you see him sooner rather than later. It's like – like the dentist! Nobody really wants to go to the dentist. They put if off! And the rotten tooth, the pain, you see, it just gets worse. So eventually they have to go. And then – just a little prick, a bit of yank, and all the pain is gone! And then they're kicking themselves, saying “I should have to the dentist ages ago!”'
'I don't have a toothache.'
Giacomo seemed to approve of this remark. He looked at Eddie with a smirk.
'You see? He doesn't have a toothache. Why would he want to go to a dentist?'
'That's not the point. I didn't say he should go to a dentist, I was simply drawing an analogy - '
'You and your analogies, you're just confusing the issue! The man is disorientated, he needs to get his bearings, and you're telling him he has a rotten tooth, he needs to go to the dentist - '
Eddie turned away from Giacomo, and looked at him imploringly.
'You see what he's trying to do? He doesn't want you to go! He just wants to take an hour off. I'm only trying to give you good advice! I have your feelings at heart. He just wants to have a drink.'
Eddie and Giacomo continued to bicker in this farcical manner, eventually wearing his patience to the point where he submitted to attend the interview. Eddie beamed. Giacomo shrugged and gave a little yawn. They sauntered off briskly and he followed them down the steps. They seemed to forget about him instantly, becoming absorbed in their own conversation.
'Did you know,' Eddie was saying, 'that dentists have the highest rate of suicide among all the professions?'
Giacomo shrugged.
'They do. Its a very strange thing, if you think about about it. I mean, it's a respectable middle-class profession, well-paid, secure, steady. Not as respected as the doctor, but less pressure! The dentist never has to tell anybody they've got a month to live, or that they'll never walk again. So why do they do it?'
Eddie glared at him.
'Do what?'
'Kill themselves!'
'All the bad breath seeps into their brains?'
'You make a joke out of everything, but it's an interesting conundrum. I have a theory about the whole thing. There is something, I suspect, in the mouth, that only dentists see. Think about it, how often do you actually look into the inside of your mouth? Nobody does! It's like this undiscovered country, you know, that we carry around inside our faces, this landscape of pink flesh and naked bone and rotting chunks of grizzle and the calcified residuum of an endless stream of words, a lifetime of words that flow profusely out like bile but never really say anything at all. And nobody looks into this world for any sustained length of time, nobody except the dentist. But he looks! Day in and day out, he wrestles with the ungovernable tongue and probes the private parts of a thousand faces, until humanity becomes in his dreams a single gaping mouth! What does he see in there?'

They were passing the bench where he had woken up. The old woman was awake now, sitting up and shaking with a piteous expression of terror on her face. Two other New Arrivals, a man and woman, sat either side. The woman cradled the older woman in her arms like a child, and whispered close to her ear. The man looked like he had suppressed his fear in deference to the older woman's worse plight, but his eyes, wide and bird-like, darted frantically. Both looked at him suspiciously as he passed with Eddie and Giacomo. It occurred to him that he must already look more acclimatized to Intermundia Airport, a change in his appearance perhaps brought about by his first concession to the security guards.

Giacomo regarded Eddie with a look half indulgent and half exasperated.
'Do you say this shit to your wife?'
'No, no, of course not. She's a wise woman in her own way, but not intellectual. She likes her creature comforts, and no noise or stress. That's wiser than most women, I can tell you. But this stuff would be far too deep for her. I only share this stuff with you, Giacomo, because I sense that there are deep, deep currents hidden beneath your boorish veneer.'
'Nope, no currents here. Please don't.'
They turned into one of the corridors that branched off from the main terminal. The corridor was empty, and its peculiar acoustics seemed to amplify the absurd conversation of the security guards.
'There are currents, yes, I can tell. You are a thoughtful man. Now – where was I? Yes, what is it that the dentists see? It seems to me that there could be something in the mouth – some hideous asymmetry – that points to a greater truth about the human condition. Perhaps the mark – the scrawled initials – of a cruel or senile creator. And the dentist, by virtue of the nature of his profession, is forced to face this mortally dispiriting truth every day of his professional life, along with a rouge's gallery of misshapen and rotten molars, swimming in a dank miasma of the halitosis. It drives him to despair, you see. He begins to question the whole premise of his profession – that one should fix that which was designed, after all, only to give pain and yield to decay.'
Giacomo snorted.
'Your brain is a hideous asymmetry.'
'Did I ever tell you my theory about why plumbers and pipe-layers tend to be extremely fertile?'
'Please don't.'

They paused at a stairwell. Eddie turned to him. “We're going out to the Central Command Complex, so we have to get a train.” They proceeded down the first of several stairwells. A crowd started to mill around them again, like a tumbling stream. He glanced at the posters on the wall while they descended. They were advertisements composed of a mishmash of religious, historical and commercial iconography. A jolly, rotund Oriental sage demonstrated the virtues of a water-resistant wrist watch. A benevolent, bearded youth enjoyed a carbonated beverage after he had been scourged by a group of soldiers. A collapsing tower emphasized the importance of comprehensive life insurance. Others suggested political and militaristic themes: mobilization of war efforts and nationalistic projects, fomentation of xenophobic panics, evocations of the transcendent power of vast crowds, or a single, abstracted fist clenched in the manic idolatry of an idea. Some of the posters were more abstract or elusive in intention. “TODAY IS TOMORROW'S YESTERDAY” announced one, over an image of a family of skeletons enjoying a summer picnic.

Finally, they arrived at the concourse of a vast underground rail network. As they descended a stately granite staircase, his senses were once again overwhelmed by the scope and bustle of Intermundia Airport. There were five separate train tracks, linked by a system of overpasses. People ascended to the footbridges on escalators, and were then carried smoothly across on mobile walkways, giving the overpasses the appearance of relentless conveyor belts. The tracks moved to a similarly breakneck pace: it seemed as though there was always a train either departing or arriving at each track, producing a vertiginous feeling of panic like that of the old variety show gimmick of spinning plates. He noticed with a kind of sickening jolt that a huge percentage of the crowd was made up of New Arrivals accompanied by one or two security guards. They were hundreds, perhaps thousands of these groups in the underground.

He was momentarily stunned. 'Are all those...?'
Eddie nodded, grinning with fond awe. 'Yes, all new-comers, just like yourself. It never stops. The turn-over is amazing.'
Giacomo regarded him smugly.
'Not so special now, eh?' 

Continued shortly.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Weird, Haunting Art of Graszka Paulska.

Graszka Paulska is a Polish artist based in Warsaw.  Her work is very striking and brilliantly executed:


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Intermundia Airport (Chapter 1).

By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate Dim Thule-
From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime,
Out of SPACE – Out of TIME.

Edgar Allen Poe, Dream-Land.

Chapter 1.

He woke up and found himself huddled on a bench in a busy airport terminal. If he hadn't been so drowsy he would probably have been alarmed, for he had no memories of anything prior to the intense disorientation of his dreams. He couldn't remember his name, or anything that had ever happened to him, before waking up in that airport terminal.

Holding his nerves at bay, he attempted to get his bearings. He sat up on the bench, and looked around. The terminal was a vast, ovoid-shaped structure, with its latticed ceiling curving high above the activity on the floor. Every surface was white, gleaming and reflective, and through the curving lattice work of the ceiling, and glass walls broken into cubes by white frames, he saw a pure, pulsating blue sky.

In contrast to the sharp clarity of the terminal's appearance, its sound was distant and diffuse, like the low, steady hum of a hidden machinery. Feet clacked on the tiled floor, the walkers becoming upturned shadows that arced across its polished sheen. Their voices coalesced into a happy, bee-like static that ebbed and swelled in waves across the terminal. Behind this sound, a woman's voice rose intermittently to make announcements on a tinny intercom. Her language and accent were so unfamiliar to him, and the effect of her voice so mysterious, that he could only picture her hidden behind a musty black veil, fingering the beads of some forgotten heresy as she made her muffled announcements.

He marvelled at the hive-like bustle of the terminal, its suggestion of a factory that produced steady, minute permutations in the global pattern of human dispersal, and in the private, intangible allotment of human destinies. People moved this way and that, across the busy floor, up escalators and away out of view on mobile walkways. They were all charged with the mingled anxiety and giddy excitement of imminent departure. Here and there, he saw other individuals who appeared, like himself, blear-eyed and disorientated, as though they had just awoken in an unfamiliar skin. He was struck abruptly by an oddity in the whole scene: nobody was carrying luggage of any kind.

Taking all this in, it occurred to him that he had a perfectly adequate memory of the most generalized things. He know what airports were. He knew what airplanes, taxies and buses were. In the broadest strokes, he know what the world was, and how one functioned in it. What he lacked completely was a memory of particular things. This extended beyond his own identity. He tried to remember what year it was, and found he was uncertain which decade. When he tried to remember who was the president of America, no particular president emerged, only a kind of composite image: an energetic, middle-aged man in a suit with a gleaming smile. This happened, again and again, with popular music, fashion and technology. His mind seemed to possess only rough templates, or an awareness of the precursors of things, rather than their present, living instances.

Growing more troubled, he turned his attention back to the terminal. The benches were arranged in rows that faced the terminal's massive electronic display, a black rectangle affixed to the downward curvature of the ceiling. Some of the destinations were immediately familiar to him, evoking second-hand memories of famous landmarks and national stereotypes. Others, he was certain, he had never encountered before, and their names affected him like pieces of music or passages of recondite poetry.

At the bottom centre of the display, a smaller screen was tuned to what he assumed was a news channel. This news channel, however, was subject to an instantly notable and deeply alienating peculiarly: there were no people in it. It alternated between long, static shots of a studio in which two empty chairs regarded the viewer portentously, and wide, rapidly cutting shots of urban locations equally devoid of human presence. When the news programme broke for commercials, he was initially relived to find that these, at least, contained people. However, just as the news reportage lacked its crucial human element, the advertisements were rendered stark by the absence of the objects which were their chief subject. The beaming actors mimed the various pleasures and utilities of absent, notional consumer products, producing an effect which he found almost as forlorn as the empty spaces of the news programme.

Turning back to the people milling about beneath the display, he began to notice other things. There were, as far as he could see, no children in the terminal. He estimated that the average age was somewhere between forty and sixty. He saw one teenager, and some who were in their twenties, but they were outliers. Their clothing had the same indefinite quality which characterized his memories. Most of it was impossible to pin down to any specific decade. Where the clothing did evoke a particular period, it did so in an unconvincing fashion, like a much later recreation for a television show or magazine spread. Finding nothing in the scene to place the terminal in either time or space, he resolved that he had to speak to somebody.

Standing up, he found himself initially dizzy and nauseous. The use of his body felt peculiar, as though his mind floated in a jittery, pliant suit of rubber. After a few steps, however, his body gradually regained its sense of solidity and continuity. The queues to the check-in desks were far too long, so he decided to accost the first person that crossed his path. This turned out to be a women whom he guessed to be in her mid-forties. She had the general appearance of an academic or solicitor: a small, stoutish figure, short brown hair and a kindly bespectacled face.

'Excuse me,' he said, 'please, pardon me, do you speak English?' She paused.
'Yes, yes I do.' A French accent, he thought.
'This will seem like a really strange question. Could you tell me the name of this airport?' She smiled indulgently: 'This is the Intermundia Airport. Or one of them, at any rate.' She was beginning to move away again.
'But, I'm sorry, I really don't know where I am. That name doesn't mean anything to me. What country are we in?' She touched his shoulder gently.
'We aren't in any country, really. Look. I can tell that you are new. All this is very....disorientating and overwhelming at first. But it's okay, you will get used to it. You need to relax, take a deep breath. I assume that you haven't seen your case officer yet?'
'My what?', he enquired, becoming impatient despite himself.
'Your case officer. Have you had a session with your case officer yet?' He could only shake his head. 'Well, you'll be called very soon, to have a meeting with them. They will explain everything to you. Really, it's okay, they'll explain everything.' Her owlish face was beginning to drift back into the crowd. He looked at her imploringly. She patted his shoulder again. 'I can't help you now. But don't worry. Just wait for the meeting. Things will be clearer.' She turned, and walked away.

It was becoming increasingly difficult to stave off his mounting anxiety. He was troubled now by two things. First of all, he was suffering from extreme amnesia. Perhaps worse still, however, his memory was still sufficient to emphasize that his current situation was utterly bizarre and even sinister. Was he dreaming? Though the most desirable solution, he ruled this out almost instantly. He had no doubt that his perceptions were veridical – had he been dreaming, his awareness of the wrongness of everything would have nudged him to wakefulness long ago. Was he going mad? Again, though this might have been an almost reassuring explanation, it seemed untenable. His reasoning felt completely lucid and clear-sighted. What troubled him more than any temporary foible or malfunction of his brain was the conviction that everything around him was real. His amnesia, and the unnerving oddities of the airport terminal, were a related phenomenon.

Was he a political prisoner of some kind? The woman's reference to a case officer suggested that he had fallen under the jurisdiction of some bureaucracy or other. He couldn't persuade himself, however, that the situation was merely political. The airport's unnerving air of insularity and timelessness suggested an order that existed aloof from politics, operating in a place untouched by the world's fluctuating values and fortunes. His suspicion was that something had been done to his mind to render it as neutral and indistinct as the airport itself.

He turned to make his way back to the bench and discovered that the precise location where he had been sleeping was now occupied by an elderly woman. She too was curled up asleep, her face obscured by wan, diaphanous hands clenched as though in prayer. He had to get out of the terminal, and far away and fast. To the right of the benches, through the milling crowds, he saw a row of automatic exit doors bathed in sunlight gleam. He ambled towards them, trying not to let his pace betray his urgency.

Outside in the glare, he found only a vaster sense of confinement. The airport was marooned in an aesthetically spartan landscape of transport hubs, served by a wide, teaming motorway. People were disembarking from taxies and busies at a ramp, and again he noted that none of them carried luggage. Squinting airport staff wheeled empty luggage trolleys along the concourse, imparting a peculiar sense of theatre or ritual. Across the motorway, accessible by an overpass, there was a long, five-story concrete structure, composed of a lattice of narrow conservatory balconies. Elevated above the roof, large unlit neon letters identified the building as the “I  N  T  E  R  M  U  N  D  I  A    O  V E  R  N  I  G  H  T.” The conservatory rooms contained identical furnishing: a two-seater couch and wicker-table facing the glass, and a bureau with a seat facing the wall. A painting hung over the bureaus. Although he couldn't make out the details, it was clearly the same study in each room.

Even from that distance, through the gasoline haze of the motorway, everything in the little conservatories seemed faded, decrepit and somehow mortally dispiriting. Though he had no precise memory of any other, he felt certain that the Intermundia Overnight was among the least welcoming of all hostelries. Many of the conservatories were occupied. The distribution of those who sat facing the glass, and those with their backs turned at the bureaus, formed an eerie binary code. He felt as though the people seated at the wicker-tables watched him with a kind of unwavering intensity, like individuals who have been brutalized by a regime of boredom to the point of cultivating cerebral, highly specialized homicidal tendencies.

Beyond the Overnight, there was a vast parking lot, and after that what appeared to be an exact facsimile of the terminal he had just existed. The harsh concrete terrain of motorway, overpasses and expansive parking lots stretched as far as his eyes could register. Trying to escape on foot was pointless.

Up to that point, a kind of premonitory anxiety had kept his attention focused on the surrounding buildings. Now he looked fully into the blue sky, and his brain reeled. The pulsating quality he had earlier noted was a result of the exhaust fumes of a staggering volume of airplanes. The sky was full of them: the nearer ones like flocks of birds, and those further off like swarms of locusts. Their flight paths seemed to extend indefinitely into the horizon, becoming at the limits of visibility like tiny evening stars. It was a beautiful and terrifying spectacle, a dance of metal fuselages becoming liquid and molten in the sunlight, rising like scattered motes against the crisp, boundless blue.

Continued shortly.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017