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Tainaron by Leena Krohn, 1998

Mail from another city

© Leena Krohn

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Tainaron - Mail from another city





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The work of the surveyor - the eighteenth letter


Today I have looked through my window at the work of the City Surveyor. I have already watched him in another part of the city, fulfilling his professional responsibilities, and now, this morning, he has reached our street. He measures the lengths and widths of streets, the diameters of squares and the heights of buildings. I do not know why he measures them, but I suppose the information he produces is stored in an archive somewhere and that interested parties can consult them there.


His territory is rather large and he is very hard-working, but he has only one measuring device: his own body. It is a long, green body, and he uses it extremely skilfully; I have previously had the opportunity to admire such agility only in the performances of acrobats. Sometimes his body forms a large loop; the next moment it has stretched out again to a long, straight stretch and he has covered quite a distance along the street. He also has no trouble in climbing vertical brick walls, right up to the eaves, and he does not seem to suffer from vertigo of any kind.


As I came from the shop and took a short cut through the park, I saw the Surveyor eating his lunch on a bench. On his head was the white cap worn by city officials, decorated with spiral patterns. I asked if I might sit with him for a moment, and he willingly made space.


'Would you like some?' he asked, opening his lunch box. But I had already eaten, and refused, with thanks. There was something I wished to ask him.


'Do you find your work interesting?' I asked, for something to say.


'Extremely,' he replied, munching his sandwich. Behind us, in playground, the children of Tainaron, screaming, were playing the games played by all the children in the world: running away, being had, and then exchanging prisoner for persecutor.


'Have you been doing it for long?'


'Ever since I reached my full height,' the Surveyor replied, pouring a steaming, sweet-smelling drink from his thermos flask into his cup.


Bells rang out from the cathedral, the children left the playground and disappeared into the shade of the trees. It was already almost noon, and the siesta was beginning. I could not see any movement anywhere, and heard only the booming of the bells. It felt as if life were standing still, resting and reviving like the Surveyor.


Through the incessant ringing, I heard his even voice: 'My father did the same work, and his father and his grandfather and his grandfather's father. A new City Surveyor is chosen from each generation; now it is I.'


And he added something which I did not hear, for the power of the bells swelled to numb the ears.


I bent over toward him and his flat face neared my mouth. Now I could hear what he said: 'I am the measure of all things.'


But he did not say it haughtily, merely stated it, brushing the crumbs from his chest.


'But this part of the city is old,' I thought aloud. 'Was it not surveyed many generations ago? What could there be to measure here?'


He looked at me in disbelief. 'What is there to measure?' he asked. 'It was a different time then. A different time, and different measuring devices. I and my grandfather are not at all the same size, as you may have thought.'


He took a large piece of fruit from his bag, sinking his many rows of healthy teeth into it. I no longer knew what to say, and felt a fool.


When the Surveyor had sucked the stem clean and dropped it into a rubbish bin decorated with the city arms, he rose decisively and felt it his duty to remark: 'Back to work!'


He, the measure of all things, hurried energetically to fulfil the demands of his job, growing smaller and smaller on the park path, and a straight, clear furrow was left in its raked sand. He went as official representatives of the people go, or as those who know that everything has its measure, and more - what and who he himself is.


And, following the Surveyor's example, time too moved on; a dry leaf fell before me on to the dust and it was the first leaf of autumn. The season had changed.


The bells had stopped echoing, but the city radiated its own sound, like a busy bumble-bee. The brightly coloured Ferris wheel of the Tainaron funfair, which was motionless for a moment at midday, started to spin once more. I saw it from the bench on which I was sitting, alone; it can be seen down in the harbour and in all the squares and markets, so high has it been set up, in the constant wind.



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