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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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Dayma - the twenty-second letter


Yesterday I wished to try, for my morning drink, the Tainaronians' favourite sweet, foaming dayma or daime, which is drunk through a straw. They like it so much that they drink it at every possible opportunity, cold or hot, and in addition to dayma they have dozens of other names for it. I have heard it said that in large quantities it has curious effects and that some may see strange and even improper things after drinking it.


For my part, I did not notice any such effects. But everything I see here is strange, even without drinking a drop of dayma.


I remembered a particularly pleasant little cake shop on the side of a canal where Longhorn took me soon after I arrived in Tainaron for the first time. I also wanted to try those particularly crisp herb pastries, as light as wafers, which smell of smoke and which I believe are not made anywhere else but in that bakery. My desire was so strong that my mouth watered and I had to swallow when the memory of the little pastries spread on to my tongue.


To my disappointment, I could no longer find the cross-street of the ring boulevard on which the caf´ was located. I thought I was following the correct route; I turned at the same street corner as before, and carried on along the side of the canal, but soon I found myself in quite unknown quarters. There were unfinished buildings and enormous industrial shells from which the sound of turbines and the fumes of combustion engines rose into the air. The people there also looked completely different, poorer and smaller than the Tainaronians who had sat on the terrace of my favourite caf´. At last I found a glum coffee bar where badly foamed dayma was served in thick handleless cups and where the bread was dense and heavy.


'I should like to have a map of Tainaron,' I said yesterday to Longhorn. 'It would be much easier to wander here alone, and you would not always have the bother of being my guide. I could not find a single map in the department store. Could you perhaps find a map somewhere? Would it be possible?'


'Unfortunately it is impossible,' he answered.


'Why impossible? Have all the maps sold out?'


'That is not why,' he said. 'No comprehensive map of Tainaron has ever been made.'


'What? No proper map has been made? But that is very strange,' I said, dissatisfied and astonished.


'It is not at all strange,' Longhorn said abruptly. 'It would be sheer impossibility to draw up such a map, a completely senseless project.'


'Why so?' I asked, increasingly irritated. 'To me a kingdom which has no map is not a real kingdom but barbary, chaos, mere confusion.'


'You still know very little about Tainaron,' he said quietly. 'We too have our laws, but they are different from yours.'


I felt a little abashed, but that did not wipe away all my irritability.


'A map cannot be made,' he continued, 'because Tainaron is constantly changing.'


'All cities change,' I said.


'None as fast as Tainaron,' Longhorn replied. 'For what Tainaron was yesterday it is no longer today. No one can have a grasp of Tainaron as a whole. Every map would lead its user astray.'


'All cities must have maps, at least of some kind,' I continued to argue.


Longhorn sighed and looked at me kindly, but a little wearily.


'Come!' he said, and took me gently by the arm. 'Let's go!'


'Where to?' I asked.


'We are going to the observation tower,' Longhorn said. 'To make you understand.'


The observation tower was built on the same hill as the funfair. I had not noticed it until now, for the movement of the Ferris wheel had taken up all my attention. We had to climb for an agonisingly long time up the narrow wooden stairs which circled the outer wall of the tower like a creeper. I do not like such high places, and I felt as if the wind were rocking the frail construction. We climbed and climbed. As we circled the steps, the Ferris wheel, too, kept returning before my eyes; its carriages, now empty, shook and swayed, and its movement made my dizzy. We climbed, and I regretted that I had taken up Longhorn's offer.


Midway, I said to Longhorn: 'Now I cannot climb any farther. Let us stay here. We can see enough from here.'


But Longhorn's ears were deaf, and he continued his astonishingly agile clambering. At times he seemed to glide upward - but of course he did have more pairs of legs than I. He did not even glance behind him, and I had to follow him. I went on climbing.


At last! We were standing on the upper platform, but I had grown dizzy and did not immediately go right up to the rail. My eyes were sore from the wind and sunshine which, up here, seemed blindingly bright. I tried to breathe slowly; I swallowed and fastened my eyes on the fibres of the platform's planks. I had decided that I would not complain any more; for I suspected that Longhorn now considered me spoilt and bad company and by no means did I wish him to tire of acting as my guide.


But I could not help hoping that Longhorn would put one of his narrow, long upper limbs around my shoulders. He appeared not to have noticed my uncertain state, but was gazing absorbedly and - so it seemed to me - with eyes moist with pride the panorama that opened up before us. He began to hum a wordless song which I had never heard before, and its monotonous melody and the peaceful wave-forms of the timber fibres restored my balance.


I gathered my courage and looked downwards. We had been climbing for a long time, but I was still astonished that we were so excessively high up. I shaded my eyes and saw, in the dizzying depths, the plain of Tainaron, patterned with the shadows of frantically scurrying clouds. I also realised that the tower must be a little skew, for the horizon was clearly slanted. Directly below us was the little funfair, today deserted, with its gaudily coloured tents. Even the highest carriages of the Ferris wheel were far below us. Far away glass and steel glittered, bronze and gold glimmered, when a shimmering ray lit up the windows of a skyscraper or the cupolas of churches. This was Tainaron, his city, theirs - never mine.


But it was an astonishing city! Longhorn's pride was understandable. I had never understood how enormous Tainaron was. I saw the cone-like areas which I had once visited, only to be dampened by the queen's tears, I saw the prince's palace park with its paths and pagodas, and in the east the endless, muddled skeins of the slums.


We were so high up that from below all that could be heard was the occasional shriek, isolated, a shriller cry than the rest, and mysterious clinking sounds which I had also heard at night and whose origin I had never been able to trace. It sounded as if someone were tapping a glass with a silver spoon in order to make a speech. A little farther up, and everything would have been completely silent.


'Here is everything I have,' Longhorn said. 'You, too.'


The shining belt of Oceanos with its stripes of foam encircled us on all sides. A haze hid the horizon to the south, but to the north a high, silver-glowing cloud formation was visible, so motionless, in contrast to the clouds that slipped over Tainaron, that it looked like a metal sculpture. Its shape was like that of a human torso.


'Is there a storm brewing?' I asked.


'It is not a storm,' he said. 'Worse. It is winter. Although it will be a long time before it reaches us. But when it is here, I pity those who have not already gone to sleep!'


I already felt cold now, in full sunlight. We looked in silence at the majestic shape of snow and ice. To me it still did not look as if it were changing shape or approaching Tainaron.


'Perhaps it will not come this time, after all,' I said to Longhorn, half in earnest, and hopeful. 'Perhaps it will stay up there in the north.'


'What a child it is,' Longhorn said in an aside, as if there had been a third person with us on the platform. Then he continued, turning to me once more: 'I did not bring you here only to look at the coming of winter. Do you see?'


Longhorn gestured toward the northern edge of the city, below the winter, where there swelled a cluster of dwellings of different heights and shapes. It must have been because of my sore eyes that their outlines looked so indefinite. As we looked, it seemed strangely as if some of them were in motion.


'What is happening there?' I asked.


'Changes,' he said.


That was indeed how it looked. Clouds of dust spread on the plain - and in a moment all that could be seen where the crenellations of towers and blocks had meandered were mere ruins. But there had been no sound of any explosion.


'That part of the city no longer exists,' he said calmly.


'Not an earthquake, surely?' I asked fearfully, although I could not yet feel any tremors.


'No, they are merely demolishing the former Tainaron,' Longhorn said.


Longhorn raised his finger and pointed westward. And there, too, I saw demolition work, destruction, collapse, landslides. But almost at the same time, in place of the former constructions, new forms began to appear, softly curving mall complexes, flights of stairs that still ended in air, solitary spiral towers and colonnades which progressed meanderingly toward the empty shore.


'But...' I began.


'Shh,' Longhorn said. 'Look over there.'


I looked. There, where a straight boulevard had run a moment ago, narrow paths now wandered. Their network branched over a larger and larger area before my very eyes.


'And this goes on all the time, incessantly,' he said. 'Tainaron is not a place, as you perhaps think. It is an event which no one measures. It is no use anyone trying to make maps. It would be a waste of time and effort. Do you understand now?'


I could not deny that I understood that Tainaron lived in the same way as many of its inhabitants; it too was a creature that was shaped by irresistible forces. Now I also understood that I should never again taste those smoke-scented wafers which I had wanted so much this morning. And yet I understood very little.


'I am thirsty,' I said to Longhorn, longing once more for the foam of dayma.



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