16. A medium-sized town on the seafront, at some distance from the capital.

A time had come when the crucial asset of a town was its samba festival: the signal by which it called for attention in the competitive fight of towns. A town was no longer thought of as the place with a harbour or a railway station, a thousand spinning jennies, churches and houses, a palissade from the Viking era. If the settlement had once grown around a leaning tower, the tower had by now been transformed into an emblem, and there was little worry about the building's hazardous, hard-stretched calculation of point of gravity, forces and counter-forces. In the global community, Harry's town and all other towns stood there like smiling beauties on a bandstand, each one with a number plate held between navel and bust, lest any essential advantages be dimmed.
That didn't imply that towns had lost body, voice, odours for all time to come. A town was still a firm three-dimensional structure, providing for its inhabitants countless assets, qualities, possibilities, limitations, lacks. But solid things weren't emphasized in the same way as they used to be, and above all: the good things they did were no longer the signature of a town. The people, who had originally turned to a town as an overcoat, a protection to their bodies, simply had to accustom themselves to the fact that it appeared as a hieroglyph, a link in a conversation going on above their heads.

Maybe this particular town was the particular offside tactics of the local football team, or the runs of its wingers along the touchlines? Such a proposal had a new, unaccustomed touch to it, but if that was how things were, you had to accommodate yourself and let the wingers run their messages along the touchlines. Or was this particular town simply silence, its own lethargic silence, that seemed to harbour no message at all?
In the nighttime the sea took over, like a huge tide, swallowing the mainland. Lights went their way in the darkness, a lowered firmament of planets and stars on straight courses: trawlers on their way to or from fishing-banks, freighters on permanent routes, tankers, luxury cruisers with illuminated superstructures. In spite of the fact that the population centre was amply illuminated, it was the creeping lights out there that caught the attention. Sometimes in the summer there was thunder and lightning at the opposite side, lightnings illuminating the cloud screen and transforming the whole of the visible world into a floodlit amphitheatre; inspiring in the onlooker a feeling that he still lived in a central arena, lit accordingly.
The night murmured, blinked, pulsed; repose was a state seldom met with in the nighttime.
The ferries left late in the evening and entered the harbour at dawn. From afar you could hear and feel the throbbing of the engines, and when the ships were tied up in the ferry terminal, black oily smoke spread with the wind, announcing the event for noses as well, far inland if the wind was blowing from the sea. Half an hour later a convoy of HGVs advanced along the coastal road, in the summer months stretched by vanloads of tourists. The first thing that faced these vehicles, if they followed the signposts, was a score of drooping palm, lining one of the main exit roads. They stood there in splendid isolation, brandishing their bundles in the interminable westerly winds. When summer was over the show was taken off; instead of being augmented with flamingos resting underneath them, girls with palm skirts and flowers in their hair throwing wreaths to the newly landed. Over the winter the trunks were bundled up and stored in a greenhouse, leaving them in a deplorable state that could only just be repaired by the short vegetation period of the summer to come.
Was this exhibition the result of a passing fancy by an eccentric, or was it rooted in the popular spirit, did it have sanction from collective wishes? The palms prevailed, year after year, bundled up over the dark months and brought out when the time was ripe for the May Count and his bride to bring new vegetative power to the fields. That way they had become incorporated into the local annual cycle, much like the first swallow. At times winter would assume Arctic features, not letting the frost out of the ground until April and keeping driftice around till the first week of May, there would most certainly have been a more extended season for ice statues at the approach to the town, or for beasts like walrusses and polar bears. But such an idea was brought up by no one. The town had palms, twenty of them, or thirty.
They must imply something, Heikki said when he saw them for the first time.
You hit the nail on the head, Harry answered, they are not there for the shade. They mean something.
But what?
An exceptionally untidy yearning.
Listen here, Heikki. I think it was a hundred years ago, more; a sea captain brought home oysters and set them out at the mouth of the harbour. Our harbour had a flourishing oyster colony, for several years.
They would die after five minutes today. (The municipality always had the dirtiest bathing water in national surveys, still cultivating a deeply rooted, medieval tradition for bailing filth and droppings over the threshold).
And they grew walnuts, mulberry trees everywhere. In the end it all disappeared in some wolves' winter. People always tried to stretch soil and water a little longer than they can sustain. It's yearning. Yearning for Paradise. The palms signal our yearning for Paradise to the surrounding world.
Up country an open landscape took over. The ditches were deeply cut, fields pipe-drained and smooth mangled, trees were seldom allowed to grow into heaven. Scattered in this, like jewels in a crown, farm machinery rentals, maintenance stations, electricity substations, transformers, mobile masts, evidence of faultless function and perpetual maintenance of an invisible, all-permeating utility structure. But never a house that made the eye halt, sending waves of breathlessly admiring information to the brain. For some reason unknown the inhabitants of this land didn't put beauty on display, maybe because they were unable to create beauty. The names of their virtues were: order, function, maintenance.
It is said of recently erected concert halls that the defects and teething problems of their interiors disappear as they get impregnated with music. Could it be that this landscape was in the middle of some stage of a process, where it was impregnated with order, function and predictability? So that later on, if surrendered by its inhabitants, it would simply continue in its old footsteps, following a road far from earthquakes, hurricanes and devastating floods? It would go on clearing up its roads after winter's snowstorms, cutting the fields and sowing them anew, weeding along the ditches, trimming the avenues and disposing of twigs and rotten wood. Yes, things would go on that way, for all objects visible were laid out for eternal function, in rough outline. There was a beginning, but no end.
It was a landscape of order. The yearning for safety and predictability had pushed all other wishes aside, for the time being, or permanently. Harry found this particular landscape very captivating; it held him captive.

The town originated from a linear village, a rat-tail of houses reflecting the coastline. That offered space for manoeuvring; the original inhabitants moved closer together when newcomers asked to be admitted, held elbows close to the body, branched into two rows, added a third. Still, the space available felt tight after some time, the sea held the front in check, the scandalously priced tilled land put a brake on to the rear. Three cures recommended themselves to relieve growing pains: fill up the sea, build higher and expropriate. None of this was easy to effect any longer, however. The coastline of the map, the farmed area of old, the traditional town image were sanctified and inviolable, someone always felt threatened or outraged by the prospect of change and raised his fist or voice in defence. The municipal councillor had his standpoint established: there was no economy to defend the given, not even in order to protect and preserve origin. One glance at contemporary practice was sufficient to confirm this standpoint.
And it was hard to deny: the mediocrity, the monotonous functionalism was sought all along because of its readiness to move out and make way for new mediocrity, new function. In the long run no one could hang on to the spoiled coastline, the dead boring town, the field steppe. At intervals the town area snatched a farming property and cluttered it up with terraced houses and industrial hangars. Every tenth year there was some landfill erasing the old coastal line, gaining new land for railway, harbour or traffic. And with recurring frequency some old town block was demolished and new buildings erected. Common to all these operations was the fact that they replaced old function, outdated, with new, updated. That way it never came to breaking tradition nor annihilating heritage, handled and formed by generations.
What was left to be inherited wasn't material, wasn't things or structure, it was a perspective on things. This fashion was what lived on, although not independent of its environment. By marking more and more of the surrounding things with the stamp, that would eventually allow them to be thrown into the crucible, or cast off into some sort of world subconscious, this particular way of viewing the world became transferred to the material world, anchored there, impossible for its inhabitants to influence. Seeing became a loop, a visual feedback where something already existing and established saw itself reflected, feeling confirmed and returning home. In this particular environment no-one ever saw what might be.
With biology the same: no flower out there was allowed to grow too high or dazzling, no bird voice to resound too strong or too long. But in the town backyards sunflowers shot up from beds of fermented cow manure, and the rosette for the tallest plant was never fastened to an unworthy specimen. The local racing pigeons were among the nation's best, and at the annual show of domestic animals the agreement between race descriptions and the animals at display was as good as could be desired. When Customs commandeered a shipment of illegally imported animals the local reptile club would stand by with advice and deeds, and afterwards the local fauna of tropical reptiles would always have increased by a couple of specimens. At intervals a parrot would escape from its cage, the hunt for the hookbill could last for months and mobilize half the population. The owners mourned like the parents of a lost child, letters of condolence poured in from near and far. In the best case they made for the happy denouement of the drama; the runaway finally got tired of all the fuss and on some cloudy morning it sat on its old perch anew, had returned to its harness of its own free will.
Obviously all this was nature as well, but nature of a particular kind, shifting with fashions and demands. The draught horse had been devalued, but riding horses jostled in the annexed farms at the outskirts of town, and with downward trade outlooks they were turned into sausage meat. For the time being there was a market for cuddly rabbits and guinea pigs in pet shops, and the arrival of spring was always announced by horticulturists unfolding acres of the latest Pelargonium hortorum hybrids. None of this needed to be looked upon as irreplaceable or particularly in accordance with ancient tradition; the future might well belong to llamas, flying squirrels and fig cactuses. It was good not to have to worry about such things, to live one's life and take nature the way it was offered by the market. Wasted rain forests and soiled tundras were in more than one way inconceivable phenomena to this community, they lay under its horizon. As evidence of horrid crimes the colportage from rain forest and tundra was still appreciated; it filled a niche in commerce, helped to lubricate the general circulation of goods and capital.
Sometimes elks from northern woods paid a visit and helped themselves to the windfalls of gardens; after having a good tuck-in they took fright and got in the way of town busses. Next day there was common hysteria, letters to the editor drowned the local paper and mothers kept their children home from school. With such a unanimous collective verdict the fate of the visitors was sealed, the municipal hunter started thinking about ammunition and gunshot ranges, and on a fine morning a shot went off in the town park, followed by another one. It was the moment of truth. The magpies laughed, the gulls in the duckpond took off and flew over the tree-tops in a dense flock. Again the apples plummeted to the ground, without being nibbled, buses went according to the time-table, children went to school, the palms shook their sad crowns. Order reigned anew, according to unchangeable laws, the same order as in the days of the late Newton.

The municipal councillor could for example say to himself: time has come this far on its obscure path, and there is no sense in resisting. It mattered little if he knew all species surrounding him, or the complete world history by heart, but it was an advantage if he could samba with the municipal finances. Any more than that had to be kept a secret, no one any longer showed off his knowledge in the multiplication table. Nor was such an attitude the result of tedious consideration; you knew how things were in a vague, intuitive way, felt more than thought, and had your feeling confirmed when the environment nodded approval of the samba steps. Elks were refused admittance in urban contexts, oysters shouldn't even try to be admitted, but there was always an empty cage for a lovebird. There was a price ceiling to the rare beauty, and that ceiling was low. In his duties he felt no reason to complain about this state of things; if you knew what was acceptable for the time being you had free hands. As long as he looked after the continued function he could count on being excused if he happened to tread on someone's toes.
But from another point of departure he could wonder, namely when the question was put: Where was this way of looking at things no longer valid, where was it replaced by a new one, for better or worse? On one hand he knew that existence had a fractal character; the small cores were embraced by the larger shells and at the same time carried them within themselves. The small house clusters of the plain were embryonic population centres, each centre faithfully reproduced all deformations of the county capital, and the county capital was a bad copy of the national capital. The nation was a Chinese box, where the small unit was deftly inserted into the bigger one, one as necessary outer skin, one as necessary interior bone, and all things got a bit more vacant, blank, the closer you got to the core. There were no things like folk culture or base organisation, these concepts were illusions, empty ideology, there was just silent endurance.
When it came to it, this way of looking at existence had a foul taste to him. The fractal curves were not derivable, they grinned like unalterable scarecrows in the backyards of existence. In the world for which he had been raised the possibilities of change, development to higher grades of organisation, capability, understanding were included as a prospect, and this prospect was linked up with the population centre, the place where Capital was swinging the conductor's baton. It was here that the coastline might all of a sudden fold inwards or bend outwards in a way that didn't reproduce the bends and folds of the previous, internal, precursory levels. This was how you recognized Development, the movement proper of time proper; it was novel pattern. The justification of the Party, his own justification as a politician, based on the power to recognize and promote the new, better patterns.
And the segment that wasn't Development, but tradition and structure and constancy and province and historical opposition? He was unable to make out his relationship to this. On one hand it was the major enemy of Development, on the other hand it was he himself, his way of being and feeling and thinking, loving and hating. He was a dual human being, not least because of this. The opposites could be submitted in pure breed, presumably excluding each other in constant opposition, then existence became a life-and-death struggle between the continuous landslide of the centre and the resistance and inertia at the margins, even within dual man himself. But were things that way when it came to it? Weren't fringes, margins as a matter of fact present as folded threats where things were de-veloped, quite close to the hub of the centre? There lived a seed of disorder next door to the heartpoint of order, a hostile coexistence that might be the driving force proper.

18 kB, translated 5.10.05, corrected 23.2.06, 27.11.08.

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