As discussed last tutorial – a second go at a treatment for the short, building in the new scenarios and characters from Tuesday.
OUR FILTERED EYES NEED NO WALLS
They can romanticize us so, mirrors, and that is their secret: what a subtle torture it would be to destroy all the mirrors in the world: where then could we look for reassurance of our identities?
- Truman Capote (Other Voices, Other Rooms)
They stared at her from the bedside table. The table’s surface was bare but for the two tiny concave pools that glinted in the dim light. Depending on how she looked back at them they sometimes appeared as reflective as mercury, or as transparent as pure alcohol. Of all her morning rituals this was the first. She reached over, picked them up with practised delicacy and covered her eyes.
If it had been possible for an impartial observer to watch her walk the streets, her city would have appeared to them as a garden of Dionysian delights. She was shaded by a lattice of grape vines and flowering Coffea branches that hung between the mirrored glass arcades she walked through. Friendly faces sat in the windows of cafes and restaurants. At her feet, chickens freely roamed and the peaceful bleating of a lamb reminded her of her new resolve to do her part for the planet and try veganism. The buildings around her were seamless; all connected together it was impossible to tell where one ended and the next began. Down alleyways she could see the green mountains on the horizon that ensconced and protected her city.
She took a different route today. Usually, she’d wend her through the covered arcades to the city’s lifestyle district, where she would begin her day with an hour of yoga and a steaming cup of tea, before she settled into her garden office where she worked as a recruiter. But today she found herself taking the path toward the city plaza. The Festival of Le began at midday, and people were gathering to witness the opening of the city wide event.
Fog. Thick, blanketing, fog lapped at the sides of the walkway. A child walked purposefully through the mist. Behind her, the lights of her little city pierced through the white. Her home was a bustling shanty metropolis built out over an endless ocean, so calm it could have been glass. Over the waters dense fog gathered; all she could see were the lights of her community and those of neighbouring villages, which appeared as distant bright spots in the haze. Around her, her friends and family walked too. All were heading to the great market to see. Rumour had it a mythical event was destined to occur today.
The further she got from her settlement the denser and stranger the fog became. Foreign sounds of spirits conversing in unknown languages carried across the water, and the smells of exotic spices hung in the air. A breeze cooled her face, but the fog did not move an inch, nor did waves disturb the water’s surface. On occasion, shadowy figures emerged from the mist, crossing her path, and sometimes even drifting for long lengths down the walkway before crossing back out over the water. These figures she dodged with rehearsed nimbleness – they would not harm her so long as she did not interact with them.
The man sighed as he strode away from his home; a beautiful, detached townhouse that had belonged to his family as far back as he could trace. His city was under siege. For the last decade, foreigners had been streaming in from all over and the glass city that had once been his haven was now a battlefield where he had to fight for his right to live. Great mirrored walls kept him and his community safe, but when he occasionally came to gaps in the wall he could see that the structures being built on the other side were garishly decorated and precariously thin. Districts once valuable for their strong character and identity were now chaotic and naïve playgrounds for immigrants and hooligans. No one would take his home from him he vowed to himself. His neighbourhood, the butcher, the barber, the school, and the cricket pitch would be his last bastion of civilisation.
He stopped on a street bounded on both sides by mirrored walls and saw his reflection extending into infinity on both sides. He was far from home, in a foreign part of his city. He was sceptical about this so-called ‘Festival of Le’. ‘Open your eyes’ the adverts said, ‘see the city like never before’. He was only going to the city square for his grandson. ‘It’ll be good for you’ he’d said. ‘To get out there and see the sights for once’. He felt ridiculous going on this excursion, feeling like a tourist in his own city, but at least after today Robert would stop harassing him to go outside.
As she entered the plaza she saw the familiar World Tree planted at its centre. There was already a significant crowd here. She had no idea what to expect – announcements for the festival had only said that for this week, from midday today, everyone would be transported to another place. She looked at the tree, flowering abundantly and covered in ripe fruit. Mother nature, protected from the prying hands of thieves by an invisible, unspoken barrier. Four minutes to go.
Stepping into the square, the man was overshadowed by the classical architectures of the courts of justice and the city cathedral. At the centre of the square stood a great monument. A circular shield balanced atop a long blade – the weapons of his city’s founding father. Entering the crowd, he was jostled forward and he found himself nearly colliding with a young woman. In another language, she spoke what sounded like an apology, before she moved aside to let him pass.
The great markets were busier than she had ever seen them. The child pushed her way through the legs of shadowy figures in the crowd, her family somewhere far behind her. She wanted to be as close to the action as possible. The market was a huge floating pontoon with walkways radiating out to the outer settlements. At its centre a giant ladle stood proudly, the life giving instrument of the family hearth.
Despite the thousands around her, it suddenly grew very quiet. The figures around her started staring around, eyes transfixed on some unseen phenomenon. Then she saw it. The world around her started to fade away and the shadows revealed themselves to be ordinary men and women. In front of her a man with a walking stick lowered himself to his knees and a woman, no older than her own mother rubbed her eyes furiously. The giant ladle had disappeared. In its place was a tree made of metal – of cables and dishes. As she looked around, she was astonished to find that the sea too had disappeared. All around her were white buildings, covered in the strange markings of an unknown language.
She fiddled with her lenses. Something was wrong. Her augmentations were disappearing! She was going to miss the festival’s opening! The fruit had started falling from the world tree and then the world had vanished, replaced by the bare white buildings and the markers that were the infrastructure of the mixed reality city.
The man knelt as the mirrored walls came down all around him. He later reflected that it was a good thing he was already on his knees as had he been standing, what happened next would surely have knocked him off his feet. In the cold streets of the un-augmented city a voice boomed, and everyone heard. ‘The Festival of Le has started. From now, personalisation services are disabled for one week. Go and find yourself in the city you’ve never seen’.
Her lenses were starting up again, thank god. She calmed herself as the reboot process started. She saw a child in front of her, skinny, scrappily dressed but grinning ear to ear. She was staring at her, no at something behind her. As the world began to fill itself back in it was clear this was someplace else. The world tree came back, but it was barely recognisable. It looked more like a ladle, but with one sharp edge. Strange symbols covered the trunk and the familiar fruit now dangled from a canopy in the form of a great shield. Around her the city shifted. Traces of her favourite cafes and arcades remained but overwhelmingly foreign signs surrounded her. The distant green mountains looked to be slums, shanty towns stacked so densely they created a terrain around the city. Neon lights revealed huge towers she had never seen before, covered in Mandarin script and strange fairytale creatures leapt from building to building. She saw an elderly man ahead of her, struggling to get to his feet. She walked over and offered him her hand. ‘Where are you going?’ she asked him. He pointed with a frail finger toward a single detached townhouse at the end of a long avenue leading away from the square. ‘Come on’, she said. ‘I’ll take you home.’
‘In order to find his own self, [a person] also needs to live in a milieu where the possibility of many different value systems is explicitly recognized and honored. More specifically, he needs a great variety of choices so that he is not misled about the nature of his own person’
- Christopher Alexander (A Pattern Language)
I’ve also been reading Chistopher Alexander’s ‘A Pattern Language’ for my HTS essay. He proposes three conditions that I think are useful for describing the different views presented in my story:
1. The Heterogeneous City
This is Le’s view – the average of all people – what is seen during the Festival of Le.
2. The City of Ghettos
The hyper-personalised view seen by each of my protagonists
3. Mosaic of Subcultures
The condition where Le’s view is not always present, but rather occasionally interrupts the ‘normal’ personalised perspective. Here choice and identity in world view and lifestyle still exist, but (hopefully) within a more complete and balanced context.