The double life of Dalnarcis in Argentiera
Part of Almanacco Migratorio
Almanacco migratorio é un progetto di residenza artistica nel borgo minerario dell’Argentiera, in Sardegna.
As was his habit, Dalnarcis went to explore the area he had landed in almost by coincidence, a friend of a friend having invited him, as he was about to leave. On the very day of his planned exit, he boarded a plane to Alghero. This town was situated on the Island of Sardegna in the South of Italy, the community of Sassari, but his exact destination was a quasi deserted village on the North west coast facing the deep Mediterranean, then further still, the Atlantic, Argentiera. Dalnarcis walked up a hill fighting the windblasts, the ocean in a state of extreme disturbance throwing foam as if it was spitting at him and anyone else daring to approach. The moon was waxing. That day, her translucent half rose above the highest peak. It began to rain and the wind pushed him into a rocky recess. He slipped under a bush; the craggy ground covered in broken silver slate and sandy earth was still warm. It felt like a mammal. He fell into a deep sleep, but not before noticing a little mouse with a very long tail sliding passed his body. She paid no attention to him as he stared at her with utmost curiosity. “A country mouse”, he sighed to himself. She turned towards him as if catching the drift of his thought. Time passed, slower than he was accustomed to. In his sleep, Dalnarcis was peering into a foggy mirror from which a melancholy voice was rising. “The more of you there is here, the less there is elsewhere. If you are, and can we say, the more you are, will your existence become less defined? If you think you know who you are, how will you know who is thinking? Can we say feeling is to being what thinking is to existence? How can you tell it is you and not the character in the book? …If you see the world only as a human being, how can you be there in the world you think of? If you cease to exist, who will live in your place? Can you be inside of existence or is existence an escape from the possibility to be…be you or neither in nor out? And if existence is a human concept such as Platonic Solids, Cartesian logic or Sartrian philosophy, removing your outer dimensions and dropping the content into another recipient may open a can of worm holes where most of us dump our mental garbage…”The voice rolled in and out of focus, and the fog dissolved until he could distinguish his features. To his dismay, what he saw was no longer recognisable; or rather it resided outside of his expectation. Certainly, it was not human. Dalnarcis woke up with a knot in his throat, gasping as if he had been stuck under water. The waves of the ocean below were breaking against the cliff that looked like molten rock in which thin layers of white granite had been trapped in the furnace. Closer to the beach, there was an opening. Some men once had dug there, searching for silver. He felt lighter and unobstructed by the relentless worries the world was once made of. It seemed a distant land now, a vapid cacophony. There was something strange and new and he suddenly felt a surge of horror as his eyes now fully opened travelled along his form to arrest the gaze on his hands…a set of sharp claws at the end of grey haired paws. For a moment he convinced himself this was still a dream. He could after all see his real body lying there under a yellow flowered shrub, but it was separated from him by at least two metres. This defied his logic, and soon after, the body shook violently, got on all fours and ran off like a lunatic into the wilderness. He followed it for as long as he could. He went down the hill. He saw everything as it was but it all appeared different. First of all, the structures so familiar to him were vast, alien to his minuscule self. Secondly, he recalled them to be of some use, although this seemed now an absurdity. There were too many angles, too many unsafe spaces. And he disliked the recurring displacement of sky, the diversion of solar light. Nowhere could he detect water cavities or soft earth to dig into. He would have to look harder, stay awake longer. Furthermore, his ears were ill adapted to a sub-noise that was at once confusing and pervasive. It occurred to him that, were his body found, literally out of his mind, he would soon be arrested and sequestrated, incapable of ‘normal’ reasoning. What that meant was now a new enigma to him however. Was he an abnormal mouse? How would he be received in this animal dimension were he to be confronted with a similar species?
Dalnarcis decided to imitate the gallop of a horse to hurry to town. The village had once been the hub of a mining population until the 1960s. He recalled seeing some inscriptions left by flaneurs in the belly of the derelict factory on his way to the beach, the oldest dating from 1992, the newest from 2011. Most of these buildings were a weird hybrid of ancient technology and modern industrial design. Although some effort had been put in the regeneration of their appearance and even the creation of a museum , the work had at some point been halted, funds probably lacking or simply drifting into a loop hole. Some rich man from Rome had bought most of the land anyway, and those who had remained after the crisis, leading to the fall of the silver trade in the region, the process of extraction and purification of the metal having become more expensive than its worth, had to emigrate to other lands. The new land owner had bulldozed the worker’s properties one by one without mercy…a contrary tendency to that of ambition. Only a few were left belonging to the lucky ones who had managed to purchase them. He also remembered meeting a fisherman and his family high up on Via Montevecchio who had witnessed all the dramatic changes from as far back as the 1970s. In his collection of photographs, one could see how the village had been ravaged, its large austere stone homes having been razed to the ground, leaving a disfigured view of the bay. It looked as if a war had struck this peaceful busy little place, leaving practically no survivors. There were even abandoned villas and a cinema that no one would ever mistake for one. This fisherman and his wife had invited him and his friends, one of whom had known the fisherman since he was a boy, to share their house wine, very similar to Moscatel. The man was one of the most spectacular characters he had met, reminiscent of certain novels written by Balzac or in a very different era, by Norman Mailer, Jack Kerouak or Henry Miller. He had the impression of encountering a mythological figure, larger than life, yet absolutely here, humble and generous. Now their tiny dogs would lump him up in one sweep of the tongue. Despite the gallop, it took an hour instead of fifteen minutes to arrive ‘a bon port’, which he sensed was an over optimistic expression. He looked around him; concrete slabs and hollow bricks were fusing in a terrifying amalgam. There seemed to be no end to this giant construct where nature was tolerated so long as it was compartmented. He felt estranged and in peril. His new clothes…he preferred to think of it this way, made him aware of a new status, leaving him in a condition he had come across and even felt deeply but with a certain detachment, and with doubts.
Somehow there were no doubts in him now. Every detail was clear-cut. Still, he did not comprehend these details any more. It was as if he was confronted with a zoomed view of a three-dimensional map right up close, precise, tangible and absolutely abstract. ‘He was not himself’ he thought. At least, this was his excuse. Sure, other people had used this pretext to commit inhuman crimes. But here and now, in this guise and this role assigned to him by some demented fate, what was his crime? Not being able to interpret human signs, and therefore losing some original notion of existence…He followed a beam, trespassed into a dusty floor, left funny micro prints behind him, hopped onto another beam, and, to his astonishment, found himself back to where he started. A whole lattice of wood was materialising in his field of vision, with no beginning or end. This felt rather nightmarish, although it combined the memory of works by two of his favourite artists Escher and Piranesi. But to be stuck in a work of art was perhaps the demise of unnatural mice. Other things also took their place and began to fill up the retina with innocuous ideas. He found no justification for them, their realisation remaining in the domain of, at most, grave improbability. The air contained a powerful scent of varied alcohols and petrol with a hint of sweetness and a whiff of grilled meat and herbs. The compound of smells began to concentrate between the beams. The air also contained light waves he had never perceived before. They mingled with the odours. Differing waves interacted all around him everywhere he turned. Doorways were now megalithic gateways, cars looked like fluorescent inflated insects raging so loud his eardrums could have exploded as they raced passed his hiding spot, deep in the foundation of a crumbling wall. Who would notice two white dots in the blackness? They punctuated a long hesitant breath. The metallic creatures, as he saw them now, moved the atmosphere like enormous ships moved the waters. He almost fainted with fright. The surfaces in that contracted space, a vast space possessed by divisions, were brutally angular. This made them ruff to him despite any apparent smoothness. How could he run across the path without losing his balance? It made no sense to his senses. He felt the tilt of the earth under the tarmac. The openings in the walls were barren, some were like vertical ice sheets but lukewarm to the touch. Parts of this puzzle were coming lose. He had jumped on a stone that almost dissolved into powder. This was a particularly unreliable topography. What appeared transparent was solid and what seemed solid was made of dust. Or was it part of the game of reversal he was now subjected to? He felt entranced by one facade. It looked like a face. Frankly, human faces had begun to appear odd and deformed, an anomaly of nature. This one was something between man and amphibian, a gargoyle with flapping eyelids, its skull bones protruding, a moribund singing like a whale from a deep crack in the forest.
I wanted to look for me or rather my previous appearance in this jungle of metal, glass and wood …wood without branches or leaves, strange expressionless, semi living, incapable of growth. I wondered directionless, between shutters, in the gutters, behind shadows, in the canal empty of water, the tunnels now blocked to larger animals, the shelters’ faltering roofs, the broken frames, the piles of dirty empty bottles, the gutted fridges left adrift in the valleys, by the furies of the ocean. I caught a glimpse of him, some mangled shape, carrying nausea on its broken back. Once more, Marie Shelley’s fallen mass of paranormal life rose in my mind, ‘Daimon’, I sighed although no such word came out of my mouth. The sun had passed. I could see everything apart from the metal brutes that blinded me as they roared past in the semi darkness. He had curled up in a corner, a recess in the building looking over the sea. This was a shell of sorrows. He then crawled into deeper obscurity. I sensed his fear, greater than mine. I felt his incapacity in willing to transport a massive body through the maze of an alien space. He preferred to seek absolute anonymity. I then realised I no longer had the capacity to let an exterior force impose a name and a narrative on my life no matter how insignificant and infinitesimal. Since the great schism between ‘he’ whom I was, Dalnarcis, and ‘he’ who appeared to be me, since that great divide between the psyche and the persona, between the reality of being and the theatre of illusions, between being and existence, ‘he’ had become ‘I’ while the social construct, the embodiment of ego had become ‘he’…a stranger lost in an ancient site of silver, the seat of the Lunar god. I like the moon, was now a cyclopean rodent, the errant intellect imbued with a soul whose skin had been stripped, a life of its own floating in one entropic lump around a natural spirit. I no longer knew him. But did he know himself better than he had known me?
He scurried, infiltrating himself in a crack he had judged just wide enough not to entirely rip the fabric of my clothe now more or less in shreds. He threw a fast glance back at something behind him. He had smelt me and perceived my presence as unknown, yet familiar, an enemy. Me, so little, a predator of my kind. Or rather what had once been part of my world, perhaps for centuries, as I passed from one ancestor to the next…this was no longer so far fetched considering the last events. He was getting used to my body! Getting faster at evading unwanted attention, at slipping in the gaps, although I noticed his absolute surprise when on one first occasion, he attempted to enter a hole one thousand times smaller than him. I laughed…but this also was a surprise. The sound I emitted then resembled the typical high notes emitted by a mouse, those we imitate badly in jest, a comical interjection. “When the cat is away”…I thought, and in a flash realised I could become the next meal of any such feline roaming the streets of Argentiera. I felt like drowning my sorrows in the liquid intemperance of the sea. I rushed on the gravel. Each piece was a rock to me now, I had to bypass some just too large to jump over. My body had last been seen by the edge of the mine’s factory facing the beach. I entered the premises without a sound. I was still getting used to this silent motion, in addition to the easiness with which I could in fact enter anywhere, any time, without being noticed, benefiting from a kind of invisibility. Total stillness can have its advantages. It was enveloping me with a kind of neutral space bubble, although the danger resided in my own distraction. In that inner sanctum, I began to doubt my own origin and if I had been given birth at all. This was the question I pondered upon, and had been since I discovered the stars above me while travelling at low velocity in the back seat of a Renaud. I wondered, knowing stars hurtle away from our galactic heart at ten kilometres per second according to new findings, how many years it would take for us to contemplate an empty sky. Nevertheless, in this specific incidental point, my alertness had quadrupled, (a random estimate based on records of past awareness of my surroundings). Was I still sleeping? I wished to confront myself. Was the mouse soul getting a taste for large format anatomy? Was it intrigued by the potential of ultra dexterity provided by the design of our hands? Was it beginning to discover new cerebral pathways and how would it decide to make use of them? He was close, I could feel it. I felt observed from two perspectives. I froze. A massive head suddenly grew out of the dark. A second elapsed stretching from the Earth to the Moon which was full that night. I could see myself in those round eyes, the pupils so dilated one could have been swallowed in each of them, particles sucked in one, waves in the other. This cat did not see me as a human trapped in the body of a mouse. My personality had become irrelevant if it had ever been so in my former life. Or if he did, this would have explained the ironic smile on his face. A terrifying howl surged from his throat, like a gargling sound, preparing the oesophagus for the consumption of a small object of desire. I had never been so close to the mouth of such an animal we like to call domestic. To me, this was the land of peril, savage, pure, unequivocal, beyond any architectural limitation or social doctrine. But as I resigned myself, my small realistic self to be devoured with one snap of a jaw, a shadow rose ominously above us, some unnamed god from the subterranean regions flooding everything in its path, to clear the way for a new age. Two lights scintillated as I became encircled by this presence. Something wrapped itself around my minute frame. It could have crushed it instantly.
I must have lost consciousness. In that other world I awoke in, the village had suddenly become lit up with candles. I heard names spoken, as if someone was reading from a guest list. They resounded in the square, where, on a bench, a few locals had posted themselves to admire the view at the end of the street. As I looked around and above, I noticed buildings once in ruin had been transformed into some kind of screens, like outdoor cinemas, or light houses, some had been adorned with frescoes. I could not read the pamphlets that had fallen to the ground and this alarmed me. Still the names made sense verbalised. One of those had been mine. Among them, these were the ones I remembered: sebastianbenedjiamo, marcozamburu, inishvonbonhorst, yasminedainali, albertogori, iuripirondi…The voice almost chanted until it died down as each candle melted behind windows covered in greasy dust that had not been opened for some years. I vaguely recollected this was the time of a festival and it was amusing to me now to think this thing called art felt as strange as the state i found myself in. How My original brain would define it was impossible to tell. I then thought it was amazing how, by merging my human psyche to the cortex and morphology of a mouse, my powers of cogitation were not entirely veiled. Instead certain faculties decreased while others were magnified. It could be associated to the creation of anagrams…I could only take a wild guess at the transformation of my alter-self. That condition was somehow initiating the birth of what had lied deep and dormant within me. It was not so far fetched therefore to imagine an agonising town at once revived by a novel idea, a festival that would attract not only the attention of the local population but also, why not, of the rest of the world, people from far away places searching for a jewel in the middle of nowhere. It appeared impossible, especially in the face of a dwindling demography and a lack of commerce. In a way, this village was almost a carcass, many houses, although newly built, unfinished and collapsing.
This had also a precedent. Yet as a mouse, how could I now participate in a context where my presence was considered at best entertaining, at worst a nuisance to annihilate. I opened my eyes again, my mind filled with problems related to fundamental flaws in the relationship between mankind and the universe. My own face stared at me with a gaze not so vacant as incommensurable. Could he or I re-cross the divide that seemed like an abyss? It was then I also became aware I was lying in the palm of my hand. The creature swayed it like mother would rock a pram. I accepted this absurdity as a natural development. With a new sense of serenity, I accepted this limb as an extension of me; more so, this was now the weirdest form of transport at my disposal. We passed a container that according to some distant knowledge looked like a train wagon. But in this room filled with rusted machinery and fluttering pigeons, it looked completely out of place. A wagon that never left the station. It had been constructed on site as a filtering crater. The raw material had fallen into it to be separated from its precious content. It had not been running for a few decades, an archaic piece surrounded by contemporary windows. In such a melange of styles, my phobic anachronism faded into thin air. We seemed to ascend and descend without an exit in sight. Soon, a thick metal fence stopped us, behind it, a gaping hole encircled by a short concrete wall. All around, utensils, engine parts, tools lay mostly incomplete or broken in a thick film of dust. I felt his body shaking, uncertain whether it was out of excitement or anxiety. To my horror he climbed, as I had once hoped to do, and oscillated above the darkness. It dawned on me this was one of the shafts leading to the mine far below. I had been there a few days earlier and perhaps a feeling of premonition came over me. I turned away and left in a hurry. I could feel his mind searching for a way in. No human had been there since…I knew not. This however was no mere human being, nor was I, having been converted to the position of a driver who had lost control of his craft, a super massif lorry heading for oblivion.
What had repulsed me was attracting him irresistibly. It was already too late to escape, no chance of getting to safety as the whole weight of my ex-corpus vacillated, then swayed from one wall to another as if to the fast beat of a metronome, engaging in this descent like a circus acrobat, with one hand and two feet, balanced above the void. I stopped breathing as the ‘tenebra’ engulfed us. A breeze woke me. Only my eyes could move. At first I thought I was floating on deep blue waves. But the first colour I perceived was green. Pale azure appeared behind patches of verdure as they trembled in the wind. I could hear the sea breathing gently. Something else was there, alive in the corner of my eye, staring at me. It was perfectly still, a statuesque organism of wisdom. Yet I could hear it speak. “Wake up” it whispered. I thought this strange and began to recall the images of the fall…” But if I am not awake, where am I, and who is the mouse?” No words left me. I could not tell you now if I truly did wake or continued dreaming until now…If I died in the mine shaft or lived on in the palm of my meta-human protector, despite walking back to town, mechanically, as if nothing happened.
Copyright © Pascal Ancel Bartholdi 2014