THE BOOK OF IMAGINARY JOURNEYS

THE BOOK OF IMAGINARY JOURNEYS by Xabier P. DoCampo

Inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, The Book of Imaginary Journeys by Xabier P. DoCampo follows in the tradition of great travel literature that began with Homer’s Odyssey. It purports to be the transcription of two travel journals written by a certain X.B.R., in which the Traveller gives as objective a description as he can of the cities and kingdoms he visits. So it is he comes to a city you can only visit for three days or where you cannot fall asleep, a city balanced on the fine point of a diamond or rotating on a water wheel, a city whose inhabitants are all tree-dwelling women or descended from birds, a city where the tombstones are inscribed not with the names of the deceased but with the titles of their favourite books, a city where money is only valid for a year, where none of its inhabitants can go fishing because all the rods have been turned into soldiers’ lances, whose ministers are made to wear nooses as a warning to stay clean… The Traveller records songs, proverbs and remedies he hears along the way and describes some of the people he meets – a woman who conducts imaginary orchestras, a man who loves the earth so much he would like to plough it with a pair of unicorns, another searching for a treasure guarded by seven keys… Like translation, travel is a return to the source, the point of departure. What the Traveller takes away from the experience is what he has learned.

I

The gates the Traveller has to pass through when he reaches the foot of that kingdom are not especially grand; it is true, they are beautiful and their arches have a noble aspect, but neither their height nor any particular form of art in the way they have been built affords them greater magnificence than one has seen in other fortifications paths lead to.

There is a haughtiness in the inhabitants’ bearing, especially if one pays attention to the gaze they bestow on the stranger as he walks along their streets of solid, ancient paving.

In Arimoi, the Traveller can tarry for only three days. At sunset on the third day, the visitor must be outside the walls. There are times when the Primate has granted important personages a special permit, but these have always been extensions for the space of three days.

A man of influence in those lands welcomed the Traveller into his house. The inhabitants of Arimoi are obliged to show hospitality, although this is limited to three days, after which they hand their visitors over to the Primate’s soldiers, without the slightest compunction on their part, however much, during the period of hospitality, they have become friends and grown close to the extent of sharing secrets.

The man’s name was Quintus, and his wife was Liceria. They told the Traveller the history of those remote, select lands and even revealed to the Traveller the largest, deepest secret hidden therein.

Quintus took the Traveller to the crypt of the temple of his faith, leading him down a long staircase that descended more than a hundred steps. In this manner, he was able to show him the kingdom’s very foundations, which are all of gold.

The Traveller and Quintus walked under the whole kingdom until reaching the place where a single pillar of gold, supported on the fine point of a diamond cut in the shape of an octagonal pyramid, holds up the territory. Everything in astonishing balance.

When they came back to the house, the beautiful Liceria gazed at the Traveller and told him such a miracle was possible because Arimoi had been built by the hand of God himself and, by means of that column poised on such a sparkling fulcrum, he had put his wisdom to the test by building an entire kingdom on top thereof.

The Traveller would have to pass through the gates before sunset that day, so Quintus and Liceria prepared him an early dinner.

A servant placed a large plate containing tiny grain mixed with abundant portions of poultry and fish in the middle of the table; there were also small fruits such as blackberries, sorbs and Roman laurel berries. The Traveller had no difficulty identifying the poultry, which was quail, but couldn’t work out what the grain was. The fish was trout.

After dinner, the hosts accompanied their guest to the gates of Arimoi and turned around, without waiting to see how he left that kingdom of uncertain balance behind.

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MILLET WITH QUAIL AND RIVER TROUT (ACCORDING TO A RECIPE BY THE NUNS OF THE CONVENT OF OUR LADY OF AVÍO)

Two days earlier, the quails are plucked and have their entrails removed. They are opened up along the spine. They are marinated in a sauce made of unrefined olive oil in which rosemary flowers have sat for more than six months, and the whole is left in the night air, in a place sheltered from the south wind.

On the day the dish is to be prepared, the quails are sautéed in a clay pot for the space of twelve Our Fathers. By the end of the prayer, the quails will be starting to turn golden; then three leeks, a few strips of curly cabbage and some grated turnip tops are added.

Meanwhile, two medium-sized trout, cut into slices, are boiled in white wine and thrown into the clay pot, so that the whole can cook over a low heat for the space of seven Credos, seven Salves and three Gloria Patri.

When the sauce has acquired the usual brown colour that comes from cooking quail and fish, on a lively fire, the millet is poured into the pot, and the whole is stirred well, using a boxwood spoon.

Now a dozen sorbs, seven or eight ripe blackberries and the same number of Roman laurel berries are added, all of which should have been soaked in home-made brandy at least two years old.

This is allowed to cook over a slow heat for the space of a third of a rosary and then allowed to sit, without fire, for as long as the Litany of Our Lady lasts.*

 

* Editor’s note: anyone who is less keen on prayer may replace each Our Father with the recitation of a fashionable song without repeating stanzas; the Credo and the Salve with the same song including all repetitions; the Gloria Patri with the refrain. A third of a rosary is equal to the reading of between ten and fifteen pages of a book, and the Litany would be matched by a poem of 100 or 150 verses.

 

II

Arama is not surrounded or delimited by any rivers or mountains. It is not on a shore that will add the murmur of water to the dry, tepid air that overwhelms it from morning to night.

Arama is a place in the middle of nowhere that calls to the Traveller with the constant grating of cicadas and the sandy dryness of streets covered in fine white dust. Walking down them, the pedestrian is afraid of a wind that will whip that whiteness into a cloud that will surround him, penetrating all his orifices and smothering him.

That may be why Arama is always deserted, like an abandoned town; like a town that is dead or in agony.

But it is enough to enter this place and to knock at a door, to hammer with a knocker that looks like a hand grasping a metal sphere or a medallion with a metal ring that bangs against its middle; there are also some that show a dog rapping with its front paws; others are simple iron rings that beat against a nail with a rounded head. However that may be, when the Traveller knocked, all the doors of Arama opened and, at each house, someone inquired as to the motive for his call.

The air of all the city’s voices sounding at once gently moved, like a threat, the white dust in the streets, which didn’t rise up off the ground.

When the Traveller replied he was searching for a place to spend the night, the doors all closed, one by one, and the woman who had opened the door where he had knocked showed him where the inn was. She said he would recognize it because it was the only one whose door would remain ajar after his call.

He headed in that direction and found that, in effect, its door was not closed, but slightly ajar. Seeing no one, however, he banged with his fist on the wood. Immediately, all the doors of Arama opened together because, in Arama, if you knock at a door, your call echoes on them all, they all open, and every doorway contains a person asking the Traveller what it is he wants. This is followed by another gust of wind that unsettles the dust on the ground.

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FOLKS - Fortina

Elderly by now, she retains the limpid presence of a beauty that adorned a youth of study and devotion to her passion: a wish to find a path her soul could travel along in search of other souls drove her to devote her whole life to unveiling the secrets of music.

Fortina writes charming pieces of choral music.

‘There is nothing more beautiful than constructing something expressed by contributions from the variants of different voices in a choir.’

‘But in Arama it seems everything is in unison.’

‘Don’t be so sure,’ protests Fortina, ‘opening all the doors together has to do with musical time, but then each one provides his own voice. And that is music; each voice, each instrument fulfils its function so the work may be heard just as the composer conceived it. Arama is a musical city as well.’

Fortina is happy with her music, with her belief in great works sung by well-tuned choirs or played by ideal orchestras.

But this has never happened; no one sings, no one plays Fortina’s music.

It is not uncommon to see her through the windows of her house conducting imaginary choirs and orchestras playing music only she can hear.

 

Illustrated by Xosé Cobas

Translated from Galician by Jonathan Dunne

Additional Info

  • purchase text:

    THE BOOK OF IMAGINARY JOURNEYS by Xabier P. DoCampo, the eleventh title in the series Small Stations Fiction devoted to the best of contemporary fiction in English, is available for purchase through your local or online bookshop

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    ISBN: 978-954-384-063-2

    Publication Date: 08 September 2017

    Language: English

    Paperback: 220 pages (includes 31 colour illustrations)

    Dimensions: 203 x 133 mm