Address: (Not) Yattendon. Dehesa de la Serna Avila, Spain.
Words & Music: Nick Parker
We arrive in our small convoy. Two cars, eight people. We are here for three nights. Each of us has sent a list of five books beforehand. All the books are laid out on a table. There are two rules: 1) Read between meals, talk over meals. 2) you may only take one book from the table at a time.
This house, La Serna, absorbs time. There is an entire wing that has been unfinished for over a century. Its rooms, says R, were laid out ‘before the invention of the corridor’.
We think: corridors were invented?
We read by open fires and under blankets. We read in chairs, hammocks and nooks. We read on walls and under gas heaters. We read on the trampoline.
One of the books says that wabi-sabi is the Japanese concept of the ‘beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete; the beauty of things modest and humble; the beauty of things unconventional.’
We watch the sun set. Across from La Serna is a wheat field, in the middle of which is a single tree. It was left, says R, so that the farm-workers had shade for their siesta. It seems to P that the tree is waving a friendly greeting to us across the plain.
G, who cannot be with us, sends a WhatsApp. It is a sort of parable. It says that once there were gaps between things, but they got smaller and smaller until they disappeared entirely, and so began the age of the simultaneous, where everything was like the spokes of a spinning bicycle wheel: frenetic immobility. At the end of the parable, the people put on their hats and shoes and go out in search of ‘the pause’.
K tells of meeting a Nigerian woman who, ambitious for her own career, married a prince who already had two wives. Because ‘being a third of a wife is plenty – it leaves time for other things’.
‘Yattendon’. We decide this means ‘to speak animatedly of one’s opinions of books that one has not actually read‘. Verb: to yatter.
There was a time when M and his daughter shared a love of a certain author’s most complex novel. M’s daughter created a spreadsheet, listing all the characters and their inter-relations. M is an accountant. M was proud.
When the sun makes its intermittent appearances, we take our chairs out into the courtyard. ‘You look like small boats, tethered in a harbour,’ says R. ‘Only instead of the tide, it is the movement of the sun that sends you to and fro.’
P says that his son has brought a new word home from school: wobble. It is a word to describe the moment of uncertainty one experiences when facing something new. To wobble is perfectly fine. ‘After all, Weebles wobble. But they don’t fall down.’ We agree it is an excellent word. (P’s son does not know what Weebles are.)
A musician, N, comes to play for us. He has a number of wooden flutes, various drums, a gong. He plays freely, joyfully, like a child who does not actually know how to play at all. He hands out instruments for us to shake and tap and clack. We join in.
Could we say that our playing is wabi-sabi?
What I miss most of all about being in another land, says G, are partners in crime.
A gong, says N, vibrates with a note for every nerve in the human body. It vibrates with ‘harmonics, super-harmonics, mega-harmonics’. N tells a story about a tribe who vanquished their enemy by hanging a gong ‘as tall as two houses’ across a valley, luring their enemy there, then striking their gong. The vibrations ‘shook their foe from their skins’. Victory was accomplished ‘without a single arrow being fired’.
One of the books talks about how wheat has manipulated Homo sapiens. We had been living a comfortable life hunting and gathering until about 10,000 years ago, but then began to invest more and more effort in cultivating the crop. Within a couple of millennia, humans were doing little from dawn to dusk other than taking care of wheat plants. This demanded so much time that people were forced to settle permanently next to their fields, completely changing their way of life. We did not domesticate wheat. It domesticated us.
R tells us he used to be much bigger. As he lost weight, he said, he found his dreams regressing steadily through the stages of his life, ‘like my memories had been laid down in my layers of fat’.
D tells of a game he plays with groups of young film-makers. He gets two people to sit side by side, almost touching. He tells them to be utterly still, as neutral as possible. D now says to the rest of the group: ‘Look. Here are two astronauts about to blast into space. Now, here are two pupils waiting outside the headmaster’s office. Now, strangers who have found themselves sharing a taxi. Now a boy and a girl, secretly in love but the other doesn’t know it, sitting next to each other at a wedding.’
We are joined by A, who is a practitioner of some kind of body-folding. She sets up her mattress, and one by one we lie down. She traces invisible patterns with our limbs. She loops and folds us like we are dough. Afterwards, we all walk differently. P says his feet feel ‘bigger’. R says that as she was moving one of his toes, his mind wandered. ‘Where have you gone?’ asked A. As we read the books, so A reads us.
It is nearly dawn. P stares across the wheat field at the solitary tree. He suddenly feels that the tree is not, after all, waving in a friendly manner, but is actually trying to send a warning: The wheat is nearly upon you.
(P has had a lot of whisky.)
One of the books says: ‘There are at least two kinds of games, one could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning. An infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.’
It is time to leave. As our little convoy drives through the big town, we pass a huge iron sculpture, taller than two houses. The sculpture is of a zipper, standing upright, half undone, forming the shape of an enormous letter Y.
We have become partners in crime.
We are playing an infinite game.