I walked in silence, following behind a train of eight women of varying age, and took my seat. Beside me, to the left, was a wooden stool with a faded, pastel apron folded neatly upon it. I looked around, it was a compact room, two windows, a long central table, around which we now sat. The white table-cloth had a small bowl of rose petals and a grid of nine china cups and saucers. The room was silent, but for the thundering roll of water boiling in a large steel urn. I felt slightly uncomfortable, the way one does when they don’t know what is happening and yet… delightfully curious.
A young slender woman, wearing a cotton apron busied herself with teapots and spoons; measuring and arranging in readiness. All eyes followed her. When she turned to face us, her pale lips stretched into a smile. To her left was a box, she bent over it and pulled out eight hot water bottles. She passed them silently across the table. We all looked to one another, wondering what was going on. Smiling nervous smiles. I was hoping for the smallest one, covered in a red, knitted cosy with a white woollen heart. I was passed one with faux tiger fur. I quickly decided it was the best and hugged it to me. It was warm, full and felt like holding a sleeping baby. Many minutes had passed. Not a word had been spoken. At the tea-table, the sound of a spoon hitting a circle of china filled the small room. Two tinkling taps of the spoon on the teapot brim, signalled it was brewed. The lid was carefully replaced. I smiled as the sound of hot pouring liquid, filling up our teacups, fell through the silence.
‘Where I come from’, she began, as we sipped our fragrant rose-petal tea, ‘we live in silence, from October to May’. Her voice was quiet, like she was afraid to puncture the air. ‘We have to choose our words carefully’, her eyes alighted on each of us in turn. ‘Our growing season is short……each letter is very precious’. ‘But it has not always been this way…no’. Her voice mellifluous, a symbiosis of Parisian and Irish brogue.
The warmth of the bottle pressed to my stomach, and her soft voice cast a delicious spell on me.
At times, she got up to pass out slabs of dense chocolate cake, small ripe strawberries and a plate of fragile pastry letters. I chose a W and placed it on my saucer. Mandana grew letters in her field. Vowels..juicy A’s and plump O’s. ‘You may wonder how we make up our words….but it is ok, we have a market that sells their consonants,’ she chirped proudly. She told how her village had been happy…..content with it’s customs…. until a man, keen to cover up the sadness he felt in the quiet months, found a way to grow letters out of season. Soon people heard how this man was able to speak all year-long and they all wanted to find out how they could do the same. The villagers pushed aside the old ways and began to grow their words artificially, without the heat of the sun, never giving the soil time to rest. They used their words carelessly, to cover the silence. But, the more and more they stuffed words into the silence, the further apart their friendships grew. The words had lost their flavour. The village became sad and lonely. Years passed. One day the villagers got to hear about a farmer who was growing delicious organic letters, rich P’s and candy-sweet B’s. They visited the newcomer and found he was using the old, traditional methods, planting according to the sun, and the seasons. They bit into his words and their eyes closed in reverence. One by one they realised it was quality they wanted and not quantity. They began carefully cultivating their words again; they savoured the silence, the spaces in between the sentences they created. Happiness returned to the town and they were once more at peace. …. Ahhh. Now, I know I am soft, and easily tickled but this story, and the way it was told, sent me away with an enigmatic smile that lasted for the rest of the afternoon.
I usually feel relieved when the Brighton Festival is over, the (self-imposed) pressure to not miss out on anything is over . This year, to narrow down the choice of what to see/do, I had decided, being food obsessed, to use food as my marker. If a Fringe event had food or a kitchen in it then I was onto it.
The second play of the day was in a couples kitchen…mildy voyeristic I know but perhaps a better choice than the one man show, delivered from a man sitting in his steaming bath, which I did actually consider seeing, just for the originality of it. But I didn’t.
Small Space; a play about a couple whose lives are in constant connection. The play was a rollercoaster, all the human emotions drawn out by intensity of marriage. Anger, loneliness, disconnection, bonding, sharing, compassion & love. It was all there, and more………………….. It made me think about ‘the Californian guy’…you know of my ‘heart does breaketh’ episode (The Ex & the Dream blog post). I emailed him back. I was gracious, a bit aloof (though I didn’t want to be) AND I have to admit not totally forgiving…that came after I’d sent it (begrudgingly), I figured you can’t be mad at someone for not giving you what they didn’t have designated for you. 3 times since, his name has dropped into my inbox. Spam. All three. Offering me some miracle cure or time share…the third I left unopened…wary it would corrupt my hard-drive………………….. The couple in the play used two gorilla (?) glove puppets to depict their previous loves, and also enact the moment when the chemistry between two people…. ‘clicks’. ‘It is when you see in another, the chance of feeling (hopefully a good feeling) of being connected (as you were physically to your mother) again that it confronts you with the vulnerability experience of that first disconnection too’ (or words to that effect), when we realise that we have to stand on our own two feet. The pleasure/pain of love. I glossed over that…applauded heartily at their wonderful performance…. as they bowed, and then wandered back to my car, eating a half-melted chocolate tiffin.