Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Giraffic Park

One week into this project and the dreams have grown from a trickle to a steady stream. We’re developing a rhythm that jumps around the map, slaloming between pipedreams and nightmares, epic narratives and anthropoems, fantasies and drudgeries around everything from bishops to blackface. Choosing the dream of the day is a bit of a balancing act. I was torn between some burglars from Chicago and a fœtal dog from Mexico, when this dream dropped in from Providence, Rhode Island, and I knew instantly that it was the pick for today. Our seventh of the 31 Dreamers is Xander, who dreamt:
This morning I knew that we had important business phone calls to make, but first I had to stop by the teahouse and everybody was talking about how exciting the show would be tonight. It was the first time in a long time that everywhere I went people were suddenly saying, “Have you heard about this band driving up from New York tonight; they’re really supposed to be interesting!” But I knew that I needed to talk to you first before I called the banker, so I decided to walk by the river. 
Down by the river there were animals. One was a horse and one looked like a horse but actually it was a giraffe and it was wearing an orange floral hooked rug! Then I realized that there were a couple of giraffes and actually there were giant wood carvings of giraffes along the river and I realized that this was the city’s new tourism scheme—giraffe park! So I sat down next to a wooden giraffe and decided that I needed to call you so that we could talk before I called the banker. So I had made myself comfortable and was calling you when these two guys, one older, one younger, came over and laid down a blanket to picnic by me and the giraffe and I was like, “I was just about to make a phone call,” and they were like, “We don’t mind,” and I was like, “Well I mind,” but I didn’t say that because I am generally strategic about what kind of confrontation I am willing to engage in. So then I got up and walked a bit further and sat near this wild house with curious wind chimes and called you and we talked about what the next things to do would be!

Giraffes are the stuff that dreams are made of. In the book Zarafa: A Giraffe’s True Story, Michael Allin writes of the first giraffe to set hoof in western Europe. She was shipped by boat up the Nile and across the Mediterranean, and then had to walk across France to get to Charles X in Paris. She was a gift from the Viceroy of Egypt, who hoped the French would be so absorbed in this novelty that they wouldn’t notice when Egyptian forces suddenly invaded Greece. But that’s not really the point. The main thing is that when the French countryfolk saw this lengthy-legged, stretch-necked, hairy-horned, long-eyelashed creature all covered in spots ambling up the road, what do you suppose they did? They flipped their lids of course! And they followed her for miles—thousands of people, parading behind the lovely Zarafa, as far as her big, beautiful eyes could see.

Xander, we all know about the comforts and pitfalls of city life. How the founders had the foresight to build the world’s great metropolises on the banks of majestic harbors and serene rivers, only to have urban planners come along and screw it up by dropping highways everywhere. For many of us who dwell in such places, we enjoy the aromatic comforts of the neighborhood teahouse, the whimsical convenience of having rock bands and puppet shows practically appearing on our doorsteps, and the fluid social atmosphere that such fixtures afford us. 

But the city taints our psyches with its stale bureaucracy—the business calls and the bankers whom we are obligated to oblige. Their routine shunts us into the cockamamie patterns of needing to do X, Y and Z before we can even think about A and B. We become so entrenched in the habit or juggling business with pleasure, that we can no longer distinguish the two—that which was pleasurable we now approach with businesslike concentration, and that which is business we seem to take perverted delight in doing. You do this in your dream by feeling burdened with the responsibility to chat with friends and see live music (activities that should be pleasurable) seeking instead an intimacy in the act of doing business, and so take refuge in a pretty place to make an urgent phone call.

The spot you find seems ideal—a veritable paradise—as if after all these years the city planners have realized that highways and shopping malls aren’t cool: the people want giraffes! You see that one giraffe—the one wearing the handmade rug—and you say, “This is for me!” It’s as if the heads of the departments of parks and tourism read your mind. But it’s not just for you, Xander. The city is a place that we all must share and all the coolest stuff eventually gets discovered and occupied by picnickers young and old. “Not fair!” you say, “I was here first!” But it’s not worth fighting about because you know that more people will arrive soon, spreading their blankets across the once virgin earth. And so you move on to the next untouched thing, from wooden giraffes to wild wind chimes, wanting to share the experience intimately with someone you love while simultaneously trying to get things done.

I wish I had the solutions to the dilemmas presented in this dream. How do we streamline our citified lives? How do we find solace and maintain spaces so that they remain the way we want them to be? The goals implied in these questions are sometimes at odds with each other. But it's bigger than you and me. The city plays Viceroy of Egypt with all of its structures and schemes that send us off on tangents like wild geese. We, like France, must be vigilant: to celebrate fabulousness without being distracted. Until we figure out how to do that, let us gather our orange yarn and take up our latch hooks to thread a floral rug by hand. When we are done, we will have at least a few square feet of space that cannot be altered by the winds of urban change. Come spring we may take our rugs out for a walk, laying them down wherever we please, sitting on them and preserving an area that is all our own. And when our giraffe finally comes ambling up the road, we will know just what to do.

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