Monday, April 29, 2013

Weird Ephemera: APACHES (1977).


Produced in 1977 by the British Central Office of Information, Apaches is the most notorious of all the Public Information Films, regarded by connoisseurs as being even more traumatizing than 1973's legendary Dark and Lonely Water.  Accidental deaths on farms had been on the rise during that period, and Apaches was designed to terrify children into being more prudent and careful.  Directed with considerable flair by John Mackenzie (who later made The Long Good Friday), the film raised both the artistic quality and body-count of the Pif, maintaining a slightly eerie and surrealistic mood throughout.  The six children who star were not credited, and have never been identified to this day.




Belbury Poly - Unforgotten Town.


Great fan-made video to a track from the 2012 Ghost Box record The Belbury Tales:



Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wire - & Much Besides.

I'm experiencing some technical difficulties at the moment (PC laptops are built to last like fucking Hollywood marriages); not sure why I'm pointing this out since I post fairly erratically at the best of times, but anyway, abnormal transmissions will resume shortly.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Gangster Mystics: Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers





In one of several eye-catching sequences in Spring Breakers, James Franco’s grotesque, silver-toothed would-be gangsta Alien preforms a heartfelt cover of the Britney Spears’ ballad Everytime against a gorgeous Florida sunset.  Franco is accompanied in the sequence by three gun-toting young women clad in in bikini tops and pink balaclavas that almost melt into the textures of the sky.  (This, by Godard’s frequently quoted adage, is three times the bare requisite for a serviceable movie.)  The audience at the screening I caught (half of which appeared to be expecting a completely different movie) exploded in loud guffaws, which was a perfectly reasonable response to the scene’s comic juxtaposition of schmaltz and oddball subversion.  However, in an odd sort of way, I think the scene, and the movie as a whole, was designed to evince a certain sincerity behind the satire.  A strange, lop-sided poignancy can sometimes creep into bad pop songs, especially when heard in a certain mood or circumstance; the song tries too hard (and badly) to hit certain emotional notes, and yet all of us respond secretly from time to time to the little shivers of the spirit that occasionally emerge in the spectrum of trash and bad pop songs.  That would seem to be what Spring Breakers, as a Trojan horse art-film hidden in (but not entirely divorced from) the guise of a crass teen rites-of-passage flick, is primarily about: the desire to find a gleam of sincerity, even of spirituality, in the coded languages and left-overs of a culture beholden to trash.

                There are various layers to Spring Breakers, and it’s probably not worth dwelling too long on the film’s initial bait and switch.  Casting squeaky clean teen idols like Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, coupled with a promotional veneer that suggested a more conventional take on teenage bacchanalia, was bound to cross a few wires – although why, in these information-rich and cash-strapped times, people don’t do a little research before investing in a theatre seat remains beyond me.  Harmony Korine wrote the script for Larry Clark’s Kids back in 1995, and has since developed a considerable and divisive reputation as a cinematic provocateur which somehow managed to completely pass me by until now.  I haven’t seen his 2009 VHS weird-out Trash Humpers, but the trailer would seem to imply that the title is more literal than metaphorical: 



Obviously then, Spring Breakers wasn’t going to be another American Pie or Project X, but while there is a general agreement that it must be a subversive or deconstructive exercise of some kind, mileage has varied considerably with regard to the film’s merits and what, if anything, its narrative of girls gone wild is supposed to represent.  Spring Breakers loosely follows the structure of a coming of age/chick buddy/road-trip movie not unlike that of the 2002 Britney Spears vehicle Crossroads.  Four high-school friends Faith, Brit, Candy, and Cotty, are desperate to go on a spring break vacation, but find themselves perilously strapped for cash.  With the exception of Faith (Gomez), a religious girl who is more timid, austere, and contemplative than the others, the girls are difficult at times to differentiate, at least on a first viewing.  Interestingly, Korine has said that they represent the different aspects of a single entity, which would make Faith the superego (a positive or negative quality, depending on how you want to look at it) and the other girls various stages of the Id; various stages, again depending on how you want to look at it, of abandonment or greater authenticity.  These other girls in the group are energetic, boisterous, and hedonistic; like the old number says, they just want to have fun.  Early on, Faith articulates an important thematic strand of the film: the lure of spring break is not so much anything intrinsic to the event itself, but that it represents an escape from ordinary, everyday reality, which is repetitive, grey, and boring.  Later on, when their spring break dream becomes a reality after a couple of the girls stick up a restaurant armed with water pistols, Faith wishes that their exalted moment away from the greyness of ordinary reality could last forever, but the other girls are at this point keenly aware that spring break can’t last forever.  You have to go back to the less intense, less vivid, less ecstatic everyday world sooner or later.  In some respects, this echoes the dilemma of Phil Daniels’ Jimmy in one of the all-time great youth pictures, 1976’s Quadrophenia.  For Jimmy, the exalted, ecstatic moment where everything feels right is a bank holiday weekend Mod rally in the seaside town of Brighton.  When it’s over, however, he finds his problems have escalated rather than disappeared, and he has difficulty readjusting himself to the compromises and disappointments of everyday life.  The real world asserts itself like a fairy tale in reverse; he returns to Brighton and finds the ultra-cool Mod king Ace Face (Sting) transformed into an obsequious bellboy.  Unwilling to accept the adult world, Jimmy drives (or appears to drive) his scooter off a cliff-side.



In Spring Breakers, the girls briefly rent scooters, but never go so far as to drive them off cliffs.  Instead, their opportunity to reject the everyday world, and make spring break last forever, comes in the cartoonish form of would-be dope kingpin and gangsta rapper Alien (a barn-storming and already semi-legendary turn from the actor with more degrees than a thermometer, James Franco.)  At this point, the film’s relationship with reality becomes increasingly fractured; hitherto it had been realistic enough, albeit in an elliptical and poetically heightened fashion.  Another common escape route from grey and boring realities is provided by cultural fantasies, by the lure of certain specific images, lifestyles, and experiences which are dreamed up by artists and manufactured by corporations, and transmitted through the almost subliminal pulse of popular music and cinema.  (It occurs to me that one of the earliest depictions in cinema of the retreat into a cultural fantasy comes in the form of Jean-Paul Belmondo’s Bogie-obsessed hoodlum in A bout de soufflĂ©; in literature we would have to go back as far as Quixote.)  Through Alien, the girls have moved into the semi-real, semi-fantastic realm of conspicuous consumption, violent crime, and streetwise authenticity which both underprivileged black and privileged white audiences have consumed since the mid-80s (and which exploded in the mainstream in the  90s) through various expressions of hip hop culture.  As the girls are drawn into this hyperreal fantasy world, which seems both dangerous and cartoonish, they begin slowly to return to the everyday world.  Faith, who had been most vocal and ardent in wanting spring break to last forever, is the first to go.  In a pool-hall scene, she evinces what appears to me to be an almost visceral dread of the predominantly black clientele; the movie’s  provocative and peculiar evocation of racial issues would require another viewing and a longer essay to fully explore.

Harmony Korine’s pop fever-dream has elicited markedly diverse interpretations.  I’ve seen some commentators label it toxic postmodern nihilism, and others recoil from what they perceived as a puritan or conservative streak in its depiction of youthful excess.  Much of this contentiousness derives from people’s desires to nail down precisely where Korine stands in relation to his characters and the spring break milieu in general; questions about which the director has developed an artful ambiguity, at least in my opinion.  It is a common view to regard Breakers as a skewering of materialistic American social customs and popular culture embedded in a form which normally celebrates such things.  There must be at least some degree of validity to this.  Korine depicts the heaving spring-break shenanigans in slo-mo beach tableaus which neatly capture the absurdity of excess by which similar imagery in pop videos teeters over into grotesquery.  Certainly, the movie’s sidelong glance into America’s dream-life, dominated as it is by guns (whether real, toy, or frequently mimed), money, and, in Lenny Bruce’s expression, tits and ass and ass and tits and tits and ass, is hardly a flattering one, and none of the characters, beholden to such a moribund dream world, emerge in a particularly flattering light.  However, if this were all the movie was attempting to say, it would appear not only a little pat, but also peculiarly dated.  Spring Breakers cultural reference points – the puritan shock of spring breaker girls gone wild, Scarface-aping gangsta rap culture, and Britney Spears – all have a conspicuous odour of the 90s about them.  I remember these things as having a particular cultural resonance when I was in school, and, if memory serves, there is only one reference to the internet in the whole movie.  Korine must to some degree be remembering the cultural ambience of his own youth rather than commenting explicitly on today’s generation, and it seems unlikely that someone who clearly indulged in hedonistic excess himself would be particularly keen to tut-tut at young people getting off, in however overwrought or moronic a fashion.



What is also striking about Spring Breakers is its underlying air of sentiment and tenderness.  The movie has borrowed much stylistically from Terrence Malick, and also seems to imbue its squalid milieu with that director’s gentle, dreamlike aura.  The film’s elliptical editing patterns are distinctively Malickian, and Korine also utilizes his actors in a manner similar to Malick: less as characters in a conventional sense, and more often as carefully posed physical presences that embody certain moods; dancers, almost.  Although his principal female actresses are rarely seen fully clothed, there seemed to me to be a marked lack of prurience in how the camera regarded them.  This is another odd thing about Spring Breakers; there is little or virtually no actual sex in the movie.  There are many nude bodies engaged in lascivious behaviour in the general melee of the bacchanal, but they always appear to be captured in a frenzy of preliminaries or symbolic gestures.  Alien, who first appears like a sexual predator, eventually becomes woozily romantic; the Wild Things-like threesome he finally engages in with two of the girls manages to maintain a kind of delicate, decorous air, to whatever degree a garish swimming pool threesome could.  I think the sentiment is probably as sincere as the satire.  Korine seems to regard his principal characters almost as innocents abroad in a derelict and debased culture; they long for ecstatic experiences that transcend the drudgery of the everyday, but the only materials their culture affords then to pursue these yearnings are absurd fantasies and empty, materialistic dead-ends.  In the same manner that these characters must fashion their dreams from such dudious materials, Korine's film attempts to make an ecstatic dayglo art-object out of pop junk.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Atlantis, the Lost Continent (1961)

Looking like a strange mash-up of Ben Hur, The Island of Dr Moreau, and a host of other George Pal classics, Atlantis: The Lost Continent promises EYE-STAGGERING ACTION, THAT FOR BIGNESS AND EXCITEMENT HAS NEVER BEEN EQUALED:


Monday, April 8, 2013

La Planete Sauvage (aka Fantastic Planet) 1973.


Following up the previous Moebius post with some more surreal French sci-fi, here is a (very) brief look at the 1973 Rene Laloux classic La Planete Sauvage.  It is a film that could ONLY have been made in the early 70s, and the same goes double for its trailer; I love how the super-anesthetized chick doing the voice-over sounds like she's been Quaaluded into a kind of 70s Stepford HAL:

  
Animation can be very hit and miss for me personally, but I have a real soft spot for this movie.  Its plot is a pretty intelligent and engrossing variation of the Prometheus myth, where earthlings have become the diminutive pets (when tame) and detested vermin (when wild) of a race of highly advanced blue humanoids called the Draags.  What really makes the film such a consistent and rewarding aesthetic experience, however, is its remarkable, surrealistic design sensibility.  This aspect of the movie was largely the brainchild of the intriguing French illustrator, actor, and novelist Roland Topor.  I came across Topor earlier this year when I watched Roman Polanski's deeply strange and macabre 1976 thriller The Tenant.  Topor wrote the source novel and I'd like very much to track it down; the film is fascinating, and may be Polanski's best.  Here is Topor and some of his artwork: 


 




With its soundtrack and general mood dating it firmly in the weird post-psychedelic headspace of the early 70s, Le Sauvage Planete takes the viewer on a trip into the pictorial antipodes of the conscious mind, where we see forms which appear alien and inexplicable, and yet feel weirdly familiar and natural.  The imaginative boundaries of much popular animation today (Pixar, for example) is extraordinarily tame in comparison, considering the capacity of animation (and contemporary technology) to take us to truly otherworldly places.  I should say, though, I'm probably the only white person of my generation who doesn't love Pixar movies.  




 The images from La Planete are from HAPPIER CIRCUMSTANCE 

The Roland Topor images are from art of the beautiful -grotesque.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Hourglass of Aeons (Part 1)




                In the latter aeons of the world, the sun drew nearer the earth.  The old sun had been an object of adoration and worship since time immemorial; but the New Sun of the Dying Ages, swollen in circumference and a deeper crimson in hue, was regarded immediately with superstitious detestation.  Cataclysmic changes were visited upon the earth in the advent of the New Sun.  The oceans shrank to a half their size, and the landmasses became vast deserts, broken up by small pockets of tropical jungle. 

                In the ensuing struggle to adapt and survive, the earth’s population was decimated, and the fruits of a millennia of civilisation were lost in a handful of generations.  Ideas were forgotten, and the outward, physical forms of those ideas buried deep beneath the sand.  Over the centuries, however, a hardened and resourceful humanity slowly regained its sense of equilibrium, and the old habits of complex social organisation reasserted themselves.  Small cities grew up in their hundreds and thousands.  So abhorrent was the open desert to humanity that these cities grew and grew, and began to flow into one another until they formed ever larger cities, and finally there was only five great metropoleis, each the size of the older continents: Elithator, Anetheistimus, Anacantor, and Ah-Pook Nar. 

 The bulk of humanity flocked to the cities, but some smaller tribes chose to live in the vastness of the open desert, and over the centuries these outlying tribes evolved into a separate branch of humanity which were known as the reptiles or snake people, owing to their scaly, jewelled skin and darting, expressionless black eyes.  Small groups of snake people migrated into the cities from time to time, where they were generally treated with extreme suspicion, but often found employment as political advisors, owing to a clinical and patient intelligence which was peculiar to their species.  And as the centuries passed, knowledge of the world of the old sun grew dimmer and dimmer, and the majority believed that the world had always been as it was in their lifetimes: an arid desert scorched by a baleful, blood-red sun, which they called the Destroyer or Adversary.  The human race slowly became a nocturnal species, sleeping during the punishing heat of the daylight hours, and emerging in the late evening to live out their time in twilight and darkness, in the warm, temperate, moon-bejewelled nights of the Dying Aeons.  People worked and revelled by night, and thieves plied their ancient trade by day.

Greatest of all cities, however, was Ah-Pook Nar, which was bordered at its westward edge by Okeanos, the largest of the earth’s remaining oceans.  Ah-Pook Nar was so vast and sprawling that it was called the cartographer’s despair; no accurate map of the entire city has ever been successfully drawn up, and those who attempted it were driven to nervous collapse, and the extravagant delusion that the topography of the city rearranged itself each day in order to persecute the would-be map maker.  No mind but that of a god could comprehend Ah-Pook Nar, the city of all cities, in its totality.  There are buildings in Ah-Pook Nar which are as old the city itself, and buildings the sweet of whose labour has yet to dry in the moonlight.  There are districts in Ah-Pook Nar where the locals would populate every litter-strewn fountain with whole commonwealths of nymphs and dryads; and there are places a short amble away where scepticism is practised to such an extreme degree that men regard their own thoughts as no more than sand and grit blowing against a rock in the desert.  In this sense, to move through Ah-Pook Nar is to move through both time and space, the city being a spatial realization of many aeons of history coexisting simultaneously, like the pattern forming in a kaleidoscope.

Only a few, however, move through the great cities.  In the desperate and nomadic early centuries of the Dying Aeons, very powerful tribal allegiances developed among the small survivor groups.  The endless expanse of the open desert made man a communal creature once again, and over the centuries his close participation in a tribal group became an essential part of his nature.  The first cities enlarged these tribal groups, but maintained their cohesiveness.  Hence, when the great cities were born, they were characterized by a paradoxical kind of parochialism; people rarely travelled far from the district of their birthplace, and subscribed wholly to the forms of worship and social custom indigenous to their locality, many of which stretched back to the original isolated city states, and even as far back as the nomadic period, though this era was largely forgotten.  Hence, although Ah-Pook Nar was technically ruled by the Autarch from his palace in the Central Jungles, in reality his role had atrophied to that of a merely ceremonial or symbolic nature; each of the city’s districts exorcized its own form of governance and enjoyed sovereignty over its own affairs. 

In practise, if the Autarch wished to issue a decree, this required that he sent one of his messengers to the relevant district.  No journey from any one point to another in Ah-Pook Nar ever ran smoothly, or without its share of false starts, misdirection, and misadventure.  Assuming, however, that the messenger reached the relevant district, the local authorities then had the right to appeal the decree, which required that the messenger start immediately back towards the palace to relay the appeal to the Autarch.  This, effectively, was the death of the decree, since the time required for the journeying to and fro would often exceed the lifetime of the messenger, and more crucially, the statute of limitations on Autarchial decrees.  The Autarch was forced to accept these limitations on his powers, having used the same stratagem himself to stall for many generations a decree from the Congress of Districts for the abolishment of the office of Autarch.  Nevertheless, he persisted with the issue of his decrees, and hence his messengers acquired a peculiar kind of fatalism, knowing themselves to be embroiled in intrinsically pointless bureaucratic stratagems which might take generations to exhaust themselves.

The people of Ah-Pook Nar knew only of the affairs of their own districts, and of those immediately adjacent to them, and were thus reliant on the migrant classes to provide them with news from the rest of the city, and a picture of what life was like in the remoter parts of Ah-Pook Nar.  These migrants constituted a specific social class in the city, defined by their lack of allegiance to any specific tradition or ruling polity.  They included the messengers and servitors of the Autarch’s Palace, and those of the mercantile class, most of whose operations were based in the West along the rim of Okeanos; the class of minstrels, poets, sages, and magicians; and the fraternity of undesirables, at whose lowest ebb were beggars and exiles, and at whose apex were the ancient Sodality of Thieves.  It was this drifting class that the general population of Ah-Pook Nar relied for their sense of what customs, practises, and wonders existed outside of their own narrow geographical horizons, and hence much real knowledge of the world was inextricably mixed with traveller’s tales and the sheer inventions of the poets and minstrels.  In some parts of Ah-Pook Nar, the desert was regarded as an old-wife’s tale; in others, Okeanos must have appeared little more than a feverish dream engendered by the glare of the Destroyer.  Nevertheless, despite the uncertainty of their narratives, the migrant classes provided an invaluable service to the peoples of Ah-Pook Nar.  The parochial and rooted individual knows what he knows with a dulling certainty; there is thus for him a particular appeal in ambiguous tales which might or might not be true.  These tales are like the magical time of dusk, wherein things are half visible and half obscure, and a kind of great suggestive power arises in the space between obscurity and brightness.

The following is a tale which is told of the thief Kadmon, of whom so many stories are told that it would surely exhaust human invention were all of them to be false.




1.

As he approached the middle of his third decade, the thief Kadmon became less light and easy on his feet for the first time in his life.  A change had come over his mind which he did not at first comprehend.  He had enjoyed the rootless and free existence of migrant thievery since he was twelve years old, taking an abundant pleasure in the rich variety of sights, sounds, and experiences which Ah-Pook Nar afforded him.  He loved casing the lavish home of a merchant or councillor, calculating the risks, planning every step of the robbery as though it were a rarefied dance or a play.  He loved when the Destroyer rose in the morning, and the city became as quiet as a sleeping baby.  As the blood-red glow of the Destroyer deepened, the only sound was that of curtains, drying cloths, and the tiny peal of wind-chimes, all stirring softly in the breeze like the pinions of a million birds fluttering at once.  This was the time that the thief, clad and masked all in white, claimed for his own the sleeping, dream-enveloped world.  Kadmon had loved all these things.  He loved the freedom of drifting from place to place as the mood took him, enjoying a passion when it burned white-hot, and then stealing off, a thief again, when the lustre of its novelty began to dim.  All these things he had loved.  And yet, suddenly, some change had come which stole away all the piquancy of his enjoyment of life; it was still there and yet it lessened, and lessened more with each passing day.  Even the endless variety of Ah-Pook Nar had become routine and stale.

He thought of his childhood in the mountainous districts in the north-east of the city, where old streets climb to the very peaks of the mountains, and houses perch on the slopes like nimble goats.  From these vertiginous streets came all the greatest thieves of Ah-Poor Nar, since the locals perfected a special agility and feline grace from very early childhood.  Thinking of those times, Kadmon remembered the annual Festival of the Full Moon, a time of great religious significance to the mountain dwellers.  With the advent of the full moon, the White Goddess was deemed to be at the apex of her strength in her endless struggle against the Destroyer.  The religion of the hills and mountains was not a pious one, however, and the Festival of the Full Moon was a week-long revel in which people exchanged gifts, and donned lavish and weird costumes which they had been working on throughout the year.  Kadmon remembered the giddy, intoxicating magic of the Festival in the early years of his adolescence, when he began to make his first tentative explorations of the adult world.  The seven days of the Festival seemed to exist outside of ordinary time; they seemed to last an eternity, such were his feelings and apprehensions of the world heightened by a welter of fear and bliss and disappointment and desire.  Then, abruptly, when he turned seventeen, something of its magic departed from the Festival; it became predictable, and went by in a flash.  Kadmon left the mountains that year, and began his apprenticeship as a thief and his long odyssey through the city of all cities.

Thinking on these things, he knew instantly that when he had fled from his home, he had fled from the passage of time.  Moving through the great, inexhaustible city, encountering new smells, sights, and sounds at every turn, he had hitherto been free from it.  The migrant is not aware of the passage of time in the same way as the average city-dweller.  The permanent resident of a district has their local calendar and round of festivals to mark time’s passing; they have the routine of their nightly occupation, and eventually the growth of their children, to turn about the face of their lives like the shadow of the gnomon or the swing of the pendulum.  The migrant, however, was divorced from these steady rhythms, and he could act – for a time – as though they did not exist.  But Time had caught up with Kadmon.  Unconsciously, he had become aware of its remorseless passage; and now it moved faster and faster and faster.  It stole everything.  Kadmon understood for the first time why the Sodality of Thieves, alone among all the peoples of the world, revered the detested god of Time – for his thread was the quietest, and his grasp the surest, of all things.

As he brooded over these things, Kadmon found that his wanderings had brought him to a derelict stretch of the city.  The people of Ah-Pook Nar were deeply attached to their districts, but it sometimes came to pass that the vitality of a certain region ebbed away over time.  With considerable reluctance, and sometimes in the face of bitter opposition from their parents, the young people began to drift away to more economically vigorous districts.  The old people, however, were possessed by a great stubborn pride, mixed with fear of Ah-Pook Nar’s daunting immensities and alien manners.  They remained behind, continuing their familiar rituals and patterns of behaviour as the local businesses closed down, and the great stone towers became derelict and boarded-up.  In time, a derelict district would witness an influx of undesirables, including severe addicts of snake and scorpion venom, and with them would come the scurrilous vendors of such poisons, and yet the melancholy older residents still remained, their eyes glazed over and almost drunk with nostalgic visions of their home in its better, happier days. 

In was in such a district that Kadmon now found himself, a place which had once been ideally positioned to receive an influx of traders, agents, and spies travelling between the Autarch’s Palace and the Walled District of Nimrudea, where the ancient Sodality of Bankers had lived in unspeakable opulence for a time.  The areas along an established traveller’s route such as this invariably tailored their commerce around the reliable gluttony of the wealthy migrants, and Kadmon picked his way through the ghostly remains of abandoned inns, hostelries, restaurants, and brothels.  A decade ago, the Autarch had scored a minor strategic victory over the Sodality of Bankers, using his spies to foment a popular unrest against them in the districts surrounding Nimrudea.  The Bankers were thus driven away, and once again the skeins that knitted Ah-Pook Nar together re-orientated themselves into a new pattern.  The route dried up, leaving the restaurant terraces fallow, and the ladies of the day in the Houses of the Red Lantern bereft of their chores.  The Walled District of Nimrudea came to be occupied by a peculiar sect of ascetics who proclaimed that a doom would fall on Ah-Pook Nar “in less time than it took a man’s nails, untended, to grow to an unsightly length.”  (At any given time in Ah-Pook Nar, there were literally innumerable sects proclaiming an imminent doom on the city; they were often distinguished one from the other by virtue of whatever vague time-line was employed to designate the certain onset of ultimate catastrophe.)  Thus the lavish gardens and vestibules of Nimrudea which had once been the scene of the Banker’s sybaritic orgies and feasts now bore witness to the weird asceticisms and physical mortifications of the doomsday sect, and so it was in Ah-Pook Nar that everything was turned on its head, and nothing persisted save only the great city herself.

At evening-rise, Kadmon stole nimbly into a large square.  The square was melancholy and eerie.  At its centre was a dry, sand-clogged fountain, and all about it remained the tables and chairs of long abandoned terraces.  Rising up to an immense height at each side of the square were stone apartment towers, with all their windows and balconies in darkness, so that the entire square was shrouded in an immense gloom.  In the older times, the square would have been a scene of considerable gaiety and boisterousness, with musicians playing by the fountain, youths dancing, and the migrants seated at the terraces, eating and drinking as was their want.  The great faces of the stone towers would have danced with firelight from candles and lamps, and mysterious, indistinct figures would have lounged on the balconies that reached up into the evening colours of the firmament.  Now the walls of the towers were densely twinned with the thick, flowerless roots of that strange plant that grew out of the desert floor, and wrapped its limbs around untended places as though to strangle them, or pull them back beneath the sand.  A group of five elders sat by a fire at one of the terraces; their eyes were fixed either on the fire or the old fountain, and they barely spoke to one-another.  Kadmon resolved to move swiftly away from this dreary scene, but his eyes lighted on something peculiar as he passed through the square.  In a window about half way up the eastern tower, the reddish glow of a single lantern was visible.  This was a peculiar thing, for it was the city ordinance that while a tower was abandoned, every floor beyond its third must be rendered inaccessible by a stone barricade, so as to prevent infestation by undesirables and criminals.  Kadmon observed two shadows in the gleam of the lantern: one appeared to be an emaciated man seated on a couch, and the other a child that capered and danced around the room.  Something as vague and phantasmal as those shadows registered in Kadmon’s memory, for thieves never wholly forget a tale they have heard of some treasure worth stealing, or weird adventure worth risking.

He sauntered over to where the elders were seated to inquire into the mystery of the single occupied apartment, and was greeted with a typical coldness and suspicion.  “Good Eveningrise, friends”, he began, “and please excuse my interruption of your leisure in this palatial square, but I must own that my curiosity, much exercised and keen through a lifetime of honest travel through our city, has been considerably sparked by the mystery of that light that burns in yonder tower.  What kind of man or fiend, I wonder, would live so high up in an empty tower, and how does such a creature even accrue to himself the means of subsistence, marooned up there at such a height?”  There was a long pause in which the elders laboriously fixed their eyes everyway but in Kadmon’s direction.  Finally, the women who sat nearest him spat vehemently on the ground, and began to speak.  “That apartment has been occupied by a hateful old wizard since I was a child”, she said, “and in those very old times, he was often seen going about the district.  He carried himself with great haughtiness, as wizards do, and insulted and abused people as was his wont.  But then there came into his possession a certain magical hourglass, and turning that hourglass and gazing into it became all his pleasure, and no more did he leave his apartment high up in the eastern tower.  He has a little trained monkey, a creature of abysmal cunning and malice like its master, and each day that monkey climbs down from the tower and steals what little food the wizard requires to sustain his worthless and sedentary existence.  He is a pest, stranger, and there is no doubt that the nightly turning of that unholy hourglass has brought no luck to this district!”

The stirring of Kadmon’s memory had been correct: he had heard in the past of a decrepit wizard who possessed a powerful talisman of the lizard people which was called the Hourglass of Aeons.  “Friends, I am the thief called Kadmon.  If you have heard the tale of how the Elephant God’s Nimbus was clutched from the yellow-robed priests of Yanni, then you know of my renown.  Tonight I will pay a visit to your wizard, and perhaps earn some readdress for the prolonged nuisance he has brought to your district.”  There was another pause, until again the woman spoke: “The tale of the Elephant God’s Nimbus is a good one, stranger, but is it true?”  Kadmon, however, was already striding in the direction of the eastern tower. 

Continued Shortly.