The Age of Painters

A mosaic

I’ve decided to post some of my sketches for an upcoming fiction project. Read it here, or hit play and let me read it for you!

Listen.

My city is the city of Dodoville in the country of Sporqia. What a strange name, people say, but they do not say it right, Dodoville. It is pronounced like the French town of Doudeauville but without a French accent. It stands on the River Dodos, for which the city is named, as Cambridge is named for the River Cam, and Oxford for the River Ox. Throughout the world, Dodoville is celebrated for its tapestries and the instruction manuals for its household appliances, which were made during a period called the Age of Botanics.

That was the time the city was ruled by botanists, who exterminated their enemies with poisons called botanicals. It was also a time of artistic exploration, or excavation as the art was mostly unde rground. These artists were known as Botanicists, because they were not botanists, they were just around at that time.

Botanists, botanicals, and Botanicists. Today in Dodoville, many people are still queasy from poisons, others s imply hate the arts, and of course nobody has ever trusted plants. But nothing was called Botanics. That name keeps the peace, so that is the name of the Age.

When a tourist comes to Dodoville, they might say, I have heard of the famous tapestries of Ingrid Gale, and also how your schoolchildren still study from manuals for household appliances, but tell me something I do not know about the Age of Botanics. Well, we say, for all its tapestries and manuals, it was first an age of painters. Oh, I did not know that, please take me to the galleries. So we take them. They see the work of Hugo Darvish, they see Onju’s willow trees and Wayne Escoba’s countless deaths of Astyanax. After we sell them some prints, we say, okay, now would you like to see the painting. The tourist says what.

The story of Botanics is a war story. Listen.

In nineteen hundred eighty two, the Zahzians, armed by their friends the americans, attacked their neighbors the Chalish. We Dodovilleans, of the Sporqish nation, armed by our friends the soviets, came to the defense of the Chalish, also our neighbors, on the plains of Chalia. Sporqia, Zahzia, and Chalia are the names of our nations, although you have never heard of them. But we are the four nations of the Kolkhek region, named for the Kolkhek mountains. The fourth nation is called Enderna. No one remembers on what side Enderna fought because their army was a joke. They lost more people than anyone, mostly to disease and malnutrition. I guess the joke was on them.

Anyway, this was the Zahzian War. In Zahzia, they call it The War To Liberate The Cheddards. Also, it’s called it a proxy war, since it was fought by proxy. Really it was fought by tanks. Proxy means part of the Cold War, which means no fighting. So how did so many people die in tanks? Who knows.

Anyways, in nineteen hundred eighty four, the Zahzians finally defeated us Sporqish on the plains of Chalia. Though to us it looked like they had turned around and went home.

What is this? we cried. Foul! Winning the war at home, this is not what that means.

But the americans confirmed the Zahzians as victor in the war, so by elimination, we were losers. Listen, we said, if only we had known. Nobody turns around like us Sporqish. As for going home, listen. If somebody had just told us that is all we had to do.had only known that’s all we had had to do.

The americans stood by their statement about the Zahzians winning, though we Sporqish did not believe they believed it. They told us we now had to sue for peace with the Zahzians, who had won and not just given up.

Oh america, we said, everything we knew about militaristics must be wrong. Ah, Napoleon, how he won in Russia when he turned around and went home. Alexander the Great, greatest in Asia where he decided to pack it up back to Macedonia. The Fourth Crusade, they hadn’t even got there before they went home. Who ever won like them?

Are you finished, said the americans.

Finished? In Sporqia, bah! Never. Maybe that is why we never win. Perhaps if we give up, we win this argument, yes?

Um, said the americans.

But listen, we said. After the Zahzians turned back in Chalia, so did we Sporqish, we too went home. We did not win of course, but perhaps we won also?

Hm, said the americans.

We Sporqish had said it just to say it. Sometimes if you say it, they do not know what to say against it, especially if it’s said like english is not your first language. (It is.) So we said it to say it, and the americans seemed to think about it.

Shall we give you a prize? they asked. For your also winning?

We did not like the sound of this. In Sporqia, we have what is called an american-giver. That is someone who gives you like a T-shirt, and while you try it on, they take your whole house.

But now we cannot say no, so we say yes, as a matter of fact. Please, americans, prize us with more capitals. Sporqia only has one, Creston, and it is a crap capital. Many of us have not traveled, but even those know it’s no Kathmandu. Ugh, if you do not believe us, visit. Creston is the worst capital on earth.

The Dodovilleans explained how without capitals, we were very susceptible to the tenants of Communalism. Listen. In Dodoville, workers work long hard years in factories, but there is only one capital where to sell the products, Creston, and it is full of cheapskates. They never buy Dodoville’s products, no matter how cheap. Also, now the factories have been bombed in air raids. So please, we said, help Sporqia have more capitals. Oh, america. You have such richness of capitals, your schoolchildren cannot learn to name them all, and that is why america is the envy of the world! But here in Sporqia, we work for little wage more than the pleasure of working, so to our children, Communalism seems the most natural thing in the world.

What is this nonsense, said america.

Listen. Each child gets one brick to play with. If they play together, they can build together, you see? Communally. But at the end of the day, each child takes back her brick. To use as a pillow. And, of course, in the morning she boils it to make her soup. So you see how it is in Sporqia, very communal. Therefore, only if our nation becomes practically sick with capitals can we see the merits of capitalism.

In the end, america did not give us capitals but helped repair the buildings damaged in the Zahzian air raids. No bricks, though, just prefab housing and a shit tone of red white and blue paint. The prefabs looked like styrofoam but the paint was good quality.

We made a mistake, though. In Dodoville we did not know to use the three paints together. Our urban planner said let’s make one neighborhood in each of the colors. We started with red and painted all the houses and we set them out around a nice plaza and called it Red Square. We were just about to take a bronze statue we found and put it atop a column in the square when the americans said what are you doing.

Very embarrassed, us. We have no culture in Dodoville. We are too poor to import it and too boorish to make it ourselves, we did not know you are supposed to use the three colors together till everything looks like confetti clown diarrhea. So entirely out of embarrassment we lied and said we lost the white and the blue.

Oh no, said the americans.

That is when the americans went to the city council and asked about the red menace in our city.

Oh, said the council, this menace is deeply troubling. No doubt the greatest danger we face. Day to day, we see nothing but we hear it grumbling below ground, and we fear no force in heaven or on earth can stop it, this red menace, from overwhelming us completely.

Oh no, said the americans again.

Afterward, the council had a good laugh. You see, Dodoville is built at the foot of an active volcano. It is very menacing, and although the magma inside is usually orange or yellow, by habit we have always called it red. So the council was not talking about Communalism, only how the volcano will soon kill us all! It was very funny.

Communalism, listen. We Sporqish got tanks from the soviets but we did not get Communalism. We did not get it at all. That’s because it is for university students, not factory workers like us. But although it’s for students, the americans were afraid Communalism was something stupid people believed in, and to lose all that paint, wow that was stupid.

The american government was mad at us, stupid or Communalist or both, but we did not want them to think we were lazy too. So we kept painting, and of course we painted everything red.

God damn, stop it, said the americans.

What if we replace the lost blue and white paint, they said.

How generous, we said, only.

Only what?

Only the Zahzians have blown up all our Sporqish banks and our Sporqish mints, so there is literally no money to pay painters with. People are making their own money at home, but it is never enough to pay for everything. Or anything, if we are honest.

The american government will pay your painters, said the americans.
But our workers get paid so little. To travel to where the painting is, they cannot do it. Work for nothing? Yes, of course, our workers will do it as they have always done. But pay to work, they simply cannot afford to do it, the work will never get done.

The americans sighed. We will pay the painters, much better than what workers are paid to do anything in Dodoville, so long as they paint it blue and white but not red, and so long as they use our high quality american paint.

Today a visitor to Dodoville will see everything, absolutely everything from concert halls to patissieres to even sewer tunnels, is painted with good blue and white paint. When we tell them why, they laugh until the tears come. You dumbos, those americans were not the american government but the american paint company. They were using you to sell their expensive paint to the american government and getting rich! And all you got was those cans of paint and all those good-paying government paint jobs!

So we did it wrong, ah well. For five years, absolutely anyone who could pick up a brush could paint a building blue for a good w age, and if they hadn’t found a better job by then, they’d have to paint it white again.
Very sad for us. Once again we did not understand how we were losing. Ah well.

But this is what it means to say it was an age of painters. While we were painting, that’s when the botanists appeared and the botanicals and Botanicists. That is why we thought, ah, all this botany has made us rich, or richer than we had been. We were rich and everyone was painting. Wayne Escoba and Onju and Hugo Darvish were our painters, but also everyone. Priests and lawyers, journalists and ophthalmologists, they could not afford not to paint. During this golden age, a white city shone on the River Dodos. Then a blue one, then a white one again.

Under all that, a red city. City of passions, city of fire and blood.

My name is Mickey Ventrino, I was sixteen when the war ended. Afterward, I lived in the Loomhouse where Ingrid Gale made the tapestries for which Dodoville is famous. This is the autobiography of Ingrid Gale, in the manner she would have written it, if she were me.

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