21 Dvoti

Made for the 2015 Sketchbook Project.

This sketchbook is a successor to my 2013 sketchbook. It’s set in the same location – the imaginary city of Europia – and it shares some of the same concepts. I gave myself some more freedom in the drawings – they were not planned or sketched: I drew them in Indian ink straightaway. Afterwards they were colored in inks. The only thing I used from the sketchbook I was sent was the barcode sticker, the rest was scratch built.

Sadly I have no scanned image for Dvota VI – I still need to contact the Sketchbook Project and ask them to scan those pages and update the library.

Watch it in the Digital Library.



DVOTA I – BIRTH

I have wandered deeper into the old town, where narrow alleys give way to placid squares. And as the streets get narrower, they grow busier; people dressed in flowing robes, masks, half-naked, dancing. Paint covers the walls and streets, brightly coloured doorways, fluttering banners.

In a round plaza, watched by many, a huge papier-mâché model of a naked baby is tossed high into the air. It bursts and showers us with paint, flowers, confetti. Everything is ripe with colour. Everything moves.

DVOTA II – SHIELD

These men have been following me, I’m certain. Black leather jackets, their faces closed and anonymous. They won’t make eye contact. Out of reach but constantly near.

Hurriedly I walk into the outer courtyard of the Old Fortress. Over the drawbridge, underneath the portcullis. The guard that sells me a ticket reminds me of my father. He accompanies me onto the battlements atop the ancient walls, chatting all the time. From up there I look out across the city. No sign of my pursuers.

DVOTA III – FORTUNE

It’s a games arcade, a gambling parlour and a casino – all in one.

I’ve come in from the rain, leaving a wet trail on the worn marble floor. The sound in here is ever-changing and complex; the hum of slot machines, the tinkling of coins, marbles, bells. The groans of those that lost, the excited shouts of the winning.

I make my way into a warm, sprawling basement. Arcade machines line the curving walls, their titles displayed in a riot of colours and animated lights: “Fortuna”, “Prosperi Promenaj”, “Ducks & Horses” …

DVOTA IV – STARLIGHT

Her name is on a small tag pinned to her lab coat: ‘Vera’. She is small and old, her hair as white as the plastered walls of the observatory. She tells us about the history of this building, points out the Europian names of the constellations on a massive chart of the night sky, hands us cups of coffee and slices of dark cake.

We take turns staring down the ancient catoptric telescope. The worn brass eye piece is cold against my brow. I stare at a single star. It is just there. Unwavering, never moving. Yet it seems to change colour all the time.

DVOTA V – GIRLS

Out here in the hills, the sky is a perfect blue dome. The vast flowery meadow is full of girls; girls singing and shouting, girls performing intricate spiralling dances. They carry baskets filled with eggs, wooden plates heaped with fruit.

Here and there are wicker funnels, arches and tiny labyrinths, decorated with flowers and ribbons. The dancing lines pass through, underneath. In and out.

We – the bewildered visitors – are handed loaves of bread, painted eggs. Girls in bright red dress run up and playfully lash us with wicker rods.

DVOTA VI – HOME

There’s no denying it any longer: I’m hopelessly lost in this sprawling city. I’ve been walking through a run-down neighbourhood for an eternity. The streets are deserted and for the first time I feel like I don’t belong in Europia. It starts raining hard and I take shelter in a doorway.

Hours later the door behind me opens. Warm air, laughter, music and the smell of food wash over me. We don’t speak each other’s language but they take me in. Feed me. Allow me to doze off in front of the fireplace.

DVOTA VII – GATEWAY

My headache is like a growling, thundering beast. It sulks at the base of my skull and keeps me confined to my hotel room. In a drawer of the night-stand I find a yellowing paper sachet of painkillers. I empty the powder into a glass of water. It’s cloudy and grainy and bitter.

Then I notice: the label says “ASPIRING”, not “ASPIRIN”. As I sink back into the bed, the ceiling panels turn green. They warp and waver and silently fly out the open window. My body follows. City lights spiral above me. The sky bursts melodiously below.

DVOTA VIII – LOSS

A warm wind drives an endless flock of grey clouds over the city. From an overpass I see a procession move along the boulevard. People dressed in black and blue, shuffling along. After I make my way down I can see a coffin at the head of the line: covered in flowers and ribbons, borne by eight women. Towards the end marches a band playing a strangely up-beat tune and behind them a throng of wailing men, pulling handfuls of hair from their elaborate wigs.

I follow at a distance and wave goodbye as they enter a cemetery on a hill.

DVOTA IX – DRAGONI

I can hear the festivities from half a block away: screams and laughter, boisterous singing and the loudest instruments available. Heat and light wash over me as I round a corner and gaze upon Dragoni Plaza proper. Thousands of people mill around – dancing, loving, jumping.

The flames of enormous bonfires lap at the bronze limbs of a titanic dragon statue. A young woman dressed in rags and ribbons runs up to me, grabs both my hands and pulls me into the fray.

DVOTA X – BASIN

On this scorching hot day I’ve made my way to a public swimming pool at the edge of Europia. Many Europians have done the same; the outside pools are a seething mass of people seeking a refreshing dip.

It’s much quieter inside the building; dignified pensioners swimming in tidy columns. A sign above a mosaicked doorway reads “Abyssalni”. Behind it I find a series of pools arranged around a spiral stairwell. It gets darker and cooler as I make my way down. I share the lowest pool with a woman twice my age. We don’t speak – we swim.

DVOTA XI – OMPHALOS

If I understand our tour guide correctly this cavernous hall beneath the Palasj Munsipal used to be part of a weigh house. The main attraction is a slab of granite in the centre of the room. It seems to float a mere hand width above the floor.

The guide talks about hidden pivots and balance and gives the slab a push. As the stone rotates smoothly, silently, a curious sensation washes over me: this stone is the only static object in the universe and everything revolves around it.

DVOTA XII – MINE

I am absolutely certain now: there’s nothing better than riding this roller coaster by myself. All day long. It cost me a small fortune to bribe the operator but now this ride is mine for the day.

As the train of cars climbs the initial ramp for the fourteenth time, I see disappointed faces in the crowd. So many want to ride, but they can’t. The surly operator keeps telling them that I am the only customer today. I raise my arms and let out a spirited “wheee!” as the train crests the summit. The air whistles through my hair. This is all mine.

DVOTA XIII – BATTLEFIELD

The mud surprises me; I did not expect it to be this oily and slick. I’m up to my shoelaces in it and around me other tour members are struggling as well. Behind a low rise the rusted barrel of a huge cannon breaks the horizon.

A forward patrol of an enemy tour group is upon us before we even realise; three of them tackle our tour guide, next to me an elderly couple gets taken down by a single assailant. I grip my umbrella tight and charge screaming up the hill.

DVOTA XIV – TOWER

After a long morning of waiting, wandering hallways and taking lifts, I’m still not quite sure as to the purpose of this building. It could be a town hall, a library, a court, a post office. Perhaps it is all of them. And it is certainly huge. A gigantic concrete tower, a brutalist finger piercing the sky.

I still need a stamp on this RF24-B/a form but I can’t find room 23-12. A long climb takes me to a hall at the top. Windows all around offer stunning views over Europia. An open book on a lectern shows engravings of owls in flight.

DVOTA XV – TORTURE

It smells of urine and damp in here. And something else, chemical and sharp, near subliminal. The door to the cell looks battered and worn but has turned out to be sturdy and solid. I was picked up and shoved into a police car as I left the hotel this morning. They didn’t say a word and nobody’s spoken to me since.

What starts out as near inaudible moans turns into gurgling screams. They sound far off, somewhere below me. Much later and without a word I’m escorted out the entrance gate. Dark rain spatters all around.

DVOTA XVI – DECAY

A perfect halo of sweat around my head on the pillow. My eyes hurt and my breath whistles as I painfully inhale. This happens a couple of times a year – I need amixetrin but I didn’t bring any.

I make my way to the hotel reception and have them call me a taxi. The driver must have misunderstood me; he drops me at the edge of the city. Downhill from me, behind a chain-link fence, stretches a rubbish dump. A figure, wrapped in rags and clouds of flies, glides up towards me. My vision blurs.

DVOTA XVII – BLESSED TEA

I can’t seem to shake this disease. I’ve been milling around the narrow hotel bed since early last evening.

I must not have heard the door open, as all of a sudden she’s there at the side of the bed, manoeuvring her cleaning cart. She puts a wrinkled hand on my forehead and starts talking in thick, rapid dialect. The tea she makes me is bitter and hot. I fall into a deep sleep as she hoovers the faded carpet. Shimmering sunlight wakes me and a lemon scented breeze makes me feel alive.

DVOTA XVIII – HIDDEN

A scratching behind the wainscoting wakes me. It stops when I fumble for the bedside lamp. Something on the wall draws my eye. A deeper shade. An irregularity. One of the oak panels is ever so slightly ajar and a cold, sour draft passes from behind.

It opens to a narrow staircase going up. Cold sweat makes the torch slippery in my hand. There’s a tiny room at the top of the stairs. Rows of dusty black notebooks fill the narrow shelves all around. A worn wooden chair stands near a hole in the floor – it looks down upon my bed…

DVOTA XIX – WILD

A pangolin dozing on a branch, some axolotls floating in a murky tank. It seems like I’m the only human in the zoo. The further I wander, the more abandoned the place feels. The winding path leads me through wayward clumps of foliage, past overgrown follies, along rows of empty cages.

All of a sudden the path ends at the edge of an endless rolling savannah. I kick off my shoes and start running downhill, faster and faster. The soles of my feet smack the ground in step with my heartbeat. I race a herd of antelopes to a distant stream.

DVOTA XX – MACHINE

As I step from the wheezing, ancient bus the contrast couldn’t be bigger: the airport terminal is a flawless, gleaming white slab of minimalism. It looks like it was built afresh this morning. The departure hall is massive, brightly lit and near empty. It seems to have no temperature.

Only after I leave my luggage with an automated check-in machine do I notice the music; rhythmic, mathematical, inoffensive. The plane is as spotless as the airport and smoothly takes off over Europia. The old city falls away and I know I won’t be back.

DVOTA XXI – SUNRISE

The businessman in the seat next to me is dozing; head at an angle, eyes closed. Apart from the ever present hum of the aircraft, it’s quiet all around. We fly over endless clouds glowing with the golden pink of the rising sun. I open my book and start reading.

I slowly wake and stare at the book on the floor, between my feet. It must have dropped when I dozed off. I look next to me: an empty seat. I unbuckle and stand up: all the seats in the plane are empty. I slowly walk the length of the aisle and enter the cockpit: empty pilot seats. All is quiet as the sun rises dead ahead.

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