Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Snail Mail

Snail Mail

by Rolf-Peter Wille

Have you ever looked somebody straight into the eye? A typhoon for example? When I looked into the eye of typhoon Sepat yesterday, on a TV screen, I could have sworn it suddenly blinked at me and just as suddenly I understood: A cyclone is a living being. Maybe a primitive one, but a whirling organism nevertheless. Last night on our roof garden, when the branches, flowerpots, orchids were flying around like hungry bats, I realized that, as Jonah in the dark belly of the leviathan, we were inside the rumbling bowels of a giant bacteria, typhoon Sepat.

Typhoons and earthquakes—these are our epic disasters in Taiwan. The nature of our island is beautifully terrible, generously rich or deadly devastating. But why do we only notice these giant footsteps of our mother nature? Her little idyllic horrors and wonders are just as fantastic and we can even enjoy them without leaving the confines of our domiciles. Just open our eyes, like typhoon Sepat, and switch on the Sherlock Holmes cells in our brain. Certain things suddenly disappear from our familiar environment, socks, coffee cups, knives, and while we may suspect a thief or a ghost it could all be due to quite natural causes. I own a Russian matryoshka doll, a nested doll painted in aromatic smelling red and yellow lacquer, and suddenly it disappeared. Not the doll, but the lacquer colors. It looked like somebody gradually was stripping my matryoshka. I could have sworn a ghost had been scratching or licking off the lacquer, when one day I discovered some red and yellow little lacquer balls forming a magic circle around the doll. And they looked suspiciously like miniature dung balls of the legendary sacred scarab, or dung beetle. One night I awoke and heard scratching and hissing sounds emanating from the doll. I could have sworn I heard somebody whispering commands in Russian. When I switched on the light, in an eerie momentary flash forever nested in my memory, I could see the phantoms of one red and one yellow cockroach zigzagging up the wall and into the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie.

If you decide to disbelieve me—though what I write is entirely true—please read the next story, which I could not have invented. It concerns the large letterbox in our land house, which may very well be the most mysterious place in the wall of our dacha. This compact stone box is a work of art. It is ornamented with tiles from Toledo and designed to give our Taiwanese land house that distinct Spanish touch which it does not have. As you know, Taiwanese land houses are…, but I do not want to digress and talk about style. Let us enter the Toledo letterbox and begin our inquisition. Is anything disappearing from it? Well, as you might have guessed: letters. Sometimes they only disappear partly and the torn paper usually looks wet and slimy as if it had been partly devoured by a monster. I am very afraid to put my fingers into the slit of this box. If they would be bitten off, the fingers, my pianistic level might drop even further. There could also be a wasp hiding in the box just waiting to sting the finger that feeds it. But can you imagine my surprise last week when I put my hand into the slit and discovered the entire letterbox stuffed with little dry branches? But were these branches? Who had dropped all those dead worms into our letterbox?

But worms they were not. They looked bent and serpentine like little intestines. They were multicolored, like the legendary dung balls of the Russian roaches, and I found some shreds of a telephone bill in the same colors. Digging further into the bowels of the letterbox I produced a giant juicy garden snail hiding in the brittle branches. It took quite a while for my Sherlock Holmes brain cells to unravel the mysterious connection between these items. But then suddenly it clicked: We have a metabolizing letterbox! Imagine it as a large stomach feeding on junk mail. The snail, the Jonah in the belly of this leviathan, acts as the enzyme and the product are those brittle worms. But let us not forget the big beautiful shell which, obviously, is made of junk mail and telephone bills.

Finally do I learn to appreciate the charm of snail mail! Could this have happened with e-mail? Why don’t you send me some snail mail?

Read German version "Schneckenpost"

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