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Saturday, December 28, 2013

A half-told tale. By John von Daler

                  Like a widespread tributary of sound, the streams and rivulets of clanks and groans and putterings from each vehicle trickled softly into the main wayfare, itself a half-dry river of ruts and pools and potholes. The mounting din, as yet muffled yet multifarious, as yet distinct in its parts, slowly evolved, revolved, puffing itself up to its first loose cacophony. There were horses and wagons on precipitous wheels, their open beds filled with produce, trucks puffing smoke through half-bent pipes, bicycles and motorbikes, helmeted and muddied, cars packed like motorized ants and pedestrians pulling carts all loaded with goods. This was the great, wide thoroughfare through the countryside of #Slovakia. It was five oclock in the morning of market day.

                Soon, as all the various vehicles turned onto the great, brown road, the immense serpent of sounds wound its way through the green countryside towards the market place in town. The storyteller decided to plod along and soon he found a ride on the back of a truck full of barrels, shifting threateningly at his back as the conveyance lurched along. He found himself staring into the concentrated face of a peasant woman, kerchiefed and sweating, a series of oath-like sounds emitting continuously from her clinched teeth as she tugged an uninterested horse towards the market. Soon he found a way to shift his vision from her empty gaze. He could look to either side and see seven or eight rows of traffic all driving in one direction. Woe be it to the traveler who wanted to drive against this flow. Either you went to market today or you stayed home.
                When the thoroughfare had been filled, the thunder of the rolling carts and wagons could probably have scared Charlemagne out of his bath; the booming and creaking and clanking and roaring all rose above the quiet countryside, a signal to one and all that today was the day.
                In the little provincial city to which this procession was heading, the market place was all watered down, its cobblestones glistening in the quiet, morning air. A few policemen were drinking coffee in front of the jail. Some small boys kicked a ball half-heartedly back and forth.
                Like the first prick of the tongue of the serpent a motorcycle bearing two men in goggles and leather jackets and a sidecar full of crates careened into the square. The policemen rose to their feet and sat down again immediately just to mark their presence. The motorcycle turned up one of the lanes in the market place, shuddered to a halt and the two men hopped off and began to move the crates into a kind of U-shaped cavity from which they could sell their wares.
                Soon the head of the snake arrived and it curled and uncurled as one collection of goods after another arrived. The Storyteller got there as just about half the market was filled and he jumped off his truck and waved his thanks to the owner. He walked over to the stairs of the church and sat down to watch the parade of marketers. From the jail the policemen looked his way and talked quietly, sneaking glances. What would you be doing here if you were not part of the market?
                It took about an hour to arrange the market, what with the great number of goods and a few misunderstandings about who was to be where. Then the customers began to arrive and the Storyteller started to walk the lanes of goods.
                "Taste my salt-cured and pickled cucumbers!" they shouted. Small boys ran towards hin proffering bread and pickles. "Here! Drink a dram of my slivovitz. See how it tastes with a pickle and some bread!"
                The Storyteller made his rounds of the salespeople who were eager to have him try their products. After a breakfast that became a lunch with pickles, bread, sausage, and slivovitz, he soon felt the need to stretch out. He found a place in the shade along side the stairs to the church and propped his back up against the wall. Soon he was fast asleep.
                It was here that the Storyteller's story, embarrassing as that may be, always broke in half at each telling. Because the market disappeared into a kind of dark revery: the next picture he would evoke was always the black cup of coffee one of the policemen wafted under his nose in the jail the next morning.
                The Storyteller lay in a comfortable bed after an eighteen hour slivovitz sleep. Now the policemen had decided that enough was enough. They gave him bread and cheese and coffee and suggested that he leave their town.
                So you see, you and I will never learn more about the afternoon and the evening and the night in Slovakia. But then again, half a tale can often be quite enough.

                

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