Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Galleria of Jijangola

(This just happens to be my thirtieth post since I started NaBloPoMo (well, thirty-first, but that one on Monday really doesn't count). I have now officially made up for that week I missed. As a result, I will not necessarily be posting every day, but I'll try to keep writing all the same.)

It's Winter in Jijangola. The harvest is over; the fields are empty; the light is fading fast. It's cold outside. The children have nothing to do until the first snow coats the spires and turrets of the Galleria like icing on a wedding cake. Their parents have nothing to do until the Spring planting.

This is when most of the work is done.

The Galleria is Jijangola's center and its people's obsession. Every single one of them spends every spare moment they have working on it, quarrying stone, lifting, cementing, carving, painting, polishing, decorating... It takes up more space now than the village used to. It's been a long time since there was a village. Now, there's only the Galleria.

The whole thing started with someone's nine-times-great grandparent - or everyone's, possibly. It depends on who you ask. Spindle beetles and burrellers and even a few pygmy land-eels all claim the foundations of the Galleria were laid by their own nine-times-great grandmother or grandfather.

It's grown since then. It's large enough by now to start shifting. Rooms and passages move when you take your eyes off them. Murals connect with each other, often - usually - in surprising ways. A stone knight in a winding passage is, quite literally, standing in a forest. The painted trees on the wall continue straight across his chest. Birds and rabbits peer out of gaps in his armor, and roots twine around his segmented feet. There are apples growing on his left shoulder. Farther on, a gray statue of a man is kissing a painting of a woman; her two-dimensional sleeves are painted around his gray neck like an embroidered scarf. A necklace of tiny round windows around her neck lets in tiny needles of sunlight from outside.

Of course, as far as I know, this is how the paintings and statues were made in the first place. It wouldn't be any stranger than a lot of the rest of the Galleria. It's hard to tell, though, because the artists are never around to ask. There are hardly more than a hundred people in all of Jijangola (as much as anyone can keep count); even so, I've never been able to find out who created any particular part of the Galleria unless I found them still working on it. No one ever seems to know who built or carved or painted anything that's been finished.

Perhaps they've taken on a life of their own.

Whoever started the Galleria, they seem to have begun it as a rather small chapel. At least, that's what the Jijangolans say - most of them agree that the little stone chapel, buried now under a labyrinth of walls and passages, is the oldest part of the building. They can still all fit into it when they remember. Jijangola is not a large village, at least not in terms of inhabitants; stones outnumber people several hundred thousand to one.

About a third of the stone in the Galleria is quarried out of its equally labyrinthine basements and catacombs; the rest, according to the people who bring it, comes from something called the Rubble Heap. I'll have to try to find that when we move on - almost half the stone comes already carved. A lot of it looks very old. In a dusty dead-end hallway lit by Gothic arched windows, I found that someone had assembled mismatched carved words and letters into a rhyme:

And hence with LIBRARY buILT beside
THE amber founded northw st side
and VANisHED To the EXIT

Walking back down the hallway, I realized that the rhyme was only one of many. What I had thought were random assortments of carved fragments in the walls were actually writing, each one assembled the same way. The hallway was built entirely out of rhymes. The one at the end was simply the only one I could understand.

I wouldn't be surprised if there was an entrance to the Palace of Madmen in here somewhere. It might be hard to tell the difference.

Most people in the Galleria seem to spend all their time lost in it. They farm and hunt just like anyone else, but they generally just leave the food laying around the Galleria for anyone who wants it. You never have to look far to find a meal (though exactly what you might find is anyone's guess). Stone and paint are left, when people deliver them, in heaps by the outside doors; the shifting rooms and passages spread them all over the building. It's perfectly normal to walk through a twisting hallway or lofty chamber and find people rummaging through the clutter on the floor, searching for just the right shade of red or the perfect block of marble.

Visitors to the village are expected to either leave money (someone has to pay the people who bring stone and paint and cloth) or help with the Galleria. I, of course, chose the latter. They kindly let me work on part of a massive mural that twists along two hundred feet (so far) of tall passageway and stairwell. A black beetle next to me was working on an entire forest of intricately painted knots. I spent most of this morning continuing the loose ends to a grass-green spider, covered with a field of Summer flowers, hanging from one of a flock of hot-air balloons below the same sunset that greeted our arrival in Jijangola. It seemed fitting.

One tower, the place where I spent the most time yesterday evening, is completely hollow inside; the only way to reach the top is to climb the downspout gargoyles that line the inside in evenly spaced rings. The water from all the nearby rooftops (which have gradually grown almost as high as the tower itself) flows through a maze of pipes and gutters to the outside of the tower, where it pours in through the gargoyles. A thousand and fifty-seven spouts of water (I counted) pour from their mouths, forming a huge waterfall in the center of the tower that falls straight into the well built into the floor. It's like the inside of a sea dragon's throat.

The edges of the tower, between the gargoyles, stay completely dry except for the occasional leak. It's fairly easy to climb to the top.

At the top of the tower is a round room with no openings except a hole in the floor and another in the ceiling. The walls are completely made of stained glass. It's like the top of a lighthouse, except that where the light should be, there's a smaller waterfall that pours down through the hole in the ceiling.

I got soaked climbing up through the hole, but it was worth it.

The roof is a shallow, copper-shingled bowl. The rain swirled down into the hole like dishwater into a drain. Looking down through it, the light of my salamander lantern just reached the converging waterspouts at the top of the tower waterfall. They looked like the petals of a white flower in the darkness. Looking over the outside edge of the roof-bowl, I could see the rooftops of the Galleria spread out below me, a labyrinth of peaks and gables and spires and turrets lit by the moon and hundreds of candlelit windows. Someone with wings was flying around and around a tower, wrapping it in loops of silver chain. The links sparkled every time they passed a window.

It was beautiful. I was getting soaked, though, which is an especially bad idea in December, so I came back down after only a minute or two.

There was a postbird in the room when I got there. How it got in, I had no idea; its wings would never have fit through either of the holes. We sat there for a while in companionable silence. The postbird dozed quietly as I wrote by salamander light. I left last night's letter on the floor when I went to sleep, and it and the bird were gone this morning.

I slept in the stained-glass room all night; it's not every day I find a nice high place like that. I love high places. Climbing down was much easier this morning. The sunlight that comes in through the gargoyles' mouths is still very faint, and the tower has no windows except at the top, but the candles melting on the stone heads weren't drenched by rain this time. Someone had lit all of them. Maybe they had lit themselves. I don't know.

I could spend a year just exploring this place. I have a feeling that I still wouldn't see all of it. I may have a chance to do just that, at least for some time; Plack and I wandered off in different awestruck directions when we entered the Galleria, and I haven't seen him since. Oh well. We'll find each other (and the exit) eventually.

Still, I think we'll be staying here for a while.

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