Monday, June 07, 2010


After leaving the Railway Regions, I spent several months last year lost in Tetravania. It's easy to get lost there. It took me almost a month to find someone who would even tell me I was in Tetravania; everyone else only gave me cryptic answers when I asked.

This, of course, was itself a fairly good indication of where I was. No one is as dedicated to confusion as the Tetravanians.

Tetravania is the capital city of Tetravania, one of the four Kingdoms and Duchies that make up the country of Tetravania.* The city shares the name with fifteen other towns and villages in Tetravania. It is centered around the palace, or Tetravania, in which live the ruling family, the Tetravanians. The current Baroness is Tetravania Tetravanian IV. The Tetravanians apparently have no trouble keeping all this straight, though they enjoy confusing tourists.**

The streets of Tetravania (the city) are all narrow, twisted corridors that seem to lead only back to themselves. They break into staircases at random intervals. The cart mules like to take them at high speeds, clattering and whooping all the way down. The mules are very loud in Tetravania. They claim to be purebred - nothing but mules for the last fifty generations - but I suspect there's some llama in there. I've never met a mule who enjoyed hills so much.

The street signs are weathered to the point of illegibility, and no one seems interested in fixing them. There are hundreds of streets, but only about fifteen street names in the city; if you want to find anything, you have to learn the difference between Scatterbell Street, Scatterbell Road, Scatterbell half-alley, and so on. Half the people don't bother with addresses anyway; instead, they'll tell you a building is "between its neighbors," or "the quintessence of stability," or "behind a door and beneath a chimney." The buildings themselves make hardly any more sense. The hotels in the city seem to have an unspoken agreement that each hotel will be named after the distinguishing feature of a different one. The Blue Hotel is bright orange. The Tangerine Hotel is a deep sea-green, covered with painted fish and landweed that drips from the window-boxes. The Maritime Hotel is built of volcanic brick, the Coal Scuttle Inn is patterned like stained glass, the Rainbow House is entirely gray, and so on.

This is actually fairly normal for Tetravania (the country). Practically everything in the country is decorated somehow. The Tetravanians are in love with patterns. It's rare to see anyone with unpainted skin. The mammals dye their fur in stripes, the avians dye their feathers, and the reptiles paint their scales in intricate geometric patterns. Some of them write poems on their backs in graceful Shasta calligraphy. Insects dye the veined panels of their wings like living stained glass. A mammal who bought a drawing from me one day had zigzag stripes all through his fur, black on white, with one brilliant purple one that ran from his left eye to the tip of his tail. The outside of the Tetravania (the palace) is covered*** with the Song of the Running Sunrise, a poem that seems like nonsense but is fabled to predict the future. This could easily be true; no one has yet found a single line of the poem that can't be applied to every major historical event in the thousand years since it was written. The poem is the ultimate ambiguous prophecy. It could mean anything. It may predict the future, but if so, I don't see what good it does anyone.

The Tetravanians claim to have invented the square. The Tetravanian national pastime is Croak, a card game in which you must conceal your cards from yourself. The national anthem consists of thirty-six verses extolling the virtues of the nonexistent Buckle Toad and is traditionally sung backward. The Tetravanians seem to believe that no one, especially a foriegner, should get through a whole day without being confused at least once. They certainly succeeded with me.

*The other three are Castlevania, Wethravania, and a fourth one that no one seems able to identify.

**The word "Tetravania" currently has four whole pages of meanings in the Sconth Extended English Dictionary. My favorite is "a small hooked device, typically made of whalebone, used to remove the seeds from watermelons."

***Except for one space, just above the front door, that holds a copy of the Recursive Sonnet. That thing shows up somewhere in every city.

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