On the experience of moving into a new identity; a stretching and extension.
The night before the naming, there is a feast in the long hall. From the double-height windows facing out across the peninsula, on a clear day, you can see out over the Adriatic. But it’s growing late, the daylight fading, and the candlelight pulls guests’ attention back into the room, making the world out there seem darker still. Tall fluted glasses, folded napkins. Pale runners stretch the length of the tables, a shared canvas for jottings and annotation; thoughts triggered by the food, mostly, this carefully judged sequence of flavours, but also a way to keep pace with quick-moving conversation. As the evening progresses, guests circulate, inheriting – and extending upon – traces of the thought processes of those now seated elsewhere.
She’d been overawed by the participating members’ arrivals, with many displaying a flair for the theatrical. Arrivals by boat, a ferry with a Flettner rotor, from across the strait; a motley, disreputable flotilla of smaller vessels, flying a range of flags. A hybrid dirigible from the north, which they helped the crew to secure, with cables, in a meadow near the bog. Much later, a boxy autonomous shuttle bus pulls up on the front drive, its arrival from the capital delayed by several hours, having being rerouted to avoid flooding.
Thrown together for the duration of one of the earlier courses, Garth complains to her about the goats—she’s grateful for the familiar face, rescuing her from a stream of well-wishers she doesn’t yet know by name. Secured during those early seasons, to graze firebreaks into their land, the goat herd, and its herder, has since become a permanent fixture, an obstacle and professional hazard for those, such as Garth, whose roles require them to range across the monastery’s holdings. To make things worse, in recent months, the herd’s sentinel llama has taken a personal dislike to him. She grimaces with what she hopes conveys sympathy, grateful not to have experienced anything similar herself.
It rains overnight, the patter of droplets on the outside of the tent bracketing a restless, fitful sleep. The ceremony itself demands attention and commitment. They described it to her as a pragmatic response to the requirements for tax exemption – a state- and satellite-legible demonstration of their seriousness of intent. Forty-odd attendees sit below pollarded beech trees, on tiered benches crafted in the workshop for this very purpose. And it’s still drizzling a little, despite the forecasts. Fighting to quieten the tremble in her leg, she takes one step, then another, passing between the two rows of onlooking colleagues and peers – willing draftees in this sprawling, fissiparous amplified team; pledged as her support on the slippery earth. See philosopher Sebastian Purcell, Life on the slippery Earth, on the “slippery earth” (tlalticpac) in Aztec cosmology and virtue ethics. Occasionally, as if remembering the invisible audience, someone glances skyward, shielding their eyes from the sky’s dull glare with the edge of their palm.
A new name, an identity reconfigured. The experience is far from the sacrificial casting-off she’d been primed to expect, instead, it feels like a gifting as accretion; something additive, a subtle loosening. Distant-seeming, at first, the applause of those on the benches brings her back into her body. Addressed by her new name, she looks up, to see Garth scrutinising her from atop his elevated, green ceremonial chair. Wearing a tall, conical felt hat and green-tinted spectacles, he holds an open umbrella. She hadn’t expected it to be him; raised to this height, he reminds her of a tennis umpire, and perhaps, she reflects, this was the original inspiration. He drops something small; too slow to catch it, it falls in the mud at her feet. She stoops to pick it up. A carved green pebble with a hole in the middle, rough to the touch. Her fingers close on it, and she breaks into a smile.