Mercuspex Loci

February 4, 2014 § 1 Comment

Dyall Square. A great, tile-lined plaza shifting constantly with the snapping pennants and fluttering tent-fabric of a myriad market stalls and faux-mystic hawkers. Sellers of fruit and mandalas and spices and candles and forgetfulness and knowledge and themselves and others, all dot-dotted about haphazard like a mercantile motley. A single, constant litany of prices, offers and plea-bargains rises up through day and lamp-lit night whilst stalls suddenly break camp and scuttle to a better catchment area, a more fertile feeding ground.

And, in the centre, the great campanile rises high above the clouds of salesman’s patter as if unconcerned by the price of silken gloves or sesame. An ersatz gnomon – although built long after the square was named for a now-forgotten bureaucrat, giving it a perhaps not entirely subconscious homophone – whose even-paced shadow strolls from dawn to dusk, a dark-suited overseer marking out ungraded time against lamp-post and flagpole.


Myths and superstitions accrete pearl-like around its base, flowing out into the lyrics of the marketeers. Oaths are pinned on its solidity, boasts on its height. Shaded stalls are particularly favoured or cursed and make brief sales or losses commensurate with the owner’s outlook. A bore-wave of beggars, dragged by the shadow’s tidal pull, ebbs and flows against those certain, milk-and-honey shore-stalls where food is given as an offering to the momentary eclipse.

And behind even them come the cut-purses and minstrels, wassailers and fools who dance and stalk and caper through the crowds in unwitting complicity against the Dalliance, the square’s dedicated corps of peace-keepers and legate bouncers whose long service has seen even their name worn down into self-mockery by the grind of each day-noting sweep of shade.

Here, in this irregular blend of self-organised regularity, everything takes on meaning. Repetition drives paths and memories into the square itself. The shadow’s daily pass driving down tree-ring layers of a fractal, self-repeating tradition. Traders and browsers skirt around each other in daily, weekly orbits. The precision arrangement of wares, the fluid dispersion of stalls. The wax of cotton, the wane of linen, the weft and the heft and the warp of wood. All reflect in a higher arrangement. All are cogs within cogs within cogs.

A delicate dance of give and take and move and shake where small disturbances give up rippling interruptions through the whole. Prices rise despite a glut, stalls slide away from certain ill-favoured patches, boisterous haggling turns to murder, olive-sellers crack barrels filed to the brim with briny eyeballs, water into wine into blood. The mercuspex watches all this and learns of subtleties that birds or fire, unaware as they are of the human magnetism of greed, are oblivious to.

This is why, on the gargoyled edge of an overlooking roof, a rag-swaddled figure hunches and watches in the few minutes of tower-shadow with cog-eyes whirring and brass-gleaming fingers clicky-clicky nervous.


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