Art Pact 88

On the journey we didn't have too many festivals, apart of course from the annual festival of mourning. That wasn't as gloomy as it sounds, by the way - just one of those things, a remembrance of the tragedy, a chance to slow down from the constant bustle and worry about the mechanics of the journey and think about the ones that we'd lost. We both looked forward to it and dreaded it equally, because it was a time of great emotion.

On the ground they had festivals at the drop of a hat, though - great things that lasted for days and days, bustles of colour and excess, of dressing up and dancing, and eating on a scale that we from the ship could scarcely imagine as sane. Some of them were festivals we could understand, that revolved around important themes like the harvest, the landing, or the month in which babies were born, but others seemed to us utterly frivolous and inexplicable: the feast of the seventh tree, for instance (there were no trees on the ground, not like the ones in the lost arboretum), the three days of gold, the top of days, the moon drop (which happened irregularly but predictably, whenever it so happened that the cycles of Dryad and Naiad synchronised so that they fell below the horizon within a minute of each other), the bounce-day, and tempersong.

Tempersong was particularly inexplicable to those of us who'd only recently completed the journey - the greatest waste of food (although there was so much food on the ground that my use of the word waste is more indicative of my upbringing on the journey and my personal prudishness about efficiency than of any actual foolishness in the disposition of the vast harvests at the disposal of the on-grounders), an obligatory exchange of poetry, lights and fireworks in the night. No two on-grounders could give the same explanation as to what it was that Tempersong was a celebration of - it was commonly understood among the recent arrivals (although we never mentioned it to the on-grounders for fear that it would be actually offensive) that it was merely a festival of bad poetry, since the style most favoured among the on-grounders was a sort of half-rhyming doggerel which to our ears sounded both unsophisticated in structure and rhythm. Equally, I am sure, they found the elegant iambs in which we rendered our emotions quite dry. We wrote our poems nonetheless, attempting to pluck from the tangled meanings of the on-grounder's poetry some vague idea of the theme of the day which we could then weave into our own works. It was always fruitless: if you for one moment allowed yourself to get the idea that you understood the festival, your triumphant verses would be met with stunned incomprehension on the part of the assembled crowd. It would be followed, of course, by thunderous applause, since the on-grounders were, if nothing else, a friendly and accepting lot, but we were astute enough to realise that in that split second between the end of our recitations and the applause, cheers, and drinking to the poet's health that followed, there was a a whole world of alien thought that we, despite being the same race, from the same ship, would not be able easily to comprehend.

But the fact that we had no idea what these festivals were about did not prevent us from joining in, as you can see. The mere fact of such grandiose feasts, intellectually distasteful as they were to our austere upbringings, were nonetheless seductive to our bodies - which had suffered the same spartan repasts as our intellects, but with none of the understanding which sustained them in place of nutrition. Starved of fresh fruit and vegetables, we fell upon them like mad animals, and since the on-grounders showed even less restraint during the festivals than normal, we mirrored them, filling our mouths with corn and oats and pickles so wantonly that sometimes we could barely even get the leverage to chew, savouring the rich flavours of the harvest and feeding our bellies so that they stuck out of our bodies, erasing the lines of muscle around our midriffs in huge stretched bulges.

After the dry years of the journey it was like falling into a sea of food, and we began to understand how, despite the manual work with which their days were filled, so many of the on-grounders had come to carry around the comforting padding of fat. We did no begrudge them it, but applied ourselves to obtaining similar physiques so that we might fit in.


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