Art Pact 210 - Petral Park


Petral Park was a large parcel of land on the north side of the city, in the shape of a circle with its top and bottom removed, an area which the town planners idiomatically described as a "fat square". It would not have been a true circle had it not been decapitated and depeditated, more a flattened ellipse. The truncation - caused on the north side by the coast and on the south side by the Miltown to Capitol railway line - resulted in the park's exterior having four obtuse angles and no acute ones, a situation which was responsible for the confusion of many a young park-goer mislead by the inaccurate depiction of the park as a stylised square on the twenty-year-old map and information boards scattered around the perimeter of the territory.

Visitors often expressed surprise at the linear nature of the coast which bounded it on the north side, but those aware of the history of the park (and indeed of Miltown in general) knew that the answer was more than a hundred years gone, having its roots in the corrupt reign of Mayor Tombi. Tombi, fed up with the profits of the dockyards and their lucrative sea trade being funnelled away from city hall in general and his own deep pockets in particular, decided that in order to get his own beak wet he would have to create a new harbour, paid for from public funds and yet controlled secretly by his cronies. The project would be portrayed as a job-creating and modernising scheme, making shining new facilities to the west of town that would allow the old docks eventually to be reclaimed and gentrified, turning them into an evening destination and the site of restaurants and upscale apartments. In fact, of course, the shutting down of the docks and transferral of their fleets to the new facility was the whole object of the exercise, the gentrification and modernisation merely an adjunct to a power grab, and therefore not blessed with all of the resources that would have been necessary to accomplish them. The new harbour was barely more than a flattening of the coastline and a dredging of the waters around it before Tombi began to forcibly evict the inhabitants of the old docks from their traditional moorings, with the result that one particularly stormy winter night a good ten percent of the town's fishing fleet was destroyed in dock, unprotected because the harbour breakwater walls had not yet been fully completed. Ships still in the old dock were safe, but the trauma to the town's aquatic industries was of such a magnitude that a secret council of fishermen and merchants decided that the city was no longer viable as a fleet home and began to slowly divert their money and boats north, to the island state of Meshtil. Tombi, faced with the collapse of most of the town's trade, had panicked and taken the kind of measures that (although not technically so) had a great many people muttering the phrase "martial law", and not as popular with either the government nor the local militia as he thought he was, had been found dangling under a bridge a few days later. The old docks were re-opened, most (although not all) of the merchant fleet returned from Meshtil, and the new docks became just an area of particularly straight coastline, their buildings and roads conquered and subsumed by the park that began to grow there twenty years later, first through the efforts of volunteers and then (when they had been embarrassed sufficiently) through the auspices of the Miltown Open Spaces Commission, the mayoral department tasked with the upkeep and promotion of Miltonian public parks.

The nearest gate to the town was the Eagle Arch, so called because of the carvings (actually a simurgh, not an eagle at all) that appeared to hold up the arch proper from either side. A long road led two kilometers out of the town proper, from the west edge of the Canto suburbs, and on weekends it would be filled with bicyclists, horseriders, and large numbers of pedestrians tracking their dusty way to and from the park for family picnics, barbecues, and ball games. The road was new - new enough, in fact, that it was made up of two strands, a wide pitch-covered area for vehicles, and a grass path for horses and walkers - but it had the feel of an old road. Over-use of the footpath had caused it to become nothing but dry dust, dust which had drifted over the ten years that the pitch-topped strand had been there so that the two halves were only distiguishable after a heavy rain. There were no motorised vehicles in the city with the exception of the mayoral steam-car (not used except in the annual parade), so the pitch side of the road was exclusively used by cyclists who shot back and forth at various speeds on their penny-farthings and boneshakers, each variety of cyclist cursing the other for either his lack of stability, excessive velocity, or general ill-manners. On the dirt strand the pedestrians cursed the horsemen and vice-versa, but when they came to pass under the great arch they were all friends again, as they spread out into the welcoming green spaces and began their days relaxation and revelry.

The park was arranged internally in the form of a series of concentric rings formed by gravel pathways and stands of trees - alternating between evergreen and deciduous plantations. By convention walkers travelled the outermost ring in the clockwise direction, the next ring in counter-clockwise, the next clockwise, and so forth, so that if you were walking you would always have broad-leafed trees to your right and firs to your left. It became a mark of the clueless tourist to walk against the flow, although near to the gates it was impossible not to, particularly near the great entry and egress point at Eagle Arch. It was for this reason that Herr Coulterdan, on his way home, walking between an elm on his left hand side and a blue spruce on his right, collided with the young woman.

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