El Funcionario Fantasma: a Montage

Joaquín Garcia, a civil servant of Cadiz, it was reported, ‘failed to turn up for work for at least six years’ having been ‘caught after becoming eligible for a long service award.’ Señor Garcia, who was worried at sixty-nine, was employed ‘to supervise the building of a waste water treatment plant’, claiming later that he had been ‘moved to a post where there was no work to do.’

‘The newspapers called me El Funcionario Fantasma: that is, the phantom official to you,’ Garcia said. It was noted that the boss of the water company had not seen Señor Garcia for ‘years despite occupying an office opposite his.’ The water company thought he was supervised by the local authorities and vice versa. The deputy mayor noticed his absence when Señor Garcia became eligible to receive a plaque for twenty years’ service. Señor Garcia, it transpired, did go to the office ‘although not for full business hours every day,’ dedicating himself to ‘reading philosophy.’

‘The truth of the matter,’ said Garcia, ‘was that El Funcionario Fantasma was employed in the construction of part of a whole city that was fake.’ Some way outside Cadiz, they built a ghost town. This new city would be, it was said, ‘when finished, a to-scale fabricated town, built to code, complete with schools, roads — basically everything you would consider the necessary components of a functional city. Except, of course, no residents.’ There would be ‘separate districts in which it will be possible to test distinct products: Energy District, Development District, Water District, Agricultural District, and a downtown area. And each will be connected by an underground nervous system of sensors, water, and sewer systems.’

‘The ghost town,’ said Garcia, ‘was going to be a giant petri dish for city planning.’

He scratched his head.

‘Well, I grew bored with little to do. When the water plant had been built, it needed overseeing. There is no waste water in a waste water plant for no people. My mind began to ponder what I heard others saying about other aspects of the city: there could be trash or vandalism manufactured for the sake of a specific test, but what about stuff that becomes less essential when you don’t have, you know, actual residents? Stuff like public art? A call for projects was announced and entries came in from across the country. Well, philosophy and art are not so far apart . . .’

Garcia conceived of a zoo as art piece: what could be more of a thought-piece as a zoo-full of animals for no-one to look on? He had time to spare and, he reasoned, a man unnoticed as missing from his desk for six years could easily expect to gather a zoo-full of creatures without being interrupted. Unfortunately, Garcia mused, there was a tremendous flood. ‘It was almost Biblical,’ he said. The cages released the animals amidst the downpour. ‘Lions roamed the streets, a hippopotamus grazed from a tree in a central square and a bear was left crouching on a first-floor window sill.’

Señor Garcia, not rendered completely fazed, though only shortly before becoming eligible for a long service award, devised a further philosophical-art piece.

‘I conceived of the Kingdom of Enclava,’ he announced. It was, he explained, ‘a thousand square foot patch of land’. It was billed as ‘the smallest country in Europe’, Garcia went on, suggesting that he had situated his new country strip of land within the city of no people. He smiled a little, weakly. ‘Enclava has no citizens as yet.’

Señor Joaquín Garcia, artist, philosopher, El Funcionario Fantasma, did not receive the long service award he was due. Instead, he was ordered to pay a year’s salary and was quietly retired. He can be found, telling stories for beers, in the little back street bars of Cadiz, some way out from a ghost town that no longer contains a zoo or a small country.
 
 
Note: this story is a montage of the extraordinary/ordinary reported text from real events with fictional original linking narrative, written for the Magic Realism Blog Hop 2016 (details below references).
 
 
References:

BBC (2016), Spanish civil servant off work unnoticed for six years [Online]. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35557725 (Accessed July 25, 2016).

Beauchamp, S. (2015), A giant, fake city in the middle of the desert. Washington DC: The Atlantic [Online]. Available from: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/05/a-giant-fake-city-in-the-middle-of-the-desert/391652/ (Accessed July 25, 2016).

Parfitt, T. (2015), Hippopotamus on loose in Tblisi shot with tranquilliser — but tigers, lions and wolves still free. London: Telegraph

Squires, N. (2015), Welcome to the world’s newest country — the kingdom of Enclava. London: Telegraph.
 
 
 
Magic Realism Blop-Hop Logo 2016This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. About twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (July 29-31, 2016) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Click on the blue frog button below to get the links of all the blogs.
 


 
 

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No Less Starstruck by Our Spells

If today the ability to read is everyone’s portion, still only a few notice what a powerful talisman has thus been put into their hands . . . and while those who have not been called seem to apply their reading ability to news reports or to the business sections of their newspapers, there are a few who remain constantly bewitched by the strange miracle of letters and words (which once, to be sure, were an enchantment and magic formula to everyone).

— Herman Hesse (1974)

 
Once, we could not write. Then, later, the nature of the spells we said and scratched opened up the earth and skies to us. We were awestruck in the wondrous world. Later still, we wondered at how clever we were. Here we are, now, swimming in the swathe of words upon words all saying the same things: we’re content with our words, our magickless words, and how clever we are.

Now, here, less is more. The careful selection of words is still a spell-sowing for those who know how to write and read them. The song writers and the poets know, as do the other watchers of the world. Once, we might not have understood so well (perhaps we find we’re still in a process of finding out): how could less be more? Of course, the sentiment is not so difficult, but the clean lines, the juxtapositions, the nature of what resides in the gaps might truly elude us. Mies van der Rohe drew a few graphite lines, perhaps, and which, later now, this writer still finds he’s learning: translation, from one art form to another, is a study in time. So, in words, in spells, less is more.

Yet, what of the abundance, the layers, the richness sewn deep into the fabric of all the very many books of the world? Gaps are deep within the very best and beautiful of these, within the torrid and the tremendous, within the ferocious and the frightening: some stratum of the spells, a magic seam; layers are silk thin, cotton warm, wool thick. Together, with the breath of air between, they enwrap, reflect and illuminate. Words are the delicate fabric of the human world.

Less is more. Too many words just stultify. The contentment of our modern content is a magickless morass. There was a time of awe, love, fear, respect out there in the eely black, studded with the milky sheen of stars. The fat sac of a watery moon glowered in the liquid night. We whispered soft incantations in the dark. Whichever goddesses we uttered love or reverence for, we trembled in the pauses due to them as well. Now we’ve forgotten what the words were ever for.

Our gods and goddesses are differently attired; our myths are self-aggrandisements. Magic doesn’t align with ego, and words seldom work the way they used to. What we often cannot see, or sense in other ways, is rarity. Words are rare. They can speak in tongues other than the shallow contentment of our modernity.

Once, we could not write. We have it in us to be awestruck at the wondrous world; we have it in us to be starstruck at the spells we might still lightly, deeply, sow and sew.
 
 
References:

Hesse, H. (1974), My belief: essays on life and art. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Cited by Popova, M. (2016), The magic of the book: Hermann Hesse on why we read and always will [Online]. Available from: www.brainpickings.org (Accessed July 11, 2016).