“There used to be a tree”

Arthur Wingsmith “There used to be a tree”
Wildly out of date, unfashionably anachronistic, and therefore, totally cool. This is how the general character, and eccentric personality, of Curio Eduardo de Ouro is most often described.

Wildly out of date, unfashionably anachronistic, and therefore, totally cool. This is how the general character, and eccentric personality, of Curio Eduardo de Ouro is most often described. A man, many believe, of mostly quotable quotes. One of his favorite pass times is making up ‘famous last words’, which has always seemed a little strange to many, being as he is still very much alive. Words like: “flowers,” “green sleeves,” “forced analogy,” and “In the end, all we have left are the memories of our shoes.”

Now well into his early eighties, Curio refuses to let his relative youth hold him back. “Basically,” he once told a local magazine, “I got tired of waiting to grow up, so I took matters into my own hands.” In his family, he is regarded as something of an oddity, partly because of his propensity towards enjoying books in hard copy, and partly because he was completely bald by the time he was seven years of age. Although extreme premature baldness is common in his family, it is rare for it to happen to the men. “For this reason,” he reported in an interview with a different magazine, “I have always preferred the company of bald women.”

While Curio has managed to find some time to travel, he still resides in the small city in which he was born; a city where he enjoys no small amount of local fame. (This is why he gets interviewed by magazines, and quite often too.) He is, for instance, a regular guest at Professor Alterity Ethnopholes’ library gatherings, and even has a sandwich named after him at the Edge of the Map Grill and Gourmet Eatery. (The sandwich is really delicious, by the way.) It just so happens, that Curio’s small city is also the city where I washed up, and now live. And, because of his long association with it, and his general fame, it is also why – on a beautifully stormy day – I went to interview him.

You may wonder why I was going to interview Curio? Please allow me, therefore, to briefly sketch out the circumstances leading up to the interview. It won’t take long, but it does seem a little necessary, as these circumstances gave that meeting its particular color.

As I am quite often between jobs, and, despite my best efforts, can never seem to acquire work that isn’t of the casual and temporary kind, I like to volunteer for things. This has the advantage of keeping me busy, and always engenders a sense of hope that a volunteer gig may lead to something of a more permanent and paying nature. It hasn’t, but I keep trying, because [insert believable rationalization]. It was one of these volunteer projects that occasioned my interview with Curio, although it did not occasion the stormy day (that has something to do with meteorology, a subject I know nothing about).

The origins of that particular project started with an initiative by a local heritage trust, and was born of a peculiar difficulty for our municipality. The difficulty was this: as far as cities go, ours is very young. In fact, it was not properly a chartered city until about thirty-five years ago, although there were people living here in an unofficial capacity before that. (Which is how Curio, a man in his early eighties, could be born here.) This meant that the heritage trust had nothing much in the way of ‘heritage’ to be a ‘trust’ for. That requires something like history of a significant depth, or at the very least, a nice old factory building or something.

The project was the brain-child of the trust’s founder and president, Agnes Grape-Bodice, local entrepreneur and patron of the arts. Her reasoning was this: if we lack history, perhaps we should just make our own? And so it was that the “There Used to be a Tree There” Oral History Project was born. A project, moreover, to fully write the origins of our city in some sort of comprehensive fashion.

But this required people to actually talk to other people. Agnes wasn’t much up for the talking with people bit – she’s more of an ideas woman – so interviewers were called for. Which is where I came in, having had some experience of conducting interviews in the past.

At first Curio was reluctant to participate. His reluctance didn’t stem from a general disdain for the oral history project, or a feeling that he didn’t have anything worthwhile to contribute. He was confident that anything he had to say would be very interesting indeed. It was more that he was just tired of being interviewed. I asked if he wouldn’t just think about for a little? Maybe about a week?

He thought about it for thirty minutes, and called me back.

“I just read the “About” page on your blog,” was the first thing he said. To which he added, “Perhaps I might like to talk to you after all.”

That same afternoon, with appropriate recording devices and note taking accouterments, I arrived at the front door of ‘Casa de Ouro’. After looking around for any hidden door bells (because I’d had a problem with this before), I signaled my arrival with the bronze monkey-shaped door knocker. (Oddly, in addition to the standard bronze on wood knocking sound, it also went “moo.”) The door was opened by a middle-aged woman, who introduced herself as Curio’s niece. She then guided me down the long hallway that leads to her uncle’s study.

The walk was unexpectedly mesmerizing. The hallway was illuminated by high, narrow windows that forced the light down at impossibly strange angles. Every time Curio’s niece passed through a shaft of light, it reflected off her hairless pate in such a manner as to give it an iridescent, almost radioactive, glow. The effect was so enthralling, I nearly missed the introduction she gave me to her uncle.

Inviting me to sit in an armchair opposite his own, Curio opened the conversation with, “So, history, eh?”

“Um … yes?” I replied uncertainly. I’ve always had a problem with trying to respond to statement-questions. You know the kind? Where you’re not sure if it’s rhetorical or not?

“Good, what would you like to know?” A definite question this time.

“Well, as you know, we are trying to document something of the history of our city. Perhaps you could tell me a little bit about what it was like here when you were growing up?”

“Before the city existed, you mean?”

“Yes, exactly, what can you tell me about that?”

“Well,” he said, turning and pointing out the window. “You see over there, just in the middle of the back garden?”

“Yes,” I responded, leaning forward in my chair to get a better look.

“There used to be a tree there.”

There were two beats of silence, and then he asked, “Tell me Mr. Wingsmith, what’s it like being semi-fictional. I mean, how does that work, exactly?”

“Sorry, what?”

“As I mentioned on the phone, I read the “About” page for your, what’s-its-name?”

“Blog.”

“Yes, blog – odd word that – and it describes you as ‘semi-fictional’. I was just wondering how that works out for you? Seems like it would be a trifle inconvenient.”

“I suppose it is a little inconvenient,” I answered, feeling slightly derailed. “Listen, um, I’m a bit more interested in what you have to say about our city’s past. What can you tell me about the tree, for instance?”

“The tree?”

“Yes, the tree you just mentioned. What can you tell me about it, for posterity?”

“It got cut down. Now, it’s interesting you should agree that being of an ambiguously fictional nature is a little inconvenient. Not many people know this about me, but I toyed with the idea of being semi-fictional myself once.”

“Really?” I asked, hoping that some suitably historical, and place-centered, anecdote was coming. “And what happened with that?”

“It didn’t work out. Just couldn’t see how that’s possible, at least from an ontological perspective.”

“Ah, I see. Maybe you could say something a bit more about the tree, then? Perhaps you used to climb it as a boy?”

“Oh yes, I most definitely used to climb that tree. The whole family did.”

Finally, I thought, we’re starting to get back on track. “Your whole family? You used to climb the tree together?”

“Most definitely. We had to, we lived in that tree for many years. Couldn’t get to bed if you weren’t prepared for a spot of climbing. No houses around then, you see. Except for the tree-houses, that is. Living in trees was the only sensible thing to do. Lost many a ‘groundee’ – that’s what we called non-tree dwelling folk – to predators. Mostly, because they refused to live in trees. A few tried it, but they just couldn’t get the hang of it.”

Curio paused for a second, then he asked, “you see that painting there? The one with the people in it standing next to trees and burning something?”

I looked to where he was indicating, and allowed that I could see it.

“That’s a groundee family you see there. Painted during the great tree kill. Seems they got sick of being eaten, so they just sort of cut all the trees down. Pretty sure those are the ones that cut down my tree, actually.”

Now we were really getting some good stuff. Agnes was going to be very pleased. Perhaps, hope of all hopes, she might even give me a job. At least, that’s what I was thinking. Right up to the point when Curio said:

“So, Mr. Wingsmith, this ‘creator’ of yours – the one that wrote your “About” page – is he semi-fictional too?”

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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