Biliabial Fricatives

Written in response to: Set your story in a labyrinth that holds a secret.... view prompt

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Fiction Creative Nonfiction

Lavinia found herself thinking about the city where she had come to live for several months, her purpose clear and her enthusiasm high. Santiago de Compostela had not disappointed her as can happen when one returns to a place after a hiatus of several years and a lot of important events. She had feared it would let her down, that she had turned the memories into a college student's adventure. She should have known better. In Santiago, what you see is what you get. More or less. Or so she had once believed.

The main difference between that first visit and the current one was - what should she call it? - youthful distraction. Meaning that the younger Lavinia had seen a lot, learned a lot, and had gotten to know a person she'd never forgotten, although it hadn't been like she'd fallen in love. At that age, love is impossible, she thought. It just feels like it. Nevertheless, the relationship had led to trips to other parts of Galicia, and to her having seen or heard more than she realized at the time. Place names, artists and writers, politicians, narrow streets, the way the streets had different fragrances depending on the day of the week or the time of day she walked along them.

A person had to do a lot of walking to start noticing those things.

A person had to do a lot of listening and seeing to start figuring out which days to go where. Meaning that the praza or local market was on Thursdays, but nobody ever checked online for the time it opened and closed, or what was sold there. People just knew. The scent of the botafumeiro, the huge incense burner that swung from the heights of the Catedral and threatened every time to come crashing down on the heads of the devout, had a special late-morning mass. Tourists liked it and nowadays probably were busy filming the real silver structure with holes for the cleansing smoke instead of praying.

Had the botafumeiro become just another tourist attraction or was a fragment of its origin still intact? Lavinia had spent time during this second visit observing the people in the nave of the temple, diminished, like children looking up at the sky in the hopes of spotting a sleigh with eight reindeer. By the same token, this time she had noticed many more details about the city and perhaps, with just a touch of arrogance, she was beginning to feel a distance between herself and the others who were "from away." She was convinced she was paying a lot more attention the second time around. There was no romantic distraction and she spent many hours by herself, the way a person does when carrying out a research project so one can get tenure and promotion. She had come to work, not to study and live a student's life.

Except that the best laid plans of women and men often go astray. Lavinia sometimes got the feeling that she was plummeting down a rabbit hole, entering the proverbial strange new world. Wait, that was a science fiction novel by Rachel Vincent. She was confusing it with Huxley's Brave New World, also science fiction. Huxley had presented a futuristic vision of a dystopian society, threaded through with the fear of losing one's identity as a human being. He had been quite perturbed by the youth in the United States when visiting that country. Vincent had addressed younger readers in her book, and her main character was the brave new girl.

Of course I mixed the two titles up, thought Lavinia. Vincent must have been alluding to the Huxley novel. The difference was a major one: Vincent's book was much more about the individual's experience, while Huxley showed the evils of a society that was on its last legs. Of course nearly nine decades separated the two works, so that factor might be taken into consideration.

O wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here!

How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,

That has such people in't.



Shakespeare had been more closely followed by Huxley, who knew Miranda's words from The Tempest had been uttered in error. Almost a century later, one might be tempted to think that there was little left of society or humanity to be destroyed or repressed, so the Brave New Girl had been forced to act pretty much on her own if she wanted to survive. The individual must fight for her own life, her own love.

A tragic thought, that utter aloneness. Individualism that strips the person of all humanity, reducing her or him to the search for self-gratification, authority, rigidity. Stone people. Yet Lavinia, even though she was supposed to be dedicating her time to her research, couldn't help going back and forth between the two disheartening views of the world. She hadn't come to medieval Santiago to be pondering the accuracies of science fiction.

I'm confused, she said to herself. 

Something didn't fit. Something didn't make sense. 

It's like I'm trapped in a labyrinth with some Minotaur and don't know how to get out. I don't have Ariadne's famous red thread - well, that was a myth anyway - and instead it's like I'm being pulled inward, past some portal or pórtico, along a passageway I haven't chosen and can't identify.

She wasn't certain whether or not she even cared.

The only problem was that the new was actually very old, seeing as how she was living for a number of weeks in a medieval city. Santiago was her personal labyrinth and she was working her way through it, becoming more and more entangled in its space. She was losing focus, had trouble concentrating on the exciting research she'd planned to do. She was allowing her curiosity to get the best of her, much more than when she had been a college student and had been into exploring everything, into finding adventure.

She was afraid of getting lost. Until she wasn't. Afraid. She had come to the realization that she needed to get to the heart of Santiago, whose stones moved in irregular procession, like the stones of Saqsaywaman in Cuzco. When the young narrator described the sensation he got from walking along the wall, that the stones seem to be bubbling and moving in a serpentine fashion, it had been a good feeling. He admired their vitality and permanence, their strength. Not their rigidity, never that. The author of the novel, despite calling his work fiction, believed in the narrator's emotions because they were his as well. Autobiographical fiction.

However, Peru was a world away, didn't even have an Atlantic coast. Lavinia snapped out of her reverie and decided she was not going to allow herself to get lost in the guilt of shirking one's responsibility because of feeling so drawn to her city of residence. There would only be guilt if she felt hers was an either-or situation: either she wrote about Ruth Matilda Anderson the photographer who had made five trips to Galicia, or she helped investigate the mysterious items that had mysteriously appeared during the renovations of a bar in the old part of the city.

I'm trapped? Or am I?

Then she suddenly realized it. 

I'm my own thread! 

She said those four words out loud, and felt relieved.

I'm in my own labyrinth.

Yes, those five words had an odd ring to them, but they made sense, in a metaphorical way. She meant that she was in a place of her own choosing and was also being presented with a series of options or choices. She didn't want to 'escape' from it, she wanted to study it more closely, understand it better. What was so bad about that?

Lavinia had begun to accept the fact that something unintended and unexpected, but not unpleasant, had been happening to her. She needed to understand where the streets and stones were leading her. She was the thread (again, metaphorical) that led to safety.

Except she had figured out that safety wasn't necessarily tied - that word - to getting out. Quite the opposite: she needed to go further inside the City of the Apostle to what she sensed could be there. 

Neither maze nor labyrinth, there had to be something more to Santiago than the streets she was wearing down in a miniscule way, hour after hour. Ruth Matilda had brought her back to the city and the friends she was making were simply helping Lavinia research aspects of the culture in a different way. There was no conflict between the two. Maybe her friends, especially the ones in the Graystockings group, would ultimately shed some light on how Ruth was received by the Galicians when she came, decades earlier, as an unmarried, professional photographer, to document the culture.

It's kind of like the two novels, by Huxley and Vance, separated in time but trying to warn us. The photographs were intended to reveal what daily Galician life was like. I think the Graystockings are hiding something, but they have a good motive for doing it. I also get the feeling that they are correct in what they are doing. I don't want to leave until I figure it out.

Then Lavinia thought:

I didn't come to the labyrinth; it came to me. That's not what usually happens. It might all be a mystery to me, still, but I don't think I'll run across any monsters if I go a bit deeper.

Just like they say in English "never say never" and in other languages they say "I'll never drink this water," it might have been more prudent for the "academic from away" to keep the possibility of running into a monster or two open...

However, researcher that she was, Dr. Lavinia Rivers was thinking about the term labyrinth now, and starting looking for references on the internet. She knew there was a lot more to the story than a Minotaur and a lost hero named Theseus. She wasn't surprised, then, when her initial search led her into increasingly branching ties to people, places, predicaments. To better understand how this affected Lavinia's subsequent steps, it might help to note some of her findings.

A labyrinth has many confusing paths or passages.

A labyrinth might be something very complicated or hard to understand.

A labyrinth can be constructed of or full of intricate passageways.

A labyrinth is sometimes called a maze, but they are not the same thing

A labyrinth can be something very complex or tortuous. Cf. intricacy, perplexity.

It seemed that a labyrinth was not a good thing and getting out of it was the only way to survive. Features like 'confusing', 'tortuous', 'difficult to understand' or 'perplexing' were not attractive to most people. 

Lavinia just didn't buy that. With a slight adjustment in tone, the descriptions could be made rather positive, intriguing: in truth, the labyrinth might just be a seductive mystery that invited visitors to explore, to use their skills, to pass on their knowledge so those who followed them would feel at ease. A labyrinth might be a place to learn, to connect ideas, tie them together. For the Common Good.

Labyrinths can be thought of as symbolic forms of pilgrimage; people can walk the path, ascending toward salvation or enlightenment. 

She had read that on a web page dedicated to The Labyrinth and planned to include a footnote if the notes she was taking were ever published, then realized she was trying to fit herself back into the mould of the professor who was required not only to teach but also to do research and public service. 

Maybe my career has been the real myth? I certainly ran into a few monsters in higher education... Lavinia was obviously not going to be able to let go of this path...

The online search returned more items, and it seemed that the word labyrinth was related to the word for a double-edged axe, which in turn related to the word for lip. Which in turn...

And then it hit her, hit the researcher, the woman who had come to Galicia for a few months to see what the people said about a foreign photographer nobody had ever heard of in her own country. Left her feeling more than a little humbled, but not confused. No, her labyrinth was not one of confusion. It was one of knowledge. 

Yet while Lavinia might have the required degrees, she did not have a lot of knowledge. Well, maybe wisdom would be a better term: she had not gained the wisdom necessary to understand Santiago with its saints and saintresses (not a real word, but useful), its power to seduce her in ways she'd never thought possible. She had so many questions. Why were many labyrinths supposedly guarded by men with axes, yet the double-headed axe was often associated with a goddess? How were those who came later, like herself, supposed to interpret the stories?

Sometimes, even in the Ancient World, it seemed like the world, all of society, was capable of being turned upside down. Or inside out. At this point, Dr. Rivers, or Lavinia, saw how late it was, and that she had spent hours trying to untangle her thoughts. At this, point, too, she knew where she was going, what she was doing, and that nothing would be a contradiction of what she had been doing perhaps her whole life. She would not abandon her research while exploring her labyrinth, not at all. In fact, the very next day she was going to start reading Mikhail Bakhtin's foundational studies of carnival.

She had read parts of his work, paying little attention perhaps because it was hard for somebody from a country without a past (like hers) to comprehend the ramifications of what had been called "the carnival sense of the world." His four categories said it all, and she needed to get them straight before plunging in further. A world where 'other' behaviors, ages, ways of thinking were reversed, dressed differently, important.

A world where things and people knew things and shared what they knew.

That's what Lavinia was thinking about as she jotted down "Bakhtin" on the slip of paper by her bed. If you, reader, are interested in starting to read him now, feel free to look at Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics or Rabelais and his world.

Another source states that walking through a labyrinth is like going on a pilgrimage. 

This is going to be a long trip.

And here Lavinia was, in Santiago de Compostela, with all its saints. 

December 18, 2021 03:51

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2 comments

Michael Regan
17:17 Dec 20, 2021

Another great read. I hadn't heard of Ruth Matilda Anderson before. Through the magic of Google I was able to see some of her work - quite amazing.

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Kathleen March
02:25 Dec 21, 2021

Yes, she was amazing for her time, but is unknown in the US. Kind of tragic, so she is part of my set of stories. They might become a novel, but one never knows. Thank you so much for reading.

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