What happened next?
Mike asked: “What happened next?” Victor and Juliette looked at each other. It was already 10.30 pm. They hoped little Mike would be fast asleep by that time, but the lively three years old didn’t show the least sign of tiredness.
“What do you mean?”, replied Victor patiently. “What happened after Echo was cursed?”, asked the young boy, fully awake, eager to listen to another story.
“Mmm… well… I don’t know….”.
“Sure, Victor, don’t you remember?”, helped Juliette promptly. “After Juno condemned the nymph to repeat only the last words she heard, with no power to speak first, Echo began wandering on earth. She travelled across the globe, experimenting the effects of her voice. She became famous worldwide. Some recall hearing her at Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur, India. Here, there is a tomb where the famous Sultan of Bijapur is buried. Echo loved the architecture so much, with its rose shaped dome, that she settled there for a long time. They say that when she goes back there, every whisper, murmur and even most subtle breathe gets echoed in such a way that the whole architecture vibrates over and over again.
Others recount hearing her in the famous caves of Quebec. Here something extraordinary happened. One day a yankee named Charlie was in Montreal for a reunion of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Foxtrot Company. The meeting place was at the clubhouse of the local Golf course at noon. Charlie didn’t sleep well that night.
He got up before dawn and decided to visit the cave of Saint Leonard, which was only a stroll away from his hotel. As soon as he entered the cave, he was beset by silence. He suddenly felt uncomfortable and started whistling. To overcome that sense of uneasiness as if someone was watching him, he started calling “Echo, Echoo, Echooo”, louder and louder. With his great surprise, the sound bounded back on all sides of the cave, hopping on the walls first, then bouncing on the roof, then flicking on the floor. It seemed that every time it touched a surface it became more potent.
They say that the nymph felt in love with the yankee, feeling honoured that someone pronounced her name for the first time in hundreds of years. Attachment and repetition were her means of showing unconditional love. Sometime, however, love can drive to insanity. And that was exactly what happened to the poor yankee. Echo wouldn’t leave him alone, she used to follow him everywhere. Nothing seemed to be effective in keeping Echo away. As time passed, the nymph became even more persistent, not only echoing Charlie’s words, but also his thoughts. The poor man decided to end his miserable existence.
One day he woke up early, he drank a whole bottle of his favourite whiskey, put ears plugs on and turned the volume up to maximum. Gorilla Zoe were playing ‘Echo’. He jumped off a bridge singing aloud:
And I’m gone and you’re all alone
Can’t you hear the
No one to hear you
There’s nobody near you’
When you pass under that bridge you can still hear the tune”. “Bravo!!!!” Mike enthused, all excited about that unexpected turn of the bedtime story. “And then? Where else did they hear Echo?”, Mike persisted. This time was Victor’s turn to improvise…
“Mmm…your grandfather had a friend called Romeo, he was a very famous tango dancer. Romeo told him a story. He was in Lima for a tango festival. An hour before his performance started, he noticed that his uniform had buttons missing. So he rushed off to the local market to buy some. While bustling about in the stalls at Mercado Central he saw a kiosk selling figs. He said they were the most beautiful figs he had ever seen. They were so irresistible that even though he was late for his show and hadn’t found the buttons yet, he stopped by and bought a kilo. When he looked at the man who sold the figs, he had a flash, “Papa”! He called him. The man looked just like his father, only ten years younger. “Not papa, I’m Oscar!”. They smiled at each other.
“Do you want to hear a story, son?” Asked Oscar without waiting for a reply.
“Do you know why I sell only the most beautiful exotic fruits? Because they remind me of my travels, when I was an explorer and scientist many years ago. There is no place in the whole world where I haven’t been.”
“But you know what? Of all the experiences I had, the people I met, the places I saw, there is one I will never forget. I was in Sierra Leone, many years ago now. I was travelling across the delta of the Waanje River. In the rice fields that extend between Lake Mapi and the dunes parallel to the coast there is one of the highest concentration of alpha decay on earth, that means it is a highly radioactive area. I was there with my x-ray spectrometer to analyse the alpha particles, noticing that in the marshes surrounding the riverbanks the radioactivity increased significantly. This wasn’t the only peculiar phenomenon I was going to discover. The air was somehow heavier there that anywhere else in the region. With my utmost astonishment I soon discovered the magic of that place. It seemed that instead of fading out, disappearing in space, all the words that one pronounced got somehow captured in the air and returned after a certain time, hours, even days sometime, in form of echo. I did many experiments, but couldn’t find a physical explanation to the phenomenon. One day, an old man passed by. I was so busy taking measurements and recording sound that I hardly noticed him approaching.”
“We know this very well, from many generations” he said, touching the ground. “In Zulu language we call it Emuva, you call it Echo, but it’s the same thing, really. Don’t you see? It’s all about the ducks and the flowers.”
“The ducks and the flowers?” I asked perplexed. “Yes,” he kept on “This is the breeding place of the black duck. Everyone knows that a duck’s quack doesn’t echo. Do you know why? Because the ducks are the custodians of Emuva. They are responsible for keeping every sound that travels across the air in this place. They make sure it is not wasted. So they swallow it and bury it underground. There is no sound in this place that hasn’t been intercepted by the ducks and transformed.”
“What happens to the sound after it is buried?” I asked even more skeptical.
“Don’t you see? Have a look around!”
For the first time in months of mapping the terrain centimetre by centimetre I was suddenly mesmerised by the lushness and beauty of the landscape. I then noticed a carpet of white flowers covering the entire riverbanks.
“They are Narcissi” the old man explained. “Every sound that is swallowed by the ducks and buried in the soil turns into a seed of the Narcissus flower and when the seed pops out, it plays the sound back.That’s because Emuva wants to be with his lover Narcissus until the end of her days. I’ve heard your people tell a similar story in their tradition.”
“Do you know the legend of Echo and Narcissus?” asked Oscar to Romeo.
All immersed in the story Juliette and Victor almost didn’t realise that Mike was asleep, at last. Juliette adjusted his blanked, Victor kissed him on the cheek and turned the light off. “Goodnight” they said. “Night, …night” they heard. They’ve never heard an echo in that room before. However that night, it seemed that the nymph felt obliged to pay a visit, after having been called up to help putting little Mike to sleep.”Good night, Echo” they greeted… “Echo… Echo….”
Bio ~ Francesca Veronesi.
Francesca is a designer, curator and researcher in the field of interactive media. Her works explore ways of engaging audiences and communities with participative experiences in responsive multimedia environments. She collaborates with museums, galleries, public archives and cultural institutions in both private and public sectors looking for ways to enable engagement and participation through creative applications of digital technologies. She is interested in exploring the relationships between people, places and cultures by ways of engagement that are sensorial, embodied and experiential.
In Australia Francesca has been involved with place-making projects engaging local communities with the co-creation of landscape-based interfaces using Augmented Reality and has worked with museums and archives at innovative ways of interpreting and curating their collections using digital media to reach new audiences.
Francesca has collaborated with Italian fashion industries in Korea, engaging established fashion designers, traditional crafts practices and emerging makers working with digital fabricating technologies.She currently coordinates the Contemporary Lab, a division of the H-ART innovation company, whose aim is to initiate synergies between artists and industries to accelerate innovation and to create immersive experiences for audiences which communicate the industry’s values and goals through an artistic vision.