Thursday, 5 November 2015

What If? Metropolis: Travelogue

The City of Taboo is a chaotic, even from a distance it barely looks like anything resembling a city. Anyone who approaches it out of curiosity will be quickly taken aback by the hideous mash of colours and structures laid out before them, and the further they venture, the more overbearing the city becomes. The houses have been pulled apart, rearranged, coated in paints and fabrics, each one as over the top and hideously colourful as its neighbour. Looking at them, you could hardly say they were houses at all. It is a wonder the buildings stand, and it is clear little planning was involved in their design. Many stand on columns and stilts, all in different sizes and made of different materials, all slanted under the strain of the structure above them. When more room is needed, walls are cut away and a new room is built onto the side to cover the gaping hole. Splashes of paint are haphazardly slapped on walls, the windowsills coated in leather and latex, the curtains that once hung inside have been pulled down, sewn together, and draped over the rooftops creating a mismatching floral patchwork. Beads, sequins and charms are sewn on to random pieces of cloth, glued to the walls or scattered in the streets and front gardens. Taboo is truly the most beautiful mess of a city.

One person pulls down a piece of fabric from their home, replacing the space left behind with a splash of paint, and almost instantly the neighbours who had been watching from their windows have briskly walked outside, paints and fabrics in hand, frantically redecorating the exterior of their homes to make sure theirs is the most elaborate. And so, there is a domino effect, and soon the entire city is bustling with people, sequins and silk. Old fabrics are thrown into the street, where someone else will pick them up and use them on their own home in a month or so, when the pattern or colour is inevitably back in fashion. This ritualistic redecoration can occur up to three times a day, yet the people do not grow tired of it; they live for the competition.

On the inside, the houses are plain. Kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms have all the basics but nothing decorative. The walls are grey, carpets have been pulled up and laid out outside as garden paths, tiles pulled off the walls and used to decorate the roads, bedrooms rarely have much more than a mattress. The houses are in many ways, inside out. All the colour, emotion and warmth of a home has been stripped out and quickly stuck on the outside, until nothing about the building resembles a home. Perhaps the people of Taboo are just as plain on the inside.

It is unknown why the people choose to live this way, as there is nothing practical or “normal” about what they do. The immense effort they put into their image is almost admirable, but also frightening; they care so much about their appearance that no one really knows one another. They talk only of fabric, what’s in this week, what’s out, how many hours left before that shade of blue becomes boring and needs to be replaced with the bright orange that will be considered “in” for at least 3 days. Without this, their lives are meaningless.

There are 8 districts in Taboo; Cathedral, Red, Pearl, Sequin, Silk, Striped, Spotted, and the Dull District. Each one is given its name after a more prominent decoration used by the people who live there.
The richest people in Taboo are the fabric sellers, who acquire their goods from far and wide in as many colours, patterns and materials as possible. Next are the paint and make-up sellers, who are followed by the majority of Taboo's population. In the Dull District, a miles walk from the cathedral, are Taboo's poorer inhabitants, though they would not appear poor to an outsider. Their houses seem relatively normal, though still have the same trend of fabric and paint, only the paint has peeled and the fabric is torn and frayed around the edges. There is also less fabric, usually scraps that have fallen from another house and been pushed to the Dull District by the wind. The houses in this area have large gardens, in which the people who own them grow food for both themselves and the entire population of Taboo. Vegetables are grown, animals raised and fattened up until someone from outside the district requests food to be brought to their home, then everything is prepared, loaded into a small kart deemed fit to be seen in the other districts, and delivered. People from Dull District are simultaneously seen as a necessity and an inconvenience; food is needed, but, oh, wouldn't the Dull District be so much nicer as a park? For now, it appears to be the only sane place in Taboo. Children play on the cobbled streets with dogs and chickens, and the scent of cooked food escapes from every open window; it is the only place a traveller feels welcome.

Taboo has no hotels, and none of its residents seem to have any contacts outside of the city. No one has ever been known to leave taboo, and all those who visit do not stay for long. Visitors are treated as though they don't exist, barely looked at and ignored if they try to speak. During the day you may feel simply unwelcome, by night time, the air is hostile.

At night the City of Taboo is something to be both admired and feared by outsiders. When the sun begins to set the inhabitants of the city disappear into their homes, and for a few hours the city will appear abandoned, only the sound of loose fabrics flapping in the breeze will break the silence. When darkness has consumed the city, the enormous domed lights of the cathedral are suddenly switched on, momentarily blinding anyone looking at it. The switching on of the lights is closely followed by joyous shouting. The street lamps are turned on, all in different colours, some casting patterns on the ground, and it appears that the ground you are walking on is alive. Every door to every building is opened, and from them run, sprint, hobble or dance the previously silent inhabitants, shouting, cheering and singing at the top of their lungs. They appear monstrous; their faces painted, clothes decorated with as many different patterns and colours as they could acquire. Some choose to only wear clothes from the waist up, others have padded out their shoulders, hips, legs or stomachs, making them look as outrageously ill-built as the buildings they live in. No one is complimentary of each other's outfits, or shows any kind of admiration for another's creation, this is a contest and if someone doesn't enter it believing their outfit is the best, they've already lost.

In the Cathedral, the three Kings walk amongst their people, hugging and kissing them, picking them up and throwing them into each other, forcing them to dance regardless of whether their attire allows it. They themselves are wearing outrageous outfits of their own design, and tomorrow the entire population of Taboo will be wearing something to replicate them. For now, they dance, in hope the Kings will notice them. The air is hot, and smells of sweat, perfume, alcohol and sex. Several people will inevitable pass out from dancing so vigorously, while several more will fall in love with a stranger that they’ll never recognise again.

Despite their desperate attempts to stand out from each other and look different, after a day's visit the city is nothing but a blur. Everyone may as well have worn the same outfit, decorated their homes the same way, worn the same make-up. Nothing in particular about any of its occupants stands out as different or extraordinary once you've seen so many of them. In the end, they are the same; small and insignificant, desperately trying to get ahead of another in a competition that means nothing.

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