Saturday, February 1, 2014

Curiouser and Curiouser: The Wonderland Excavations

Everybody Has Won, and All Must Have Prizes (inspired by Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) – Antique nineteenth-century pharmacist’s bottle; antique nineteenth-century sterling thimble; genuine beach sand; sea shells; drift wood; blue jay feather; wired French heliotrope-coloured ribbon; altered art pieces—“Carroll’s Comfits” candy label, hand-coloured dodo bird print

The English countryside summer afternoon, heat, dragonflies buzz on prismatic wings, living darning needles skimming the tranquil, mirror-like surface of brackish ponds, towering oaks standing in sun-mottled shadow, clouds of pollen and gnats, infinite silences, time stands still—just the sort of afternoon that once sent a drowsy little girl named Alice dreaming. Tall reeds converse in whispers by the riverside, their roots extending down into damp soil, crisscrossing past and along worm tunnels, pressing ever deeper until they burst through the ceiling of an improbable hallway, doors to the right, doors to the left, paneling and frames warped and snapped, brass knobs and hinges corroded. A small three-legged glass table lies shattered, a tiny golden key fallen, cast aside. And what’s this? A bottle labeled “Drink Me” by some unknown hand. Doors? A glass table and bottle? One tiny golden key? But how can this be so far underground?


The rabbit hole has long since caved in, the pool of tears evaporated, leaving nothing in evidence but crystals of salt. Moving deeper, fungi proliferate, mushrooms of variegated colours sprout, some bright, some muted—on which did a large blue caterpillar smoke his hookah lethargically, stopping only now and then to pose psychologically probing questions? Broken crockery is strewn about, an outsized peppermill tossed casually in the scrub. White roses grow in abandon, untended, their heady scent perfuming the air, their stiletto thorns lethal, protecting secrets. The surrounding lawns, formerly a well-maintained and manicured croquet ground, are now neglected, overgrown, tangled, the game long abandoned; the flamingoes taken flight, the hedgehogs lost in the underbrush.

What to uncover here?


Each article retrieved carefully, cleaned and catalogued.

The first of the Wonderland artifacts presented was taken from the shores of the lachrymal lake, that said pool of tears, the one formed by Alice’s weeping. A sample of beach sand, mixed with an abundance of dehydrated salt, has been poured into a Victorian pharmacist’s glass-stoppered bottle; the relics here include a pair of sea shells (so far from any known ocean), a bit of drift wood, a timeworn label from a disintegrated box of sweets, and a nineteenth-century sterling thimble—the latter two oddities, to be sure, until one remembers the nonsensical events, which took place so very long ago on this very shoreline: a loquacious Dodo bird presiding over a competitive lunacy called a Caucus Race. In addition, we have an, as yet, unidentifiable ornithological specimen - a feather from that very same long extinct Dodo, perhaps?