Brutalist Ribbitorium, a new class offering for the second half of 2023 and beyond
Brutalist Ribbitorium. You read that right. Why on earth? What does she mean? What the hell?
There is a story to it. The story goes like this: I grew up in a brutalist paradise. Or at least spent too much of my childhood there. We moved a lot, but this was a place I spent most of my childhood at.
Imagine ten story buildings with tiny prefab apartments. Many places not just on the eastern block had these post war monstrosities. Monstrocities? Monstrocities indeed.
My family of 6 lived in a roughly 700 sqf apartment. On the bottom floor, so even the windows were smaller than in the rest of the apartments. In a part of town that many would call ugly, but then again, Salgotarjan is a town that only avid fans of brutalism could unabashedly love. During my childhood, we were national leaders in producing the highest rates of suicides in the country.
Decades before my birth, we produced coal, steel, sheet glass and blown glass, stoves and cancer. Because all this manufacturing was of course done in the middle of town in a Y shaped valley surrounded by mountains where all smoke and fumes get stuck- with zero environmental forethought or regulations.
When I was five, I thought that we were special: only in my town ran creeks rich with orange instead of clear water. Turns out it was rust. Despite my highest hopes no golden fish ever showed up and granted me my wish for a different life. So I became the fish of my own making.
The secret fish that can breathe in rusty waters between the concrete shores of forgotten cities dreaming about being an empire while time exposes the ugly truth; we were just like an abandoned colony on a strange planet and even the aliens did not care to infect us or eat us, so far we have fallen into the folds of hell's forgotten places.
Really close to the tiny apartment we lived in was the lake of pools. The lake of pools used to be an outdoor public bath in the more prosperous years of the 70s. They were a set of adjoining outdoor pools PAVED WITH CONCRETE. I haven't mentioned that besides all the buildings made out of concrete in the entire town, all other surfaces were made out of concrete too, like playgrounds. And for some very strange reason, these pools were concrete too.
As one might imagine, tender, rotund, plump children and their young mothers and concrete are not a match made in heaven. I don't know if there were any accidents that made the city close down the pools, but by the time my miserable childhood rolled around, nature took what was hers back. The pools were fed by natural spring water which might have made their practicality dubious too. Even in high summer, that water stays icy cold.
The pools became a public park. Carps were introduced, so were catfish and less planned but entirely successful were the presence of box turtles by frustrated pet parents setting their pets free. If anacondas and alligators were allowed as pets, this pond would sport them by the virtue of lack of pet parenting virtues of the locals. Dead dogs would float around too. I remember learning about what happens to dead things by keeping an eye on their decomposition for weeks.
But the most fascinating aspect of the abandoned pools was the frog migration. Every year thousands of mating couples would make their way to the pools. Big girls carrying their lazy little mates on their back, they would cross roads relentlessly getting squashed in the process to make their way to their marvelous breeding grounds. Various different species all making their squishy journeys, facing tremendous danger, just to get to the concrete pools.
And it was the highlight of my life there. I visited them every step of the way. Helped them across the road. Lovingly gazed upon their mating rituals as they swarmed the ponds, and followed their babies from tadpole to tiny frog. Sometimes going into the pool to scoop some up and take them home, watching them develop from itty bitty black swimmers to miniature wonders.
Meanwhile, the pools never lost their power of mystery over me: I knew how deep they were. My mind understood the proportions of a swimming pool. But somehow, I suspected them to be bottomless. They were so dark and unknowable and so filled with life and death bubbling over around every corner. Never ending tadpoles one day, complete fish die off the next day. Life and death thrown at you non stop. On good winters the pond would freeze over and we would go ice skating. But then I had nightmares about frozen dead people below the ice.
The water was a constant source of fascination, awe and fear.
And much like all the concrete was softened by the lush green mountainsides' contrast against the town; the dark waters got softer with an occasional duckweed or algae bloom. The tiny itty bitty perfect round scales of duckweed turned my lake of pools into magic beyond comprehension. I could imagine the fairy people dwelling in the deep much easier when there was ample duckweed to hide the tires and garbage people threw into the pool.
In case you would like to see the lake of pools, here is a link to images.
So,Brutalist Ribbitorium is about the lake of pools of my childhood. It's about concrete and wild green duckweed and fat little frogs.
The fat little frogs were made by Cynthia Thornton of Green Girl Studios. The lovely long swimming pool of a cab is by Rachel's Paint Skins. The long cab is surrounded by smoky pewter beads and concrete grey velvet. The velvet makes the necklace really soft, more like a piece of clothing than a necklace.
And the color palette is limited to a wee bit of duckweed green and moody purple. The harshness of the grey is tamed by its softness. How knowledge even of the harshest things tames them by relentless repetition- which becomes habit. How even all the right angles can be comforting by the understanding of what the setting sun does to their severity.
How when life gives you heavy, hard and unyielding people and places, you imagine light, softness and warmth; and by calling it into existence by narrating your story as one filled with magic, the magic is like the underground creek that fills the lake of pools. The magic seeps in, grows and feeds life and death, demanding nothing else but your acknowledgment of its magnificence.
Oftentimes, I think my childhood was a little bit like Harry Harlow's surrogate mother experiments under somewhat more hostile conditions than the original experiments were conducted in. I am immensely grateful for turning out alright not because of my upbringing, but despite of it.
And that had a lot to do with frogs who kept on showing up year after year. Duckweed. The lake of pools and all the oak trees in forest I could get lost in.
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