Saturday, June 30, 2007

Clog Post 4 with Zombie Barman Trade

CLOG POST 4. DOWN THAT LAZY RIVER

First Clog: "Rolling on the River...not"

Well, here we are on the Vieux (masc.) River! The River of Romance. The lazy, winding river of genteel steamboat travel and long, cool Mint Juleps and old-fashioned courtliness and hazy semi-tropical afternoons and quaint regional cookery and all that. Except it's not quite as lazy and genteel and stress-free as it's cracked up to be...

Of course we broke down. You were expecting anything else? I've been getting to the point where I'm not sure if constant breakdowns are a natural part of the traveller's landscape or if I'm under some sort of Alice-specific geas; whichever it is, we didn't get far, after we transferred (at the joining of the Blut and the Vieux) from our Zoon barge to the famous Delta Princess, before the paddles started to come adrift from the paddlewheels (the captain assured us that this was almost unheard-of). And then, another half-day's travel downriver, the boiler stopped boiling (the captain assured us that this was heard-of, but never on the same run as loose paddles). It was a stroke of luck that we have a student Technomancer in our travelling party -- Cert did some hydrothermal spells while Mr Num took the opportunity (and captive audience) to distribute some of his dour dire Omnian tracts to the passengers and I provided the entertainment. I sang We're All Going on a River Holiday and We Aren't Sailing and Silence in the Stream and other songs about rivers and breakdowns and breakdowns on rivers. I'm getting good at this!

Before I forget -- I promised I'd write down the tale of DownTown and the kinky boots and what happened to Elena, so here goes, in no particular order... all the time I'd been thinking Elena was some sort of, you know, Bad Girl, a spoilt rich Werewolf brat who'd offended a family member or even committed some dreadful breach of etiquette [they take these things seriously in Uberwald], but it turns out she was something far worse: a social reformer! Eek! A Doer of Good! Specifically in her case, an activist for population control, oh dearie me. Remember the Sonky protests some years back in A-M? When the Gifts from the Gods cult kicked up a violent stink about Sonky's "unnatural" Hygienic Protectives and burnt one of his factories [and "stink" was literal, considering what burnt rubber smells like]? Well, the Uberwald Werewolf community gets at least as upset about the S word [spay] and the N word [neuter]. But against all legal advice and good manners Elena opened an S&N clinic in Bonk's mean back streets and was hounded, ha, that's a good one, hounded, and condemned as a Traitor to the Race by the more lupine-supremacist factions -- you might say they were, wait for it, up in legs about the issue -- and abhorred by the vampire community for the faux pas of Upsetting the Traditional Balance of Power. But that wasn't the worst of it: some villagers decided, as a stag night prank, to drug the bridegroom and drag him off at Elena's clinic, and this was during a new moon, and yes, you know exactly where this is going, don't you. When the ugly [and non-fruitful] truth came out, the We R Igors public relief fund -- yes, there's an L in that P word, which is a shame when it comes to potential for rusticated humour -- offered to, um, replace what was taken... but due to a clerical error, the replacements turned out to have a certain lycanthropic quality to them, and when the somewhat mollicated [up to then] bride gave birth to a healthy litter of pups, Elena had to head for the hills, which is to say for other hills. And when the various mobs caught up with us, she had to leave again in rather a bigger hurry. We last saw her all furred on all fours, a charmingly lithe silhouette by flaming torchlight, pulling ahead of her pursuers while we hastily explained to the rest of said various mobs that no, we were barely acquainted and didn't even have infertile pets. I wish her gods-speed.

As for DownTown, perhaps it's best to pull a veil of discreet silence over the goings-on down there. But you know I won't, so... it's amazing how fast word travels underground on the underground Underground, and word of my triumphant gig at the mine propping convention in Burnt Hedge had travelled ahead of us so quickly that everywhere I went in DownTown I saw lots of leather mining coats with WHO THE HA'AK IS ALICE? lettered on the back in rivets. And so many autograph seekers! [I was careful about what I wrote for them, since Dwarfs are a very touchy race when it comes to written words.] And I had to sing Copperhead Lode so many times that I lost my voice even with all the lubricating beer. And after a few days of this, I got taken -- with a lot of whispering -- to Madame Metalbottom's. Which is a Dwarf pole-dancing club, in a darker than usual corner of a back alley in DownTown, run by some ex-pat A-M Dwarfs who've returned to the Low Country. Dwarf pole-dancing -- how radical can you get? -- is not for the faint of heart. Especially the bit about what they do with the axes. I was treated to the gyrations and clankings of Ratonna Stycke, Anthracite Dynamite, Avalanche Thundergust, and the star performer, Ketchhhup. It was all a bit unnerving, with the possibility of being raided by the Low King's Kruk Squad at any moment, but afterwards the, um, girls took me to Lars Ironsoles, Bootmaker to the Unsuitably Fashionable, and hey, I got my kinky Dwarf boots! At a discount! So I'm not complaining. And that's everything brought up to date.

Meanwhile, back on the river, we had breakdowns near Gummy, and after Little Respite, and then at Risen Dam we somehow got stuck on our moorings or possibly belayed by our anchor. I was ruining out of songs so I went to the gaming room with hopeful heart for a few rounds of Cripple Mr Onion, but no joy... in recent years, I was told, no card players will have any dealings with any woman who wears a lot of black --- which I do -- or appears to be indisputably over twenty-one -- which I am -- but no-one would say why, although they did seem strangely relieved when I said that I didn't own a pointy hat... somewhere after the river port of Dry Rot, everything finally settled in and we started making good time until the river broke down.

That's right. The river. Broke down.

They call it scuddzu. It's a weed, originally imported from the Brown Islands as an exotic houseplant, that accidentally got loose near the Vieux (masc.) when fire destroyed a riverside mansion. It's said that scuddzu is sentient. It's said that it has a life of its own and that you should never fall asleep near a scuddzu patch -- just think along the lines of "nothing left but a pair of empty boots with eldritch smoke drifting out of them". It's even said that the fire that set it free couldn't possibly have been set by any human agency. All I know, though, is that we rounded a bend and there it was, a gently heaving mat of green stuff blocking the river from bank to bank! And when the boatmen started pushing it aside with bargepoles, the green stuff heaved up gloopily [and smellily] and swallowed the sticks, and one boatman, poor chap, and then began oozing up the sides of the Princess. At this point Cert was already running to get his advanced spell book and Mr Num was calling down curses from Om with rather more emotion than his usual denouncements and then Miss Curtsey got a funny gleam in her eyes and got this tiny phial out of her knitting bag, and then things got a bit confusing and there was a lot of octarine smoke and glooping noises. When the smoke cleared, the river was unblocked and each bank was decorated with the biggest pile of sauteed spinach I've ever seen in my life. Mr Num droned a prayer of something, possibly thanks but more likely complaints that more sinners weren't smited, to Om, and Cert looked oblong at Miss Curtsey and Miss Curtsey winked and said, "It pays for a lady to be prepared when she's travelling alone." She also finally told me her first name, which is Listeria. I'm liking her more and more as this journey goes on. But I'm still not having tea in her cabin...

Next stop Circadia. here endeth this post.

* * *

Second clog: "The 102nd thing to do with a dead hedgehog, or
'I never knew a cocktail shaker had so much life in it!'"

Mrs Gogol taught me how to make zombies! And her zombie bartenders taught me how to mix Zombies!

We finally made it as far as Circadia, a province just on the upper outskirts of Genua. More like on the upper petticoats, because Circadia is swamp country and the entire province is stretched out across the vast estuarial marshes of the Vieux -- a network of little islets of damp land, each dotted with mangroves and surrounded by brackish water, which I'm told looks from the air like a huge swath of frothy lace. Well, frothy lace in desperate need of a wash, but that doesn't sound as romantic. There are no carts as such in Circadia, only dinghies and rafts and punts and rowboats and canoes and the occasional barge small enough to make its way through the narrow root-choked watercourses. Native children learn to swim before they can walk. Natural selection has also provided the natives with a perfect sense of direction; this is a good thing, because when you're living in a country where moss grows enthusiastically on everything, you can't rely on the sides of trees to tell which way is Hubwards. And natural selection has also given the inhabitants of the remoter parts of Circadia -- who are known as Circajuns, by the way -- a curious herrydeterry trait: by day they are perfectly normal overly-inbred swamp dwellers, but as soon as the sun sets they become genetically Undead. You know, werewolves, vampires, ghouls, bogeymen, revenants, shades, general monsters -- and zombies [although not so much with the zombies, because they're a bit of a special case -- as I found out! There are only two ways to successfully make a zombie, and both involve either a hatred of being alive or an indomitable will to go on living, and both of these are things that require already having lived for a number of years to develop]. This means that an adventure holiday in Circadia can be more adventurous than the brochures tend to advertise. It also means that, along with the usual jungle clothing, mosquito repellent and water wings, tourists doing Circadia have to remember to bring silver, garlic, fluffy blue blankets, assorted religious symbols, a potato on a lanyard, Ionian incense, holy water,unholy water, small ceremonial crocodiles and any other mystical, folk- legendary or otherwise protective bits and bobs they can think of. Of course, having come from the Uberwald leg of my travels, I was well prepared, so I've had an excellent time wandering around the swamps with Listeria while the others carried on to Genua proper.

Now, about making zombies -- damn, Gimpy says he's running out of ink and the local Clacks tower sank in a patch of quicksand yesterday so it's shortmouth again -- met Mrs Ggl, famous Voodoo witch & Mum of crrnt Baroness Ella Sat, gd wmn w/gumbo, v. nice, big on hats, makes Zmb's as hobby, hd copy of 101MTtDw/aDHh, askd me 2 sgn it 2 Erzulie & Baron. ReciP 4 Zmb's is abt certn fsh livr & certn roots & u mx at mdnght in grvyrd & bggr bggr argh outta ink

* * *

Second clog, cont.

Actually, I'm in Genua now. We hitched a lift with a Cidcajun rum runner and sang traditional Circajun swamp songs all the way. Miss Curts-, erm, Listeria has quite a good voice -- we're thinking of starting a band when my Grand Sneer is over, haven't sorted out the details yet but as I've been thinking of moving to A-M and that's where she's going to be for a while, there are plenty of possibilities. Also, she knows all the officials in the Seamstresses Guild [somehow, I'm no longer surprised], so when I get there I'll have a free place to stay until I get settled in. Brilliant!

Genua is absolutely amazing these days, and I have so much to say about it, but first I want to get back to Mrs Gogol and the whole making zombies thing. As I was saying before the ink ran out, I got to meet her -- she has a shack that wanders around the lower reaches of Circadia -- and discovered that she's something of a fan of mine. Maybe fan is too strong a word for a powerful Witch like Mrs Gogol, but she certainly ladled out the gumbo like an old friend and she has a copy of 101 More Things to Do with a Dead hedgehog which she asked me to sign. It seems that in the New New Genua [newer than ever since the rebuilding after the Krullian Fish Flood of two years ago], with its rollicking and abundant nightlife and cafe culture, zombie bartenders are very much in demand, and Mrs G is the primary supplier of high-quality Undead bar staff. We got to talking about the reliability of well-trained zombies and about public service industries in general, and after a few good hours and a number of bottles of rum and most of the last of my emergency travelling supply of aged Lost Wages scumble she told me the secrets of zombie making because they also make great roadies... and no, I've not the least intention of sharing the secrets with the world, ha ha. She also told me where to find the best bars and nightclubs and restaurants [although I couldn't believe any restaurant could make gumbo as good as hers, though she tells me that the Palace cooks are pretty close] and gave me a sort of letter of introduction for the Baroness. Actually, it was a trained announcing crow, but down here that's pretty much the same thing. Genua has changed beyond all recognition in recent years: all the fairy-tale shiny-white clean sterile stuff that marked the reign of Evil Lilith is gone now, and like the Circadian swamp draping everything in moss if it stands still for enough hours, the natural laissez-faire-ness of Old Genua has crept back in and covered the city with a picturesque icing of sensual and stylishly cheerful decay. There are buskers on every corner, the whole city seems to be open all hours, and the new Seamstresses' Guild branch is the largest and most powerful on the Disc [after A-M and HungHung, of course]. And there is rum. So much rum. So very, very much rum.

I've already been given a handful of bookings for gigs while I'm here, including one at the Disc-famous House of Booze and one at Puttin' On the Grits. So my song of the moment is an appropriate one for the time and place again:

    ZOMBIE BARMAN TRADE

    Hey mister, dead mister, dead mister, dread mister
    Hey mister, dead mister, dead mister, dread...

    I met Zombie lad in a Genuan bar
    Struttin' his stuff after dark
    He said, Hello, hey, yo, you want fish liver and roots?

    Getchyer, getchyer Zombie bar tab
    Getchyer, getchyer bar tab here
    Got a lotta macho Houngans
    Green and oozy Zombie lad

    Loony Voodoo shades in the bars -- bizarre!
    Loony Voodoo shades in the bars...

    I sat in the lounge bar while he frothed my cup
    I drank all that black herbal wine
    From the backwater creeks, brewed with Circajun mystique, yeah

    Getchyer, getchyer herbal cocktail
    Getchyer, getchyer health drink here
    Vino frappacino gaga
    Gogol's crazy Zombie lads

    Loony Voodoo shades in the bars -- bizarre!
    Loony Voodoo shades in the bars...

    Crust on his skin feels like funky goo
    Colour of compost and clay
    Hey, that salvaged suicide
    Leads a fuller life
    Than a corpse, corpse, corpse

    Now he's dead cold, workin' every night
    Livin' the great afterlife
    But still he longs for some peace
    Permanent sleep:
    Snore, snore, snore

    Loony Voodoo shades in the bars -- bizarre!
    Loony Voodoo shades in the bars
    Loony Voodoo shades in the bars -- bizarre!
    "Tea 'au lait', me Zombie lad!"


Well, that's all I have time for now. It's Fat Tuesday soon, and the whole city is gearing up for the best celebration of the Century of the Anchovy, so Listeria and I have some rehearsing to do. My next stop, if we can ever be moved to leave here, is either Brindisi or Krull, depending on who's going when we want to. Everything here is very laid back. It's the rum.

-- Alice.


Note for Roundworlders (with apologies to Patti Labelle): lyrics for Lady Marmalade, the original song, can be found at http://artists.letssingit.com/moulin-rouge-lady-marmalade-m98c9dp

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