The hand of the Master, by Waldo Bien (Iceland 1982)
Along the Icelandic coast one finds scaffoldings with thousands of codfish hanging out to dry in the wind. The fish heads are separately bundled in strings, most of them exported to the third world. With every gust of wind the corpses and heads bang together, telling about submarine landscapes and its inhabitants. One can hear the horses of the great Djenghis Kahn, Waterloo and Gaugamela. The dried eyes reflect like pale moonlight.
On the way back I visit my old friend Tutsimo. He lives in a small blue -painted house on the coast, surrounded by black lava fields. A cool jewel on boiling dark skin.
A Spartan interior is hidden behind the blue corrugated iron walls, the domain of the samurai. In the middle stands a small, low, black square table, used to expose natural treasures and to make them the chosen subject of his thoughts.
It’s not the beauty of something that decides for how long it will stay within the borders of this table. It depends exclusively on dialogue. In general one could speak of a constant flow of changing subjects. I never found the same objects twice.
The first thing I would do on my annual visit, after the usual greeting ceremony at the door, polite bending, taking shoes off, following him inside, would be to go to this table and see what was the subject of attention. I have never been disappointed and could always share his interest.
During my last visit there had been an oyster shell on the table with a dark red stone in it, the size of a walnut.
The stone had radiated a magic heat and instantly attracted my attention. Tutsimo, observing me, took the stone in his hand, made as if to balanced it and with a smile put it into mine. Weight and warmth were equivalent to what the dark red colour had promised. Indeed, a very special stone. With restrained but visible pleasure he observed how I touched the little planet, played with it in my hand. I looked at him, asked, my voice softened by stone, to tell about it. “ First, my friend, I will make tea and then ~I will tell you” and with the efficiency of a master he prepared tea and we sat down and drank. For ten minutes we exchanged general information, then Tutsimo declared the ceremony ended and spoke:
“ Some weeks ago I was sitting here on the ground and was drawing, had peace with the day. Someone knocked on my door, which surprised me. As you know I’m a man of little social contacts. I live with nature. A man stood in front of my door. He, and some other man I could see standing nearby, were busy tearing down an old house across the road. The man, around 60 years, asked me politely for a cigarette, a wish I could easily fulfil, since I am a reasonable man and also a smoker. So I walked to the back and handed the man a cigarette and a lighter. After several deep zips he took something out of his pocket and handed me this stone. My first reaction was like yours, astonishment and curiosity. Just like you I wanted more information. He told me that this was a special stone, a drop of liquid red basalt from a volcanic eruption that had cooled down during its flight in the air and so kept its form. He handed it to me as a present. I accepted it and then placed it here on the table where the oyster had been waiting for a pearl. It filled the whole room to my satisfaction.
Some days later, I sat in meditation, again someone knocked on my door. I stood up, walked to the door, opened. The same man stood there again with the same request. In his stretched forward hand he was holding a sweet. I looked at it and at him and said “no” and closed the door again. I’m not a businessman and I don’t like sweets”. He then filled the tea bowls again and handed the stone to me with the wish that I would accept and take it, so he could direct his interest to something new.
Home again, the basalt pearl landed on my desk and became the centre of many thoughts until someone discovered it there one day and was attracted by it, asked for its origin. I prepared tea, then told about the tear of a volcano and a man asking a samurai for a cigarette, in short, the story, as I knew it. I then took the pearl and laid it in his hand and asked him to take it home. If one day someone would be attracted by it, make tea and tell the history of the rock. And so it went out of sight.
Some weeks later, I was at work in my studio, trying to find the right proportions for a sculpture, I realised that there must be an ideal size for everything. I realised that my suggestion to the new ‘owner’ of the basalt pearl, to repeat the ceremonial initiation, could cause an avalanche of repetitions, until one a day a Master would come and reduce knowledge to a simple stone in one’s hand.
The next time I met the new owner I asked after the Marsian pearl.
To my relief he had lost it the same day he had received it.