August 26th – The Festival of Opening the Door

As you might imagine, the Warrens are a portion of Buentoille where linearity is lost, where direction deceives and streets intersect with wild abandon. At points, the labyrinthine ways seem to extend in three dimensions, not just the usual two, delving downwards and upwards in the higgledy piles of masonry that flaunt all building safety regulations, yet have seemingly lasted for centuries.

At times, the Warrens can feel like their own city, and in some ways this is correct; they certainly have contained an identifiably unique subculture for most of Buentoilliçan history, flaunting a kind of progressive, communal mentality and political brazenness which the rest of the City has only in the last 100 years caught up to. For hundreds of years before that the Warrens were seen by the rest of the City as a place of criminals, of vagrants and anarchists where ‘respectable’ people didn’t go: it is a trite observance that the eponymous heroine of Camel Viram’s Emily Down the Rabbit Hole was actually travelling into an allegorical depiction of an imagined Warrens, full of vice and unspeakable degeneracy.

Now that folk walk freely in those involute passages, without fear of anything but getting lost, the inhabitants of stacked houses there retain a great deal of pride but are seemingly less insular, less aggressive to outsiders. There has even been a little gentrification of the houses there, although this generally involves knocking through a few of the cramped dwellings to create more comfortably inhabitable homes, now possible with lower birth rates and the eradication of poverty. At today’s festival everyone is welcome, of course, provided they can find it.

Quite how long the door stood there unused and unnoticed is unknown. It was probably the way it is with many tales like this: that the locals passed by the door every day and thought nothing of it. Perhaps they had wondered about it as children (children are, as Heinbrow wrote, merely agents of the god Curiosity), but had never managed to pick the old rusted lock, to scale the tall brick wall, to break the thing down. Nowadays the door stands out amongst the surrounding doors on the passage, somewhere high up in the north east quadrant of the Warrens. It looks comparably sturdy and expensive, but before it would have faded into the background, a dusty, cobweb-ridden thing with detritus piled up at its base.

It was during one of the purges that wracked the Warrens in the days leading up to the Revolution that they finally broke down the door. Monarchist snatch squads would venture into the dark alleys at night, and whilst they were usually driven back by the area’s home-grown protection brigades of local folk wielding improvised weapons, some got through and caused havoc amongst the lesser-prepared Warren dwellers. It was a woman who went by the name of Wikked Sharpe who broke down the door, trying to find a place to hide with her children, Alf and Quick. She had a crowbar, and prised the old rusted lock in two, then ran inside and held the door closed. She didn’t look around her for a short while, not until she felt Quick quietly pulling on her skirt.

Behind the door there is a single twisted, interlocking colossal rhododendron tree. It completely fills the space, and displays wonderful, bright pink flowers in springtime, the petals falling to the ground as a beautiful carpet in early summer. By today the petals will mostly have turned brown, become mulch between the sweeping boughs of dark green foliage. Nobody is quite sure how the rhododendron got there, or became so large, but the general consensus is that it was a walled garden that became neglected and eventually taken over by the tree, which was probably at first only a shrub. Other plants presumably once eked out a living there, but there are no traces of them today.

The garden is open all year around, and is maintained by the folk who live in the houses down the alley, but today they will give over care of the space to the descendants of Alf and Quick, who host a small party to celebrate the events which probably enabled their very existence on this, their anniversary. This gathering of family and guests will first perform a long-held ritual of ‘bashing down’ the door, where the youngest family member runs directly at the door, which is left unlocked and slightly ajar.

Once inside, they hang lanterns from the various branches and sit on those which are lower and more horizontal. The space is probably about thirty feet squared, and the way in which the tree grows means that there are three ‘rooms’ only accessible comfortably via three ‘doors’ or ‘arches’. The guests will generally mill around in these spaces, eating food cooked in a nearby house and drinking beer from a bucket of ice. Someone generally brings a guitar of mandolin, and soft music emanates from this intimate space, this place of peace and refuge.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Synthesised Foods
  • The Deer in the Basement Festival
  • The Festival of the Final Witness

This festival has associated artwork, take a look!