November 19th – The Festival of the Mill Street Oracle

In 1928, Mill Street was due for demolition. In this part of Darksheve’s district there were plenty of slum streets like Mill Street, where the constructions were hastily thrown up and unsanitary. Folk had mostly moved out to other parts of the City before 1928, and the houses were falling derelict all around. Except that, amongst the mouldering debris around them, the house at 78 Mill Street was a little different; they may not have had access to the best materials or architects, but the inhabitants had put a lot of work and love into making their home a pleasant place to live. They weren’t particularly happy with the idea that all that hard work was going to be crushed to brick dust in a few months.

Buentoille prides itself on its local democratic structures, but sometimes in a democracy individual concerns can get overridden by what’s best for the majority. Mill Street was to be turned into wonderful new apartment blocks, spacious and hygienic, with its own primary school and a health centre not too far away. The houses were prioritised for anyone who still resided in the crumbling road, and everyone was pretty happy with the idea, except for the Passener family, the family who lived at no. 78. Their house, which they had spent so long improving and personalising, was to be replaced by the primary school.

Despite their petitions, the rest of the local community clearly didn’t think that the Passener’s house was worth the loss of a primary school. Something else had to be done. The only thing guaranteed to stop a demolition in Buentoille is evidence of historical significance, or of an established festival or tradition that takes place there. The only issue for the Passeners was that there was no such significance or festival, and everyone locally knew it. It seemed that there was no hope; the demolition had already begun on the rest of the street and the family were given two weeks to get out before they were forcibly removed. It was then, in an outing to the Hidden Library, that Feram Passener found hope, buried deep in a dusty old book.

The book Feram had found was actually a diary, specifically the diary of the artist Hermennia Jauche, perhaps the most famous painter of the eighteenth century, whose portraits and domestic scenes of Buentoillitants from all social classes are considered some of the greatest artworks to ever grace a canvas. In this diary, it was revealed that Jauche had painted her masterpiece ‘Oracle at Work’ on-site, whilst the eponymous oracle performed her prophetic magic, ‘in a house near the end of Mill Street, in Darksheve’s.’ The identity of the ‘Oracle’ had long been a point of mystery and frustration amongst Jauche scholars, who had somehow never found the diary. Feram claims that it was placed in front of him on his desk (at which he had been reading about compulsory purchase law) by a passing Pohlatiné, who said nothing and then walked away.

The Passeners couldn’t believe their luck. Very quickly they set about creating a festival around this fact, glossing over the fact that this could have been any house on their street. At this point that small detail seemed less important, given that the rest of the street had been demolished; who could say that it wasn’t this house? When designing the festival, they took cues from both the painting and the diary, getting auntie Maggy to dress up like the Oracle (with dark shawl and ring-encrusted fingers), and providing her with all the necessary prophetic props: the seaweed hanging in the hallway like a curtain, the bowls full of eggs, the black candles and mice bones. They invited everyone from the local community to come along and have their fortunes told, in celebration of the house’s ‘historical significance’. They chose the 19th of November because it was a few days before they were due to be forced out, but since it has been post-rationalised as the likely date that Jauche visited the original Oracle.

From the fact that this is still a festival today, you can tell that the ruse worked, although not quite for the reasons that the Passeners gave. Nobody really cared that this may have been the house that a famous painter once used as a studio, and whilst they enjoyed the fortune-telling they didn’t really accept that this was reason enough to save the house, but what they did see when they went inside the Passener household was how nice it was inside. Most of those who voted for the new construction where the house was had assumed it was just like all the others on the street, and that the Passeners were simply stuck in their ways. From the outside it didn’t look like much, but inside there had clearly been so much love put into the home; there were beautifully carved ceiling beams and walls painted with touching murals, there were handmade cabinets and a clay oven that flowed around the space, heating the entire house through ornate sprawling piping. Everywhere they looked there were personal, artistic touches.

Two days after the festival that the Passeners put on, an emergency council meeting was held, and amendments were made to the building plans. The Passener house now exists in a narrow gap between the school and a huge housing block next door, a lone reminder of the past, small in stature but not personality. Most years, the line to have your fortune told (but more importantly to get a look around the delightful Passener home) stretches right around the block.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Ancient Rites Made Modern: a Historian’s Conference Festival
  • The Maple Syrup Tasting Festival
  • The Festival of the Blighted Hare