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THE TWO TOWNS: A TRANSFORMATION OF TOWNSCAPE IN MODERN CHINA
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LEO GIDON'S WANDERING MIND
Mehis Heinsaar

ANTONIO MACHADO
Lauri Sommer

TEAM

Leo Gidon’s Wandering Mind

1.

Once upon a time, on the Philosopher street in Tartu, lived a historian Leo Gidon, who had a brilliant mind. He still lives there, by the way, but the miraculous events that I am to retell happened some years ago, so allow me to start with:

Once upon a time, on the Philosopher street in Tartu, lived a historian Leo Gidon, who was very proud of his mind. His secret wish, however, was that his intellect would be not only brilliant, but ingenious. He therefore polished his thinking with great love and attention to perfection, piling wisdom from antique philosophy to modern sciences, until he reached his desired aim.

Drawings: Pavel Semjonov

But when there is something that exceeds brilliance into ingenuity, quite often unforeseen consequences present themselves. This is the way of the natural world, and even Leo Gidon could not escape that.
One day, the prodigal mind of Gidon discovered that it could think by itself quite independently and that it was getting rather congested in the head of this smart man. And since Leo Gidon did not like to wander out of his trifling room, his talented mind felt ever more the need to get some fresh air and see the wide world out there. So it happened, that one morning, Leo’s mind slipped out of his left ear as a little bird and flew out of the window into the warm autumn breeze. It was an unexpected blow for Gidon. He did not comprehend, naturally, for he had no more mind in his head. Blinking his eyes in a flash, he looked out of the window, then onto the floor beneath his feet, scratched his ear and yawned. He proceeded to climb under the table and remained there squatting like a frog staring at something that looked like a bug.

Leo Gidon’s mind was far outside of Tartu by that time. He had flown over some grasslands and forests, finally landing on a roadside willow tree in Vastse-Kuuste county, settling to watch potato pickers on the field. This activity was so much to his liking that he started to sing along in five different octaves of the oriole language, to make working more enjoyable for the people. Gidon’s ingenious mind cheered to the archaic and physically challenging work. He liked everything that had to do with nature, travelling and open expanse of the land. In this way, he flew as a thousand autumn spiders along with the wind over meadows and moors, and listened to the silence of midnight as an owl perching at the top of an elm tree. As three crows, he observed men tarring roofs and digging graves; he looked at glass blowers in the glass-shop and how iron was melted and poured into casting mould at the foundry.

... But he did not like people, who used their clever minds for insidious purposes – he got into action right away.

Thus the ingenious mind of Gidon, in the form of ten little mice, once climbed up the legs of a fat politician’s trousers, who was holding a speech to country folks. Mice scrabbled into his mouth, hair, behind the ears and armpits, so that the eloquent man was terrified speechless and had to be carried out on a stretcher and never to be seen again.

2.

But what was poor Leo Gidon doing all this time?

Having sat under the table for a full day and night, he carefully crawled to the window and peeped out from the curtains. He noticed his own shadow on the wall and it scared him to tears – desperately he grabbed his head and cried. Then he plopped down by the table, where his unfinished doctoral thesis lay, but he no longer knew anything about the surface forms of Palaeolithic era. He went up to the roof, sat on a chimney and looked around in four directions.

“Auuu – auuu!” he jelled.

Somehow the professor sensed he was missing something, but since he did not have a mind, he could not tell what it was.

He foraged the whole house, but without finding what he needed, left home. He started to rifle through strange gardens and backyards, scrutinising suspiciously every passer-by, trying to sneak a peek into their bags. He often stopped someone to ask them something, but then got confused and hurried on. This way, he reached the department store in the centre of town. There too, he continued his arduous search for something he did not know, but knew he really needed. He looked for it among the suits and shirts and tennis-shoes, on cd-shelves and in cosmetics department, but when the sales staff asked him, what he was looking for, he shook his shoulders at a loss and pretended to be just walking around. Finally, he was asked to leave the store and poor Gidon had to continue his pursuit elsewhere.

 

3.

And what was his wandering mind up to meanwhile?

Leo Gidon’s mind had travelled far and turned from oriole to a skinny stray dog rummaging through dumping grounds, digging out old cow carcasses, tossing and turning on them, tongue hanging out of his mouth. The smell of corpses tickled his senses so enjoyably.

Gidon’s mind could take any form, as long as it was not bigger than a dog.

Next day, he moved on as a big colourful parrot on a vagrant musician’s shoulder, reaching a small village in northern Võrumaa. The musician entered a tavern, where Gidon’s parrotised mind saw a sad carpenter sitting by the bar and instantly thought of helping the poor fellow. Right then and there, the mind turned into whiskey, which the barman was pouring into carpenter’s glass, and followed down the throat of the tired working man. For many days, Gidon’s wandering mind lived in the body of the carpenter, drank strong beer, ate greasy food, slept with a mean but beautiful working woman, getting her pregnant for the fifth time along the way. But he was not fooling around!

With the help of Gidon’s marvellous ingenuity, in three days the carpenter sketched down an innovative door design, completed it in six days, and took it to the patent office. The patent office was blown away. For what they saw was not only a door, but with a little reconstruction it turned into a window with a view to the sea right under their eyes. Furthermore, it could be made into midgets’ summer house with a gramophone when needed. Naturally, he got a patent on his miracle door design without further ado, and by next month he could move together with his wife and children into a large spacious seaside house.

 

4.

And what happened next to Leo Gidon?

At last, after one too many weeks, Gidon’s mind flew home as five orioles. Smelling of beer, dumping grounds, and potato sprouts, bothered by hiccups, he snuck back into his brain and fell sound asleep instantly. He awoke the day after the next on the afternoon.

Professor’s mind was all so excited and eager to tell so many things to his master, but for Leo Gidon, it was all too much – fresh country air, garbage stench and foundry smells – besides everything that happened, he was quite offended by the mind’s treachery. So it happened, that Leo Gidon and his ingenious mind argued until the evening, trying to figure out, who had what liberties.

“You have been put into my head by destiny, in order to heed my command!”, Leo contended, “To keep the flame of my spirit burning high, to clean the space and guard the door, so that vain and devilish thoughts would not enter my mind. But what do you do?!”

And Gidon’s mind really tried – tried to return to his quiet and tame self, to be the loyal servant of his master, but he could not keep it up for long.

Because of this, Gidon’s life and work routines changed. To make the most of when the mind was home, Leo Gidon had to work more efficiently now, and much faster continue his thesis on Palaeolithic land forms. Whereas, his work had ripened in a sober and academic style before, now even the smooth and mathematical order of sentences started to waver due to the hastened pace. His uneven writing style made way for the scientific work to take on a more poetic tone and rhythm, his syntax became frisky and melodious, and the Palaeolithic nature and atmosphere acquired an air that was dangerously romantic. Leo Gidon’s historical academic treatise could now be handled as a continuation of Hesiod’s “Works and Days” or rather its distant prologue. Impetuously beating time with his pen, he was writing his poetic-scientific doctoral thesis, knowing that he might not be allotted too many hours for it. And so it was. Sooner or later Gidon’s mind got his wanderlust.

“I need to fly to Kuramaa,” it announced during the sweetest working time.

“I need to fly to Valka, Kuramaa and Panevėžys!”, and there it went.

And until today, sometimes during autumn, when the leaves have already fallen, one can see students standing in the evening mist under professor Leo Gidon’s window looking up at the great poet and scientist. They see him pacing the room restlessly, holding his miserable head crying painfully “why, oh why, have you forsaken me, my mind!”

Such a sight fills the spirits of students with something sublime and sacred. And they think in silent reverence, what amount of suffering a creator is willing to endure.

 

Mehis Heinsaar
is the author of four books. He lives in Tartu, Estonia. Have a look at his other texts in previous Epifanios.