Saturday, May 6, 2017

Scheherezade's Story and the "Hundred and One Idyllwildian Nights"

In the days of the Beast Flag Republic the people of our town celebrated the Idyll-Beast Festival differently than we do now. The spectacle was, though more primitive, much more lavish, and the cult more devoted. But its spirit was incomparably more cruel. The climax of the festival was the Bar-B-Que of a real Idyll-Beast. For this a creature was trapped each year and tied up behind the Snow White Laundry. The animal rode in the parade down North Circle like nowadays, but was then afterwards roasted and eaten. This annual event was keenly anticipated by the townspeople, with the exception of the vegetarians, who were in any case rarer than today.

    According to contemporary accounts there was nothing more delicious than roast Beast, and nothing more terrible than the effects on the spirit the ritual had; the greedy expectation, the gluttony, the dull satiation that lasted for days after, the aching in the soul as the effects wore off and the eater began to feel that he was digesting his own insides, the attempt to dull the sickly quickened appetite with loads of sweet and meat, grease and starch.

    When old folks told this story years ago, they would go on and on about the preparation of the Beast, until the children (and anyone else listening) had all fallen asleep. The townspeople each took a role in the festive process, some feeding him (or her), others grooming and entertaining her (or him.) The preparation of the sauce was undertaken by members of the Rotary club and the American Legion, each group entrusted with one half a recipe that had been passed down through generations. Children gathered the firewood, the old ones the special herbs. The Realtors oversaw the “division” of the animal into individual portions. Shop-keepers donated the rare ingredients for the stuffing, and Innkeepers provided hand towels for the sticky-fingered celebrants. And the Idyll-Beast was only the capstone, as it were, of a pyramid of delicious wildlife. Deer and Bear, Raccoon and Squirrel, Mole and Chipmunk, Boar and Rabbit, and Quail and Frog adorned and added each their own individual notes of flavor to the terrible banquet.

    Eventually this hunting (along with habitat loss) decimated the local Idyll-Beast population, and there was even talk about serving pork ribs instead. Then one summer an unlikely Animal “volunteered” herself for the sacrifice, simply strolling or sauntering into town one sunny day to hand herself over. Her story is called “Scheherezade’s” story. That’s not the name the Beast gave herself, but what the people came to call her…

Scheherezade.

Securely tied up behind the Snow White Laundramat, the Beast seemed quite comfortable. People came to gawk and offer the Animal snacks. The local restaurants sent take out. This went on for several weeks. The night before the feast, she began to tell a story. She began to regale her captors with a story about Old Idyllwild. Full of Realtors and Building Inspectors, wily shopkeepers and clueless tourists, hard-drinking young folks, legal shenanigans and black magic. The tale entranced the listeners. But just at the most dramatic moment, the Beast introduced a plot twist and a sub-narrative, and the listeners all realized they were actually hearing a story about a story about Idyllwild. The Beast then announced that she was too sleepy to continue, but would finish tomorrow…. The Feast had, in the past, occasionally been put off a day or two, one year for the rain, one year when a fire forced a temporary evacuation; so the delay was not unheard of, and the people really wanted to hear the rest of the story. And so the Animal was spared. The next night’s story “ended” just as suspensfully. And so the tales and tales within tales continued…and multiplied… for 101 nights…..

1 comment:

  1. When I was growing up in Idyllwild during the last millennium in the 1960s, we called the beast "The monster from Mt. Atlas" because it was spotted on Atlas, a small outcrop above Fern Valley.

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