Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Long ago in Paris, I used to eat often in a small Arab restaurant in the rue des Archives, just up from the town hall, which served an excellent couscous. I was charmed by a mural picture-story, composed of illustrations as in a comic book, which started in a corner of the restaurant and stretched all the way around three walls. The simple drawings, without words, told the story of a wise man who went out into the wilderness to meditate, seated on the sandy slopes.

His meditation session lasted for a long time. For years. Maybe for decades. At the outset, he is all alone: a solitary hermit lost in his profound thoughts. Then a few nomads stop at the oasis at the foot of the mountains, and pitch their tent. Soon, they are joined by other desert wanderers, with herds of goats, and the oasis is transformed into a tiny village of tent-dwellers. Unperturbed, the wise man continues to meditate.

Further settlers arrive, and they build huts on the slopes around the oasis. Alongside these huts, sheds start to spring up, where craftsmen appear to be working. Trenches are dug so that water can be pumped up to these people living and working on the slopes. The wise man, oblivious to this activity, carries on meditating.

Little by little, the slopes around the oasis are covered in dwellings of many kinds. Streets start to appear, with donkey-drawn vehicles moving through the settlement. Some of the settlers get around on small motor-cycles. Later, the first trucks and automobiles appear on the scene. The wise man pays no attention to the changing environment. He is too busy meditating.

Electricity is introduced into the township, and the streets are paved. Smoking factories appear on the outskirts of the town. New houses, built of bricks and stone, are erected. Children play in green parks. Cafés and restaurants have come into existence in the vicinity of the oasis. There is even a cinema and a municipal swimming pool. The wise man, still meditating, is unaffected by this large-scale arrival of civilization.

It is no longer a simple township, but a busy city. Few traces of the desert environment remain visible. It could be a typical small metropolis located anywhere on the globe. Only one small detail makes it different to most other cities. There is a strange individual in the middle of this vast urban environment, and he seems to be meditating.

Suddenly, in several corners of the metropolis, the first signs of decadence have started to appear. A few factories have closed. In several neighborhoods, empty dwellings are falling into ruin. The wise man is not at all worried by this state of affairs, because he is concerned solely by his meditations.

Little by little, the urban environment is rotting away, and citizens are leaving for greener pastures. Everywhere, there are signs of decay, destruction and decrepitude. The sands of the desert have started to cover, not only the former parks, but even various deserted neighborhoods. The wise man is still engaged in his thoughts.

Within a short time, it is becoming more and more difficult to imagine that there was once a thriving city at this spot. Sand, by now, covers almost the entire site. Finally, there are no longer any visible traces whatsoever of the former presence of humans. The place has reverted to its initial state, which corresponds to what the wise man saw when he chose this spot, long ago, for a session of meditation.

Suddenly, he awakes from his meditation. He is surrounded by the silent desert, with a green oasis down at the foot of the slopes. He stands up, yawns, and stretches his arms and legs. He has a contented smile on his face. He looks up towards the heavens, as if he were about to address himself to a divinity. He exclaims with enthusiasm: "Wow, what an extraordinary meditation session!"

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