Early afternoon at the Rainbow Hotel1) in Fitzroy. I sat in a sofa, staring at the image of a toucan on a poster at the entrance to the meals area.
Late as usual, Hakuna entered the hotel from Gore Street. By that time, I was drinking my second beer. He brushed the floor with his big smile and touched everyone with a generous dose of sadness. His skirt looked pedantically ironed.
A day before, we met on a busy intersection and neither of us had time for conversation. Hakuna insisted he show me his recent art-works and I looked forward to enjoying his intellectual presence and joint display of high paced alcohol consumption.
I told him about my strange dream with Giuseppe Verdi2) and he said that he too, experienced a similar revelation of the famous composer. I could not put it to anything else but coincidence, because whatever he was influenced by was not one of the mind-altering substances that I would consider taking.
‘My vision was clear.’ – Hakuna said – ‘Like on a big screen, we walked through the crowd, as if there was no-one around us. The sounds of surrounding were switched to mute.’
Then he took a large pile of sketches and brochures out of his shoulder bag, struggling to keep them together. The photos, drawings and newspaper articles were of different shapes and sizes and the smaller one’s kept falling on the floor. He asked me about my early childhood and I replied that there wasn’t much to say about it. From my recollection, I was no different to other kids from our neighbourhood, but by the time I was eight or nine I started realising how repetitive and predictable most people were.
I expected him to comment along the lines that most people are focused on the content of conversation, rather than the style in which thoughts are expressed. In such cases, statements are primarily used to pass the message, accompanied by a limited vocabulary and stereotyped body language. Instead, he said:
‘The consequence of dealing with such people is to feel discouraged to think before talking.’
He also suggested that they often oppose the attempts of questioning or challenging, because of the fear they might cause unnecessary interruptions. According to him, a typical conversation is structured as a series of sequential monologues.
‘What’s wrong with not challenging?’
‘An intuitive feeling that disagreements might lead to confrontation.’
‘I think of disagreements as a welcome prerequisite for constructive dialogue.
‘That is because you are not a follower and not preoccupied with protecting your integrity by distancing yourself from the opinions of others.’
‘But I hardly ever miss an opportunity to undermine whatever is different to my own views.’ – My attempt to sound self-critical went unnoticed.
‘It’s fascinating how the mind works. Those with the courage to express their own views appear too vocal to most of the others.’ – Hakuna said.
‘But, why would anyone want to be a follower?’
‘Apparently, it generates a higher level of comfort when you stick with clichés, resorting to only a limited number of generic remarks from the repository of well proven and widely accepted responses.’
‘Isn’t that a bit primitive?’
‘Only to the extent that in certain societies, it might be easier to recognise the patterns in communication. Those are in correlation with collective expectations and the linguistic standards of the society.’
He leaned back in his chair. We waved to the barman who responded by serving us more of the same, to brighten the day and sharpen our minds.
Then Hakuna showed me a photo of a table he had decorated for a well-known French restaurant. The top surface was covered with canvas painted with oils in a graffiti-like style. It presented an image similar to a no-parking traffic sign, with an added talking head in the background and the hand-written words no-thinking-zone3) beneath it.
I asked him, why he had written the words. In my opinion the image was aesthetically sufficient and self-explanatory.
‘Why?’ – he repeated.
‘That’s the question Timothy Leary4) asked himself before he died.’
I was sure I had heard the story before, but let him continue:
‘His death was recorded at his request, to capture his final words. According to witnesses, during his final moments, he clenched his fist and said, “Why”, and then unclenching his fist, he said, “Why not?”. He died soon after.’
It was getting late, but I wished our conversation to continue.
‘Tell me what you are thinking?’ – Hakuna questioned.
‘Just contemplating my lapses of reflective thoughts.’
‘Or more precisely reflexive.’ – he corrected me.
‘What is the difference?’
‘Reflective is an analytical practice in which the writer describes a real or imaginary scene, event, interaction or a passing thought or memory, whilst simultaneously adding a personal reflection to the subject. It consists of analysing an event or idea, thinking in depth and from different perspectives.’ – he paused.
‘And what is Reflexive?’
‘In fiction, the term reflexive is used as a synonym for metafiction. It is a narrative technique that draws attention to its own existence as a piece of art. It can be compared to presentational theatre, which does not let the audience forget it is viewing a play.’ – He looked at me unsure of how much I understood and I was wondering whether he still had enough energy to continue.
Carefully he packed his sketches and scribbles back into his shoulder bag and we decided to meet again, to discuss his art-works in more details.
As we were leaving, both toucan and the barman waved to us – speechless.
1) Rainbow Hotel – Live music venue in the inner suburb of Fitzroy, in Melbourne, Australia
2) Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) – An Italian opera composer. More on Wikipedia
3) Table-sculpture, oil on canvas on timber table, Melbourne, Australia 1997
4) Timothy Leary (1920-1996) – An American psychologist and writer. More on Wikipedia