corner image   The Cafe Irreal: International Imagination 

Issue Twenty-Four

Uncovering the Walkways by Vanessa Gebbie
Instructions on How to Build a Cloud by Daniel Hudon
Tiny Red Heart and Dog Daze by Tania Hershman
Three Theatrical Minutes:
An Unhappy Day at the End of March by Hubert Krejč
Emulsifiers by Jiří Sedláček
The Minute Glass by Daniela Fischerová


Instructions on How to Build a Cloud

by Daniel Hudon

o one has successfully built a cloud, so this is your chance to make history. Apart from bringing rain and providing shade, clouds have myriad uses that have yet to be explored. You will be doing imaginative souls and humanity a favor. You have no reason not to build one.

Before you start, make sure your mind is still. Clouds are ephemeral and if you’re not prepared to concentrate you won’t grasp their true nature. Drink a tall glass of water. Meditate. Go on vacation. Take early retirement. Do what it takes to clear your mind, otherwise your cloud will fail.

Now think about the possibilities of your cloud. You must endow it with potential. Basho praised clouds for allowing moon-viewers to relax. Kalidasa used a cloud to carry messages between distant lovers. A Hindu myth says clouds used to be the wings of mountains, which is why they still gather around mountaintops. Magritte painted clouds into the outstretched wings of a dove. Don’t shortchange your cloud by thinking small. In that case, save yourself the trouble and just build a stone. Imagine great things for your cloud.

Give some thought to the type of cloud you want; if you don’t plan it out, you’ll just get an amorphous blob. Your best bet is a standard cumulus cloud that has a wispy bottom and cauliflower top. This form has a good aesthetic and endless possible variations — you’ve got room to maneuver. Stratus, a thin, gray sheet, is also recommended, despite its lack of individuality, because you can build one right in your kitchen. Rain clouds, such as cumulonimbus, are also worth considering particularly because of their lovely-sounding name. You could probably seduce someone just by whispering the word “cumulonimbus” into his or her ear. But be aware that they require the most material, and tread carefully because having the power to bring rain is likely to go to your head.

Other cloud types to be aware of, though considerably more challenging, are lenticulars, which look like flying saucers and require nearby mountain ranges (plus their attendant winds) for their ultimate shape, or night-glowing noctilucent clouds that require a good quantity of meteoric dust to freeze water onto (so that they glow) and an altitude of fifty miles. Good luck with the scaffolding.

Once you have your mind clear and some idea of your cloud’s potential and shape, you’re ready to start building. Here you have two convenient options. The first option is the Mayan chuc, a clay sauna barely big enough to sit in, commonly found in the mountain villages of Guatemala. Pour water over the rocks and collect steam in a large plastic bag. Better yet, use a parachute (so long as you can close the end). You may need to stay in the chuc for several days to collect enough steam so eat well beforehand and stay hydrated. Also, be sure your container is properly lined or you’ll come out with a condensed cloud suitable only for watering plants or making coffee. Time spent getting the lining right is time saved. Remember to concentrate on your cloud’s potential and shape while you collect. Similar results could be obtained from Laotian saunas or Turkish baths. Don’t forget to tip the attendant if you do this in Istanbul.

The second option is the Murakami method in which you create your cloud by boiling up some spaghetti. Use a big pot and start early in the morning. Again, capture the steam in a properly-lined plastic bag (or parachute) with your properly-calmed mind. Take deep breaths. Keep filling the bag (or parachute) until the spaghetti is al dente. You need to really pack the steam in if you want to build a respectable cloud so be prepared to make several pots of spaghetti, maybe a few weeks’ worth. The noodles freeze well. Or, invite the neighbors for dinner — when’s the last time you did that? Perhaps even make it like a church supper and invite the whole block. It’s for a good cause.

Once you have your bag of steam, keep it warm with aluminum reflectors and redirected sunlight or you’ll have a watery mess. You can do some initial shaping but most of that will be done onsite before you release your cloud.

Spend some time investigating good release sites. You want a reliable updraft of warm air. If you release your cloud and it falls to the ground, you’ve made fog. Not what you were aiming for. One good location is the ramparts of the fort at Jodhpur, India — the sounds of the entire city, from the clang of hammer on metal to the gossip of the washing women, well up from below so you know there’s a good updraft. Other places may be suitable too. Try Mongolia, for example, in the summer time. Those steppes must be good for something.

When you’re ready to release your cloud, remember all the possibilities you conjured for it, and your thoughts about shape. This is the moment of truth. Be still your mind, and heart. Open the bag and let the cloud out. (Here is where the parachute comes in handy because of the much larger opening.) Don’t force it. Patience is key. Whisper to it about seeing great palaces, glittering cities, palm trees swaying on tropical isles. Clouds are often reluctant to be solitary sojourners, so coax gently. Be sincere. In an uncertain world, you only want the best for your cloud.

Daniel Hudon has published more than two dozen literary travel pieces in Descant, The New Quarterly, Grain and The Antigonish Review. Recently, he has published prose writings in Cezanne's Carrot, Eclectica and Neon (UK). He has new work appearing in Bayou Magazine and in an anthology of stories about string theory in 2008. His book, The Bluffer's Guide to the Cosmos (Oval Books, UK) will also be published in 2008. Originally from Canada, he teaches natural science at Boston University, in Boston, Massachusetts.

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