I decided to visit the North Star Studios first. The blurb said that it was governed by Providence and that you had to make a wish. I was so busy wondering what I could wish that I bumped into the rickety garden gate knocking it right of its hinges. I immediately knew what my wish would be – I had the perfect gate at home sitting unused in a corner of the garden. I could wish its immediate transfer here, only after checking with the gallery owner of course, that such a gift would be welcomed.
I walked up the path through a truly exuberant garden and stopped to look in the window which was filled with mouth watering treasures – some raku sculptures, a magnificent ceramic torso and a Japanese doll. I couldn’t wait to get inside.
The magic was upon me already. I stepped in to find a veritable Aladdin’s cave of goodies ranging from wooden sculptures through glassware to jewellery, each piece more beautiful than the last. In a corner I found a silver horse prancing on a bed of uncut amethyst crystals. I just had to have that and duly asked the gallery owner if she would be kind enough to keep it for my return. It was only with difficulty that I tore myself away but I did want to visit the bookshop and the Wunderkabinett (the Old Curiosity Shop).
Madame Livia’s Bookshop of Chaos was only a couple of blocks away. The doorway was very small and it was quite a squeeze to get in. Was the owner trying to discourage visitors from entering or leaving? Inside there were books everywhere, not just on the shelves but in tottering piles on the floors, a small table was completely hidden under a mountain of books and magazines and revues appeared to be in imminent danger of sliding off the chair on which they had been temporarily piled.
Madame Livia’s appearance was as chaotic as her name. There was more than a hint of gypsy in her I thought. Her hair flowed around her in wild abandon and she was wearing the most exotic collection of jewellery – huge earrings, a veritable cascade of necklaces and bangles on both arms. In fact, she was wearing so much that the various bits of jewellery clinked against each other and tinkled like a myriad of bells whenever she moved. She wore layer upon layer of tiered skirts in a bewildering patchwork of colours and textures. I felt sure she must be related to Madame Eclectica in some way.
She scanned me shrewdly as I carefully made my way into the shop. “Greetings Traveller. Welcome to my little world of literary chaos”. How was it that everyone in this land seemed to know my name? “Hello” I said and “thank you. Please tell me, how do you know my name?” “I can read it in your face” was her slightly unnerving reply. “You have been travelling for quite a while now and your adventures are leaving indelible traces on your face but only the aware can read them”. I was beginning to think she must be related to Madame Rosa, the fortune teller, as well as Baba Yaga and all the rest and to suspect some sort of conspiracy. Were they all one and the same person but appearing in different manifestations in the different places we went to? I think I might have to have a quiet word with the Enchantress when I can finally nail her down. She seems to be so elusive these days.
I explained about the jigsaw puzzle map and asked her if she had any books on cartography. She told me to go and look under a dusty aspidistra plant in the back of the shop. “Would you like a cup of herbal nonsense while you are looking around?” she enquired. I replied that I would be delighted to taste a cup of herbal nonsense. She disappeared out to the back of the shop. When she returned a little later, Madame Livia was carrying a tray with two cups of herbal nonsense on it and a plate of fairy cakes. When I went to take one, the fairy sitting on the top of the cake flew off leaving a trail of fairy dust in the form of multi-coloured hundreds and thousands sprinkled on the top of the cake.
illustration of a fairy cake
The cake and the drink were delicious. “Do you know anything about White Owl Island?” I enquired casually as I drained my cup of herbal nonsense. “Indeed I do. Why, would you be interested in visiting it?” I told her what my research had turned up and explained that I was fascinated by these old rituals and would very much like to meet the Magiratha if that could be arranged. She told me she would see what she could do.
I continued browsing through the shelves which contained many interesting volumes. I picked up a book of beautiful floral illustrations and hastily put it back again when a picture of nettles stung me where I had been foolish enough to touch the page. I was lost in contemplation of some of the illustrations in another book when she came bustling back into the shop. “It’s all arranged” she beamed, “you can go to White Owl Island this afternoon. Alec will pick you up at the quay at 4 o’clock.” I thanked her and headed off to the Duwamish Inn as I still hadn’t checked in, which I thought I ought to do if I was likely to be out all night. The Innkeeper recognised me from my very brief previous visit and showed me to my room on the first floor in the turret from where I had a wonderful view over the harbour.