Algernon Blackwood

Algernon Blackwood

The Olive

What could be more innocent than an olive rolling across the floor of a restaurant? It is an event that is almost as lacking in excitement and intrigue as an event can be. Of course, if the olive was set into motion by a very attractive lady and if a handsome young man picked it up and set it on his table and if the girl's mother were to give her a disapproving glance when she smiled at the young man...then...then you might have something.

When the young man rises to leave, he picks up the olive and puts it in his pocket. The fact that the pretty girl had somehow upset the olive from its place on her plate somehow gave it a value that it would not normally have possessed. It had become an artifact of her and, just as the bullet that killed Lincoln was unique and different from all the other bullets that passed through lesser men, this olive that had been touched by that beautiful creature was now superior to all other olives in the world. To the young man it was the equal of the apple that Eve had given to Adam.

The young man spent the next few days roaming through olive groves and longing to eat an olive, but the olives in this area where grown only for their oil.

One morning the young man was awakened by someone tapping on his hotel room door before sunrise. The girl who rolled the olive on the floor had come to visit him. They strolled beneath the stars and she told him that she knew he wanted to play when he picked up the olive. She said that she was glad that it was him who picked it up, because if another would have picked it up, she would be with someone else now.

They embraced and kissed. She told him that he was only 'half and half' but soon he would be 'altogether'.

The young man began to remember things from a previous life. As dawn approached, they went to Bussana, a village that had been destroyed by an earthquake. There really is such a village. It is in Italy, near San Remo. On the 23rd of February 1887 it was destroyed by an earthquake. Bussana was abandoned for many, many years and then in 1960 the Italian sculptor, Clizia, started a summer camp for artists there. It evolved into a community for artists that was based on aesthetic values.

In 1963 the writer and actress, Elizabeth Wilmot, arrived in a white limousine with her pet crocodile and decided to stay. Today it is a lively arts center but this does not please the Italian authorities. For the past 20 years they have been trying to evict the artists. To find out more about the community click the link to Bussana below this review in 'Blackwood Links'.

Blackwood obviously was very impressed by the community. In his story the girl tells the young man that while the locals believed that the town had been destroyed by an earthquake that caused the roof of the local church to collapse and kill 60 church-goers, what really happened was that the old God had came to claim his own. As they looked at the place now fauns and nymphs and satyrs began to dance. The young man was amazed and frightened but the girl held him close to her. Things that were long ago forgotten appeared before them.

Then a God appeared that was not the God of Christians. he spoke to them and told them that now they were 'altogether'. The ground began to shake. The girl spoke into his ear:

"Kiss me - kiss me before we forget again!..."

Then our young man awoke to find himself in his bed back at the hotel. Was what he experienced a dream?

After he arose he sought out the girl. He asked her if she had a dream in which she went with him to Bussana. She said that she had not had such a dream, but she knew from the moment that he picked up the olive that he was 'half and half' and that he soon would be 'altogether'. The story closes with the two of them falling into each others' arms and kissing.

Blackwood spent his youth being stifled by religious beliefs that sought to restrict man's animalistic instincts. To Blackwood someone who accepts civilization and tries control the animalistic nature of man is only 'half and half'. To be 'altogether' one must allow man's basic instinct free reign. Here we have a young man, polite, formal, and politically correct in all ways, who meets a young woman who outwardly appears to be just as much of a 'stuffed shirt' as he is. But there is a bit of the imp in her. Once the two throw caution to the wind they enter into a realm where deep true love rules, a paradise superior to anything Christianity has to offer.

Blackwood is urging us to be the wanton animals that we were born to be and to reject the piety that we have been shackled with. In the 1960's, when 'free love' was the craze and 'sex, drugs, and rock n' roll' was the anthem, there were quite a few people who followed his advice. The results were not always as idealistic as Blackwood would have us believe they should be. Too much propriety creates dull, insufferable people. Too little creates monsters. Somewhere in between there is a region worth inhabiting, but the argument over where the boundaries are is still going on.




Everything you ever wanted to know about Bussana.


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