The No. 9 Bus To Utopia

By David Bramwell

One man's search for truth, beauty and some really funny stories as he visits Utopian communities

Here's a new passage, taken from my account of the extraordinary community of Damanhur in northern Italy.

When told that you're going to meet a community's best musician, you don't expect them the wheel out a rubber plant. One of the Damanhur's many fantastical claims was to have connected with the intelligence of plants. In the late 70s they released a seven inch single in Italy, performed by a rubber plant called Hellie. While it didn’t fare too well in the charts Hellie did go on to do a small tour of Europe and pick up a cult following. One afternoon a lady called Beaver Pepper introduced our nucleo to Hellie and her 'friend', both of whom were wired up to various machines.

'You want to hear Hellie singing?’ asked Beaver, 'she is the best musician plant in Damanhur. She really likes to play. Here in Damanhur we have developed an electronic instrument that can translate the plant’s energy in electrical impulses, allowing us to create music generated by these impulses.’

Hellie was wired up to some archaic 80s music equipment via two crocodile clips attached to her leaves. Beaver turned on the equipment and stroked the rubber plant. Soon we began to hear long sweeps of strings mixed with the gentle tinkling of bells, like the music you get on cheesy relaxation CDs at massage places. As the music played on, Beaver said, ‘years ago we asked ourselves: is it possible to communicate with plants? We discovered they are very intelligent. We put a plant on a miniature car and it was able to drive it.

‘Have you really taught plants how to drive?’ I asked, a little incredulous.

‘Of course. They are very cautious drivers,’ she added as if that would clear up any doubts I might have had. Later we were shown photographs of the auras of an onion and a daisy and a film clip of what appeared to be a potted plant on a motorised trolley crossing a busy road in Turin. It was wired into some electrical device on the trolley that connected with a motor. The plant mounted the pavement, dodged round a few people’s ankles and appeared to indulge in a spot of window-shopping.

'During other experiments we discovered they could learn to make music.’

‘Will the music change if she’s moved or touched?’ I asked.

‘You can try. Come sit closer. You need to be inside her aura.’ I began to stroke her leaves.

‘You can hear subtle change?’

I wasn’t sure.

‘You want to play with Hellie?’

‘Of course.’ I sat down at the keyboard. Beaver plugged Hellie into a keyboard and from nowhere a plaintive tune struck up. I tinkered on the keyboard for ten minutes and tried to react to the wafty New Age sounds that emanated from the box.
‘You can hear her responding to your moods and melodies?’ asked Beaver. If I'm honest, I'm not sure that I could. But for those who like to know about such things, Hellie did seem to favour A minor sevenths.

Like all of Damanhur's residents, Beaver Pepper was rather curiously named. During our first week we were given a tour by two ladies called Salamander Olive and Hobbit Watercress, had attended a lecture given by Duck-billed Platypus Cactus and were introduced to a very tall lady called Ant. In Damanhur names were given to individuals after certain rites of passage had taken place and were chosen by committee. You might fancy yourself as a Panther Deadly Nightshade, as one fellow did, and end up being named Dung Beetle Pansy. My favourites were Swordfish Banana, Goat Carob Tree and Sponge Strawberry. The Damanhurians all sounded like terrific Delia Smith recipes.

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