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Oxygen and Aromasia

by Claës Lundin

translated by Bertil Falk

Table of Contents
Chapter 3 appears
in this issue.
Chapter 4: At The Central Hotel

”Where would Madame want to have dinner? On the first floor? In one of the big dining halls on the second, third, fourth or some other floor? We have dining rooms all the way up to the eleventh floor. There are also private rooms up to the fourteenth floor. Please make a decision. Within one minute the first lift will be going up... Come, come, ladies and gentlemen... Here we have the second lift with an eight-sided parlor holding fifty people in every lift-house. Here comes the third lift... Help yourself, please!”

It was one of the employees of the Central Hotel, a lift-major, who arranged the journey up to the dining rooms. The Central Hotel was situated in the old Humlegården or, more correctly, on the block where that ancient park was situated and approximately on the spot where, five hundred years earlier, a small building had been erected for the Royal Library. That was the name of the rather insignificant book collection in the days of the monarchy.

New guests continued to arrive, most of them on air-bicycles, in air taxis and other air vehicles. Only a few of them, maybe a few hundred, were hoisted up from the first floor. The others went straight to the higher floors, where there were spacious bicycle stables. There the vehicles were received, registered and watched by the so called arenandrarne, a word of unknown origin. But an antiquarian said that he had discovered that the word had been used the 19th century.

When entering one of the big dining halls, one found an active atmosphere. Guests who had no time to sit down for a substantial meal crowded the extensive sideboards that stretched along the walls These people in a great hurry swallowed some universal-power extract pills as one course or another of their meal. The pills were always ready and allowed one to eat in a few seconds something nourishing, at least approximating the equivalent of several common dishes.

The guests who did not have to save time in such a way sat at big and small tables, abundantly decorated with artworks made of the many metals discovered in recent centuries. At every table were a certain number of buttons looking like ones used in ancient days for so-called electric bell systems. On every button one could read the name of a dish. That was the menu of the day. One pushed a button and immediately the desired dish came out of the floor and was put on the table.

Waiters or waitresses were not seen, but as soon as a dish arrived, a message was telegraphed to one of the cashier’s desks at the entrance. A machine immediately recorded the order and the number of the guest. Before leaving, the holder of the number had to settle the account at the exit.

The animal consumed might have been slaughtered the day before by means of the latest slaughter- and hunting-machines and sent with the first accessible means of air transport.

There was also an abundance of fruits. Besides the most lovely Spanish and Hungarian grapes were Swedish wood strawberries, that is to say cultivated ones, for wild strawberries had disappeared at the same time as the Swedish forests vanished. There were also sweet and juicy oranges, gathered a few hours earlier in Sicily and fleshy acajou nuts from Brazil, as well as fresh coconut milk from the Nicobar Islands, served in small silver bowls.

The wine came straight from the places where it was produced, but people almost only drank the French qualities, some Rhine wine and very little Hungarian. The Portuguese and Spanish wines had totally gone out of favor, which caused the ruin of many a Hamburgian wine company.

Swedish schnapps, which for a period of four or five hundred years had been on the point of flooding the country, had totally run dry between 2200 and 2300. In the second half of the 24th century, one could however, still read in old custom books about the time when spiritualism and spirits shared supremacy in Sweden and both were worshipped as the absolutely pure thing.

The absolutely purest spirit is said to have been a famous prophet at Rejermersholm in the 19th century, but about his performances so many wonderful things are told that it can be called into question whether he existed at all. It is hard enough to believe all the marvels attributed to him five hundred years after he is supposed to have lived, when he saved Sweden from the difficult epidemic of alcoholismus chronicus.

Now, as has been said, schnapps long since dried out as well as the old schnapps-table or smörgåsbord, a most strange social phenomenon that existed for hundreds of years and exerted a great influence. According to the old books, there was always in every dining room a splendid table laden with victuals, almost always salted food, including herring in a number of different forms.

In the midst of this collection of goods stood an enormous vase with many taps. When the guests opened them, schnapps of all kinds streamed out. That was the never-ceasing flood of schnapps. The size of the vase amazed foreigners, but the glasses into which “the water of life,” as the heady drink was also called, were proportionate to the vase that the schnapps came from. That is, according to the old chronicles.

From these giant glasses, the dinner guests first took a “dram,” whereupon they chewed some salty food on bread with butter. Then there was another dram, the so-called “half,” which could be as big as the “whole,” thus making fun of what mathematics had to say about the whole and its parts.

Thereupon followed another bite of salty food, and perhaps a third glass of schnapps, the so-called “ters.” Only then was it fitting to begin eating. There were, however, in the 24th century people who thought that the old chronicles told lies and that the story about the schnapps tables must have been like the legend about the absolutely pure spirit at Rejmersholm, something to be expelled to the sphere of myths.

In the Central Hotel there were people from all parts of the world. Members of the big Slavic republic could be seen, all the way from ancient Constantinople and the inner parts of Asia, as well as many citizens of the minor German states.

The German states had continued fighting each other ever since the days when the big “united” Germany set an example by blowing itself up in order to show everyone how to release oneself from the misery of life.

In the dining-rooms were also travelling salesmen from central Africa, pleasure travellers from the South Sea Islands and some of the most distinguished families of Greenland, who spent a great deal of time travelling in Europe and Africa. Even Chinese people and Smålanders, Scanians and Japanese crowded each other around the long sideboards. In great haste, they swallowed some universal-power extract pills and resumed their journey.

The tables on the floor were mostly occupied with native families. As a rule, people in the later part of the 24th century did not eat at home. It was only the richer part of the population that could afford their own housekeeping. All other people found it much cheaper and more comfortable to eat at an inn.

Food production could not keep pace with the increase of the population. The rise in the prices of food was only counterbalanced because of the superb cuisine of the inns. Assisted by all the facilities of science, they could do everything much more inexpensively than in the past.

What to a great degree reduced costs in these public food establishments was that a small number of servants — or as they were called nowadays, collaborators — was needed. Machines produced almost everything, and it was only for the operating of the machines that some trifling amount of human power was required. The number of kitchen engineers and chemists could however not be limited. They matched what in the past were chefs, but they were all men and women with a university education. They supervised all cooking, and it was their responsibility that only wholesome and nourishing dishes were served the guests.

Thanks to the powerful intervention of science, culinary art had made great progress during the later centuries. But legislation had progressed as well, probably as a consequence of women’s participation, and done its part to remove all the unwholesome or unnecessary dishes that had caused so many diseases in the past. The Government had been forced to abandon its indifference to the health of the citizens. The Soundness Police waged a virtual war of extermination against all dishes and drinks that science had declared indigestible, exciting or in some other way unsuitable as well as against dishes that did not contain enough muscle-forming nutrition.

The big kitchens — there were hardly any small left — were more like laboratories for the preparation of powerful and appetizing foodstuffs than cooking institutions of an ancient kind. One no longer permitted ignorant and careless women to prepare dishes at random, dishes the properties of which neither the preparers nor the consumers had any real knowledge of. Instead, cooking had developed into a science, and it was not to be practiced by anyone who not had passed an examination in chemistry and hygiene and taken a practical course in food preparation.

“What has science not wrought in the kitchen!” Aromasia exclaimed, while she guided her guests to the table in one of the big dining halls of the Central Hotel.

“But poetry!” the poet objected. “Where has poetry gone?”

“You can never forget your railway poetry,” Aromasia remarked, as she smiled and began reading the food buttons.

“Oh where is the poetry of the home now?” the man of the past continued. “In days of yore, the head of the family gathered his people around the dinner table. Now, the family goes to an inn and sits down together with strangers in a common room, where the food is eaten in public. Can this be called family comfort? Do you know what domestic bliss was in the past?”

“Yes,” put in Aunt Vera, who had been invited by Aromasia, “but domestic bliss meant that the housewife had to do everything herself and perhaps even stand over the stove, if she wanted to be certain that the food would not be spoiled. She had to be the servant of the man and often of the family. All domestic care, all the anxieties rested with her. That was the domestic bliss of the past.”

“That’s too prosaic an opinion,” the poet said. “The woman was the good spirit of the home and its ever-watching guardian angel. Those were the good old days, but now...”

“Should we be inferior to our forefathers?” Aromasia exclaimed. “There was a time at the end of the 19th century when philosophy called for total destruction of the world. Was that to promote domestic bliss? Then they were tired of life and didn’t ask for what you call the poetry of the home.”

“Yes,” Oxygen added. “That was a time, when they thought that the highest destination for mankind was to do away with Nature, restore the atoms to their original rest and to the nothingness that was from the very beginning. In a word, return to the zero point of existence. But that is today a defeated viewpoint. Now we try to prolong existence as much as possible and more than we can imagine even now. However, we have not accomplished much in that way.

Nevertheless I’ve been told that a member of the Siberian Academy of Sciences — that’s the old-fashioned name of the North Mongolian scientific society — has invented a means to mummify human beings and then after some time revive them again. This invention would without any doubt carry us closer to the goal. I even think that I know at least some part of that means.”

“What madness!” the poet ejaculated. “Nothing else can make life worth living than the high ideal our forefathers strove towards four and five hundred years ago. Unfortunately, that ideal has been lost in the present, and all inventions and all knowledge are impotent in relation to the selfish life-sustaining instincts that have continued the struggle for existence over the centuries.”

“Centuries?” Aunt Vera objected. “Say millennia. That struggle has always existed and will always exist. That is what constitutes the very nucleus of human progress.”

“How dreadful!” the poet almost shouted and took another piece of peacock. ”Yes, yes. The times are evil.”

“Do you know what I think?” Oxygen put in. “Yes, that our friend the poet has undergone a treatment like the just-mentioned invention is trying to perform. He was mummified about four or five hundred years ago and has now been revived. That is, if he still is alive. I would almost think that he’s such an old mummy.”

The ladies and Oxygen laughed at the poet’s expense. Apollonides became even more serious. It pained him that Aromasia, whom he loved dearly, could poke fun at the views of a poet, and it annoyed him profoundly that the scornful materialist Oxygen had more influence on Aramosia than he had himself, he, the dreamy worshiper of high ancient ideals. His words became bitter and he began making offensive remarks. The fine discretion of the two ladies and their female kindness was required to prevent the two men from creating an unpleasant end to a dinner that had been so joyful at the beginning.

Aromasia tried to direct the conversation on to a different topic, but it was difficult to get rid of the past when Apollonides was present.

“I wonder if what old books tell is true,” she said, “that people in the past were waited on by other humans.”

“That’s true,” the poet explained, “and it was an excellent institution. One could speak to the waiter, ask questions and get answers.”

“In what way would that be useful?” Oxygen exclaimed. “Why do we have machines, if they can’t supply us with what we need instead of a lot of trouble with questions and answers?”

“And what compensation did those human waiters get for their pains?” Aromasia asked. “Did the inn compensate them?”

“Not at all,” the poet hastened to answer. “They were entirely paid by the guests, an excellent economic arrangement. To begin with they just got a very small payment. It was called a tip, but later the demands grew so that for every dish they served, the waiters themselves collected taxes prescribed by law. If the guest didn’t want to pay the taxes — and they could be very high in the end — he was put in a cell, where he had to stay until he took the trouble to pay his debt. That was order.”

“Yes, I’ve also read something about that,” Oxygen declared, “and I know that it went so far that at last the guests had to wait upon the waiters and under the name of tips pay the required taxes. The taxes grew all the time, and the poor, starving guests had to bend the knee and hand over the money to the fat tips-receiver still sitting at the table.”

“Hush! What kind of noise is it over there at the north row of sideboards?” Aunt Vera asked and pointed at a crowd of people in front of the universal-power extract pill dispensers.

“Oh, it’s only a couple of fighting Germans,” Oxygen informed. He had gotten to his feet and taken a good look at the scene. “It’s a Saxon who has fallen out with a Bavarian, but then a Hasenhaidener came, or as he was called in the past, a Berliner. He wanted to grab the power pills from both the Saxon and Bavarian... But there is the Central Hotel Police and now the combatants have run to their bicycles.”

“We must find ours,” Aromasia said. “The time for the concert is approaching.” She got to her feet and paid the bill that amounted to 875 francs. But that day they had eaten a rather simple meal. Often the cost for a dinner at the Central Hotel went up to 1500 or 2000 francs for three or four persons.

To be continued...

Story by Claës Lundin
Translation copyright © 2007 by Bertil Falk

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