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A story of heritage by Nick Hennessey

La Xixa Teatre participated in the REVEAL Conference workshop group "Adult Education on resilience of the organisation, digitalisation and new ways of learning, culture, community development and cultural heritage" presenting the REBELAH project. The storyteller and musician Nick Hennessey, who was part of the group, summarized the results of the workshop through a story.

Watch Nick’s incredible story on the meaning of cultural heritage.

(Transcript of the story below, starting at minute 1’40’’ of the video)


There was once a city, and in the middle of the city there was a square. A public square. And people would come perhaps in the morning they would sit and drink their coffee, their children would walk, friends would meet and talk. Lunch time would be full, all the benches would be full. People coming out of their shops and the offices, and they’d sit and need it. It was a public square and people loved it.

But one day, into the public square came a young man. He was a traveller. You could tell he was a traveller because he had mud on his boots. Form the mud of the long road. He walked into the middle of the square and he looked around. And then, he reached into his pocket, and he pulled out a small leather bag. He opened up the leather bag, he put his hand in and he pulled out a hand full of what looked like sand. He got down on his knees, and with the sand, he began to draw. The sand fell from his fingers like liquid. And quickly he moved his arm moved in one single gesture sweeping like the branch of a tree. And he drew a beautiful picture on the ground, in sand. Sand just wasn’t one colour; it was many colours. And as he drew the picture unfolded, and then when he’d finished, and his hand was empty of sand he would smile. He looked at it and then he took out of his pocket a small brush and then he swept it away. And then he reached into his pocket, took out the bag, put his hand in a hand full of sand, and this time he drew another. And it was so beautiful to watch this man, that people start to gather, and they watched him. The gesture of his arm, it was like he was a dancer, it seemed.

People began to wonder:

Is there no limit to the sand in his small bag?

How is it that there are so many colours of sand?

When he wishes it suddenly the sand is red or yellow, or blue?

But still, he would draw, and draw with the sand. And when the picture was finished people would applaud. And then, he’d take out his brush and he’d sweep it up and begin again.

Because people liked what they saw, they put coins in a small hat that he’d laying out and soon the hat was full of coins. And then, somebody said:

Excuse me, could you write my name?

Of course — he said — tell me your name.

So they said, and he listened carefully to the way they said it. And then he thought for a moment. And then he reached into his bag, pulled out this the little leather sack, took a hand full of sand, and he wrote the name. One continuous movement of the hand and the name was written. And when the person saw that, they were struck by how beautiful their own names suddenly appear. There was a tear in the person’s eye. That beautiful thank you here and gave them some money.

Well, before you know it, people were queuing up to have their names written in this beautiful sand. And person after person, he would write their names. And of course, when they turned and walked away, he’d take out the brush and he’d sweep them up. And he would start again.

It wasn’t long before, in the crowd of people gathered, there was a man in a suit and designer glasses polished shoes. And he called out, he said:

Hey, should write my name. I’ll pay you well, but I want It big. I want my name written large.

The man agreed, so hand was into the sack, pulled out the hand full of sand, and he said:

Tell me your name.

And he spoke it. The man thought, and then he wrote the name in big letters. And the man in the suit was pleased. He said.

That’s good! You see that? That’s my name, that is. Fine name, isn’t it? Beautifully written, of course.

And the man took out his brush and was about to sweep it away. And the rich man said:

Hey, hey, hey! What are you doing?

I’m going to sweep it away —said the young man.

No, no, you can’t! I’ve paid for that. That’s my name, you can’t sweep that away.

So, the young man shrugged and walked away. But the man in the suit stood by his name, proudly. And then he had a thought: “well, I can’t stand here all day, but I’ve got an idea”. Reached into his pocket, pulled out his mobile phone and made a call. And in no time at all, there was a man standing there, in his place, with a security written on the front. And he just stood over the name written in sand, and anyone who came near he said:

—Excuse me, could you stand back, please? I’m protecting this.

Well, still the young man was drawing names, and the assume that the square was getting fuller and fuller. And then because there was one person protecting their name of course it wasn’t long before, there were other people protecting their names, too. And soon, it was a scene where the whole square was full of people all standing around looking at theses large names written in sand. But each one guarded by security.

A woman came along. A rich woman, she said:

Excuse me, could you tell me why haven’t you written the names of any of the poor people?

Whoever comes to me, I write their names — said the young man.

Ah, well I have a job for you — she said.

And she went over to a poor family who was sitting in the corner, and she asked each of their names. She came back, she said:

I want you to write their names in sand. I’ll pay you well.

Of course — he said.

So, he wrote all of their names, and she said:

Also, perhaps you should write my name underneath that. Because I’ve paid for their names to be written.

So, he wrote her name underneath. Well, the woman was very pleased, she said:

I’ll have a security guard to come and com and care for this and protect this. Obviously, make sure that you protect my name more than others.

Well, of course he protected the larger name rather than the other names. And, with all the crowds that were moving through the square, looking at all the names written in sand. Well, the ones that weren’t protected were just scuffed and brushed away. The young man looked this scene unfolding before him. And he had an idea. He saw someone sitting on a bench on their own. He went over to them, and he said:

Are you from this city?

No, I’m not from the city— she said.

Well, perhaps you’d like your name written here. Do you live here?

I do — she said.

Or where’s your home — he asked

Oh, my home was another city, but it was lost in a war. So, I came here, I’ve made my home here.

Well, then you should have your name written

No, I have no place here — she said

Please —he said— tell me your name. I’ll write it

So, she told it and he took his hand full of sand and he wrote her name. And she was so pleased to see her name. There was something to see her name in this city that she had made her own home, and travelled far for a long time in fear, and found a new home for herself to see her name written there. Well, it didn’t last long, of course, because as the crowds passed by, it was all scuffed away.

Someone in the city had the bright idea of making a little map of all the big names and a little tour guide where they could be ushered from name to name through the street, around the square, seeing all the big names written.

Well, this was the first one that the sandman wrote. As you can tell, by his style, the way it has evolved. If we move along here…

And, of course, there’s a whole queue of people coming to see the evolution of the word. And all of the names written, and all the famous people of the city, because they all have their names written there. One day, when the sandman returned to the square, he found the way barred.

You can’t come in here — the guard at the entrance to the square said.

I can’t come into the public square?

No, you can’t. This is now a designated conservation area; you can’t step in here — he said. —Well, I don’t care where you go but you’re not standing here. Off you go.

Sandman turned and sat on a bench. He looked at the across the square. Queues and queues of people, all paying to get into see the work. To see the famous names. At the end of the bench there was a little girl, dressed in rags. And she turned and looked at him. She said:

I’ve watched you. I’ve watched you every day in your work. But I’ve always fascinated, not just the way that you draw, but what happens with the sand afterwards. But also, tell me, do you never run out of sand?

In my experience—he said— there is always enough sand. What’s your name?

My name is Ilsa — she said.

Ilsa, that’s a beautiful name. Would you like to have a go?

Oh, I can’t afford to pay you —she said.

No, I will teach you, so you can do it yourself.

So, he have her the little leather bag. She opened it up, she put a hand in. He said:

Now, take one hand full of sand. That will be enough.

She took the hand full of sand. He said:

Now, don’t stop. Keep your arm moving.

But what if I make a mistake? — she asked

There will be no mistake. Just keep moving. Remember the sand is light liquid.

She held the sand in here hand, and she thought for a moment. She closed her eyes and then she drew. As she moved her arm, the grains of sand fell and she wrote, and wrote, and wrote, until her name was complete on the ground before her. And she smiled.

It’s beautiful —she said.

It is —he said— but that is only half of the lesson. Now, get down onto your knees. Put your face close to your name. —she put her face closed to it, and he said—Now, with one big breath, I want you to blow it away.

She puffed up her cheeks and in one single breath, she blew. And that moment she saw her name dissolve into a cloud of sand before her, and she felt such utter peace. And when the cloud of dust had fallen the man was gone. And on the ground beside her, there was a little leather bag of sand. She looked up into the sky, she could see that the weather was changing, the winds were coming. So, she took the little leather bag, and off down the back streets she went.


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