Tallinn, Estonia
Cement Mixer with Roses (still life ghost story)
1998


The cement mixer belonged to the gardens. It was truly old -on its last legs as it turned out- from well back in Soviet times. As it worked it shook, vibrating the pulley cover to a hum. Each revolution of the drum included a raucous resonant thump, sometimes preceded by a tiny pause. These and other sounds evolved over time, grew more complex.


Work for The Botanic Gardens,

click to enlarge

Many roses were picked every day and thrown away. Only the perfect just-about-to-open-fully ones were left. One of the people doing this told me stories of the roses histories and how their blood lines meshed with histories of wars and treaties, of fluctuating national boundaries and changing personal aspirations. There were other time scales on view in the gardens too; those dealt with by the taxonomist, the climatologist and the breeders and blenders of species. Full size tropical trees stood in a scruffy line, their roots wrapped in sacking, as the days grew shorter and the builders rushed to complete the huge new greenhouses before the bad weather came.

I put the mixer with its load of turning mashing roses on the edge of the building site where it met the flower beds and greenhouses. The sound spread out half way across the gardens and the scent formed a little circle at its centre. In the end the bearings went and the mixer broke slowly and noisily down. But for a long time after, whenever I passed a cement mixer (and there were lots of them in the centre of Tallinn) I could clearly smell roses. Clare Charnley