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The Umbrella Farm

by João Ventura

It was one of the most emblematic farms in the United Kingdom. At the Umbrella Farm, more than 95 percent of the umbrellas used by urban professionals were produced, with black immaculate fabric, solid handles, and the best quality steel spreaders and ribs.

In the happy 1960s, Jeff Rain’s father had made the biggest change to the business model since his great-great-grandfather first planted umbrellas. Maintaining his traditional line of umbrellas for executives, he bought a plot of land adjacent to the farm and started producing colorful, psychedelic parasols. As soon as they reached Carnaby Street stores, they were quickly bought by the thousands of tourists who swarmed London.

That morning, Mr. Rain toured, as he did from time to time, the various plots where umbrellas could be seen in the successive stages of their development.

In the first plot of land, a group of workers, Vietnamese immigrants, their hands accustomed to the ancient activity of rice plantation, stuck in the ground, at regular intervals, the rods that would give way, in about three months, to a lot of adult umbrellas.

In the next plot there were already developed umbrellas, still small. Two workers went around the field opening and closing the umbrellas, making sure that all the ribs were perfect. Irregularities, however small, were not tolerated. Any umbrella in those conditions was immediately taken off and sent for recycling.

When he entered the next plot, Mr. Rain refused to believe what he was seeing. What should have been a parcel with almost ripe umbrellas, a few days before the harvest, was a quantity of black domes speckled with bright colors, some in circles, others in irregular spots, a nightmare that made Mr. Rain’s eyes hurt.

Jeff Rain took his cell phone and dialled the number of his foreman. “Manolo, meet me at stand 17.”

About a minute later, Manolo Diaz, the man in charge, arrived. “Good morning, Mr. Rain.”

“Manolo, what is this?”

“An experiment, Mr. Rain,” Manolo said with a Spanish accent that the fifteen years he had spent in the UK had not eased. “I collected spores from a parcel of parasols and spread them on this plot, to see what would happen.”

“Manolo, we are a serious business. What is written at the entrance to the farm? ‘By Appointment to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II / Umbrella Producers / Since 1889.’ We are a respected firm. Umbrellas are umbrellas, and parasols are parasols!”

His cell phone played the first chords of Land of Hope and Glory. He answered, listened and said, “OK, I’ll be at the entrance.” He turned to Manolo: “I have to accompany a visitor on a tour of the farm. We will continue this conversation later. You may go.”

Jeff met Monsieur Jean Lapluie and his secretary at the lobby. Lapluie was the distributor of Umbrella Farm’s products to Europe. His company, Parapluie Inc., was going through a process of internationalization that would lead it to extend its activity all over the world. This was the first time that he visited the farm, so Jeff Rain was committed to making a good impression.

Jean Lapluie wore a gray suit, impeccably cut, a yellow tie and scarf, was the owner of a meticulously trimmed moustache and, in spite of being a hexagon inhabitant, he spoke a very acceptable English. After a few words of circumstance, he expressed interest in starting the visit immediately.

They started with umbrellas, the farm product that made Jeff Rain proud. Jean Lapluie asked many questions that Jeff answered, questions and answers carefully recorded on a tablet by Lapluie’s secretary. Until they chanced to pass by the plot that had been object of Manolo’s experiment.

Oh, mon Dieu ! Mais c’est ça, c’est ça ! What is this, Mr. Rain?”

“Well... this is... an experiment...” Jeff Rain didn’t quite know what to say.

“This is what I have been looking for to launch the international branch of Parapluie Inc.! These colors born from black, this is beautiful art, much more, this is pure philosophy! We will flood the world with this product! This will make your farm known everywhere. Partout ! Partout !

When he got excited, Parapluie mixed French and English. He said to his secretary: “Prepare a draft contract for an initial supply of...” He thought a little. “Five hundred, non, non, two thousand of these umbrellas! I can already see stores around the world opening at the same time with these marvelous objects. We have to find a name for them, but we have time.”

* * *

In the evening, when Manolo was called to Jeff Rain’s office, instead of the strong rebuke he was waiting for, his boss started by saying that he had an order for two thousand of those spotted umbrellas to satisfy and that it would probably be necessary to allocate more plots for this production.

Manolo left his boss’s office totally confused. “I can’t understand these English people, they are so strange,” he thought. “It seemed that Mr. Rain was mad at my experiment, but it turns out...”

He shrugged, saw the time, and headed for his car, which had seen better days, to return home. His wife should be done with cooking dinner.

Copyright © 2020 by João Ventura

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