Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino
Thin Cities 3
Whether Armilla is like this because it is
unfinished or because it has been demolished, whether the cause is some
enchantment or only a whim, I do not know. The fact remains that it has
no walls, no ceilings, no floors: it has nothing that makes it seem a
city except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should
be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be: a forest of
pipes that end in taps, shouwers, spouts, overflows. Against the sky a
lavabo's white stands out, or a bathtub, or some other porcelain, like
late fruit still hanging from the boughs. You would think that the
plumbers had finished their job and gone away before the bricklayers
arrived; or else their hydraulic systems, indestructable, had survived a
catastrophe, an earthquake, or the corrosion of termites.
Abandoned before or after it was inhabited,
Armilla cannot be called deserted. At any hour, raising your eyes among
the pipes, you are likely to glimpse a young woman, or many young women,
slender, not tall of stature, luxuriating in the bathtubs or arching
their backs under the showers suspended in the void, washing or drying
or perfuming themselves, or combing their long hair at a mirror. In the
sun, the threads of water fanning from the showers glisten, the jets of
the taps, the spurts, the splases, the sponges' suds.
I have come to this explaination: the streams of
water channeled in the pipes of Armilla have remained in th posession of
nymphs and naiads. Accustomed to traveling along underground veins,
they found it easy to enter the new aquatic realm, to burst from multiple
fountains, to find new mirrors, new games, new ways of enjoying the
water. Their invasion may have driven out the human beings, or Armilla
may have been built by humans as a votive offering to win the favor of
the nymphs, offended at the misuse of the waters. In any case, now they
seem content, these maidens: in the morning you hear them singing.
Cities & Desire 5
From there, after six days and seven nights, you
arrive at Zobeide, the white city, well exposed to the moon, with
streets wound about themselves as in a skein. They tell this tale of
its foundation: men of various nations had an identical dream. They saw
a woman running at night through an unknown city; she was seen from
behind, with long hair, and she was naked. They dreamed of pursuing
her. As they twisted and turned, each of them lost her. After the
dream, they set out in search of that city; they never found it, but
they found one another; they decided to build a city like the one in the
dream. In laying out the streets, each followed the course of his
pursuit; at the spot where they had lost the fugitive's trail, they
arranged spaces and walls differently from the dream, so she would be unable to escape again.
This was the city of Zobeide, where they
settled, waiting for that scene to be repeated one night. None of them,
asleep or awake, ever saw the woman again. The city's streets were
streets where they went to work every day, with no link any more to the
dreamed chase. Which, for that matter, had long been forgotten.
New men arrived from other lands, having had a
dream like theirs, and in the city of Zobeide, they recognized something
from the streets of the dream, and they changed the positions of arcades
and stairways to resemble more closely the path of the pursued woman and
so, at the spot where she had vanished, there would remain no avenue of
The first to arrive could not understand what
drew these people to Zobeide, this ugly city, this trap.
Cities & Eyes 5
When you have forded the river, when you have
crossed the mountain pass, you suddently find before you the city of
Moriana, its alabaster gates transparent in the sunlight, its coral
columns supporting pediments encrusted with serpentine, its villas all
of glass like aquariums where the shadows of dancing girls with silvery
scales swim beneath the medusa-shaped chandeliers. If this is not your
first journey, you already know that cities like this have an obverse:
you have only to walk a semi-circle and you will come into view of
Moriana's hidden face, an expanse of rusting sheet metal, sackcloths,
planks bristling with spikes, pipes black with soot, piles of tins,
behind walls with fading signs, frames of staved-in straw chairs, ropes
good only for hanging oneself from a rotten beam.
From one part to the other, the city seems to
continue, in perspective, multiplying its repretory of images: but
instead it has no thickness, it consists only of a face and an obverse,
like a sheet of paper, with a figure on either side, which can neither
be seperated nor look at each other.
Trading Cities 4
In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that
sustain the city's life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the
corners of the houses, white or black or gray or black-and-white
according to whether they mark a relationdhip of blood, of trade,
authority, agency. When the strings become so numerous that you can no
longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave: the houses are
dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain.
From a mountainside, camping with their
household goods, Ersilia's refugees look at the labyrinth of taut
strings and poles that rise in the plain. That is the city of Ersilia
still, and they are nothing.
They rebuild Ersilia elsewhere. They weave a
similar pattern of strings which they would like to be more complex and
at the same time more regular than the other. Then they abandon it and
take themselves and their houses still farther away.
Thus, when traveling in the territory of
Ersilia, you come upon the ruins of abandoned cities, without the walls
which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls
away: spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form.
Cities & The Sky 3
Those who arrive at Thekla can see little of the
city, beyond the plank fences, the sackcloth screens, the scaffoldings,
the metal armatures, the wooden catwlks hanging from ropes or supported
by sawhorses, the ladders, the trestles. If you ask "Why is Thekla's
construction taking such a long time?" the inhabitants continue hoisting
sacks, lowering leaded strings, moving long bruses up and down, as they
answer "So that it's destruction cannot begin." And if asked whether
they fear that, once the scaffoldings are removed, the city may begin to
crumble and fall to pieces, they add hastily, in a whisper, "Not only
If, dissatisfied with the answers, someone puts
his eye to a crack in a fence, he sees cranes pulling up other cranes,
scaffoldings that embrace other scaffoldings, beams that prop up other
beams. "What meaning does your construction have?" he asks. "What is
the aim of a city under construction unless it is a city? Where is the
plan you are following, the blueprint?"
"We will show it to you as soon as the working
day is over; we cannot interrupt our work now," they answer.
Work stops at sunset. Darkness falls over the
building site. The sky is filled with stars. "There is the blueprint,"
Cities & The Dead
What makes Argia different from other cities is
that it has earth instead of air. The streets are completely filled
with dirt, clay packs the rooms to the ceiling, on every stair another
stairway is set in negative, over the roofs of the houses hang layers of
rocky terrain like skies with clouds. We do not know if the inhabitants
can move about the city, widening the worm tunnels and the crevices
where roots twist: the dampness destroys people's bodies, and they have
scant strength; everyone is better off remaining still, prone; anyway,
it is dark.
From up here, nothing of Argia can be sen; some
say "It's down below there," and we can only believe them. The place is
deserted. At night, putting your ear to the ground, you can sometimes
hear a door slam.
Hidden Cities 1
In Olinda, if you go out with a magnifying glass
and hunt carefully, you may find somewhere a point no bigger than the
head of a pin which, if you look at it slightly enlarged, reveals
within itself the roofs, the antennas, the skylights, the gardens, the
pools, the streamers across the streets, the kiosks in the squeares,
the horse-racing track. That point does not remain there: a year later
you will find it the size of half a lemon, then as large as a mushroom,
then a soup plate. And then it becomes a full-size city, enclosed
within the earlier city: a new city that forces its way ahead in the
earlier city and presses its way toward the outside.
Olinda is certainly not the only city that grows
in concentric circles, like tree trunks which each year add one more
ring. But in other cities there remains, in the center, the old narrow
girlde of the walls from which the withered spires rise, the towers, the
tiled roofs, the domes, while the new quarters sprawl around them like a
loosened belt. Not Olinda: the old walls expand bearing the old
quarters with them, enlarged but maintaining their proportions an a
broader horizon at the edges of the city; they surround the slightly
newer quarters, which also grew up on the margins and became thinner to
make room for still more recent ones pressing from inside; and so, on
and on, to the heart of the city, a totally new Olinda which, in its
reduced dimensions retains the features and the flow of lymph of the
first Olinda and of all the Olindas that have blossomed one from the
other; and within this innermost circle there are always
blossoming--though it is hard to discern them--the next Olinda and those
that will grow after it.