Monday, February 21, 2005

Invisible Cities - II

Calvino's fictional cities delve into the mind of each city that you and I have known or could have known from our personal view of immediate outside world. The personal account of your life could exactly sound like someone else'. Or the kind of experience and people that you met at first job that you had done in city C would sound agonizingly similar to some one else, if you shift the time a little bit. There must always be someone who fought your fights, cried your cries, dreamt your dreams and lived your life in some city that you think you lived and known for a lifetime.

I remember watching the movie American Beauty starting with a flickering mosaic image of the city populated by the affluent and the succesfull before it begins to tear down the beauty apart to reveal the ugly, it reminded me that it could have been another city I knew. Alright. Let's have Italo calvino's account of a few more cities:

...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 squares, 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.

If on arriving at Trude I had not read the city’s name written in big letters, I would have thought I was landing at the same airport from which I had taken off. . . . "You can resume your flight whenever you like," they said to me, "but you will arrive at another Trude, absolutely the same, detail by detail. The world is covered by a sole Trude which does not begin and does not end. Only the name of the airport changes."

Eutropia (a "trading city") is made up of many cities, all but one of them empty, and that its inhabitants periodically tire of their lives, their spouses, their work, and then move en masse to the next city, where they will have new mates, new houses, new jobs, new views from their windows, new friends, pastimes, and subjects of gossip. We learn further that, in spite of all this moving, nothing changes since, although different people are doing them, the same jobs are being done and, though new people are talking, the same things are being gossiped about.

From their conversations which began from sign and sounds unintelligible to both, to perfecting each other's language, to the numbness of understanding through silence, Marco Polo the traveller and Kublai Khan the Emperor have sailed through a lot of cities.

Kublai asked Marco: "You, who go about exploring and who see signs, can tell me toward which of these futures the favoring winds are driving us." Already the Great Khan was leafing through his atlas, over the maps of the cities that menace in nightmares and maledictions: Enoch, Babylong, Yahooland, Butua, Brave New World.

He continued: "It is all useless, if the last landing place can only be the infernal city, and it is there that, in ever-narrowing circles, the current is drawing us."And Polo said: "The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space."

Here is my take on the cities I visited, the quality of which has nothing to do with Italo Calvino's class though:

I have had my fair share of cities. You leave a part of you everytime you move on to new destination, hoping you would find what you think you need! eventually. You might visit these cities at some point in time, hoping again to relive the life and time for a moment with a sense of detachment. But you find noone and the city which you thought you knew looks strange to you. Finally you come back to the last city on the stack to carry on with your life...Perhaps the city existed in your dreams or the people might be dreaming about you having a dream of this city the way it existed once...

Looking back I can see the trail I trod from the adolescent walkways in Cochin, to bangalore where the job hunters hopes, despair and celebrations were drenched in rum, to the long and sweltering bus trips to work in Chennai, to Chicago where everyone read something in the commuter trains and fridays were an onslaught of adrenaline, to NewYork where you find countless people and cars travel all over you and yet you can listen to the tireless voice of subway singer with his violin, to the laid back life in small town Pennsylavania and now in this aged, withering city of philadelphia.

This is the last part of my blog on Invisible cities, masterpiece by a writer called Italo Calvino. Please read the other part for a better start, if you have not done already: Invisible Cities - 1


Sumita said...

there is something that links a place, the person and the time in which they interact...something intangible, something experienctial to the point of it affecting one physically and words can ony attempt to capture that sensual as thought itself..

Loved your narration..

Rajesh said...

Sumita, sorry for this afterthought of a response. But Yoss made me return to Calvino today.

Yes. Words can only attempt to (re)capture the sense of dejavu. However Calvino has the magic to to lead us to the origin of each thought and let you linger in it.

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