There are books so fantastical you just want them to be real.
Italo Calvino’s, ‘Invisible Cities’ is such a book.
I first came across Calvino’s work when I was studying Italian at university. In my delusions of becoming an art historian, I needed a language, I chose Italian. Quite frankly, I suck at learning languages as my head seems so preoccupied with English - reading it, writing it, dreaming in it – but I stuck with Italian and one of the texts we had to read was Calvino’s ‘Marcovaldo’. Intrigued, I checked out more of his writing and discovered, ‘Invisible Cities.’ I loved it. The writing alone is beautiful poetic-prose. And I read it in English – of course!
It’s a story of Marco Polo recounting his many and varied travels to Kublai Khan. After each journey, Kublai Khan asks Marco Polo to describe the cities he has been to. And so it goes, the explorer gives the conqueror a vision of a world he has not seen, and most likely, never will. For each city is wondrous and impossible, yet Marco Polo is only ever describing one: the city of his birth, Venice, Italy.
The story is woven with memory, desire, dreams, longing, and the constancy of change in trying to capture what is closest to our hearts.
Here’s a tantalizing sample of an exchange between Polo and Khan:
‘I shall tell you what I dreamed last night,’ he says to Marco. ‘In the midst of a flat and yellow land, dotted with meteorites and erratic boulders, I saw from a distance the spires of a city rise, slender pinnacles, made in such a way that the moon in her journey can rest now on one, now on another, or sway from the cables of the cranes.’
And Polo says: ‘The city of your dreams is Lalage. Its inhabitants arranged these invitations to rest in the night sky so that the moon would grant everything in the city the power to grow and grow endlessly.’
‘There is something you do not know,’ the Khan adds. ‘The grateful moon has granted the city of Lalage a rarer privilege: to grow in lightness.’