May 2016 - Comments Off

Livia Calari

Invisible Cities

Cities and Memory

“As this wave from memories flows in, the city soaks it up like a sponge and expands. A description of Zaira as it is today should contain all Zaira’s past. The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand.”

In Temporia, time runs dependent on objects. Upon entering the city’s limits, it seems quite ordinary. You are the same age you were at the town before, at the city’s outskirts. Your watch runs not a second fast or slow, the time zone remains the same. If you walk through quite quickly, without stopping for a coffee or to sit at a park bench, you will exit with nothing but a fleeting sense of the place, the knowledge that you walked through something, some blurry and indistinct shadow of a city.

However, (and I do not know what cosmic bend caused this, what wrinkle in time), upon touching a specific object, time folds, crinkling and bending, sometimes stretching or weaving, and you are transported to a moment in the object’s life. If you stop to sit upon a bench, expecting to rest and admire the flowers, you may instead zip through time, to another moment in the bench’s life, when a girl sat and wept, or an elderly man wrapped in blankets laid down to rest.

Not even a croissant bought from a corner bakery is safe, as the butter folded in it may bring you to a cow being milked on an unknown and distant farm, or the flour many years back to a field suffering from drought, its earth cracked and sore.

Those who are in a hurry to get someplace, or who simply have no desire to live another life, avoid Temporia or walk through quickly and stiffly, dodging even the slightest brush of a branch or a sip of water from a fountain. However, even the stones embedded in the street below their feet have a history, and many find themselves lost in strings of connections and time.

There are also those who make pilgrimages to the city, perhaps desiring to live in a different century, to escape their lives. There are also those who go to find someone lost, who are in search of a specific red-checkered sunhat that will bring them to their grandmother kneeling in her garden in late spring.  Finally, there are those who go to touch every object in hope that one will eventually string them back to their past selves, to the day that their father kissed them on their heads and quietly shut their bedroom door.

Thin Cities

“This is the foundation of the city: a net which serves as passage and as support…Suspended over the abyss, the live of Octavia’s inhabitants is less uncertain than in other cities. They know the net will only last so long.”

Blood flows out of you when you prick your finger on a pin, skin your knee tripping over a rock, or donate it to the Red Cross. The blood that pearls up on your fingertip is brushed against jeans and disappears. The blood left on the sidewalk might evaporate on a hot day, reentering the atmosphere. The blood you donate exits your body through a tube, then is collected in a bag and pumped into someone else. Your body feels the loss for a bit, gets the spins, then regenerates, producing more. That surplus you had goes to someone with a lack, and balance is ultimately maintained. The same can be said for spit, as it travels down the drain after you brush your teeth, flows to a treatment plant, and reenters the environment as water. The same holds for sweat, urine, tears.

In Statera, however, the system is different. The city runs on these excretions, using its citizens’ blood and tears as power. On the outskirts of the city, there is a massive aquamarine lake, a collection point for all its residents’ tears. The tears are burned as fuel and power the cars, radiators, and washing machines.

The city runs most, efficiently, then, when everyone is crying. On the day of a national tragedy the transit system runs most smoothly, the trains are all on time. In the winter, when everyone is just a bit melancholic, the garbage is picked up promptly, and the Internet never slows down.

There is also a vast system of pneumatic tubes that crisscross the city streets, collecting the citizens’ blood and shuttling it to a power plant. Days when there is a five-car pileup on the highway, then, are marvelously efficient and well run. Hospitals are major suppliers, as are children who nick themselves in arts and crafts, who fall off their bike and get a bloody nose. On days without accidents or deaths, however, the lights are constantly flickering, the stoplights malfunction, the bathwater turns murky and grey.

Because of this system, the citizens of Statera find themselves torn, their bodies the fuel needed to power a city that they, in turn, need to live.

Trading Cities

“In Chloe, a great city, the people who move through the street are all strangers. At each encounter, they imagine a thousand things about one another; meetings which could take place between them, conversations, surprises, caresses, bites. But no one greets anyone eyes lock for a second, then dart away, seeking other eyes, never stopping.”

As a child, I always wished that I could touch someone and transmit my feelings. I felt that, if only I could touch my teacher after I skinned my knee and spread the feeling, she would know how badly it really hurt and I would no longer be alone in my pain, both of us suffering. This desire isn’t limited to pain. When I get an A on a paper, I wish I could touch my best friend and the feeling would be diffused between us, both of gleeful, sharing exactly the same emotion. If we could live like this, I believe that conflict would be greatly reduced. A couple would both be happy at the same time, I would know how much my grandfather’s arthritic knee hurt and wouldn’t begrudge him for not going on walks with me, we would never again be alone, suffering in solipsistic worlds.

The residents of Emelia are receptive to shared emotion in the sort of way that you and I both feel cold when the air conditioning is cranked up too high. When they are separate, they exist as we do, alone in individual worlds. However, with one touch, an emotion or feeling is transmitted. Because of this, at any given time there is often a larger sensation or emotion to the city. During large festivities with tightly packed crowds, all it takes is one sullen, tired child to bump into a stranger and set off a chain effect that turns the mood of the crowd sour and morose. At a funeral, if one person isn’t truly grieving and in fact is secretly quite gleeful, hugs a relative of the deceased, the whole sad event quickly turns cheerful.

The residents of the city are thus understandably terrified of a day when a chain reaction is set off that touches every single person in the city and imbues them all one emotion, glee, confusion or pain spreading across the city like a disease. Because of this, there are some that live their lives quite alone, fearful of touch and connection, waiting for the day when this massive wave of feeling strikes.

Cities and Names

“Only this is known for sure: a given number of objects is shifted within a given space, at times submerged by a quantity of new objects, at times worn out and not replaced; the rule is to shuffle them each time, then try to assemble them. Perhaps Clarice has always been only a confusion of chipped gimcracks, ill-assorted, obsolete.”

Diluvia is a small city on an island. The region around the city is moist and tropical, with dark and heavy plants that grow from every crevice. The environment is unsteady and at times violent, with whipping winds and massive waves that rise up from the shore. Nothing about Diluvia is made to survive. The island itself is on a fault line, and the city directly abuts the shore. Every few years comes some new natural disaster, sometimes an earthquake, other times a tsunami or a monsoon. The towering waves inevitably wipe out the city, leaving behind nothing but foundations and rubble. The inhabitants of Diluvia, perhaps because they truly love their city, or perhaps because they simply don’t know where else to settle on such a tiny island, rebuild exactly as they remember it. New stones are placed on top of the shattered remnants of the old, streets paved over again.

Looking at the wall of a house, you can see the strata of Diluvia that have once existed, been wiped out, and rebuilt, like layers of sediment. However, nothing can be rebuilt exactly as it was, and over the centuries, the city has slowly begun to bend and morph. The walls are no longer straight, but veer off at a sharp angle. The streets lead into each other, a jumbled web. And through the passing of time, after each natural disaster the generation that rebuilds Diluvia no longer knows how it looked at the very beginning, and builds it in their own vision of the city. Because of this, Diluvia has become twisted and strange, rising at odd angles and curves, and the city, which everyone prides themselves as having remained exactly the same since its founding, is nothing like what it once was.

Cities and the Sky

“For some time the augurs had been sure that the carpet’s harmonious pattern was of divine origin…but you could, similarly, come to the opposite conclusion: that the true map of the universe is the city of Eudoxia, just as it is, a stain that spreads out shapelessly, with crooked streets, houses that crumble one upon the other amid clouds of dust, fire, screams in the darkness.

Caelia is utterly dull, an average city with a mid-rate educational system, prefabricated buildings, and overall, a vaguely beige quality. The residents of Caelia, who are equally slow and passionless, are painfully aware of their mediocrity, but don’t know what to do to change a city that has been so deeply uninteresting since its birth. In such a mundane place, with equally mundane people, there is nothing to grab onto, nothing with which to pull themselves up. They are jealous of other equally boring cities that have somehow spawned a famous author, or were struck by a meteor and instantaneously became valuable. One man, who for Christmas received the gift of a star named after him from the International Star Registry, decides that the way to bring give Caelia value is to buy it a star. They identify the greatest and brightest star in the sky above them, purchase it for a low, low, price, and name it Caelia.

Instantly, the city becomes electric, alive. They call themselves “The Starry City”, and tourists flock to see this city that has such a direct line to the heavens. The residents of the city, too, are pulled out of their mundane existence, and begin to blossom, discovering passions and interests, wearing bright colors. They look up at their star overhead and thank it for this gift of light.

Something Caelia may not have grasped is that stars die. In particular, the most massive stars burn up their fuel supply the fastest and explode in a supernova after only a few million years of life. Smaller stars die too, but much more slowly, over trillions of years. By some twist of fate, the immense and glowing star that the Caelians chose burned out only a few years later. After an enormous flash in the sky, they looked up and saw nothing. Their star had vanished.

Although Caelia had become a thriving city full of innovation and excitement, the loss of their star cast them back into oblivion. They believed that the star had catapulted them into fame and success, and without it they felt there was nothing keeping them from their previous beige existence. Its inhabitants halted their exciting lives and returned to their prefab homes, and Caelia returned to the way it was, no longer a starry city, scarcely a city at all.

Hidden Cities

“He feels envy toward those who now believe that they have once before lived an evening identical to this and who think they were happy, that time.”

There is a hidden city that is built and exists only for a specific few. Selenia is found only on maps belonging to a married couple. However, there may be many other similar Selenias that exist exclusively for other people, cities that we cannot know about. Within Selenia are two identical, but slightly offset cities. The wife lives in and moves through one of the Selenias, the husband, the other. Both have the same streets, the same restaurant they both love, the same red brick house they share. However, it is important to understand that these cities are separate, running slightly off from one another. In her Selenia, the wife may at any point be several minutes ahead, or sometimes a bit behind. Because of this, she can call the husband as often as she wants, but the phone in his Selenia will always ring at a slightly different time, and thus he will always pick up to hear a blank dial tone. She will always arrive home at night a few minutes after he has fallen asleep.

Lest you misunderstand, let me make this clear. Selenia may sound like a city of nightmares, and perhaps for others, if similar cities do exist, it may very well be. However, in this city, the wife and the husband are exceedingly happy. They live in the same house and are married. The wife makes dinner and leaves it in the fridge, and the husband finds it. The husband brings home a nice bottle of wine, and by morning, they have both enjoyed it separately. The wife gives vague but positive updates about him to her friends at brunch, and watches him sometimes as he peacefully sleeps. He is comforted by the sound of the shower running and the shadow behind the steamy curtain, the knowledge that she is just beyond. In Selenia, they never fight about the upcoming election. She never makes the ticking nose with her mouth that he hates so much, or at least he is not around to hear it. She is never angry because he doesn’t know how to turn on the TV.

In Selenia, the husband and the wife are happy together, separately. They have occasionally tried to go on holiday to France or visit parents, but every time it has erupted into a furious fight over the restaurant, and they have cut the trip short and hurried back to Selenia, where the wife wakes up peacefully to the sound of the husband’s car starting.

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