Fantasy Vacations: INVISIBLE CITIES by Italo Calvino

“Zora’s secret lies in the way your gaze runs over patterns following one another as in a musical score where not a note can be altered or displaced. The man who knows by heart how Zora is made, if he is unable to sleep at night, can imagine he is walking along the streets and he remembers the order by which the copper clock follows the barber’s striped awning, then the fountain with the nine jets, the astronomer’s glass tower, the melon vendor’s kiosk, the statue of the hermit and the lion, the Turkish bath, the café at the corner, the alley that lead to the harbor. This city which cannot be expunged from the mind is like an armature, a honeycomb in whose cells each of us can place the things he wants to remember: names of famous men, virtues, numbers, vegetable and mineral classifications, dates of battles, constellations, parts of speech.” – Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

On TV or in the movies, lonely and bored girls are always reading travel books about far off places to escape from the doldrums of their own circumstances. I usually roll my eyes at stuff like that because, I mean really, who actually does that? Travel guides just wouldn’t do it for me, in terms of escapism. I feel like they’d only serve to remind me that I’m not in Paris, or India, or Croatia.

With The Boy gone, I’ve been something a lonely bored girl, myself. But for the last week, every time I picked up Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities I was whisked away from own life, which is looking a little drab at the moment. This book, like all of Calvino’s writing is both transcendent and decadent. I swoon. I smile on the train. I close my eyes and sigh dreamily. It’s just so lush and full of girls walking pumas on leashes, and silk caravans, and cities on stilts, and crystal globes and, you know, things like that.

The basic premise of the book is a conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. In short vignettes, the explorer tells the emperor of all the cities he’s traveled through: real, imaginary, and in-between. It’s a quick read and it leaves the most delicious taste in your mouth. If you like Invisible Cities, I also recommend Cosmicomics.

Invisible Cities (1974, Harcourt), Italo Calvino


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