Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino

Why do I dream of a city? Why don't I dream of the pond with its dark trees, its shifting surface?

I had to pick up someone at the train station in Kingston late one night. Arriving with time to spare, I stopped by the Borders, though I didn't really think it would be open so late. Imagine my surprise at finding it not only brightly lit, but full of pre-teens dressed in Goth attire. It turned out to be a midnight release party for some YA vampire book.

I took the opportunity, though, to pick up this book, which Moira had recommended when I told her about my dreams—that I often dream about being in this city, the same city, its streets and shopping malls as familiar to me as those of Towson or Kingston for that matter.

Yet it is a city that—waking—I have never seen.

Well, twice. Once in Lyons, France, when I went to visit Ilya and Jasmine. We were on our way to this restaurant on Presqu'Isle where we would sit at a long table with other patrons, sharing food and listening to music provided by the owner's Romany brother-in-law who just happened to drop by.

Anyway, Lyons was all lit up and we passed by this plaza a few steps above street level and surrounded by brilliant white buildings. In one corner, a young man was recklessly dancing to music only he could hear, and I recognised the plaza as one I had often passed while walking in my dream city.

The other time was in Yokohama, Japan, where our hotel, tall and foursquare with a connecting shopping mall snuggled against its feet was in fact the hotel and mall from my other life. Oddly, I seem to have frequented them much more often than I ever have such places in my waking life: late for a conference at the hotel's meeting room or stopping for coffee in one of the mall's shops. So to see the place standing there in the middle of Yokohama, to walk its corridors in this life, was eerie.

I don't know what to think about all this. Part of me doesn't believe in dreams and part wonders if the dreams led me to these places.

Note that I'm not talking about the book. It's remarkable. But I can't talk about it. You just have to experience it. Moira asked me which was my favorite of Calvino's cities. Maybe Euphemia where stories and memories are traded. Or Zobeide, the white city, which was laid out according to paths followed in dreams. Or Eusapia with its identical city of the dead. But really, all of them.

I love the inventiveness of these brief descriptions, like Ersilia where the houses have been removed leaving just the labyrinth of strings that once stretched between homes and offices to show relationships. I love the reversals or the turns at the end that add another layer of understanding.

Why do I dream of a city? I think because cities are where people come together. Where we have a chance at achieving the unity Forster wrote about. Where we knock off each other's rough edges and learn to get along. Where we tell each other our stories, even if it is only under dark suburban trees, their shadows holding us and keeping us separate from the silent, slumbering homes.

One thought on “Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino

  1. […] each contains an element of emotional truth about our humanity, reminding me of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. For example, another character, Widget, creates a tent of bedtime stories, full of tables and […]

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