on memory and cities: from Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

And Polo said: “Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice.”

“When I ask about other cities, I want to hear about them. And about Venice, when I ask you about Venice.”

“To distinguish the other cities’ qualities, I must speak of a first city that remains implicit. For me it is Venice.”

“You should then begin each tale of your travels from the departure, describing Venice as it is, all of it, not omitting anything you remember of it.”

The lake’s surface was barely wrinkled; the copper reflection of the ancient palace of the Sung was shattered into sparkling glints like floating leaves.

“Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased,” Polo said. “Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it. Or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.”

translated by William Weaver

5 thoughts on “on memory and cities: from Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

  1. Polo could be speaking about a dozen cities, Venice is certainly special. I enjoy his “everything should begin with” prose concerning Venice. It is a magical city to be sure..

    • sorry, incomplete. I meant to write, that Polo’s final comment is not just melancholy-sounding, but has also been found to be literally true. As we speak of things, it erodes our mental images. When police, for example, interview witnesses, and obtain a written statement and description of the people involved, the witnesses are much more unreliable when they’re asked to identify the perpetrators in a line-up. The witnesses do much better if they’re simply asked to look at the people. Somehow, formulating the description into words, seems to cloud the image in our mind’s eye.

      In any case, I like this quotation, thank you.

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