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

stones, arches, bridges: a repost from Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Marco Polo describes a bridge, stone by stone.

“But which is the stone that supports the bridge?” Kublai Khan asks.

“The bridge is not supported by one stone or another,” Marco answers, “but by the line of the arch that they form.”

Kublai Khan remains silent, reflecting.  Then he adds, “Why do you speak to me of stones?  It is only the arch that matters to me.”

Polo answers: “Without stones there is no arch.”

translated  by William Weaver





from Conversations in Sicily by Elio Vittorini

Then, as I was waiting, I saw a kite come up over the valley, and I followed it with my eyes as it passed above me into the sunlight high overhead, and I asked myself why, after all, the world was not A Thousand and One Nights, the way it was when I was seven. I heard bagpipes, the goats’ bells, and voices carrying across the slope of roofs and the valley, and I asked myself this question many times over as I watched the kite in the air. We call them flying dragons in Sicily, as somehow they embody China or Persia in the Sicilian sky, with their sapphire and opal colors and their geometry, and watching it I couldn’t help but ask myself why, really, the faith one has at seven doesn’t last forever.