Saturday, September 4, 2010


Noun; em-blum
1. Special design or visual object representing a quality, type, group, etc.
2. A visible symbol representing an abstract idea


Travellers return from the city of Zirma with distinct memories: a blind black man shouting in the crowd, a lunatic teetering on a skyscraper's cornice, a girl walking with a puma on a leash. Actually many of the blind men who tap their canes on Zirma's cobblestones are black; in every skyscraper there is someone going mad; all lunatics spend hours on cornices; there is no puma that some girl does not raise, as a whim. The city is redundant: it repeats itself so that something will stick in the mind.

I too am returning from Zirma: my memory includes dirigibles flying in all directions, at window level; streets of shops where tattoos are drawn on sailors' skin; underground trains crammed with obese women suffering from the humidity. My travelling companions, on the other hand, swear they saw only one dirigible hovering among the city's spires, only one tattoo artist arranging needles and inks and pierced patterns on his bench, only one fat woman fanning herself on a train's platform. Memory is redundant: it repeats signs so that the city can begin to exist.


From there, after six days and seven nights, you arrive at Zobeide, the white city, well exposed to the moon, with streets wound about themselves as in a skein. They tell this tale of its foundation: men of various nations had an identical dream. They saw a woman running at night through an unknown city; she was seen from behind, with long hair, and she was naked. They dreamed of pursuing her. As they twisted and turned, each of them lost her. After the dream they set out in search of that city; they never found it. but they found one another; they decided to build a city like the one in the dream. In laying out the streets, each followed the course of his pursuit; at the spot where they had lost the fugitive's trail, they arranged spaces and walls differently from the dream, so she would be unable to escape again.

This was the city of Zobeide, where they settled, waiting for that scene to be repeated one night. None of them, asleep or awake, ever saw the woman again. The city's streets were streets where they went to work every day, with no link any more to the dreamed chase. Which, for that matter, had long been forgotten. New men arrived from other lands, having had a dream like theirs, and in the city of Zobeide, they recognized something of the streets of the dream, and they changed the positions of arcades and stairways to resemble more closely the path of the pursued woman and so, at the spot where she had vanished, there would remain, no avenue of escape.

The first to arrive could not understand what drew these people to Zobeide, this ugly city, this trap.


After a seven days' march through woodland, the traveller directed towards Baucis cannot see the city and yet he has arrived. The slender stilts that rise from the ground at a great distance from one another and are lost above the clouds support the city. You climb them with ladders. On the ground the inhabitants rarely show themselves: having already everything they need up there, they prefer not to come down. Nothing of the city touches the earth except those long flamingo legs on which it rests and, when the days are sunny, a pierced, angular shadow that falls on the foliage.

There are three hypotheses about the inhabitants of Baucis: that they hate the earth; that they respect it so much they avoid all contact; that they love it as it was before they existed and with spyglasses and telescopes aimed downwards they never tire of examining it, leaf by leaf, stone by stone, ant by ant, contemplating with fascination their own absence.


There are two ways of describing the city of Dorothea: you can say that four aluminium towers rise from its walls flanking seven gates with spring-operated drawbridges that span the moat whose water feeds four green canals which cross the city, dividing it into nine quarters, each with three hundred houses and seven hundred chimneys. And bearing in mind that the nubile girls of each quarter marry youths of other quarters and their parents exchange the goods that each family holds in monopoly--bergamot, sturgeon roe, astrolabes, amethysts--you can then work from these facts until you learn everything you wish about the city in the past, present, and future. Or else you can say, like the camel-driver who took me there: 'I arrived here in my first youth, one morning, many people were hurrying along the streets towards the market, the women had fine teeth and looked you straight in the eye, three soldiers on a platform played the trumpet, and all around wheels turned and coloured banners fluttered in the wind. Before then I had known only the desert and the caravan routes. In the years that followed, my eyes returned to contemplate the desert expanses and the caravan routes; but now I know this path is only one of the many that opened before me on that morning in Dorothea.'


When he enters the territory of which Eutropia is the capital, the traveller sees
not one city but many, of equal size and not unlike one another, scattered over a
vast, rolling plateau. Eutropia is not one, but all these cities together; only
one is inhabited at a time, the others are empty; and this process is carried out
in rotation. Now I shall tell you how. On the day when Eutropia's inhabitants feel
the grip of weariness and no one can bear any longer his job, his relatives, his
house and his life, debts, the people he must greet or who greet him, then the
whole citizenry decides to move to the next city, which is there waiting for them,
empty and good as new; there each will take up a new job, a different wife, will
see another landscape on opening his window, and will spend his time with
different pastimes, friends, gossip. So their life is renewed from move to move,
among cities whose exposure or declivity or streams or winds make each site
somehow different from the others. Since their society is ordered without great
distinctions of wealth or authority, the passage from one function to another
takes place almost without jolts; variety is guaranteed by the multiple
assignments, so that in the span of a lifetime a man rarely returns to a job that
has already been his.

Thus the city repeats its life, identical, shifting up and down on its empty
chessboard. The inhabitants repeat the same scenes, with the actors changed; they
repeat the same speeches with variously combined accents; they open alternate
mouths in identical yawns. Alone, among all the cities of the empire, Eutropia
remains always the same. Mercury, god of the fickle, to whom the city is sacred,
worked this ambiguous miracle.


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