excerpts from:
Invisible Cities
By Italo Calvino
1972, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich


Continuous Cities 1

The city of Leonia refashions itself every day: every morning the people wake between fresh sheets, wash with just-unwrapped cakes of soap, wear brand-new clothing, take from the latest model refrigerator still unopened tins, listening to the last-minute jingles from the most up-to-date radio.

     On the sidewalks, encased in spotless plastic bags, the remains of yesterday's Leonia await the garbage truck.   Not only squeezed rubes of toothpaste, blown-out light bulbes, newspapers, containers, wrappings, but also boilers, encyclopedias, pianos, porcelain dinner services. It is not so much by the things that each day are manufactured, sold, bought that you can measure Leonia's opulence, but rather by the things that each day are thrown out to make room for the new.   So you begin to wonder if Leonia's true passion is really, as they say, the enjoyment of new and different things, and not, instead, the joy of expelling, discarding, cleansing itself of a recurrent impurity.   The fact is that street cleaners are welcomed like angels, and their task of removing the residue of yesterday's existence is surrounded by a respectful silence, like a ritual that inspires devotion, perhaps only because once things have been cast off nobody wants to have to think about them further.

     Nobody wonders where, each day, they carry their load of refuse.   Outside the city, surely; but each year the city expands, and the street cleaners have to fall farther back.   The bulk of the outflow increases and the piles rise higher, become stratified, extend over a wider perimeter.   Besides, the more Leonia's talent for making new materials excels, the more the rubbish improves in quality, resists time, the elements, fermentations, combustions.   A fortress of indestructible leftovers surrounds Leonia, dominating it on every side, like a chain of mountains.

     This is the result: the more Leonia expels goods, the more it accumulates them; the scales of its past are soldered into a cuirass that cannot be removed.   As the city is renewed each day, it preserves all of itself in its only definitive form: yesterday's sweepings piled up on the sweepings of the day before yesterday and of all its days and years and decades.

     Leonia's rubbish little by little would invade the world, if, from beyond the final crest of its boundless rubbish heap, the street cleaners of other cities were not pressing, also pushing mountains of refuse in front of themselves.   Perhaps the whole world, beyond Leonia's boundaries, is covered by craters of rubbish, each surrounding a metropolis in constant eruption.   The boundaries between the alien, hostile cities are infected ramparts where the detritus of both support each other, overlap, mingle.

     The greater its height grows, the more the danger of a landslide looms: a tin can, an old tire, an unraveled wine flask, if it rolls toward Leonia, is enough to bring with it an avalanche of unmated shoes, calendars of bygone years, withered flowers, submerging the city in its own past, which it had tried in vain to reject, mingling with the past of the neighboring cities, finally clean.   A cataclysm will flatten the sordid mountain range, canceling every trace of the metropolis always dressed in new clothes.   In the nearby cities they are all ready, waiting with bulldozers to flatten the terrain, to push into the new territory, expand, and drive the new street cleaners still farther out.

 

Cities and the Sky 5

Andria was built so artfully that its every street follows a planet's orbit, and the buildings and the places of community life repeat the order of the constellations and the position of the most luminous stars:   Antares, Alpheratz, Capricorn, the Cepheids.   The city's calendar is so regulated that jobs and offices and ceremonies are arranged in a map corresponding to the firmament on that date: and thus the days on earth and the nights in the sky reflect each other.

     Though it is painstakingly regimented, the city's life flows calmly like the motion of the celestial bodies and it acquires the inevitability of phenomena not subject to human caprice.   In praising Andria's citizens for their productive industry and their spiritual ease, I was led to say: I can well understand how you, feeling yourselves part of an unchanging heaven, cogs in a meticulous clockwork, take care not to make the slightest change in your city and your habits.   Andria is the only city I know where it is best to remain motionless in time.

     They looked at one another dumbfounded.   "But why?   Whoever said such a thing?"   And they led me to visit a suspended street recently opened over a bamboo grove, a shadow-theater under construction in the place of the municipal kennels, now moved to the pavilions of the former lazaretto, abolished when the last plague victims were cured, and--just inaugurated--a river port, a statue of Thales, a toboggan slide.

     "And these innovations do not disturb your city's astral rhythm?" I asked.

     "Our city and the sky correspond so perfectly, " they answered,   "that any change in Andria involves some novelty among the stars."   The astronomers, after each change takes place in Andria, peer into their telescopes and report a nova's explosion, or a remote point in the firmament's change of color from orange to yellow, the expansion of a nebula, the bending of a spiral of the Milky Way.   Each change implies a sequence of other changes, in Andria as among the stars: the city and the sky never remain the same.

      As for the character of Andria's inhabitants, two virtues are worth mentioning: self-confidence and prudence. Convinced that every innovation in the city influences the sky's pattern, before taking any decision they calculate the risks and advantages for themselves and for the city and for all worlds.

 

Thin Cities 5

If you choose to believe me, good.   Now I will tell how Octavia, the spider-web city, is made.   There is a precipice between two steep mountains: the city is over the void, bound to the two crests with ropes and chains and catwalks.   You walk on the little wooden ties, careful not to set your foot in the open spaces, or you cling to the hempen strands.   Below there is nothing for hundreds and hundreds of feet: a few clouds glide past; farther down you can glimpse the chasm's bed.

     This is the foundation of the city: a net which serves as passage and as support.   All the rest, instead of rising up, is hung below: rope ladders, hammocks, houses made like sacks, clothes hangers, terraces like gondolas, skins of water, gas jets, spits, baskets on strings, dumb-waiters, showers, trapezes and rings for children's games, cable cars, chandeliers, pots with trailing plants.

     Suspended over the abyss, the life of Octavia's inhabitants is less uncertain than in other cities.   They know the net will last only so long.