Calvino’s Cities

Seminar Week 3


Today we discussed a few chapter of Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’. The first page of every section in the book is a conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan.

Kublai Khan at that time ruled a huge empire which probably spread across several countries. Since it wasn’t possible to keep track of every part of the empire individually, the King obviously had a network of people under him. But he’d never visited a lot of them in person,and Marco Polo’s claims about having travelled across his empire,and the fact that he wasn’t of noble ancestry, had the King interested in what the traveller wanted to say. Marco Polo revealed random details about cities that no official could tell him, and so Kublai Khan wanted to believe everything Polo said.

The extent of Kublai Khan’s empire at its territorial peak.

Below are some of the cities we discussed and their features that I find interesting:

1.Trading Cities I-Euphemia

  • Merchants gather at solstice/equinox
  • City where trade occurs,men exchange stories.Thus memories are traded.
  • Generous
  • Hard to reach
  • Harsh climate
  • Memory
  • Seasonal visits
  • Foreign

2. Thin Cities V- Octavia

  • Spider web city
  • Over a void
  • Uncertain
  • People enjoy life on a compromise
  • Strange
  • Perilous
  • Adventure
  • Crowded
  • Marvel

3.Cities and Eyes III- Baucis

  • Inhabitants are not on the ground
  • Supported by stilts/ flamingo legs
  • Altitude
  • Possibilities
  • Bewilderment
  • One with nature
  • Mystery

4. Trading Cities V- Esmeralda

  • Water city
  • Hidden elements
  • Many ways to travel
  • Developing/developed city
  • City of crime
  • Adventurous
  • Confusing

5. Cities and Names I-Aglaura

  • Rumours
  • Assumptions
  • Two-faced
  • Delusional
  • Made-up

6.Thin Cities IV-Sophronia

  • Two half-cities
  • Unexpected
  • Unusual permanence
  • Unnecessary
  • Routine

The class ended with finding these words which could closely describe the cities we read. For next class,we were supposed to read 6 chapters apart from the one discussed here.

It took me a moment to get used to the format of the book. But I enjoyed the writing style of the author. It is descriptive, but not enough to force one’s imagination and restrict it.I understood how to describe the city in just a few words without using words in the chapter itself.Calvino strikes a wonderful balance between things that are real and completely fabricated, making the book interactive for readers.

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