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Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Saint Isidore, courtesy
Isidora, Isadora (alt. spelling), or Isadore (masculine) are essentially equivalents.  As will be the case for most of the Khan's cities--or, well, most of Polo's cities, as they're different, after all--I need to spend a few lines on the name.  While this particular name, similar to the last, is most typically given--if "typical" can apply to such rare use--in Spanish-speaking cultures, the name is originally Greek.  Similar to the last city, however--and I can't help but think, all things so far considered, that Calvino's doing this on purpose--this one has a couple of potential interpretations, one literal, of course, the other(s) much more subjective and connotative.  For a moment, forget the Greek (which thing is a pretty natural course for me as I've essentially no experience with Greek beyond abstract and limited peripheral study and am, instead, so much more Latin in my background).  The little parts of the name--Isi, d', and ora--indicate two iffy connotative possibilities.  It puts me in mind of either "Island of Time," or, particularly if we take ora (Italian for hour) as adjectival  rather than nominal and therefore required to match the feminine gender of island, oro (gold) to ora (adjectivally golden), "Island of Gold" or "Golden Island."  And it this makes at least a little bit of sense as the name deals naturally with a geographic location, correlating strongly with not only the book as a whole but the previous city, Diomira, which name connects directly to city/village, and, in Isidora's case, one near the sea, which would account for all the seashells.  The name "Isidora" is, however, not derived from such a place or from the "dirty" Latin I've employed.  It means rather and simply "Gift of Isis," Isis being a powerful Egyptian goddess.  This works too, of course, and probably even better.  Incidentally, Isidore--er, Saint Isidore--archbishop of Seville, was named in 2001 as patron saint of computers.

  1. In many ways, the treatment of Isidora is very similar to that of Diomira.  The city is highly idealized.  We enter on the move and, though it wasn't mentioned by word in Diomira, full of desire.  What is the connection between memory--even nostalgia, that most subjective form of memory--and desire?
  2. There are also among these similarities, of course, differences.  Instead of the cock's crow signaling the morning, there are cockfights; instead of the women pleasantly crying out from terraces, they solicitously crowd travelers on the street.  What is the potential that Isidora is (and to a degree even phonetically--just an "m" off, after all) a mirror reversal of Diomira?
  3. But Isidora--Gift of the Powerful Goddess--is not a real city, but just the desire for a city by a traveler too long away from civilization.  What does this powerful desire do to the essence of the city--whichever city--he finally reaches at the end or interim of his journey?  Similarly, how subjective upon human perspective is the nature and identity of a city?  Do we see what we want to see, hear what we want to hear, find what we want to find, regardless of what really is or isn't there and available?
  4. What do you make of all the spirals?  How do they, too, connect to memory and desire?
  5. Finally, define the ending sentence in context of what we've gone over above.


  1. 1. It seems to be a city in which people can look at things that they used to desire but are now too old to enjoy. Maybe you have nostalgia for those days, but perhaps you also see the pointlessness of it all.
    2. I think that it's almost a similarity. Both are things that one may have desired before wisdom kind of ruined it for them, such as the line about "envy" in the first city.
    3. Yes, we do. Do you think that the traveler is really contented here, though?
    4. As you go up the spiral, you're always following some desire. Then perhaps memory is the trip back down. So maybe it's memory at the bottom, life on the staircase, at the top as sort of the telos.
    5. I think that this fits in with the idea that you've wanted this city your entire life, but when you finally get there, you no longer have any desire for it. You're almost burned out.

  2. 3. No. How often do we think we want something until we get it and then realize we shouldn't have ever pursued it. Similarly, how often do we long for the past because what we've got right now doesn't satisfy? Interesting how these first two cities, while ostensibly lovely, are actually truly sad places.
    4. Nice word there! And I like the interpretation. It works.
    5. I agree. Very succinct.

  3. 3. Yes, exactly. I find myself rereading each of these a couple of times to get the point, and THEN I realize that it's sad. It takes poetry-style carefulness to read these.
    4. Haha, I think that I spent too much time hanging around the political theory department.

  4. 3. This is one of the primary reasons I love this.


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