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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

INVISIBLE CITIES V -- Cities and Memory: ZAIRA

"Zaira, City of High Bastions," courtesy
behance.net (click this!)
Zaira is related, and fairly obviously so, to our Sarah and happens to mean "lady" or "princess" in both (and I wish I knew more of the linking history ... McWhorter? ... or is it coincidence?) Hebrew and "Irish" (Gaelic, that is), and "Rose" in Arabic.  That's all fine and dandy, of course, but it marks a difference in theme--if not gender--from the first three cities.  Thoughts?
  1. This first sentence, I think, captures the whole reason behind the Great Khan's fascination with Polo's descriptions.  However, do such subjective descriptions do him any good?
  2. According to the rest of this first paragraph, what then is the relationship between the "measurements of its space" (physical locations or landmarks (?)) and the "events of its past" (memory)?
  3. What do you make of "...the usurper, who some say was the queen's illegitimate son, abandoned in his swaddling clothes there on the dock."  Does this offer a window into either Calvino (or is he too shrewd to so expose himself) or at least one of the two characters?
  4. "...but contains [memory] like the lines of a hand."  Palmistry?  Forget divination for a minute; what's the connection here, and can the memories therefor be "read" at all?  Or is there an issue of magic at hand here after all?  Is memory and its ties to things a mysticism or conjure?
  5. Moving, relocating, is an engagement that sparks the memory.  Packing up items, sorting through boxes for treasure and trash, reorganization, etcetera bring past the hands and eyes items--landmarks--that hold in their essence, that trigger, memories.  Those memories are written like so many scars into the collections of junk we accumulate.  Do we throw away those memories, as certainly the runes of their recording are gone, when we throw away the landmarks?  I haven't thought about my Boy Scout days in ten years, but sorting through that old box because we've got to trim the fat down to naught, I encountered stacks and stacks of long-hidden memories.  But as Zaira absorbs like a sponge the waves of memory that happen within it, are those memories ever available to any of those who walk past the chink in a wall or who were not present when the hole appeared in the net?  Or does each citizen have access to an adequate number of memorial artifacts that those of others don't matter?  What do you make of the very physical, earthy, and private nature of the memories of Zaira?  Or do I have it wrong and all is shared by all?
  6. So, the "high bastions."  If the city is swollen with memories--even built entirely of memory--it stands to reason that the bastions would be so tall.  But a "bastion" is a defense.  Thoughts?
castle bastion at Copertino, Italy


  1. 1. Yeah, I think so. It's kind of like saying that God is incomprehensible. The very statement gives you a closer idea to what God's like than you would have had before--even if ultimately you fall short of full comprehension.
    2. The history of the events that took place there lend value to otherwise ordinary things.
    3. Not sure. Is it maybe a comment on memory? The infant is very much forgotten, even though at a time he could have represented potential, even scandal. Now he's kind of drifted into lore.
    4. I was actually going a different way with this, thinking that it relates back to the part about parts of the city getting their meaning from history. The way the hand gets its history is through use, which leaves aging lines/creases. Going your way, I think that memory, like the storytelling here can "magically" transport us to another place.
    5. Hmm, I think that in a way they are. It will never be as intense as to people who experienced it, but think of Jews visiting the Wailing Wall, or something like that. There's such a thing as a collective experience that touches something deep inside the fabric of who you are because it's the history of the people from whom you come.
    6. Maybe the pride in their tradition is their defense?

  2. 1. I agree, and additionally there is value (though indefinite) to sentimental description.
    3. I couldn't help wondering if this is some derogatorily slant perspective on Jesus. I don't know, though. What do you think? The big deterrent is why would it be?
    4. I like that. And along with your response to number (something else I hadn't thought of), there really is something to walking into a place that's been used and full of, what my wife and I tend to call character (looking at houses, exploring back roads, etc.), where you can feel, if not define, the memories and past inscribed into the walls and floor and whatever else.
    6. Or there's a level of privacy behind the defense of memories like these being anonymous??

  3. 3. I actually thought of this, too. I don't know enough about Calvino. But "swaddling clothes," illegitimacy, and the image of the queen certainly conjures up the image of the Virgin a bit. Also, there's already a mythic element in here. Again, why? Maybe the religious experience as part of memory? Also, is it necessarily derogatory?
    4. Yeah, I love, "character," too. It's why I love walking around old cities so much.
    6. Yeah, I think that's exactly it.

  4. 3. It was the word usurper, I guess, that gave me the negative connotation. Everything else, though is just fine. As far as the mythical/fairytale-like appearance is concerned, it will make sense soon, and in a pretty darn super cool way.
    4. It's why I miss Italy so darn much! Though pretty much any little town in the US with a historic downtown even qualifies. My dream is to build our own house some day, but I'll likely rip the layout off some old "character"-ridden house somewhere.


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