Cities and Memory 3
In vain, great-hearted Kublai, shall I attempt to describe Zaira, city of high 1)bastions. I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and the degree of the arcades’ curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs; but I already know this would be the same as telling you nothing. The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past: the height of a lamppost and the distance from the ground of a hanged 2)usurper’s swaying feet; the line strung from the lamppost to the railing opposite and the 3)festoons that decorate the course of the queen’s 4)nuptial procession; the height of that railing and the leap of the 5)adulterer who climbed over it at dawn; the tilt of a 6)guttering and a cat’s progress along it as he slips into the same window; the firing range of a gunboat which has suddenly appeared beyond the cape and the bomb that destroys the guttering; the rips in the fish net and the three old men seated on the dock mending nets and telling each other for the hundredth time the story of the gunboat of the usurper, who some say was the queen’s illegitimate son, abandoned in his 7)swaddling clothes there on the dock.
As this wave from memories flows in, the city soaks it up like a sponge and expands. A description of Zaira as it is today should contain all of Zaira’s past. The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the 8)banisters of the steps, the 9)antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.
Dawn had broken when he said:
“10)Sire, now I have told you about all the cities I know.”
“There is still one of which you never speak.”
Marco Polo bowed his head.
“Venice,” the Khan said.
Marco smiled. “What else do you believe I have been talking to you about?”
The emperor did 11)not turn a hair. “And yet I have never heard you mention that name.”
And Polo said: “Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice.”
“When I ask you about other cities, I want to hear about them. And about Venice, when I ask you about Venice.”
“To distinguish the other cities’ qualities, I must speak of a first city that remains 12)implicit. For me it is Venice.”
“You should then begin each tale of your travels from the departure, describing Venice as it is, all of it, not omitting anything you remember of it.”
The lake’s surface was barely wrinkled; the copper reflection of the ancient palace of the Sung was shattered into sparkling glints like floating leaves.
“Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased,” Polo said. “Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it. Or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.”
Hidden Cities 1
In Olinda, if you go out with a magnifying glass and hunt carefully, you may find somewhere a point no bigger than the head of a pin which, if you look at it slightly enlarged, reveals within itself the roofs, the antennas, the skylights, the gardens, the pools, the streamers across the streets, the 13)kiosks in the squares, the horse-racing track. That point does not remain there: a year later you will find it the size of half a lemon, then as large as a mushroom, then a soup plate. And then it becomes a full-size city, enclosed within the earlier city: a new city that forces its way ahead in the earlier city and presses its way toward the outside.
伊塔洛·卡尔维诺（Italo Calvino, 1923-1985），意大利当代小说界的领军人物，充满想象的寓言作品大师。他毕业于都灵大学（比著名的巴黎大学，剑桥和牛津还要古老的大学）文学系，曾参加反法西斯抵抗运动。在第二次世界大战结束后的一段时间里，他曾尝试写纪实性故事。他早期的小说《通往蜘蛛巢的小路》描述了他在利古里亚群山中与游击队一道同纳粹和法西斯战斗的经历。但最终，他意识到，适合他的唯一的写作模式，就是去创造。此后，他果断地转向幻想和寓言作品的创作。