One of the many extraordinary works by Italian writer Italo Calvino. Framed as a conversation between Marco Polo and Kubli Khan it is a collection of short stories about fantastic cities. From a city suspended high above the earth by three mountains, to a city so sprawled it has no beginning or end each story points to a small reality of all cities. Each description is no more than a couple of pages, so it is an easy book to read and set down (perfect for a commute, or lunch break reading). I would recommend it highly to anyone.

I once met a Lebanese man who used to talk in Spanish, he told me of his happier days and the sad ones, of discoveries and losses, He used to do marketing for a big business and so he used to frequent many cities for work. The most he told me of his visits was of his trips to a faraway land, to the city of Naemabad.

"To a visitor who stays in Naemabad only for one day", he said like he's giving away an ancient wisdom, "the city has only a part of it to show. You can never understand that city in one day. Can never see it in one day."

My friend told me of his numerous visits, in all of whom the city came out to him like a young dynamic city with business on its mind and youth spread around like a riot.

"But one day", he said with a low voice, "I visited this city for leisure, on vacation, to be an observer rather than a player, to spend one Sunday in a young city, and I was surprised beyong belief, as soon as I reached the city. I saw old people, old and feeble people all around. There was not a single soul around who was under 50. I felt like a black crow among the swans. They were everywhere, on buses, in shops, walking on the roadside and I wondered if I've reached the wrong city. The city seemed to have aged overnight"

"But it was the right city, city of Naemabad ... I reckoned that it is a city which changes its age by the days of week."

To a visitor who reaches this city on a weekday, when people are out working in offices and shops and schools. The city strikes out as young and dynamic, where everyone is in hurry to be someplace and everyone is energetically running around. The old age, fear of death and loneliness seem to have no place in this city.

But to a visitor who reaches Naemabad on a day of vacation, the city belongs to the old and the aged. Everyplace you look, there are old people. Sitting on benches under trees looking nowhere in particular, taking walks on sidewalks, riding the buses, shopping in the grocery stores.

"To this day I wonder if there are more ages to a city, more faces, more shades to show in different weathers, in different times. For no one can see every face of a city on one day. Like you can not truly judge a man in one meeting ... Do cities have a childhood? Are they sometimes ashamed of their dwellers? Are they proud?..."

"Invisible Cities" is the English translation of "Le citta invisibili", written by Italo Calvino. It was published in Italian in 1972 and in English in 1974. Its framing device is a conversation between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo, although this is not presented at all in a historical and realistic context. Instead, Marco Polo narrates descriptions of imaginary, fantastic cities he has visited. These cities are not described as having normal geography or society, but are instead dream cities full of inversion, reflections and secrets. Whether these descriptions are full of topical political and literary allusions is something I couldn't tell: I don't know enough about Italian society to know whether Calvino was making a specific commentary or whether this is, as seems to be, merely surreal flights of fancy.

While I found this book interesting reading, I have to admit that I can't really make out what it is about. Which, perhaps, is the point.

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