Mack of Eutropia

When he enters the territory of which Eutropia is the capital, the traveler sees not one city but many, of equal size and not unlike one another, scattered over a vast, rolling plateau. Eutropia is not one, but all these cities together; only one is inhabited at a time, the others are empty; and this process is carried out in rotation. Now I shall tell you how. On the day when Eutropia’s inhabitants feel the grip of weariness, and no one can bear any longer his job, his relatives, his house and his life, debts, and the people he must greet or that greet him, then the whole citizenry decides to move to the next city, which is there waiting for them, empty and good as new; there each will take up a new job, a different wife, will see another landscape upon opening his window, and will spend his time with different pastimes, friends, gossip. So their life is renewed from move to move, among cities whose exposure or declivity or streams or winds make each site somehow different from the others. Since their society is ordered without great distinctions of wealth or authority, the passage from one function to another takes place almost without jolts; variety is guaranteed by the multiple assignments, so that in a span of a lifetime, a man rarely returns to a job that was formerly his.

Thus the city repeats it’s life, identical, shifting up and down on it’s empty chessboard. The inhabitants repeat the same scenes, with the actors changed; they repeat the same speeches with variously combined accents, they open alternative mouths in identical yawns. Alone, among all the cities of the empire, Eutropia remains always the same. Mercury, god of the fickle, to whom the city is sacred, worked this ambiguous miracle.

Italo Calvino, “Invisible Cities.”

Isn’t it a little scary to read something that describes your whole life?



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5 responses to “Mack of Eutropia

  1. If you end up loving that book half as much as I do, I swear, I will feel I have accomplished enough for three lifetimes.

  2. Tell me, then, B, is he writing about death? Sure seems like it?

  3. In some ways, yes, I think so. I think he’s also writing about how isolated we are each in our own little pockets of flesh, kept apart from each other by that barrier, and how art (counting architecture in with that) can help us cross that barrier (or, in the end, at least have the illusion of crossing that barrier).

    The end of the book always inspires me.

  4. nm

    Lord, I love Calvino.

  5. bridgett

    I love “Invisible Cities” but I love LOVE “If on a winter’s night a traveller.” I have a copy of “Mr. Palomar” that I’ve been meaning to read, but there just hasn’t been enough time lately.

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