Orton Family Foundation's Reviews > Invisible Cities

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
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Sep 15, 09

Read in September, 2009

Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities published in 1972 got me thinking about how we imagine the places in which we live, how the imagined places differ from the actual places, and the ways in which the physical structure of a place reflects the minds and desires of the people living there—and vice versa. Cities, in Calvino's dreamlike tale, are like living, breathing organisms. They are built as much of the emotions and thoughts inspired when walking through them as they are of bricks and mortar. Here's a passage from a chapter entitled "Continuous Cities":

The city of Leonia refashions itself every day: every morning the people wake between fresh sheets, wash with just-unwrapped cakes of soap, wear brand-new clothing, take from the latest model refrigerator still unopened tins, listening to the last-minute jingles from the most up-to-date radio.

On the sidewalks, encased in spotless plastic bags, the remains of yesterday's Leonia await the garbage truck... It is not so much by the things that each day are manufactured, sold, bought that you can measure Leonia's opulence, but rather by the things that each day are thrown out to make room for the new. So you begin to wonder if Leonia's true passion is really, as they say, the enjoyment of new and different things, and not, instead, the joy of expelling, discarding, cleansing itself of a recurrent impurity.

In our work with small cities and towns, the Foundation helps communities take a closer look at themselves in their efforts to identify the unique characteristics they would like to see sustained for generations to come. I wonder, if asked to write a profile of their home modeled after Calvino's stories, what kind of picture they would paint. Which of Calvino's cities would their home most resemble?

The book got me thinking about how we perceive our places, how we function in them (or how places shape how we function), and how places really are the physical manifestation of a particular cross-section of humanity at a particular point in history.

It's a great, thought-provoking read.
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