Excerpt 11

“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 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 other cities’ qualities, I must speak of a first city that remains implicit. For me it is Venice.”

Trading Cities . 5

In Esmerelda, city of water, a network of canals and a network of streets span and intersect each other. To go from one place to another you have always the choice between land and boat: and since the shortest distance between two points in Esmerelda is not on a straight line but a zigzag that ramifies in tortuous optional routes, the ways open to each passerby are never two, but many, and they increase further for those who alternate a stretch by boat with one on dry land.

And so Esmerelda’s inhabitants are spared the boredom of following the same streets every day. And that is not all: the network of routes is not arranged on one level, but follows instead a up-and-down course of steps, landings, cambered bridges, hanging streets. Combining segments of the various routes, elevated or on ground level, each inhabitant can enjoy every day the pleasure of a new itinerary to reach the same places. The most fixed and calm lives in Esmerelda are spent without any repetition.

Secret adventurous lives, here as elsewhere, are subject to greater restrictions. Esmerelda’s cats, thieves, illicit lovers move along higher, discontinuous ways, dropping from a rooftop to a balcony, following guttering with acrobats’ steps. Below. the rats run in the darkness of the sewers, one behind the other’s tail, along with conspirators and smugglers: they peep out of manholes and drainpipes, they slip through double bottoms and ditches, from one hiding place to another they drag crusts of cheese, contraband goods, kegs of gunpowder, crossing the city’s compactness pierced by the spokes of underground passages.

A map of Esmerelda should include, marked in different coloured inks, all these routes, solid and liquid, evident and hidden. It os more difficult to fix on the map the routes of the swallows, who cut the air over the roofs, dropping long invisible parabolas with the still wings, darting to gulp a mosquito, spiralling upward, grazing a pinnacle, dominating from every point of their airy paths all the points of the city.

Chapter 6.1 - p88

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