Consider This: Poetics

Continuous Cities 4
By Italo Calvino

You reproach me because each of my stories takes you right into
the heart of a city without telling you of the space that stretches
between one city and the other, whether it is covered by seas, or
fields of rye, larch forests, swamps. I will answer you with a story.
In the streets of Cecilia, an illustrious city, I met once a goatherd,
driving a tinkling flock along the walls.
“Man blessed by heaven,” he asked me, stopping, “can you tell
me the name of the city in which we are?”
“May the gods accompany you!” I cried. “How can you fail to
recognize the illustrious city of Cecilia?”
“Bear with me,” that man answered. “I am a wandering herds-
man. Sometimes my goats and I have to pass through cities; but we
are unable to distinguish them. Ask me the names of the grazing
lands, I know them all: the Meadow between the Cliffs, the Green
Slope, the Shadowed Grass. Cities have no name for me: they are
places without leaves, separating one pasture from another, and
where the goats are frightened at street corners and scatter. The dog
and I run to keep the flock together.”
“I am the opposite of you,” I said. “I recognize only cities and
cannot distinguish what is outside them. In uninhabited places each
stone and each clump of grass mingles, in my eyes, with every other
stone and clump.”
Many years have gone by since then; I have known many more
cities and I have crossed continents. One day I was walking among
rows of identical houses; I was lost. I asked a passerby: “May the
immortals protect you, can you tell me where we are?
“In Cecilia, worse luck!” he answered. “We have been wandering
through its streets, my goats and I, for an age, and we cannot find
our way out…”
I recognized him, despite his long white beard; it was the same
herdsman of long before. He was followed by a few, mangy goats,
which did not even stink, they were so reduced to skin-and-bones.
They cropped wastepaper in the rubbish bins.
“That cannot be!” I shouted. “I, too, entered a city, I cannot re-
member when, and since then I have gone on, deeper and deeper
into its streets. But how have I managed to arrive where you say,
when I was in another city, far far away from Cecilia, and I have
not yet left it?”
“The places have mingled,” the goatherd said. “Cecilia is every-
where. Here, once upon a time, there must have been the Meadow
of the Low Sage. My goats recognize the grass on the traffic island.”

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