Words are like bricks. If the bricks are of even size, arranged properly, the structure will be fine and sturdy. If the bricks are weak, broken and arranged by an imperfect mason, the results are obvious. So is the case with literature. Appropriate words needs to be used at the appropriate place; the outcome will be pleasant reading, soul-satisfying! A good author can chisel perfect statue out of the strength of words.
The essential ingredients of a novel are plot, characterization and imagery and the force of the words. Poets say a beautiful girl looks more beautiful, when she is calm and polite. Likewise, a good book turns out better to read by appropriately-applied flowery vocabulary. Calvinos book under review, Photographing Architecture, is the perfect example of this category, though it doesnt have the plot as such. Calvino makes many things visible¦.
The book is about photographing architecture, through the charming, magical words-the magnetic literary skill. This book is the perfect example, to know and understand how to write about the cities. Again, the intelligent application of the words is the hallmark of the book. From the practical viewpoint, the book is easy to carry; it is small in size. The prose is breathtakingly elegant. Marco Polo describes to Kublai Khan, how each city is interestingly different, though full of contradictions.
The book, therefore, becomes the tourist guide of the cities as for the architecture of the era. Marco Polo involves himself so much about the description of the cities, he is so touchy about their decline, and he says candidly to Kublai Khan about the city of his birth, Venice, Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it. Or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little. (Calvino, 1978, p.87)
Every perception of the city is taken care of, each city gets a new type of description, and how one arrives at the city, which part is toured initially, whether one resides in the city or only travels through it. Some of the descriptions look like real-life shopping”a jewelry box, a phantasmagoria etc. In the architecture school, in a part of the syllabus, the student needs to draw these cities from the descriptions provided by Calvino. Such was his perfect and realistic assessment of the architecture!
The cities belong to the great Mongol Empire. Each city bears a womans name and yet from the description of the cities, full justice seems to have not been made to the female gender. Did Marco Polo follow the conditions of women, then prevailing? Women find little mention; their presence tends to be half-sequestered, peeping from windows and verandas, not a single positive role, while men are brave and adventurous explorers. Macro Polo seems to be the guide and philosopher of Kublai Khan. He listened to him with kindled curiosity, about the city and architecture of his own Empire, so big, that the King would not be able to travel through the cities in his lifetime. But the conversations are supposed to imaginary.
The imagination of Marco Polo is so fertile, it borders reality, if not beats it in many areas. He mentally constructs the cities to perfection. Invisible Cities is presented as a dialogue between explorer Marco Polo and the great Kublai Khan, in which the former is describing cities he has visited in the Khans empire. In his story telling, Marco Polo describes these cities in every way possible: by their inner structures, their denizens, from above, below, within, through their mirror images, and even utilizing modern day urban settings.
Some of the cities about which Marco Polo talks about to Kublai Khan are, Armilla-unfinished or demolished, Zobeide, a white city, well-exposed to the moon, Moriana, with alabaster gates transparent in the sunlight, Ersilia, the city of labyrinth of taut strings and poles, Thekla, the city under construction, Argia, the city that has earth instead of air and Olinda, the city that grows in concentric circles.
Books written in poetic style, with emotional contents, appeal to the heart. Marc Polo, the author-architect, makes that happen. It is the readers heart, and Marco Polo controls its beats not only for the duration of the reading, but even longer.
Calvino, Italo: Book: Invisible Cities
Paperback: 165 pages
Publisher: Harvest Books; 1st Harvest/HBJ Ed edition (May 3, 1978)