Inspiration from Italo

Italo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities (1997) has been inspiration for our piece as a whole. Like Marco Polo we’ve been sent in to the city to collect gems and retell the stories of the city back to our audience of Kupla Khan’s. To develop the flow and structure of the piece, we have written our own “Cities &…” stories, which we will record and play through headphones during the performance. This will set the pace for the entire performance as each piece can stand as its own story, just like the original. Below is my version of an Invisible city:

As you walk the city you are surrounded by multiple characters with multiple layers: a beggar, a clergyman, a banker. All are performing complex rituals of their time. You can hear the dialogues of the diverse population that inhabits this one city that houses them all. The fraud behind his façade, the business woman in between rendezvous: all are masquerading their secrets. The entire city passes through this soulless place but is anyone truly alive? Bodies walk these streets but spirits never leave a footprint. These bodies are reacting to the vibrancy this city oozes. Smells of smoke, pollution and grime. Sounds of nature have vanished and, all that remains is the hum of a man made world. Are the souls of these mindless bodies ever set free in this hubbub of an existence or do they mill around in the empty space above the city’s skyscrapers? Very few people are connected to both their body and soul. Few apart from the beggar man, who is content to occupy his park bench, see the city’s layers, stories and simplicities.

Calvino writes poetically and I tried to adopt this style in my writing by using imagery and carefully chosen language. I’m fortunate enough to have had my piece of writing chosen to be recorded for use in the final performance.



My Own Italo Calvino Vignette

In my own version of an Italo Calvino vignette, I wrote about Lincoln’s ways into the city: Inspired by ‘Cities and Desires 3’:

Lincoln is a place reached by many forms of transport; by car, train, bus or boat if you so wish. Transport uplifts the senses and brings forth a journey of exploration, of sights never seen and of images which turn from distant to up close.

            If the traveller drifted in by boat, he would see food and finery, shops every city in the country withholds, buildings with significant height, shoppers tripping over their heavy bags, leaves wandering aimlessly, a crossing stopping those who wish to pass, a window obscuring a view, the city is graspable but the journey is the undoing, a chug chug and the reality is returned, where flyers and billboards tell the latest fads, he searches for the place where he is meant to be, the unseen coffee shop with the marble cake, the cobbles in the distance.

            On the railway line, the traveller drifts on a steady stream, vivid colours painted on wooden walls, a vessel named Gypsy, moving but there or thereabouts floating, the city is within reach, the jingle-jangle of the hanging baskets become more fascinating, the lever which drives direction, the bed which is too small, the sink full of empty packets, washing hanging from a make-shift line, strong wind, and yet he looks for the tracks which take him into the city, away from the murky waters and nearer to the tiled floors, warm bodies, working people with uniforms, and those on a leisurely stroll, walking but not watching, or observing from a stand-still.

            Lincoln can be looked upon both at distance and at close observation; so the traveller voyages into the unknown and finds the city of Lincoln, a city with many interpretations.

I wrote this in a way that focuses on the journey, just like in ‘Cities and Desires 3’. As a group we are focusing on the train station, a place where many journeys occur.


Cities and Memory. 1: Hesnia

This weeks session was all about bringing our research of the city together to begin to form ideas for our final assessed piece. In the build-up to this week we were asked to write our own invisible cities in the style of ‘Italo Calvino’, based on our research from previous weeks. As I began to write my invisible city I struggled to think of how I was going to structure it and what it was I wanted to put across to the reader. However when looking back at previous readings I came across a quote that really helped me to come to terms with this task. The quote as spoken by practitioner Peter Brook is as follows: “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage”. ((Govan, Emma, Nicholson, Helen and Katie Normington 2007, The Place of the artist: revisioning place in Making a performance: Devising Histories and Comtempory Practices, Coxon: Routledge, p.120))

This got me thinking about Lincoln and how if I could think of it as an empty space I could also call it a bare stage/a blank canvas if you like. Once I allowed myself to see the space as empty I was able to pick small aspects of the city that I wanted to write about and place them on my blank canvas, along with some fabricated ideas as well. I think this really helped me to create a piece of writing in the style of ‘Italo Calvino’ as it had a more dreamlike feel to it and was not entirely factual, much like the invisible cities described within the text itself. The outcome of approaching the task in this way can be seen below:

As you trek on through a succession of trees, their branches intertwined and looming high above you in an eerie manner, a bright light shines from the end of the leafy tunnel as you gain pace to reach the end and witness the most beautiful city of all, Hesnia. Stepping into the city you are greeted by a vast expanse of free flowing water, filled with hues of blue and green. A small boat slowly drifts by enticing you to board and follow the slow stream all the way down till you reach a hill. The hill seems to stretch on forever getting steeper and steeper with every step you take, twisting and turning you stop to catch your breath, only to be left breathless when you reach the top. Breathless by the site of a magnificent and brightly lit cathedral towering above you, filled with detail over every inch, right from the bottom to the very tip of the top. Gargoyles and angels, the faces of saints and a dated design blanket the exterior, and you marvel for a few moments at the beauty of it all. When you finally turn away after absorbing its wonder you are faced with a much sterner and intimidating site, though still magnificent to look at none the less. Its walls climb high above your head and bowmen stand like statues in the battlement as you venture slowly through the wrought iron gates. Before you even enter the castle you can almost hear the screams of the prisoners within the old gaol. Some have gone mad with the isolation of being held separate from the other prisoners, some were merely mad before they arrived there. This place is a place of fear within the city of Hesnia, but it is some comfort to know that the terror is contained within this one place, guarded by statuesque bowmen. But are they there for our protection or for their own? Heading back down the hill you take a twist and a turn in another direction and are met by a quaint tea room where you can rest, quench your thirst and feed your hunger from the journey to the top of the hill. As you push open the door you are pulled into a place filled with the history of Hesnia, pictures and music entice your senses and you realise that this is the heart of the city. It’s history not how it is today but how it was many years ago.

“Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions” ((Calvino, Italo 1997 Invisible Cities, London: Vintage)) and rightly so based on my own interpretation of an invisible city, knowing that I fabricated the truth a little to make the city seem more wondrous and interesting. After all If Marco Polo had come back and described a city as being, ‘several tall buildings of grey’, I doubt Kublai Khan would have been impressed.