Art Journal #6

Upon first reading this journal prompt, I was happy to see that it was all about picking a favorite city. I thought to myself “this should be easy!” However, after reading Calvino’s book, and reading the prompt again, it is not as easy as it appears.  I found it difficult to choose a favorite city, simply because the cities are, well…invisible. Despite the fact that each of us will read the same description for the cities, our mental vision of each will be very different, and we will choose our favorite city based on these visions. Perhaps this is the meaning behind the title “Invisible Cities”, how can these cities Marco Polo is depicting be visible, if every reader has a different image of the cities? This dialogue between Kahn and Polo describes this very point:

“Kublai asks Marco, “When you return to the West, will you repeat to your people the same tales you tell me?” “I speak and speak,” Marco says, “but the listener retains only the words he is expecting…It is not the voice that commands the story: it is the ear.”

I noticed that I did exactly what Marco Polo is describing here. After reading through each of the cities, I decided my favorites were Adelma, Argia, and Olinda. Adelma is a chilling city filled with deceased friends and family of Marco Polo. However when we, the audience, envision this city it will be completely different for each of us. The city will not be filled with the deceased people Marco Polo speaks of, but people we know. The city of Adelma is so haunting to Marco Polo, that is makes him question his own state of being. I like Adelma because it is not just another city, filled with beautiful scenery. It is an unsettling city, one which makes the foreigner question even his own existence. Argia is another city, very different from the rest, because instead of air, it has earth (pp.126). I chose Argia because it reminded me of the kind of environment worms and insects live in. It is completely opposite from our customary cities, filled with fresh air, and lots of space to move around. “The dampness destroys people’s bodies and they have scant strength; everyone is better off remaining still, prone… “ (pp.126). I like Argia, simply because it gives us a different perspective of the word city. Out of the three cities, however, Olinda is my very favorite. My reasoning for picking Olinda is not because it painted the prettiest image in my mind, or that it intrigued me the most of all the cities. It is simply because I was able to understand it better than all the rest because of the way in which Marco Polo described it.

After I read the description the words, “lymph” and “blossoming” stood out to me. I linked them to biology, and in doing so was able to understand the workings of the city. In my mind, Olinda is eternal. The name, to me, actually looks like the city, circular and continuous. I have discovered that the cities Marco Polo describes cannot be taken as literal cities, but rather seen symbolically. Therefore, what I liked most about Olinda is that it is a city of ironies. Despite its eternal nature, new structures are continually added. So it is old, and new, both static and ever-changing.  To me, Olinda can represent us as human beings. Despite growing old and gaining knowledge, our essence remains the same, just like the city of Olinda.

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5 Responses to Art Journal #6

  1. sarahsliman says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more here Alyson. I think that every single person can read these descriptions of these cities and draw a completely different image of that city in their head. These cities truly are ‘invisible’ because there is no one distinct picture of how they are set up, each one is created in the minds of the reader, and in the mind of Marco Polo.

    I thought the cities you chose were all very interesting ones, and the way you interpreted their descriptions differed from my own interpretations when I read through them. I especially liked how you described Olinda. “To me, Olinda can represent us as human beings. Despite growing old and gaining knowledge, our essence remains the same, just like the city of Olinda.” I thought this was a very unique and creative way to take this city and make it a metaphor to the human being. We all grow and continue to gain knowledge through the experiences and education we have throughout life, but that core will always remain with us. I think Olinda is like that, the basis of Olinda will remain the same, but the city itself changes constantly.

  2. dwiddler says:

    I absolutely agree with you. Prior to reading you journal, I didn’t consider that every person that listened to Polo’s description would have a different perception of each city. They might be somewhat similar, but never the same. Each individual is going to either build off of what Polo said, or erase parts to make it go along with their life.
    I like your city selections. I think you noticed that Polo is coming from a dark past with possibly very few happy times. I feel that everything he describes has happened somewhere along the line, even though his cities are incredibly bizarre. Your first two choices are very similar to mine. I chose a specific three due to the fact that I felt Polo was describing aspects of his past failures and regrets.

  3. Alyson, I felt the same way when I first read the journal prompt. For me, I realized the prompt was going to be more difficult than I thought when I could not decide upon just three cities that were my favorite. I loved so many of the cities because each place had many symbolic, metaphorical, and numerous other deeper meanings and layers to them that could be explored and uncovered. As a lover of literature, I found this exciting, and many of the cities were very fascinating, that it was difficult to only choose three.

    You spoke of another reason why this journal was difficult for me in your journal, when you discussed how each reader views each city differently and perceives its meaning in different ways. I completely agree with you on this point. I do believe that Marco uses each of the invisible cities as little bits of explanation for the main important city, Venice. Without these little pieces of knowledge, learned one at a time, we would not be able to gradually know Venice, but instead it would be forced upon us all at once, impersonal and abrasive. When Polo describes Venice in small parts at a time, the reader is able to acquire a better sense of the city’s people, diversity, and physical features. Since we all perceive what we wish to perceive, and obtain information that we wish to obtain, one reader may end up viewing Venice completely different from another reader. However, isn’t this what happens with life in general? We all view situations differently, places differently, and people differently. Marco already knows this in the novel, and because of his understanding, he provides as much detail and description about each city as possible in order for Khan to imagine the city to his full capability.

    I enjoyed your discussion about Adelma, and I agree with you that it is a very captivating city. The morbid vibe that the city gives off is intriguing because it is so different from the other cities. I liked this city as well, for reasons much like your own. It would be difficult to live with a constant reminder of the dead, but soon the dead no longer feel far away and gone because their essence and memory lives among them.

    I enjoyed reading your Journal Alyson! Thanks for sharing!

  4. pizzaguy656 says:

    Alyson, Adelma was a interesting choice to talk about. At first when I was reading your journal I took the word “chilling” as a relaxing meaning and then I realized it was for a more creepy meaning. I thought that was funny on my part. Adelma is creepy but is described as a pretty city. I don’t understand why Polo is so scared of this town. It didn’t seem haunted when I was reading it. The second city you talk about is Argia. I never thought about looking at it as literally the earth with the worms and mud. That is a interesting way to put it in that prospective. I think the third city u picked being your favorite is different than anyone else’s because it is a simple city that no one really sees how cool of city it really is. I agree Olinda is eternal but I think we change as time goes on. It is a good prospective you put on it though. I like where u came up with the ideas of how these cities were your favorite. Thanks for sharing such a interesting Journal Alyson.

  5. sslopek says:

    Alyson, I found your post very enlightening and interesting. It was enjoyable to read. I agree that the topic seemed easy at first. I thought I could just pick three cities and describe them quickly, but then I remembered how brief each city is in the book. They also require a lot of interpretation, because they are not actual cities. They are all just literary tricks to represent another idea. I like that you were able to relate the book to your personal experience with biology. I don’t remember Argia from my first reading of the book. It really makes you ask “What is a city?”, and reminds us that things are only how we perceive them.

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