Continuous Cities - 1
From Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
The city of Leonia refashions itself every day: every morning the people wake between fresh sheets, wash with just-unwrapped cakes of soap, wear brand-new clothing, take from the latest model refidgerator still unopened tins, listening to the last minute jingle from the most up-to-date radio.
On the sidewalk, encased in spotless plastic bags, the remains of yesterday’s Leonia await the garbage truck. Not only squeezed tubes of toothpaste, blown-out light globes, newspapers, containers, wrapping, but also boilers, encyclopaedias, pianos, porcelain dinner services. It is not so much by the things that each day are manufactured, sold and bought that you can measure Leonia’s opulence, but rather by the things that each day are thrown out to make room for the new. So you begin to wonder if Leonia’s true passion is really, as they say, the enjoyment of new and different things, and not, instead, the joy of expelling, discarding, cleansing itself of a recurrent impurity. The fact is that street cleaners are welcomed like angels, and their task of removing the residue of yesterday’s existsence is surrounded by a respectful silence, like a ritual that inspires devotion, perhaps only because once things have been cast off nobondy wants to have to think about them further.
Nobody wonders where, each day, they carry their load of refuse. Outside the city, surely; but each year the city expands, and the street cleaners have to fall further back. The bulk of the outflow increases and the piles rise higher, become stratified, extend over a wide perimeter. Besides, the more Leonia’s talent for making new materials excels, the more the rubbish improves in quality, resists time, the elements, fermentations, combustions. A fortress of indestructible leftovers surrounds Leonia, dominating it on every side, like a chain of mountains.
This is the result; the more Leonia expels goods, the more it accumulates them; the scales of its past are soldered into a cuirass that cannot be removed. As the city is renewed each day, it preserves all of itself in its only definitive form; yesterdays sweepings piled up on sweeping of the day before yesterday and of all its days and years and decades.
Leonia’s rubbish little by little would invade the world, if, from beyond the final crest of its boundless rubbish heap, the street cleaners of other cities were not pressing, also pushing mountains of refuse in front of themselves. Pehaps the whole world, beyond Leonia’s boundaries, is covered by craters of rubbish, each surrounding a metropolis in constant eruption. The boundaries between alien, hostile cities are infected ramparts where the detrius of both support each other, overlap, mingle.
The greater its height grows the more danger of a landslide looms; a tin can, an old tire, an unraveled wine flask, if it rolls toward Leonia, is enough to bring with it an avalanche of unmated shoes, calendars of bygone years, withered flowers, submerging the city in its own past, which it had tried in vain to reject, mingling with the past of the neighbouring cities finally clean. A cataclysm will flatten the sordid mountain range, cancelling every trace of the metropolis always dressed in new clothes. In near by cities the are all ready, waiting with bulldozers to flatten the terrain, to push into the new territory, expand, and drive the new street cleaners still farther out.