In Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities, Marco Polo reports to Kublai Khan about alleged far away cities in his decaying empire. It soon becomes evident to Kublai that the cities are really one, and that their characteristics have more to do with memory, desire, and nostalgia than with empirical reality.
Calvino’s invisible cities were evoked the other day when my husband and I went to visit our granddaughter in the Monterey peninsula in Central California. Having lived there ourselves for 13 years, I realized that Monterey, too, could have easily been one of the cities of Marco Polo’s journey into the ethereal, a city that he sees in a vision of passion and relates to Kublai:
The city of Monterey is a mirror of desire for the dispossessed masses, their longings materialized on the crystalline blue shores. All along its streets, two times exist simultaneously, the present and that of the old California, where generations before, the adventurers and the dispossessed of another era had sought and found their fortunes: the Spanish rancheros, the Yankee speculators, the Chinese and Italians peasants, and the Portuguese fishermen. The shadow of the past casts its pall even on those rare, sunny days. The shadow confuses one, and one comes to believe that in the past merely residing along the magical shores assured one’s good fortune. Thus, illusion and unfulfilled desire hover like an invisible wind in the city.
These illusions and longings conjured up by the passersby and the stubborn memories of the dead—some real, some imagined—are reflected in the mirror for the dispossessed to behold. And the dispossessed flock there, seeking their own reflection in the mirror of the city: the peasants from the ancient Indian lands of the Americas, perhaps desiring once again the great cites of stone and blood abandoned by their ancestors centuries before; the descendents of the Dust Bowl refugees, orphaned from reality, who reside in the small groves along the beaches or in the green belts along the tourist paths, their world’s possession crammed into shopping carts, feeding themselves from the meager hand-outs of the strangers who fear and loathe them; the disposable youths—lacking fathers, mothers, and blood memories—who form families born of despair and wait patiently for death in the bus depots and the reading rooms of the libraries where they warm themselves while devouring the forgotten memories of rotting books.
Causes Rosa Villarreal Supports
Non-ideological, critical, free-thinking.
Equal Rights for Women.