Italo Calvino

Selections From Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities

Preamble: I was driving down the street today, when out of nowhere, this lady ran across the street ahead of me pushing a baby stroller. I imagined the streets filled with hundreds of people pushing baby strollers in all directions. It reminded me of a Starbucks. Then I thought of this guy I know named Italo Calvino, who used to work in a Starbucks in Flint Michigan. When things would get slow, he used to write down stories and stuff on the back of these little paper napkins. His stories were okay and all, but I always wondered how far he might have gone if he could have traveled some, you know, seen the world and all.


Travelers return from the city of Zirma with distinct memories: a blind black man shouting in the crowd, a lunatic teetering on a skyscraper's cornice, a girl walking with a puma on a leash. Actually many of the blind men who tap their canes on Zirma's cobblestones are black; in every skyscraper there is someone going mad; all lunatics spend hours on cornices; there is no puma that some girl does not raise, as a whim. The city is redundant: it repeats itself so that something will stick in the mind.
I too am returning from Zirma: my memory includes dirigibles flying in all directions, at window level; streets of shops where tattoos are drawn on sailors' skin; underground trains crammed with obese women suffering from the humidity. My traveling companions, on the other hand, swear they saw only one dirigible howering among the city's spires, only one tattoo artist arranging needles and inks and pierced patterns on his bench, only one fat woman fanning herself on a train's platform. Memory is redundant: it repeats signs so that the city can begin to exist.

Italo Calvino


In Maurilia, the traveler is invited to visit the city and, at the same time, to examine some old postcards that show it as it used to be: the same identical square with a hen in the place of the bus station, a bandstand in the place of the overpass, two young ladies with white parasols in the place of the munitions factory. If the traveler does not wish to disappoint the inhabitants, he must praise the postcard city and prefer it to the present one, though he must be careful to contain his regret at the changes within definite limits; admitting that the magnificence and prosperity of the metropolis Maurilia, when compared to the old, provincial Maurilia, cannot compensate for a certain lost grace, which, however, can be appreciated only now in the old postcards, whereas before, when that provincial Maurilia was before one's eyes, one saw absolutely nothing graceful and would see it even less today, if Maurilia had remained unchanged; and in any case the metropolis has the added attraction that, through what it has become, one can look back with nostalgia at what it was.
Beware of saying to them that sometimes different cities follow one another on the same site and under the same name, born and dying without knowing one another, without communication among themselves. At time even the names of the inhabitants remain the same, and their voices' accent, and also the features of the faces; but the gods who live beneath names and above places have gone off without a word and outsiders have settled in their place. It is pointless to ask whether the new ones are better or worse than the old, since there is no connection between them, just as the old post cards do not depict Maurilia as it was, but a different city which, by chance, was called Maurilia, like this one.

Italo Calvino

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From: Stefano Portelli
To: me
Date: Mar 21
Subject: strange info in your webpage

Hello, I was working on my blog quoting a text by Italo Calvino, and I found the English translation on your webpage, at URL

Excuse my question: where did you get the information that Calvino worked in a Starbucks in Flint, Michigan??? I didn't get if it was some kind of dystopia you imagined, or just a wrong info. Calvino never worked at Starbucks, actually Le città invisibili was published just one year after the first Starbucks opened in Seattle. He is one of the most important writers in Italy, he had the chance to travel in all Europe, Japan, Mexico, the US, and the book you quote was written in the comfort of a villa in the Square de Châtillon in Paris!

Sorry to break this proletarian dream of yours!!!! anyway, thanks for quoting the translation I used, and to be interested in this great Italian poet.