Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino

“Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his.” So begins Italo Calvino’s compilation of fragmentary urban images. As Marco tells the khan about Armilla, which “has nothing that makes it seem a city, except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be,” the spider-web city of Octavia, and other marvelous burgs, it may be that he is creating them all out of his imagination, or perhaps he is recreating fine details of his native Venice over and over again, or perhaps he is simply recounting some of the myriad possible forms a city might take.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Invisible Cities is one of the strangest, most haunting books I’ve ever read. There’s no particular plot; every page is just a short, lyrical description of an imaginary city Marco Polo passes on his travels. Some of these cities are more realistic than others – marble palaces, frangipane trees, bustling markets. Others are completely impossibly and theoretical – a city delicately and entirely strung up between two cliff walls that knows one day it will fall into the abyss; a city that breathes earth instead of air; a city that is so crowded that people blot out the place and even the sky.

One of my favorite cities is Beersheba, whose residents believe in a heavenly, celestial city above made of gold and silver and glittering diamond, and a hell-like city underground made of waste and tar and trash. They strive every day to worship the city above and abhor the city below; but what they don’t know is that their greed and superficiality has blinded them, and that the city below is actually the one made of gold, while the city above is made of trash.

Intent on piling up its carats of perfection, Beersheba takes for virtue what is now a grim mania to fill the empty vessel of itself; the city does not know that its only moments of generous abandon are those when it becomes detached from itself, when it lets go, expands. Still, at the zenith of Beersheba there gravitates a celestial body that shines with all the city’s riches, enclosed in the treasury of cast-off things: a planet aflutter with potato peels, broken umbrellas, old socks, candy wrappings, paved with tram tickets, fingernail cuttings and pared calluses, eggshells. This is the celestial city, and in its heaven long-tailed comets fly-past, released to rotate in space from the only free and happy action of the citizens of Beersheba, a city which, only when it shits, is not miserly, calculating, greedy.

Invisible Cities

Even though it’s short (only 160 pages or so), it isn’t the type of book you read in one sitting. I found that I could only digest a few cities at a time, in order to think about them more closely and visualize them in my mind. Maybe that’s how it was meant to be read – slowly, savoring every city individually and appreciating all the beauties or horrors of each one.

P.S. Artist Colleen Corradi Brannigan painted each city. The works are chaotic and stunning.

The Week in Passing

You guys, what a week it has been. Amy Cooper, George Floyd, and now violent riots and protests happening all across the country 😔 In a way, I feel like the country’s been long overdue for a major correction as far as our attitudes and behavior towards race go – whether these events will be the ones to trigger it, I guess we’ll only see.

Like a lot of people, I’m feeling intensely sad and frustrated and angry all at once. I’ve been seeing and reading all the BLM content on Instagram and sharing what I can on my own feed. The most important thing I’ve learned the past few days, something that I’ve thought about a lot now, is that simply being non-racist isn’t enough anymore and we must be more directly anti-racist. Police brutality is nothing new – there are photos from the 1960s and earlier that look eerily similar to the protests now (the only difference is that people were better dressed back then!) – and it doesn’t need to be said that racial issues have persisted over the generations as well, but as the saying goes, you’d be a fool to keep trying the same thing and expecting different results. We are the fool now. We’re distantly aware that implicit racism surrounds us every day, but we tell ourselves “I know I’m not racist” and keep our heads down because we aren’t personally affected. I’m guilty of it myself. But…this is the approach we’ve operated under for the past several decades; it clearly hasn’t worked and there hasn’t been enough change, and at that point we have to try something new, like taking a more active role in defeating such systematic racism.

Honestly I didn’t think I’d be so affected by all of this, precisely because of the above. Whenever this has happened in the past – Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, etc – I’ve felt the requisite sadness and indignation, but never did anything about it because I resignedly thought, “This is just going to happen again – I hate it all but can’t do anything”. But I’m starting to learn now that we can. For example, we can…

  • donate to causes that support black communities
  • educate ourselves through books and articles by black authors who describe in excruciating detail what it’s like to live every day in America
  • spread awareness on social media
  • make a commitment to shop more from black and other minority business owners
  • there’s an excellent list on Medium on 30 ways people perpetuate racism every day, usually implicitly, that I think everyone should read over and consider how often (not if) they engage in any of the items. The title says it’s written forAsian Americans, but honestly it applies to most people

I didn’t expect this to post to get as long as it did! But I had to write down some of the thoughts swirling around right now. There’s a lot going on even without the specter of coronavirus still overhead (after seeing how PACKED the NYC protests have been, I’m totally preparing for another spike in cases in 1-2 weeks), but I really hope people start thinking about these long-pervasive issues more. Maybe this is the start of a sea change or maybe it’s just another blip, but either way, I believe we’re headed for change, no matter how slowly.

Highs of the week

Making a new section to put down things I appreciate/am grateful for/am just happy about!

Food is always gonna be one of my highs 😆 My friend sent me a box of doughnuts from a local bakery because she knew I’d had a hard week, and that was the sweetest thing! (literally) We also cooked a ton this week – these beef empanadas that turned out fantastic, walnut brownies from Dorie Greenspan (I love that anything by Dorie always turns out well), pasta al limone by Frank Prizinsano who’s famous for not using recipes, and a GIGANTIC crunch wrap that took an epic 5 hours and served 14!!! (B somehow missed that and made the entire thing…for two people). And yesterday I made a quick batch of rose sangria at noon…and thus the day drinking started. Also discovered one of my favorite new accounts grossypelosi, who shot the frittata above. It just looks SO GOOD. drools

What I’m reading

What I’m watching

  • Never Have I EverSuch a fun watch! The main character Devi was so sassy and relatable and and full of life, and I thought the whole series was a pretty good reflection of what high school is actually like – chaotic, stressful, more than a lil messy. And I’d be remiss to not mention the Asian American representation of course. It’s so refreshing to see more Asian actors on the screen, let a series almost entirely Asian/minority, especially done in such a realistic way!
  • Beauty and the Baker – I’m still on early episodes but I’m already low key obsessed with this show. A middle-class baker happens to meet one of the most famous celebrities/models at a restaurant after he turns down his girlfriend’s wedding proposal, but as they’re falling in love they have to navigate the many class and wealth differences. It’s criminally underrated!! If you’re looking for a super cute romcom series that’s actually good, this is it.
  • Too Hot to Handle – Finally watched the last episode where they all reunite, what a wild ride haha. I’m pretty sure Harry’s ring-pop proposal to Francesca over Zoom was a joke?! Maybe for publicity?? But at the same time, I can’t be sure. Anyway, this was such a perfect trashy series to stream in the background 😂

Hope you’re all safe from whatever it might be these days – viruses, riots, murder hornets?!? Have a good weekend!

The Week in Passing

Happy Memorial Day! It definitely doesn’t feel like the unofficial start of summer, but it’s been really nice seeing people come out from their apartments as the lockdown slowly lifts. We’re “celebrating” with some wine and homemade brownies – nothing special, but still a little nod to the holiday!

Small confession that I’m weirdly averse to sharing with friends/on social media: I’m enough of an introvert that in a lot of ways, I’ve actually…been loving quarantine? I love that there’s no longer any pressure to go out every weekend or seem like you have a busy, jam-packed life. I love that everything – everything! – can now be found online, from workout classes to book clubs to trivia nights and I can access them all from the comfort of my apartment. I love that most of my extended social circle is now on an equal playing field when it comes to general lifestyle, because we’re all staying in with nothing to do (I recognize I’m privileged enough to say this, and that many people, such as essential workers, aren’t able to ). I’ve always felt pressure to present myself as an outgoing, social person – and I guess have been successful enough that a lot of people are surprised when I tell them I’m an introvert – and feel like they’d see me differently if they knew I was such a homebody! So yeah, while quarantine has still had its ups and downs, it’s been 2 months of me being able to be purely myself without constantly worrying how others perceive me, and that has freed up SO much mental energy. It’s really refreshing.

Has anyone else felt this way? 😅

UNRELATEDLY…this morning I saw my first naked person from my window. I feel like a real New Yorker new, hahaha.

Here’s what I’ve been up to this week!

What I’m reading

  • Ummm…nothing! I feel like I read so much during the first half of quarantine that I got burned out or something, because the past two weeks I haven’t even touched a book and feel ok with that. BUT I’ve had my eye on The Art of Showing Up by Rachel Wilkerson Miller – especially relevant during this period – and think I’ll pick that up soon.

What I’m watching

  • Normal People! I didn’t read the book because I’d read Conversations with Friends and it really put me off Sally Rooney’s writing, but the show was really good! The actors were very nuanced and conveyed the depths of emotions needed for their roles perfectly, and how cute is Connell Waldron?? I will say though that while it was good, it was also very sad and mopey and depressing and I was often very frustrated with Frances and Connell because they both sucked at communicating.
  • Community – always a favorite for me. I think this show is vastly underrated! It’s got insanely good writing especially in the first two seasons, and the actors are all amazing and hilarious. It’s very much a comfort watch for me.
  • ….do Instagram stories count?! I’m too scared to look at my screen time cause I’ve just been lazily bingeing on everyone’s stories 😂

Around town

And finally, just a few links that made me smile this week.


The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch

An orphan’s life is harsh—and often short—in the mysterious island city of Camorr. But young Locke Lamora dodges death and slavery, becoming a thief under the tutelage of a gifted con artist. As leader of the band of light-fingered brothers known as the Gentleman Bastards, Locke is soon infamous, fooling even the underworld’s most feared ruler. But in the shadows lurks someone still more ambitious and deadly. Faced with a bloody coup that threatens to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the enemy at his own brutal game—or die trying.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I haven’t read a fantasy book this good in a while! Even compared to Six of Crows, which was a total page turner for me, I think I liked this a little more.

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