In part 1 of The Ground Beneath Her Feet, I discussed the palimpsest of me with new tattoo plans. As the proverb goes, I made God laugh. My tattoo artist gently steered me away from what I wanted. Her exact words might have been "will look like unicorn poop," or "bad postcard." Cringe.
"Give me the book." She reached, flipped through it. "What exactly do you love about it so much?" Reading this book in Venice across from someone I was falling out of love with while Venice was sinking into the sea and I was soaking into thin wine and the sun was falling into me. That.
No mortal can explain this, and that's why it needs a whole book. My exact words might have been "Very Good Really Special Love so much YES." She's looking at me like they let you teach college?
"Okay. Is there a passage you really like?" Is there? "Ok, I'm gonna go look up a couple things. Mark some of your favorite passages, and we'll work from there." She scooted out. I limited myself to a dozen passages. I ranked them. It took less than 3 minutes.
First and foremost, there is Fedora. There is always Fedora.
"In the center of Fedora... stands a metal building with a crystal globe in every room. Looking into each globe, you see a blue city, the model of a different Fedora. These are the forms the city could have taken if, for one reason or another, it had not become what we see today. In every age someone, looking at Fedora as it was, imagined a way of making it the ideal city, but while he constructed his miniature model, Fedora was already no longer the same as before, and what had been until yesterday a possible future became only a toy in a glass globe." (2: Cities & Desire 4)
Zemrude is the first city that is imagined in such a globe. Partially Zemrude, at least.
"It is the mood of the beholder which gives the city of Zemrude its form.... For everyone, sooner or later, the day comes when we bring our gaze down along the drainpipes and we can no longer detach it from the cobblestones. The reverse is not impossible, but it is more rare: and so we continue walking through Zemrude's streets with eyes now digging into the cellars, the foundations, the wells." (4: Cities & Eyes 2)
And memory melts Zemrude into Ersilia.
"In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that sustain the cities life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the corners of the houses, white or black or gray or black-and-white according to whether they mark a relationship of blood, of trade authority, agency." (5: Trading Cities 4)
And in the midst and middle of these sunsets and cities we have the thing that holds it all together. I have changed the noun to protect the innocents who have not yet read this novel. And changed the text, too, in general. It's necessary.
the Khan: "There is still one of which you never speak."
Marco Polo bowed his head.
Marco smiled. "What else do you believe I have been talking to you about?"
The emperor did not turn a hair. "And yet I have never heard you mention that name."
And Polo said: "Every time I describe a city I am saying something about it."
"Memory's images, once they are fixed in words, are erased," Polo said. "Perhaps I am afraid of losing It all at once, if I speak of it. Or perhaps, speaking of other cities I have already lost it, little by little." (pp.86-87)
The things of which palimpsests only dream. Forgive me, time.
Onward and upward.
We continue the climb to Zora.
"Zora has the quality of remaining in your memory point by point, in its succession of streets, of houses along the streets, and of doors and windows in the houses, though nothing in them possesses a special beauty or rarity. Zora's secret lies in the way your gaze runs over patterns following one another as in a musical score where not a note can be altered...." (1: Cities & Memories 4)
At the top of the tower sits Tamara.
"However the city may really be, beneath this thick coating of signs, whatever it may contain or conceal, you leave Tamara without having discovered it. Outside, the land stretches, empty, to the horizon; the sky opens, with speeding clouds. In the shape that chance and wind give the clouds, you are already intent on recognizing figures: a sailing ship, a hand, an elephant..." (1: Cities & Signs 1)
Other than the passage with Fedora, and a lengthy talk about elephants in Tamara, we didn't discuss much about the text. I didn't really want to know how she was interpreting what I had marked. Who knows if she was even working off what I read into now. I don't care.
In the beginning, about Isadora, Calvino writes that "Desires are already memories" (pp. 8). That's a thing I find true. Seems applicable for tattoos, too. This wonderful woman gave me the most beautiful thing I could ever have. Look at that tiny chimney! Look what she did with that writing. Look.
She also gave me the best reason to get students to do non-required reading. When they ask, because they inevitably will, I will give them the title and a refusal to discuss until they show proof of reading. Tattoos as pedagogical catalyst. Will research, and report back in one year.