In my early twenties, a chance public library encounter led me to Invisible Cities the poetic and imaginative travelogue written by Italian writer Italo Calvino, of the travels of Marco Polo as related to Kublai Khan. This remains my absolute favorite book – so much so, that I brought my worn copy with me to re-read here in Italy. Through this book’s lens, and my camera’s, I share some of my travels – several hard to find on a map.
(Located in the Marché region of Italy, between the Mare Adriatico and Monte Sibillini, where its history of medieval splendor remains acutely apparent, and where I spent about 2 1/2 weeks)
The thirsty traveler who drinks from the lion’s mouth off of Via de Cippola is ever enchanted. Here, right angles never bind the path of the winding streets joined in patterns complex as the merletto al tombollo every girl learns from her mother. The gelato in flavors such as pera and baccio is a habit impossible to lose. But it is the round moon arcing the silent Santa Maria della Rocca that the traveler will look back on to remind them of other moons they had thought were as silver.
(FOF is the festival to which I was invited to perform and present puppetry workshops. I had befriended the festival directors when they were in New Orleans performing.)
Figura Offida Festival appeared from nowhere fofor the fofirst time, with magic, music, dance and mime, creative clownery, puppetry, unicycle strip tease, fofood, and fofestivities fofeatured in a classic theater, wide piazzas, and secret corners that have waited fofor just this event fofor 800 years. Performers foflew from countless corners of the world to fofascinate townspeople and tourists alike. Created and brought to life by Remo di FoFilippo and Rhoda Lopez, with various community support, including Proloco.
Daniela and Filippo
The traveler is drawn to the city of Daniela by a perfume in the wind. Surprised by its tiny size, the traveler is staggered by it’s magnetic impact and vast terrain. Olive all’ascolana, parmigiana di melanzane, pasta and frutta nurture travelers from near and far, around the kitchen table, in the sumptuous dining room, and in the cool cavern deep under ground. The traveler will ever after connect the word profumo to Daniela. And from the magical underground chamber of the connected city of Filippo flutter delicate birds of metal held gently in hands of wood. The lucky traveler may be accompanied by one of these birds to the other side of the world.
The impenetrable walls of the castle of Gradara – once crucial against attacks of armor-clad usurpers – deceive the wary traveler. The menacing portcullis, ax-grooved chopping block, and sinister morning star are now but gruesome enticements. For a pittance, the traveler may enter, greeted by an effeminate dragon with red painted toenails, to a storybook land of beckoning tenants. But once passing through the single arched gate, the difficulty is to escape unencumbered by wooden swords, plastic trolls, and postcards of the ever glamorous Gradara.
To the traveler casually passing through, Roma of the present seems to live in the shadow of Roma of the past. The population has not grown significantly in 2,000 years and the early, exquisite art and buildings cast shade over the knick-knack vendor, the elegant woman eating a gelato, and the motorcycle ragazzi. Even the subway lines make but one simple X because the multitude of ancient underground walls impede plans for modern transportation. So the traveler wonders – do these descendants avoid the rearview mirror? Or do they bask in pride knowing they have been touched by tangible greatness? Or perhaps they understand that the fearsome power that supported the building of such monuments is no longer worth the sacrifice.
Upon seeing the mythical city of Venezia for the first time, the wanderer is rendered speechless. That the tales passed from other travelers, were true – that water is truly the force connecting the delicate piazzas through the hundreds of stepped bridges and asymmetrical gondolas. That marble statues watch from every rooftop, that decorative design is carried to glorious excess, that even life long residents get lost in the serpentine alleys – is this a plan, a trick, to confound the ever vigilant sea? Were even the heavy iron covers over each piazza’s stone well, long ago opened but twice a day by the priest who held the key to the precious fresh rain, an attempt to mastery over the element of water? But the tides rise daily and the canal water is salty as tears.
Coda is an ephemeral city, appearing and disappearing, growing and shrinking. The traveler will surely find themselves there at some time and must always make a decision. They may choose to silently observe the old man leaning from the balcony, the brown dog, slowly leading the woman in a green dress, the black eyed baby fidgeting in the stroller. Or, if they choose to acknowledge that they share a common language with their neighbor in Coda, they may be forced to tell their own tale over and over. Sometimes their tale may wind and thrive with that if their neighbor, but there is also the chance that the tales will be but empty caverns with no connecting point.
The fortunate traveler who comes upon the thriving city of Remorhoda is drawn in to the hustle of the bustling streets going in many directions. Some streets lead to faraway realms, but others spiral ever deeper into the familiar, to lead visiting travelers to the richness of their own land. For this is a city built on trust in the goodness of life and of people. It is built on the sure knowledge that magic simply must be experienced to be accepted. As these building blocks are more solid than marble, memories of the generosity of this city will always remain with the traveler.