Italo Calvino and Me


If there is one book that influenced me, my writing, and my outlook on life, more than any other, it is believe it or not Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. It was assigned to us as part of an exercise for my second year planning class, wherein we were asked to take a passage describing one of the cities in the book, and communicate those same ideas through clever use of maps and images. We were each limited to different passages in each book, and it was a busy year, but I still read the whole thing through, and I purchased my own copy at the end of the year.

The book is really a collection of prose poems, describing various different cities that Marco Polo supposedly visited on his journeys, which he now relates to Ghengis Khan. It’s full of evocative images as well as themes about diversity, optimism, pessimism, development, and a number of the images have had an influence on my fan fiction and professional works, including Shepherd Moons and The Night Girl.

It also ends very well, with a warning of disaster mixed in with a message of hope. And given the discussion I’ve had here, this passage comes to mind:

The Great Khan’s atlas contains also the maps of the promised lands visited in thought but not yet discovered or founded: New Atlantis, Utopia, the City of the Sun, Oceana, Tamo√©, New Harmony, New Lanark, Icaria.

Kublai asked Marco: “You, who go about exploring and who see signs, can tell me toward which of these futures the favoring winds are driving us.”

“For these ports I could not draw a route on the map or set a date for the landing. At times all I need is a brief glimpse, an opening in the midst of an incongruous landscape, a glint of light in the fog, the dialogue of two passersby meeting in the crowd, and I think that, setting out from there, I will put together, piece by piece, the perfect city, made of fragments mixed with the rest, of instants separated by intervals, of signals one sends out, not knowing who receives them. If I tell you that the city toward which my journey tends is discontinuous in space and time, now scattered, now more condensed, you must not believe the search for it can stop. Perhaps while we speak, it is rising, scattered, within the confines of your empire; you can hunt for it, but only in the way I have said.”

Already the Great Khan was leafing through his atlas, over the maps of the cities that menace in nightmares and maledictions: Enoch, Babylon, Yahooland, Butua, Brave New World

He said: “It is all useless, if the last landing place can only be the infernal city, and it is there that, in ever-narrowing circles, the current is drawing us.”

And Polo said: “The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”


Movable Type 4.0 Enters Beta

Against my better judgement, I’ve downloaded the beta version of Movable Type and installed it on this webserver. The move only affects the Bow. James Bow. blogs and not those operated by or Transit Toronto, which is probably a relief to those who log into these systems in order to update their blogs. MT 4.0 is a big leap forward for the software, and the new user interface takes a lot of getting used to. This is not the sort of thing that it would be wise to just spring on users.

That said, the uploading experience went very easily, and most of the critical functions work. A number of plugins did break, but I can work without them until the plugin designers catch up. And while the new interface takes a lot of getting used to, I’m learning fast, and there is a definite sense that the new program is solid and offers a number of interesting new features.

One of the things affected by the upload of the Beta is my commenting system. TypeKey users can no longer log in to post their comments (until I figure out the problem), and my e-mail whitelister plugin isn’t working.

What this essentially means is that all comments on this blog are now moderated, and won’t appear automatically on this blog until I approve them. I apologize for the inconvenience and ask for your patience over the next few days. The good news is that my sense is that the inconvenience is going to be worth it.

Peter MacKay Makes an Oops

So, Nova Scotian Conservative MP Bill Casey decides that he can’t support his party’s budget and votes against it. He is then subsequently kicked out of the Conservative caucus. Perhaps he can shake hands with Joe Comuzzi (a Liberal MP expelled from the party for voting in favour of the budget) as they pass each other across the aisle.

This is not news. A budget is a confidence motion and if the government loses it, it falls and an election gets called. Bill Casey was expressing a strong lack of confidence in his own party, and in normal circumstances it would be fair to ask, if he felt the way he did, why he would stay. It was the same for John Nunziata and David Kilgour (who left the Conservatives after they brought in the GST). Casey as much as said so, and the departure comes as little surprise for all concerned.

But what makes this news is the loose lips of Conservative MP Peter MacKay:

Hon. Robert Thibault (West Nova, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, tonight the House will vote on Bill C-52, the budget bill that breaks the promise to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador on the Atlantic accords.

Will the Conservative MPs from those two provinces do the right thing, do what they were sent to Ottawa to do, and support their constituents by voting against this broken promise?

Will the Chief Government Whip permit Atlantic Conservative members to vote in support of their constituents and against this flip-flopping funding fiasco?

Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, what I suspect Nova Scotia and Atlantic MPs will do is support the budget because it is good for Nova Scotia. It in fact allowed the government of Nova Scotia to balance its budget this year.

However, I can tell the member opposite what we will not do. We will not do what the Liberal leader did to the member for Thunder Bay—Superior North. We will not throw a member out of caucus for voting his conscience. There will be no whipping, flipping, hiring or firing on budget votes as we saw with the Liberal government. (emphasis mine)



Did MacKay speak out of turn? No one makes a clear and unequivocal statement like that unless they really believe it, so it’s worth asking why did MacKay believe it? Was he told so, and did somebody higher up change their mind after the fact?

And if he wasn’t told that, one wonders if the Prime Minister’s Office took MacKay gently aside after his statements and gave him a spanking? Alternately, is MacKay feeling a little miffed at the moment that the party leadership hung him out to dry?

Hat tip to Scott Tribe and Darren McEwen.

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