Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cities & Memory

From Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities:

In Maurilia, the traveler is invited to visit the city and, at the same time, to examine some old post cards 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.

Photo courtesy of the Friends of the Eastern Promenade

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,

Photo by Corey Templeton

which, however, can be appreciated only now in the old post cards, 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 times 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.

Photo credits:
Historic postcards from MaineMemory.net.

Present-day photos courtesy of (from top to bottom): Friends of the Eastern Promenade, Corey Templeton via the archboston.org forums, Corey Templeton via the Portland Maine Daily Photo blog, and Panaramio user sacoo.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, I really enjoyed this post, thanks. My favorite was comparing the West End Hotel/Greyhound station site. I'd wager before/after images of across St. John Street ("Union Plaza") would be morbid.

Thanks again!