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Six stories by Elena Penga

from Tight Belts and Other Skin (Agra, 2011)


translated by Karen Van Dyck

FISH PASSAGES
Take a look at that. The fish change color. When the male gets excited he turns The statues, the temples, the houses, everything in Antiquity was colored,
black. He rises to the surface with the female, and as soon as they have sex, painted. Delos was multicolored. Even today, after so many thousands of
he turns silver again. There are so many and they’re so excited, it looks like years, when they find a statue, it is covered in paint. They pull it out of the
lights flickering on and off. See them? earth, and the colors stay in the dirt like a sculpture coming out of a glove.
We’re so high up. I can’t see anything. Passages. And archaeology. Passages and routes. And memory. And hotels.
Can you see the fishermen? Beautiful hotels full of statues and flowers. You walk through the corridors
Yes. I hate them. silently. You pass by closed doors. It is hot. Luxurious. Exotic. Gigantic fleshy
Why? flowers in gigantic porcelain vases.
Because they catch fish. They’re not at all friendly. You want to find a way to relate to the sightseeing. You try. As you walk
That’s the way fishermen are. They’re not friendly. They’re superstitious. If through the corridors. The soul has a way of metabolizing information that
they take you out fishing and catch a lot of fish, they take you out again. Then comes from the body and the outside world. I have heard that it is possible for
they want to take you out all the time. a living organism, a baby, an adult, to self-destruct just because it is trying to
keep the illusion of continuous pleasure alive. Of absolute ecstasy.
Corridors. You want them to take you further. Outside. So you can escape
SKIN like the sculpture from the dirt. Out into the light. Like coming out of a glove.
Years later. Completely unexpectedly. Are you coming? Out into the light?
Ever been to America? You who aren’t stone, but flesh? You who aren’t dead, but alive?
No. Is it beautiful? And then there are so many other kinds of distance. Passages hundreds
Yes. of light years away. The roads a stone takes to become a Cycladic figurine,
For me America is Michael Jackson. He wanted to be white but he was a Picasso woman. The lengths it goes to stay that way. Sculpture that still
born black so he destroyed everything about himself that reminded him of emits the encounters it had back then, when it was a stone, before it became
his origins. He became his own creator. a sculpture.
Trans-sexuals do that too.
Yes.
And then there’s that American woman Wildenstein who wanted to look HEADS
like a cat and actually succeeded. After 59 surgeries. Ever seen her?
Where? I was very young, about ten. We went on vacation to an island. The island
In the tabloids. was called Kalymnos. Across from us lived a captain. A sponge-diver. He
No, how does she look? had a little girl named Annoula. I went to her house often. We played with
Scary. Like a cat. her dolls and other games. One day at a certain point we found ourselves in
If you were to spread the skin of a human body horizontally it would cover the backroom of the cellar. It was full of sponges. What I remember is that
a double bed. we had no sense of our bodies. I remember caresses, kisses, touching each
Ever seen it? other’s hair. We had no sense that anything else existed.
Where? So you were just heads?
In the tabloids. Yes, just heads. Hair and faces. Our bodies were buried in puffy sponges.
In the tabloids? We couldn’t feel them.
Everything’s in the tabloids.

THE BELT
NIGHTMARE PINK
Baroque. You are in Turin. You ride around the city on a bicycle, looking at
It’s raining. Here. There. Where you’re singing. Raining very hard. I’m sitting gardens behind wrought-iron gates. Do you remember? Turin is a baroque
in the house in a deep swivel chair. It’s nighttime. I spin the chair around city. Everywhere you see old buildings, in harmony, like jewelry, like lace.
and listen to the rain. You’re singing. The rain is loud enough to hear. I listen. Like the pictures printed on old, yellowed postcards.
To the rain. Another person arrives. With a pink lampshade. Brand new. He Barocco in Portuguese means an irregularly shaped pearl, not perfectly
switches off the light, unscrews the bulb, takes off the black shade, puts on round. For philosophers Barocco means a specious argument. You use curves
the pink one, then switches the light back on. We sit bathed in pink light and and a bold, unexpected fusion of opposites to achieve a sense of harmony.
talk about shades. Lampshades. I open the balcony doors. You’re singing. But You ride around. You stop, you look, you continue on. You go around
the rain is louder. It comes into the house. Hits the lampshades. Knocks over and around slowly, very slowly like in a flashback. The film has yellowed.
the lights. Collides with reality. The cherry trees in the neighbor’s garden Everything is old. An empty glass. Two. Two people, now, right now, meet
haven’t borne fruit for years. Four men enter carrying sticks. They enter the up, they bite each other’s lips, they kiss, now, right now. You stop, you look.
neighbor’s garden along with the rain. They’ve come to discipline the trees A sunset, a beautiful sunset in a yellow river. Boats on a yellow river glide
and chop them down if they don’t blossom. I watch the men hit the trees. I silently by, slowly, very slowly, a flashback. The film has yellowed. Everything
watch the rain hit the men. is old. Look at all these dresses. Put them on, put them all on. One on top of
another. Get on your bike. Keep going. You can’t stop. Wear the belt. Tighten
it around the dresses. Ride the bicycle around yourself, around the dresses,
around the belt. Tighten it. Look at the river. Tightening around the city.
Keep going. You can’t stop.

Copyright for these stories belong to the publisher (Agra) and the author. The translator
has permission to translate them from both.

ELENA PENGA was born in Thessaloniki. She studied theater and philosophy at Wesleyan University
and screen and theater writing at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Three collec-
tions of her short stories have appeared from Agra one of Greece’s best-known literary publishers.
Tight Belts and Other Skin is the winner of the Ouranis Prize from the Greek Academy of Letters
(2012). Her plays were first staged in New York’s Off-Off Broadway scene in the 1980s. Penga
returned to Greece in the 90s. Since then her plays have been extensively translated and performed
in Greece and abroad. She also wrote the screenplay for Lakis Papastathis’s award-winning film, The
Only Journey of his Life. She teaches playwriting and lives in Athens.

24 FICTION
Three stories by Giannis Palavos
from Joke (Nefeli, 2012)
translated by Karen Van Dyck

Joke Lights
Stavros laid down the screwdriver. I’m lying down, but not sleeping. I’m tired. I’m waiting for my mother to get me up.
“Done,” he said. “Come look.” This time of year we harvest the last peaches. Days are shorter so it’s hard work. We
Katerina exited the kitchen wiping her hands on a towel. wake at six, we’re back at two, we eat, we sleep an hour, and then at five we’re in the
“What’s that?” field again to get there before dusk. The bedroom door creaks, steps, “Come on,”
“An elevator sign.” “It’s time.” I feel dirty. My period came. I go down to the bathroom to get a pad. My
Katerina looked at the words on the bathroom door: parents drink their coffee outside, in the garden. I hear them. Grandmother’s at the
“CAUTION: Before entering make sure the car is positioned behind the door doctor’s, and they’re talking about whether they should take the baby. “What about
and has stopped normally.” the dogs?” My mother says. “Don’t be silly,” my father cuts her off. Ten minutes
“I found it this morning in the garbage,” Stavros said. “I thought I’d hang it here later I’m crouching between the crates in the cart. Manolis is up front holding a
as a joke.” light blue rattle. That’s the name we’ve chosen for his baptism.
Katerina shook her head. They’d been housemates for six months. But not once There are a hundred and twenty peach trees. In a rectangle. It’s almost an acre.
had she laughed at any of his jokes. In the middle stands a huge electricity pole, the wires disappearing in the distance
“I made some fries,” she said. “Want to eat?” behind our wall touching down at the edges of the field. Like a mast. The wires
Midway through spring semester, at the end of March, Stavros’s father went to the are the sails. The field is the ship. When we’re out late and night falls, I think of us
hospital for tests. The results showed cancer of the liver – luckily at an early stage. sailing silently across the dark plains. I stare at the lights of the town across the
Stavros went back to his village for a month and a half. His mother spent nights way at the foot of the mountain, as if it was our destination.
at the hospital while he took care of their newspaper stand. When he returned to Father’s in a hurry. He fills up the boxes quickly and I drag them two by two. In
Thessaloniki, he found a foreigner in his room. the distance we hear barking. I wonder if it’s Later’s dogs. Later is the nickname
“This is Vicente,” Katerina informed him. “He’s staying with us for a while. Hope for Markos who had a pastry shop in the square. Everyone called him that because
that’s alright.” when an hour had passed and still no coffee—well, you know what he said. The year
Vicente was a year older. He was an architecture student from Barcelona on an before last he retired and got himself a cabin on the plain. He took along five or six
Erasmus exchange in Greece. He and Katerina had met at a concert at the Polytechnic sheep dogs as guards. He was sure he’d get robbed. The truth is, everyone forgot
three weeks ago. They’d gotten together the next day. about him. He died in February, from the cold, and ever since then the dogs had
When the Spanish guy went out for groceries, Katerina hugged Stavros. She told gone without food. They were wild dogs skirting the fields to look for something
him how crazy she was about the architecture student. They had only two more to eat. One day in early July, at noon, they’d bit an old man who was watering his
months before he had to go back to Spain. Too bad they met so late. How would plants. That’s why Mother was worried.
she live without him? She took a piggy bank from her bookcase and shook it. “I’m The bench is covered in peaches, but Mother’s got her arms folded.
saving up,” she said, “for my airfare in September.” “Yiorgo,” she says, “we used up the crates.”
Stavros unpacked his suitcase. Father sighs.
“How’s your father?” “I told you, didn’t I? I said make sure”
“Better, thanks.” “There’s so much fruit. We need two more.”
When Vicente came back, he took his bag into Katerina’s room. He was tactful. A last drag on his cig and Father throws the butt into some nettles.
The apartment was small, and he felt bad that he was inconveniencing Stavros. When “Get up,” he says, “let’s go look in the store room.”
the two of them were at school, he’d cook up hot, colorful dishes – and then make Before they get into the truck, my mother tells me:
sure the sink was sparkling clean. At night they’d all watch movies or sometimes “Eleni, watch the baby. We’ll be back in quarter of an hour.”
sing karaoke together, which he said was something everyone did in Catalonia. They leave. The sun’s almost set.
They never fooled around when Stavros was in the house, or at least if that was Manolis rolls around in his playpen. I lean over him. “What’s it to you, kid?” I
happening, Stavros didn’t pick up on it. They were so quiet. The guy even liked the ask in a baby voice. I put out my fingers, and he grabs with his fists. I lift him up so
elevator joke on the bathroom door. “Muy bien, Stavros,” he said and slapped him he dangles there, his legs swinging in the air. “What’s it to you, kid?” I say again.
on the back. The weeks passed, and there were moments when Stavros almost liked “Ah goo,” he answers. Night falls. As I put him back on his pillows, I see a red line
him, but only briefly, because he too was completely taken with Katerina, from the trickling down my leg. “Don’t go anywhere,” I say tickling him under his chin, “I’ll
very first day they’d rented the apartment together. be right back.” He gurgles.
Stavros didn’t talk about relationships or love. On the contrary, he comforted I get a pad from my jacket and climb up behind the pylon. I duck inside the metal
Katerina when she’d say she was scared of losing her new boyfriend. He’d go out base. I stare at the evening star on the horizon. A cool breeze. Summer’s over. I wipe
with the couple, accompany them for a drink. The last Saturday, two days before myself and change while I stare at the sky. I want to go home, put on clean clothes,
the Spaniard had to leave, the three of them went on an outing to Lake Kerkini. go out for an ice cream. Then I hear the growling, and I turn my head. Three bony
Stavros drove, and Vicente was in the back clicking picture after picture of pelicans. dogs run by, then Manolis shrieks, more barking. All I remember is how the dogs’
They ate at a taverna owned by an uncle of Katerina’s who used to be a volunteer for eyes—I swear, Officer, sir,—reflected the lights of the town across the way.
Doctors Without Borders in Malawi. The waiter brought the bill just when Vicente
was telling Stavros how he was going to miss him. Stavros smiled looking for his
wallet. “No, por favor,” Vicente insisted, “invito yo: I owe you.” Maria
Sunday evening they sat in the living room and shared a beer, a Kaiser. At first
Katerina seemed calm, but then she began to cry. Vicente cried too. Stavros left them We call our department the Living Room. Because you can’t let the pig die like that:
alone and took his beer glass to sweat it out on the balcony. It was 2AM when the by the cleaver. When you weigh it, it knows. It gets anxious, squeals. It suffers. As
Spaniard gathered up his things, said goodbye to Stavros, and locked himself up if you were killing a human. But that’s not the reason the vets outlaw knives. It’s
with Katerina in her room. Stavros lay down and tried to sleep, but different stuff because the pig secretes toxins when it’s afraid. You can’t eat the meat afterwards.
was going on in the room next door, crying at first, then moans. It was the first time It’s poison.
he’d heard them in bed. When they’d finished, the crying started again, but this The trucks come twice a week. We lower the animals onto the grass and bring
time it was more muffled. In the dark Stavros thought he smelled them breathing. them corn and soy. We leave them for a day to get used to the place. The next day
He imagined them three feet away on the other side of the wall, his hand in her we take them for walks around the farm, one by one. They relax and roll around
hair, hers on his chest. He wanted to vomit. He got up to pee, but when he opened in the dirt. The next morning, when they lean over the trough to eat, they get an
the bathroom door, nothing was there. electric shock and die instantly. Then we gather up the bodies and take them to
the building next door. That’s where our co-workers take over. Where they do the

MAY 2O14 FICTION 25


skinning and the butchering. I don’t see it. I work in the Living Room. My The following evening I tossed and turned in bed. I thought about the
job is to make the pigs forget until they get the electric shock. animals that had passed through my hands. I’d carried thousands of corpses
One Monday the driver came with a near empty cart. “Don’t ask,” he said, to the slaughterhouse. It never crossed my mind I could’ve saved any of them.
“the pig farm caught fire.” He lit a cigarette: “Smelled like bacon for miles.” The bottom line, I’d say, is that they died calmly. Two days of food and games
The guys laughed. “This is all I managed to round up. There’s another pig and then in a flash: the end.
farm three hours away. That’s where we’ll get them from now on.” We started But around three I woke, my heart racing. All around me shone a yellow
unloading the pigs. About twenty of them. “But first the guys in charge have light, the color of kasseri cheese. I pulled back the curtain. It wasn’t a full
to agree. I’ll come with another load in ten days.” moon, but it was so big that it looked like a pumpkin hanging in the window.
He drove off, and we rolled up our sleeves. We herded the pigs into a corner. On the other side my co-worker was out cold, snoring. I threw off the sheet.
Among them were some little ones. They stood there sniffling. We put them I took the keys to the gate and filled a rucksack with beers. I went down to
out to graze by the fence. The boss called us over. He said we should keep the the pig hut. They were asleep. All of them except one. I opened the latch, and
animals til the next lot came. Since that would take awhile, the guys in the next Maria came out. I closed it, and we set off.
building asked for time off. I looked at the pigs. Lucky bastards: ten extra days. The farm had two entrances. One went to the highway where the deliveries
That same afternoon the foreman got us together. Anyone from the Living came in. The other to the mountain. We climbed for an hour till we found a
Room could leave too if they wanted. Almost everyone took off. I didn’t have clearing. In the distance the city glimmered. Peace on earth. My gaze followed
anywhere to go. In the end just two of us were left. We’d stay for the ten days the Milky Way. Maria lay down at my feet. Centuries ago, millennia, her wild
and then take our vacation afterwards. The pigs loafed around. After the boar forefathers with their coarse hair would hunt at night and kill hermits
second day they were completely at home. We didn’t do anything. Just filled and travellers in mountains like these. I patted her head. I opened a beer. I
the troughs with corn and changed the water. My co-worker watched soccer took out my book. I got up and put my foot on a rock. The pumpkin moon
matches half the day. He’d stocked a small fridge with beers. He drank and lit me up like a spotlight. I read loudly:
channel-surfed. I had found a bench and sat outside. They were beautiful
days, sunny with a little breeze and the mountain across the way, green like With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow,
a giant mint. I looked through a book. My nephew’s. I had found it in my And with my own hand labour’d it to grow
jacket. Khaki-colored. He’d borrow it sometimes. And whenever he returned
it, he’d stick a book in the pocket. On the cover it said The Rubaiyat of Omar Maria oinked.
Khayyam. The sun shone. Over on the side the piglets were playing, rough
housing. I’d go in with a tray of slosh and they’d whoosh in like pigeons in Ah, my Beloved, fill the Cup that clears
the square. By the fourth day I could tell them apart. My co-worker didn’t TO-DAY of past Regrets and future Fears---
do a thing. I was the one taking care of the animals. We’d go for walks, me
in front, them pushing up from behind. Like a school field trip. I went back and opened another beer. Maria’s eyes were wide open all
One evening I put them in their pen to sleep. One little pig wouldn’t go in. night, staring at the horizon. When the beers were gone the sun rose from
It was looking at me. Its nostrils all damp. I grabbed it and put it in. The next behind the mountain across the way. I got up and began to walk down. Maria
morning it wouldn’t come out. I fed the rest and left them to run around. followed me.
I went in and stood in front of it. It was a girl. One black eye and one blue.
“What’s up with you?” I asked “You don’t want a walk?” I stretched out Copyright for these stories belong to the publisher (Nefeli) and the author. The
my hand. “Come on.” translator has permission to translate them from both.
It came up to me, put its snout in my palm, and licked. It was small, just a
few months old. I patted it. And then I decided to give it a name. It seemed GIANNIS PALAVOS was born in Velvento, Kozani in Greece in 1980. He studied Journalism at
Aristotle University in Thessaloniki and Arts Administration at the Panteion University in Athens. He
natural. “How about Maria?” I said. It looked at me and oinked. We went is widely recognized as one of Greece’s best new writers. His short stories have won prizes from the
out into the sun. I sat on the bench and opened my book. You’d think it was British Council (2005) and Diavazo Magazine (2012) and most recently the Greek National Book
Sunday in the park. We’d given the pigs a ball. It was hollow inside, and we Award (2014). His translations of Matthew Arnold, Ambrose Bierce, Ray Bradbury, Willa Cather,
Guillevic, Miroslav Holub, Donald Justice, Blaže Koneski, Edgar Lee Masters and Tobias Wolff have
filled it with wheat. It had holes in it, so when the pigs rolled it, the seeds fell appeared in numerous Greek journals and web publications.
out. They’d trundle it from side to side and then go crazy eating the spilled
food. They had two more days to live. Next to me Maria was curled up like
a big pink cat.

26 FICTION
Three Translations from the Greek by Karen Van Dyck
in response to the Crisis

Stripped Bare Απογύμνωση From 9/11 or Falling Man


by Yannis Ritsos by Yiannis Efthymiades

The stove rusted. Η σόμπα σκούριασε.
 Finally he took his life in his own hands, and his hands became
The pipes peel. Τα μπουριά ξεφλουδάνε.
 wings, yes his wings
The walls crack. Οι τοίχοι ραγίζουν.
 So he could fly in a new sky, with no light, indivisible, hidden
In the painting Στο κάδρο
 from sight
a lone tree ένα δέντρο ολομόναχο
 Like when he was small in his dreams and untied his bonds
still green. πράσινο ακόμη.
 far from the prison cells of
You even sold Πούλησες και το ρολογάκι
 Everyday. He’d enter a lost dominium where he’d find himself
your own wristwatch. του χεριού σου.
 years later shocked
Added chicory to the coffee. Νοθέψανε και τον καφέ.
 By his predicament: both citizen and emperor, obeying and
A forgotten cigarette Ενα τσιγάρο ξεχασμένο
 obeyed
smokes in the ashtray. καπνίζει στο σταχτοδοχείο.
 Sometimes open to eye-seas, other times to mountains of
Now what – Λοιπόν,
 kisses so exquisite,
such vast emptiness, τόσο μεγάλο κενό,
 Breath by breath. And he’d pass by the shivering center like
such austerity, τόση στέρηση,
 grapevines trimmed by the wind
freedom? η ελευθερία; The great passion would become a giant cell and inside life
would beat like a heart
He’d go in and out undisturbed each morning, sometimes
outside his life, sometimes in

Πήρε επιτέλους τη ζωή στα χέρια του, και έγιναν τα χέρια του
φτερά του, ναι φτερά του
The Guards Για να πετάξει σ’ έναν καινούργιο ουρανό, αφώτιστο, αδιαίρετο,
Οι φύλακες καλά κρυμμένο
by Danai Soizou Όπως μικρός στα όνειρα έξω από τα κελιά της κάθε μέρας του
έλυνε τα δεσμά του
Τότε έμπαινε σε μια χαμένη επικράτεια που χρόνια αργότερα
We couldn’t sleep θα έβρισκε μπροστά του
our dogs howling  all night. Κοιμηθήκαμε δύσκολα εκείνο το βράδυ Το πιο παράξενο: ήταν πολίτης κι αυτοκράτορας, υποτασσότανε
We didn’t think for a second με τα σκυλιά μας ν’αλυχτούν όλη τη νύχτα. και κυβερνούσε
it was their voice Ούτε στιγμή δεν το σκεφτήκαμε πως ήταν Πότε ξανοίγονταν σε πέλαγα ματιών, πότε σε όρη όμορφων
the messengers of death η φωνή τους φιλιών, ανάσα ανάσα
warning us like vigilant guards αγγελιοφόρος του θανάτου Και διαπερνούσε το κορμί του ρίγος σαν κληματίδα όταν
of a break-in και πως σαν φύλακες καλοί μας προειδοποιούσαν κλυδωνίζεται απ’ τον άνεμο
ready to happen in our house. για τη διάρρηξη που θα επιχειρούσε στο σπίτι μας. Το μέγα πάθος γίνονταν τεράστιο κύτταρο και μέσα του
We stayed awake Μέσα στην ησυχία του μικρού μας δωματίου χτυπούσε σαν καρδιά η ζωή του
in the quiet of our small room ξαγρυπνούσαμε Έμπαινε κι έβγαινε ανενόχλητος κάθε πρωί, πότε έξω απ’ τη
stubbornly, whining με το πείσμα και το παράπονο ζωή, πότε μες στο κορμί της
like children treated unjustly παιδιών που τ’αδικήσανε και περιμένουν νηστικά
waiting without dinner να μεγαλώσουνε πολύ σε μία νύχτα
to grow up all at once να λάβουν εξήγηση για την άδικη τιμωρία τους
in one night και τον κόσμο.
and finally receive
the explanation for their unjust punishment
and the world.

KAREN VAN DYCK teaches and directs Modern Greek Studies in the Classics Department at Columbia University. She is the author
of Kassandra and the Censors: Greek Poetry since 1967 (Cornell, 1998) and other articles on Greek and Greek Diaspora literature.
She is best known for her translations of Greek poetry which have appeared in her edited and co-edited collections: The Rehearsal
of Misunderstanding: Three Collections by Contemporary Greek Women Poets (Wesleyan, 1998), A Century of Greek Poetry (Cosmos,
2004), The Scattered Papers of Penelope: New and Selected Poems by Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke (Graywolf, 2009), and The Greek
Poets: Homer to the Present  (Norton, 2010).

MAY 2O14 FICTION 27


The Cosmic City
by Iannis Xenakis
Translated from the French by John Ashbery

Faced with the drastic urban and architectural situation of today, we are obliged Havre, Brasilia, and Chandigarh, which for the moment are stillborn cities.
to lay down axiomatic foundations and to attempt a formalization of the two In fact it is impossible under the present educational conditions of urbanists
“sciences.” This is why the first question is that of urban decentralization. and architects (a conservative, oversimple education) for these individuals to
It has been customary for a number of years to speak of the decentraliza- resolve a priori on paper the birth, composition, and development of a city
tion of the major urban centers, of the dispersal of the industrial centers which is one thousand times more complex than the problem of a dwelling
over the whole of the nation’s territory insofar as possible. This tendency has or a housing unit, problems which are themselves solved haphazardly. This
been transformed into governmental policies that favor economically the deficiency results in urbanist situations on paper being limited to barren
transferring of industries and the construction of housing, and not only of combinations of straight lines and rectangles corrected by incongruously
large and small industries but also administrative centers and universities. curved spaces (= “green areas”). It is in fact this same deficiency which causes
The obsession with decentralization is, one may say, universal, in France as those who have the responsibility of parceling out the territory to be led astray
well as in Japan, in the United States, etc. That is to say, in all the countries by the biological complexity of a city emerging from the centuries, such as
whose urban concentrations are gigantic. Moreover, in a few generations Paris, and who, weary of breathing gasoline fumes and of endlessly waiting
the “demographic thrust” will render the situation of the cities of the future in all kinds of lines, preach the explosion of this living complex encroaching
impossible and deadly, if the urbanists and the governments do not change on the green desert, rather than attacking, for example, the real problems of
their traditional mentalities and points of view, rooted in the past and hence- the automotive industry, to say nothing of the solutions given by the so-called
forth ineffectual. The solution given to the question of decentralization will avant-garde urbanist architects which are in fact nothing but short-sighted
determine the shape of any urbanism as well as of architecture. and cringing naiveties, since the impossible decentralization-panacea-for-
Must one then decide in favor of decentralization or on the contrary accept all-urban-ills has not been for them a point of conscience.
centralization? Thus, under the tyrannical yoke of these two forces, one real, the other
First of all, if we place ourselves in the role of observers of contemporary mental, we proceed to decentralize on paper, creating satellite cities (= modern
history, it is clear that we are witnessing the development of a powerful slum cities), dormitory cities, or specialized cities equipped with an absurd
force, blind and irreversible, which creates urban concentrations despite all architecture (shoe boxes or rabbit warrens), standardized sometimes with
the joint efforts of governments, a force which augments the density and the a grotesque decorative affectation (Stockholm, for example), or sometimes
area of cities. It even seems that a simple but terrible law might be deduced without (Paris or Berlin).
from this simple observation: The major centers grow faster than the small It is also true that the algorithm of the plane, the right angle, and the straight
ones, in a logarithmic curve. line, issuing directly from the depths of the millenniums and which is the basis
Next, if we place ourselves in the sociocultural perspective of exchanges of contemporary architecture and urbanism, has been strongly consolidated
as well as in that of technology and economy, we see that the large centers by the “new” materials: concrete (because of wooden molds), steel, and glass, as
favor expansion and “progress” of all kinds. It is a historical conclusion that well as by the relatively simple theory of plane and especially linear elements.
has been arrived at for thousands of years but continually forgotten, whose But if concentration is a vital necessity for humanity, the present ideas of
equivalent could be found in other domains, for example in complex biologi- urbanism and architecture must be changed completely and replaced by others.
cal cultures or merely in the abstraction of phenomena of masses, which, in I shall outline a group of ideas which lead to the conception of the vertical
following the law of high numbers, render possible the advent of exceptional Cosmic City.
and rare events which would be highly improbable (= impossible) in smaller Here is a list of axiomatic and implied propositions which will perhaps help
populations. On the other hand, decentralization leads to a dispersal of us to imagine its face and formalize its structure:
centers, to an augmentation of the length of routes and of the duration of
exchanges, to an airtight specialization of collectivities and to sociocultural 1. The absolute necessity of promoting vast concentrations of population for
stagnation. The university cities prove this, as do the workers’ cities and all the general reasons listed above.
kinds of “cities” within a country, thus invalidating the theories of linear
cities and similar naive notions. 2. The high concentration and the enormous technical effort needed imply total
These reasons and conclusions are in the air and simple to observe even independence with regard to the surface of the Earth and the landscape. This
for those who do not have the leisure to consult or learn to read the statistics leads to the conception of the vertical city which can attain heights of several
of specialized services. thousand meters. This independence leads in turn to a giant standardization
But in that case, why decentralize? in which the formalizations of theoretical conceptions and their putting into
In reality this policy stems from two principal tendencies: practice will be necessary and alone effective.

a. the suffocation of present-day cities beneath the mass of anarchical com- 3. The shape which the city is to take will have to eliminate the stresses of anti-
munications and the poor distribution of activities over the national territory; economic flexion and torsion from its structure.

b. a tradition and mental inhibition of geometrization and planning of urban 4. Daylight and a direct view of and over space are to penetrate everywhere.
entities which, having sprung up again with new vigor in the nineteenth century, Hence a relatively negligible thickness in the vertical city.
became fixed and rooted during the 1920s under the influence of cubism and
constructivism. 5. Since the city will be vertical, its occupation of the ground will be minimal.1
The liberation of the ground and the technical advances of such a city will
result in the recovery of vast stretches of land and an automatic and scientific
This second tendency has already shown that it was powerless to resolve the cultivation of the soil utilizing electronic means of management and decision,
simplest problems, such as the construction of new cities, even when the for the classic peasant with his manual toil is destined to disappear.
urbanists have the total cooperation of governments as was the case with Le

28 FICTION
6. At the outset, the distribution of collectivities will have to constitute a statisti- Rapid summary of technical data of the Cosmic City:
cally perfect mélange contrary to every present conception of urbanism. There
will be no specialized subcity of any kind. The mixing process will have to be total The preceding fourteen points require technical solutions that utilize shell
and calculated stochastically by specialized bureaus of the population. Young structures and in particular warped surfaces such as hyperbolic paraboloids or
people and workers will live in the same sector as old people or government revolving hyperboloids which avoid efforts of Sexion and torsion and (except
officials, for the mutual good of all categories. The living heterogenization of at the margins) allow only for cutting stresses of compression.
the city will happen by itself later on. The form and structure of the city will thus be a hollow shell with a double
partition, crisscrossed because of the ruled surfaces employed, having the
7. Consequently, the internal architecture of the Cosmic City will have to be additional advantage of using linear elements which will always be cheaper.
oriented toward conceptions of interchangeable locales (cf. traditional Japanese The 5,000-meter altitude is at the limit of normal pressure and oxygenation
architecture), adapting itself to the most varied uses, with internal nomadism which a man can endure without any special apparatus and without previous
(movements of populations) becoming more widespread after a certain level adaptation. Which is to say that the Cosmic City can “leap” this barrier and
of progress. Mobile architecture will thus be the fundamental characteristic grow taller than 5,000 meters on condition that artificial pressurization,
of this city. humidification, and oxygenation are provided.
If we admit of a diameter at the base equal to five kilometers, the surface of
8. Since this city will be fashioned by universal technology, it will be suited to the dome will be approximately 60 km2 . This approximate calculation is
lodging the populations of the far north (or south) as well as those of the tropics based on a cone truncated at a height of five kilometers and of bases of 0.5
or the deserts. Climatic conditioners will thus equip certain of its sections so and 2.5 km. Since the thickness of the shell supporting the city is 50 meters,
as to render hundreds of millions of human beings independent of climatic the volume of the shell will be approximately 3 km3. Now, a city like Paris
and meteorological contingencies, so that they may attain temperate living (which serves as our model), with a density of 500 inhabitants per hectare,
and working conditions at any latitude. Thus, its entirely industrialized and forms a layer of a thickness of 22m2 , and 5,000,000 inhabitants occupy on
formalized technology will transform it into the veritable biological collective the average, with their houses, their public buildings, their industries, and
garment, receptacle, and tool of its population. their parks and traffic areas, a volume of 2.2 km3 or a total of 10,000 hectares.
That is to say an average weight of 400 kilograms per square meter of Soor
9. Communication will be effected by means of cylindrical coordinates with (= ultralight materials, plastic or metal, of very slight volume, thanks to
the advantage of great vertical speeds of from 100 to 200 kilometers per hour. the spatial industries which will thus and outlets on Earth); seven stories.
400 kg/m2 = 2800 kg/m2 for the three-quarters of the city’s hectares, the
10. Communications through the transport of materials (men or goods) are to remaining fourth being formed by streets and green areas. Consequently
be accomplished by new techniques—for example, moving sidewalks or streets the total weight of the city will be of (3/4) 10,000 hectares 2800kg/m2 =
at slow, medium, or high speeds; vertical or horizontal pneumatic express travel 210,000,000 metric tons to be distributed over a circular ring on the ground
for passengers, etc. Hence, suppression of all types of individual locomotion 250 meters wide and with a perimeter of 16 kilometers, with a pressure on
on wheels.2 the ground of 5 kg/mm2 .
Here then is an aspect of an agglomeration, like the one stretching from
11. Three-dimensional transportation (by air) will be favorized by airfields at Washington to Boston, with several tens of millions of inhabitants lodged in the
the summit of the Cosmic Cities (hence a considerable saving in fuel). The lost shells of the cosmic cities, situated on a plain between the sea and mountains.
time between city and airport will be eliminated.
1. In fact, for a density of 500 inhabitants per hectare (2.47 acres), a city of five million inhabit-
ants like Paris covers around 10,000 hectares. The city we propose will cover around eight
12. The great height of the city will have the advantage (in addition to the very high
hectares of ground, or less than a thousandth of this space. (Xenakis)
density it will be able to achieve—from 2,500 to 3,000 inhabitants per hectare) 2. The curse of modern cities, inflicted by the complex and multiple automotive industries. This
of rising above the most frequent clouds, those moving between 2,000 and 3,000 is one of the examples of pointless economic and social cancerization, difficult to stamp out
meters, and of putting the populations in contact with the vast spaces of the sky in free-enterprise nations. (Xenakis)
and the stars, for the planetary and cosmic era has begun and the city must no
longer be earthbound but oriented toward the cosmos and its human colonies. This essay first appeared in Art and Literature 10 (Autumn 1966).

13. The transformation of industrial and domestic waste in a closed circuit will Excerpted from Collected French Translations: Prose by John Ashbery, out now from
take on vast proportions to the benefit of health and the economy. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Copyright © 2013 by John Ashbery.

14. By definition, the Cosmic City will not fear the devastations of war since IANNIS XENAKIS was a composer, music theorist and architect-engineer. He fled Greece in 1947
and became a citizen of France. Along with Stockhausen, he is regarded as one of the most important
disarmament will have been accomplished on Earth, and outlets and other post-war avant-garde composers. He integrated music with architecture and designed spaces to be
expansions will be sought in cosmic space, the present nations having transformed integrated with his compositions and performances.
themselves into provinces of a giant World State.
JOHN ASHBERY has published more than 30 collections of poetry, and he is a prolific French
translator.

MAY 2O14 FICTION 29


from Miransù by Monica Sarsini fruit than now, there were seven hundred square meters in
the Pian di Ripoli, just imagine it! We moved away because
they didn’t want to sell it, otherwise there wouldn’t have
Translated from the Italian by Maryann De Julio been this house or your mother’s, the owner died, the wife
was left, the son wasn’t interested and put everything in his
mama’s hands, she began to sell crates that there were, Badia
to my grandmother Isabella was all theirs, they were masons. For your mama it was an
ugly house, she never invited her friends, it didn’t matter to
your aunt, there were some upheavals, it was the time when

A
fter seven months of war in Abyssinia my brother they refolded it like this and that, tried to make a package. Your schools were conducting lessons half a week in the morning
repatriated him because of a heart condition and they great grandfather cursed him up and down, you imbecile, all and half a week in the afternoon. So your mother and your
declared him unfit to serve in the war. When they of the creases are going to stay. He should have rolled it up, aunt didn’t go to school on the same schedule, and on days
recalled him for the war that came after, we all said to him, but he wanted to make a small parcel. I didn’t have the shoes that your aunt was home there were a bunch of children.
but how, they said you were unfit to serve and you’re going to made, we came close to not even having anything to eat. We Instead your mother invited nobody, we had a dirt floor, the
show up? Bah, he said, if everybody did that, poor Italy! They were always in the same situation, some times we lived well, laundry put the cart in the entrance. She wasn’t completely
sent him to Rodi, at least if he would have stayed in Florence! other times poorly, with only mama’s pay, she worked from wrong, she made me ashamed too. You entered and there was
At Rodi the Italian division rebelled against the Germans, eight in the morning until eight in the evening, and she had a large room four times this sitting room with a table in the
they wanted to stop fighting, by now we were worn out, they two children to keep in scuole superiori. middle. Then there was the bedroom of poor papa and mama,
couldn’t go on, so the Germans took the Italian division and Going down through the fields out of the corner of my eye I where you were born, beautiful, big with the furniture that
made them prisoners, it went well for them, in Cefalonia they glimpse the body of Michele illuminated by the sun, who after they used then and that got destroyed because of the flood,
killed thousands of Italian soldiers, at that same moment, having worked in the vegetable garden, just barely concealed then a small room that opens onto the garden with a French
when the Italians wanted to stop fighting. They put him in a by the rows of tomatoes, is washing with the hose left there door. It was the children’s study, there were two writing desks.
hospital to empty the bedpans, there was that Austrian that to water in the evening. He also notices my presence while I We let the laundry room go, there was a door and you could
when Germany signed the peace treaty said, dottore, let’s go. continue to walk through the path at whose edges between the hardly see. I used it to wash, then another small room and the
My brother wasn’t like my father, adventurous, courageous, vines on whose withered branches the pears are ripened, and kitchen. On the upper floor three enormous rooms, well laid
like I would be, but then he followed him. He escaped through after pulling on his pants he calls out to me in order to make out, plus the one that used to be the terrace where they hung
the Black Forest, first he threw away the gas mask, then the sure from the tone of my answer that he has surprised me with the laundry. The owner had it converted into rooms, with
knapsack, then the cartridge case, they couldn’t go on, and his presence while I thought that I was alone. After coming shutters, my bedroom with three beautiful windows, then a
they stumbled into a group of American soldiers headed by out onto a downhill slope, to enjoy my freedom I make pee small bedroom with a window, then the bedroom in which
the godson of an Italian, from America naturally. They were pee in the perfume of the lemon balm that crouching down before he got married my brother slept and after the children,
terrible times, on one side the war was over, on the other there intrudes upon me. While I feel it pour down the majestic figure with their two small beds. There was a surrounding garden of
were still Germans armed with rifles that were killing you, of Iole, my paternal great grandmother, appears that day in seven hundred square meters, with an alley of greenery, that
you couldn’t just put on your pants, take the train, the plane which she set out towards the fields, followed by her progeny greenery that during carnevale was named in a game, you meet
and go home. It was a tragic time, the most dangerous, you as often happened. Now picking a grape from a cluster, now someone and say, out with the green! and he needed to always
didn’t know who you might run into, who you might come rolling over a pebble with the point of her cane, now admiring have this greenery to show otherwise he pays the pledge, the
across. The only good thing for my brother was that he never a flower, with her measured step. All of a sudden she stops in green the color of woods, not laurel, that one with the little
wore the black shirt, never went to the meetings, he used to the middle of the path, inspired expression, her gaze lost in the shiny leaves. We had very beautiful flowers, our gardener
say, my profession sends me into all homes, but he’d get on crest of the hills and in infinity. She stays like this, captivated, worked at the Piazzale Michelangelo for the Comune, he
the trolleybus and sit down next to the driver, that’s how he’d and in my father is born the curiosity to know what overtook always had his baskets on his mind! He would say, have you
talked politics about the war, that it was necessary. But he’d her thoughts. Remorse, melancholy, regret. She left again in a seen my baskets? Because just as you went up the avenue there
rebelled against the Germans. Italian fascists, nationalists, little while. On the ground where she stopped there remains were these big flower boxes of his. In front of the children’s
they remembered the first world war, they’d been enemies, a small puddle to explain the reason for her pause. study he’d made beautiful round ones, first he put very small
my brother had it with them too for how they’d behaved with Iole’s father studied in the seminary, near priesthood he flowers, then flowers a little bit taller, then taller still, until he
the Jews, he wasn’t Catholic, he was Christian because they’d repaired to the Duomo every day in order to learn the rules planted a lily in the center, from India, it looked like an iris.
baptized him, but he recognized that the Germans had carried of the task that he would have to perform, and every day a This signora didn’t want to sell it, your grandfather said, if
out some horrible actions. In Italy the Jews were respected, charming signorina went to the Duomo she too, to pray. Seeing I buy this house, in the back already there’s a lot of land to
I remember that all the biggest merchants were Jews, my her, recognizing her between the flickering of the lit candles, he build the factory. She didn’t want to sell it any price. Finally
husband always said, I would gladly work with the Jews! They felt more and more attracted to her, until when that passion she died, and the son telephoned right away, listen, I know that
drive the price until the end, but when they pay they do it over became the principal reason for his daily presence in that church. you wanted to buy, I’m willing, we would have taken it, but by
to the penny. Instead Italians drive the price and then they So he sold his cassock, his fine missal, his silver buckles and now we’d already bought, it had cost an arm and a leg. In that
want to round off the sum reached. Instead they, if it’s five lira regalia for chanting mass; with these few soldi and a newfound house my mama died, she had about ten cats, the house was
and ten centesimi, first they give the ten centesimi and then job he introduced himself to ask her to be his wife. Certainly separated from the school in which she taught by a long path
the five lira. Even without going to Germany, to Holland, to stunned but also flattered from a sentiment so overwhelming along which there was a building that looked out on the main
France, to Poland the Jews were exterminated. Here among she married him, thus Iole was born, who grew up beautiful road. When the noonday bell rang the cats entered from the
us many hid them in their homes, they were purged, from and kind. She was an only child. Her family was noble but not door at the back of this apartment building, emerged in line
workplaces they were fired all of them. Even our priest in rich, for this reason the courting, persevering and stubborn, on the road and went to wait for her before the door of the
Badia, don Coppini, had some Jewish people in his home. They of Ottavio, leather merchant, seemed tempting to them if not school. She liked them, without her they didn’t even feel alive,
were staying in the villa beyond our phone line, we had an ideal for her future life. In the house where Ottavio brought poor beasts. She died in the kitchen, Armida, a woman from
enormous piece of land, before our house had been a laundry, Iole she had the first two children, Valmore, who was born and Badia who came to do a little housework, was there, and your
my mother suffered so much to start over there, they were died, and Antonio. Giulio and Eugenio were born to future mama. She had returned home from school and was cutting
used to living in a small house, we had a garden, now if you nuptials, which opened the gates of the Lama to have Iole the lung in strips to give the cats to eat. She fell to the ground,
want to get rid of a tenant, you incur the wrath of God, then enter finally, as wife and padrona. In full summer, at the sea, a diabetic coma, they had recalled my brother to the war, an
the one who bought sent you away quickly, we were renting, Iole who was always dressed in white taking refuge under an unexpected thing, another of the mistakes of fascism was to
we had awful misfortune, always in Badia, we were living in umbrella, seated apart respect to the last row of recliners, at never tell anybody anything, they made decisions and we
the house that your paternal grandparents would buy later noon, in the most suffocating moment of the heat, put on her people knew nothing about them. Who would have thought
on, where your father’s sister lives, they would make the casa black bathing costume, not to go in the water, something that that we’d wage war in Abyssinia.
padronale from the contadino’s house and put the contadino my father never saw her do, but to slip behind the cabanas in
in the miserable little villa. We’ve known each other for a rectangle delimited by partitions of white cloth, to have all
awhile! I remember one time I went with poor papa, leather but her head covered by the scorching sand that the lifeguard The Rail is proudly running Miransù as a serial which began in the
hides agent, like your paternal grandparents, only he couldn’t poured on top of her with a shovel. While spying on this ritual December/January issue and will continue through the summer.
stay closed up in a shop, he had to go and get my mother in between the cloths, my father remained bewildered to see
a carriage when she got out of school, we had a beastly life, I Iole emerge red-faced from the sand and covered in sweat, to MONICA SARSINI was born in Florence, where she lives and teaches writ-
don’t remember what I wanted to say anymore. The father of withstand that torture for a time that seemed infinite to him, ing. She is also an artist who has shown her work in Italy and other countries.
Libro Luminoso (Exit Edizioni, 1982) was followed by Crepacuore, Crepapelle
your grandfather was an important signore, handsome, he faultless as he who must endure with resignation the accident and others. A collection of her work was published in English under the title
carried himself well, elegant. One time for a business matter of his own existence. of Eruptions (Italica Press, 1999). In Alice nel paese delle domandine (Le
we went inside his shop, me and poor papa, and he said to me, I didn’t like this laundry, but what did it matter to me, I Lettere, 2011), Sarsini collects stories written by women from the creative
he was kind with the signore and signorine, ah! I want to give was a girl, there were nine rooms, my children learned to writing class that she taught at Sollicciano prison, outside Florence; a second
volume Alice, la guardia e l’asino bianco was just published in Italy.
you a kidskin as a gift, have a nice pair of little shoes made for ride their bicycles in the entrance. There was a staircase to
yourself. He goes in the backroom of the shop and chooses this go to the upper floor, a covered terrace, the well that sent
MARYANN DE JULIO is a Professor in the Department of Modern and
marvelous, polished skin, and says to your grandfather, here water into the house. This well wasn’t enough for a laundry, Classical Language Studies at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.
wrap it up for her. And him, poor man, saw this skin, took it, so it befell these poor devils to move away. We had more

30 FICTION