Cities and Signs (4) or Sin City

In the description of the city of Hypatia Marco Polo tells the story of his first encounter with the place, how he wondered around and what he was searching for, rather than give a direct account of the city’s architecture or construction. Although, Calvino tries to evade just mapping out a city, he rarely relies on Marco Polo’s interactions of a place in order to give the city life.

However, Hypatia’s account is given almost exclusively by the story of Polo’s adventure there. This sets the first important point about the city – it is not the architecture that makes this place special but people’s interactions with it. Marco’s account is lead by his discovery not of beautiful ladies but of suicide corpses, which points to the unhappiness that the place brings to its citizens. The fact that the corpses are left outside on the open, not hidden or buried, points to the awareness of the act and maybe even the need for it; it also points to the ignorance of the living citizens of their fellows’ lives. Such an environment reminds either of business that doesn’t allow for time for funerals or that the people choose to be ignorant. As Polo proceeds to the sage, the reader slowly realises that “sage” doesn’t have the usual meaning here. It symbolises someone indulging in a library’s gifts. Then Polo understands that the place is a place for indulging, for enjoyment, for passion and happiness. He sees that the citizens have in Hypatia anything and everything that they might ever want. The only problem is that such a place is very hard to leave – the only way to do it without having regrets would be to let go of oneself forever – jump off the high towers into the waters and become food for crabs.

The library is falling apart, which again shows the ignorance of the people who live in Hypatia. If the place for knowledge is left to rot, probably so is the whole city. Only things that could bring pleasure – gardens and park, are kept. The streets are probably damp, full of trash and empty of people, as they have no where to go – they are already in the best possible place. The palace is also left to rot, only prisoners working there, no ruler is to be found, which points to the possibility that he is also indulging in some garden or another. However, the existence of a beautiful palace, staircase and dome show that there was greatness in the city in the past and that there must be something or someone, probably the prisoners, who are working to keep up the heaven for everyone else. The remote papyrus cabinet also points to a long history of the place. It seems that Hypatia is not what it used to be.