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Cities

September 1, 2011

From Janet Frame, The Carpathians:

“Mattina felt deeply the debt owed by New York City to its artists, once strangers from distant lands, who created a new dimension for the city, gave it depth, shape, and even were the city in reality a flat two-dimensional word, a scrap of paper or cardboard that could be torn to pieces, the shape and density given it by the artists lay unbroken in the world of the imagination, so that when outsiders looked at New York they saw not paper people in paper buildings under paper skies but real people of flesh and blood and depth in an adamantine city of height and strength, of all dimensions.

[…]

Renee laughed.
‘Oh,’ she said. ‘The country is full of legends. Teeming with them, north and south. They used to be hidden under those legends from the Northern Hemisphere, but now that we’ve got our own slant on things, legends are everywhere. They don’t often break into our real life. And, do you know, Auckland, where we’re going, is built on volcanoes that may not be extinct after all. We’re only now beginning to look closely at the place we’re living in. The Maoris have been looking at it for centuries and their legends have long ago crept in out of the cold to be part of their lives. And now we’re looking. You have to look at something, I suppose, besides your homes, furniture, and gardens.’

Listening to Renee, Mattina recalled her own brief view of Auckland as a small city with tall many-windowed buildings, walls of glass reflecting an absent forest, clearly and uncannily, with the images of huge torn trees, bowers of leaves, severed tree-trunks, as if a forest grew in the sky and no longer on earth. And there were so few people in Auckland city, except those who were obviously tourists, harnessed to cameras, or businessmen like lizards in pale grey striped suits, going in and out of doors to bask in or retreat from the golden-dollar sun.

‘Auckland’s the place to live,’ Renee said. ‘Like your New York.’
‘Oh, Auckland’s not at all like New York. It needs more poets and painters and composers and writers, so many to a square metre, much more than it has, all built into the city’s plans, to waken and put to sleep again the volcanoes, to give depth and height to the buildings and the people, to explore the forest in the sky, to make known that a forest grows in the sky.'”

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