Views of an Imaginary City 20: A Street in the Najirèh District

20. A Street in Najirèh

The outer district of Najirèh (“Empress”) is so named in honour of the empress Aritokèh, during whose reign the area’s first streets were laid out. It is located on a raised plateau surrounded by rice fields to the north, south, and east, and by the Golu Canal (See n. 38) to the west. The unnamed avenue presented here is typical of streets in this part of the city, with their tall, regularly spaced trees and narrow wooden sidewalks. Typical, too, are the long rows of attached houses, with a ground level built of stuccoed masonry and an overhanging second story of wood. There is nothing particularly remarkable about the depicted scene, and it may at first be difficult to understand why the artist chose to include it in the series.

Upon reflection, however, one may well conclude that it is exactly in such generic spots that the true spirit of the city is to be found. Any tourists visiting Sensuka for the weekend can marvel at the monumental buildings in the city centre, stroll through the pleasure gardens of Rateliska, sample the street foods along the Terenfi Canal, or dance the night away in the Kadukilo during the Totamontra festival. If they know the right locals, they may also be shown the way to smoky, semilegal poetry dens, or to hole-in-the wall portside restaurants where the fishermen come to eat their own catch, and hand it over still flopping to the kitchen staff. But it is not these sights and experiences, however captivating or memorable, that make Sensuka Sensuka. What is really special about the city—what is truly worth marvelling at—are the vast number of nondescript neighbourhoods like the one depicted in this print, these rows upon rows of lives—of many generations of lives, which we will never know and we can never know. And all these lives, one way or another, revolve, or once revolved, around the same centrifugal force: Sensuka—not the physical city, but an energy, or an idea, or whatever dream it is that the city represents in the heart and mind of each individual.

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Views of an Imaginary City 34: A Nizimoamuàri

Two people walk past each other on a quiet street corner, both looking about their surroundings in an apparent state of reverie. The inscription tells us that we are looking at a nizimoamuàri, which could be translated as “a past or future love place.” (This is a somewhat awkward translation. The word muàri refers to any time—past, future, or hypothetical—that is not the present moment.) Nizimoamuàri are particular locations that, every time one happens to set foot in them, convey the impression that they bear some kind of not-quite-definable connection to one’s romantic life. This curious sensation is usually described as being somewhat like a memory, and yet a memory that does not seem to correspond to any actual incident in one’s life that one can identify. At the same time, it can register a little like a premonition, a feeling that one is meant to experience something important here with someone someday, that this place is connected in some way to that great mythical love story that one never quite stops imagining for oneself.

People generally have several such nizimoamuàri. They tend to be located in places one has frequented all one’s life, or at least to bear some resemblance to other places one used to frequent. It should be emphasized, however, that the peculiar influence of these places is an extremely vague and subtle one. In many cases, people are only subconsciously aware of it. Contributing to this lack of awareness is the fact that nizimoamuàri are for the most part rather nondescript spots: a particular bench in a park, perhaps, or the landing of a staircase in a multileveled shopping bazaar, or a street corner near one’s work.

The explanations put forward for the nizimoamuàri phenomenon are numerous: One theory is that one happened to witness an especially attractive stranger pass by here once, or a couple kissing with a particular intensity—or perhaps just talking and laughing, with an ease and a complicity that one has so often dreamed of for one’s own relationships. Though these specific memories, being of little concrete import to one’s life, have long since vanished into oblivion, the location’s romantic associations have remained. Or perhaps it is something in how the light falls over this particular arrangement of buildings or trees in this particular orientation, or how the faded words of an ancient pipe tobacco advertisement always conjure up for one the refrain of an old song, or the way the perfume emanating from the corner flower shop always hits one just at the moment one is walking away from it—something, anyway, in a physical property of this location that seems to transport one back to another place and another time, neither of which one can quite pinpoint, wherein one experienced something romantic, or at least dreamt of it with a special ardour. 

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Video of “Views of an Imaginary City: Nizinaringolo in Labeosti”

Another animated interpretation of one of my “Fifty-Two Views of an Imaginary City” by Jim Avis, this one looking ahead hopefully to a springier time.

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Happy Holidays from Julian Peters Comics!

This watercolour was commissioned by the Montreal financial services firm ASSURART Inc. for their 2022 company holiday card. Like the card I did from them in 2020, it depicts a scene observed on Rue Champigny, in the Côte-Saint-Paul neighbourhood of Montreal.

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Video of “Views of an Imaginary City 28: The Great Imperial Cuckoo Clock”

Another great animated interpretation of one of my “Fifty-Two Views of an Imaginary City” by Jim Avis.

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Views of an Imaginary City 38: Along the Nachilagolu

The Nachilagolu (“Long Canal”) connects the Juminta River just above Cherufi Falls to the imperial shipbuilding yards at Kulidaseh. After descending a number of locks near the falls, the canal runs for the rest of its course through a flat area still mainly devoted to rice farming, though a few industries, particularly garment factories and tanneries, have grown up along its banks. The print presents us with a view of the canal in late autumn. Two workmen are carrying the body of a man that has just been fished out of the water with the use of the long, hooked pole being held by a third workman. The men are about to load the corpse onto the mule-drawn cart by the side of the road, after which it will be taken to be disposed of in the Great Krokuta Pit (see n. 13).

The figure of the dead man is hard to make out, and we are not given any indication as to how he ended up in the canal. We can presume from the casual attitude of the workmen, however, that he is considered to be a person of no account. It seems likely that the artist intends us to view this death—either by murder, suicide, or an intoxicated stumble—as constituting the predictable conclusion of a difficult and painful life’s journey. At the same time, the very anonymity conferred upon the deceased by his small size serves as a reminder that his fate could potentially represent that of any number of the figures appearing in the other prints. All throughout the “Fifty-Two Views” series, the city’s inhabitants are, for the most part, depicted on a very small scale. It is easy to forget that each one of those tiny heads is carrying within it whole other unseen landscapes. Who can say what wild, tormenting waves are crashing down over those often almost antlike figures, or what lonely wastelands lie spread out before them in every direction, as far as the eye can see?

The wayside shrine in the foreground is dedicated to Todafon, the founder of Chogya, who preached the immortality of the soul through reincarnation. Its inclusion within the image can be read as a consolatory reminder that the soul of the unfortunate drowned man will be reborn anew within another life experience—hopefully, a far happier one.

Todafon taught that there is an eternal set of human lives. Although these lives exist in a chronological relation to one another, after death, individual souls may be reincarnated into lives taking place in periods that are antecedent, subsequent, or contemporary to their previous ones. Not only, then, is each soul destined to live on eternally in an endless succession of life experiences, but each life experience itself is destined to be endlessly relived by a succession of different souls. Even the very unhappy lives, such as this one that has just ended.

At this very moment, according to Chogya beliefs, another soul has commenced to live this same man’s life from the very beginning. The whole tragic concatenation of difficult early circumstances, disastrous key decisions, a truly epic unrequited love story, consistently and mercilessly ground-up hopes, and a stubborn inability to assimilate a certain crucial life lesson is destined to repeat itself again and again, for all eternity. If true, this is an appalling state of affairs, to be sure. But the vastness of human suffering is such that no belief system can ever offer a truly satisfactory justification for it. It may be counted as a point in favour of Chogya that it never even attempts to do so.

There is also an odd sort of nobility that this concept of endless recurrence seems to bestow upon even the most pitiful of existences. Their reiteration elevates them into something eternal and—potentially—to be shared by all humanity. For those unfortunate souls condemned to live through these sad lives, there is solace in knowing that others have come before and others will come after them. They are never truly alone in their private pain. All of this has been gone through already and will be gone through again. Others have understood—others will understand—exactly how it feels to feel this way.

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Video of “Views of an Imaginary City 14: The Laughing Willow”

Another “vidiette” by Jim Avis adapted from one of my “52 Views of an Imaginary City.” Many more of these coming soon!

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Views of an Imaginary City 29: Interior in Korkidèh

29. Interior in Korkidèh

We are in the well-appointed bedchamber of an upper-class Sensukan home. The residence is located in the Korkidèh district, as is evident from the yellow-and-green tiled “seashell dome” of the Rimo temple visible through the door opening in the right foreground. As is typical of the homes of all Sensukans, rich or poor, the interior is sparsely furnished. The room contains only a wooden chest, some sitting cushions, a small table, and a bed/couch known as a bromatino. The distinguishing feature and decorative focus of wealthy Sensukan homes is always their wallpaper. This can call attention to itself by the richness of its materials—such as silk or satin and gold and silver accents—or by the quality of its designs. The latter are entrusted to the city’s most respected artists and range from bold abstract patterns to elaborate genre scenes and landscapes. The wallpaper in this bedchamber features a stylized depiction of a coral reef.

The elderly woman sitting upright in a corner of the bromatino is wearing an embroidered morning gown known as a saùna. She is reading a letter, the violet paper of which indicates it to be a taratiga (“loon song,” in an allusion to the loon’s habit of calling out at sunset). The tradition of taratiga is thought to have begun with the empress Aritokèh. In the last few weeks before she died, the elderly monarch wrote out letters to a number of people to thank them for the assistance they had given her at different times throughout her long reign. This practice of sending out deathbed letters to those whom one had lost touch with, but whom one nevertheless wished to communicate with one last time, was then taken up by other members of the imperial court. Soon it had spread to women and men of the upper classes in general. As Aritokèh had written her final missives on violet paper (violet having been her imperial colour—See View n. 9), this became the standard practice for all subsequent taratiga.

Naturally enough, those whom one had lost touch with but nevertheless wished to communicate with one last time were, more often than not, one’s former lovers. Indeed, within a generation of Aritokèh’s death, taratiga had come to be associated exclusively with the communication of romantic—or at least, romance-related—feelings. They were typically addressed to a person whom one had not seen in many years, but whose memory one had kept alive within one always, tucked away in some secret compartment of the heart. Gradually the practice of taratiga writing was extended to include reaching out to those whom one had always carried a torch for, but to whom, for some reason or another one had never said anything—perhaps because one had been too shy or had always known that the feeling would go unrequited, or because it was the husband of a best friend. One had never said anything, and long ago, it had become too late. Somehow, though, it had not seemed right to leave this universe without leaving any trace of these great feelings in the heart and memory of the one who had unwittingly occasioned them. One had therefore summoned up all of one’s last energy to set them down in writing, salvaging them from the wreckage of one’s collapsing bodily existence. (It should be said, however, that it is also quite common for the drafts of such missives to be written far in advance, rather like a will. They are then merely gone over a final time and sent off at the moment when one knows for certain that the end is near.)

In many cases, the delivered taratiga arrive as something of a shock. Addressees may be quite surprised to receive such a heartfelt message from the deathbed of someone they had once upon a time had a casual affair with, and whom they had assumed had forgotten them long ago, or a former acquaintance whom they can barely remember interacting with, or possibly even from someone whom they never even realized existed. Whole previously unsuspected vistas of what might have been—of all that might have been different—may now open up before these startled readers. This can be quite a distressing experience. More frequently, however, the recipients of taratiga will simply be overcome by a vague, generalized melancholy.

But it also sometimes happens that, after having always held for certain that one would receive a final farewell message from a certain someone, one is disappointed in that expectation. It is not unheard of for the news of a person’s demise—at least if it is a foreseen one, after a long illness—to be met with a certain measure of indignation: “Passed away! What?! And she never even thought to write?”   

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“Stairway to Nowhere” Video

The incomparable Jim Avis has been transforming some of the instalments in my recent “Views of an Imaginary City” into his trademark “vidiettes.” Here is his take on “View 46: The Stairway to Nowhere at Tanaliska.” More of these to come!

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