Views of an Imaginary City 11: Along the Terenfi Canal

The Nachilaterenfi (“Canal of Flowers”) connects the Imperial Canal to Rejoma Bay. It is so named because, in its early days, before its surroundings became one of the most built-up areas of the capital, the banks of the canal were covered with wild flowers. Opened in the reign of the empress Nanéh, the Terenfi’s importance as a commercial artery was short-lived, supplanted by the creation of the Tizabu Canal a few decades later (See n. 32). However, because the older canal permitted merchants working in the city centre a rapid and discreet access to the area via covered boat, the neighbourhood around the Terenfi became known for its upscale houses of pleasure. The women and men offering their services in these establishments came to be known as “canal flowers.” Many Sensukans are under the belief that it is this trade that gave the Nachilaterenfi its name. With time, these brothels were joined by theatres, and then restaurants, shops of all kinds, chocolate teahouses, and so on, until the Terenfi had emerged as Sensuka’s premier entertainment district, and a go-to destination for all tourists to the imperial capital.

The Terenfi is most famous for its atmosphere after nightfall. At this time, the area’s various establishments are lit up from the inside with coloured lamps, so that the open windows create an evocative multicoloured light display (Originally, each colour indicated the particular variety of pleasure to be obtained within, but nowadays this polychromy serves a merely decorative function). In this print, however, the artist has chosen to depict the neighbourhood during the day, when the streets by the canal are thronged with people moving between the various shops or else eating or having a drink on the multi-level outdoor seating areas of bars and restaurants. (It is worth noting that the neighbourhood is also very well-known for its street food, especially chasi—shredded penguin meat and ground nuts rolled into a ball and deep fried—and kipìa—grilled goat kidneys stuffed with apricots and spices.)

A particularity of the Terenfi, especially during the daytime, is that it attracts crowds of all different ages: Children and adolescents attracted by its many game halls, young “canal flowers” shopping for clothes in its fashionable boutiques, and the aged patrons of the district’s famed traditional pazuma houses—simple restaurants serving a pudding of rye bread mixed with fish. There are some famous lines about the Terenfi by the poet Tevali, which could be translated as follows: “Walking along the Nachilaterenfi, I turned to admire the flowers growing along the slow-moving waters. When I turned back around, a whole century had passed.” This is usually taken to be an allusion to the fact that a visit to the district will evoke for many Sensukans their memories of experiencing its various pleasures at different stages of their lives. As a result of these overlapping recollections, one can sometimes have the impression by the Terenfi that all of one’s life has passed one by in a kind of accelerated blur: One has already become too old for the attractions that, only yesterday, one was too young to enjoy; the pack of children with whom one raced towards the chocolate stalls is already darting through one’s legs as one makes one’s way to the theatre; the trailing perfume of the passing beauties is already the type that has come to be associated with old ladies; and the mysterious slang of the roving bands of teenagers is already the quaint, antiquated parlance of the greybeards hunched over their bowls of pazuma pudding.

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