East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Four Cities


It is all my friend Claire’s fault, of course.
She just posted about this interesting writing prompts website, and in particular she mentioned the prompt about describing your city as a person.

I did some attempt at it on Claire’s page, but then I thought I’d like to expand on that.
Leaving Castelnuovo Belbo out of the picture, if you please, because after my first attempt at Claire’s, I am sure it would be just an exercise in necrophilia.
And because it’s not my city, or town or village or hole in the ground.
I’m just living here, but I do not belong. Thank goodness!

As I mentioned in the past, I am a two-cities kind of guy.
A girl I knew once said it’s because I am a Gemini.
But I really have four cities, so maybe I’m a Gemini with Gemini ascendant, who knows. Or maybe it’s just superstitious rubbish, and I’m in fact one of those “city slickers” Joe Jackson mentioned a long time ago…

We think we’re pretty smart
Us city slickers get around
And when the going’s rough
We kill the pain and relocate
We’re never married
Never faithful not to any town

So here goes, my web-exclusive Four Cities, an exercise in impromptu urban fantasy.

87886acd9cbd3abfa23657f47e56f71eTurin is a woman in her late forties, still trying to keep appearances up, while what she’d really love is just let herself go. One that hides sexy lingerie underneath her severe bottle-green coat as she goes through the cold fogs of winter, and keeps her vices to herself. Strangers often mistake for middle-class melancholia her nostalgia for a wilder youth she missed, and are baffled by her Egyptian make up, and her love for jazz. They think she’s into retro fashion, but that’s just her when sober, and now she really needs a drink. She reads French poetry and smokes American cigarettes, and there are days when she really feels neither here nor there.

f64dfc5eb87e309aaeab9edae002e624London’s on the run and you’ll have to match her speed because she won’t slow down. She’s in her thirties and dresses like Annie Hall, and bubbles with ten thousand things at the same time, from the show she saw last night to the place where, tonight, the two of you are going to eat, her treat. And her job, of course, that too, a drag, but pays the bills. She’ll call to give you the correct address, and see you there. You like Chinese, she’s sure. Frowns, deliciously, pulls back a strand of hair.
Does she have your number?
Of course she has. A peg on the cheek. Ta.

e2809b478ec6f949aa011aac0306d18bParis is a bookish young thing in glasses, that loves to flirt while quoting from old books, treats forgotten writers as old friends and swears by Dumas père. She smokes because, you know, she’s French. Gitanes, of course. Bratty’s too hard a word for her, and she’s real sweet, but maybe it’s just a pose. She’s cool underneath, just like a blade in a finely wrought sheath. Sometimes you wonder if she really has a home, or if she’s like a gypsy in some fairy tale, and what’s the name of her perfume.
And if she really prefers girls – quel dommage ce serait, n’est-ce pas?

5757e54b9e811bebf641d816f30bb005Shanghai’s ageless and easily bored, and change’s her only constant, and her game. She comes to you in your dreams, silent and supple as a cat, in her red cheongsam and in her fox fur stole, and talks about the past, and all the men she knew. She’s smart and cool and has no need for wit because she’s though. And if you sense sadness there, you’re just plain wrong. She’s not sad, not at all, and she can do happy, if you want, but doesn’t seem to feel like it right now. Brittle, she is, too.
Agelessness has its costs, she says, and you’ll be paying for them. And now, a song…

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

3 thoughts on “Four Cities

  1. Ah, now that Castelnuovo is out of the way, I can say it: lovely! I’ll happily take the blame for this one. 😉
    I notice that your cities are all ladies. Do you know male cities too?
    And now I’ll have to do my own, I think – if only because of London, because “my” London isn’t this bubbling young thing anymore than it (she? he?) is Berger’s urchin. I guess it’s part of the game, the way the same city will be different “people” to different observers.


    • Thank you – for being both the instigation and the critic.
      I liked this exercise very much. The closest thing to poetry I ever did, and I’ll probably ever do. And fun.


  2. Pingback: The road not written – another writing prompt | Scribblings

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