Sunday, 10 February 2013

The City by Constantine Cavafy (Η Πόλις - Κωνσταντίνος Καβάφη)

The city beckons, the city haunts us; in the end, we cannot run away from it.

"... I just thought I'd call you and say hello," my aunt in Athens was saying on the other side of the phone line. "Are you all well? ... Your husband? ... Your children? ... Your mother-in-law? ... She cooks for herself? God bless her... Yes, I know you visited your uncles, they always tell me when they see you, God bless you... Oh, we're all well here too, just the usual routine... Well, we're all fine, but most people have problems. If I just look around in my neighbourhood, I see so many unhappy people, and it's difficult to understand what is wrong, or it's impossible to know who to believe and what you hear... I think everyone is relying on their parents' pension these days, because few people are working, and those who are aren't being paid regularly... Well, he gets paid regularly in arrears, but he never gets paid the full amount... They say they will never lose their pay, but they don't get it paid, so those words are not much use to them... That's the thing, even a sprig of parsley costs you something if you live in the city. but if you were living in the village, you'd have your parsley, your herbs, your lettuce, an egg, some meat, all your fruit and vegetables, like we did in the village... I remember the firewood we collected to keep ourselves wam, and to cook with, our grapes, our wine, our figs, our sheep, our milk, our cheese, we never had electricity, we just lit our lichnaraki, we had a well, and we never felt in need of anything... People died in the war, and that was that, but we're all still alive, although I don't now how... You're so much better off in the village, until this thing passes... Yes, it will pass, like all things pass, but we don't know when its time will come... Until then, we're just plodding on and making do, trying to cope with as much patience as is left in us..."

You said, "I will go to another land, I will go to another sea.
Another city will be found, better than this.
Every effort of mine is condemned by fate;
and my heart is -- like a corpse -- buried.
How long in this wasteland will my mind remain.
Wherever I turn my eyes, wherever I may look
I see the black ruins of my life here,
where I spent so many years, and ruined and wasted."

New lands you will not find, you will not find other seas.
The city will follow you. You will roam the same
streets. And you will age in the same neighborhoods;
in these same houses you will grow gray.
Always you will arrive in this city. To another land -- do not hope --
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you have ruined your life here
in this little corner, you have destroyed it in the whole world.
Constantine P. Cavafy (1910)

"So what are you cooking today? ... Pork chops... Sounds lovely... And salad from your garden... You're so much better off in the country... Living in the city isn't easy... it never was."

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