One of my favorite novels by Italo Calvino is Hidden Cities, which is imagined as a conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan and includes Polo’s fantastical and imaginative descriptions of 55 cities he’s seen on his travels.
I had a hidden-cities moment myself the other day, when I was led to a party in a particularly fantastical backyard, behind a row of houses near Duboce Park. The yard, shared by several residences, was a marvel and to emerge from an ordinary back door to gaze upon it was similar to feeling like Alice after falling down the rabbit hole.
My grainy pictures can’t do the complicated space justice, but it felt like another world, a sort of surreal Bangkok meets Wonderland. There were levels and balconies and ladders joining the two, neon signs of all types decorated the backs of houses and buildings up to three stories high, there were dozens of street signs hung all over, palm fronds and bamboo, stone walkways, and a tiki bar. In short, a tremendous place to have a party. I drank well from the tiki bar—a rum-and-watermelon concoction from a blender that went down all too quickly.
I am reminded of a quote from the Calvino book: “Elsewhere is a negative mirror. The traveler recognizes the little that is his, discovering the much he has not had and will never have.”
The thrilling part is in the discovering and the realization of how little out there that is ours, and how amazing it is.