On Searching Your Dreams For desde Desdemona
Italo Calvino (1923-1985)
desde Desdemona resides in The Dream Antilles, where the undulations of the Caribbean are constantly revealing or obscuring it. You can get there in two days from anywhere, but no quicker. If you cannot make the journey yourself, something sure to be a disappointment to you, you might send an envoy to experience desde Desdemona and report back to you. Which brings us to Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, one of my favorites, a book I recommend over and over again to anyone who will listen.
The Great Khan has dreamed of a city; he describes it to Marco Polo:
"The harbor faces north, in shadow. The docks are high over the black water, which slams against the retaining walls; stone steps descend, made slippery by seaweed. Boats smeared with tar are tied up, waiting for the departing passengers lingering on the quay to bid their families farewell. The farewells take place in silence, but with tears. It is cold; all wear shawls over their heads. A shout from the boatman puts a stop to the delays; the traveler huddles at the prow, moves off looking toward the group of those remaining behind; from the shore his features can no longer be discerned; the boat draws up beside a vessel riding at anchor; on the ladder a diminished form climbs up, vanishes; the rusted chain is heard being raised, scraping against the hawsepipe. The people remaining behind look over the ramparts above the rocks of the pier, their eyes following the ship until it rounds the cape; for the last time they wave a white rag.
"Set out, explore every coast, and seek this city," the Khan says to Marco. "Then come back and tell me if my dream corresponds to reality."
"Forgive me, my lord, there is no doubt that sooner or later I shall set sail from that dock," says Marco, "but I shall not come back to tell you about it. The city exists and it has a simple secret: it knows only departures, not returns."
Such are the difficulties of this kind of journey. We all know as Heraclitus taught that you cannot step in the same river twice. But there are some rivers (and islands) you cannot step in even once. It is these seeming difficulties that make the journey even more essential. These obsess the traveller, compel the traveller to persist in the journey even when common sense or, worse, the bright light of waking consciousness erases our mental map and plunges the ultimate destination into impenetrable obscurity. Destinations like these are often sought and the craving for them can easily be felt in that yearning that clenches the throat, but only something akin to grace lets us ever arrive.