Sunday, April 10, 2011


Most cities grow by tearing down the old to make way for the new, erasing the past, eradicating their own histories. With us, this was never possible. Within a few centuries of the city's founding our numbers had increased to the point that we had filled every square meter of available space between the sea and the wasteland at our backs. To tear down would have required the displacement, if only temporarily, of some of the existing occupants, but so quickly do we set out roots that our homes, once established, become as inseparable from us as the shell of a tortoise. Instead, we ascended skyward. The city rose like a coral reef, each layer serving as the foundation for the ones above it, each building carefully buttressed against its neighbors. The weight, it is said, eventually pushed the oldest strata into the earth, and in those precincts a new race evolved, or so we are told, born without sight or incapable of tolerating even the faint sunlight that reached them. Did they then tunnel down even further into the earth to fill their own need for space, hollowing out the bedrock as far beneath as we have soared above? No one knows.

After a time our metropolis rose so high that descending to street level whenever we needed to leave our homes became burdensome and impractical. At that point we had no other recourse but to seal off the layers below. If nothing else the danger of falling made it imperative. To precipitate from a tall building to one's death is terrible enough; to fall forever, to tumble endlessly through dark and dusty columns of air, to be glimpsed, fleetingly, by creatures whose nature we can only guess at, is a horror beyond words. Did those who surrendered their last view of the sun's rays object, when our platforms and causeways sealed them in for eternity? They did not, for had they not done the same to those below them in their turn? Innocence is a luxury no one here can afford. By the time the darkness was complete they were resigned to their fate.

None of this would be possible, of course, were it not for our gardens, which are without peer on earth. There is no terrace, no stretch of wall, that is not surmounted with growing things, not just crops but flowers as well -- for there is nothing we love as much as the sight of flowers. Even in the winter we garden under glass, the windblown loess from the distant valleys is all the soil we need, we dump our scrapings and our night soil into the depths, and colonies of fungi nourish those below. Does the percolated energy of the sun dwindle to nothing in the lowest tiers, or do secret sources seep up from the center of the earth, bringing nutrients to sunless gardens perhaps even lusher than our own? No one can say.

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