Saturday, 26 November 2016

The seven lamps of Madame Sphora's architecture

The city of Chirica cannot be mapped, because it cannot be finished: it bleeds out into silent avenues and massing townhouses and still canals further than anyone has ever known. Those who try to travel beyond its safer centre find themselves disoriented, confounded, and soon they are lost forever.

But within its centre, a map – or maps – are possible. In the traditional telling, the city has eight great districts, two at its heart and six fanned around them in a half-circle: and on the other side of this half-circle, facing the squares and facades of the city's centre, the sea, even more endless and unforgiving than the city.
Of the eight districts we will speak in more detail another time: but of the works of Karint Sphora, whose name we have mentioned already, there is this to be said, that in each part of the mappable city she left one masterwork (of what she may have built in the unmapped city, we shall not speak):

In Vasari, the city's busiest district - though even in Vasari some streets sit silent for hours and days on end, and some doors crust over with rot and neglect - she built the Royal Theatre, in the days when there still was a royalty to attend it. It is said that the false-perspective scenery that recedes behind the stage's elaborate setting continues on for ever, twisting smaller and smaller into a perfect but unreadable map of the unmappable city.

In the Pazir, where the city's Elvish families conduct their lives of stately savagery, she built the Tower of the Moon to a set of ornate geometrical specifications provided her by a self-declared prophet of the elves: but since her death and his, it has stood empty and collapsing.

In Belgarod, where the business of the city is conducted and confounded by goblin middlemen, their four-jointed fingers counting out worn and lustreless coins, she built the Nail Market of elaborate, unsurpassed iron.

In Rusala, where the cold-eyed agnates have their half-sunken palaces, she channelled the meeting point of sluggish canals into the Ninefold Fountain, where the symbolism of the statuary is debated to this day.

In Amadoro, where the ashborn debate and philosophise, Sphora raised up the Academy. its endless vaults running along one of Amadoro's smoke-filled squares, its endless rooms inside as narrow and as repetitive as the arguments of their occupiers.

In Liuvecca, where the gnomes sustain what little industry Chirica knows, carving and crushing and creating, she was paid handsomely to erect a solemn guildhall, a godless temple to industry and labour and its joyless fruits.

In the Carazzo, where the vampire families wait out their ceaseless lives with parodic diversions, she was commissioned to build an opera house on neutral, unhallowed ground, where rivals could meet and plot against a bone-white backdrop and a nightmarish accompaniment.

And in Opravad, the neglected core of the city, on one of Chirica's few true pieces of rising ground - on a spot, it is said, where the lines drawn from her seven other great works would converge - she began to build - for herself - a vast mausoleum of impossible scale and disturbing style, wherein she was interred long before it could be finished. It is widely thought it cannot be finished: but she was not without disciples, and they themselves were not unfollowed, and so the work has gone on, gradually rising into Chirica's leaden sky and to an uncertain, imponderable goal.