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from the February 2004 issue


Toward the end of the twentieth century, rumors about the cities spread. Some people spoke of their demise, others of a strange rebirth from out of the rubble. Clandestine groups would whisper secrets about cities that were still inhabitable, where it was possible to walk, see a bird, explore a museum, or take in the color of the sky. But places like that were few and far between. Gradually, people started talking about Berlin. Not in public, in newspapers, or in social gatherings. The city's name came to be something like a code word, a mystical sign, a cipher for those in the know but meaningless for anyone else. Berlin was discussed in hushed tones, among close friends, in secluded rooms, in a moment of intimacy after lovemaking. In the muted light of a bedroom, for example, a naked lover might tell the woman at her side, "I've heard that linden trees still grow in the streets of Berlin and that there are swans in the lakes."

Or else, "In Berlin, the blackbirds sing as the snow falls and you can drink tea from porcelain cups, over linen tablecloths."

The fact that Berlin was surrounded by walls didn't discourage anyone: it gave the city the symbolic quality of dreams that so many other places lack.

Friends exchanged recipes for strudel as if they were extraordinary poems, and after dark they would scrawl the words der traum in leben on desolate station platforms or metal shutters, almost understanding the language through their intensity of desire.

Other people spoke of San Francisco, but a terrible plague destroyed its reputation. Some of the elect were among the victims, and the city sank into a lethargy of shrouds and chloroform, a cancerous cell of the terrestrial roundabout.

In some cities, such as Madrid, there was a brief burst of euphoria, like the happiness that precedes death. Other cities, self-absorbed ones like Paris that looked back toward a former glory, were full of indolence.

Soon there was nowhere to run and those who fled in the direction of Cairo, Prague, Buenos Aires, or Warsaw did so only with the hope of postponing death slightly. The fall of the cities spread like a patch of oil on the sea.

The author of these words, writing in the waning days of the twentieth century, doesn't know if there is a future, if there are cities, if there are readers.

From Cosmoagonías (Barcelona: Editorial Juventud, 1994). By arrangement with the author.

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