What lies beneath the city, beyond its ornate façade? Are not all cities the same, the transient crowd forever in motion, the bustling railway terminus or the airport desk, a place that is not a place, where there is no "there" or "here." And yet, the lure is universal - can you not see it? The promise of the gilded inner world, each layer waiting to be revealed like the unpeeling of a Fabergé egg? The cold wind may seem to blow old papers down the city's miserable grey streets, yet there it is, just below the surface, a world as foreign and exotic as the Orientalist painting you stand before in the nineteenth-century wing of the city's art museum. Naturally we are wiser now, less naive: we have moved beyond such lies, such cultural misunderstandings, have we not? No, such clarity is impossible - to live in the city is to surrender yourself to its illusion, no less foolish or untrue than the painting of that desert scene on the museum's mauve wall. You gaze around you at the quiet crowds milling under the skylight and become aware that you might as well be on the station platform or the airport concourse, except this place will not facilitate your physical escape from the city. Yet you drift back and examine the painting further, that patch of desert, that far-off blue behind the turbaned men who gaze upon the smooth-skinned odalisque in the richly tiled open-air pavilion. And in an instant it hits you: behind the city, beneath its every surface, is a hidden landscape, a mythological topology, the universal destination of our dream explorations, forever half-remembered, a lost Eden. How is it possible that the artist managed to render this heartbreaking truth in a quickly painted patch of desert, when in the foreground his utter misunderstanding of a distant culture and its peoples is on such full, embarrassing display? Perturbed, you turn back to the room. Tourists, students, couples, wander the vast high-ceilinged gallery, softly lit by the skylight. A man puts his arm on a woman's back: his fiancée? his wife? his mistress? his sister? A gesture of love? of habit? of annoyance? of comfort? How foolish and yet how touching all these people seem, how incomprehensible. The distant blue eternity permeates the mauve walls, the paintings on the mauve walls, the people who look at the paintings on the mauve walls. Other paintings draw your gaze - perhaps a landscape of an eroded gorge, or a portrait of an aristocratic lady holding a lapdog - but these cannot hold your attention, and you find yourself back in front of the Orientalist painting, surveying the desert between the poles of the tiled pavilion. It is not the lost Eden itself, you realize, that draws you; rather, it is the distance - the distance between pavilion and desert, between the blue eternity and the transient crowd, between the culture of the artist and that of his subject, between the cold grey street and the gilded inner world, between the gate of departure and that of arrival, the very fact that there exists a separation between the two worlds, between you and the other. You hear in the unceasing hum of the metropolis the promise of finally boarding the train that departs for the blue distance that hangs above the desert like a dream, to return to the single world that reunites Eden and city.
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Suspended! | The Beggar and the Soldier | Oceansong | The Three Brothers | The Tree at the Center of the World | A New God | The Rider and the Boar | On the Edge of the Marshes | The Crocodile | The Sacred Pomegranate | The Empty Mirror | The Lake of Dreams | The Subjugation of the Flute | The Hardriim | The Tale of the Demon and the Nine Brothers of Business | The Merchant and the Bicycle | The Three Travelers | Blacksun | The City of Tears | The City of Salt | The Two Streets | The Great Tower | The Flyer | Arabian Nights |