Friday, March 2, 2018

Guidebook from 1979

I'm making space for new books and I have to discard some of my old books. But I want to share their beauty and weirdness with you. For 4 euro I bought this guidebook from 1979. There was this one page that absolutely blew me away:
The type, the spacing and the modernism ... everything was perfect. This was the most beautiful page from the book. Another page was similarly beautiful, including the contrast between nature and cityscape:
And then there was this introductory text. I have removed the specifics of the place, because this is the archetypical psychogeographic text. It might fit any place. It could be Damascus, Sarajevo, Berlin, Rotterdam, Dresden or Nanjing. It sounds like a chapter from Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities:
Of the many towns and cities that lie scattered across the vast expanse of the _____ there are some that, like a mirror, have reflected the fate of the country and the whole nation and have revealed the character of the _____ people. Among them the heroic city of _____ is something of a legend. From all over the world people come to _____ to see the city, for which one of the greatest battles of the _____ war was fought, the battle of _____. Here, on the banks of the _____ began the death-throes of _____.
But victory was bought at a high price: thousands of young lives destroyed, thousands of hopes shattered, thousands of books unread and unwritten, thousands of tasks undone. Instead of a town stood mile after mile of charred ruins, a grotesque tableau of gutted windows, burned out squares and blackened facades, a desert of rubble and bombed-out buildings.

More than thirty years have gone by. _____ is now a beautiful new town. Wide tree lined boulevards cross its spacious squares; tall poplars and fragrant limes stir in the breeze; the sun flashes from the windows of the modern houses, shimmers in the puddles left by the heavy rain and catches the port-holes of passing ships.
We invite you to this city, full of sun and light, this new town on the _____. _____, like any other _____ town, is a hive of noise and activity, from the laughter of children at school to the rumble of machinery on the building sites. Its eyes are firmly fixed on the future, but its memory remains in the past, memory of those heroic sacrifices that were made in the name of the present.

As anyone who has ever been to _____ will tell you, there is no aspect of the daily life of that city which does not reflect the great tribute which the citizens of today owe to the defenders of yesterday. Our guide, then, will take you into two worlds - the world of the present and the world of the past, for the past determines the present as the present determines the future.

Now ... would you have guessed?

Volgograd, A short Guide, N.T. Morozova, N.D. Monakhova, Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1979, Translated from the Russian by Barry Costello

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