Nuzkwam City is usually thought of as the capital of Nuzkwamia, which, though it’s not an official designation, is fair enough, since it is by far the biggest and most cosmopolitan city in the country. In fact, it’s the only city in Nuzkwamia that can be described as cosmopolitan — hardly anyone from outside even visits, let alone lives in, the hinterland. By global standards, Nuzkwam City does not rank with London in cosmopolitanism — few cities do — but it easily beats, say, Tokyo on that score. Daily, one may encounter immigrants and visitors from all over the world, but there are no neighbourhoods where foreigners, rather than natives, predominate.
Most cities that are cosmopolitan are so only in respect of their populations. Nuzkwam City is cosmopolitan in its architecture. Wildly so, to a point where sometimes it’s surreal. Planned and laid out on an empty site in the 1880s, and growing rapidly ever since. Nuzkwam City seems designed to leave visitors confused as to what century they are in, and what continent they are on. Styles from every continent except Antarctica are represented, and every century except the twentieth. Sometimes, a street, a square, or a district will conform to a particular place and era, and sometimes every age and place will be jumbled together apparently at random – Meiji Era Japan sandwiched between Medieval Flanders and Hausmann Era Paris, and across the road from those, a hotel sporting monumental pillars apparently transplanted from Egypt’s New Kingdom. An outsider who has not grown up with all this wild eclecticism is liable to be afflicted with a sense of time out of joint, and many who come to mind here never quite get used to the disorienting variety. On the plus side, the road layout is consistent, and there are unique landmarks everywhere, so you neither need nor want to bury your face in a map as you explore this unusual city.
To say the city’s architecture divides opinion is an understatement. For every aesthetic purist who decries its hodgepodge of copycattery, finding it all the more disturbing for the precision and care with which the imitation is done, there’s a denizen of long standing who sings hymns of praise to its wonderful diversity. “It’s like having the universe at your doorstep”, a neighbour once said to me. One thing everyone does agree on, though, is the brilliance of the means by which the planners have ensured that every dwelling, though on the quietest street, is no more than fifteen minutes’ walk from a bustling commercial area in one direction and a large and beautiful park in another direction. I suspect that if the driverless monorail cabs that fly through the city weren’t so swift and luxurious, the people here would never leave their own neighbourhoods. Which would be good for the environment, I suppose.
Well, that’s the physical city dealt with. What’s the social life like, and the cultural? Tame. Seriously, I’ve summed it up in one word. Everyone’s politely busy (no unemployment), and there’s no crime, no underworld, no drug dens, no edgy subcultures or “sketchy” neighbourhoods. There are restaurants where you can enjoy world-class cuisine, concerts where you can hear world-class orchestral music, stadia where you can watch nearly world-class sport (Nuzkwamia has never hosted any major international championship), and festivals a few times a year where people gather in squares to chant, perform strange rituals, dance in circles and drink a traditional beverage — which is, of course, an acquired taste. All these things are eminently enjoyable when you’re there, but they’re not things that inspire one to write long letters home about (even if you’re a professional music or restaurant critic, since a great performance of Wagner in Bayreuth always trumps a great performance of Wagner in Nuzkwam City — a place that, to a romantic, has no history at all). Civilization, it seems, when raised to a certain level of perfection, writes blank.
I’m not sure what I should reveal to you next about Nuzkwamia. Perhaps I should tell you about the neighbouring (and rather different) cities of Longridge and Hedon. Or perhaps I should tell you about my job, and how I came to be living in this remote, yet often strangely familiar country. Come to think of it, maybe I need to write about why there’s no unemployment or crime or homelessness — why this city features such a remarkable absence of those things which are usually most remarkable about a city. Maybe all these things are connected.
I’ll need to think about this for a bit.
Nuzkwamians consider their country to be very democratic. In fact, if asked directly, they will say that their country is more democratic than any country that has a multi-party representative system. This, despite the fact that they don’t have equal universal suffrage, term limits, regular elections, or political parties, and do have a monarch who has real political powers.
How do they justify their claim to be a democracy? Well, they do have very wide participation in government. There are numerous councils, committees, juries and parliaments at various levels which are filled, not by election, but by casting lots. Some are ad hoc, and run only briefly. Others are long-standing. There are some that meet only at evening or the weekend, enabling people to take part while keeping their day job.
Huge sums of money that might otherwise be spent on election campaigns are saved, and people do not depend on the patronage of donors or a political party (indeed cannot benefit from such) to gain membership of a committee.
The system is not equal, though. Not all people can sit on all committees, and when people do sit on committees, their vote is weighted according to their qualifications. There is a set of exams and tests that all adult citizens must take before they are allowed to vote in committees, and the score on these test and exams determines the weight of a person’s vote. People can resit exams to raise the value of their vote. Some people sit the exams many times in an effort to get their vote higher.
Apart from the exam system, which is an innovation, this system is closer to ancient Greek democracy than modern representative systems.
In my conversations so far, I have not yet met a Nuzkwamian who is seriously unhappy with this system. In fact, the people generally seem rather smug about it. Citing Plato, they claim that elected politicians tend to be good at deceiving the voters by sophistry, rather than actually making sensible decisions that are in the interest of the masses. I have tried to convince them to the contrary, that most elected politicians are honest and competent, but so far to no avail.
You may be forgiven for knowing nothing at all about Nuzkwamia. If you are entirely innocent of all knowledge of the country, you are not alone. Indeed, in a recent survey, forty percent of Americans had never heard of the place, and ninety percent could not locate it on a map. It’s one of those countries that doesn’t appear in the news very often, and scarcely ever in the headlines. Nor does it feature much in the travel sections of journals, though it does have a small, self-consciously exclusive, tourist industry. When journalists do bother to write about it, they describe it sometimes as an “economic miracle” (Washington Post, 7th January, 2037), and sometimes as “a terrifying tropical dystopia… run by a secretive priesthood of mad scientists” (The Guardian, 5th June, 2039) and a “disorienting pastiche, out of place and out of time – though created with absolute skill” (Architect’s Journal, October 2042). In its own PR, Nuzkwamia is described as a “constitutional anarchy”, which it admits sounds paradoxical, and also as an “absolutely strict meritocracy”, though it has a King who hands out noble titles.
The author of this blog is one of the few in the Western world who knows Nuzkwamia well, having lived there for several years, studied its history, and interviewed some of its key players. The mission of this blog is to explain Nuzkwamia to the world, admitting that a complete account is impossible and errors are certain, because the mysteries this country presents to outsiders are profound. I apologize in advance to my Nuzkwamian friends for any errors I may present here, and declare my keenness to be corrected where I go wrong.