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.