Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities” and Doctor Who

For the past several weeks I’ve been slowly reading Italo Calvino’s lovely fever-dream of a novel “Invisible Cities.” I’ve been dipping into this book for three weeks now and I’m all the way up to page 30; it’s a very slender volume, but reading it quickly would make as much sense as gulping a fine wine, a waste in/to every sense.

The book imagines a conversation between an elderly Kublai Khan and a young Marco Polo, one of the people hired by the emperor to go forth and survey his empire. Most of the book consists of Polo’s dream-like descriptions of various cities, replete with extravagant imagery; the narrative is “structured around an interlocking pattern of numbered sections, while the length of each section’s title graphically outlines a continuously oscillating┬ásine wave, or perhaps a city┬áskyline.”

A sine wave. I like that. It’s like breathing. It is almost literally a waking dream in the shape and form of a book. You really have to sip from this and not gulp it.

So I hope this doesn’t feel trivial in the grand scheme of this grand book, but tonight, while engaging in my occasional evening “3B” (bath, book and bourbon) routine, I read this passage, which made me think of my beloved Doctor(s):

Marco enters a city: he sees someone in a square living a life or an instant that could be his; he could now be in that man’s place, if he had stopped in time, long ago; or if, long ago, at a crossroads, instead of taking one road he had taken the opposite one, and after long wandering he had come to be in the place of that man in the square. By now, from that real or hypothetical past of his, he is excluded; he cannot stop; he must go on to another city where another of his pasts await him, or something perhaps that had been a possible future of his and is now someone else’s present. Futures not achieved are only branches of the past: dead branches.

“Journeys to relive your past?” was the Khan’s question at this point, a question which could also have been formulated: “Journeys to recover your future?”

And Marco’s answer was: “Elsewhere is a negative mirror. The traveler recognizes the little that is his, discovering the much he has not had and will never have.”

…and with that I conjure an image of our Eleventh Doctor, realizing how much he has not had and will never have, and poor Clara as she darts among all eleven, watching the First steal the big blue box in the first place, and watching all of the unimagined possibilities that will never come true down all those timelines because every choice you make cements things in a very real way, every choice explicitly says that specific things will not happen. In the business world they call this “opportunity cost,” and my goodness, it is a cost that is extraordinarily high. Every single thing we do spells out a hundred things we will never be able to do.

Or, as Marco Polo puts it in one of his earlier reports,

… my eyes returned to contemplate the desert expanses and the caravan routes; but now I know this path is only one of the many that opened before me …


Down and Nerdy episode 4: A Very Special Episode

This week we’ve got both sides of the debate over the “How I Met Your Mother” finale, plus our favorite “Very Special Episodes” of all time, and an in-depth roundtable discussion about Wes Anderson’s new film “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

UPDATE! Rachel did a bunch of research on links for the things we talked about in this episode. I was going to embed them here, but her show notes turned out to be so awesome that I’m just going to include them in their entirety. So here you go! Click away!

Listen below, or download the episode directly.


Down and Nerdy episode 2: Happy birthday, World Wide Web!

The Web turned 25 this week, so our team spends a few minutes talking about the very real ways it has changed the world. We also talk about some of the best things on it right now, notably “Welcome to Night Vale” and Miranda Sings. We’ve also got the “Ban Bossy” campaign on our mind, Rachel’s furious about this week’s episode of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” and we talk about a bunch of other stuff that Scott kinda intelligently ties together.

Some of the links we discuss in this episode:

You can listen below, or download the MP3 here. Enjoy!


Down and Nerdy Episode I: What’s your favorite TV finale episode?

Episode I of Down and Nerdy (last week’s debut was episode zero, you might recall) is now a thing for you to enjoy, and we hope you do! We spend the lion’s share of our time talking about TV and movies; specifically, with “True Detective” wrapping up tomorrow night, we’re wanting to know which TV shows that you’ve enjoyed had either the best, or the worst, finale episodes. Listen to the podcast to hear our picks, then please tell us yours in the comments. Continue reading


Down and Nerdy returns

Okay, I’m pretty stoked about this … Down and Nerdy is back for version 2.0!

A brief bit of history: Years ago, we did a segment called Down and Nerdy on my Friday morning radio show. Flash forward to 2014, and Down and Nerdy is reborn as an hour-long chat-show podcast. I’m fortunate to have some wickedly smart, interesting and funny people working with me on this, and I hope you have as much fun listening to it as we do recording it. Our panel consists of Kevin Kinsella, Rachel Raphael and Scott Slucher. Like I said, smart, interesting and funny people.

In this week’s episode, we talk about what a great time it is to be a Marvel fan, the pros and cons of binging on television shows like “House of Cards” and “Game of Thrones,” whether modern television is taking the place of the novel in popular entertainment, and whether it’s ethically okay to eat laboratory-grown salami sequenced from the DNA of James Franco.

(Here’s the direct link, if you want to download it so that you can listen while you’re jogging or making a from-scratch pie or suffering through a Wes Anderson movie or something like that.)

(Photo by Mike Mozart. Music by The Faint.)