Meadow Lands

In Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Marco Polo, telling travel stories to Kublai Khan, describes Leonia, a city that refashions itself continually. Everything is new all the time, he explains, shiny, spotless, and just-unwrapped. “It is not so much by the things that each day are manufactured, sold, bought that you can measure Leonia’s opulence, but rather by the things that each day are thrown out to make room for the new. So you begin to wonder if Leonia’s true passion is really, as they say, the enjoyment of discarding, cleansing itself of a recurrent impurity.”

An increasing drawback of Leonia’s predilection for the new is the accumulation of the old, which rises at a staggering rate on the outskirts of the gleaming city even as it becomes more durable. “The bulk of the outflow increases and the piles rise higher, become stratified, extend over a wider perimeter. Besides, the more Leonia’s talent for making new materials excels, the more the rubbish improves in quality, resists time, the elements, fermentations, combustions. A fortress of indestructible leftovers surrounds Leonia, dominating it on every side, like a chain of mountains.”

Most of Marco Polo’s invisible cities are highly allegorical, but in this instance it seems he just happened to look out the window when he flew into Newark and saw the Meadowlands.

Meadowlands Mountains, Obscuring Manhattan.

Meadowlands Mountains, Obscuring Manhattan.

Of course, at this time of year, the glowering trash heap looks more disconsolate than when the grass is green. But it obscures the Manhattan skyline just as effectively in June as it does on March 1. It’s not just tall, it is also wide. And as far as I can tell it is still growing.

Over by Disposal Road in Lyndhurst, NJ, there’s every sign of continuing excrescence. At least I see plastic liners exposed in the bosom of these artificial hillsides. There are also, as usual, plenty of no-trespassing signs. In the far distance I think I can make out the spire of the Empire State Building, poking up above the rubble.

Calvino offers another thought, for context, and it seems especially appropriate at the moment, with the Dow way down and the ranks of the unemployed swelling daily: “In the lives of emperors there is a moment which follows pride in the boundless extension of the territories we have conquered … It is the desperate moment when we discover that this empire, which had seemed to us the sum of all wonders, is an endless formless ruin, that corruption’s gangrene has spread too far to be healed by our sceptre, that the triumph over enemy sovereigns has made us the heirs of their long undoing.”

Back in 1982 I was puzzled and wrote in the margin, “who speaks these words?” That is, who are these heirs to all the long undoing. Today, I think, the answer seems obvious: it is us. We are the inhabitants of Leonia, the dime-a-dozen emperors who conquered, not with marching armies or galloping horses, but with plastic.

So let’s sit on the steps of the garbage palace for a moment and consider the view:  isn’t it time for a change?

Contemplating Manhattan from Lyndhurst, NJ

Contemplating Manhattan from Lyndhurst, NJ

Postscript March 5, 2009: As a curiosity, there is in fact a Leonia, New Jersey, just a few miles up the road from the Meadowlands.


3 Responses to “Meadow Lands”

  1. 1 John Hakala
    July 21, 2012 at 9:32 am

    The meadowlands stopped growing around 1990. All the dumps in the Meadowlands were shut down years before Fresh Kills was shut down. And if you knew anything about the Meadowlands/NY area, you would know about Leonia NJ. Your ignorance is evidence that you’re just repeating the misinformed sentiments of the millions of Jersey haters whose only experience with New Jersey is driving on the Turnpike.

    • 2 Carmine
      April 9, 2014 at 3:44 pm

      Dude…shut up. Whether the blogger is informed or not of the meadowlands and surrounding towns, the benefits of exposure to people who normally wouldn’t read about the meadowlands are great. As a lifelong resident of kearny who’s great grandfather was a pig farmer near the newark airport, and whos father worked at PJP Landfill for 30 years, who cares what someone else thinks?

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