Did I mention that Heliopoli was a circular city?

Did I mention that it is ringed and trisected by the monorail?

Did I mention that the pedways create a symbol that can only be seen from above?

Yes — yes, I did.


Just wanted to make sure.


Heliopoli_Full_EX111Whenever someone mentions Twitter or Facebook to the excavators of Heliopoli, they think of two things, mired as they are in decades-old aesthetics. One is the shampoo commercial with the refrain “And they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on ….”

The other is the movie Logan’s Run, in which Logan is browsing one evening through images of people in a kind of transporter, looking for companionship. He chooses one woman and she materializes in his room. She’s not interested in what he has in mind, it turns out, and so he asks, “Why did you put yourself in the circuit?”

“I was sad,” she says. “I put myself in the circuit. It was a mistake.”

The chief archivist, for his part, thinks of the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. How long can one resist the siren song when everybody else is doing it? How can you not join the communal mind? It doesn’t hurt. Just lie down next to this pod. It will be over in a minute. The wail of your modem matches the haunting sound coming out of Donald Sutherland’s mouth.

He also seeks to come up with a diagram in his mind of, say, Twitter’s interconnectivity. It is not just lateral, of course, but also vertical … but more than that. Truly the world wide web, but a three-dimensional web … no, four, because it includes time. Is this your tesseract, Ms. L’Engle?

And just when he thought of proposing that Twitter and Facebook would kill blogging, WordPress releases a widget to place one’s Twitter feed in one’s sidebar, proving they’re on top of things. He approves. He just might do it his ownself. It’s cool. (Right on. Far out.) Twitter seems an excellent way to connect to a blog, superior to a feed reader. And yet.

Heliopoli_Full_EX110So where does this leave Heliopoli? The city contains a number of crude videophones with tiny black-and-white screens, but not many of them, owing, it seems, to the expense. Most phones are the regular kind, the old-fashioned kind; and though the devices themselves were designed in the most streamlined way, adopting the wedge shape of a TR7 (hee hee), they are still just phones, just phones.

The connection is one-to-one over a copper wire. It takes place only in the present tense. How droll.

And yet. The overarching question seems not to be “What are you doing?” but rather “Why did you put yourself in the circuit?”, after all.


Heliopoli_Full_EX49I’m often asked (not really, but let’s pretend), “Doesn’t it rain in Heliopoli? What’s with all the sun stuff?”

Of course it rains in Heliopoli. Buckets of the stuff. Loads of it. Sheets, even.

OK, so you haven’t been there, but look. You can imagine you’re standing in the Central Plaza, which is as flat as can be and goes almost to the horizon. The Sun Disk Monolith looms over your shoulder.  Let’s say it’s late afternoon, but it feels like early evening, the sky is so dark — dark from all the big thunderer clouds, clouds like kettle bottoms, clouds like fists. It rains. And the rain is drenching … and loud. It’s all you can hear. It’s hammering the plaza. You see the ground dancing from it. The air turns cold, and so do you. You’re in the middle of it, you crazy! And the rain smells like metal, like iron. And thunder sweeps across the sky making the city seem bigger than it is — emptier, lonelier.

The rain doesn’t stop suddenly. It goes away gradually. It just showers, eventually, like it didn’t mean to be so harsh before. It eases away. The plaza shines gray and a tiny bit green.

OK, so it’s a little different in Heliopoli, because if it’s raining in the afternoon — well, it stops just before sundown, always. Now, did you expect anything different? You can imagine the colors of the plaza then. And the feeling that you get when you see it — do I have to say more? You’ve seen the sun come out after a torrential rain.

Yeah, it’s like that there. You betcha.


It’s Official

Heliopoli_Full_EX124It has caused a great deal of consternation among the excavators, even outright arguments. It has been called out of character and inconsistent. It doesn’t fit, they say. It can’t be true, they say. But the evidence is in, and the chief archivist is secretly pleased.

For its embrace of the embrace, called abrazo; for being called, according to Wikipedia, “a living act in the moment as it happens”; for its acceptance of improvisation; for having steps with names such as Media Luna, Volcada, Parada, Gancho, and Sandwich; for its show form having the name “Fantasia”; for its unadulterated passion; and, above all, for its unparalleled encapsulation of the quality of yearning

For all these things:

The official dance of Heliopoli is the Argentine tango.

The Soundtrack of Heliopoli

  1. “Saturday in the Park” — Chicago
  2. “Questions 67 and 68″ — Chicago
  3. “Beginnings” — Chicago
  4. “Popcorn” — Hot Butter
  5. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” — Elton John
  6. “Here Comes the Sun” — The Beatles
  7. “Memories of Green” — Vangelis
  8. “Warszawa” — David Bowie
  9. “Baba O’Riley” — The Who
  10. “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In” — The Fifth Dimension



Heliopoli_Full_EX31One can experience more than one sunrise in Heliopoli on any given day.

The first sunrise comes from the east, over the horizon. Ideally, one stands in the Central Plaza and watches the surface at one’s feet go from blue to brilliant and sees the very brightest yellow strike the Sun Disk monolith to chime the dawning of a day.

Other sunrises can be experienced in the city, because of the great height of some of its buildings. One can stand in the shadow of a structure, even after the sun has risen over the horizon, and wait for the sun to peek over the top of the building to splash light around where one is standing.

This can be done several times in a day. One can walk from building to building, or retreat to the shadow of the same building, and experience once again the appearance of the sun. This is called “surfing the sunrise.”

A sunrise over the edge of a skyscraper, rather than the horizon, is a skyrise.


A Heliopoli Lexicon, Part I

Untitledfuture: the time that is to come, days, months or years ahead.

futurity: the quality or state of being in or of the future.

pedway: a moving sidewalk, or “slidewalk,” commonly a long, wide strip of rubber moving along a series of rollers and motorized, used as a form of public transportation.

uniped: a mode of transportation comprised of a single wheel with footrests to either side, retractable by a single arm into a backpack-like apparatus, based on a design by Syd Mead.

optimism: the tendency to take the most hopeful or cheerful view of matters or to expect the best outcome.

architectonic: having structure or design of a kind thought of as architectural.

futoria: (conflation of historia [Latin, history] and future) a future history; an aesthetic or series of designs to depict the future, created at various times in the past; any of a series of past visions of the future (see Museum of Futoria).

dream: a sequence of sensations, images, thoughts, etc., passing through a sleeping person’s mind; a fanciful vision of the conscious mind.



The chief archivist did not at first understand the appearance of these warning signs posted around the excavation of Heliopoli. One, the excavation does not allow for tourists, and guests are only admitted by special invitation of the excavators. And two, most of what has been discovered so far is hardly delicate enough to fade over time from flash photography. It must be concluded, therefore, that it is photography itself that is warned against, and the excavators are warning themselves.

The chief archivist is reminded of his trip to Italy years ago and the many photos he took, which, upon returning, he was reluctant to look at, and to this day has only occasionally glanced upon. He had already known, at least for him, how photographs become substitutes for what one remembers seeing. When one thinks back on an occasion, what one sees is the still image of the photograph of that place and time, rather than the memory.

There can be no photograph that can do justice to the lighting of the clouds as one exits St. Peter’s, the glint of sunset off the gold of the mosaic on St. Mark’s in Venice, the twilight sky as background to the blue-and-gold tie-up pole along a canal, a stained-glass dove glowing because it is made of alabaster, and Michelangelo’s Pietà.

The excavators likewise may be discovering things that they wish not to fade in memory, not to be cheapened by being reduced to a photograph, not to degrade in time by being transformed into an object.

Sometimes an empty picture frame is more desirable than a picture itself, to see with the mind’s eye.